It’s not that difficult to stay indoors these days when we look out the window at a crisp,new mantle of snow. Check the thermometer at wakeup and it’s minus 17 degs. At coffee time we have minus 9 degs. But no worries, spring is coming. I look to the northern flicker a-drumming on my chimney and at daybreak today, despite the temperature, his possible bride-to-be is feeding on dropped seed under the bird feeder.
Writer’s block comes easy when you’re immersed in sunshine, sand and the surf of many beaches. I’ve just returned back to my snowy Calgary, Canada, home after a wonderful month in that amazing place of former years, New Zealand. Yep, it was terrific. With Lois’ sister and brother we had a wee road trip up and around the Coromandel Peninsula sampling beaches and meat pies. Then a great three weeks around “our” Taranaki province coastline and hinterland.
A major part of the trip was business: to publicize and launch my novel Finding Dermot. The book is now available in two bookstores there, The BookStop Gallery (www.bookstop.co.nz)in New Plymouth, a central setting of the novel, and Adventure Books (www.adventurebooks.co.nz) in Oamaru in the South Island.
We also drove the Forgotten World Highway once more, revisiting Whangamomona, another key location for the story.
It was – 24 degrees with a very chilling wind blowing. Light snow was falling. Yep, just the right sort of day to sit in a well decorated stable selling a book about Antarctic adventures. That was last weekend. Today, just a week later, Lois and I are back here again at the wonderful Spruce Meadows Christmas Marketplace to sell Tide Cracks and Sastrugi from our 144 sq ft booth (ummm, horse stall).
It’s a very interesting space to hibernate for a few days. We’ve been doing our Christmas shopping here for several years but this is our first venture into having our very own sales booth. It is an amazing experience and a whole new community, most of whom are selling their own creations — images, child videos, coolers, jewellery, knitted goods and so on.
Ya-a-a-a-y. T’is done and the presses are rolling. I might be feeling just a wee bit excited right now. There were many times this summer when I thought Tide Cracks and Sastrugi would never make it. I got distraught and frustrated. Thanks to the encouragement of good friends and family , an inspiring editor and an on target publisher, books are being being printed and bound. I picked up the test batch today and all looks good. Nice thing too, is that I already have orders.
My publisher has set up a couple of launch signings: Cafe Books at Canmore, Alberta on November 12, 1-3 pm and Chapters Chinnok store on Macleod Trail SW, Calgary, on November 20, 1-3pm.
I have captured a booth as Old Antarctic Explorer in Reindeer Alley at The famous Spruce Meadows Christmas Marketplace over two weekends, November 18-20 and November 25-27.
I’m trying to get to grips with social media and got a redial surprise the other day when I added LinkedIn to my iPhone. I found this recommendation from the book’s indexer Tia Leschke: “I indexed Graeme’s book Tide Cracks and Sastrugi: An Antarctic Summer of 1968-69. I think this was the most interesting book I’ve indexed so far. I went right along with him as I worked (from the comfort of my desk). I had to stop myself from getting lost in the story and forgetting to index.”
Coupla tech specs: the book is 7 inches by 10 inches, contains 290 pages, something like 130 pictures including about 100 colour pages.
This is the beginning of October. But lets hike back 100 years and imagine the tension around two expedition camps — Framheim at the Bay of Whales on the eastern edge of the Barrier ice and Terra Nova at Cape Evans on the western side of Ross Island in McMurdo Sound. At Framheim, the Norwegian Roald Amundsen was champing at the bit wanting to begin his run at the South Pole. At Cape Evans, the British Captain Robert Scott was methodically preparing his teams (ponies and motor toboggans) for his quest to reach the South Pole . Each party wanted to be first.
The challenge between these two expeditions has defined south polar history. Amundsen and his team returned victorious. Scott and his men succumbed in their tent in a bitter Antarctic blizzard, just 12 miles short of a plentiful supply depot. Earlier, and filled with disappointment, Scott diaried at the Pole: “Great God! this is an awful place and terrible enough for us to have laboured to it without reward of priority.” Amundsen had beaten the Brits by some 34 days.
