And now Kiwis are facing a potential mega-quake and tsunami. But of course…

This week’s news that a previously unsuspected magnitude 8+ mega-quake could hit central New Zealand and then douse the place with tsunami isn’t too surprising to me. I wrote the most recent pop-sci book on our earthquakes. It was published by Penguin Random House last year.

Living On Shaky Ground 200 pxWhile I was writing the book I had a chat with a seismologist at the University of Canterbury, who pointed out that New Zealand is staring down the barrel of some fairly large tectonic guns. The big one on land is the Alpine Fault, which ruptures with 8+ intensity every few hundred years. The last big rupture was in the 1770s, meaning another is due about now – the probability of it happening before 2100 is around 92 percent.

Another risk factor is the Taupo volcano – another product of tectonic plate collision. This is one of the biggest volcanoes on the planet, and evidence is that a monster eruption about 27,000 years ago threw the world into an ice age. It’s got every potential to wreak similar havoc again – check out Piper Bayard’s awesome novel Firelands for her take on what might happen in the US when Taupo next ‘blows’ the world climate. We won’t mention New Zealand’s likely fate in that scenario…

OK, so I'm a geek. Today anyway. From the left: laptop, i7 4771 desktop, i7 860 desktop.

Me in ‘science writing’ mode. From the left: laptop, i7 4771 desktop, i7 860 desktop.

But New Zealand also faces another major tectonic challenge, the Hikurangi Trench, a subduction zone where the Pacific plate plunges under the Australian, off the coast of the North Island. My contact at Canterbury pointed out that this is the other big gun – a potential 8+ quake followed by tsunami that could wipe out the east coast of the North Island.

That’s where the new study comes in. It’s already known that the Southern Hikurangi Margin – the plate collision between Cook Strait and Cape Turnagain – is locked, meaning strains are building up. When they break, it’s going to be devastating – a quake of magnitude 8.4 – 8.7, triggering massive onshore destruction from Napier to Blenheim, followed by tsunami. Now, it seems, this region generates such quakes a couple of times a millennium. Two have been identified; one 880-800 years ago, a second 520-470 years ago.

This picture of post-quake Napier isn't well known; it is from my collection and was published for the first time in the 2006 edition of my book Quake- Hawke's Bay 1931.

This picture of post-quake Napier isn’t well known; it is from my collection and was published for the first time in the 2006 edition of my book ‘Quake- Hawke’s Bay 1931′.

Uh – yay. On the other hand, it doesn’t really change the risk factors. New Zealand shakes. The end. The issue isn’t worrying – it’s quantifying the risk, which is why work to explore past quakes is so important.

The report also highlights something for me. The discovery that a mega-thrust quake hit central New Zealand somewhere between 1495 and 1545 – seems to unravel one mystery that has long puzzled me. At a date usually put down to roughly around 1460, plus or minus, New Zealand was riven by a rapid-fire succession of great earthquakes, all thought to be over magnitude 7.5 and most over magnitude 8. They included movement on the Alpine fault, another movement in Wellington that turned Miramar into a peninsula, and another in Hawke’s Bay where a dramatic down-thrust created the Ahuriri lagoon.

Things get a bit vague when sorting out timing because the traces of past quakes are difficult to date beyond a broad range of possible dates.

The Wellington event was so huge it went down in Maori oral tradition – Haowhenua, the Land Swallower. Why swallower? That was odd, given the quake was an upthrust – but actually, it DID eat land that counted to Maori. Massive tsunami flooded the southern North Island coasts, inundating important gardens near Lake Onoke on the south of the Wairarapa. In short, swallowing the land. I was, I believe, the first one to publish that explanation, not that anybody noticed. But I digress.

The point is that the date-range for the “1460” series overlaps the date range for the newly discovered mega-thrust quake – which included tsunami. And it explains why New Zealand was, apparently, hit by so many large quakes in quick succession. Even if they were not the same event – and, seismologically, they probably weren’t – the way strains and stresses redistribute after a major quake is well known to be liable to trigger another. Is that what actually happened? Research is ongoing. We’ll see.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2015

Oh, what a lovely blog hop!

