Monday, November 15, 2010

Poppy Day 11 November 2010

On 15th November, ninety-five years ago, my great Uncle, Lance Corporal TW Ettershank was killed on Flanders fields in the First World War. He was just 21 years of age.
He came from Leeds and was a member of the King's Own Yorkshire Regiment.
I discovered where he was buried after corresponding with a historian in Belgium, who I was able to assist in finding some information about a Tasmanian soldier who is buried in a village cemetery in Belgium.
This week I received an email from Alain saying that he had visted the Irish New Farm War Cemetery and placed a cross and poppy on my great Uncle's grave.
Sadly, my mother died (aged 99) only a few months ago, but I know she would have appreciated that gesture and it would have rekindled memories of her lost brother.

Breathe again - for a spell

At last university is over for the year and I have a couple of months breathing space.
That doesn't mean I have nothing to do.
The last 9 months have been full-on! Too full-on!
Next year I am planning to only do a couple of units at uni instead of the eight I did this year.
Still, it was interesting - History, Indigenous studies and a couple of units on Antarctica.
But now I am getting the hankering to get back to writing - possible a sequel to my nautical adventure.
But first I have to do some follow-up and promo on the last book which I didn't do earlier.
The following reviews take up a fair swag of the blog but hope the publicity helps sell a few copies.

FLAOTING GOLD review by 'Pirates and Privateers'

Floating Gold
By Margaret Muir
Robert Hale, 2010, ISBN 978-0-7090-9051-9, £18.99
Captain Oliver Quintrell has recovered from his war wounds and desperately wants a new ship, but with the Royal Navy downsizing following the declaration of peace between the European nations, that is unlikely to happen. As he observes a convoy of merchant ships from the beach on the Isle of Wight, his manservant brings news that he’s been called to London, much to the dismay of Oliver’s wife. But duty calls and he goes to Whitehall, where he receives orders shrouded in secrecy.

His new post is the thirty-eight-gun frigate, and he and his crew are to accompany a convoy to Madeira. He is not, however, to engage any enemy. Nor is he in command of the convoy, which causes problems when the commodore’s orders directly conflict with those from the Admiralty. Once they arrive at Madeira, he receives additional orders – secret ones that he is not to open until his ship reaches the fifteenth parallel.

Breaking in a new crew and not knowing much about the officers who serve under him, Quintrell runs a tight ship. Before they reach their destination, they acquire additional and unexpected hands – Will Ethridge and several others. Will’s knowledge of shipbuilding and carpentry earn him a spot as mate to Chippy, the ship’s carpenter. When Chippy disappears after a stop in Brazil and two of the unexpected recruits go missing, Will is the first to sound the alarm, but there is little Quintrell can do.

The journey to their final destination, a secret place that may or may not exist, is fraught with danger – weather, a leak that was caused on purpose, and others who seek the same treasure as England. Will they survive? Will they find what the Admiralty needs? Will they return safely home?

Muir crafts a spellbinding nautical tale that captures the reader’s attention and never releases it until the final page is turned. Her research and attention to detail are impeccable and her experience as a mariner enhances the adventure. Floating Gold whisks readers back to the heyday of the British navy and while the astounding voyage never actually happened, readers find themselves living the life of a sailor and witnessing the awesome beauty and dangers of Deception Island and sailing the seas on a wooden ship in days of yore.
Reviewed by : Cindy Vallar
Editor, Pirates and Privateers:

FLOATING GOLD review from

Floating Gold By Margaret Muir

Captain Oliver Quintrell is hoping for a ship, but the recent Treaty of Amiens and his equally recent injuries make this rather unlikely. But even if he cannot sail off to war, there are other uses for a naval captain and his is to ensure safe passage for a convoy of merchantmen. He also has some sealed orders that have to be opened when he has reached a certain place…

I think Ms Muir is that rarest of rare birds, an author who can fill a fat novel with a long story. Unfortunately she does not get the chance this time, but there is a feeling in this book that despite its comparative brevity what we are getting is a shortened version of a much longer tale. I enjoy naval fiction and was impressed with this tale of sealed orders, adventures, uncharted waters and mysterious happenings. As sea stories go this one ticks all the boxes, and it isn’t even set during wartime. Ms Muir is adept at characterization, plotting and descriptions as well as showing that she knows one end of a ship from the other. We are promised on the flyleaf “unknown dangers and unspeakable horrors” and although I can promise some of these, I wonder what the book would have been like if it had been twice, or three times as long. We will never know, but I reckon it might have been a contender for my top ten books of the year. As it is this is highly recommended, and I do hope the first in a new series.
© 2010

