Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Offshore become The Sea Sapphire

In the days after my last post it dawned on me that the centre of the story was the ship rather than the personnel and I started to have doubts about the title. It's happened before. "Mitchell's Run" began life under another title, so did "The First Born". As with the others, changing the title changed my perception of the story, opening up possibilities I'd not considered before.
Apart from the prologue, the story begins with the introduction of the ship and will now end with the aftermath of the sinking described in the prologue. This was my original outline and the name change gives me the chance to cover other aspect of offshore operations.

Friday, December 07, 2012


I began writing Offshore in 1982 while working on offshore supply and anchor-handling boats in Australia, both off the North-West coast and in Bass Strait. Originally it was little more than a series of notes written at odd moments and was intended to follow the members of a normal nine-man crew of one swing. I put the notes together into a story after I published my first romance novel in 1999, but there they languished until after Coasting was accepted for publication at the beginning of 2012.
I opened the story file while deciding whether to continue with the third volume of The Alliance series of science fiction/fantasy or continue with the semi biographical sea story theme started by Coasting.
The story I created in 1999 was simple and linear, beginning with a prologue in which the central ship had sunk and ending at the same point when the story of it came to happen ended. I started writing with that  and the outline of the nine characters in mind.
Other characters emerged as I wrote, some drawn from memory and others created by the story itself. A few elbowed the original characters aside, supplanting them in importance and changing both the flow and direction. I kept them disciplined for a while, but today I gave up and gave them their head.
I admit to having little Idea where the story will lead now, but I am enjoying the journey more.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The best review ever

I sent a copy of "Coasting" to a contemporary of mine who was at sea, on different ships to me, in 1975. He rang me yesterday and spent almost an hour on the phone telling me how exactly I'd captured the era and how much he'd enjoyed the story. "I felt I was sitting there watching it happen,"he said. "I remember the ship you based the Dargo on and the number of times I cursed that damned control air system."
We chuckled together about remembered incidents at the "Breckie Creek" hotel and at "Cleo's" in Fremantle, reliving our relative youth in its more madcap moments.
When the call ended, I sat for some time, grinning my pleasure at the compliments he'd paid me in enjoying the book so much and thinking it so true.
It was what I'd set out to do in 1972.

Saturday, August 04, 2012

The Coasting Contest is live at Coffee Time Romance

Eternal Press released Coasting on August 1st and Coffee Time Romance are running a competition on their contest page . The prize is a download of the book and a $25 Coffee Time Romance voucher to spend in their book store. The answers are on the Coasting page of my websites

The following excerpt doesn't have the answers, but you might enjoy it anyway.

Doug’s mind wandered. His snatches of sleep since the boiler failed  were not enough and tiredness was a leaden weight on his shoulders. He'd husbanded the others as much as he could but there’d always been something urgent he had to do immediately.

Things had steadied now. Around him, everyone did their jobs and his focus drifted. It would be tempting to find a seat somewhere and sit for a while.

He reacted slowly to Taff’s sudden movement and incoherent shout. It was not till the man’s hand closed on the live bar that he shouted, “No, Taff, don’t!”

It was too late. The alternating current constricted the tendons and Taff’s hand locked itself around the bar. He gave a weird wavering wail and appeared to dance a jig about the bar. Doug caught the whiff of burning flesh and it galvanized him into action. He took two running steps and swung his right foot in a mighty kick to break Taff’s deadly grip.
The jolt of the current wiped out his mind before he knew if he’d succeeded

Sunday, July 22, 2012


I have always enjoyed the interaction with an editor in the publishing process of a book or story. We are both committed to producing the very best telling of the story, but come at it from different directions.
Every editor I've worked with has been different and I've learned from each of them. It was my initial purpose in seeking publication, gaining the services of editors to help me learn to write better. The current book is no different.
The cultural difference between the US and Australia are fertile grounds for editors and Coasting has produced some classic examples like Smoko and Larrikin.
Other differences are more subtle. Handguns are not readily available in Australia and were even less so in 1974. So a hit man who patiently modifies a cheap, more readily available, .22 calibre rifle for each kill, disposing of the parts afterwards, seemed strange to my American editor. Especially when he compensated for the lightweight, hollow point, projectile by turning the cut down and silenced rifle into a machine pistol that emptied the fifteen shot magazine at the squeeze of a trigger. (I admit to having done the same modification when I was young, just to prove it could done and not to kill fellow humans.) It is a brutally effective and discreet killing weapon, inaudible except at close range. Its design facilitates breaking it down and scattering the parts afterwards--a valuable asset for the careful hit man.
It's all part of the fun of writing.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Coasting has a cover

Amanda Kelsey has done me proud with this cover. It is striking and effective. All I need now are the edits and they're in progress.
I make no bones about this book being very special to me. It was the genre I wanted to write in 1975 and all the other books and stories have been the preparation for its release. I enjoyed the learning curve, but my goal was always this book.
In many ways, the journey has been symptomatic of my life, selecting a goal and then bending my efforts to achieve it. When I was younger, it was easier. I always knew I could outlast temporary setbacks and never found one that was permanent. On the cusp of seventy-five, reaching this one brings a special pleasure.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Education Week

Part of the Education Week festivities in Victoria is Grandparent's Day, where the younger students can invite their grandparents to the school to see the work they do. With eight grandchildren, it's been a busy week for us. Fortunately, the schedules of individual schools did not clash and we managed to visit each grandchild's school and enthuse about their work.
At one school there was a concert, with each group of children presenting a short item and I was amazed at how confidently most of them took the stage. I would never have managed it at their age.
At another, the senior students ran the assembly, ably assisted by their juniors, while, at the third, we were invited to share lunch with our grandchildren and be shown through their class rooms and the work they are doing.
One grand-daughter (9) sang solo at assembly (she is already part of the Australian Girl's Choir program)
Education has come a long way since the authoritarian, lock-step days of my childhood and, if my generation still has doubts about some aspects of its journey, there are times when it seems amazingly successful.