This week Auckland writer Bev Robitai tagged me to join in the ‘Lovely Blog Hop’ – a round-robin of general all-round fun in which authors outline seven things that got them writing. My story starts in 1970, when I was 8.

A wonderful quote from Katherine Mansfield.

A wonderful quote from Katherine Mansfield.

  1. Lots and lots and lots and lots of books. As a kid, I was surrounded with them – classics such as Arthur Ransome’s wonderful Swallows and Amazons series, C S Lewis’s Narnia, Tolkien’s The Hobbit, Norman Hunter’s Professor Branestawm, and more.
  2. Graeme Beattie – ‘Bookman Beattie’, these days, New Zealand’s leading book blogger – played a part in the kick-off. Way back when, he was running his bookstore in central Napier, and a friend of my parents. One day, around August 1970, he passed on details of a book contest, run to mark the visit of Puffin’s retiring managing editor Kaye Webb to New Zealand. Kids had to write a short story. I entered – and won first prize. Fifty Puffin books. I still have some. And I thought, that was pretty cool, I’ll keep that going. I was eight. And I’ve never stopped.
  3. I was inspired by Norman Hunter. Writer of the ‘Professor Branestawm’ series, who came to my house one day in 1971-72. He was a very nice old gent and signed all my ‘Professor Branestawm’ books.
  4. On to my teenage years and I have to credit Tamatea High School for their part, in an inverse way. I learned to write in spite of them. My English teacher in 1977-79 was utterly useless. My parents arranged for me to attend writing courses at the local polytechnic as well as school, meaning I’d be taught how to write – effectively at tertiary level – providing I put in the extra hours. I was keen. Most of the classes were outside school hours, but one was only just – meaning I had to leave the school 10 minutes early, which the headmaster forbad. Yup – having failed to hire anybody capable of teaching, this worthless headmaster then tried to block my parents from having me taught competently elsewhere. Incredible! I attended the writing courses anyway, and that gave me an absolutely solid start. If Tamatea High School hadn’t been so actively useless, I wouldn’t have done them.
  5. I kept learning how to write at university. I still remember the writing lesson I got during one of my post-grad years at university, from a guy named Richard Adler, then Professor of English from the University of Montana in Missoula. No, I didn’t go there (I might never have returned, instead spending my life planting dental floss). He came to New Zealand on a Fullbright scholarship.
  6. My best teachers, as I emerged bright-eyed and bushy tailed into the world of writing and publishing, were people through the industry – Ken Hawker, former editor of Napier’s Daily Telegraph paper, who supported my writing from the outset; Frank Haden, the colourful features editor of the Dominion, who’d forgotten more about grammar than I’ll ever know, and more.
  7. Check out the battering. Is my copy of 'The Hobbit' much-loved, or what?

    Check out the battering. Is my copy of ‘The Hobbit’ much-loved, or what?

    Did I mention books? They need mentioning again. All through these formative years I was hugely influenced by what I read – especially fantasy and science fiction: Tolkien, Heinlein, Asimov, Clarke and a lot more.

So there you have it. Seven things that got me started. Don’t forget to check out Bev’s blog, and her books, especially Sunstrike and its sequels, exploring the Armageddon scenario that we really do need to be aware of.

And I’d like to nominate a blog to pass the Hop on to: Eric Wicklund’s ‘Momus News’. He’s a great story-teller, fun, imaginative, and always with a twist to his tales:

https://momusnews.wordpress.com/

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2015

Can we sell books with suggestive gibberish?

The other day I tried to buy a little smackerel of something from a fast food joint. When I went to close the deal the fellow behind the counter suddenly said “Wuddawuddabopbopbop.” Hilarity ensued.

Me: I’m sorry, I didn’t get that.
Goon: WUDDAWUDDABOPBOPBOP.
Me: Sorry, still don’t get it. Can you repeat it slowly, not louder?
Goon: WUD – DA – WUD – DA … (etc).

It turned out he was trying to sell me an add-on. The speed of the patter, I suspect, was part of the technique to get an unsuspecting customer to buy a delicious handful of whole unboned chicken, lovingly dropped through an industrial macerator, chemically bleached, mechanically reconstituted into bite-sized chunks with artificial flavour, wrapped in sawdust and MSG before being deep-fried, left for half an hour to go lukewarm, then served up in a grease-stained cardboard cup.