Posted at www.MyShelf.Com

FLOATING GOLD review from The Book Bag

The novel opens with a description of the rotting remains of a human being battered by the waves on the beaches of the Isle of Wight. I cannot recall any book I have ever read starting on a more depressing note, but this is far from a depressing, or disappointing, story.
Floating Gold is an historical naval novel centred around Captain Oliver Quintrell and his crew who set sail on a secret assignment to the Southern Ocean. The story moves at a good pace. The author never dawdles on one scene for too long or gets bogged down. There were a few subplots to support the main story – my favourite being the death of a midshipman during some onboard games.
There is a good contrast to the characters, the most important three being the Captain, his lieutenant, Simon Parry, and the carpenter's mate, Will Ethridge. The characters are developed well and their backstories slot into the story perfectly. The interactions between characters and the rest of the crew is believable and well written.
I think I would have found the story harder to read if I had not recently read a couple of other books from the same genre. Naval terms, such as ketches, brigs, sloops and fo'c'sle were common and if I had not read other naval novels recently or was especially interested in the genre, I am sure I would have found some of the book harder to understand.
There can be no doubting the calibre of the author's writing. I found the book hard to put down and was kept interested throughout. There is a richness and sharpness to the prose that made the book so enjoyable. There were a few moments of humour littered throughout the book, my favourite being the colourful assertion by the Captain that women view news through kaleidoscopic eyes.
I would certainly not hesitate in recommending the book. It is well written and is a good read. I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

Genre: Historical Fiction
Reviewer: John Harding

Summary: Well paced historical naval fiction set in the Southern Ocean in 1802. A good read with plenty of intrigue and mystery.
Pages: 224 Date: May 2010

Publisher: Robert Hale Ltd
ISBN: 978-0709090519

Sunday, October 31, 2010

FLOATING GOLD - what the reviewers thought

Below are brief excerpts taken from some additional reviews for FLOATING GOLD.

I read FLOATING GOLD in a couple of sessions and my attention was clearly caught by the storyline and the detailed description of life aboard Elusive. Most engaging of all was the search for the treasure which had me rapt.
Margaret Muir has woven a tale worthy of a Hornblower epic.
John Livermore – Maritime Times of Tasmania

Muir crafts a spellbinding nautical tale that captures the reader’s attention and never releases it until the final page is turned. Her research and attention to detail are impeccable and her experience as a mariner enhances the adventure. FLOATING GOLD whisks readers back to the heyday of the British navy and readers find themselves living the life of a sailor and witnessing the awesome beauty and dangers of Deception Island and sailing the seas on a wooden ship in days of yore.
Cindy Vallar – Ed. Pirates and Privateers (

There can be no doubting the calibre of the author’s writing. I found the book hard to put down and was kept interested throughout. There is a richness and sharpness to the prose that made FLOATING GOLD so enjoyable. I would certainly noT hesitate in recommending it.
John Harding –

As sea-stories go, FLOATING GOLD ticks all the boxes. Ms Muir is adept at characterization, plotting and descriptions as well as showing that she knows one end of a ship from another. We are promised on the flyleaf “unknown dangers and unspeakable horrors” and I can promise some of these. Highly recommended and I do hope the first in a new series.
Rachel A Hyde –

FLOATING GOLD is an intriguing mystery featuring murder, spies and skulduggery. The plotting and pace are well maintained throughout and the penultimate chapter is page-turning historical fiction at its best. A book to be enjoyed by anyone who likes historical mysteries or cracking adventure yards about ships and the sea.
Marina Maxwell – Historical Novel Society

FLOATING GOLD - a well-crafted story full of interesting places with carefully and accurately detailed descriptions of now nearly-lost seamanship skills: I recommend this book to both the casual reader of a good story and to readers with an interest in sailing ships and seamanship.
Rob Thomas – T’gallant Lookout, Tasmania

The way that the author captured the language of the times, the mannerisms of the characters and sea terms was remarkable…giving the reader a real sense of what it was like during those years. An excellent novel. A great read, expertly crafted.
David Laing – Australian author

FLOATING GOLD is a historical seafaring adventure/mystery which will be a special treat for those who have salt in their veins, or those who enjoy a quest for an unusual treasure at a time when it was valued far beyond anyone’s dreams.
Rose Frankcombe - Stylus Magazine (ed)

I read FLOATING GOLD and found it to be an enthralling read which kept me wondering what the ‘treasure’ would be.
Bob Petrass – Maritime Times of Tasmania (editor)

Finally: Jon Stephenson – geologist, vulcanologist, member of the Fuchs/Hilary Antarctic expedition in 1958 wrote: ‘I enjoyed the story immensely and kept saying to myself, “this must be Deception Island”’. Jon was correct though the island was never identified by name in the story.
Jon Stephenson – Antarctic explorer and author – CREVASSE ROULETTE (2009)

‘Hundreds of billowing sails, resembling patches of morning cloud, were suddenly seen scudding around the rim of the world, while in the east, great golden spokes fanned across the sky like the helm of an ethereal ship rising from the seabed.’

