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Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Normal service will be resumed shortly

In 2008, and again in 2009, I indicated that I was working on some YA historical fiction, referred to as The Cornish Boy.  I then closed it down to get on with other more urgent work, but in the past couple of weeks, I have returned to it.

This (if it works—and sells) will be a sprawling work, featuring a Cornish boy who is bright, has some medical and scientific training, but has to leave Cornwall in a hurry, with killers on his trail. With the help of friends, he eludes them, gets to Australia, and as teenagers did back then, he went out with an exploring party.  There's a great deal more in book 1, but that's all you get for now (though it won't be giving too much away if I add that he makes an enemy and several good friends.

Later books see him on the Turon River gold fields; shipping as assistant naturalist on a naval expedition to map the Gulf of Carpentaria, based on the 1850s cruise of HMS Rattlesnake; helping a group of Chinese would-be gold diggers  while they are trekking from South Australia to the Victorian goldfields.  Large numbers of Chinese did this to avoid a head tax that was imposed on Chinese landing at Melbourne.

Later, he works on a paddle steamer on the Murray, marries, they make an exciting find (yes, I am being reticent there) that draws more attention from shady characters than they need, and they settle on a farm—and a few answers are at last revealed.

The four planned books run from 1851 to about 1867 and encompass a lot of Australia's key historic points.  Eureka will only be seen off-page, so to speak, but there's a lot to say about the way Australia became a nation with independence of mind. The Bulletin only emerged in the 1880s to press a fully Australian sense of nationalism, but as I will be explaining in Curious Minds, due out on October 1, the leaders in the revolution were a bunch of foreign, mostly German, naturalists.

Now watch out: here comes the pedagogue again: there is an old saying, originating with Jerome S. Bruner, that you can present any subject to a child at any developmental level. in an intellectually honest fashion.  I won't be teaching, but if I can get a few readers to "what if Jack had done this instead of that?", I have won.

You see, as I have said before, education, teaching, training, wisdom, knowledge, learning, understanding and erudition are not the same thing, even if they are cousins. That's a key consideration for me.  I have written scraps of fiction before, but this is the first serious fiction I have completed and it's big. I have finished the second draft of Book 1, and I think it works, sort of.  It's taken me ten days to knock into shape the work I did two years ago, and right now, I will be drifting off into something far fluffier.  I need a sort of writing sorbet.

There's a bit of the educator in me coming out in this series, and that's always a risk.  The main areas I will be including are all areas where I have written before, like Australian exploration, rockets and poisons, plus an area I am currently working on, which is the Australian gold rush era.  This is a major trap for old educators, who feel, a bit like Jean Auel in Clan of the Cave Bear and spin-offs, that all that hard research needs to be crammed in.  My plan is to produce a background web site, where people can test some of the assumptions.

I have made a start on that with my database of early uses of Australian language phrases and slang, where I have evidence to justify the use of terms like billy or goanna, phrases like "having a shingle loose" or "slope off", but I think I can take this further. Rather more though, I want to introduce matters like the amazing multicultural society that was Australia in the 1850s, the (to modern eyes) hidden agenda of the Chartists who, just as they were losing the struggle in Britain, were winning it in Australia.

In short, I will be trying, without preaching, without teaching, to get my readers to wonder more about what lay behind things. It's going to be a hard road to tread, a road slung on a tightrope over a minefield of mixed metaphors.

And that's why, just now, I am busy on something fluffy, involving mad sheep (they say they are mad, but can a sheep wearing a fake Viking helmet with horns be trusted?), a jewel heist, the truth about Van Gogh's ear, virtual normality and dark matter.

Among other things.  The point is, I'm otherwise engaged for a bit.


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  2. You timed that well! I am just back from Vanuatu, and I am beginning to take up the reins again. I'm afraid I am a bit ignorant in those areas: I started working with computers in 1963, and most of my skills are no longer useful. That said, I just poked around a bit, and I see that you can subscribe to a comment stream by email (useless!!), but if you go to and scroll to the very end, you should see a link to "subscribe to posts (Atom)" or something very like that. That may do what you want.