Tag Archives: To Die a Dry Death

Is it worth revamping an old book?

TDADD-ebook-webHave you ever gazed forlornly at your first ever publication and wondered whether you could have done a better job? I know some of you have. I guess that’s one of the wonderful things about the ease of electronic publishing – fixing errors and typos is so easy. So when the rights to my one and only historical fiction book, To Die a Dry Death, were returned to me, I decided to give it my best.

TDaDD has had a chequered history, moving from one publisher to another three times, each without much sales success, despite a number of excellent reviews. During the years since I first wrote the book, I’ve been able to visit the Abrolhos Islands, and I described that visit in a post. At that time I wondered whether my descriptions of the landscape matched the reality, so when my rights were returned I wanted to check. Accuracy in details are so important when describing something that really happened.

Bear in mind that each time the book changed house it was edited and copy edited before it was re-released. Even so, I’ve written quite a few other books since TDaDD was first launched, and practice in writing might not make perfect, but it sure does help. I started reading from page one (as you do) and soon found myself thinking I could have expressed a few parts a little better. I soon built up a head of steam and ended up adding over a thousand words to the MS.

I thought it was worth pointing out the main faults I found – especially bearing in mind this book has been edited at least six times. It’s a useful lesson in self-editing.

‘Said’ isn’t as invisible as you might think

Sometimes it’s just plain unnecessary

Here’s an example:

“I believe it,” said Pelsaert. “It’s just the sort of thing Adriaen was capable of. Fancy offering a woman like Lucretia gold to submit to his will.” He jerked his head at Cornelisz. “Go on.”

This could just as easily be:

“I believe it. It’s just the sort of thing Adriaen was capable of. Fancy offering a woman like Lucretia gold to submit to his will.” Pelsaert jerked his head at Cornelisz. “Go on.”

Telling instead of showing

It takes more words to paint a picture, but it’s usually worthwhile.

This:

A soldier approached with a canvas collar, brought from the Sardam. It sat tight around Cornelisz’s neck, a funnel all the way around his head to above the level of his nose. That done, they strapped him to a frame built for the purpose so he could not move or tilt his head

Became this:

The men approached with a canvas collar, brought from the Sardam. They fastened it tightly around Cornelisz’s neck, forming a funnel all the way around his head to above the level of his nose. That done, they strapped his arms and legs to a wooden frame built for the purpose so he could not move, then fastened the funnel to the frame so he couldn’t tilt his head.

Poor scene transition

By that I mean from one sentence to the next we’re suddenly somewhere else, forcing the reader to work it out. No-one ever mentioned that as an issue, but I noticed it, so I’ve fixed it.

Not enough in the character’s head

This was interesting, because at the time I thought I was doing that, revealing the character’s thoughts to the reader. Sometimes I did, but sometimes I didn’t. This isn’t a fault per se; not everyone writes like that. But I do, and I felt it would add to the reading experience.

In the end, I’ve added about one thousand words. Which means I added rather more than that, since I took out a lot of ‘said’s. But I have not changed the plot, or the characters in any way. The cake was baked. I just added a bit of icing.

Was it worth doing? I think so. I believe I’ve made an already good book a little bit better. I hope readers will agree. And I really, really LOVE the new cover. Thanks to Rebecca Poole of Dreams2Media for her patience and skill in realising my vision. I also rewrote the blurb, which I believe reflects this incredible true story much better than the previous versions.

So here it is, for better or for worse. Any bets on whether it’ll now be a best seller? Let’s just say I ain’t holding my breath.

To Die a Dry Death

TDADD-ebook-webSurviving the shipwreck was the easy part

1629. Shipwrecked on an uncharted reef thirty miles off the coast of Australia, two hundred men, women and children scramble ashore on tiny, hostile islands. There is no fresh water and the only food is what they can salvage from the wreck, or harvest from the sea.

The ship’s officers set out in an open boat on a two-thousand-mile journey across uncharted ocean to seek help. But there’s not enough food and water for everyone on the islands to last until a rescue ship arrives. One man will stop at nothing to ensure that he is among the survivors.

But adversity throws up heroes. Soon there’s war between two groups, both determined to be there to greet that rescue ship when it arrives. If it arrives.

The terrifying true story of the Batavia shipwreck. Contains graphic violence.

 

 

 

That’s one ticked off the bucket list

These islands are incredibly low. No wonder mariners didn't see them at night.

These islands are incredibly low. No wonder mariners didn’t see them at night.

A visit to the Abrolhos Islands has been on my bucket list for a long time and now I’ve finally done it. On a picture-perfect day we flew out of Geraldton airport on a small plane, headed for the Abrolhos archipelago, 55 to 60 km off the coast.