FLOATING GOLD by Margaret Muir – published by Robert Hale Ltd (2010)

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Gound Zero

Last night I watched a DVD – “Ground Zero” (from my local library).
Although today is 11 September, the movie is not about 9/11’s ground zero, but it's about the Atomic testing at Maralinga, in the Australian desert in the 1950s & 60s.
Though this is a fiction story, it is based on fact surrounding the cover up by the British and Australian Governments.

It’s a powerful conspiracy movie and is very well acted (stars Colin Friels, Jack Thompson and Donald Pleasence).
But for me the most powerful message was in the captions which rolled at the end. Here is what was written:

1) At the time of the testing Aborigines were not included in the Australian census. At that time they were classed with livestock like emus and kangaroos.

2) The Maralinga site at Ground Zero will take 25,000 years to return to normal.
Is it surprising that the first land the Australian government returned to the Aborigines was at Maralinga!!!

Have a good day,

Pic: Parts of Tasmnaia are truly desolate. Despite this, in the early days the Colonial Government did all it could to remove (experminate) all of the indigenous population.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

The scars of racism - a true story

My name is -----, and I am of mixed race, Tasmanian Aboriginal, and Anglo-Saxon. I carry the guilt of one side along with the suffering of the other, with the scars caused by the racism visited on my family and myself by both.

I grew up in a small town, where my grandparents lived; my mum’s parents. Dad’s mum lived about an hour away, and she was disapproving to say the least, of mum, and of us.

But Nanna wasn’t the only one, and, oddly enough, her contempt was the least hurtful, mainly because she was, well, she was Nanna, and she was difficult, and very opinionated, and so far as we could see, she hated all of her children’s spouses. The things that hurt the most were the ones we encountered on a daily basis.

My entire family suffered under the yoke of the label of ‘Abo’, and all the negative connotations of, not so much the word, but the way it was said; with a sneer, and a glower. We were below the lowest rung on the social ladder, and expected to remember that. We were thieves, drunks, child rapists, drunks and violent.

One of the clearest - and most hurtful, even 32 years later - memories of racism I have comes from when I was 8. A girl in my class had invited me to her birthday party, and, all excited to be attending my first ‘proper’ birthday party, I arrived at the appointed time. The main part of the party was outside, we had fairy bread, and cocktail franks, and all the usual party food, until it was time for cake – then we had to go inside, because it was an icecream cake, and a blisteringly hot summer day. Everyone except me that is, I was stopped at the door by her mother, who informed me she didn’t want a ‘filthy, thieving Abo’ in her house. I left in tears, went home, and told my parents I left because I didn’t feel well. To this day, Mum does not know the truth. Dad never knew. It would have destroyed them. As much as it is the job of parents to protect their children, sometimes children have to protect their parents.

I was taunted at school, followed around shops, frisked before leaving, and at times, I was followed home, to be accused of stealing. I was bashed and abused by my peers – those who didn’t go out of their way to avoid me, in case they got some form of contagion from the Abo. If I went to someone’s home, I was expected to enter and leave by the back door, and to make sure there was no-one around to see me arrive or leave. My extended family, most of whom lived out of town, and were the cause of our labelling as thieving, lazy, drunk and violent, were furious with my parents for paying rent to a white landlord, and sending us to a whitefella school, where we were only learning how worthless the whites thought we were.

The most vocal of these was my Uncle, who lived in the bush in a corrugated iron shanty, with his wife, son, and daughter. He was a violent drunk, who delighted in belting his wife and daughter, and would ‘hire’ his family out in exchange for grog. I despised him, and dreaded those occasions where we had to see him. Sadly, he really was my uncle, an actual blood relative. I sincerely hope he burns in Hell. The townspeople I can forgive, to a degree, but not him. The damage he did to me, and my family, as well as his own, is immeasurable, and unforgivable.

We left the area when I was 14, but I still haven’t healed the wounds that those years caused. To this day, I fear being judged for what I am, rather than who I am. I still struggle to get my head around the race debate; I live with one foot on either side of the line, with my head and heart in the middle, spinning in a various random directions. And the older I get, the worse it gets. The scars thicken, and the spinning in my head and heart get faster, and more random.

I have never been back to the town where I spent most of my childhood, and I cannot see it ever happening. There are just too many ghosts, and too much pain. I carry the people there with me every single day, both the good and the bad. I will do so for the rest of my life. And that is ok, they helped shape me.
I will continue to correct those who call me an Indigenous Australian (I find the term offensive), and defend my right to do so.

I will also continue to defend my right to celebrate Australia Day as Australia Day, rather than Invasion Day, as certain activists would have me do. My beliefs and principles are the things that make me who I am, here and now. What happened to me, and my family, in the past, may help to shape me, and continue to hurt me, but it is not who I am. While I may not be completely sure exactly who that is, I am damn sure that whoever it is, is more than the sum of a few strands of DNA.

