The Anzac Stories: Behind the Pages exhibition has many fabulous Australian and New Zealand authors and illustrators in it. Go to Authors/Illustrators/Books to see the full list. Each week, I'll highlight one of the authors or illustrators in the exhibition - this week it is Norman Jorgensen. Norman also received great news recently ... Western Australia Young Readers Book Awards(WAYRBA) shortlisted one of his books - 'The Smugglers Curse'. Congratulations, Norman! His book 'In Flanders Field' is in the Anzac Stories: Behind the Pages Exhibition. Norman loosely based In Flanders Fields on a historical event during WWI. The British and Germans held a truce on Christmas Day 1914, while they buried their dead and played soccer in no-man's-land. Instead Norman has an Australian soldier rescue a robin caught on barbed wire in no-man's land.

The Anzac Stories: Behind the Pages - Feature Author - Norman Jorgensen / The Smuggler's Curse

Repost from: http://anzacstoriesbehindthepages.blogspot.com.au Maria Gill

The Anzac Stories: Behind the Pages

The Anzac Stories: Behind the Pages exhibition has many fabulous Australian and New Zealand authors and illustrators in it. Go to Authors/Illustrators/Books to see the full list.
Each week, I'll highlight one of the authors or illustrators in the exhibition - this week it is Norman Jorgensen.  Norman also received great news recently ... Western Australia Young Readers Book Awards(WAYRBA) shortlisted one of his books - 'The Smugglers Curse'. Congratulations, Norman! His book 'In Flanders Field' is in the Anzac Stories: Behind the Pages Exhibition.

Norman loosely based In Flanders Fields on a historical event during WWI. The British and Germans held a truce on Christmas Day 1914, while they buried their dead and played soccer in no-man's-land. Instead Norman has an Australian soldier rescue a robin caught on barbed wire in no-man's land.

"I wanted to capture what the film director did in All Quiet on the Western Front. The image of the butterfly is so simple and stands for the whole of humanity in its brokenness. For me, the robin is also a symbol of humanity but it also has the additional association of the redness of blood spilt in battle and the traditional colour of Christmas."

Norman said he is a pacifist. "I wanted the book to be anti-war and show that these soldiers, in their quiet way, are caught up in war which they oppose. In the end papers, where I have the two armies looking inwards from their trenches, the shades of grey and khaki merge. It is not their war. They are scared young men."


20 Questions from 'Write Note Reviews' by Monique Mulligan

  1. Your latest novel for children is The Smuggler’s Curse. Tell me a bit about it.

The story is set in 1896 and tells of a boy called  Red Read who lives at the Smuggler’s Curse tavern in Broome with his single mum. One day he discovers she has sold him as a cabin boy to a Captain Black Bowen, a notorious  smuggler, and before he can even believe it, he is whisked away on a sleek sailing ship to perilous adventures in Singapore, Sumatra and the South China Sea. Along the way, he is forced to grow up quickly in the rough and dangerous world of the smugglers especially when all hell breaks loose, with cannons and guns firing, cyclones at sea and facing murderous pirates and deadly head-hunters.

 

  1. What’s the feedback been like for this book? What do you think the attraction is for younger readers?

The feedback has been fabulous, and the half-dozen reviews have all been wonderful. I’m not sure of the reason, but maybe the old-fashioned plot and the relentless action. I tried not to leave room for the reader to get bored.  Boys, mostly that I have talked to have loved it, including one who said it was his favourite book, ever, in the entire universe.

 

  1. Do you prefer writing novels for children or picture books?

Even though the word count is horrendous, I think I actually prefer writing novels. Picture books are told using both words and pictures, so many of my original words have to be cut out as the pictures take over.  And that can hurt when you’d spent hours carefully choosing them. Also, most picture books are restricted to about 600 words, and that takes an awful lot of skill to get across a plot in such a small number. You have so much more freedom in a long novel.

 

  1. Do you have a favourite character in your books? Which one are you most like? (You can tell me.)

 I like Nell, Jack’s mum from Jack’s  Island. She is based directly on my beloved grandmother and in the book she is actually as she was in real life - no exaggeration necessary for dramatic purposes. Red, the hero from the Curse and my latest creation,  is a bit of a favourite too as I love how he grows from been a skinny little weakling afraid of everything into a fully-fledged, swashbuckling pirate.

 

  1. What draws you to writing stories for children rather than adults?

My family all think it is due to my arrested development. Even at Christmas, they sit me at the kids’ table.  Childhood was a  special time for me and was the time I developed my love of books and reading. The books of that time still influence me greatly when I’m writing.  For some reason too, every time I have an idea for a new book, it mysteriously seems to be for a children’s book. It is not a conscious choice

 

  1. What are some of the challenges children’s book writers face? Do you think children’s books harder to write than adult fiction? If so, why?

