Thursday, 28 November 2019

Fiction and hard reality

Occasionally I am confronted with something from reality that is directly related to one of my books. Yesterday there was an announcement in the news of the documentary For Sama, filmed by Waad al-Kateab in Aleppo in Syria in the years 2011-2016, which is presented at the IDFA documentary festival. I immediately watched the trailer of the film on YouTube.

Waad al-Kateab and daughter Sama
The images reminded me of an episode from my book The Batavian, describing what happened to main protagonist Leila Hammadi:

…She didn’t hear the helicopter taking up the assigned position and dropping a barrel bomb. A deafening explosion shook the building, which immediately filled with smoke and dust. Where the bomb had hit a fire broke out, but a far worse consequence was that the already weakened building started to totter and sway.
Leila had woken up to the explosion and looked round in the dust cloud coughing and disoriented, as she tried to get up. The only lamp in the room made a reddish sheen through the dust and she heard the building around her creak and groan as the overstrained beams and reinforcing rods sheared and bent. She suddenly remembered what her father always said: if a building is about to collapse, hide under something strong. She just managed to dive under the desk before the building collapsed and the concrete floor above her slammed down. The four story building went down inside two seconds, and the steel desk partly crumpled, but underneath there was a half-metre clear space where she lay pinned down…
The Batavian is fiction, created in an ordinary living room in the Netherlands, where in 2016, shocked by the news, I tried to describe what was happening in Syria. Experiencing raw reality in person must be very different from writing fiction in a safe environment.

For Sama

In the film by Waad al-Kateab you see the impact of bombs almost next door, people cringing at the blast and a dust cloud full of smoke and sparks entering the building. You see what it does to her as a mother as she has to comfort her child when the bombs are falling close by. The emotion almost got the better of me.

Waads husband Hamza worked as a doctor in an emergency hospital in the ruins of Aleppo. She filmed at home and in the hospital under war conditions. Ultimately, Hamza, Waad and daughter Sama managed to flee Aleppo in 2016 with hundreds of hours of video footage of the siege of Aleppo by the Assad regime. The images from the trailer of the film show the harsh reality of living and working in a war zone.

For Sama is dedicated to Waads daughter Sama, who features in the film as a baby and toddler. The film has already won many prizes - it is on the screen in the UK and France and will be shown in the Netherlands in January. I'm going to view it as soon as I can.

A trailer of the film can be found here:

Thursday, 24 October 2019

Second edition!

Last week I ordered a second edition of De Batavier (The Batavian) from the publishers. There is still a small stock available for bookstores and I still have a few copies myself, but the numbers are shrinking, so a second edition was really needed, all the more because I have some lectures planned. It will take a few weeks before the second edition is available, but it is of course a memorable fact for me as an author ...

the first and second editions of De Batavier

Lectures? Yes, the next one is on Friday, November 15 in the public library of Medemblik, at 2:30 pm. Illustrated by a slide show and various attributes, I will tell something about seafaring, sailing and writing. My book will of course play an important part in this.

The wet autumn has seriously messed up my sailing plans. I last sailed on September 25, on the IJsselmeer in beautiful weather:

I remember that it was quite windy on that day, I had to reef down. From my berth at Andijk I sailed around a bird sanctuary about halfway between Medemblik and Stavoren. Below is part of the course I have sailed.

After that the weather turned ugly, one depression after another passing over.

In my house there is an ancient instrument for measuring the air pressure, a so-called 'thunder glass', the contents of which overflow through the nozzle when the air pressure drops. It is an inaccurate instrument, but it tells flawlessly when bad weather is coming.

The photo below shows an anaeroid barometer, an accurate instrument with hollow metal bellows that are compressed more or less by changes in atmospheric pressure. The movement is transferred to the pointer. If we look closely at the instrument, we see such a bellows with a ribbed surface:

I have a better barometer on board my boat. It has a history - it belonged to my old friend Herman, who was my mentor on one of my first sea voyages. He was at sea for years, eventually as a Captain, and after his death I inherited it. The instrument was a gift to him from the Dutch Weather Bureau in the 1970s, given for 25 years of accurate meteorological observations at sea. The brass plate underneath is a reminder of that.