The writer wished to remain anonymous, but I thank her for allowing me to print her story here

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Crevasse Roulette by Jon Stephenson - Review

Crevasse Roulette
Jon Stephenson
Rosenberg, (2009).

Jon Stephenson was the first Australian to reach the South Pole since the Amundsen expedition in 1913. But the adventure was to remain locked in his memory until recently when he decided to commit his story to print. Published in 2009, Crevasse Roulette is Jon’s remarkable story of the 1957-58 trans-Antarctic crossing. Although it happened 50 years ago, it reads as if it was only yesterday.

In 1956, the young Australian geologist was studying in London. He had dreamed of going to Antarctica, so imagine his delight when ‘Bunny’ Fuchs invited him to become a member of the 1957-58 Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition. The plan was to cross from the Weddell Sea, via the South Pole, to Scott Base at the other side of the continent. It was to be the first overland crossing of Antarctica.

The expedition included 18 huskies. Driving one of the two teams to the South Pole, Jon was the first to do so since Amundsen in 1912. He remembers the attachment he had for his dogs. Today dogs are prohibited from travelling to the continent for fear they may transmit disease. This makes Jon’s trek even more remarkable, as such a journey will never be repeated.

Jon experienced a winter of 24 hour nights and freezing temperatures, and as one of the two pathfinders for the mission, recollects setting off on the 2000 mile journey crossing ‘country which no one had ever seen’. He zig-zagged the unforgiving ice which, at any time, could collapse beneath him, plummeting him and his team down a crevasse. He describes one lucky escape: ‘I felt the ground suddenly give way under me and just managed to catch myself on one elbow and my chin.’ With a gaping dark hole beneath him, he describes it as: ‘the stuff of nightmares’.

Crevasse Roulette is well written and is illustrated by Jon’s remarkable original photographs. For anyone who loves a challenge, has a sense of adventure and is awed by the aura of the unforgiving Antarctic continent, I thoroughly recommend this real-life adventure.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Death of a tree – Launceston, Tasmania

It was a young tree standing tall and proud on the ridge overlooking the Tamar Valley, at the time when convict and bushranger Matthew Brady was making his escape along the river in 1825.
Sadly, a few weeks ago, that tree was felled in the march of progress.

It measured 29 feet around its trunk and must have been over 200 feet high – a true gentle giant which harmed no-one.
Yet from my window, I watched it being torn limb from limb and its roots dragged from the ground by a yellow machine which had no soul.

Twenty years ago, when I lived in Western Australia, I wrote a poem to the demise of the majestic Karri trees in the south west forests.

Here are a few verses from that poem.

The Karri Tree
by Margaret Muir

What dignity, the giant Karri Tree,
Tall sentinel to years of privacy.
A thousand summers bleached her naked boughs
And yet she stoops not and stands tall and proud.

But time runs out as seasons come and go.
Man waits his chance to set upon the wood,
Debase, denature, then depart
No tear, no shame, no guilt fills his cold heart.

Hydraulic mammoths lurk between the trees
Their lethal arms, darting like snapping dogs,
Forward and back in foreboding waves
Menacingly amputating limbs.

A whirring blade wielded like a sword
Slices through myriad rings of life.
Discarded limbs tossed to a haphazard pile
Like headless matches from a broken box.

But mortal man can never emulate
The enviable permanence afforded to the trees
And in his death, man’s ashes to the soil return
Awaited fodder for the forest’s germ.

© * * * * * * * * * *

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Antarctic expeditioner - Jon Stephenson

In this day and age, it is not often one gets the chance to chat with a real life Antarctic explorer. It happened for me at a reception at Tasmania's Government House for delegates of the Antarctic Visions conference.

As we drove to the reception on the coach, I noted an older gentleman sitting alone. He waited until everyone else had alighted and as he did, I mentioned to him that I would appreciate the opportunity to speak to him.
'I'm sure you must have a story,' I said.

Little did I know!
Jon Stephenson was the only Australian chosen for the First Commonwealth Trans Antarctic crossing led by Vivian Fuchs in 1957-58. This was the journey which Sir Ernest Shackleton had planned to make in 1913, but which was aborted when his ship 'Endeavour' became trapped in the ice of the Weddell Sea.

As a young geologist and a mountain climber, Stephenson was studying in London in the 1950s and jumped at the chance to go to Antarctica. 'Bunny' Fuchs led the party which was to head south to the Pole from the Weddell Sea, while Sir Edmund Hillary led the party approaching from the opposite direction (Ross Sea Region) in order to lay supply depots.

Arriving at Antartica in the previous season, Jon and two other scientists wintered on the ice 800 km from the pole, surviving the temperatues of minus 50 degrees and more, and existing through the blackness of 24 hour nights.
As a geologist, Jon took whatever opportunity he could to collect rock samples, like the plant fossils collected by Captain Scott before he died. This evidence proved that the continent of Antarctica was part of the great land mass of Gondwana that had once been joined to Tasmania/Australia.

