The Kick-arse Women of the Smuggler’s Curse Series

The Kick-arse Women of the Smuggler’s Curse Series

My writing mostly comes from some murky subconscious place, and I suspect some of my characters tend to a bit two dimensional because they are more like me than I intend. I noticed, however, that the women in the Smuggler books seem to be more fleshed out in behaviour and attitudes than many of the blokes. They are also a bit scary. I‘m not sure why – it could be because all the woman in my life when I was younger were a tough as nails bunch who ruled their families and faced their circumstances with backbones of steel. Understandably, they had a huge influence on me, and they have somehow crept into my writing. My great grandmothers, Jane Campbell, Victoria Bowen, Jane Edwards, and Hannah Jorgensen were all goldfields pioneering stock living in shacks in appalling conditions in Coolgardie and Kalgoorlie with dust, flies, no water, no sanitation,  disease, accidents, and the early death of many of their family and friends. They had to contend with young children while living the middle of a desert, completely isolated from their families.


Hannah Jorgensen                 Victoria  Bowen                       Jane Edwards                                             Coolgardie Cemetery

My grandmothers, Charlotte Campbell and Nell Jorgensen were both born early in the 1900s so faced the horrors and deprivations of  World War I, Spanish Flu, The Great Depression, World War II and dangerous childbirth and all the rest of the catastrophes the 20th century threw up, all before they turned forty.


Nell Jorgensen with her favourite grandchild.      Her .22 Winchester snake gun.       Charlotte Campbell and husband Don.

My mum, Barbara, also had a harsh time of it living in outback towns while bringing up four brattish, adventurous boys, often alone as my dad was away working a lot.  They all persevered, faced up to fate and dealt with anything it threw at them and overcame all obstacles with grit and determination. There is no shortage of role models to draw from in that bunch of rellies, so I drew extensively.

Barbara Jorgensen with Jack and their sons Norman, Ian, Bruce and Colin.

Despite their backgrounds and hardships, I remember them all as being warm, generous and caring women,  but also running their households like benevolent dictators, Comrade, while putting up with no nonsense, especially from little brats like us.   Nell even kept a .22 rifle in the kitchen in case any Dugites slithered into the house to warm themselves by the Metters’ stove.  I featured Nell as herself in Jack’s Island, my World War II novel set on Rottnest Island.

Barb, my mum, who lived in Broome where I was born, became the inspiration for Mary Read, Red, the hero’s mother, and owner of the Smuggler’s Curse Hotel that sits on a hill overlooking Roebuck Bay and the wild shantytown of Broome. Mary Read was also the name of an imfamous female Caribbean pirate and companion of fellow pirates Anne Bonny and Captain Jack Rackham who Meg Caddy has featured in her recent book,  Devil’s Ballast. My Mary Read sold her son to a notorious smuggler, which was not something my mum ever did, but I bet she was sorely tempted more than a few times.



This is an excerpt from The Wreckers’ Revenge where two policemen attempt to arrest Mary Read:

          [  The policemen freeze and stare at him, visibly terrified. The smaller one twists his head to one side and winces. Ma has grabbed the bread knife from the table and holds the point just under his ear. ‘Don’t move a muscle. Listen to Captain Bowen,’ she hisses, ‘if you want to live another minute.’

          ‘I should kill you right now, you fools, picking on Mrs Read like this, but instead, I am giving you a chance to live. You have two options, you miserable lackeys of the Queen. The best choice is, you walk away from here and forget everything you have seen this morning. Everything. You don’t breathe a word to anybody at all, ever. You hear me? Not your superiors, your families, not your friends, no one. Ever. Not even on your deathbeds to your confessing priest.’

          The policemen both nod enthusiastically, though they still look terrified out of their minds.

          ‘Or,’ continues the Captain, ‘Mrs Read here opens your throats from ear to ear with that bread knife. Your colleagues-in-arms can find your cold, lifeless, God-forsaken bodies on the rocks below the cliffs, just outside there, at the next low tide, with the crabs feasting on your eyeballs.’

         He waits for a few seconds. No one makes a sound. ‘I’ve seen her do such a thing before. So what’s it to be?’

         ‘What?’ I whisper in complete surprise, ‘Cut someone’s throat?’ I cannot believe my ears. My Ma cut someone’s throat? Where and when?  ]


Several other real women have also appeared in the three Red Read books, including Ibu Perbu,  a hero of the Sumatran resistance who led her army of locals and head-hunters against the Colonial Dutch Army. A devout Muslim woman and excellent military tactician, she commanded the rebels for over 25 years after her husband was killed in battle. In The Smuggler’s  Curse, her troops are badly in need of weapons, so I have her doing a deal with Captain Bowen to swap a cargo of salvaged Scotch whisky for crates of army rifles, which he then takes back to Australia and sells, making the crew of the Black Dragon very rich.

This is Cut Nyak Dhien, known as Ibu Perbu - The Queen. She is so revered in Indonesia that I didn't use her name, but invented a character based on her called the Black Widow.


Two other characters based on real people are Mrs Crawford and her teenage daughter Anna who I introduce in The Wreckers' Revenge The real Mrs Crawford was early feminist, Anna Leonowens, who was immortalised in the 1951 Rogers and Hammerstein musical, The King and I.  It helps to be old enough to have seen the film. 😊  In the 1860s, Mongkut, King of Siam wished to give his 39 wives and concubines and 82 children (that is not a misprint!)  a modern Western education, so he employed Anna who had been widowed in Penang and needed a job. Before then, Anna had opened a school in Perth. Her maiden name was Crawford, and I named her daughter Anna, whereas, in reality, she had a son called Louis.

