Tag Archives: Historical fiction

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.


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.




Is Pelsaert’s journal an accurate account of the Batavia shipwreck?

Picture of Pelsaert's journal. His is the first signature

Pelsaert’s journal. His is the first signature

Many ships have been wrecked over the centuries. Most of their names became nothing more than ciphers in the ocean of history. But the wreck of the Dutch East Indies merchantman Batavia on remote islands off the coast of Australia in 1629 is well known in Australia and Holland. Why? Because over half of the people left on the desolate islands of the Abrolhos group awaiting the return of rescuers, were murdered by a group led by a psychopath. Throw into that the incredible journey of forty-eight people crammed into the Batavia’s longboat, sailing from the wreck site two thousand miles over uncharted waters to the city of Batavia (now Jakarta) to seek help.

How do we know all this? Any book about the Batavia is based on one main account of the events – Pelsaert’s journal. Francisco Pelsaert was an employee of the Dutch East India Company, the Upper Merchant in charge of the fleet of which the Batavia was the flagship. So while Adriaen Jacobsz, the ship’s captain, was in command of the ship he was beholden to Pelsaert. (Who was not a sailor.) After the Batavia was wrecked, Pelsaert started a journal to record events. On his return to the Abrolhos islands to rescue the remaining survivors, he documented the trial of Cornelisz and his band of thugs. To read a brief overview of what happened, click here.

Most historians support the notion that the Batavia’s captain, Adriaen Jacobsz, was in a plot with Under merchant Jeronimus Cornelisz, who became the leader of the murderers, to hijack the Batavia, kill Pelsaert and go pirating. But it seemed strange to me for many, many reasons, not least because there is no record of Jacobsz having been executed. Although the journal is that most precious of items, a contemporary source, it’s important to consider the bias of the writer. Pelsaert had a vested interest in recording events in a way that would put him in a good light. After all, as the man in charge, he had ultimate responsibility. If he could blame the captain for being involved in a mutiny, much of the blame could be turned away from himself.

As I read the journal, my picture of Pelsaert soon became one of a man trying to salvage his own reputation. He and Jacobsz had a history, they despised each other. Reading the early part of the journal, where Pelsaert describes the initial wreck, I raised an eyebrow as Pelsaert used ‘I’, implying he gave orders that would have been given by the captain. The same thing happened during the longboat’s journey as Pelsaert claimed credit for things I felt were beyond his knowledge. Jacobsz deserved the credit and received none. It was also important to remember the man for whom Pelsaert was writing this journal – the formidable Jan Pieterszoon Coen, Governor of the Indies. A harsh and puritanical man, he was unimpressed (to say the least) at the loss of a ship and its cargo. One could expect Pelsaert to be at pains to present his own actions in the best possible light.

In contrast, my picture of the captain was of a tough, strong, capable man. A hard drinker, a womaniser sure enough. But a true leader, somebody these hardened seamen would follow. Zwaantie, the young woman who won Jacobsz’s affection, is depicted in the journal as a tart. But again, some of the evidence for that conjecture comes from Cornelisz. I think the mere fact that Jacobsz took Zwaantie with him in the longboat indicates a little more than a casual fling.

The journal reveals Cornelisz as a psychopath, silver-tongued, charismatic and an accomplished liar who would say anything to save himself. The main evidence for the existence of the piracy plot implicating Jacobsz comes from Cornelisz. There is corroborating evidence given by some of the other henchmen, but men said things like “I didn’t know about a plot until after the wreck” or evidence was extracted through torture. I began to wonder if I could build a case that Cornelisz deliberately wove a tale of a plot to seduce his followers. He needed sailors to pull off his plan to capture a rescue ship and he was a merchant. What better way to add validity to his plan than to implicate the popular captain? Pelsaert, of course, jumped at the notion of a plot.

Many books have been written about the Batavia, both non-fiction and fiction. There has even been an opera. Most writers agree with the notion of a mutiny involving the captain. As I said, I don’t. So my book, To Die a Dry Death, doesn’t quite sing along with the chorus. I’m absolutely delighted to announce, after a considerable delay, the novel is once again available as an ebook. Please do take a look.