When spring eventually arrived and the days started to lengthen, Jon and his companions were joined by other members of this Crossing party, and by two teams of huskies. Though he had never driven dogs before, it was Jon's job to drive one of the sledges to the pole. He was also engaged in helping to guide the heavy vehicles through the treacherous crevasses fields.
Like playing Russian Roulette!

On one occasion Jon fell through a snow bridge but managed to lodge an elbow in the snow and prevented himself from falling hundreds of feet to his death.
It took 50 years for Jon to get around to writing a book about his experiences on The Ice.

Published in 2009, Crevasse Roulette captures the essence of the people, places and events of 50 years ago, as though it was only yesterday.
Jon Stephenson was the first Australian to reach the South Pole since Amundsen conquered it in 1913. Jon and his companion were also the first since that time to arrive by dog sled. This achievement will never be repeated as current restriction do not allow dogs on the Antarctic continent.

I felt priveledged to meet Jon that night and thoroughly enjoyed listening to the lecture he gave the following day when he discussed the attributes of various Antarctic expedition leaders. Since returning home, I have read Crevasse Roulette in which Jon tells his remarkable story. It is illustrated by some of his own photographs. If you are awed by the pristine beauty, yet unforgiving nature, of Antarctica and you admire the courage and endurance of the expeditioners, you will enjoy Jon's book.

Pic: His Excellency the Governor of Tasmania and Mrs Underwood. Jon Stephenson centre.
Taffy Williams with the second dog team - photo by Jon Stephenson from his book Crevasse Roulette published by Rosenberg Publishing 2009.

Frozen in time – the tale of two amazing dogs

Dog's bones - the oldest and the coldest!
The remains of two amazing dogs, frozen in time, echo the past. One reflects the Heroic Era of Antarctic exploration, the other reaches back to the hearty days of Henry VIII.

If only the bones could speak, what a tale those canine ghosts could tell!

When Henry VIII’s warship, Mary Rose, sank off the coast of Portsmouth in 1545, hundreds of sailors and soldiers, went to the bottom of the Solent with her.

The Mary Rose had been sent out with other Tudor navy vessels to engage the approaching French fleet, but without a cannon being fired, the king’s favorite warship heeled over allowing water to pour in through her open gunports. In full view of the royal party, the ship sank to the bottom of the busy roadstead. Settled in layers of silt, the Mary Rose remained there for hundreds of years until twenty years ago when a mammoth effort succeeded in lifting the remains of the near 500 year old ship.

After transporting the remains of the ship's hull to the Royal Naval Dockyard, restoration work began and today the Mary Rose is still undergoing preservation.
Amongst the artifacts collected from the wreck and only recently released for display, is the skeleton of a dog which had been aboard on that fateful day. This exhibit proved to be a star attraction at this years Cruft's Dog Show.

But who had this mongrel dog belonged to - the Captain or one of the nobles? As it was found near the hatch to the carpenter’s cabin, it has been named, Hatch. Being a terrier, it probably was kept busy catching rats as there were no cats on board. Cats were thought to bring bad luck.

During the Heroic Era of exploration in Antarctica, many of the famous explorers used huskies to pull the sledges. Amundsen, Scott and Shackleton, Mawson and others before them all used dogs. In some instances, when provisions ran out, the dogs were killed for food. But eating dogs’ liver, which contains toxic levels of vitamin A, at times proved fatal to some of the explorers.

Captain Scott refused to kill either dogs or ponies for food but in the end he and his four companions died near the South Pole during their unsuccessful attempt to return from it. Scott's unrealistic expectations of the ponies, and his attitude to the dogs, contributed to his disastrous final expedition.

Following the Madrid Protocol on protection of Antarctica, a ruling was made that dogs of any kind should not be allowed on the continent, the reason being that they had the potential to carry and transmit diseases (e.g. distemper) to the polar wildlife – namely penguins and seals.

But the fate of all the dogs which ever went to the pole is not known. Some were returned to northern Europe to work on the snow fields, some died on the Antarctic continent, their carcasses being preserved for who-knows-how long.

In 1998 the carcass of a husky was recovered from the Antarctic Plateau near Cape Denison. How long it had been buried in the snow, no one knows.

I wonder whose sledging team this dog was part of. I wonder if it died on an expedition or ran away. From all appearance of the curled up carcass, it would appear that the dog had settled itself in the snow and gone to sleep, however, its body had succumbed to the sub-zero temperatures with its carcass quickly being covered by the snow of the driving blizzards.
Today the dogs remains are regarded as a historical artifact and preserved as part of the heritage of a bye-gone era.

More to come on Antarctica and a dog sled team.

Pic of Mary Rose, by Geoff Hunt
Pic of 'Hatch' the dog with John Lippiett, Chief Executive of the Mary Rose Trust.

