Shelf Awareness — Norman Jorgensen

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Originally posted on MAUREEN EPPEN — WRITER:
Children’s author Norman Jorgensen has been writing stories since he was in primary school, and his latest story, The Smuggler’s Curse (Fremantle Press), details the rollicking adventures of young Red Read, whose mother…

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Weekend Courier, 17 Feb 2017. Page35

Weekend Courier
17 Feb 2017

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Weekend Courier, 17 Feb 2017. Page35

Weekend Courier
17 Feb 2017

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Some Background and Research into The Curse

The Smuggler’s Curse is a story set in Broome, a wild and lawless town in the north-west of Australia in 1896 and is about a boy who is sold by his mother as a cabin boy to a sea captain. Captain Black Bowen turns out to be the most notorious smuggler to ever sail the wild Western Australian coast. Before too long, they are at sea and involved in out-running customs patrols, being chased by murderous pirates, nearly killed in a cyclone and entangled in smuggling guns to guerrillas fighting the colonial Dutch in Sumatra.

Red, the narrator, is the son of Mary Read, owner of The Smuggler’s Curse Hotel which sits high on the cliff overlooking Roebuck Bay in Broome. I borrowed her name from a famous 18th century female pirate of the Caribbean, as well as Red’s name from the pirate, Red Rackham. The other main character, as far as I’m concerned, is a beautiful Baltimore Clipper sailing ship called The Black Dragon owned by Captain Bowen.

The Smuggler's Curse by Norman Jorgensen

On holiday a few years ago, I stayed in a lighthouse on the southern tip of the Shetland Islands off the coast of Scotland, where I discovered I was in the exact room where Robert Louis Stevenson had written Treasure Island, my favourite book as a kid. Later that night, imaging to the ghost of RLS looking over my shoulder, I tried to write my own pirate story set in 1810, but it quickly evolved into a smugglers’ tale. Later on, I moved the story up to 1895 and reset the plot in Broome and South-East Asia.

The plot is grounded in real history, as are all the places mentioned such as Broome, Singapore, Sumatra, Aceh, Cossack, Fremantle and Albany. There was a fierce and bloody war raging between the colonial Dutch and the Sumatran resistance fighters at the time, Chinese and  Malay pirates roamed wild and Broome was a hotbed for smuggling pearls and opium. Into this late part of the 19th century,  I added my characters and gave them perilous adventures. There are possibly a few more explosions and guns firing than in the real Broome at that time.

Reading a lot about Broome and the pearling days, I had no idea smuggling was so rife in the colony. Among all the other contraband goods, opium was hidden in banana boxes from Singapore and pearls smuggled out in payment.

To absorb the atmosphere and imagine scenes, I visited Broome, Singapore, and the places in South-East Asia where I set the action in the book, including treking to a longhouse in Sumatra where the recent descendants of head-hunters still have skulls hanging from fishing nets in their ceilings. That was a shock. Luckily, they ceased collecting them about 1948.

I also discovered the little-known Aceh Independence War and learned about Ibu Purbu, the female leader of the Sumatran resistance, who continued the war against the Dutch invaders for almost forty years. When her father and husband were captured and executed, she immediately took over as leader and led a savage revolt where over five thousand Dutch soldiers were killed. She is now a national hero in Indonesia, with her picture on the 10,000 rupiah note. Having discovered her story, and being impressed with her courage, I couldn’t resist including her as a character in the book.

Although the story begins in Broome, it quickly moves to South East Asia, where the tropical feel of the heat, the humidity, the vivid colours, the huge tides and unfamiliar culture all impact on Red and the crew of The Black Dragon.The ongoing fate of Red, the young hero, remains, however, the main focus as we see him fighting bravely, sometimes against impossible odds, and being forced to grow up very quickly indeed.

I hope it is an exciting yarn. I had a lot of fun researching the history and locations, but my most enjoyable experience was imagining the perils Red, Captain Black Bowen and the rest of the crew encounter. I wanted the settings, the seamanship, atmosphere and life on board the Dragon to be as realistic and as authentic as I could make them. I learned how to haul in a jib, handle a ship’s wheel, read a compass, shoot a blowpipe, fire a musket and load a cannon, all essential skills for a smuggler.

