FEATURED EXCERPT
The Grasslands
The Grasslands

The trail unwinding before Smith was just the sort he liked. Quiet. A crisp wind was cutting through the valley, on its way west from the mountains behind him, through the trees around him, and out to the grassy plains ahead. It was a good feeling, calming and fresh. That was what this new planet did best: made a man feel fresh. These valleys and the foothills and grasslands beyond were filled with men and women looking to make money. They wanted to find their gold mines, their coal deposits, anything they could take out of the land and send back to civilization to make a pretty penny. Smith didn’t want any of that. No, he was a drifter. He’d come to this world with his horse and his gun because he wanted to be left alone, like the drifters … Continue reading

The Champions of 1940
Iceberg Reaches South Africa
Iceberg Reaches South Africa

Khaki-clad soldiers spent Saturday, July 26 advancing up a dry, grassy hill called Talana, in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Some 115 years ago, this hill had been the site of the first battle of the Second Boer War; this time, the soldiers were members of the Dundee Diehard historical re-enactment team, and their foes were neither Boers or British, but savages of the new world. Their mission: to provide images for a new project from award-winning Canadian publisher, Iceberg Publishing.

“We can now say we’ve conducted an inter-continental photo shoot,” says Iceberg Senior Partner and Editor-In-Chief, Jacqui Tam, “and we’re absolutely delighted with the outcome.”

This fall, a new entry will join Kenneth Tam’s His Majesty’s New World universe, which is currently progressing with the Champions series. Set in 1896, the project will fill in some of the universe’s backstory, but its plot presented certain logistical problems when it came to covers.

“With His Majesty’s New World and Champions, we’ve built a tradition of strong, historically-authentic, photographic covers,” explains author and Iceberg Partner Kenneth Tam. “We wanted the same for this new project, but the right sort of re-enactors simply don’t exist in Canada. Our military history doesn’t include many ‘khaki soldiers’, so groups like the Canadian Military Heritage Society usually start with the War of 1812, then jump to the First World War. We needed someone in between.”

Diehards-Webstory-01Enter the Dundee Diehards. Based in Dundee, South Africa –– at the foot of Talana Hill –– the group was formed in 1991 when the Duke of Kent opened the Talana Museum, to help preserve their country’s military history. Throughout the ‘new Imperialism’, modern-day South Africa was the site of numerous British colonial wars, including the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879, and the Boer Wars of 1880-81 and 1899-1902. The Diehards routinely re-enact engagements from these conflicts, while also appearing at historical events, participating in commemorative ceremonies, and taking part in media projects. Their expertise was perfect for Iceberg’s project.

“As soon as we found the Diehards, we knew we wanted to work with them,” Kenneth says. “The only problem was geography –– could we coordinate a photo shoot from the other side of the Atlantic, and the other side of the equator?”

Though a small Canadian company, Iceberg has a long history of punching above its weight; the decision was quickly taken to try. Contacting the Diehards, Kenneth outlined the project, its requirements, and Iceberg’s past experience working with the Canadian Military Heritage Society. The South African team quickly came on board –– and, most importantly, put their experience and expertise at Iceberg’s disposal.

Diehards-Webstory-02“We obviously have no infrastructure on the ground in KwaZulu-Natal,” Jacqui says. “The Diehards handled the location scouting, the equipment, the uniforms, the transportation, and the timelines. What might have taken us months to put together, they managed in a matter of weeks. We went from first conversations to camera in just six weeks. Full credit to them for making it possible.”

The Diehards also recommended South African photographer Pierre Janse van Vuuren for the project.

“We were very anxious to find the right person to go behind the lens,” Kenneth states. “We had a good team on the ground for the His Majesty’s New World shoot in 2007, and Olivia Witzke sets an extremely high standard with her work on Champions, so there was a lot of pressure. Pierre couldn’t have been a better choice.”

While the Diehards were cementing plans for the location and equipment, the Iceberg team was in regular contact with Pierre, discussing details from photo composition, to lighting, to poses, to style.

“Anything that could possibly come up, we tried to discuss in advance,” Kenneth continues. “When we’re present at a shoot, we can improvise to take advantage of things we see on the day. We needed to give Pierre an idea of what we’d be looking for, so he could keep an eye out on our behalf.”

The preparation worked. Through multiple setups across the day, Pierre and the Diehards captured images that fit perfectly with the style established in His Majesty’s New World –– and with what the project demanded. Armed with these images, Iceberg can now target a fall launch, though details about the project remain limited.