Husky pics from Australian Antarctic Division website.

From Penny Farthings to Punch and Judy

Where did the first half of the year go to?
For me, it has flown.
I think back and wonder what I have done. One thing’s for sure, I have failed to keep up my regular blog entries.
However, now I sit down and look back over that time, I can see why.
Firstly, I enrolled at the University of Tasmania to commence an Associate degree in Arts – a case of doing some more undergraduate units in areas which interest me.
Semester 1 consisted on History, Aboriginal studies and two units of Antarctic Studies.
One of the reasons for going back to study was to learn more of the history of early Tasmania – Van Diemen’s Land - as it was originally called. The Antarctic units were of interest to me because of my book, Floating Gold in which one third of the book is set in the Antarctic Peninsula. Read about Crevasse Roulette in another post.
What else have I been up to?

I’ve not been anywhere of significance, though in January I visited Cape Grim and the Woolnorth wind farm with my son (visiting from UK). We also went to Hobart and drove up Mount Wellington (see pic), and took a cruise down the Channel to Bruny Island.

In March, I went to the Penny-farthing races which are held annually at Evandale in northern Tasmania.
The Punch and Judy show reminded me of the words from one of my books, The Black Thread – ‘I’m coming to get you!’

During the past few months, I did the final edit on my latest book, Floating Gold and saw it published on 31 May. I did a modicum of publicity, though not as much as I would have liked, however, I am pleased to say that the early reviews are excellent. I just hope the reviews reflect in sales, plus an offer for a large print edition (though I would have expected that to be forthcoming by now).

June was University exam time – not something I enjoy – and afterwards I went to Hobart for two conferences – one on Antarctica and the other on Tasmanian Colonialism and its Aftermath.

The conference topics were interesting but not quite as interesting as some of the people I met, such as the Governor of Tasmania who I was introduced to at a reception at Government House. Also Alice Giles, international and world renowned harpist, and Jon Stephenson - the first Australian to the South Pole after Amundsen. After wintering on the ice, Jon drove a dog team to the pole - but more on Jon and dogs in a later post.

Sadly, a couple of months ago, my mother died in England aged 99. I had planned to go the UK in December to help her celebrate her 100th birthday, but that is not to be. Six weeks later, her sister, also passed away. I think she was 94. Sad time which marked the end of a generation.
So that brings me up to date.
Last week Semester 2 started and I have embarked on 3 History units and 1 unit of Indigenous Studies so, before I get bogged down in assignments, I thought I should update my blog.
Best wishes to you all. I promise my posts will be more regular in future.
Pics: My sons and I at the top of Mt Wellington, Hobart.
Penny farthing races and Punch and Judy at Evandale, Tasmania.
Penguin pic courtesy of email spam "There is always one idiot in every holiday snap!"

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The CONDOR'S FEATHER - Large Print Edition

There is something very special about Patagonia and the tall Tehuelche Indians who once roamed the Pampas. The magic of Patagonia was one thing which inspired me to write The Condor’s Feather.

Inspirations also came from the real-life adventure of a bold young English aristocrat, Lady Florence Dixie who, in 1878 at age 21, embarked on a ride across the largely unexplored Pampas with her brother. Based loosely on that concept, combined with the carnage of an actual prison mutiny, what better background for a story?

And how could I ignore the magnificent scenery, the snow capped Cordillera, the gorges and raging rivers, and the sunsets...

Thia and her brother clinked their imaginary glasses as the sun finally slid behind the mountain peaks and the night folded down like a concertina curtain - layer upon layer, pink on mauve, purple on blue, grey on navy. Dropping slowly. Pressing every ounce of pigment into the final few inches of sky in a fiery display of burnt orange. Polished mahogany. Burnished gold. The rich colour reflected in the skin of the Tehuelche Indians.

The large print edition of The Condor’s Feather by Margaret Muir was published 1 June by Ulverscroft and is available from The Book Depository post free.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Great reviews for FLOATING GOLD

FLOATING GOLD was released 31 May and I've already got some great feedback from both UK and US. Here are excerpts from three of the reviews:

FLOATING GOLD is a wonderful blend of classic Georgian naval fiction, a mystery/thriller and a grand treasure hunt. A rousing tale, well told. It's a well-paced and vividly drawn tale of adventure in the high latitudes and on the high seas. Highly recommended.

When you have read as many naval fiction novels as I have, the first challenge a new author and book has to meet is - do the story and characters seem fresh? This is a challenge Floating Gold achieves from cover to cover in a pacy narrative which held my attention.

Would I like to read more of Captain Quintrell, Lieutenant Parry, Acting Carpenter Will Ethridge and their adventures? I certainly would.
A book I recommend.

