Friday, January 27, 2006

...on the sheep's back - guest author - John Barlow

INTOXICATED, the new novel by John Barlow, is set in rural Yorkshire in the late 1860s.
It follows the exploits of wool combing magnate and self-made-man Isaac Brookes, at a time when: rose from the muck and clatter of their mills like patrician-gods of the new alchemy, who took raw wool, still filthy and stinking with the grease of the animal, caked with shit, rank and sour to smell. From this they conjured piles of gold in such quantities that talk of their wealth sounded like a hoax... men, in short, who were no longer of the common world, not even men of the world, but stood like giants above the rest, looking down with benign satisfaction on what they had created...
But this is no ordinary commercial novel. In addition to the wool, it features Rodrigo Vermilion, a foul-smelling humpbacked midget with a gift for words.
He persuades the Brookes family that the future lies not in wool combing, but in sweet, fizzy drinks.
Rhubarilla’ is born, a rhubarb based soft drink that takes the world by storm.
INTOXICATED: A NOVEL OF MONEY, MADNESS, AND THE INVENTION OF THE WORLD’S FAVORITE SOFT DRINK is a fantastical tale of sheep, booze, rhubarb and cocaine... a wild, big-hearted spoof of the invention of the soft drink industry.
Published by William Morrow on February 7th, 2006
To find out more about John and INTOXICATED - go to

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

History and fiction intertwine

Mystery surrounds origins of Bagot goat

“The little known history of the Bagot goat is interlaced with images of knights on horseback, kings and coats of arms. A story spanning 800 years where fact, legend and folklore are closely intertwined.
When Richard the Lionheart returned from the Holy Land in 1194, Prince John was Regent of England and Robin Hood championed the poor from Sherwood Forest – the legend is well known. But what is unknown is that when Richard returned from the crusades it is thought he brought back a few black-headed goats from the Rhone valley of Switzerland.
Two hundred years later in 1380, a young Richard 11 presented a herd of black and white goats to Sir John Bagot of Blithfield Hall in Staffordshire.
These were released into Bagot Park, 800 acres of woodland on the edge of the great Needlewood Forest. This was their home for 600 years.
But in 1939, Blithfield Estate was bought with the intention of drowning the land to create a massive reservoir.
The following year the War Agriculture Executive issued an extermination order which Lord Bagot disputed. The goats received a reprieve but in 1953 most of the land was flooded and the remaining land cleared for farming.
Of the hundreds of goats which had freely roamed the woodlands only 20 were kept. These were brought to the Hall by Lady Bagot.
The goats now had to live in a walled garden and small paddock close to the house. Gone was the forest habitat and with it the goats’ future.
By 1979 only 12 goats survived giving them the dubious distinction of being the rarest of the rare breeds of the British Rare Breeds survival Trust.
Nancy, Lady Bagot had no option but to entrust their survival to the RBST.”

I wrote this story for The Goat Farmer Magazine (NZ) June 2000, I now discover that the legend in which Richard the Lionheart plays a central role, has been questioned and partially disproved.
It appears that the goats did arrive at Bagot Park in the late 1300s as a gift from Richard 11. But the question remains, where did the goats come from?
One supposition is that in 1386 when John of Gaunt set sail, he was joined in his crusade by the King of Portugal. But it was not long before the English army started to waste and Sir John Bagot, returned to England.
Recently, DNA teats conducted on the goats showlinks, however slight, with a Portuguese and a Pyrenean goat.
It also shows that there are no links to the Swiss Schwartzhal goat.
However, it will take further investigation to prove this and until then, this ancient breed remains veiled in the mists of time.
And I am sure, however, that no-one will dispute the fact that the Bagot goat is a noble beast with a long and noble heritage.
My thanks to Peter Evans for the photograph and to the Bagot Goat Breed Society's website for this updated historical information.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

The Sea’s Magic

You will never see the sea’s magic from the deck of a cruise ship. There are too many lights and it’s impossible to get close enough to the water.
The first time I saw the sea's luminescence was when I sailed for 12 days on an 1860s-style barquentine on the Indian Ocean.
One night, when there was no moon, I was on the bow gazing at the black ocean, when suddenly my eyes were alerted to the tiny glimmers of light which appeared and disappeared in the foam.
The tiny pinpricks of light reminded me of the millions of stars which seed the sky on a clear West Australian night.
It was like magic.
But it seems that for centuries men have puzzled over the cause of this phenomenon.
Long ago, men thought they were the sun's rays which had dived into the sea.
They said that at night the fiery spirits tried to escape the water and fly back to the heavens.
Some said the troubled sea created sparks like those emitted when a flint is struck upon a stone. Some said they were small fish or insects which were able to glow like the firefly.
Some said that sometimes the particles came alive and swirled together in a shining mist of colour which floated across the sea turning like a spinning top.
Some said this was an aurora.
Some said it was an illusion.