I’ve seen the maps and other people’s pictures but seeing the place for yourself is very different. The islands are spread over a long distance, organised in four groups. We flew over the Pelsaert Group and the Easter Group before heading for the Wallabi group, which is where the VOC ship Batavia was wrecked in 1629. That was my focus; how well had I depicted the setting in my book To Die a Dry Death, and what effect would this place have on me.

To start with, we flew over West Wallabi, where the soldiers under their inspirational leader Wiebbe Hayes, defended themselves against Jeronimus Cornelisz’s thugs. There, I took a picture of the ‘fort’. Fort is the wrong word, I think. They probably built a shelter to protect them from the everlasting wind. Our visit took place on a rare day when the wind didn’t blow.

Wiebbe's fort on West Wallabi

Wiebbe’s fort on West Wallabi

Then we landed on East Wallabi. If anything, I think I underestimated the term ‘High Island’. Certainly East and West Wallabi are much higher than anything else out there – but most of the islands are pancake flat, little more than reefs left exposed above the sea. The High Islands are low sandhills built on a limestone platform. That said, they’re positively spacious in comparison to Beacon Island (Batavia’s Graveyard), the Long Island and Traitor’s Island. Wildlife is abundant. We saw lizards everywhere, a number of the resident wallabies, sea birds, dolphins cruising the reefs, every variety of fish. Because of the Leeuwin current, the water is warmer out there, so coral gardens grow in the shallow water.

A wallaby on East Wallabi island

A wallaby on East Wallabi island

The plants on the islands are another story. All the growth is stunted, with most bushes not much more than knee high. A few plants grow a little higher but shade would have been hard to find. I stood on the highest point of East Wallabi and looked across the sea to the line of bright sand which was the Long Island and the smaller low island which was Batavia’s Graveyard. Yes, I’m sure Wiebbe would have posted lookouts here when he learned of Cornelisz’s reign of terror.

If you look carefully you'll see the Long Island on Batavia's Graveyard on the horizon. Taken from East Wallabi.

If you look carefully you’ll see the Long Island (right) and Batavia’s Graveyard (left) on the horizon. Taken from East Wallabi.

We flew over Batavia’s Graveyard on the way back and also saw Traitor’s Island, where the survivors were first landed from the shipwrecked Batavia. It was from here that the ship’s longboat, loaded with all the senior officers, set sail for the city of Batavia (now known as Jakarta), leaving the rest of the survivors to fend for themselves. The fishing shacks on the islands are now empty and the plan is to remove them so that this island where so many horrendous events took place, can be properly excavated and its ghosts left in respectful peace.

Batavia's Graveyard. Behind it, just under the wing is the spec that is Traitor's Island. Beyond that is the reef.

Batavia’s Graveyard. Behind it, just under the wing is the spec that is Traitor’s Island. Beyond that is the reef.

After nearly 400 years, the hole the Batavia gouged in the reef is still visible. Batavia wrecksiteThe Dutch ships Batavia and Zeewijk are just two of a large number of ships wrecked on these treacherous islands. On a normal day, when the white caps would cover the ocean, it’s easy to imagine mariners in peril of running onto these reefs. At night – well, it’s hardly surprising.

And me? What did this trip do for me? It was sobering. It was so easy to imagine people from another world landing here, maybe grateful to be alive but faced with the enormous problem of survival in a harsh, uncaring land. Complicate that with a psychopath and you have a horror story that no novelist could have dreamed up in a nightmare. Yet it’s also a story of great courage, ingenuity and the strength of the human spirit. Seeing what those people faced all those years ago simply highlights those qualities.

If you’d like to know more about the wreck of the Batavia, check out my history page.

It’s back!

PrintI’m delighted to announce that my historical fiction novel, To Die a Dry Death, is back on Amazon. Fingerpress has released to paperback first, but the e-book should be available shortly. It’s the same great, true story with a fabulous new cover.

280 survivors. One tyrant. The true story of the Batavia shipwreck.

The chilling, true story of the shipwreck of the Batavia could so easily have been the template for William Golding’s Lord of the Flies.

In June 1629, the Dutch merchantman Batavia, laden with treasure and the riches of Europe, smashed into an uncharted reef thirty miles off the coast of Terra Incognita Australis-the unknown Great South Land. 200 survivors-women and children, sailors, soldiers and merchants-scrambled ashore on a small group of uninhabited, hostile islands, with little food or fresh water. Desperately seeking help, the ship’s officers set out in an open boat to make a two-thousand-mile journey to the nearest port. While they were gone, from the struggle for survival on the islands there emerged a tyrant whose brutal lust for power was even deadlier than the reef that wrecked the Batavia.

