Writing inspirations – remembering the greatest navigators of the first millennium

Today’s writing inspiration is a photo I took of an ocean going waka (canoe), Te Waka Maori o Ahuriri, in Ahuriri harbour, Napier, New Zealand.

Ocean going waka moored against East Quay, Ahuriri harbour, Napier New Zealand. Earlier in 2012, I spent hours standing in Awarua harbour, Rarotonga, trying to photograph this one.

Te Waka Maori o Ahuriri (‘The canoe of the Maori of Ahuriri’) in Ahuriri harbour.

This is a modern replica of the canoes used by the Polynesians to conquer the Pacific, from Hawaii to Chile  – an exploration largely over by around 1250, when New Zealand became the last major land-mass in the world to be reached by humans. An inspiring achievement – and one that makes us think.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2014

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Writing inspirations – a coffee bar for gentlemen, apparently

Today’s writing inspiration is a photo I took of a coffee bar in central Wellington, New Zealand, with a very – er – unusual brand name.

It's called - er - what?

It’s called – er – what?

I had to look at it twice. And then photograph it. Also intriguing are the silhouettes of old-style police. Inspiration for a story? You betcha.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2014

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Writing inspirations – living the golden age Hollywood fantasy

Today’s writing inspiration is another of about a thousand photos I took during the 2014 Napier Art Deco weekend – a time to celebrate 1930s Hollywood fantasy against the wonderful backdrop of Napier’s art deco architecture. What lives would we have had in the 1930s if it had really been like Hollywood wanted it to be? I find the thought inspiring. Do you?

Yes, I'm sure it's 1940...

Yes, I’m sure it’s 1940…

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2014

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Writing inspirations – the magnificent Buller Gorge, in mist

Today’s writing inspiration is a photo I took of the Buller Gorge, one damp day.

A monochrome Buller Gorge, one wet day early in 2013.

A monochrome Buller Gorge, one wet day.

The gorge and river are both named after Charles Buller, the first pakeha explorer to venture into the district in the early 1840s. The original name of the river, Kawatiri (meaning, among other things, ‘deep swift’), is seldom used these days. It is a magnificent place where the prevailing cloud and mists add drama to a spectacular landscape. An inspiration by any measure.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2014

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Writing inspirations – about to fly

Today’s writing inspiration is a photo I took of a commuter aircraft I was about to get on board at Nelson Airport, New Zealand.

Preparing for take-off...

Preparing for take-off…

Commuter flight has become as routine, these days, as jumping on a bus. A point to ponder – and an inspiring testament to the way technology has transformed – and continues to transform – our lives.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2014

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Essential writing skills: getting the details right in historical fiction

Back when I was writing New Zealand military non-fiction, our leading local academic military historians often ended up reviewing my books for national magazines or newspapers.

Wright_Military History CoversWhat followed, every time, was a trawl for anything they could construct into a denial of my professional competence in a field where I was being published on merit, and where they wrote and published competing books on full-time salary at my expense as taxpayer. None of these strangers had the guts to approach me personally, and none responded to my approaches. Since then I’ve discovered I can’t get on mailing lists or into the symposia these people organise at public expense, and I’ve been advised that their public representations appear to put me at a disadvantage relative to being fairly assessed for the public-funded work and opportunities their employers offer.

Funnily enough, if I’d been as witlessly incompetent as these local academics insisted, I wouldn’t have had a look in with publishers such as Penguin who produced my military material solely on due judgement of its merits.

That brings me to the point of this post, which is the problem of readers taking umbrage at what they suppose to be an ‘error’. This is also an occupational hazard for fiction writers. Especially historical fiction. The author may not get feedback – but the reader doesn’t get the intended enjoyment out of the novel, and may even abandon it. Why? Because some detail the reader believes to be an error destroys the suspension of disbelief. That’s one of the key hooks that keeps readers engaged. And that can be blown in a flash if the author makes mistakes over the factual background.

Sometimes the error rests with the reader, who thinks they know something – but actually, it is they who are wrong. That, I suspect, is why Alexander Fullerton added a note at the beginning of his First World War nautical novel The Blooding of the Guns, detailing which way the helm was ordered to turn at the time, relative to the direction the ship was turning.

A photo I took of the Louvre. I am 100% certain that the Holy Grail is NOT situated under that pyramid in the centre left of frame. though the reception desk is.

A photo I took of the Louvre. I am 100% certain that the Holy Grail is NOT situated under that pyramid in the centre left of frame. though the reception desk is.

But sometimes the problem is with the author, or their editor. My favourite example is Dan Brown, whose version of Paris in The Of Vinci Code (I know what I said) was very different from the one I knew. He confused railway stations – he conflated two that are actually about 1.5 km apart. He apparently didn’t know what’s under the pyramid in the courtyard of the Louvre (the reception desk), or how the museum works and is laid out. He had his heroes drive along streets that aren’t driveable. And so it went on. I suppose Brown hadn’t visited Paris when he wrote the novel.

The point being that if you’re going to present yourself as ‘factual’, as he did, the onus is on to be so. There are, I think, many reasons why the novel was so wildly popular. One of them was Brown’s absolute mastery of pace. But for me, the suspension of disbelief – absolutely essential given the outrageous premise of his plot – was totally blown by his egregious lapses of fidelity. There is a lesson therein for novel writers. More soon.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2014

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Writing inspirations – a panorama of Port Jackson from north head

Today’s writing inspiration for writers of all persuasions is a photo I took of Port Jackson – Sydney harbour – looking back from the north head.

Port Jackson - Sydney Harbour - on a sunny Saturday.

Port Jackson – Sydney Harbour – on a sunny Saturday.

The first European to set eyes on it was James Cook, who passed by in 1770 and named it after Sir George Jackson, a Lord Commissioner of the Admiralty. It became the centre of a penal colony, 18 years later, partly by chance. The initial effort to set up at Botany Bay, a little around the coast, foundered for lack of water. But a stream was found in Port Jackson – the Tank Stream, running down between what are now George and Pitt Streets in central Sydney.

I find it inspiring to imagine the place as it once was, 250 years ago – a landscape bare to European eyes, yet a flourishing home for the Gadigal people among others.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2014

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