When Amundsen first saw the sun in late August after the long polar night, he was itching to get underway, believing that Spring would be something akin to his Arctic adventures. The Antarctic really does not have those shoulder Spring and Fall seasons. It’s either sun or no sun. He hung around Framheim and believing warmer temperatures were coming headed out on September 8 in something like -41degC. The mercury went the other way, plummeting to -57degC. On September 12, his team headed back home quickly but it did cost them a few dogs and almost the lives of a couple of his men.
The Norwegians waited till October 19 ( NZST time) before finally pointing their dog teams south to the Pole.
Meanwhile, over at Cape Evans, Scott and his men continued preparing their ponies and testing motor toboggans. The motor group left on October 24 and the ponies headed south on November 1. At this point Amundsen was already some 300 km ahead.
Fast forward 57 years to the 1968-69 New Zealand Antarctic Research Programme when October was also an important month for my colleagues and I. In a year of economic restraint, our task was to assemble a tractor train and head northwest on the frozen surface of McMurdo Sound to the dry Wright Valley with materials to assemble New Zealand’s first mainland Antarctic winter over station. We billed ourselves as the last of the great tractor trains — a 12-year-old Tucker Sno-Cat and a D4 Caterpillar bulldozer each pulling three sledges, and two track-fitted Ferguson farm tractors, each hauling a rubber tired trailer.
This remarkable event is highlighted in my book Tide Cracks and Sastrugi: An Antarctic summer of 1968-69 which will be available through Amazon.com and others in late November. Copies will be printed here in Calgary and available through firstname.lastname@example.org. The B&W version sells for $25 CAD and the colour $35 CAD.
As the northern hemisphere slowly wraps up for winter, the southern hemisphere opens up to summer. It ‘s the same on the continent of Antarctica. But this year holds special significance as a centennial year to reflect on those who pioneered the way.
My WordPress log reminds me of how many days it has been since I last posted something to this blog (ouch!). For those who at one time may have followed progress on my book, I apologize for the procrastination. Having joined the ranks of the independent to self publish my book, I became involved in a process that started to consume me. I also found that the warm sunshine of our northern summer was an easy distraction and an escape from the tedium of process and organization in publishing a book.
Self publishing is not simply a case of writing, slapping in a couple of pictures and heading to the local print shop to get a few copies of the greatest manuscript since Somerset Maugham.
My book, Tide Cracks and Sastrugi: An Antarctic summer of 1968-69, is in the final stages before printing. Getting to this point followed a well defined trail laid out so patiently by my publisher Kim of Polished Publishing Group (PPG).When I thought I was near the end of the writing part, I sent it to my editor and she worked it, then worked me over to get it right and to make the script into what it is. Sheila’s builds and suggestions were amazing and she extracted much new material from the hidden places of my brain to complete a story of a very personal journey. She found in me linkages which would build value into the story.
Her valued advice meant I spent many a Spring day on major rewrites. This preceded whittling about a thousand photographs down to the handful that could be incorporated into the book. Because the book deals with just one small life on the frozen Antarctic desert at the end of the first decade of modern exploration, I really considered my old photographs necessary to illustrate the conditions of the time. That winnowing of a memorable collection took some time and while I started out at a limit of 80 pictures, I ended up with 130. PPG’s designer John proved to be a terrific ally in putting visual sense between the covers. I love his cover design and the treatment he has given Tide Cracks.
From weeks in the design phase, the book passed to another in the PPG team, Tia whom I now regard as Indexer Supremo. I was excited about the results of her work, the depth and cross referencing outclasses the content of the book! Before this, I hadn’t recognized the art and expertise involved in indexing. To me an index was always something at the end of the book. I didn’t have a clue as to how it got there and was very relieved to know that this was an activity I would not have to sweat through.
With the index added, the book headed to the Print on Demand folk for a hard copy. When that returned to the publisher, it was Jen’s turn. She is a professional proofreader, combing through the text with fresh eyes and a fresh approach to ensure the book meets a totally professional standard.
Her changes are now being incorporated and in about a week I will get to see my first hard copy. I’m excited. I’ll get one last read through before signing off with the Publisher and receiving the files for printing.
I promise I’ll be back in a few days with an update.