In my version, both Mrs Crawford and Anna join the Black Dragon as passengers and arrive well-armed with matching silver pistols and an expensive Purdey Elephant Gun, a gift from King Mongut,  which she puts to worthwhile use when the schooner is attacked and saves the crew.


           Anna Leonowens 




[  ‘One of the females is here,’ says Mrs Crawford. She steps out from behind the binnacle at the stern of the lugger. In her hands she holds the silver Purdey rifle, both triggers cocked back.

          ‘Not so fast,’ says Peabody. ‘I lift my arm, and we bring Armageddon down on you. And besides, at that distance …’

          ‘It is not buckshot, Captain Peabody. It’s a solid bullet the size of your thumb. At this distance, it will go right through you and your foul gizzards, and continue all the way to China, believe me,’ interrupts Mrs Crawford. ‘This is not the first time I have used it. The only Armageddon here will be you arriving at the fires of Hell sometime in the next few seconds.’  ]


And then there is Nell Underwood, owner of the Esplanade Hotel in Fremantle. Her husband (in real life) John Patterson Beresford, licensee, shot himself dead with a revolver in their bedroom late one night. Beresford had been “suffering greatly from insomnia and dropsy.” I don’t mention that in the story, as that may have made her a bit miserable, but I gave her a decent sense of humour instead.  Here’s a bit from their first meeting:

      [  ‘And who’s this then?’ she asks, grabbing both my cheeks like an auntie would and giving them a squeeze. I can feel myself blushing all the way down to my toes.

     ‘Nell Underwood, it is my pleasure to introduce young master Read, Red Read, my secretary and accountant, all rolled into one,’ announces the Captain, rather proudly, I think. ‘He’s one of my crew, and his mother owns a hotel up in Broome, my second favourite, after this one, of course. The Smuggler’s Curse.’

        ‘You’ve spoke of him in the past. The boy must have prospects then,’ she continues, laughing all the time. ‘He looks healthy enough. Good teeth? I’m thinking, how about we marry him off to my Emma? They’d make a lovely couple, don’t you think? Give him a few more years.  What do you say, boy? That’s her over there, serving that table in the corner.’ She points to a dark-haired girl holding two glasses of beer and joking along with the men at the table. ‘Like the look of her?’

        Like the look of her? Emma is the most beautiful girl I have ever seen in my entire life. She has long dark hair, sparkling eyes, rosy cheeks and what my Ma would call a shapely figure, though the men of the Curse use a much more descriptive expression. I try not to stare, but can’t take my eyes off her.

         ‘I told Red he might have to bunk in with Emma tonight if there are no beds free,’ continues the Captain, with not even a slight grin on his face.

        I look the Captain in horror.  He can’t mean it, can he? I have hardly ever even talked with girls my own age. There are almost none in Broome as all daughters of the Pearling Masters, and many sons are sent south to boarding school in Perth as soon as they are old enough.  I wouldn’t even know what to say to a real girl, especially one so pretty. My mouth turns all dry.

         ‘If he does, he’ll be bunking in with me and my sharpest carving knife between them, until my Emma, has been churched and blessed and has a ring on her finger.’

         ‘But... I’m only... I’m too young...,’ I stammer like a lunatic while still remembering Mr Smith’s advice about foreign girls. Not that Emma is foreign, but she does have a fierce-looking mother, rather like mine, I fear.

        ‘Unless he comes with no less than a thousand pounds a year, then that might be a different matter altogether,’ she continues, still enjoying my discomfort.

        ‘Emma!' shouts Mrs Underwood, her voice filling the room and echoing off the back wall. ‘Come and meet your new husband.’

         ‘Oh, Ma,’ shouts back Emma, ‘can’t you see I’m busy? You marry him instead if he’s such a good catch.’

        One of the men at the table she has just served suddenly jumps to his feet. He pulls a knife from his belt and slams the point into the table. ‘I want to marry Emma!’ he yells, defiantly.

         ‘You are already married, you drunken fool,’ laughs Emma, smacking him on the back of the head with her hand.

        The man bursts out laughing. ‘Tell ya’ what, boy, buy me a drink, and you can keep ‘er. And you can have me’ wife n’ all as a bonus. And me mistress.’  ]


In Dragon's Blood, the third book still to come in the series, Mrs Crawford and Anna feature heavily. I also invented a new character, Dr Lucy Dashwood, based on the determined missionary character, Rose Sayer, as played by movie star Katherine Hepburn in the 1951 film, African Queen, which was written by CS Forrester, author of Mr Midshipman Hornblower.  I gather Katherine was a lot like the character she played here in real life too. She fits in with my crew quite comfortably and is free with her acid tongue.


And while I’m in this grove, CS Forrester encouraged Roald Dahl to become a writer, and Roald encouraged me (!)  to try my hand at it when I met him on his Australian tour back in 1989. Roald sold 250 million books, so he was slightly more successful than me. But I’m still plugging away, and hoping. Maybe 2021? 😊

Roald Dahl

Roald Dahl

Hall of Fame

   2020 started off really well for me when this week, much to my total surprise, I was inducted into the Hall of Fame of the Western Australian Young Readers Book Awards at their 40th Anniversary celebration. 'Heck!' I might have exclaimed. :) Never in a million years could I have imagined I would belong to the same group of inductees as Roald Dahl, Paul Jennings and John Marsden. Phew!!

The WAYRBA is a children's choice award where kids in primary and secondary schools choose a shortlist of books that are then are voted on throughout the year by kids across the state as they read them. The winners are announced in November each year.

As you can imagine, winning this award because kids voted for my books is about as good as it gets as a writer. The people I wrote them for actually like them. :) I was completely thrilled at the announcement and more than a little shocked, but I soon recoverd and have been living in a warm glow ever since. I wonder how long I can drag out the feeling before I have to get back to the keyboard? A sequel awaits and I'm on the final pages!

