Saturday, 29 December 2012

Good Fortune Favours the Brave

This is a short story from the Mallory series of books which is set between the end of 'The Pull of The Tide' and the sequel, 'The Surge of The Sea'...

Hong Kong - New Years Eve 1936

Mallory hated New Years with a vengeance. He sat on a stool at the bar in the Makati Club in Wanchai. Girls and Jazz music were all around him in equal quantities, but he cared not. He nursed a Whisky and Soda and leafed through an old copy of the ‘China Mail’ with total disinterest. He read that an explorer named Ruth Harkness had captured a giant panda cub in Sichuan province and had taken the creature back to the United States. Named Su-Lin, it was the first panda to be kept outside of China. ‘Why?’ he thought, miserably.

New Year was a lot of fuss about nothing. It was just a date; years were just dates. Mallory liked his time to be even and seamless. December 31st, January 1st, they were just a day apart; another day in the calendar. One was 1936, one was 1937, so what, just numbers.

The crew were ignoring him. Mallory was down in his cups and they were out for a good night. It was their first night ashore in a while and not to be wasted. It was their last night ashore in 1936 and never to be repeated.

Bates the Chief Officer was horrified at the prices. The girls kept badgering him to buy them a drink. Like any good Yorkshire lad, he had tried to barter as the price of drinks in the Makati were truly horrendous. While he ruminated on how unfair this all was, what with him being a poor sailor man and all, he managed to sink quite a few beers. In the end and in a one man protest against this daylight robbery, he had danced along the top of the bar with his flies undone and his empty trouser pockets turned out, in his very best impression of a human elephant.

“Geordie” Paterson had met a nice Chinese girl in a very alluring cheongsam, but she wanted to charge him one Hong Kong Dollar just to tell him a joke. He wouldn’t have minded, but he suspected he had already heard the joke before. In retaliation, he bet her the same amount that he could make her breasts wobble through the cheongsam without even touching them. She was intrigued, but a dollar was a dollar and she hesitated. In the end, curiosity got the better of her and she relented.

“Geordie” put both his hands on her chest, feeling her warm flesh through the sky blue silk. Moving his hands in circles of opposite directions, he gave her petite breasts a good jiggle. 

She was horrified – ‘I thought you said you didn’t need to touch me?’ she shouted at him in her high pitched tinny voice.

“Geordie” thought it was the best dollar he had spent in a long time.

Chang was a pirate. He was proud to be a pirate. His family had roamed the South China seas for generations and he felt his venerable ancestors were always behind him as he robbed and burned his way through the lucrative merchant ships passing the Chinese coast. He knew exactly who to pay to ensure that the authorities left him alone. As long as everybody got their share, there was nothing to stop him. He was successful unlike that idiot brother of his, who prostituted himself with the Gwai-Lo in England for next to nothing. He had pride in his work. His brother; well, he was a big disappointment to his ancestors. Chang the pirate and his horde were readying themselves for a busy night. A well paid informer told them that a Dutch cargo liner had sailed from Hong Kong bound for Japan and she was loaded with, amongst other things, gold bullion. With night falling and the wheel lashed on their pirate junk to keep her on an intercepting course, Chang and his crew were cleaning and loading their guns in preparation. His right hand man, Han, was sharpening his large curved sword. Han's party trick was beheading. The quickest way to get any captain to part with the keys to the ships safe was to decapitate a kneeling member of his crew in front of him. Westerners had no stomach for real fighting. Soon the Dutch ship would be in striking range and they would look for her steaming lights on the horizon.

The third officer had dozed off on Aspatria. They were a few days out of Honkers and it had been a wild night ashore. The third officer had been particularly outrageous and he deserved a few hours sleep for effort, even if he was supposed to be on watch. It was no matter as “Geordie” Paterson, mariner supreme and Sunderlands best export was at the wheel. You didn’t need a certificated officer when “Geordie” was around. He stood bold and upright, with both hands fixed firmly on the wheel, staring straight out through the bridge windows as his father and grandfather had done before him. Well they might have done, had he known who they were.