Recently, I made a visit to Cocos Islands District High School as Writer-in-Residence, where the school kids provided me loads of fabulous ideas for an exciting story about The Black Dragon being shipwrecked off their island in the middle of the Indian Ocean. They want a sequel to The Smuggler’s Curse, so I had better start thinking about it.

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The Smuggler’s Curse by Norman Jorgensen


My new  novel The Smuggler’s Curse is scheduled to be released by Fremantle Press on October 3rd, 2016. It started out in the first draft as a historical novel for high school aged kids, but as it developed, the manuscript somehow turned into more of a straight out adventure for younger readers.

I’ve found that manuscripts and characters in them do take on a life of their own and no amount of pre-planning from me is going to stop the characters doing whatever they like as soon as I get beyond the first page.  They are completely out of my control, and this one was no exception. Where did the storms at sea, explosions, cannons firing, gun- runners, murder and savage head-hunters all come from? Probably the  Saturday afternoon matinees I enjoyed as a kid at Narrogin Cinema, but I’m not admitting to that.1024x102434The Black Dragon

Between now and the publication date, I’ll share some of the twisted pathway this book took on its long journey from the initial idea on the back of an envelope to the hopefully,  glowing new cover on the finished book. I’ll pass on  photos I took while researching smugglers of the 19th century and include pictures of various places I used as locations in the story. They range from tropical  Broome in North-western Australia to Singapore, Sumatra and  Aceh  as well as Cossack, Fremantle and Albany back in Australia.Headhunter
And just to start off this blog, here is the opening of The Smugglers’ Curse:

Chapter 1

The Captainimg_9675
I cannot believe it. My mother has gone and sold me. I’m her only child and she has sold me to the most notorious  sea Captain to sail the wild, west coast. What sort of a mother would do such a thing, knowing full well I will be carried away in a black-painted sailing ship to face untold dangers and probably death a hundred times over on treacherous seas and in exotic ports?

Sold? I never imagined something like this could happen in these modern times. After all, the twentieth century is only a few years away and the British Empire outlawed slavery seventy or eighty years ago. Did Ma somehow miss that? Maybe she did. She is a busy woman.

My Ma runs a hotel in Broome, all by herself. Broome is a rough, ramshackle pearling port in the north of Australia and one of the most remote towns in all of the Australian colonies, and maybe even the Empire…

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Coming Up with a Decent Title

Coming Up with a Decent Title.

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A Great Week at Tom Price Primary School

thTom Price Primary School

An Independent Public School

Writer in Residence

Visiting Author
This week we have had visiting author, Norman Jorgensen working with all students. Mr
Jorgensen has been sharing his stories with the children, answering questions and
working with our writers club on how they can enhance their own writing. Each day I
have had students full of enthusiasm sharing what they have learnt. For a full write up
from our Literacy Coach, Mrs Penny Bingham, see over the page.

IMG_5240Popular Western Australian children’s author, Norman Jorgensen entertained students from Kindergarten to Year 7 during his recent residency at TPPS. Norman kept students enthralled as he shared amusing stories of his childhood and early years of schooling in Narrogin; of the teachers and people in his life who have been reinvented as characters in his books.IMG_5242

In the weeks leading up to Norman’s residency, students had the opportunity to explore, in detail, a range of his publications, including Jack’s Island, In Flanders Fields, The Last Viking, Call of the Osprey and A Fine Mess.
Students’ understanding of these texts was enhanced as Norman shared with them some of the background to his stories and the process he went through to draft and redraft the stories before sending them to the publisher and finally seeing them in print.
Students from the writers’ group were particularly privileged to have Norman provide some valuable insights for aspiring authors and to hear him read the text from his latest picture book. With the working title, Blind Faith, this is a poignant story of loyalty, commitment, adversity and courage.
As a result of Norman’s visit, students have commented that they are inspired to read more of his books and some have indicated a renewed interest in writing.IMG_5344_1


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