Thank you so much wonderful hardworking committee members of the WAYRBA.  Long may you reign.

The Smuggler’s Curse ISBN 9781925164190 Paperback fiction. Middle readers $17.00. 320 pages. (198 x 128 x 20mm) Fremantle Press Publisher. Year 2016

My Publishing Career. An Interview by Fremantle Press PR Dept.

Can you give a short overview of your publishing career?

Twenty years ago, while working at a specialist children’s bookshop, I wrote the text for the graphic novel Ashe of the Outback. It was written specifically for reluctant readers, who predominantly seemed to be boys, and increasing in numbers. The style was inspired by Asterix and Tintin, who were both incredibly popular with these readers.

Two picture books, In Flanders Fields and The Call of the Osprey, both illustrated by Brian Harrison-Lever, were then selected by Fremantle Press. After that, I produced two semi-autobiographical comedy novels for teenagers, A Fine Mess and Another Fine Mess 002, about two boys in a county town getting into all sorts of trouble. I had loads of fun writing them.

In 2008 Jack’s Island, a historical novel set off the coast of Western Australia during World War II was released. Then in 2011 James Foley and I created the picture book The Last Viking and soon after The Last Viking Returns, the sequel. I also have several other picture book texts and I am working on number 3 in The Smuggler’s Curse, series.

Has it changed in the last few years? In what way/s? Do you think it has become harder to stay published? Or have more opportunities arisen?

I don’t think my actual writing career has changed that much. I get more work, though, talking to school kids because I’m better known now, but even with winning awards and reasonable sales, I still can’t afford to write full-time. Being from faraway Western Australia, I’m not that well-known to the publishers, so haven’t had too many approaches to write for them or to appear at east coast festivals.

What strategies for ‘staying published’ have you adopted—and how have these changed over the years?

Basically, I just keep writing. I have tried different styles, including graphic novels, picture books, comedy novels, serious historical novels, and the occasional article, mostly, I suspect, to see if I am capable of writing them. I think if I were to write only picture books I would go totally mental, always trying to keep to the discipline they require. Writing a story in so few words and then watching the carefully chosen words get slashed as the pictures develop is so difficult to handle.

I’m looking forward to being an ‘overnight success’ after twenty years slogging away at it. Perhaps that’s it, you just have to keep slogging away at it until you do the magical ten thousand hours? As Churchill said, “never, never, never give in.”

I have stayed with Fremantle Press for most of my career with only two editors, originally Ray Coffey, but mostly, and happily, Cate Sutherland, and because they have completely different tastes you would think I might choose subjects to write about to suit their preferences, knowing it might improve my chances of being accepted. In reality, I write to keep myself amused, hoping that there are some other twelve-year-old kids out there, just like me, who might just ‘get it.’ Being a forever twelve-year-old trapped in an aging writer’s body is not so bad.

I keep up my membership with ASA and SCBWI. I find it very valuable meeting with the members of SCBWI, who in WA are a really marvellous bunch of supportive creators. We are very encouraging of each other and we share industry news such as which publishers are looking for submissions, but also discuss each other’s plots and writing styles, as well help each other through the successes and inevitable heartaches.

What do you think are the main pitfalls today for writers aiming to maintain a long career?

Other than losing heart after too many rejections and giving up writing altogether, the obvious pitfall, other than a serious Facebook addiction, is not having a runaway success early in your career, otherwise, you have to work at something else to earn a living while trying to write. Even with the lack of time by having a full-time job, just being worn out at the end of a regular working day can kill creativity stone dead. Though many of the writers who are career authors also spend so much time on the road touring schools that they too have little time or energy left to create either. And creativity does not flow easily while you are all alone in a dingy county motel. You, somehow, have to maintain the passion in spite of the slings and arrows of the daily grind.

Do you have any advice for writers who have already started their publishing career—i.e. have had one or two books published—but are having trouble maintaining publisher interest?

Treat your writing as a business – as a way to make money, otherwise, you will need a regular job to support yourself.  The business is not just composing words, but just as importantly, promoting. Publishers like that. They want you to have as high a profile as possible. The more you are seen, the more likely people are to buy your books.  The way a great many children’s writers earn their real incomes is by school talks where you are spruiking your word to something like a thousand kids a week.

Even if a publisher thinks a particular story of yours is only okay, they might take a chance on it because you are seen as an excellent salesman for them.

My other two pieces of advice are firstly, not to take rejection personally. That is the hardest part of putting your soul on the page, but when a publisher says, ‘your work does not fit with our list’, they probably mean just that. It does not have to mean that your writing sucks and you should go back to flipping burgers. Maybe, too, the publisher has contracted to publish twelve books this year, and yours is the thirteenth to come along. It could just be luck.

My second piece of advice is that quote from Churchill that I mentioned earlier, never give in, ever. The publishing world is full of long delays and endless waiting for things to happen, so learning patience is recommended. When I am rejected I immediately think of J.K. Rowling and Bloomsbury Publishers and the fifteen other publishers who rejected Harry Potter, to their collective horror, I suspect. Can you imagine being one of those editors and sitting at your desk knowing what you had done, while watching as the sales figures over at Bloomsbury went completely ballistic?

Wearing your prophet’s hat—how do you see the publishing industry in the future?

I see fiction continuing to be published both as print and e-books for quite some time, but Google is hurting non-fiction. Children’s and young adult books are still selling remarkably well, with no slowdown in sales at all and, in fact, have helped maintain many publisher’s profits during an economic downturn. That market seems likely to be encouraged and will grow, though I don’t know what will be replacing wizards, vampires and angels. I did notice in my local Dymocks that YA fiction now takes up over a third of the fiction shelves, whereas, for most of publishing history, it was shoved away in the back corner. What stands out in the YA section, though, is that nearly every book cover is dramatically coloured black. I do hope YA will lighten up a little in the future. I’m well over angst.