In my novel, Emma asks Charles:
“And what do you say?"
"I say it is a wonder. Each flash of light is from an animalcule, a minute organism. It only glows when turbulence disturbs it. The ship is causing it to shine."
He looked at her, but her eyes were fixed on the metallic sea. "Your tiny stars are no illusion, Emma. They are real. Millions upon millions of them. And perhaps as you suggest they lie in wait for ships to pass so they can come to life and dance together in the foam."

Read more about the sea’s magic in, ‘Sea Dust’. You can order a copy on my website at

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Sailing at its best!

After three weeks at sea, our voyage across the Atlantic is almost at an end. As the clipper nears the Leeward Islands, the first storm hits at 11 pm. It arrives stealthily out of the night and takes everyone by surprise.
The ship heels and for fifteen minutes the wind speed reaches force 9 on the Beaufort scale. The sound of the gale ripping through the rigging is thunderous. What we experience is a tropical low. Fortunately it does not intensify into a hurricane.
The following day with the West Indies almost in sight, another storm looms on the radar. On deck all eyes are fixed on the gathering clouds. At first they flank the ship. Rolling. Moving rapidly. Spawning smaller storms which quickly close in. The automatic pilot is switched off. The helm is manned. Sails are furled and the cat and mouse game of storm evasion begins.
From the deck I see the rain approaching. As it gets closer, the surface of the sea bubbles. The storm hits. It lasts for twenty minutes.
Standing on the leeward side, the sea and sky meld enveloping the ship in an eerie aura of strange aqua light. The rain blows horizontally. The sea boils and the gunnels lean down to meet it. In the dining room, plates and glasses crash to the floor. Passengers grapple to remain upright – but throughout the storm they thrill to the excitement. This is sailing at its best!

This excerpt is taken from an article I wrote which was published in the Weekend Australian 11/2005. You can read the full story of that journey on my website at It is titled: "In the Adventurers' Wake".

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

The Call of the Sea - guest author - Joseph O'Steen

Joseph O’Steen creator of the Nathan Beauchamp series is intrigued with the history of piracy:

“I first went to sea at the age of four. As the son of a commercial fisherman I spent my early youth with him on the shrimping grounds off Florida.
Usually we only went out in good weather but one trip caught the boat on the edge of a hurricane. The adults were frightened but for a seven year old, tied in the wheelhouse chair, riding the 30-foot waves it was like a carnival ride. They were the happiest times of my childhood.
But when I reached the age of eleven, everything changed.
In 1961 I sailed into St Augustine, Florida with my father who was captain of the shrimp trawler Rodonsetta.
My mother had escaped him some years before, so now my care was placed with one of his female friends.
One night while he was away, I woke up alone.
I never saw his girl friend again and I only saw him one other time after the O’Steen family took me in and I settled into a life ashore.
I heard about my Dad a few years later. He had sailed to the west coast of Florida, gone on a drinking binge and sold the boat he was captain of at the time.
And the Feds were looking for him for piracy - it seems the vessel was not his.
So I guess that makes me the son of a pirate!
But that was the best thing for me, as I stayed with the O’Steen’s until I joined the navy. That was when I took their name.
I have not told this story to many, but I think of it more as I grow older.
And now I think, perhaps that may be why I am drawn to the history of piracy.”

To read more about Joe, his books and his love of everything nautical visit his website at

Saturday, January 14, 2006

The Call of the Sea

There is something mysterious about the sea.
Its physical effect can be destructive.
It’s visual image, calming.
Over the ages young men have been drawn to it, never questioning its dangers, never wanting to leave. And the sea has held them in its grip till they have given up their souls to its depths.
But what is it about the sea that draws them? Is it the mystery, the awe, the emptiness?
Is it the chance to witness the power of nature – untamed and unchanged over the millennia?
Consider this seaman’s view:
‘How beautiful she is,’ he said, gazing at the water. ‘La mer. So like a woman.’ His body tensed. ‘Look.’ he said, ‘how soft and flat she lies in the night. Smooth, like silk. Black. Beguiling.’ His tongue touched his lips. ‘I can taste her salt. And listen,’ he said, his voice barely a whisper. ‘Listen. Hear her breathe. Softly. Slowly.’ He paused. ‘She sleeps.’
In these lines from my historical novel, Sea Dust, I have tried to convey that intangible effect the sea has on some men.
It was not an easy task, but if I have captured something of the essence of the ocean, I am pleased.
Two independent pre-release comments say:
“This story inspires the reader to begin their own sea-faring adventure.” (Nicole Biber, Melbourne, AU)
“…for one who has never sailed, I found myself wondering what it would be like to be at sea."
(Marie Hohrmann, Perth, AU)
If you would like to read more about Sea Dust please visit my website at