Diehards-Webstory-03“Readers of The Grasslands will probably recall the significance of the year 1896,” Kenneth deflects, “but that’s all we can say for now.”

Although the full details of the story remain under wraps, the photos are a point of pride for the Canadian company.

“We had to draw on all our experience to commission this shoot,” Jacqui Tam concludes. “If we hadn’t done the same sort of shoots numerous times before, in Canada, we couldn’t have been able to try to execute one half a world away.”

“We were also very lucky with the people on the ground. The web has made the world smaller, but finding people with the both the talent and dedication that we found in KwaZulu-Natal is rare. The Diehards and Pierre took onboard all the information we offered, then added their own expertise and passion,” Kenneth elaborates, then smiles. “The results speak for themselves –– Mike Strong would be impressed.”

Diehards-Webstory-04

More information about Iceberg’s newest project will be available on this website in the weeks ahead. Additional stories about this shoot, and other Iceberg projects, can be found here in the Author Notes of Kenneth Tam and Jacqui Tam.

 
 
LATEST AUTHOR NOTES
Kenneth Tam: Ready, Aye, Ready.
Kenneth Tam: Ready, Aye, Ready.
The first thing you have to understand about Canada’s navy: it began with an obsolete cruiser named Rainbow. When the Royal Canadian Navy was first founded in 1910, Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier found himself in a difficult position. At the time, Britain and Germany were engaged in a Mahanian naval race, building Dreadnoughts (and eventually Superdreadnoughts) in astounding numbers. That competition necessitated some changes to the Royal Navy’s global strategy; under First Lord Jackie Fisher, the fleet was concentrated at home. No longer would the White Ensign be omnipresent around the world, so certain parts of the Empire –– the responsibly-governed dominions in particular — were asked to pitch in. Some, like Australia, took on this challenge with enthusiasm, but facing perpetual national unity issues, Prime Minister Laurier wasn't keen on a massive expense that some perceived might draw Canadians into overseas colonial wars. Still, Sir Wilfrid was well known for his ‘sunny ways’ approach — he wanted to find a solution that pleased everyone (or pleased no one), so his government bought Rainbow, along with the protected cruiser Niobe. [caption id="attachment_7871" align="alignleft" width="700"] HMCS Rainbow, on her way to join the Royal Canadian Navy.[/caption] In 1910, these ships were basically relics. Rainbow had been picked up on her way to the breakers’ yards, and Niobe was rotting at anchor somewhere. Both were made of metal and had steam propulsion, so that was good, but neither was even close to capable of modern combat. Nevertheless, Laurier indicated that they’d serve as training ships, while he considered an Admiralty-proposed plan for Canada to build a squadron of one Invincible-class battlecruiser (quickly dialed back to just a Boadicea-class armored cruiser), three Bristol-Weymouth-type Town-class light cruisers, and six Acorn-class destroyers. It was to be a modest fleet — basically, a formation that could help protect the Canadian coast, and provide local assistance if the Royal Navy ever needed to send a battle squadron. But, of course, it was never built. Niobe ran aground almost as soon as she arrived, though Rainbow did end up serving a training function… until 1914. Then, in the early days of the Great War, she was ordered (along with all other allied cruisers in the Pacific) to seek out a German raiding force under Maximillian Von Spee. Good job she never came across the modern, fast, effective Spee squadron — it annihilated Kit Cradock’s British cruiser squadron off South America, and wasn’t sunk until Doveton Sturdee (with three battlecruisers secretly dispatched from Britain’s Grand Fleet) ambushed it at the Falklands. All this while Rainbow was carrying sand bags instead of powder charges for her two 6-inch guns –– because, you know, training. The point of me explaining this is not to slight the Royal Canadian Navy, but to set the context. Despite being an Atlantic and Pacific (and these days, Arctic) nation, Canada for years lacked the political will to invest money in its fleet. As such, our navy evolved in a culture where resources were slim, expectations were low, but actual requirements were high. Whether Ottawa understood it or not, Canada needed to be able to project power at sea. The navy just had to figure out how to do that with no support. Hence the slogan: Ready, Aye, Ready. [caption id="attachment_7872" align="alignleft" width="700"] HMCS Skeena, one of the RCN's fleet destroyers in 1939.