The Smuggler’s Curse ISBN 9781925164190 Paperback fiction. Middle readers $17.00. 320 pages. (198 x 128 x 20mm) Fremantle Press Publisher. Year 2016

Norman the Grave Robber : A blog from Fremantle Press by Lata Periakarpan

How Norman Jorgensen’s treasure hunting tale landed him in the principal’s office and in stormy, tropical hot water.

June 12, 2019

Warning: this tale involves grave-digging, tea-dipped treasure maps, and naughty school boys. Read at your peril.
Norman Jorgensen is best known for his role as an award-winning children’s book author. But outside of Australia he’s known as the Chief of Mischief, as proven by his track record for filling young boys’ minds with a grand sense of adventure … however misguided.

But wait, what happened? It all started one year with a trip to Cocos and Christmas Islands for Book Week. On that trip, Norman was reminded of the book A Pirate of Exquisite Mind by Diana and Michael Preston, about the British explorer and pirate William Dampier. It was on his final voyage to explore WA’s coast that Dampier was supposed to have plundered around $50 million worth of gold. When he and his crew were shipwrecked after cruising through Cocos, Christmas and Reunion Islands, the treasure was gone, which is why Norman believes that it could still be somewhere on the Cocos Islands.

However, we weren’t the only ones he told this tale to.

The small boys at the school he visited were also privy to this information. Norman may have let slip that the best place to bury treasure is in – that’s right – a graveyard. Why? As Norman states, he’d figured that, ‘people are unlikely to dig up graves – unless they are small boys, that is.’

‘While I was with still with them in class, I drew up a fictional map of the cemetery on the island and marked an X 100 paces from the north, west and east tip of the island that juts into the sea. It marked an existing ancient grave with a wooden marker with the inscription worn off.

‘The next day, the principal called me to her office. One teacher had complained that her kids were spending far too long creating their own authentic-looking pirate maps, colouring them by dipping them in tea, rolling them and burning the ends, and generally making it impossible for her to complete the curriculum before the next school holidays. I was about to leave, duly chastened, when another teacher arrived to say a parent had caught my two favourite boys from that class armed with shovels, pacing out the cemetery ready to dig up the buried treasure. And taking smaller paces than I do, they had identified the wrong grave and started to dig up a recent one.’

While digging up graves is not recommended, I think we can at least admire the boys’ tenacity.

Norman also mentioned the inspiration for the characters in his books. In particular, he mentioned Red’s mother, Mary Read, who runs a hotel in his hometown of Broome, and maintains order with the aid of a cricket bat. Norman based this character on his mother Barbara: ‘Barb is gentle, kind and sentimental, but like Mary, she has a backbone of steel. Luckily for me and my brothers, she didn’t own a cricket bat.’

The Black Widow based on a real national hero in Indonesia. In The Smuggler’s Curse, she trades a cargo of whisky with Captain Bowen for his crew’s guns, and in real life, Norman explained that she was a bandit queen in Sumatra who lead the armed resistance against the colonial Dutch rulers for over 50 years, well into the 20th century.

But who inspired his intrepid main character, Red, and his mentor, Captain Black Bowen?

As Norman explains, it’s himself. Or rather, ‘A younger, much braver by far and more energetic version of myself. Red is the sort of kid I would have liked to have been, and Captain Bowen is who I’d like to be now.’

‘I hope that as publishing spreads to include wider audiences, young readers will find books written by writers who are just like themselves. And who like history!’

Norman’s latest book, The Wrecker’s Revenge, the follow-up to The Smuggler’s Curse, is available online at and in all good bookstores.

Lata Periakarpan is currently interning with the marketing department at Fremantle Press, where she is working on projects that include photography, graphics, sound editing, videography, social media and of course, writing. She has a BA in Screen Arts and Creative Writing from Curtin University.

An Interview With Me For Shelf Awareness by Maureen Eppen


Norman IMG_1164Children’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 “sells him to an infamous smuggler, plying his trade off the north-west coast of Australia in the closing days of the 19th century”. Norman’s first picture book, In Flanders Fields(with illustrations byBrian Harrison-Lever), set in World War One, tells of a homesick young soldier who risks his life to rescue a robin caught in the barbed wire of no man’s land. In Flanders Fields won the Children’s Book Council of Australia (CBCA) Picture Book of the Year Award in 2003 — the first of many awards for Norman. He has since written a dozen books for children and young people.
Born in Broome, in Western Australia’s tropical north, he now lives in a 100-year-old house near Perth with his wife, and his collection of books and old movies. He loves to read, travel and take photographs, especially of castles, cathedrals, villages, battlefields, sailing ships and all the things that make history exciting.

Norman Jorgensen will be the guest author at Koorliny Arts Centre’s Stories on Stage on Wednesday, March 29, from 7pm. If his responses to my questions are any indication, it will be a lively and highly entertaining event.