FLOATING GOLD is a nautical thriller that involves a well-plotted treasure hunt. Other nautical heroes too have been chasing treasures on the high seas and in exotic locations, most often Spanish galleons loaded with gold, but none of them – to my knowledge – have ever been chasing a treasure like the one that is featured in this book.
It is an innovative and entertaining tale, rich on detail about England and life at sea, and a tale that is very well told.
FLOATING GOLD is an excellent nautical fiction debut by Margaret Muir. I hope she continues to write about Quintrell – a character that I feel has a lot of potential.

If you like historical fiction, salty sea tales or clever adventures, FLOATING GOLD is a book you should get hold of – it is very entertaining, well written and intelligently plotted!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

FLOATING GOLD author interviewed by Historic Naval Fiction

Astrodene's Historic Naval Fiction is pleased to have obtained an interview with Margaret Muir, author of FLOATING GOLD .

This age-of-sail adventure, published by Hale Books, London, will be released on 31 May 2010 and is already available for pre-order.

I am sure you will find some of the answers very intersting.

What can you tell us about FLOATING GOLD, without spoiling the plot for readers?

The year is 1802 and Captain Oliver Quintrell is frustrated at being land-locked. However, when he is granted a commission, he is cynical that his vessel is a mere frigate. But Elusive is a sound ship and with a seemingly loyal crew he sails from Portsmouth. On entering the tropics, he discovers the purpose of his cruise and from Rio he heads south into the inhospitable waters of the high latitudes beyond Cape Horn.
But the secret orders he has been entrusted with are veiled in mystery and the chances of success seem near impossible. Murder, treason, enemy ships, ice, and the near loss of his ship are but some of the problems to confront him. His mission is to retrieve a valuable cargo and return it to England and Captain Quintrell intends to succeed no matter what the cost.

What made you decide to write your first book in the historic naval fiction genre?

Several things. My love of the Horatio Hornblower series. Inspiration after stepping aboard HMS Victory in Portsmouth. Experiences at sea sailing aboard replica vessels such as Captain Cook's HM Brig Endeavour and the tiny Colonial Brig Lady Nelson. Several voyages on a sail training vessel and a voyage across the Atlantic in a (latter day) barquentine.

What things in particular inspired you to write this book?

Two things. Firstly a visit to the Antarctic Peninsula a few years ago – what a remarkably unforgettable place that is! And secondly reading an article about a lump of ambergris being found on a beach in South Australia.

How did you undertake your research for the book?

My research is mainly through reading, but not fiction (that came earlier). And I tend to read factual seafaring accounts such as Cordingley’s, Billy Ruffian, Taylor’s, The Caliban Shore, Bergreen’s, Over the Edge of the World, besides reference books such as Goodwin’s, Nelson’s Men o’ War and similar. I read almost anything which is related to the days of wooden sailing ships. Obviously I also use the internet and where possible view primary source material of ships’ logs, reports or personal letters.

Where did your interest in the sea originate?

I don’t know. Perhaps from a model fully rigged wooden sailing ship which always graced the sideboard when I was growing up.
Then in the late 1990s I took my first tall-ship sailing adventure – a 12 day voyage as trainee crew on a barquentine, STS Leeuwin. Sitting on deck on bow watch one night while in the Indian Ocean, I was amazed to see the marine luminescent particles sparkling in the bow wave. At the time I didn’t know what this phenomenon was. I called these flashes of light illusive diamonds (they reminded me of the illusionist’s magic dust) and Illusive Diamonds was the proposed title for my first book. I was later advised that title would never sell so I changed it to Sea Dust which is less inspiring but possibly more marketable.

What drew you to write your first novel?

As I said, my first novel, Sea Dust (2005) was a sea story – a historical fiction story with a female protagonist. Set in 1856 in Whitby, Yorkshire it tells the tale of a young woman who escapes from England by stowing away on a cargo vessel and sailing to Australia. In retrospect, I think the story epitomises my own fantasies to run away. (I did leave Yorkshire many years ago and emigrated to Australia but my passage was on a Boeing 707)

Do you plan your stories before starting to write?

No. I don’t have a pre-conceived plot. If a particular setting or a person or action grabs me, that is where I begin and I let it flow from there. Sometimes the idea I come up with might be midway through the story (as with Sea Dust onboard ship). I then have to thread a beginning to it. Sometimes the most amazing things crop up as the story progresses which surprises even me.

Are your books available?

My previous four titles are available in Large Print only as they never went into paperback after the hardback edition sold out. The Condor’s Feather (2009) – an equestrian adventure set in Patagonia – is still available from on-line bookshops in hardback. FLOATING GOLD can be ordered on-line from The Book Depository, Hale Books or any on-line bookstore.

What intrigues you about the period in which the book is set?

I love the sense of adventure, heroes, challenges, hubris, courage, loyalty, tenacity and ingenuity; of man against man, and man against the elements.

Are you planning to write further naval fiction books set in the age of sail?