The biggest challenge is having to think like a child all the time and, unfortunately, or fortunately, it tends to rub off and become the new reality.  Another is the amount of time you get to actually write. Earning a living means that you have to accept every request for school or library talk or paying festival event, which takes you away from your writing desk for days at a time.  Royalties are small, and I get only $1.70 for each novel sold or $1.24 for a picture book, so unless a book is a huge bestseller, poverty is the biggest challenge.

I’ve tried writing adult novels, and that is a hard task as there are no restrictions on what you write, so you have too many choices, while kids’ books are more difficult in that they involve a lot of self-censorships and boundaries. Keeping to a consistent reading level and being aware that parents and teachers don’t want their children exposed to too much of the seedy side of life can be difficult. For instance, in reality, people swear a lot, and  I was writing about sailors, famous for it, so making their dialogue sound realistic without including any swearing proved bloody challenging.

 

  1. How do you start a new story?

I start with one word or a few notes on the closest bit of paper, usually an envelope or a napkin. Next, I’ll expand it in my trusty old notebook, the one I try and carry everywhere, but, of course, it is always somewhere else when I really need it.  I make as many notes as I can longhand and even try out a few sentence or chapter headings. Often too I will take loads of photographs of where the story is to be set, or trawl back through older photos that may have twigged the setting.  As a novel usually takes such a long time to write, in that time,  I will try and visit the places I'm going to write about. I believe you need to be on the ground, searching the landscape, breathing the smells, hearing the noises, watching the people and soaking up the atmosphere, so your story will sound authentic.

 

8. What have you learned about writing over the years? I am amazed at what appears on screen as I type. It is as if someone else is controlling my fingers. Images and scenes that have nothing to do with any of my experiences suddenly appear, and then characters I’ve just invented take control of their own lives, leaving me surprised and often dumbfounded at the things I do.
I’m also a peaceful, gentle sort of bloke, so the total mayhem and wholesale murder that appeared in The Smuggler shocked me. Where for the life of me did that all come from, I found myself asking over and over.

 

  1. What other writing-related projects are you working on at the moment?

Desert Rose is a YA novel set in the Coolgardie goldfields just after the pipeline arrived.

Dessert Island is about kids marooned on an island made entirely of sugar, lollies, chocolate and lemonade waterfalls.

In Search of Jack Kelly is a non-fiction book about the brother Ned Kelly who grew up to become circus performer and a policeman in the Western Australia police.

Mary Christmas is about a little girl who is accidently appointed the next real Santa when the current old man retires.

 

  1. Where did your desire to write spring from?

The desire came from my earliest years while I was reading Enid Blyton’s Secret Seven. I loved the series so much that I wanted to be a member of the gang, even though I lived 12,000 miles away and didn’t own a thick gabardine raincoat or a red Cub cap. I started writing little stories where I was the eighth member of the Secret Seven - it never occurred to me that seven was important to the title. The new eighth member, Norman,  turned out to be the real hero of the books and solved all the crimes and captured the wicked smugglers single-handed. I haven’t progressed very far in 55 years,  have I?

 

  1. What do you do when you're having doubts about your writing? What happens when you get stuck?

Every time I read something by one of the ‘greats’, I have a crisis of confidence, and then, luckily, I’ll read something really poor and think, maybe,  I’m not as bad as that. When I get stuck, I go and have a long, hot bubble bath. All my best ideas have come when I’ve been up to my eyes in steaming hot water.

When I get stuck, I just write any old drivel knowing that I’ll be back to edit it out before too long. I also try and kid myself that I am writing just to keep myself amused and not really for publication, so as to relieve the anxiety. Though, if that were really the case, I’d be bitterly disappointed.

 

  1. What’s your typical writing day like?

I sit in my studio in the back garden on an old armchair with a board across my knees, and a dozen sharpened pencils...  no, that’s Road Dahl.  I, Norman,  sit in my studio in the back garden in darkness with all the lights off, so there is just the screen and whatever is at the ends of my fingers and slam away at the Apple keyboard. I need one with big letters, like Apple’s,  as I can’t type very well. At school, I had a choice of  Woodwork or  Typing, and, like an idiot, didn’t choose Typing. I never really needed the skill until quite late in life, but now I live by it and could really use an increase in speed and accurayc.

 

  1. What’s the biggest myth about being a writer?

How much money we all earn. Most of us would be financially better off working at Maccas. True.  We have way more fun, though, so I shouldn’t complain too much.