[/caption] By the late 1930s, Canada’s fleet was in slightly better shape; we had a half-dozen fleet destroyers, and a seventh on the way. These were modern ships with specific modifications to help them survive in Canadian waters... but as soon as the Second World War broke out, we sent them to Britain. The Royal Navy had suffered heavy losses during the Norwegian Campaign (before the invasion of France), and was desperately short of escort hulls when unrestricted U-boat warfare began. As you may know, this is where Canada came in. Once France had fallen, everyone understood that Churchill’s Britain was the last hope for stopping Hitler in Europe. Unfortunately, the island needed to be constantly supplied with everything from food to military equipment to keep up the fight, and German submarines were out in force to stop the flow. Someone needed to protect the convoys… and because the job was hard (seemingly impossible) and largely thankless, it suited the Royal Canadian Navy perfectly. A massive expansion effort began –– one that would leave Canada with the Allies’ third-largest fleet by the end of the war. So what did that look like? Here's some astounding film shot by British Pathé, but never used for their news reels, which appears (to me, at least) to be from a Canadian River-class destroyer during an Atlantic convoy crossing. Of course, the weather wasn't always that good, the ships were rarely that big, and the enemy wasn't usually that absent, so perhaps we should use some imagination... Picture yourself as just having graduated high school. It’s the tail of the Great Depression, you’re pretty sure you won’t find a job, but the navy appears to be hiring. Doesn’t matter that you’re from central Canada and have never seen the sea; they’ll train you, and you’ll get to see the world. You sign up. Six months later, you’re in the middle of a North Atlantic storm, doing your best not to throw your guts up while your twenty-something-year-old Captain (who’s actually a Lieutenant) is trying desperately to stop merchant ships blowing up. It’s the middle of the night, you’re one of the crew of the 4-inch deck gun, and word is the U-boats are attacking on the surface (that’s when they’re fastest). One is spotted racing in for the kill, so your skipper turns to intercept. When the firing commences, you realize the folly of not wearing your gloves: the shells are ice cold, so as you hand them to the loader, bits of your flesh are stuck to them. At least those pieces of your palms don’t jam the gun. No matter; you keep fighting because it's your job — because someone has to stop the U-boats. You may not be a glorious sailor aboard Nelson’s Victory, but this work is important, and you’re here. Don’t bitch, just fight. That’s basically how HMCS Moose Jaw fought U-501. The engagement might as well have been a reenactment of Salamis; at one point, the U-boat’s Captain jumped aboard the Canadian corvette (seemingly to lead a boarding attack), and in turn, Moose Jaw rammed the submarine. What worked for Themistocles in 480 BC worked for Lieutenant Frederick Ernest Grubb in September of 1941; U-501 was defeated. You can read Captain Grubb’s report here. [caption id="attachment_7873" align="alignleft" width="700"] HMCS Moose Jaw, one of Sackville's many sisters.[/caption] Clearly, the Battle of the Atlantic wasn’t pretty, or glorious, but it was one of the most important Allied campaigns of the Second World War. If you doubt that, consider the Japanese experience in the Pacific. Despite their early carrier-derived successes, the Imperial Japanese Navy never organized protection for merchant shipping, so the American submarine force (despite being initially handicapped by malfunctioning torpedoes) annihilated Japanese supply lines. It’s often forgotten because of the Atomic aftermath, but Japan was starving by 1945. Had Britain been left to the same fate… well, that’s a different alternate history. The bottom line is this: if you have a thankless, complicated, and hugely important job to do at sea, you call the Royal Canadian Navy. Especially if you don’t have a budget. And that brings me back to Outports. If someone is going to be assigned the dull and irritating job of chaperoning a Champion during her leisurely swims around coastal Newfoundland, it’s obviously going to be the Canadians. And because of my previously-declared crush, it’s definitely going to be HMCS Sackville. In the real August of 1942, Sackville (skippered by Lieutenant Commander Alan Easton) fought three U-boats in thirty-six hours: she blew U-43 out of the water, ran down U-704 (scaring her out of the battle area), and did indeed face the real U-552. In that final fight, the submarine managed to escape, but not before being nearly crippled by Sackville’s deck gun and depth charges. Obviously, our fictional Sackville had an eventful August as well –– jousting, anyone? –– though I won’t spoil that here. I just hope she does justice to her real namesake. One of my two biggest priorities with Outports was making sure Sackville –– and by extension, the entire RCN –– got a deserved moment in the spotlight. People need to know what Canadian ships and sailors did during the Second World War, and how they did it. So do yourself a favor: visit Halifax, and go aboard the real lady who accompanied our fictional Lady on her swim. Better yet, become a Trustee and help share her story. We stray away from the sea in the Champions novellas ahead, though we’ll see Sackville again. Maybe she’ll even meet a dragon... [caption id="attachment_7875" align="alignleft" width="700"] Come see Sackville here, in Halifax harbor. Unfortunately, you can't watch her jousting in an alley. Yet.[/caption]