Today, the weather satellite network is so much developed that this kind of observation on ships has  become less important. But this barometer is a good reminder of a time long gone by and of the first-class sailor Herman was.

Finally an instrument for measuring the air pressure, also left to me by Herman. This is a barograph, a recording barometer:

The ink currently needs replacing (it can be ordered from a company in Amsterdam) and it needs a new battery, but it is fully functional. In the ships I sailed in, we always had one in the chart room, and I remember that in the tropics we could easily observe the daily variance of air pressure on the recorder chart, a few hPa (hecto Pascal) up and down every day and night. At that time we still called it Millibar, by the way... 

Monday, 26 August 2019

Summer News

Translation of Two Fathoms Down completed

Two Fathoms Down is the story of the wreck of the French brig-of-war 'Arabelle' of Napoleon's day, which lay two fathoms below the sand off the isle of Ameland for two centuries. A young man and his girlfriend, a descendant of the only survivor of the disaster, find enigmatic documents in the legacy of her deceased grandmother. The personal logbook of a soldier from Napoleon's army gives them a clue to the position of the wreck. Shortly after its discovery the valuable cargo in the wreck is pillaged by ruthless salvage hunters who leave a trail of violence behind. A historical novel that culminates in a contemporary thriller. The wreck and family ties are wrought into a surprising link over the centuries.

An extract of the English translation of the manuscript can be downloaded from my website.

Large order for De Batavier (The Batavian)
While outside the summer is still continuing in full glory, my publisher (Palmslag) called me with the joyful news that NBD Biblion, the main purchasing organization of the public libraries in the Netherlands, has placed a large order for De Batavier. As a result, about 85% of the first edition of the book now has been sold inside five months. Probable reason for the order was a wonderful review by one of the Biblion reviewers, who describes the book as 'A warm, accessible novel about friendship and love in a chaotic world (...) written fluently and clearly, a beautiful characterisation.

Many thanks to the reviewer and NBD Biblion for this present, which every author must look forward to!

Dutch tekst of the review (click to enlarge)
Lecture on seafaring, sailing and writing
Last Saturday I held my presentation about Seafaring, sailing and writing in the Public Library in Katwijk. The timing proved to be less than ideal: the warm beach weather and a large outdoor festival in Katwijk kept the visitors away. Nevertheless, I gave my presentation to a small group, and I was happy to welcome a namesake who appears to be descended from the same 17th century ancestors as myself!

For the presentation I brought different attributes to illustrate the story: a stowage plan, navigation tools and life jackets. Here are a few photos taken by my agent Hanneke Tinor-Centi:

reading a paragraph from The Batavian
Studying a 1973 stowage plan of a general cargo ship
The presentation was well received by the audience and will be re-used in further lectures to be planned for the winter season.

Book reviews
Finally, a few other reviews. Previously I wrote about the nice reviews of the Batavier on Dick van der Veen writes "Shocking wave movements in the life of a sailor", and Erik Barth writes "One Batavian, two voyages."

Positive reviews are pleasant for an author, they
and a large number of satisfied readers are the icing on the cake. One such review came from fellow author Arthur Eijs, known for 'Dansen in het stof' (Dancing in the Dust, 2015) and recently 'Beauchamps', both published by Palmslag. Maurice van Dijk of Palmslag publishers suggested reading and reviewing each other's books. So a book exchange resulted.

I was particularly impressed by Beauchamps. Few books are able to evoke such emotion in the reader as Beauchamps, a shocking and moving contemporary story about two people who each struggle with a terrible secret. I couldn’t put it down till I read the end. Praise to Arthur Eijs for his work!