This continuation of the great British seafaring tradition lasted for about seven minutes, when suddenly he felt a strange movement in his lower abdomen. It was an odd sensation, but one that he had experienced before. It seemed that the fish curry served up for lunch by their Polish cook, “Fingers” Nestorowicz, might have had something else in it apart from fish. The cook wasn’t known for his personal hygiene. However, “Geordie” was nothing if not professional and engaged the autopilot as he had seen countless deck officers do over the years during their shared watches. Checking the compass to ensure that the autopilot was keeping Aspatria straight and true, he almost ran to the ‘heads’ as he felt his bowels give a hop, skip and a jump.

Chang was just about to climb the ladder to the open deck to look for the approaching ‘Dutchies’ lights, when suddenly he was thrown to the deck, hitting his head on the base of a cast iron stove and smashing open his skull. Han was skewered through by a yard-long splinter of teak, dying instantly. His gleaming sword lay impotent at his twitching feet.  Forging ahead with Sleeping Beauty for a third officer and “Geordie” ensconced securely on his seat of ease, Aspatria had ploughed neatly through the bow of the smaller wooden pirate vessel. There was no more than a slight vibration in her deck plates as the steel ship tore her open like a hot knife cutting through butter. With the bow gone, Chang and his cronies went to the bottom in less than 45 seconds. Lost with all hands.

“Geordie” relieved and feeling somewhat lighter, returned to the wheel, disengaged the autopilot and gripped the wheel manfully. Aspatria would be safe once more in his strong guiding arms until the third mate came round and made him a nice steaming cup of Java. He was good at this. He might be master of his own vessel one day.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

No Christmas Trees, Holly or Mistletoe

You can smell real fur in the church.

Inuit celebrate Christmas in a slightly different way to Europeans. Nothing much grows in the Arctic so you have to adapt your customs and celebrations to suit.

Its cold but dry - minus 30 Degrees Centigrade. Howling dogs, steaming breath, strings of fairy lights across the multi-coloured corrugated tin shacks.

The community gathers in the village meeting place. Outside there are sledges and their dogs, tied up, having brought their masters into town. Dogs that can pull their sled 100 miles a day, for a whole week if necessary. Inside, there is the staccato chatter of Inuktitut, the local language. Here the people are connected to the land and more importantly, the sea. It's their provider - without the sea, they would starve. Its creatures provide them with sustenance and the Inuit are grateful. They practised conservation long before the Europeans invented the word. Take what you need and leave what you don't to conserve stocks, as they also have a right to live . Kill mercifully to survive but be respectful of the sacrifice, as the animal gave its life so that the Inuit may live.

The Inuit gather, women in amautis with round faced babies. The hunters arrive, laden with the fruits of their labours. Some fresh from the ice laden water and some still frozen from their underground stores. Makeshift tables are erected and the community pool their food for a seasonal feast. Seal, Walrus, Narwhal fin, Char, Caribou. The seafood is raw and chewy but the Inuit have good teeth.

A couple of teenage girls start to sing katajjaq, Inuit throat singing. The hypnotic rhythmic song flickers from one girl to the other as they compete with other. The pace quickens as the two girls stand facing each other, holding on to the others arms for support. They rock gently together as they sing, the competition intensifying. Just as you start to drift, entranced by the almost tribal sounds, they stop abruptly and laugh together. One has run out of breath, the other is the victor.

An accordion is produced, strangely out of place here. Brought to these shores by a long dead sailor, the instrument is squeezed back into life. An old man with a lined brown face, sad eyes and a beard consisting of no more than 10 black hairs sings a slow mournful song. He sings from his memories, the days when he would travel for days just to hunt, paddling his kayak and pitting his wits against his prey on an equal footing. He sings of huge whales, roaming proud and free. He sings of lost friends, drowned by the animal they pursued. Crushed by the downward slam of an angry fluke.

The accordion picks up a faster beat, the mood lightens and small drums start up on the other side of the room. Hunters get to their feet and shuffle and hop their way around the room in a jig, their movement limited by their heavy sealskin boots.

The room is warm, faces are smiling and bellies are full. Most importantly, the village is united and they rejoice in the strength of community, giving thanks for another year of survival.

Merry Christmas.............


Monday, 17 December 2012

Ex-Ray on "Geordie" Paterson - Post#15

Following on from Post#12 (X Ray Specs), this is the first ex-ray expose on the characters in the Mallory series of books.