 

  1. What has writing taught you about resilience?

It has taught me that at least I have some resilience. Bouncing back from rejection with your enthusiasm intact is hard, as is ignoring lukewarm reviews, but I keep doing it, just as I keep on writing.   Writing has also taught me patience, lots of patience. The book world moves at a snail's pace. I have grown old polishing manuscripts, waiting for publishing decisions, editing, waiting for production and distribution, for the royalties to be paid, Public Lending Rights payments to come, and everything else that takes so much longer than you’d like.

 

  1. When you write, what is your biggest weakness?

At present, it seems to be over-researching. I spend hours on Google finding obscure facts that are not worth the amount of time it took to search for. Just write the bloody book,  Norman!  My other weakness is I am easily distract...oh look, a shiny thing.

 

  1. What do you think about the phrase ‘write what you know’?

It’s a great start. Later on, you can research, travel and find out about things, people and places you want to write about. Even then, after a lot of research, you’ll still be writing about what you now know.

 

  1. Which authors / books do you admire the most?

Once, when I was still a teenager, I was reading John Steinbeck's Pastures of Heaven and didn’t realise until the sun came up that I had been reading all night, I was so engrossed.

 

 

I also love historical fiction, and I admire comedy writers.  Comedy is so hard to do well and is often underrated. Tom Sharpe, Leslie Thomas and Bill Bryson are all heroes of mine. There is also an editor from the 1920s and 30s called Maxwell Perkins. No one has heard of him, but he discovered and edited Ernest Hemingway, F Scott Fitzgerald, William Fawkner and Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings who wrote The Yearling. 

 

  1. which book are you reading now?

Several at once. Richard Fidler's’ Ghost  Empire, a fascinating book about Constantinople and the Byzantium empire.

The latest Brotherbond by John Flanagan.

Lamentation by CJ Sansom,  a crime novel set in the time of King Henry VIII.

I just noticed writing this that they are all historically based.

 

  1. Which “must-read” book have you not yet read?

I’m not that hard on myself. I read enough of the books I've chosen not to need the latest dinner party flavour-of-the-week. Slap me if you want.

  1. Describe yourself as a writer in three words.

Storyteller, aged twelve.  (Tthe photo is me about 17.) 

 


A Great Review of The Smuggler

Here is a great review from Yudhishthiran, age 14, who I imagine was named after a great Hindu god. In my opinion, he is very perceptive and has excellent taste in books :) 

"The Smuggler’s Curse is an amazing book. I literally couldn’t put the book down; I stayed up all night reading it and loved every minute! 

The story is told from the perspective of the young Red Read (amazing name) whose life takes a shocking turn when his mother sells him off to an infamous smuggler/pirate who hauls him off to the high seas of the world. From Australia to Singapore, he develops from a weedy cabin boy to one of the foremost members of the crew, saving his comrades’ lives and learning to master living on a ship under the rule of one of the most ruthless, infamous, fun-loving smuggler captains ever known.

This book would be quite good for all age groups, though I think it is best suited for children around the age of 12-15 years old. Some of the words are quite complex, but the main reason I’d recommend this for teenagers is because some of the deaths are rather detailed and could be potentially disturbing for younger readers.

The Smuggler’s Curse is a sensational book with a captivating storyline and great character development, one of the best books I have ever read. Reading about Red Read’s journey over the oceans of the world with a crew of criminal cutthroats has been enjoyable and interesting--the perfect blend of thrilling action and realistic feeling."

Yudhishthiran, age 14


An Alphabet Soup Article About Me

Alphabet Soup is a long -running website for kids who like books and creative writing. It was founded by Rebecca Newman, an enthusiastic kids book lover, if ever there ever was one, and each week she interviews authors and posts reviews. You can find her homepage at https://alphabetsoup.net.au/

Meet the author – Norman Jorgensen

by Rebecca Newman

In issue 13 we talked to Norman Jorgensen, author of many books including The Last Viking, and In Flanders Fields.

Where do you live?

I live just out of Perth city in an old Federation house built in 1906. It is a bit too cosy; in fact, it is far too small for all the books I have collected over the years. If I buy any more books my wife and I will have to go and live out in the garden shed along with the rakes, spades, half empty paint cans and redback spiders.

What do you love about being a writer?

I love the way stories develop from just the flimsiest shred of a single thought or sentence into full-blown worlds full of exotic places and interesting out-of-control people.

