Thursday, 15 June 2017

The Fairest Cape in all the world...

It was Sir Francis Drake who coined the now-famous line in 1580 to describe the mountainous peninsula that stretches from modern-day Cape Town to the southwestern-most tip of Africa at Cape Point...

"This cape, Drake wrote in July of 1580, is a most stately thing,
and the fairest cape we saw in the whole circumference of the earth.

Bear in mind that Drake, at that point, was nearing the final stage of an epic round-the-world voyage and might very well have been sated by the range of exotic and spectacular places he'd already seen. He'd set out from Plymouth in 1577 and went south to touch at west Africa and then picked up winds to speed him across the Atlantic. He voyaged down the east coast of south America, followed in Magellan's wake by taking the famous straits into the Pacific. From there, he sailed up the west coast reaching, some say, as far as California before turning west to cross the Pacific and reach the islands of Indonesia. He continued west across the Indian Ocean, and saw the Cape of Good Hope almost 3 years after leaving Plymouth. Then he made his way up the west coast of Africa and returned to a hero's welcome.
And all that in a wooden sailing ship, with only the stars and the sun to steer by!
But the journey was not simply a peaceful voyage of discovery. There were mutinies and skirmishes, and disease and death. Drake was also after booty, and he plundered many ships for their cargoes of gold, silver and spices. His ship, Golden Hind, must have staggered into port, so substantial was its cargo of treasure. Drake would go on to become even more famous for his role in the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588.

But I'm pleased he took time out from adventuring and piracy to notice the splendours of the Cape...

Thursday, 1 June 2017

A Doggy Tale...

Have you ever heard of a dog that joined the navy?

If you go to Simon's Town, the former Royal Navy base that is the setting for my new novel, The Girl from Simon's Bay, you will find one that did! Meet Just Nuisance, a Great Dane that was enlisted into the Royal Navy in August 1939 with the rank of Ordinary Seaman. But how did this come about?

Nuisance was born in 1937 and became a familiar sight around the naval base where he regarded the port's sailors as his companions. He enjoyed taking his ease on board ship, his favourite spot being on deck at the top of the gangplank. He was also an adventurous animal because he learned to use the train and would hop on in Simon's Town and wend his way to Cape Town, or jump off at intervening stops for a sniff-around. So frequent became his commuting that the authorities grew incensed with this massive dog riding the line without paying a fare - even though sailors offered to pay for him. Matters came to a head when the railway warned that the hound would be seized and put down if he didn't stop his illegal trips. A huge outcry followed. In the end, the navy Commander-in-Chief hit upon the idea of enlistment into the Royal Navy. After all, during wartime, any volunteer (human or, er, animal) was entitled to free train travel.

In due course, Ordinary Seaman Just Nuisance was promoted to Able Seaman to allow him to obtain 'naval rations'. He became a celebrity around the world, even getting 'married' to a fellow Great Dane and producing puppies, two of which were auctioned to raise money for War Funds at a reception attended by the Mayor of Cape Town.

What more can be said of such a famous pooch? Of course I had to include him in my book! And he is forever commemorated in a statue that stands in Jubilee Square in the centre of Simon's Town. Pop along and size him up, if you ever happen to be in the neighbourhood!

Monday, 15 May 2017

The Perils of Signing Books

Here I am, signing a stack of books during the launch of The Girl from Simon's Bay in South Africa. This particular bookshop was Exclusive Books, in Constantia, Cape Town, and these copies were destined for a store-front display. I hope that they have all been sold!

Book signings are fun, especially when I get to meet readers who are buying a book for themselves or a friend or relative. But there's a hidden peril! I have rather untidy handwriting (as a result, I tell myself, of doing all my work on a keyboard and therefore neglecting my handwriting). In most cases only a signature is required and that's not a problem. In fact, a wild-looking signature is almost a necessity. No-one, after all, wants a tame author signature, do they? So I can allow myself a flourish, without worrying that it may be incomprehensible.

However... if I am asked for more i.e. I need to inscribe a particular message, then I start to get nervous. Having to write, for example, "To Susie on her birthday" or "To a special friend", requires legibility. But I find that my wrist seizes up and my fingers refuse to create neat text. What if the poor recipient can't decipher his or her special message?

So far, I haven't had any complaints but I think it's been close. The alternative would be to print the inscription carefully and slowly rather than attempt a calmer version of my cursive signature. But doing so might raise the possibility among sharper recipients that the books have actually been signed by different people:
The expansive author and a far more ordered assistant...
Would they feel shortchanged in some way?

Friday, 28 April 2017

The Girl from Simon's Bay - on audio!

Fancy listening to my new book?

Well, now you can because the audiobook of The Girl from Simon's Bay is out! Published by Rosa Audio, it can be found at online bookshops for download to your phone, tablet etc.
Narrated by the wonderfully-named Chipo Chung, it runs for 10 hours and 33 minutes from start to finish.

Enough time to see you through a long trip or a week's worth of commuting?