Amazon US and Amazon UK

The mind of a psychopath

Bundesarchiv Bild 183-S33882, Adolf Hitler retouchedQuite a number of psychopaths have made a name for themselves. Hitler, Napoleon, Stalin. Ted Bundy is another, more recent, example, as is Hannibal Lecter, featured in the movie The Silence of the Lambs. What about Jeronimus Cornelisz, erstwhile under merchant on the merchantship Batavia, who for a few short months in 1629,  strode his tiny island like a colossus, or a God, dealing out death and destruction on a whim. What makes a person a psychopath? How do you pick them from the rest of humanity?

In my novel To Die a Dry Death, I had to try to get into Jeronimus Cornelsiz’s head and understand – or at least explain – his behaviour. So – to try to understand.

To quote from a handout produced by Oregon Counseling;

The psychopath is one of the most fascinating and distressing problems of human experience.  For the most part, a psychopath never remains attached to anyone or anything. They live a “predatory” lifestyle. They feel little or no regret, and little or no remorse – except when they are caught. They need relationships, but see people as obstacles to overcome and be eliminated.   If not,  they see people in terms of how they can be used. They use people for stimulation, to build their self-esteem and they invariably value people in terms of their material value (money, property, etc..).

A psychopath can have high verbal intelligence, but they typically lack “emotional intelligence”. They can be expert in manipulating others by playing to their emotions. There is a shallow quality to the emotional aspect of their stories (i.e., how they felt, why they felt that way, or how others may have felt and why). The lack of emotional intelligence is the first good sign you may be dealing with a psychopath.  A history of criminal behavior in which they do not seem to learn from their experience, but merely think about ways to not get caught is the second best sign.

The following is a list of items based on the research of Robert Hare, Ph.D. which is derived from the “The Hare Psychopathy Checklist-Revised, .1991, Toronto: Multi-Health  Systems.” These are the most highly researched and recognized characteristics of psychopathic personality and behavior.

  • glibness/superficial charm
  • need for stimulation/prone to boredom
  • conning/manipulative
  • shallow emotional response
  • parasitic lifestyle
  • promiscuous sexual behavior
  • lack of realistic long term goals
  • irresponsibility
  • many short term relationships
  • revocation of conditional release
  • grandiose sense of self worth
  • pathological lying
  • lack of remorse or guilt
  • callous/lack of empathy
  • poor behavioral controls
  • early behavioral problems
  • impulsivity
  • failure to accept responsibility for their own actions
  • juvenile delinquency
  • criminal versatility

Michael G. Conner, Psy.D Has this to say.

A psychopath is usually a subtle manipulator. They do this by playing to the emotions of others. They typically have high verbal intelligence, but they lack what is commonly referred to as “emotional intelligence”. There is always a shallow quality to the emotional aspect of their stories. In particular they have difficulty describing how they felt, why they felt that way, or how others may feel and why. In many cases you almost have to explain it to them. Close friends and parents will often end up explaining to the psychopath how they feel and how others feel who have been hurt by him or her.

They can do this over and over with no significant change in the person’s choices and behavior. They don’t understand or appreciate the impact that their behavior has on others. They do appreciate what it means when they are caught breaking rules or the law even though they seem to end up in trouble again. They desperately avoid incarceration and loss of freedom but continue to act as if they can get away with breaking the rules. They don’t learn from these consequences. They seem to react with feelings and regret when they are caught. But their regret is not so much for other people as it is for the consequences that their behavior has had on them, their freedom, their resources and their so called “friends.”

They can be very sad for their self. A psychopath is always in it for their self even when it seems like they are caring for and helping others. The definition of their “friends” are people who support the psychopath and protect them from the consequence of their own antisocial behavior. Shallow friendships, low emotional intelligence, using people, antisocial attitudes and  failure to learn from the repeated consequences of their choices and actions help identify the psychopath.

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Armed with a description like this, it wasn’t so hard to get into Cornelisz’s head. In some ways it was more difficult to sort out Lucretia, who had to deal with this man at a very intimate level, always conscious that the slightest mistake may have cost her her life.

It still stops me in my tracks to think that this one man was effectively responsible for the deaths of around one hundred people. Put that into perspective. There were about one hundred and eighty people on Batavia’s Graveyard when Pelsaert and Jacobsz  headed for Java. Cornelisz’s thugs killed over half of them. Yet Cornelisz never accepted responsibility, never showed any remorse, always kept coming back to the fact that he himself never killed anybody.

But you know what? The most frightening thing of all was how easy it was for him to recruit people more than willing to carry out his orders.

Ah, the frailty of the human psyche.