Monday, May 14, 2012

My personal Tardis

Like "Coasting", my current WIP, "Offshore" is proving that time travel is possible.
 It was first written in 1982, when I was sailing on Supply Boats not unlike the Sapphire Sea and recalls some moments of that time with absolute clarity. Others I had to think about...like the lookout system for night steaming.
With such a small crew, nine men, the Skipper and the Mate had to do six-hour watches and it was important to ensure that at least two men are awake during the hours of darkness (radar is an aid, not an answer to safe night steaming) With two engineers and only five ABs, one of which is committed to the engine room while another acts as cook, that leaves three men to cover the hours of darkness on the bridge. Logically, each man should do four hours as lookout and have eight hours to sleep, but it didn't fit with my vague memories of the time and the manuscript written in the period contained no specifics.
I went back to friends from those days, largely engineers, and found I wasn't the only one whose memories were vague. Worse, everyone remembered the system differently.
My next source was the personal journals I kept at the time (records not so much of daily events, but of thoughts and conclusions it was rarely politic to express aloud. A form of lightning conductor that kept me out of trouble more times than I can remember) Their inconclusive nature and the variance of other peoples' memories convinced me that the system must have varied from ship to ship and from crew to crew (we normally swung on and off the ship as a group, some crews staying together for years).
Talking about something so specific with friends who shared the experience, generated some marvelous tales of the times and characters (A skipper everybody called "Fruit Box" because he was so short he had to carry a wooden fruit box to see over the wing of the bridge when manoeuvring alongside a rig).
The other element of interest was the different ways others recalled the same incidents, some because they were on different supply boats, others because of different perspectives.
It was a great interlude from writing.

Friday, May 04, 2012

Mitchell's Run

Whiskey Creek Press have accepted "Mitchell's Run" in it original Australian setting and will release it as an e-book. There's no cover art or release date yet, but this fulfills a promise I made to myself when Saltwater Press folded and my first five books went out of print with them. They were all paperbacks released only in Australia and I was determined to give them a wider audience, both for my own satisfaction and as a tribute to Diane Colman's faith in me at the time.
The writing has been updated and the final question about Andrew Mitchell has been answered in this version, satisfying the most common query about the story from readers.

Saturday, April 28, 2012


With "Coasting" awaiting edits and cover art, I turned to some of my other writing from my sea-going days and found one that was worth another look. It chronicles the death of an aging supply boat in the Timor Sea and begins with two survivors floating in the darkness after the ship has sunk. It was originally written in 1982 and is the product of twenty years experience in the industry, working with crews not all that different from the one in the story.
This is a picture of one about the right vintage and size.
They have a working crew of nine, a skipper, a mate, two engineers and five seamen and do everything, rig shifts, anchor work, towage and supplies. I've sailed through cyclones in them and spent endless days towing rigs and other things half way around the world.
A marvellous way of life when you're young.

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Back on my feet again

It seems to have taken forever, but I can now walk and cycle without real discomfort.
There were some benefits to my enforced sedentary ways, "Coasting" has been accepted by Eternal Press and we had a holiday down at Warrnambool, which allowed me to exercise along the beach to strengthen my knee.
We're continuing our cull of the accumulated "treasures" of thirty-four years of living in the same house for no other reason than it is necessary, discovering things we'd long forgotten and never missed. I'm not sure what will happen at the end of the process, but it has its own satisfactions.
The impending publication of "Coasting" feels strange. It was first written in the mid 1970s as part of my first exploration into becoming a writer and now has fourteen separate drafts/versions; ten hard copies typed labouriously on a portable typewriter in 1972-1975 and four electronic versions done recently. I am a little surprised at it being accepted because it is locked in the 1970s by circumstances and attitudes and focuses largely on the world of the Australian coastal shipping. My eldest daughter is ecstatic because it her favourite story of mine (I think she sees something of herself in the heroine).
Depending on how well it is received, I have a couple of other stories written during my time at sea that I may resurrect.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

The best laid plans....

I tackled the long overdue task of sorting through the Aladdin's cave of things left temporarily (?) by our children during their various shifts from one house to another, a dark corner of our garage that has grown exponentially to take up both workshop and car spaces. The first stage was to sort things into piles of ownership, a process growing more difficult as I ventured further and further into terra incognito.

Near the end, when I had three piles of identified, but forgotten treasures under the shelter of the carport and a garage that echoed noise strangely, I stepped back and onto a can of spray paint that had escaped one of the boxes when I was shifting it and fell heavily.

Initially just winded, it wasn't until I attempted to rise that I realized that I'd twisted or banged my left knee and it wouldn't support me. As always, in these events, I was home alone and it took me twenty minutes to get to my feet with the aid of a work bench.

Today is a little better and I can hobble slowly and painfully while we wait for the results of x-rays etc.

For over seventy years, I have commanded my body and it obeyed...is this the beginning of anarchy?

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Filling in time

I have two submissions current, each one very different from the other. One could open new doors and the other is merely more of the same. I am still working on the screenplay of "The Widow-Maker", but that has reached the stage where I'm shuffling things around to make them fit within the time constraint of 120 minutes/120 pages and, now that I'm comfortably back in the story, that is something I tend to do in the back of my mind when I'm doing something physical...like all the house and garden maintenance I put off last winter!
It's very pleasant, now the temperature has fallen a little and I've organised the jobs into a logical sequence and they've begun to look manageable.
I should come back to writing refreshed at the end of them.