Norman Scan.-The-Last-Viking-Returns-

Q. How would you describe the work that you do and how you do it?
A. Chaos is probably the best description. My mind flits from one shiny thing to the next, looking for a distraction, and then, somehow, among all the mental noise and confusion, the faint ideas for stories appear. After the really enjoyable time writing the first draft and creating the characters, the plot and locations, the hard slog of reshaping and polishing the sentences into something hopefully readable takes over.
Q. What is your latest project, and/or what do you have in the pipeline? Norman The-Smugglers-Curse-1-780x1100.jpg
A. The Smuggler’s Curse was published in October, and is the story of young Red Read from Broome, who is sold by his mother to a sea captain in the dying days of the 19th century. Black Bowen, the captain, turns out to be an infamous smuggler plying his trade off the north-west coast of Australia and up to Singapore. From terrifying encounters with cut-throat pirates to battling the forces of nature in a tropical typhoon, to encounters with head-hunting guerrillas, and even being nearly hanged by colonial troops, Red is in for the adventure of a lifetime. As the newest member of the crew of The Black Dragon, a sleek, fully-armed clipper, he is forced to quickly grow just to even survive.
I have started the sequel to The Smuggler’s Curse. I had left the ending open for the next adventure, and my editor suggested I get on with it reasonably quickly so that any young fans of it will not grow too old before it comes out. I am also working on a non-fiction book called In Search of Constable Jack Kelly. Constable Jack was the half-brother of Ned Kelly, the infamous bushranger. Unlike Ned, Jack had a glittering career as a world-famous circus performer who travelled the world and became rich and successful. For a couple of years, though, from 1906, he was based in Perth and had a job as a mounted policeman with the WA Police Force, before joining Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show and travelling throughout the USA.
Q. Where are the main bookcases in your home or office? Do you also keep books in other places at home (or elsewhere)? Norman IMG_1149
A. Jan and I have a dining room lined with floor to ceiling bookcases, a spare room with more shelves and my writing studio has three walls lined with shelves as well. We both have been collecting books all our lives, cannot bear to throw books away, and even get upset seeing them mishandled or damaged in any way. I am in favour of capital punishment for people who mistreat books — or at least, public flogging, stocks, branding and medieval pillories for public abuse, attack and ridicule.
 Norman IMG_1174
Q. How are your books organised/arranged?
A. The non-fiction books are in very rough order of subject, and the fiction is everywhere – anywhere I could find a space to squash them in. Even though Jan was a librarian most of her working life, she has resisted Dewey-ing them. I have a large collection of film history books that take up several metres of shelving. Other than that, I can never find the book I am looking for.

Q. What sorts of books predominate? (ie general fiction; specific genres such as romance, science fiction or historical fiction; non-fiction; reference books; short stories; novels; poetry; drama; children’s or young adult fiction; picture books, etc.)

A. All of the above. We have a great collection of kids’ books signed by the authors, having met loads of them at festivals and on book tours over the years. I also love historical fiction, especially 18th-century sea stories like those of CS Forester and his Hornblower series, Julian Stockwin’s Kydd series, Alexander Kent’s books featuring British naval hero, Captain Bolitho, and Patrick O’Brian’s Master and Commander books. I like too the historical novels of CJ Sansom, like Dissolution and Lamentation, set in the times of King Henry VIII. They are so descriptive of Henry’s London that you feel grubby just reading them, and nervous that the king will come after you next — after he has finished chopping off the heads of those close to him. He was certainly keen on that.
Q. Describe your favourite reading place.
A. My favourite place of all is soaking in a hot bubble bath with water up to my eyes, soft music playing, and me lost in the story in some exotic location. The only downside of this is dosing off, dropping the book in the water and nearly drowning. And if you do that you deserve to drown. Having said that, I cannot sit anywhere alone without reading something, even if it is a newspaper, a 10-year-old magazine, a menu, street signs or even a Vegemite label.

Q. What book/s are you reading right now? Why did you choose that book/those books and what do you think of it/them so far?

A. I am reading ABC broadcaster Richard Fidler’s Ghost Empire about him and his son visiting Istanbul, describing it now and writing about what the same place was like during its years when it was named Constantinople. Even being addicted to history as I am, I had little knowledge of the Byzantium Empire of Constantinople, so was surprised to find out about the huge numbers of mad emperors, unhinged queens and countless other crazies who lusted for power over the 2000 years of its turbulent history. I’ve almost finished it, and have been fascinated by every page. Why did I choose it? It was new, historical and I enjoy Richard’s interviews every day on ABC Radio. He is a clever, interesting bloke who shows plenty of care and kindness with his guests. I’m also re-reading an old 1980s adventure called High Citadel by Desmond Bagley, about a group of plane crash survivors sheltering in a mine in the Andes Mountains and under attack by Communist forces. I picked it up in a second-hand bookstore just for nostalgia’s sake as I remember enjoying it when it was first published during the Jurassic period.

Q. What are your favourite books and/or who are your favourite authors?

A. My favourite authors are Leslie Thomas and Tom Sharpe, both British  writers who generally wrote satirical comedy novels about ordinary people living suburban lives while mayhem surrounds them. When Leslie died in 2014 and Tom in 2013 I was shocked at how saddened I was each time, as if I had suddenly lost a part of me and a whole chunk of my early reading years. I didn’t know either of them, though I met Leslie Thomas briefly at a book signing after a talk he gave here in Perth. He answered ALL my questions then afterwards signed my book, “To my greatest fan, Norman”, and he wasn’t the least bit wrong.

I love the work of Bill Bryson and have read every word of his. We are much the same age, and his gentle sense of humour matches mine exactly. The Lost Continent: Travels in Small Town America, about him looking for the small town America of the old movies, is funny but also so sad as he slowly comes to realise that it has been lost and the towns have been devastated by enormous Walmarts, huge car parks, endless fast-food joints, closed factories, empty shops and despair. His most successful book, Notes From a Small Island, about him revisiting the places he went when backpacking around Britain in the 1970s, is a joy to read. He gave his humour free rein, and I loved it, as I did with all his other books. He has since written 20 more.