Arthur in turn writes about De Batavier:

'The Batavian' is a novel like a sailboat with full-bellied sails, full of action and written at a great pace. You travel along and become involved in the experiences of the main character and in the choices which he makes.
Many thanks, Arthur!
Finally a review on the website, in which reviewer and author Iris writes:
... Leila gives the stream of refugees a human face, so that De Batavier suddenly becomes more than the story of Mark. It is the small gestures Mark starts with: a hot meal, buying a football for the children, a friendly conversation. But in the second part of the book, which takes place a few years later, the help that Mark offers takes on a different scale. He goes to work as a consultant to a Greek-Turkish rescue service ....
Message from a reader about The Batavian
As a last piece of n
ews I received an e-mail from a reader, who recently visited Kaş and Kastellorizo ​​(Meis).

He wrote the following:
... Compared to four years ago, when I first visited Kaş, the (renewed) tensions between Turkey and Greece were noticeable again. In addition to the Greek navy ship in the port of Meis, Turkish navy ships also came to patrol on a daily basis and I even saw a Turkish submarine lying intimidating before  the port of Meis for almost half an hour. (...) Partly as a result of this kind of experience, I realized for the first time that the rustic and peaceful Kaş and Meis could turn into a war zone within an hour, when one of the two parties was confronted with a trigger-happy commander. It was striking to read back exactly the same 'fantasy' in the book. I wanted to make you part of this wonderful experience and thank you for the beautiful and inspiring book ....
 Many thanks to this reader also (name withheld for privacy reasons).

Wednesday, 10 July 2019

A visit to Vlieland

During this year’s sailing cruise we sailed our boat Manokwari to the northern islands again. Here is a report on our visit to the isle of Vlieland. The approach from the south takes you almost out to sea in the Terschelling sea entrance. Persistent north-westerly winds had set up quite a swell, which even makes itself felt behind the sandbars out to sea. The tide helped us along on the final leg, as can be seen in the chart track below:
The track of our final approach through the Terschelling sea entrance
As we sailed north, well reefed against a force 4 gusting 5, the sky showed a weather change in the offing:

Sailing on a northerly course
That same evening my spouse made the photos below, showing a wild sky, and the last one who came in on the evening tide:
Vlieland harbour at dusk (Henriette Schalkwijk)
The last one in with the tide (Henriette Schalkwijk)
Vlieland is famous for walking and cycling. The lonely beaches, the dry sandy soil, the pine woods and and the sheltered shore on the landward side offer a variety of plant life:

Thistle in full bloom
Man Friday discovered by Robinson Crusoe on a lonely beach?
A visitor to Vlieland is the British motor yacht Amazone, formerly named Mermaiden, which took part in the Dunkirk evacuation of 1940.

Amazone, formerly named Mermaiden

The cold northerlies and some showers persisted during our stay. After a few more days we returned to the mainland at Harlingen. Here is the flaming sunset on our final day here:

The isle of Vlieland plays a minor part in two of my books: The Directive and Two Fathoms Down.

Tuesday, 25 June 2019

The shape of things to come

It has been almost four weeks since I last wrote something on my blog. And with reason, because I have completed the story of my third book. I am currently busy cleaning up the manuscript. The next thing to do will be translating it into English. More below.

The Batavian has since been subjected to two reviews (in Dutch) on A presentation and signing session is planned in the Katwijk Library, on the Schelpendam in Katwijk, on 24 August at 2 p.m. The content of the presentation will be slightly different from that of the previous ones. To start with, I will tell you something about my seafaring past in the 70s, illustrated with photos. Next, I will tell something about The Batavian and my writing activities, followed by the signing of any books purchased by visitors.

In the South Atlantic, July 1973
Force 10 conditions south of Australia, June 1976
It may or may not come as a surprise to you that even though The Batavian is my first published novel (albeit only in Dutch), two more are in the pipeline.