Audiobooks are becoming more and more popular as an option for those who want to "read" but don't want to take along a physical book or swipe pages on a tablet. Your phone becomes the book. Just download the title of your choice, hook up your headset, lean back and listen. These days, when I see someone immersed in what's being played into their ears, it's very often not music - but books. The written word made audible. And this segment of the publishing industry is growing faster than e-books. With a market valued at $3.5 billion and impressive year on year growth, audiobooks are changing the way we read.

And... did you know that you can switch between reading the Kindle e-book and listening to the audiobook? Or do both?
How clever is that!

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Meet me at the Aerial Ropeway!

So says Louise Ahrendts, heroine of my new book, The Girl from Simon's Bay.

And I am standing - on a very windy day! - close to where she would have met David Horrocks, by the middle landing stage. The ropeway was built in the early 1900s to move supplies, staff and patients from the West Dockyard in Simon's Town, up to either the Royal Naval Hospital, or to the Sanatorium which sits at the top of the mountain. It took 15 minutes from bottom to top, and you rode in a rather elegant cable car which looked like a wooden gazebo. By the time Louise and David met there, the ropeway was no longer in use because a road had been built to the Sanatorium. Only the metal pylons remain.

I think the locals must have regretted the ropeway's passing - imagine what an exciting journey it must have been! And what spectacular views! There's a lovely story about the specific siting of the Sanatorium. It was apparently built right at the top of the mountain in order to make it difficult for recuperating patients to go down into town and make merry in Simon's Town's pubs!

And what of Louise and David? What came of their meeting?

It was 6 months since he'd left and four months since his letter.
And now here he was, sitting on the ledge by the aerial ropeway, staring at the thicket of warships clustered within the dockyard. I was above him, on a path I often followed. If he didn't turn, he wouldn't see me. If I turned and went back the way I'd come, he wouldn't see me either.

I waited, one moment willing him to turn, the next willing myself to be sensible and go back...

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Museums and Memories

One of the key areas of research in writing my new book, The Girl from Simon's Bay, was the ships that called into Simon's Town naval base before and during World War 2. I wanted to position my hero, David Horrocks, on vessels that not only played a significant part in the war but also visited the dockyard at particular periods during the conflict. I'm most grateful to Simon's Town Museum for giving me access to their records, and here is a pic of me presenting a copy of the book for their collection.

As I researched, I began to build up a picture of ship movements in and out of the dockyard. I settled on four ships: HMS Durban, HMS/HMNZ Achilles, HMS Dorsetshire and HMS Cumberland. Based on their real wartime action, I designed David's war service. For example, while posted on HMS Durban just before the outbreak of war, David visits Simon's Town and happens to notice a young woman on St George's street, laughing with a young admirer. Slender, with that twist of the exotic so unmistakeable in the local girls...

War breaks out and he is transferred to HMS/HMNZ Achilles, part of the task force hunting for the German raider, Graf Spee. In the ensuing battle, David is wounded and carries a scar on his temple for the rest of his life. While on convoy with HMS Dorsetshire down the coast of West Africa, he develops appendicitis and, when the warship calls in to Simon's Town, he is rushed to the Royal Naval Hospital where he is nursed by a young woman who looks vaguely familiar...

David rejoins to HMS Dorsetshire in time for its role in the sinking of the Bismarck, but Dorsetshire's days are numbered.
Rescue came on the second day, just as hope - and water - were almost spent.
Then to HMS Cumberland, and the final days of the war in the Far East.
Two bombs, and it's over at last.
Wait for me, please. I will return.

Four ships, a world war and, in fleeting moments between the carnage, an unlikely romance...

Sunday, 19 March 2017

A Launch to remember!

It's been quite some week!
The Girl from Simon's Bay is now well and truly launched!

Four talks and signings, several radio interviews (listen on my website, print media interviews, blog interviews and a TV appearance. I've certainly been kept on the hop promoting the book in Cape Town. I've met many new readers - and also reconnected with ones who had read my previous book, The Housemaid's Daughter. Thank you to all those who came along to find out more and then went on to purchase a copy!

Breakfast TV must be one of the liveliest workplaces around. It doesn't have to be regimented or particularly serious - it's all about engaging with the slightly sleepy viewer and making him/her feel good about waking up and facing the day. On my show, there was a band giving an impromptu performance, someone demonstrating indigenous flower arranging, a feature on how to choose a puppy(!), a guest chef about to prepare a sausage dish, and myself talking about my new book. Never a dull moment! If you haven't caught my TV clip yet, jump on to or find it on my website.

And how did we ever survive without mobile phones? Aside from the humdrum matter of calls/texts/emails, welcome to the mobile phone as temporary radio studio. I found myself in a car, on live radio, discussing my book, offering my take on International Women's Day and then receiving a job offer from a presenter who said I had a good voice for the airwaves!
Just don't put the call on speaker - too much feedback.
Amazing what you learn along the way!