The first writer to keep me awake all night was John Steinbeck and his book The Pastures of Heaven. In his interwoven stories in this one, nothing much happens, but you become trapped in the lives of his characters and can’t stop reading until you find out what happens to their dreams and plans. After that, I read The Grapes of Wrath, and then all his others. I greatly admire his spare style. Most of all, though, I love how he treats ordinary people, giving them a voice and highlighting their suffering and the widespread unfairness of their situations, caused, usually not by their own fault, but by uncaring banks, greedy landlords, exploitative employers and even just sandstorms, bad weather and bad luck.

Q. In the event of an emergency, if you could save just three books from your collection, which books would they be – and why would you choose them

A. I’d save my signed Leslie Thomas book, The Dearest and the Best. After that, The Million Pound Bank Note, by Mark Twain, that my great grandfather, John Hansen Jorgensen, was reading when he was killed in a mining accident in Coolgardie in 1906. He signed his name in the front of it and, other than his wedding photo, it is the only keepsake I have of him. Finally, I’d save Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson. That, along with RSL’s other pirate book, Kidnapped, was the inspiration for The Smugglers’ Curse. If I could have a fourth, it had better be The Coral Island, by RM Ballantyne, as I suspect that may be a major influence on the upcoming Smugglers’ sequel.

Q. If you could sit down for afternoon tea with your three favourite characters or authors, who would they be, what would you serve them, and what would like to talk to them about?

A. Winston Churchill, war correspondent, England’s First Sea Lord, wartime prime minister, Nobel Prize-winning author of more than 30 books, including The History of the English-Speaking Peoples, and deeply flawed genius. I wouldn’t talk to Winston very much at all. I’d just sit and listen. Can you imagine what it would be like? The huge intellect, the voice, the history, and people he must have known over his long career. What would I serve him? Pol Roger, his favourite champagne, then his usual whisky, Johnny Walker Red Label, then, finally, Hine Brandy and a big fat cigar. I don’t imagine he’d be bothered with tea or sandwiches too much.

A fictional character I’d like to meet would be Captain Blood, the original swashbuckling pirate who was created by Rafael Sabatini in 1922. Actor Errol Flynn played him perfectly in the movie made in 1935 by Michael Curtiz and co-starring Olivia de Havilland. In fact, sharing afternoon tea with the three of them at the Admiral Benbow Inne, at Port Royal, Jamaica, would be so much fun. We’d have to be served up pewter goblets overflowing with Captain Morgan Rum, of course – arrr! And what would we talk about? In a pirate bar? In Jamaica? You wouldn’t be able to shut me up.
Then, like most people, I think I’d like to have afternoon tea with Atticus Finch, the hero ofTo Kill a Mockingbird. We’d discuss dignity, bravery, compassion and empathy, and all the other decent attributes that Harper Lee gave him in spades. We would discuss the Great Depression and Prohibition, which I find fascinating, and am intrigued at how those two elements led to an upsurge in socialism in America in the 1930s, as well as the appearance of the gangsters. And we could talk about Deep South racism, white poverty and the intolerance of the time. I think it would be a pleasant, warm afternoon chat on his verandah with Scout sitting and listening nearby. Oh, and I’m sure he would serve up Jambalaya, Crawfish Pie and Filé Gumbo, all washed down with Mint Juleps or Moonshine. Perhaps we’d even drink some Tequila Mockingbird… For more from Norman, visit his website.


School Visits I Have Made. Part 1.

“Dear Mr Norman, Thank you for coming to visit our school. I know you told us you don’t make much money from each book sale, but let me tell you, be rest assured, you are bringing great joy to millions and millions of children around the world.”  :)

School visits really are the second best part of my job.  The best is actually me sitting in a darkened room with my imaginary characters while they push me around and force me to arrange more and more unlikely and hair-raising adventures for them to narrowly survive.  But that way leads to madness and self loathing and probably coffee addiction.

I have done a load of talks to school kids in recent years in places ranging from the wealthiest private schools with million dollar views over the Swan River to one school where the school teaches Equestrian Studies and has a class set of horses and stables. In contrast, a week later, I was cramped in the front seat of a small Cessna flying across an endless outback desert to reach an Aboriginal school with a dozen kids.

Flying in small Cessnas is not part of the school visit scene I particular enjoy. Once, when crossing Shark Bay to visit the school at Useless Loop (an unfortunate name for a good school), the plane engine started coughing, which immediately concentrated the mind, I can tell you, and tightened every muscle, as Shark Bay was named that by explorer and pirate, William Dampier, for a very good reason. You can see the big scary creatures swimming below you.  Obviously, I survived and went on to spent several enjoyable hours with the kids there.

Another memorable visit was to Geraldton where James Foley and I were to talk to kids in Geraldton and  Mullawa schools as well as at the Big Sky Writers’ Festival.  Before the festival opened, the authors, including Juliet Marillier, James and I, were flown out to spend the night at the Abrolhos Islands, the bleak and haunted location of the infamous  Batavia shipwreck and subsequent slaughter of many of the crew and passengers.  The island where we stayed is said to be haunted by the spirits of long-dead shipwrecked Dutch sailors, and not just Johnny Walker spirits.  What a memorable experience, and, I must confess, we did experience a spirit or two. 

Another visit, and one of my favourites, was to Cocos Island School right out in the Indian Ocean, south of Indonesia. The place is everything you could imagine a tropical island should look like, with balmy breezes and crystal clear warm water, and the kids, many from Cocos-Malay families who live on Home Island without cars and the mess of the modern world, are warm, friendly and gentle. They made Jan and me so welcome that we never wanted to leave .



A lovely school visit that sticks in my mind was to Poynter Primary School in Duncraig where every year the Grade 6 students, without any help from their teachers,  organise a dawn Anzac Service followed by Gunfire Breakfast and Gallipoli Games on the oval, recreating the sports the diggers played on the beaches back in 1915. They also invite old diggers and serving military members, as well as me, probably because  I wrote In Flanders Fields, which is about WWI, and they have studied it.