One of the final “Antarctic” places to visit before we left Christchurch, the New Zealand gateway to the south, was the city’s Botanic Gardens. And on a beautiful, very hot and sunny Sunday afternoon we picnicked on the lawn with family and friends before heading into an adjoining gallery of the Canterbury Museum to view a remarkable touring exhibition of pioneer photographs from what is known simply as the Royal Collection.
First off though, the gardens housed a Magnetic Observatory established in 1901 to assist Captain Robert Falcon Scott with his magnetic surveys in Antarctica. It was used by other early explorers and operated at the Gardens until 1969 when it was moved further outside the city. Since the 1957-58 International Geophysical Year this observatory as well as observatories at Scott Base and Apia, Samoa, (now operated by the Samoan government) provide real-time magnetic data to International Data Centres.
The Royal Exhibition, known as the Heart of the Great Alone, was magnificent.Lois and I toured around the photographic displays of works by Herbert Ponting from the Scott’s British Antarctic Expedition of 1910-1913 and the Frank Hurley photographs from Ernest Shackleton’s 1914-1917 Imperial Transantarctic Expedition. There was also lots of memorabilia on display too. It was an interesting piece of time travel for me, having walked in a few of their footsteps around McMurdo Sound. At first I thought it was a bit ho-hum and I was a little disappointed until I realized I have been close to these pictures, stories and records for a number of years and had seen or read pretty well all of it. For Lois though, and others, it was a very focussed look at the trials and tribulations of early Antarctic explorers and the legacy they left for those that followed in the latter part of last century to today.
We missed the adjoining Antarctic Museum within the Canterbury Museum this visit having made a thorough tour just two years ago. The city has deep relationships with all disciplines in Antarctica and this had added to the cultural and economic wealth.
Before leaving New Zealand we visited with Old Antarctic Explorers and families in Auckland including Robin Foubister (pictured) leader of my 1968-69 New Zealand Antarctic Research Program.
To cap the whole New Zealand trip off Robin took us out to a gannet colony at Muriwai. Like the gannets, we too are migratory– they go to Australia after the breeding season while we headed back to our home in winter Canada.
This was one of those get-clear-of-the-fray, get-a-little-adventurous times. I left the city and headed south and west to one of my favorite places in the foothills of the Canadian Rockies. It was a beautiful drive south with clear blue skies and sunshine. Temperature around zero getting to as high as 9c as I headed west to the Highwood Pass. Here, in our little A-frame camper, I’m getting the fix I need and renewed oomph to get on with The Book. I’ve been at the keyboard for a couple of hours and the temperature is dropping, the skies are clouding and by the time I get to go home I suspect I’ll see a snow flurry or two. I wanted peace and quiet and a fresh outlook and I have it here, about 120km out of the city surrounded by snow-capped mountains, the silent spruce forests and naked aspen along the river. There’s a bit of snow on the ground, a sign that winter is slowly closing in. The stream is still chuckling over the rocks and ice crystals lace the banks, slowly broadening towards the middle. The wind has dropped but there is still enough breeze to chill the fingers and nose. I am snug and warm in my den on wheels. It has a small propane furnace to chase the cold. Coffee on the stove, baked beans and toast for lunch.
This afternoon I cleared my head of accumulated junk and found renewed interest in piecing a story together of my mid-1900s life in Antarctica, the opposite end of the globe from my home here in Canada.
I’m armed with the notes and suggestions from my mentor and friend and professional editor Sheila Bender (www.writingitreal.com) who lives in Port Townsend, WA. Her first edit calls me to reach deeper into the memory tank to keep reader interest. This is the tough part of writing and at the same time the most satisfying. I see Sheila’s recommendations adding vitality and life to my rambling prose. I am excited at what I’m doing. The tough part if keeping focus and staying with. In the past few weeks Lois has been encouraging me to get on with it and get with the program. My response has been well, I am thinking about it…trying to recall stuff in my personal life that will add the interest Sheila suggests.
Today has been great and given me the kick I needed. Now I want to get back to the city before dark. I may get another couple of trips out here before the real snow flies. Thankfully, the signs I had earlier in the day have blown away. The skies have cleared and I’ll have a great drive home. It is beautiful country. When this valley does get the full winter snow, it will be closed to human traffic till the Spring, leaving the meadows and the solitude to the resident population of bear, moose, deer, cougar, mountain sheep and the like. They will get to enjoy a winter of peace and quiet.