I also love the ego stroking that comes with the job. People seem to think writers are special, especially children’s book creators, and treat us accordingly. I know for a fact, however, that most kids’ book writers are just adults with arrested development issues, and have never really grown up properly. That is certainly true in my case.

A real bonus being a writer is that I get to travel to all sorts of great places for literature festivals and writers’ talks, and get to meet kids who like reading.

What was your favourite book as a child?

There were a load. One I remember and was very keen on was as series by Anthony Buckeridge, called Jennings and Darbyshire, about boys in an English boarding school that was an awful lot like Hogwarts. Unlike Hogwarts, though, Linbury Court Preparatory School was a ripping and topping place with midnight feasts, easily fooled school masters, japes and pranks, and, fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately, no wizards. The books were also a great deal funnier than Harry and Co. They kept me in stitches of laughter for days at a time and I loved them.

My other great favourite was Biggles by Captain WE Johns, a series of nearly a hundred books about an ace World War I fighter pilot who never seems to get any older and also flies planes in WWII and into the jet age, and has hair-raising adventures together with his chums, Ginger, Smyth and Algy. They are probably horribly dated by now, but at the time they sure kept me wide awake at night.

Was it easy to get your first book published?

My first book came out years ago. It was a graphic novel illustrated by Allan Langoulant and was called Ashe of the Outback. At the time I had no real idea of what I was doing and used to flood Allan with hundreds of ideas, often on coasters or scraps of paper.  He was very patient with me and managed to pull them into a sequence that made sense and that he could illustrate. Luckily for me, he was such a clever artist and well-known that that a publisher soon contracted it.

My fourth book In Flanders Fields proved to be a much harder task. A picture book about the war in the trenches for small children? Are you joking? A number of publishers couldn’t see past the idea that picture books don’t always have to be about talking rabbits or cute teddy bears, or for little kids, and instantly rejected it. Luckily, the crew at Fremantle Press weren’t so traditionally bound.

What do you like to do when you are not writing?

Like all writers, I read a great deal. I like comedies and funny writers, historical novels, spy thrillers and well-constructed sentences but, above all, I like a good story that drags you along with it.

I also love traveling, especially with my gee-wiz top-of-the-range camera and taking photographs, especially to Europe. I love the old castles, cathedrals, villages, country pubs, museums, battle grounds and all the stuff that makes history so exciting. 

Watching old movies give me a thrill, especially black and white dramas, westerns and silent comedians like Charlie Chaplin and Laurel and Hardy (go and look them up on Youtube. They are hilarious, even 80 years later. )

I like woodworking and have made several pieces of furniture using old recycled Jarrah. I love the smell of wood shavings and the sense of achievement when you do something as well as you can.

What made you become a writer?

Truthfully? I saw an old film when I about fifteen called Beloved Infidel, starring Gregory Peck, about the famous writer F Scott Fitzgerald. He was a romantic, tortured writer and as a teenager, I could see myself being just like that. These days I’m not particularly tortured and, sadly, neither do I look like Gregory Peck or F Scott Fitzgerald.

Where do you get your ideas/inspiration?

Here you go, from the horse’s mouth, as they say:

Ashe of the Outback was inspired by Biggles (and The Jolly Postman).

In Flanders Fields is from a scene is a movie called All Quiet on the Western Front.

The Call of the Osprey came from all the times I spent with my grandfather in his marvellous old workshop in Northam.

A Fine Mess is from a poster I have on my office wall of old comedy duo Laurel and Hardy, and also the adventures my brothers and I had growing up in Kalamunda.

Another Fine Mess 002 has James Bond stamped all over it.

Jack’s Island is a collection of stories about my father’s life growing up on Rottnest Island during the 1940s.

The Last Viking I wrote because of my Danish name, and the thought that perhaps one day I should do a Viking story to honour the ancestors. You never know if they are watching. If they are, I hope they like it. It has only just been released.

The Smuggler's Curse came about because I wanted to write an old-fashioned and action-packed adventure story, the sort of stuff I read as a kid.

Do you have any advice for young writers?

Yes, ignore all advice!!! Except, practice writing a lot. Just like violin or netball training, the more practice you put in the better you get at it. Oh, and always carry a notebook with you to jot down ideas when they occur. They are such fleeting things and are easily forgotten.

Also don’t take rejection too personally. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again.

Are you working on a book at the moment? Can you tell us anything about it?

Hmmmm … There are three on the go.

The Goldminer’s Son is a picture book, based on a true Western Australia story, about a miner trapped underground, his son’s steadfast belief he’ll be saved, and the heroic efforts to rescue his dad from a flooded pit

Brave Art is about a girl who doesn’t fit in at a school, at home or with her friends. All she wants to do, with a single-minded passion, is paint pictures like the Great Masters and become a famous artist herself.  Luckily, it has a happy ending as she does achieve her ambition.