One added bonus of interacting with students like this is that I get to try out new and unpublished stories on my usually eager audiences. I quickly get a feel for scenes and passages that are flagging or not working at all. I know I’ve got it right, though,  when all noise stops, and the kids stop breathing because they are listening so hard.

But most of all, I love their enthusiasm. It is so infectious. They flock to me after sessions wanting to share their stories and s discuss their favourite books with me, and often to get my signature on their workbooks or hats or arms.

When older people tell me that the kids of today are... whatever - lazy, sullen, disrespectful, something bad - I just laugh, knowing first hand that the Australia of tomorrow is in safe hands.




Swashbuckling tale of terror in the tropics

Swashbuckling tale of terror in the tropics


Swashbuckling tale of terror in the tropics

WA author Norman Jorgensen's pirate tale The Smuggler's Curse is a rollicking read.

"I cannot believe it. My mother has gone and sold me. Sold me — her only child! And to the most notorious cold-hearted sea captain ever to sail the wild, west coast. What sort of a mother would do such a thing, knowing 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?”

So begins Norman Jorgensen’s latest rollicking read, The Smuggler’s Curse, a swashbuckling tale of terror in the tropics partly inspired by one of the West Australian author’s all-time favourite books, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island.

Jorgensen’s previous historical novel for younger readers, Jack’s Island, found best friends Jack and Banjo facing the threat of a Japanese invasion on wartime Rottnest. Set in the late 19th century, The Smuggler’s Curse finds Red Read leaving his mother’s inn of the same name before being forced to follow the infamous smuggler Captain Bowen through thick and thin, from Red’s Broome home to Singapore, Sumatra, Fremantle, Albany and even the Pilbara coastal town of Cossack.

Surprisingly, Jorgensen, who was himself born in Broome and learnt to sail in his father’s dinghy at the age of 13, says he hates writing picture books. He is of course being facetious — but there may be at least an element of truth to what he says.

“It’s because you’ve got the whole story in your head,” he says. “So you write it. Say you describe a character wearing a red jumper. The illustrator comes along and draws a character with a red jumper. So you don’t need to write that. It comes out. You describe a dog. The illustrator draws the dog. That comes out. And so on. It can be very frustrating.”

“I hadn’t set the novel in Australia at all at first,” he says. “My editor asked me if I would consider doing so and that it would be easy.” He thought Broome would be a good location because in the 19th century it was “a wild, tempestuous place where men went to get away from their families”.

The trouble was he’d set the novel during the early 19th century, with the Napoleonic War and the illegal trading with France as backdrops. Broome wasn’t even gazetted until the 1880s.

“So we had to shift the time period forward,” he says. “Then I had the novel opening on this jetty which didn’t even exist until 1895. Now, by this time we’re well into the steamship era.” Which of course didn’t preclude using sailing ships, which were still being used extensively at the time.

“The point is if you’re writing an historical novel, you can do what you like with your imaginary characters but you can’t change history. I get annoyed at people who do that. Even if I do occasionally do it myself,” he suddenly recalls, laughing.

The other area that is sometimes problematic when it comes to writing for children is violence. Needless to say, in a book filled with smugglers and pirates and guerilla warfare, someone’s bound to get hurt. Jorgensen has an appropriately novel approach.

“I write a book like this as if I were a 12-year-old,” he admits. “Which isn’t that hard as most people reckon that’s about my mental age. But I ask myself, ‘What would a 12-year-old find acceptable?’” Quite a lot, it turns out.

The solution? Make it comic violence, never graphic.

As for writing for children in general, Jorgensen says it’s the immediacy of feedback he loves the most. Again, reading out loud in schools helps.

“That’s why I wrote this in the first person, present tense,” he says.

“I wanted the reader to be right there with Red. And I was able to test passages out on the kids. It’s fantastic because you can sense when their attention’s flagging or when it’s totally engaged.

The Smuggler's Curse is published by Fremantle Press  / Buy now

By William Yeoman

Books Editor & Travel Writer
Seven West Travel Club & The West Australian


In Search of Constable Jack Kelly, the Bushranger's Brother

In Search of Constable Jack Kelly, the Bushranger's Brother

This an interview with me by Chenée Marrapodi from  Channel 7s Today Tonight, broadcast on Friday 3rd March, 2017. It is about the research I'm currently undertaking into the life and times of Jack Kelly, half-brother of the infamous Ned Kelly, Australia's most notorious outlaw.

In the early part of the 20th century, Jack joined Wirths' Circus as a  stunt rider and stockwhip trick expert and, together with his wife, Violet, as part of the act, they travelled the world performing on stage and arenas in the days of music halls and vaudeville.  They become rich and famous for many years, until tragedy struck while they were working in Argentina.


Award Winning Children's Book Smuggler's Curse

Swashbuckling? Me? Only in my Head.

I have been amused in recent months, ever since The Smuggler's Curse was published that reviewers have been using the word 'swashbuckling' about me. Nothing could be further from the truth as I'm such a  gentle soul, though, in my head, there are all sorts of swashbuckling scenes going on. It's like living in my own private movie, with cannon firing, endless sword fights, pirates swinging from yardarms while all accompanied by scores of dramatic soundtracks from loads of old movies I've seen.

One problem I have  is getting all this dramatic stuff down on paper while still making it sound exciting. The other is talking about it to groups of people who have read the book, like is this case at Koorliny Arts Centre, Kwinana,  on Wednesday March 29th.