ClickhereandbuymybooksOK?

ClickhereandbuymybooksOK?

That led me to wonder whether I couldn’t get bookstores to do the same for books. You know – somebody picks up the latest best-seller and ends up being on-sold a couple of other titles. The trick is mangling the request so the hapless book buyer doesn’t know what they’re ending up with – they think they’ll be getting two sequels to Fifty Shades of Grey whereas they’ve just bought a pile of books by that guy Wright (for selection, click on the titles in the right hand column of this blog).

And this is where you come in. Drop me a comment with your take on just how a bookstore attendant might mangle things so as to slip in one of my titles (that column on the right) – or one of your own. Thoughts?

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2015

Announcing ‘Western Front – The New Zealand Division 1916-18′

My book Western Front – The New Zealand Division 1916-18  is being re-released this week – precisely a decade on from its original print publication – by Intruder Books. With an all-new cover.

Wright_Western Front_450pxThis was an important book for me, the first of three I wrote exploring the psychology of warfare through the lens of the First World War and the New Zealand experience.

A century on, we usually imagine the First World War in terms of its Western Front – portrayed as a grey, muddy world of trenches, wire, machine guns, whizz-bangs, artillery, and senseless death.

It was all these things. But the real question is why. Did it really happen because foolish generals knew nothing better? That they hoped that the enemy might run out of machine gun bullets before they ran out of men?

Nothing, of course, could be further from the truth – certainly as far as the New Zealand experience was concerned. And exploding some of the myths is what Western Front – The New Zealand Division 1916-18 is really about.

Review comments about the original issue included:

“An immensely readable story”
– Denis Welch, New Zealand Listener, 7 May 2005.

“Readers of this excellent book will thank God and hope that such a war will never come again…”
– Des Bell, Northern Advocate, 30 May 2005.

“This is an excellent read, factual, often emotional and simply written. It should appeal to all New Zealanders”
– Graeme Cass, Hawke’s Bay Today, 2 July 2005.

Western Front – The New Zealand Division 1916-18 is the second in a series of releases by Intruder Books, initially featuring the military books I wrote between 1998 and 2007. The first, Kiwi Air Power, is also available. And there’s more to come.

You can buy your copy right now, direct on Kindle – click on the cover.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2015

Anticipating the next trend in book cover styles

I recently dug out some of the military histories I wrote in the late 1990s-early 2000s, largely because Intruder Books are reissuing some of them and I wanted to check out the old cover designs. Not to use those covers again – the license isn’t available – but to remind myself how they looked, way back when, and just how far styles have changed.

I commissioned the artwork for the cover of my 1998 book on the RNZAF. I still have the original painting. That meant I also had license to use it on the cover.

I commissioned the base artwork for the cover of my 1998 book on the RNZAF, which Reed NZ’s designer used as the basis for this cover. I still have the original painting.

A lot of that change, I think, flows from the way new technology provokes new styles. Actually, that was happening even before software oozed into the process.

Wright - Kiwi Air Power 200 px

Same book – 2015 cover. Click to buy. Go on, you know you want to…

Way back, sci-fi book covers were bright yellow and plain, in which case they were published by Victor Gollancz. Or they were traditional for the day – a cover painting (sometimes full colour), usually by Ed Emshwiller, with often hand-lettered title at the top and the author’s name at the bottom. Just like every other book on the planet, except that the sci-fi featured a spaceship or googly monster or something.

Then, around the turn of the 1970s, a young British artist named Chris Foss cut loose with an airbrush and a new concept – multi-faceted, amazingly detailed fantasy spaceships floating on abstract clouds. And he set a trend. As in: Bam! A Trend! Three milliseconds after Foss’s artwork adorned the Panther editions of Asimov’s Foundation ‘trilogy’ (it was in the 1970s), every sci-fi book cover on the planet suddenly featured fantastic, multi-faceted, hugely detailed spaceships floating against billowing backgrounds.

This book of mine was pretty hard to structure - took a lot of re-working via the 'shuffle the pages' technique - to get a lot of social linear concepts into a single readable thread.

Superb, superb design

For me, the best cover ever designed for any of my books remains the one Penguin commissioned from an Auckland designer for Guns and Utu. Just awesome. (Want a copy? Email me.)