Sons of the Desert is, hopefully, an authentic and action-packed, rip-roaring, page-tuning, old-fashioned adventure with horses, villains, stagecoach robberies, explosions and enough realism for you taste the dust and feel the heat as the battles rage.

 

 


The Last Viking Returns ISBN 9781925161151 Picture Book (235 x 295 x 10mm) (Hardback) $25.00 Illustrated by James Foley 32 Pages Fremantle Press 2014

Coming Up with a Decent Title, Eventually.

Deciding on the title for the sequel to The Last Viking took some effort.  A good title has to give a hint at what the book is about, but at the same time, be obscure enough to have a little mystery about it. That was my theory anyway.  Originally, I had wanted to call it Son of  The Last Viking, like the Saturday matinee movies I used to watch back in Narrogin when I was a kid. Son of Zorro, Son of Captain Blood and  Son of Frankenstein all came to mind, but, obviously, that couldn’t work, as the story takes place two years later, not a whole generation into the future.

sonfrankenstein
lg-Zorrob70-11006

Next, I thought of Knut Rides Again, again after the Saturday flicks, as in Destry Rides Again  (an early James  Stewart western),  The Lone Ranger Rides Again (1955), Jesse James Rides Again or Hopalong Rides Again.  Unfortunately, James Foley and I hadn’t included any horses in the manuscript, so that option had to go. I didn’t bother asking him to fit a herd of horses in Viking World somewhere, the main location of the story,  as I knew space would be tight, and I could guess his reaction. It would have been a single Viking word.

destryridesagain

Below are some of the 100 odd titles we considered for the sequel to the The Last Viking. As you can see, we plundered and pillaged movies and other folks’ books, for inspiration. James and I  could have saved ourselves hours, though, and gone with very first cand most obvious suggestion at the time, ‘The Last Viking Returns’.
It took a long time to think that one up, whereas, in reality, it was there all the time, but ‘reality’ is not a word commonly found anywhere near us, especially me.

Along with Cate Sutherland, our editor, we decided on The Last Viking Returns, and here’s hoping it continues to return successfully, and enjoys a nice long sea voyage off to foreign lands to plunder foreign rights, and become well-beloved by all young Vikings. Judging by the first couple of years of sales, we may have got the title right. Onward to glory!

As you can see, there was a bit of late-night brainstorming going on here. And what a waste of time.  "It's about the last Viking returning. Let's just call it The Last Viking Returns and get on with another story,"  said neither of us, unfortunately.

Knut! The Last Viking II
Little Knut
Knut the Legend
Legend of Knut
The Return of the Vikings
The Return of Knut
Knut and Wolverine
Knut, Prince of the Vikings
The Wrath of the Gods
The Wrath of the Dragon
The Viking Code
Odin’s Hero
The Saga of Knut
The Saga of Little Knut
The Knut Chronicles
The Knut Manifesto
The Confessions of Knut
The Return of Knut
Berserk!
Beserkers!
Knut the Brave
Knut the Fearless
Viking World
Knut and the Gods
We Were Vikings
Knut’s Quest
The Best Viking
Big Trouble for Little Knut
Onward to Glory
Where’s Knut
A Dragon’s Tale
A Dragon’s Tail
Viking Warrior of Pure Heart
The Last Viking II
The Last Viking Rides Again
The Last Viking Strikes Back
The Last Viking Returns
Son of the Last Viking
The Son of Thunder
The Hammer of Thor
Thor’s Big Day Out
Odin’s Ravens
Knut’s Progress
In the Name of Odin
In the Name of the Viking
The Little Viking Prince
Viking Trek
Viking Wars
Citizen Knut
The Treasure of Asgard
Dances with Vikings
Midnight Viking
Longships
Viking Dawn
Glory
The Treasure of the Gods
Knut of Green Gables
To Kill a Raven
The Very Hungry Vikings
Where the Wilder Things Are
Fifty Shades of Knut
Magic Faraway Viking World
Knut Unchained
The Wrath of the Gods
The Taming of the Dragon
Go the Knut to Sleep
I’ve Got a Thor Head
Fate of the Vikings
Cry Viking!
Dragonslayer
The Gods Strikes Back
Knut and the Burning Longship
The Twins Vanish


Tom 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.

A Great Week at Tom Price Primary School

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.

Popular 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


Award Winning Children's Book Smuggler's Curse

Some Background and Research into The Curse

The award-winning children's book, 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.

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.