Sea Dust

Sea Dust published by Robert Hale Ltd, London, December 2005.
Due for release in Australia Feb 2006

Monday, January 09, 2006

Destination Paradise

January - country Western Australia - and it's hot!
Another blistering 100 degree day – and more to come.
I sit at the computer, wipe the perspiration from my brow and dream of Paradise.
‘Paradise’ - what does that word conjure in your imagination?
Some ethereal super film-set with billowing clouds floating like fluffy magic carpets transporting harp-playing angels to who knows where?
The ultimate destination on many people’s life wish-list! Maybe.
Talking of ultimate destinations – then consider Paradise Bay.
If you were asked to write down what images come to mind, how would you describe it?
Blue sky reflecting from an even bluer lagoon. A tropical island perhaps? Crystal clear water rimmed with white sand, shaded by a fringe of palm trees which lean down to touch the lazy water?
Then imagine this - Cold. Colder than you have ever known.
Instead of clouds floating like fluffy magic carpets, imagine icebergs motionless on a mercury sea.
Instead of palm trees leaning down to touch the water, a rainbow arching slowly from the land to barely skim the water's surface before sliding back into the bay.
Instead of white beaches, imagine being surrounded by walls of ice – some smooth and undulating, some fractured, all frozen - white, blue and dappled grey.
And as the snow begins to fall imagine a ship’s deck and fittings upholstered in a carpet of soft white shag-pile.

Back in the real world – I add more ice to my drink, gaze at the holiday photos and let my mind transport me back to a cooler kind of Paradise:

Paradise Bay, Antarctica (Jan 2005) photo Peter J Ryan

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Illusive/elusive – love, life and book titles

A book's title, while it’s a work in progress, is like a pair of old slippers – comfortable, warm, fits like a glove.
So what happens when the publisher says he doesn’t like it?
The old slippers have to go and you have to break-in a new pair.
Of course, at first, they don’t really fit and your feet don’t slide in easily.
But, before long you find yourself wearing them and not noticing the difference.

But are they ever the same?

I wrote my first novel with the working title, Illusive Diamonds, and qualified the title with a short haiku verse:

luminescent particles
stirred by the ship
dark sea’s illusive diamonds

This brief description relates to the marine organisms which appear and disappear in the sea at night - as if by magic.
It also alludes to the illusive (and elusive) nature of love – at times appearing suddenly, as if out of the blue. But then vanishing equally as quickly.
When a critic advised me that the title, Illusive Diamonds, should go, I took his advice and changed it to Sea Dust.
The words ‘sea dust’ carry similar connotations regarding the marine particles. But ‘sea dust’ also carries the connotation of ‘ashes to ashes, dust to dust’ and of those whose bodies are committed to the sea.
As my novel has a strong nautical component – the title seemed fitting.

Last week, Sea Dust was launched in England.
Last week, in a sad twist of fate, I scattered my partner’s ashes on the sea.
Peter Ryan was with me throughout the writing of my novel.
Apart from being my dearest friend, he was also my most valued critic and editor in the novel's early stages.
He died in a horrific accident six weeks before the launch and never saw Sea Dust published.
For me, as for Emma (the character in my novel), I feel love is illusory.
But unlike the marine luminescent particles which glitter and die in the dark sea, the wonderful life and love, which Peter and I shared, will shine forever in my memory.

Watching the sun rise

Peter and I - mid Atlantic - on the sailing ship, Star Clipper - November 2004
(photo by Lo Smith, USA)

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Under a clear blue west Aus sky Posted by Picasa

It's easy!

"Always think of what you have to do as easy and it will become so." (Emile Cove)
Up to now I had a mental block about setting up a blog.
After reading the above quote, I thought, what the heck, it's got to be easy!
So here I am.
The birth of my blog coincides with the publication of my historical novel, Sea Dust, which was released in the UK on 31 December 2005.
You can read more about Sea Dust on my website.
You will also learn something of my love of tall ships and the sea and about some of the voyages I have taken.
Something you won't read about is my love of goats - yes, goats! I have been breeding them for 17 years and have written numerous magazine articles about them.
Today, I only have a small herd of about 40 South African Boer goats, but in the past have bred angora goats (which produce mohair fibre and not angora which comes from a rabbit) and some of the dairy breeds.
Perhaps one day I will put all my thoughts and experiences on paper. I know there are people out there who will be interested in reading them.