I had started writing the sequel to FLOATING GOLD, before I got sidetracked on a book about Tasmanian bushrangers. To complicate matters further, this year I embarked on more university studies. However if FLOATING GOLD is well received there will certainly be a sequel. Originally I had plans for a series of sequels and possibly a prequel.

Is there anything else you would like to share with readers?

Writing is a lonely experience and authors get little feedback about their work - either good or bad. Without any follow up it’s hard to know what readers really want. I’m always happy to take on board any comments, feedback, suggestions or offers from publishers to take up the paperback rights.

My thanks to the Historic Naval Fiction Blog for this interview.

To read more about the book, go to

Interview with Margaret Muir - written by Astrodene

Monday, March 01, 2010

Chile aware of Tsunami and earthquake dangers

While a catastrophic tsunami or earthquake is something no country wants to experience, these sorts of natural disasters are eventuallities which Chileans have some provisions for.

I have visited Chile on two occasions and was told in Santiago back in 2004 that a big earthquake in the region was overdue.
The last one they experienced measured over 9 on the Richter Scale. It was the biggest quake on record in the world.

When I visited in 2008, I noticed on almost every street corner of one of the northern Chilean coastal towns, Tsumani warning signs with arrows pointing to higher ground.

Why is it then that warnings on Australian beaches go unheeded by some brave/foolish beachgoers?
The cost of installing these systems must be enormous but some folk treat the early warnings almost as a joke. And some are disappointed if they do not see the catastrophic tsunami wave.

This is the second quake in a short period of time (Haiti only a few weeks ago). Obviously some of the tectonic plates are on the move?

The big question is - is California due for the big one?
I've never been to Califormia (apart from changing planes in LA) but I doubt they have warning signs on the street corners - and if they do, will people take heed of them when the sirens sound?

Friday, February 26, 2010

Giant icebergs collide off Antarctica

Australia's ABC TV announced today that a gigantic iceberg measuring 78 km long by 39 km wide and 400 meters thick has broken from the tongue of the Mertz Glacier in Antarctica. The calving was due to another berg of similar size colliding with it.

The report stated that this event was not related to global warming but that there could be long term effects from these two giant bodies of ice if they remain where they are. They may have an effect on ocean currents and temperature.

ABC News on-line states: “With an area of more than 2,500 square kilometres, the iceberg is bigger than the Australian Capital Territory [or Luxemburg], and holds enough fresh water to supply all of the earth's human needs for a year.”
That is one big berg!

Having commenced Antarctic studies at the University of Tasmania only this week, I find this event intriguing and the sheer dimensions of this berg mind boggling.

Pic: Relatively small iceberg photoed at a distance of several miles in the Southern Ocean.
Pic: Relatively tiny glacier in the Chilean Fjords. Note the insignificant size of the cruise ship.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

AVATAR - first-rate, must-see movie

Being nearer 60 than 16, not being a lover of Sci-fi/fantasy, and never having seen a 3-D movie before, I wasn’t sure if I would enjoy this mainly animated movie or not.

However, I saw it the first week it was out and thought it was brilliant.

If you haven’t seen it you must – Avatar is not only a box-office hit and is breaking all previous movie records, but it’s a first-rate must-see movie!

Producer, James Cameron’s presentation of the planet Pandora is remarkable and the scenery (real photography from China) for the floating rocks is breathtaking. The animated flying creatures and costume design are all deserving of Oscar nominations, as are some of the performances.

Little known Australian actor Sam Worthington plays the main role; Zoë Saldana is Neytiri, Sigourney Weaver supports.

My only criticism is of Sigourney Weaver smoking in a high tech lab. This would not be allowed despite her status. And the guerrilla warfare scenes for me were reminiscent of my grandson’s animated war games.

All-in-all, a remarkable movie which I will buy when it comes out on DVD.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Earthquake hits Haiti

Support Doctors Without Borders in Haiti

News of the humanitarian disaster in Haiti is still unfolding and it will be weeks before the final death toll is known.
Doctors without Borders or Medicins sans Frontieres is the organisation which I support on a monthly basis and the organisation which is sending a 50-bed portable hospital to Haiti to assist with the disaster relief.

If you have not heard of this organisation here is a little of its history.

In 1970 French doctors who had worked in Biafra joined forces Raymond Borel's group called Secours Médical Français ("French Medical Relief") in response to the 1970 Bhola cyclone, which killed at least 500,000 in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). The aim was to recruit doctors to provide aid to victims of natural disasters.

On 20 December 1971, the two groups of colleagues merged to form Médecins Sans Frontières.
MSF’s first mission as an independent aid organization was to the Nicaraguan capital, Managua, where a 1972 earthquake had destroyed most of the city and killed between 10,000 and 30,000 people. The organization is today known for its quick response in an emergency.

If you live in Australia, you can contribute through the Austalian office on 1300 136061 or contact them through their website at Medicins sans Frontieres