Living On Shaky Ground

I’ve got three books being published between now and February.

Here’s a preview of Living On Shaky Ground: the science and story behind New Zealand’s earthquakes. It’s being published by Penguin Random House on 26 September. My advance copy arrived a few days back. And after thirty years and over 50 books, I have to say that the thrill of receiving the advance, unseen by anybody else except the publishers and the printers – never goes away.

My advance 'author copy' of Living On Shaking Ground - with its delivery packaging...

My advance ‘author copy’ of Living On Shaky Ground – with its delivery packaging…

And here it is in its 'natural habitat', a bookshelf, lined up with both editions of my last book on earthquakes.

And here it is in its ‘natural habitat’, a bookshelf, lined up with both editions of my last book on earthquakes.

The book includes over 50 photos I took myself, a lot of science text on earthquakes, and the story behind some of New Zealand’s bigger ones. The main – er – thrust of it it isn’t about the past, of course, but the future – what’s going to happen next?

More soon. And if you want to buy…it’s available for pre-order now, via New Zealand’s online bookstore Fishpond.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2014

Click to buy print edition from Fishpond.

Click to buy print edition from Fishpond.

Refurbishing with colour and deco

I’ve refurbished my blog this week – added a new header, new background and changed some of the colours.

Here's the original image - also check out the close-up on my Google+ homepage.

Here’s the original image – also check out the close-up on my Google+ homepage.

The header’s from a photo essay I took in late February in Napier, New Zealand.  It features the upper parts of the 1932 Masonic Hotel building on the right, in early streamline style, and the 1936 T & G building, now called (rather unimaginatively) The Dome, on the left – partly obscured by deco-style foliage.

Napier is set apart by its stunning 1930s architectural heritage. And by its climate, which matches Santa Barbara. It was around 100 degrees F on that scorching late summer day. The camera got hot too, and the photos that came out of it glowed – even the shadows were fully lit, by reflection. The photo at bottom shows what I mean. It was taken facing the opposite direction from the blog header.

What do you think of the new blog look?

Unlikely to have actually driven in 1930s Napier...but who cares?

This is the exact image that came out of the camera – editing was restricted to scaling down for the blog, and adding the copyright notice. It was taken with full polarisation. Note the flared highlights, and how the shadow side of the car is illuminated by sunlight reflected off the footpath. Same phenomenon is why Apollo astronauts appeared to be side-lit on the Moon.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2014

How I ended up on national TV without noticing

The night before last, and all day yesterday, people were telling me I’d been on TV.

MJWright2011They didn’t mean last week’s interview slot on TV3′s breakfast show. This was something else. Apparently I was part of a programme promo. Which, inevitably, I missed, because I don’t actually watch TV. I mean, I really don’t. It’s taken me a decade to discover the Battlestar Galactica re-boot.

The cover of Big IdeasStill, the surprise promo means only one thing. About fifteen months ago I was interviewed, fairly extensively, for a four-part series on New Zealand’s engineering history. I’ve written books on it, one of which - Big Ideas (Random House, 2009) hit the New Zealand best seller charts and stayed there for several months.

I always thought I’d missed the series – after all, as I say, I don’t watch TV. But a few days ago I was advised it’s coming, and now it seems a clip from the interview is part of the national promo.

I really should make a point of watching this one.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2014

 

The news. Exciting for me. And you too, I hope

A couple of weeks back I promised I’d reveal some exciting news.

I had to share this pic, taken by She Who Must Be Obeyed. We end up in some interesting places, sometimes. Just in case anybody googles "Stockton Mine".

Why was I wearing hard-hat and luminescent jacket somewhere in Mordor? Research, that’s why. More? You’ll find out soon… Click to enlarge.

Last year, print book sales dropped by 15 percent in New Zealand, nailing a down-trend that’s been happening for a while. I watched that start several years ago and decided to do something about it. Downturn apart, writing’s a business, and reinvention is key to longevity. So is adaptation, including embracing new technology. In this I was spurred by Random House who suggested I should join Twitter, get an author platform going and so forth. I did.

I got cracking in other ways – retrieving many of my publishing licenses to avoid losing control of them amidst the flight of big-name houses from New Zealand. I talked to publishers and discussed  future titles. I was offered new contracts despite the downturn. This last couple of weeks I’ve been fielding publishing schedules, including from Random. More soon. But the news is rather good – and yes, you’ll be the first to hear about the releases, on this blog.

Of course, the REALLY exciting news is due within a few weeks…and, I hope, more after that (when I catch my breath).

Meanwhile, here’s my updated author page at Random:

http://www.randomhouse.co.nz/authors/matthew-wright.aspx

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2014

Coming up: More exciting news. And stuff.

Write it now: the truth of writing, and the ultimate writing challenge

I was taught writing by a poet. Formally, in a succession of tertiary courses, in the late 1970s. The lessons I took about writing from him carried a value well beyond what I really knew, then.

This is me doing my 'writing getaway' impression on Rarotonga.

This is me doing my ‘writing getaway’ impression on Rarotonga.

To this day, after 30 years and more than 50 published books and 500 feature articles, on top of this blog and other stuff totalling more than two million words in print, I still think of that poet’s lessons whenever I write anything.

What was the essence of his teaching? Questions. ‘What did they feel’? ‘What did that mean for them?’ And, implicitly, ‘how can we, as writers, understand and express that?’