I have no idea how many people will be attending, as  it can be a bit of a hike south, but even if you've heard all my jokes before, I gather that the centre is really good and food provided by Monique Mulligan, the organiser and interviewer, is well worth the journey, and I know she'll be right on the ball with her Inquisition, thumbscrews and torture rack extracting every detail and entrail from me .  See you there?  I sure hope so.




Another Prince of Denmark on Stage? (I wish!)

March  29th, 2017 at 7pm.


Koorliny Arts Centre,

Theatre 1

Sulphur Road
Kwinana WA 6167

COST: $15 all tickets

BRIEF DETAILS: The swashbuckling Norman Jorgensen will kick off the 2017 programme.

SUITABLE FOR: Adults who love reading and writing

 ADDITIONAL INFO:  Norman Jorgensen was born in Broome, and has lived in several country towns since. At a young age he developed a love of books, especially historical novels like Treasure Island, and old movies. At age thirteen Norman learned to sail. These days he loves travelling and researching exotic places for his books. His latest book is The Smuggler's Curse.

Stories on Stage is a series of evening 'meet the author' events held in Theatre 1. Each event includes an author talk, Q and A session, meet and greet over supper, book sales and signings. Tickets cost $15 each and include supper.

In 2017, events will be held on:

  • March 29: Norman Jorgensen (children's fiction)
  • May 24: Rashida Murphy (historical fiction) in conversation with Monique Mulligan
  • July 26: Alli Sinclair (romance fiction) in conversation with Monique Mulligan
  • September 13: David Whish-Wilson (crime fiction) in conversation with Monique Mulligan
  • November 22: Gabriel Evans (book illustrator)


Thank you for a terrific evening at the Koorliny Arts Centre. The facilities were superb, the organisation of the event was excellent and the audience was fun and receptive -  and the cakes at the end were an unexpected bonus. - FELICITY YOUNG (The Insanity of Murder)

(Stories on Stage) was beautifully organised and welcoming, and I really enjoyed myself, in a part of Perth that I'd never been to before. - JOAN LONDON (The Golden AgeGilgamesh, The Good Parents)

I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to present my Stories on Stage at the Koorliny Arts Centre. The event, hosted by the brilliantly organised Monique Mulligan, allowed me to engage my audience in an intimate theatre setting. Literary conversations continued during the delicious supper, generously supplied at the conclusion of my presentation. I encourage all those interested in books and writing to visit the Koorliny Art Centre and enthusiastically support the diverse range of authors Monique has lined up for future Stories on Stage events. - MARK GREENWOOD (The Legend of Moondyne Joe)

What I loved most about being part of #DateNight at Stories On Stage was the setting. The theatre is lovely, intimate and friendly, and I felt like I was chatting about romance books and romance writing with people I'd known forever. Monique has a wonderful knack for interesting and intuitive questions, and the evening moved at a cracking pace. I didn't want it to be over, and one day, I'd love to be invited back again. LILY MALONE (Fairway to Heaven, His Brand of Beautiful)

Loved being a part of Stories on Stage. Fabulous facilities, yummy home-baked goodies, great hostess, well-organized, awesome community spirit and loads of fun. The audience was relaxed and friendly which went a long way toward calming my nerves. Keep up the good work! JUANITA KEES (Under Cover of Dark)

I really enjoyed the causal, intimate atmosphere of Stories on Stage and the opportunity to chat with the warm and generous audience members. - ANNABEL SMITH (The Ark)

Stories on Stage was a lovely opportunity for me to connect with readers. I was able to spend several hours talking with them, hearing their stories and answering their questions. I suspect I enjoyed their company more than they enjoyed mine! - ROS THOMAS, Weekend West columnist (Was it Something I Said?)

What a treat to be with not only an enthusiastic, interested, engaged and generous audience, but also in such a wonderful facility.
The presentation at Koorliny Arts Centre was truly a moment where everything came together beautifully - the people and the place, and for, me, the combination of a words-and-music performance, and then a more formal "talk" about travelling and writing, which I hadn't done before. I have received some kind feedback from those who came along (and about Monique's delicious supper, too).
The whole thing was a delight, and I very much appreciate being invited. - STEPHEN SCOURFIELD, Travel editor and author

Thank you again for inviting me to take part in your wonderful Stories on Stage program for 2014. It was an excellent event, very well organised, and such a lovely audience, too. – AMANDA CURTIN (ElementalThe Sinkings)

The audience was pleasantly responsive, and I had several interesting conversations with people afterwards. The venue, which I hadn’t previously visited, was excellent for the Stories on Stage kind of arrangement, and I’ve been enthusiastically telling friends about what Koorliny can offer. – IAN REID (That Untravelled Road, The End of Longing )

I had a terrific  time at Koorliny Arts Centre; it's a lovely light and friendly place, with great facilities in a delightful setting and Monique looked after me so well.  But the best thing was having the chance to meet people there who were so obviously interested in books and reading and the arts generally.  It was so nice to be among such and interesting and friendly group of people and I enjoyed the questions, the laughs and the sense of being among friends.  And they have the very best cakes!  I felt like stuffing some in my bag to eat on the way home, but the friend who was with me suggested that might be a bit unladylike!  Thanks to Monique and Koorliny Arts Centre for making me so welcome. – LIZ BYRSKI (The Company of Strangers, Last Chance Cafe, Gang of Four)

Stories on Stage was well organised and I had the chance to meet and talk with several lovely readers. Monique was a pleasure to deal with and made the event run as smoothly as possible. – NATASHA LESTER (If I Should Lose You; What is Left Over, After)

I enjoyed participating in the Koorliny Stories on Stage event.  It had been very well publicised and organised and attracted a good, engaged audience. No author could ask for more. – ALAN CARTER (Prime Cut; Getting Warmer)