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

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

The hazards of my popular name – and my book about someone else who had one

I went into single combat with Google the other week. They’ve persistently credited all my books to a lecturer in Classics at Exeter University who has the same name as me. To their credit, Google came back promptly with an informative answer which I’ll be acting on by way of getting the gaffe fixed.

Wright_AuthorPhoto2014_LoI’m mildly intrigued the Exeter lecturer hasn’t fixed the mis-credit, especially given that I do have a small repute in the UK for my academic work – I was elected a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society at University College in London on the back of it.

The incident highlights the problems of having a popular name. Here in New Zealand alone, there are 42 people on the electoral roll named Matthew Wright. Only one of them is me. There’s a Matthew Wright who pens poetry and publishes it online. There’s a Matt Wright who writes history (as do I). There’s a bank manager with my name. And in Norwich, there’s a 20-year old Matthew Wright who was arrested for beating people up while dressed as an Oompa Loompa.

That highlights the down-side of the name. Being confused with an English academic is one thing. Being confused with somebody who’s done something heinous could do actual damage.

I’m not the only one with a popular name, of course. Another ‘common name victim’ is the subject of my next book – Man of Secrets: The Private Life of Donald McLean (Penguin Random House 2015).

Man of Secrets 200 pxSometimes he spelt his name MacLean, more usually McLean. But McLean or MacLean, it’s a common name. As is ‘Donald’. A quick glance at Wikipedia highlights the point.

So have  I written about Donald MacLean/McLean the spy, the ice-hockey player, the song-writer, the basketball player, the Laird of Brolas, the Canadian senator, the judge, the churchman, the comedian, the fur trader, the New Zealand land-buyer, or what?

I guess the word ‘New Zealand’ is the give-away, given where I live. But I haven’t covered the ‘land buyer’ side of his life. Oh no. Everybody’s done that. I found something new to talk about. His secret life.

More soon.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2015

Welcome to 2015, and hope for a wonderful year to come

For me a new year always seems to bring a sense of anticipation. We cannot know our future – but we can influence what happens, have direction, and hold to our dreams.

Yes, like a geeky Tolkien fan I had to pose in the entrance, such as it was - you could circle it, just like the door Aslan made to get rid of the Telmarines in .Prince Caspian'.

Yes, that’s me doing the Tolkien fan thing.

That, for me, is the promise of a new year. And it seems to me, as climate change becomes a pressing reality and the world seems beset with senseless hatreds and wars, that them most urgent thing facing all of us in 2015, wherever we are, is the need to be kind to each other.

Kindness isn’t difficult, and it expresses in small ways, like opening a door for someone or letting them through ahead of you. If everybody on Earth behaved to each other with kindness, care, thoughtfulness and tolerance the world would, I think, be a far better place. It’s maybe a pipe-dream, but these things start in small ways, and it’s up to us individually to make that start.

I am not, of course, the only person to have suggested this.

What have I got lined up for you? Lots of stuff. More blogging, for sure – with the usual writing tips, science, and maybe some posts commenting about the world in general. It’s going to be an exciting year scientifically, what with New Horizons racing through the Pluto system mid-year. Hopefully returning data, and not slamming into some bit of debris we can’t see from Earth.

I’ve got plans for my own writing, which have been brewing for a while. You’ll find out as they unfold – suffice to say, it’s going to be exciting. For me, certainly, and I hope also for you. Watch this space!

The first big thing, in just a few weeks, is the release of my book Man Of Secrets – The Private Life of Donald McLean (Penguin Random House). It’s been years in the making. More soon.

Meanwhile, have a great New Year holiday everyone, keep safe, and, above all – have fun!

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2015

Wrapping up the year by the numbers

Every so often a year rolls by that has an impact on those who lived through it – an impact so intense that the year becomes iconic, legendary. Like 1914, the year that the First World War began – a trauma that divided the old world from the new and set the current shape of the world on its way.

Wright_AuthorPhoto2014_LoIn a historical sense, 2014 wasn’t one of those watersheds. But it was a vigorous enough year anyway, not least because of all the 1914 anniversaries that rolled through. For me it’s been an amazing year in many ways. Books to write, blog posts to write, stuff to do that’s too boring to blog about. The usual thing. Here it is by the numbers…

275 – the number of blog posts I published on WordPress this year.

101 – the number of dollars I spent filling my car’s petrol tank just before Christmas.

8 – the number of cents per litre the price fell straight after I filled the tank.

4 – the number of my own books I worked on this year, finishing writing two of them and working with the publishers on the editorial side of all four. They are The New Zealand Wars: a short history (Libro International); Living On Shaky Ground: the science and story behind New Zealand’s earthquakes (Penguin Random House) and Coal: the rise and fall of King Coal in New Zealand (Bateman). The fourth, Man of Secrets, will be published by Penguin Random House in a few weeks.

3 – number of books of mine published this year (see above).

2 – number of books I published on geoscience this year (see above).

1 – number of military historians who snubbed me at parties for writing in their field (down from last year but that, I suspect, is because only one was at this event…)

I hope you all had a great 2014 and have a wonderful 2015 to come. To all my readers, thank you, very much indeed, for your kind support of my little corner of the blog-o-sphere – and especially to my regular correspondents, I’ve enjoyed and been humbled by your kind support and thoughts, and I’ll look forward to blogging with you in 2015.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2014

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