Those questions are true for all writing, especially non-fiction, where such are the hardest of all questions to answer – and yet, also the most important. Why? Because they provide us with understanding. And yet the picture and emotional force in the mind – the fuel that drives all writers, drives anything truly creative and human – is literally inexpressible in the flawed vehicle of the word. Translating it to words destroys its perfection. We have to accept that words alone cannot convey the true picture, shape, colour and depth of concepts, feelings and emotions.

Indeed, when we think about it, the mind of one person cannot perceive the way another conceives something, for we can only express such in the limiting way of words.

And yet it is the duty – the mission – of all writers to try and discover ways of expressing themselves, in words, despite those limits.

That is the challenge. It is what writers must do. And over the next while I am now going to tell you – given the limits words place on concept – how to do it. At least as I understand it. I hope you’ll come along for the journey.

Along with other fun stuff which I’m adding to this blog because – well, it’s fun.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2014

Coming up: more writing tips, fun science geekery including that custard lightspeed trick, and more.

Write it now: celebrity book signing sessions

Over the years I’ve done a fair few book signings. You sit in a bookshop or public venue with a pile of books, while people you don’t know – who often put you on a pedestal – queue up to meet…you. And get you to sign a book for them.

Wright_Illustrated History of New Zealand 2Most people I’ve met at these events are friendly, chatty, and welcoming.  Engaging, and I’ve spoken to some interesting and kind people along the way, all of whom have had wonderful stories of their own. I recall one delightful experience, particularly, in which I got chatting with one couple who were very enthusiastic about art deco (as, indeed, am I).

Some authors are cautious about the number of books they sign. I’m not. It’s a personal touch – and that’s great. Sometimes I’ll drop into the local bookstore and sign their stock – which adds sales potential. Signing the book also, I suspect, makes it less likely the store will return it to the publisher under ‘sale or return’ arrangements.

Still, for me these are always nerve-racking moments. Partly because I don’t regard anything I do as special, or that I should be important because of it.

But it’s nerve-racking mainly because I sometimes get asked to inscribe my books, and  I can’t hand-write. Not legibly, anyway.

It’s like this. As a kid, I was left handed, which was why I wrote backwards and upside down in a sea of spattered ink. Alas, despite heroic efforts with every tool at their disposal – humiliation, class ridicule and many ingenious punishments – the teachers were unable to get me to write with the Proper Hand. Thus proving, apparently, what a stupid and worthless child I was. Of course, it could have been that the New Zealand school system was run as a barbaric exercise in conformity, enforced by weak and sadistic bullies who got their personal jollies out of punishing children entrusted to their care. But I digress.

The upshot was that I left primary school with worse hand-writing than I’d gone into it with, and I’ve never bothered trying to fix it. I can read the stuff. But it gets awkward when I fill out forms – assuming I don’t misread the form in the first place. And so when somebody buys one of my books and asks me to inscribe it, I’ll happily sign my name, but I don’t want to mess up their purchase with hand writing.

I remember one time a reader persisted – would I please, please, inscribe a particular phrase. I didn’t want to let them down, I did my best…but there’s no backspace with pen and ink. Sigh.

I did think of getting  a rubber stamp made, but it wouldn’t be the same.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2013

Coming up: More writing tips, humour, science posts and – well, you’ll see. Watch this space.

Cover reveal: my ‘Illustrated History of New Zealand’

I don’t often blog about the writing I’m doing – but occasionally it’s time to reveal a little about the adventure. I’ve got two books being published this year. The first is a second edition of my Illustrated History of New Zealand, originally published in 2004. Today I’m pleased and very excited to be able to bring you a preview of the cover.

Wright_New Zealand Illustrated coverIt’s being released in three weeks as a second edition with completely revised text, revised and updated photo selection and a whole new look, by David Bateman Ltd.

Originally it was published as the Reed Illustrated History of New Zealand (first edition cover in brown, below). Reed New Zealand were synonymous with New Zealand publishing, and our oldest publishing house. That 2004 edition sold like hotcakes – Reed ordered a reprint even before the book was released, just to meet pre-orders from retailers. It hit the national best seller lists and did astonishingly well.

With my military histories, this book was one of the titles that the Royal Historical Society at University College in London considered of such worth that they elected me a Fellow – the highest international accolade it is possible to get in the historical field.

Then in 2007  Reed were sold to another publisher in a train-wreck of a take-over that saw the imprint vanish for legal reasons. My back list was left to wither in out-of-print land.

nz_smallIn 2011 I approached David Bateman Ltd about republishing my Illustrated History. They were keen. What followed involved a lot of paperwork – including rights retrieval, and re-negotiating the rights for nearly 600 images from the Alexander Turnbull Library. Everybody there was wonderfully friendly and helpful.

On 18 August, my Illustrated History of New Zealand will be back, published by Bateman. But it’s not a reprint. It’s been completely revised. Two chapters were wholly re-written from scratch – and yes, things have changed that much in terms of what we know about the past. Beyond those, every section has been re-thought and the text wholly re-styled and re-written with updated material. Yes, even history can be updated. The process of discovery never stops.

I put as much work into it as I would have into a new title. Maybe more, and it is, effectively, a new book. There are 120,000 words, just under 600 photos, and around 10,000 words worth of captions, presented in 488 large-format pages. It is a big book by any measure, a proverbial doorstop. The original was case-bound; this edition, which has a completely new interior look, is soft-cover with French flaps – long folded extensions that carry the blurb and my author photo.

More soon, including a glimpse inside and other cool stuff. Meanwhile – here’s the cover. Enjoy.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2013