"Geordie" Paterson is the first character we meet in the 'Pull of The Tide', the first book. Known as the 'Walking Catastrophe', Paterson is a deckhand on 'Aspatria' and it has been said that he could make trouble marooned on a desert island.

Hailing from Sunderland, Ordinary Seaman Paterson is described as wearing a gap-toothed smile and a flat cap the size of a dinner plate. Dubbed "Geordie" by his shipmates, he always maintains that the nickname is a deliberate insult as he isn't from Newcastle. Few of the crew know the difference.

Uncouth and ignorant, Paterson shares a cabin with a Capuchin monkey called Neville. "Geordie" rescued the monkey from South America when he saw 'Neville' imprisoned in a wooden cage by Amazonian natives. Afraid that they would eat the primate, he bought him in exchange for a Sunderland football scarf and rattle. It was said by a wag in the crew that his cabin got a lot tidier when 'Neville' moved in.

"Geordie" appears regularly in both 'The Pull of The Tide' and the new sequel 'The Surge of The Sea'.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

The Black Maria - Post#14

Built on the Thames as the ROBIN in 1890, this ship is the oldest complete steamship in existence today.

She was designed for the Home Trade, meaning she was confined to operating on the coasts of Britain and Continental Europe between the limits of Brest in the West and the River Elbe in the East.

In 1900 she was sold to Spanish owners and renamed MARIA. She remained under the Spanish flag until 1974 - that's 74 years coasting around the various ports of Spain and France.

In 1936 MARIA was commandeered by the then Spanish Government and she was in Santander in August 1937 when that port was taken by General Franco's forces. Whether she was employed by them, or how, is not known. We do know, however, that by 1938 she was back trading again for her former owners, Perez & Cia. It is therefore possible that she may have been used for secret Spanish civil war work and it is also a possibility that she may have passed Mallory and his vessel Aspatria in Cadiz.

The Maria Story in Film

The ship has now been renovated and is once again known as ROBIN. The vessel is currently open as a museum in the London Docks close to where she was built 122 years earlier.

Masefield's 'Cargoes'
Quinquireme of Nineveh from distant Ophir,
Rowing home to haven in sunny Palestine,
With a cargo of ivory,
And apes and peacocks,
Sandalwood, cedarwood, and sweet white wine.

Stately Spanish galleon coming from the Isthmus, Dipping through the Tropics by the palm-green shores, With a cargo of diamonds,
Emeralds, amythysts,
Topazes, and cinnamon, and gold moidores.

Dirty British coaster with a salt-caked smoke stack, Butting through the Channel in the mad March days,
With a cargo of Tyne coal,
Road-rails, pig-lead,
Firewood, iron-ware, and cheap tin trays.

John Masefield, 1917

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Goodreads - Post#13

The Pull of the Tide is now on 'goodreads'.

This is a free US website designed for book lovers. Its not a selling website like Amazon - imagine it as a large library that you can wander through and see everyone's bookshelves, their reviews, and their ratings. You can also post your own reviews and catalogue what you have read, are currently reading, and plan to read in the future.

You don’t have to stop there – join a discussion group, start a book club, contact an author, and even post your own writing.

Another good book site is here:

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

X-Ray Specs - Post#12

Amazon Kindle have just upgraded their reading 'app' which can be used with their own Kindle readers and tablets to include the new 'X-Ray' feature.

X-Ray is where additional information can be provided about a book while you are reading it. There is a separate X-Ray tab on the Kindle reader page and when you tap it, it provides further details about characters and places in the plot.

Unfortunately, they are only offering it on around 2% of their e-books and these tend to be the best selling ones.

Having tried it out, I find it slightly lacking.

Instead of the authors providing the information, Amazon are using clever software to analyse the content and then link to Wikipedia and Shelfari, Amazon's community-powered encyclopedia for book lovers. In my humble opinion, this makes X-Ray seem a little clinical and disjointed and the warmth of the book isn't communicated properly.

However, it has given me an idea.

I will provide my own version of X-Ray on this blog. It will cover the main characters in the first book, 'The Pull of The Tide' and provide additional character bio's to enhance and illustrate the plot. It will also be available to those Kindle book fans who won't have access to the X-Ray information from Amazon.

Watch out for the first Ex-Ray post !! 