Today’s covers are all Photoshop layer blend and SFX effects, which I can usually spot from about half the distance of Jupiter (I began working professionally with Photoshop in 1988…) Every cover on Amazon has a sameness which I just know has been done with Photoshop layer blends in various flavours. Sigh…

I’m determined this over-use of glow won’t happen for the New Zealand Military series I wrote from 1997 to 2009, half a dozen titles of which are due to be re-released by Intruder Books over the next two years. Layer clipping paths? Sure. But not glow. We’ll see.

Meanwhile, the next release is coming up in time for ANZAC day. Western Front: The New Zealand Division 1916-18. A tenth anniversary reissue, in fact. Watch this space.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2015

History you can touch – now available in North America

New Zealand has a short history by world standards – the first humans to even reach these shores did not arrive until around 1280. But it is unquestionably an interesting past – particularly once we get into the so-called ‘historical’ period after 1840, when British and Maori came into collision.

St Alban's Church at Pauahatanui, near Wellington - site of a major pa in 1845.

St Alban’s Church at Pauahatanui, near Wellington – site of a major pa in 1845.

Open warfare flared between 1845 and the early 1870s, from Northland to the northern South Island. That is virtually yesterday by historical standards, and that makes those events a history we can touch. The more so because many of those events were not in remote bush locations – but in places we can see and touch. The Battle of Boulcott Farm, for instance, was in the middle of what is today suburban Lower Hutt. The bush pa of Titokowaru, Te Ngutu o te Manu, became the Hawera District Council camping ground. Really! The Battle of St John’s Wood, in Whanganui, became a supermarket. Gate Pa is, these days, a Tauranga bowling club lawn. Te Rangihaeata’s pa at Pauatahanui became a churchyard. And so it goes on.

The cover of my next book.

The cover – click to go to Amazon

It is a salutary reminder of the way history gets forgotten that these places – used daily by ordinary Kiwis – have such a dramatic past. And that’s why I made a point, in my latest book on the New Zealand Wars, of highlighting some of the easier places to get to. We should. History comes alive if we can visit the terrain – and history this recent should not be forgotten.

The New Zealand Wars – a brief history is my third book on the subject. And it’s been released this week, in print, for the North American market. Which I think is pretty cool.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2015

In which I discover someone’s selling a book of mine for $4896.01

The other day I was blown away to discover someone was trying to sell one of my books, new on Amazon, for $4896.01. Plus shipping.

Yes, it's a four-figure sum for one of my books. Amazing. Click to enlarge.

Yes, it’s a four-figure sum for one of my books. Amazing. Click to enlarge.

The Reed Illustrated History of New Zealand has been out of print nearly a decade, and I’m not sure where the vendor got their stock from. I don’t see a cent for it, of course – I’ll have fielded the $1.50 royalty (less tax and expenses) when it was originally sold. Thing is, I’ve got a couple of copies myself, new, and I’ll happily undercut that vendor. Let’s say $US4895. I’ll even throw in the shipping, free. Call me.

I discovered this while sorting out my Amazon author page. It was time. I’ve got an awful lot going on just now. My book Man Of Secrets was released by Penguin Random House at the end of January, and last week the first in a series of reissues from my military-historical back list became available. Next week my book The New Zealand Wars (Libro International 2014) will be released in print for the North American market. And I’m also contributing to an Australian science-fiction compilation, which I expect will be published later this year.

So it’s all happening, and I thought I’d better get my own online arrangements in order. Starting with my Amazon author page. Check it out for yourself.

My Amazon author page. Click to check it out.

My Amazon author page. Click to check it out.

Some authors are known for one ‘thing’ – a specific non-fiction subject or a fiction genre, and eyebrows get raised if they do something else. I’ve never felt limited by such things. My work breaks into three categories: (a) military-historical non-fiction; (b) social-historical non-fiction; and (c) fiction. I’ve negotiated a partial re-release of my back-list in (a), but new stuff is primarily (b) and (c).

I’ve also set up a Facebook author page – which I cordially invite you to ‘like’, if you haven’t already. It’ll be populated with the latest news and other stuff related to what I’m doing – or what I find interesting.

Watch those spaces. And this one.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2015