One is The Directive, about woman trafficking from the Baltic to the Netherlands, using a clapped-out trawler. Two yachtsmen accidentally come across this practice when they find the body of a drowned young man on the Wadden Sea. That evening, after they have arrived in Harlingen, a young woman comes on board asking after the drowned man. 

A thriller about an unfortunately very real and disconcerting theme, The Directive has not yet been published, but is next in line after The Batavian. Both of these have been translated into English, but they are on hold for want of a good English text editor, to correct my non-native English.

At the moment, which is the reason for my silence lately, I am busy finalizing a manuscript with the provisional title Two Fathoms Down, which in Dutch is named Drie meter zand (three metres of sand). Actually two fathoms is 12 feet, making 3.60 metres, but who cares....  

Image: wreck at Rossbeigh, Co. Kerry, Ireland. copyright Ted Polet

Two Fathoms Down is the fictional story about the wreck of the 'Arabelle', a French brig, which lay three metres below the sand off the isle of Ameland for two centuries. Descendants of the only survivor of the disaster find an enigmatic clue in the personal logbook of a soldier from Napoleon's army. This puts them on the trail of the wreck, the valuable cargo of which however is pillaged by ruthless criminals, shortly after its discovery. 

A historical novel that culminates in a contemporary thriller with a surprising outcome.  

The story was inspired by the disaster with HMS Lutine in 1799, and I did research on the islands during a sailing trip from Texel to Helgoland last year. At present it is being translated into English.

Saturday, 1 June 2019

The Batavian in the press

Announcing my planned presentation of De Batavier on Saturday 8 June at De Kler bookstore, De Kempenaerstraat branch, Oegstgeest, a few press releases were published in regional newspapers in my area. De Oegstgeester Courant writes: "In the refurbished two-mast ship he sails towards the Mediterranean":

announcement in Oegstgeester Courant, 29 May 2019

The Leids Nieuwsblad also announces the presentation; Leiden and Oegstgeest border directly to each other and De Kempenaerstraat is a stone's throw from where I live in Leiden:

Announcement in Leids Nieuwsblad 30 May 2019
Finally, I found the first reader review of De Batavier on, by Erik Barth, who writes:
The Batavier is the beautifully written debut of Ted Polet. It describes the urgent, exciting quests of two individuals from completely different worlds who accidentally cross each other's paths.
When Mark is declared unfit for work against his will and almost simultaneously loses his last family, he goes looking for himself. After a bombing raid on her hospital in Aleppo, Leila decides to undertake the dangerous flight from Syria to safety and tranquility.

The book never elaborates too much. There might have been less seafaring terminology, because as a landlubber I often had to consult to the glossary at the end of the book. The somewhat sudden perspective changes are explained at the end. Without becoming pedantic, Ted describes events which many people in the Western world are actively looking away from. And that hits home.

Many thanks, Erik! The full review (in Dutch) can be found here.

Sunday, 19 May 2019

Newspaper interview

On April 24th, local journalist Maarten Baanders published an interview with me in the cultural column 'Heilig Vuur' (Holy Fire) of the leading regional newspaper Leidsch Dagblad. The interview tells something of my approach in writing novels, and also gives some background information for my recently published book De Batavier (The Batavian).

Interview about De Batavier in the Leidsch Dagblad
Here is a summary in English of the interview, which is entitled I must have written this novel thirty times over.

It tells of my seafaring background and the parallels between the protagonist and myself. Some of the personages in the book have been modelled after people I have known. The book itself follows an established pattern I have seen in the work of British novelists such as Hammond Innes: a slow build-up of the story culminating in an adventurous tale. The canvas upon which the tale unfolds is the refugee crisis and the contested sea area between Turkey and Greece, both of which have been extensively researched. Finally, it mentions my translation of the book in English, which also served as an in-depth check on the text.

On June 8th I will give a short lecture on De Batavier, followed by a book signing session, at De Kler booksellers, De Kempenaerstraat 39B in Oegstgeest near Leiden.

More lectures are being planned.