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Towing in the Test Tank - Post#11

The hull designs for ships like Aspatria would have been proven prior to building in testing tanks like this one.

This tank is 92 metres long, 6.7 metres wide and 2.5 metres deep. Scale models of the hull design were made from wax, a skilled trade in itself and these were then attached below the cradle shown above and pulled along the length of the tank, with simulated waves generated at the far end. The models could be up to 6m in length and you can see examples of sections of them on the left hand side of the photograph.

These tanks allowed naval architects and designers to test their hull designs to calculate efficiency and stability. Fuel consumption and speed could be calculated in an era long before the advent of computers and CAD/CAM.

This particular example was built in 1892 and is located on the River Clyde, a big shipbuilding area in the 20th century. It still remains in working condition and has been used for training and education purposes until recently. The last vessels it was used to design were some modern RO-RO (Roll On-Roll Off) ferries.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

The Shetland Bus - Post#10

The Mallory series of books are set towards the opening stages of the Second World War.

German forces occupied Norway in 1940 and this resulted in many refugees fleeing west to Shetland.

A secret base was set up at Lunna on Shetland and during the winter the same fishing cutters that brought the refugees, took agents, wireless sets and arms to Norway to support the resistance.

At one point, losses were so great that they nearly gave up. It was only through sheer determination that the Shetland Bus continued.

The operation was of great psychological importance to the Norwegian people and at the end of the war, there were 60 illegal radio stations transmitting from Norway, most of which had been put there by the Bus.

Strategically, the Germans were forced to use lots of men and resources to defend the western coast of Norway. The SB missions were one of the reasons that the Germans thought the allied invasion would come via Norway rather than Normandy and they even set up a chain of gun fortresses to protect it.

The Norwegian people have never forgotten the bravery of those involved with the Bus and there is a memorial in Alesund Harbour to them.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

The Gully Gully Men - Post#9

The Gully Gully Man was a magician that would visit ships, mainly in places like Egypt. He would perform coin, rope and card tricks and his speed and finesse at sleight of hand would normally leave sailors puzzled and poorer.

Do you know how the man on the bottom supports his colleague one handed ??

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Feeling Flat ? - Post#8

Are you feeling low or flat at this time of year?

People keep asking me why I don't publish The Pull of The Tide as a free Kindle book.

There is a saying 'there is no such thing as a free lunch', but what I have done is to change the price of the book.

So, in the run up to Christmas, I have reduced the book price which is now on the Amazon Kindle website for just £1.53 !

For those of you in other parts of the world, the price has also been reduced on in the same way.

Hopefully, now you can stop feeling flat and soar like a bird - enjoy.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Woody's Workshop - Post#7

The ships carpenter was an important man on the old wooden sailing ships. The wooden hull was the only thing between the men and the sea and it had a tendency to rot, split and leak with age.
However, even steel ships like Aspatria carried a carpenter. Traditionally known as the 'Chippy' or 'Chips', the real name of the carpenter on  Aspatria was Archie Woods and so the crew gave him the nickname 'Woody'.

Archie's tasks included oiling and greasing the steering gear (which linked the wheel on the bridge with the rudder down aft), sounding all the tanks and bilges, checking how much freshwater had been used, greasing the winches and routinely repairing hatches, lockers and doors.

'Woody' had a little workshop up in the forecastle (bow) of the ship, which is shown above. He would normally be seen doing his daily rounds, walking about the deck with his sounding rod in hand and being followed by his cat 'Mrs Chips'. How that partnership came to be is another story.


Thursday, 15 November 2012

Review From a Japanese Reader - Post#6

I have received my first review from Japan:

'Firstly, I want to say thanks for introducing me to this book.
I was read this book on a commuter train every morning and evening, 
and I had became a member of the sailors of the M/V. ASPATRIA.
Sometime, I forgot to get off my station, because my body was being on-board.

This is ship's adventure novel it was like a Disney movie like fun.

I had found in this novel that there are the oldest European Chinatown communities
in Liverpool and found good name bar "Anchor" , this name seems to be port of town, tobacco smoke and ship s whistle, I had felt in the background in the bar'.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Don't Wait Any Longer - Post#5

Have you read the first book and want more in-depth information about Aspatria, the members of her crew and other characters ?

Are you considering downloading the book from Amazon Kindle ??

Tired of having to keep checking back here to see if the blog has been updated yet ?

Don't just wait around for the next juicy morsel, use our new e-mail notification at the bottom of the page. Simply enter your e-mail address and Feedburner will e-mail you when there is a new post here. Don't worry - no e-mail addresses are visible to the author.

Once you submit your e-mail address, Feedburner will automatically e-mail you to verify everything and after that, you won't have to wait around again.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Liverpool in all its glory... - Post#4

Liverpool was a great inspiration when it came to me writing my first book. This is probably one of the few ports in the UK which acknowledges its long maritime history and I've spent hours here.

It's not that difficult to imagine Captain Neil Mallory and his crew of nautical misfits in the docks. Liverpool has been a prosperous and wicked city in its time. The successful merchants quickly moved over to the other side of the river and the Liverpool waterfront became a place of pubs, chandlers, maritime trades supplying the ships and the more nefarious trades supplying those who drove the ships.

I own a reference book called 'The Streets of Liverpool - A Photographic Record' by Colin Wilkinson which contains many black and white photographs of the city throughout the 20th century.
It shows pictures of the slums of Johnson Street and Burlington Street in the late thirties. There are hoardings in the background for Cherry Blossom boot polish, Camp Coffee and the latest Gloria Swanson film.

What better place to provide a home port for the good ship 'Aspatria' even if she can probably never return there now !!

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Mirror Mirror on the Window - Post#3

Well the book has been out for nearly a week and sales are going well. I've even sold a copy in Japan through the Amazon Japan website which is great.

Mallory, his vessel Aspatria and his misfit crew have been going through my head for four years and it feels good to finally get them down on paper and out there. It's strange but when you live with characters for so long, they really become like flesh and blood people.

People keep asking me do you really know people like that and I answer with the same answer as I've written in my authors biography spot on Amazon:

'When I wanted to go to sea, my teachers at the nautical college filled my head with stories of runs ashore and jolly japes. At 16, this largely fuelled my enthusiasm for a career in the British Merchant Navy. At college, the closest we got to any of this was nearly hanging a very irritating student off a rotating radar scanner one day and electrocuting ourselves to varying degrees on a regular basis.

When I finally got to join ships three years later, it was the 1980's and things were already changing. Of course when they told their stories, my teachers had been thinking about when they had gone to sea thirty years earlier. This hadn't really dawned on me at the time. Can I sue for a mis-sold career ?

Now thirty years later, I've seen a lot of places and met a lot of interesting people and I still work with the sea - in fact, I can hear it now, gently lapping on to the beach as I type. Many of the characters I've known are dead, alcoholic or run greengrocers shops, but they will always live on in my books'.

People that know me and have read the first book are now asking me when the sequel will be ready. They seem quite disappointed when I explain that I cannot just produce another 150 pages next week. I guess we live in the video age - an age of instant gratification, but I am starting work on a sequel to 'The Pull of the Tide'. There are a lot of people and experiences that I just could not fit in the first book, so I still have some stories left to tell.

By the way, following the theme of adventure and intrigue in the book, the photograph above shows a prismatic mirror which resides in a shipowners office used around the 1930's when the book is set. The mirror allowed the shipowner to see who was walking up and down the street outside without peering out of the window. Who he was looking for, I have no idea....perhaps he was watching for one of the shady characters that Mallory encounters ?

Thursday, 8 November 2012

The Birthplace - Post#2

This was where the idea for the Mallory books started - in Yorkshire in 2008.

On a lazy holiday, with the trials and tribulations of the daily grind temporarily suspended and my imagination free to wander.

I imagined an old ship tramping around the worlds ports trying to earn a crust. A captain with good and solid intentions, coping with the aftermath of the depression and a bunch of misfits as a crew.

What started off as a serious book became a humourous look at life at sea, peppered with my own experiences and anecdotes.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Aspatria - Post#1

Aspatria, the ship that is the undisputed star of the 'The Pull of The Tide' is a 4000 ton general cargo motorship not unlike the ship illustrated above.

In the book it states she was built on the Wear in Sunderland in 1924 and was fitted with a 3-cylinder Doxford-Junkers engine which ran on oil instead of steam.