Jacqui Tam: Anywhere Is Possible
Jacqui Tam: Anywhere Is Possible
Today –– August 8th –– is my father’s birthday. It’s been 20 years since he’s been with us on this occasion, and more than that since we celebrated with a special supper, my mother’s homemade chocolate cake, an enthusiastic rendition of Happy Birthday to You, and brightly wrapped presents. On his last birthday in 1994, there was no cake or singing or presents. He was so completely in the grip of Alzheimer’s by then that my mother could not bear a celebration he couldn’t understand. Any such attempt would have only added to the already overwhelming stress of those last months anyway, so as much as it broke our hearts, we knew the decision was the best one. I couldn’t let the day go by completely unmarked, though, so I brought him a single red rose and a card. My dad wouldn’t know me when I arrived. He wouldn’t be able to read the card or likely even register that it stood on the dresser beside the bed where he fitfully dozed. And chances were he wouldn’t know the rose was for him or remember it’s special significance even if he did see it. But at least the symbols of love would be there for him. My father passed away less than three months later. After my mother and I had visited the funeral home to make all the arrangements, I called my brother Steve who lived in British Columbia to tell him everything had been taken care of and I’d picked out the best casket I could find. He chuckled and said a casket wouldn’t do –– we needed a Land Rover because that was about the only thing dad would be comfortable in. I chuckled too, saying no, I hadn’t quite been able to manage that, but I had selected a sturdy, green casket –– the best copper one available. Not many people would understand I’d made that choice because of my father’s love for his green Land Rovers, but Steve and I did. Possessions didn’t mean a great deal to my father, but he loved his Land Rovers and we did too. The hours I spent in the garage with my father when he was working on them are some of the most precious of my childhood, as are the memories of sitting next to him on stormy nights to operate the controls for the snow plow he’d installed so he could clear our road and the nearby driveways… of piling my mother’s co-workers in to drive them all home when blizzards raged… of sitting in front next to him when my brothers were being dropped at cadets… of heading out late in the evening to pick up my mother from university… of heading out in the Land Rover to go trouting in the spring and fall, or picking berries in the summer… [caption id="attachment_7421" align="aligncenter" width="700"] My dad, Richard Joseph Barron (Dick), in his garage in the classic Barron Land Rover pose.[/caption] Steve drove my dad’s Series IIA all through university, and my other brother Rick drove it as well, though less frequently. I never really expected to have the opportunity to get behind the wheel, but after I’d gotten my license using one of our automatic transmission vehicles, my dad asked me if I wanted to learn how to drive a standard. The answer was obviously and enthusiastically YES. As I explained in A Daughter’s Gift, in the chapter titled “For the Love of Land Rovers:” It was and still is the most stubborn and most wonderful vehicle I’ve ever driven –- the gears were hard to move, the steering was cantankerous beyond reason, and it actually seemed to jump over even the tiniest bumps in the road. Not to mention being totally unforgiving if I didn’t release the clutch at the exact second it wanted to be released. My dad lurched and chuckled his way through most of the early lessons, gently coaching me with a twinkle in his eye; I laughed too, even though I couldn’t help but feel utterly mortified as we hopped our way across vacant parking lots. It would be incorrect to say I eventually mastered the vehicle, but we did come to a happy understanding. What did (my father) do for me when he trusted me to drive the last (Land Rover) he would own? He showed me he trusted me to care for it as he would. He showed me I could do anything my brothers could do (they’d also learned to drive the Land Rovers and had been driving them long before I could even get my license). I think he even helped me land my second, or perhaps third boyfriend, a Land Rover fan who said I was the only other person… he’d ever let drive his Land Rover. In trusting me to drive his Land Rover, my dad did what he’s always done; he showed his respect for me, his belief in me; he let me try something new without fear of his displeasure at my failure; and he treated me as an equal. For those gifts, I can never thank him enough. Steve and I both own Land Rovers now –– have for many years. Steve is on his second Discovery. I still have my first –– a 2002 Special Edition Kalahari (Kal), brought home on May 23, 2003 –– and there’s now also a Discovery 4 in the driveway. The Newfoundland release of the book about my father’s battle with Alzheimer’s and our remarkable relationship took place in that province’s Land Rover Dealership in early 2003. When the sales agent at our local dealership handed me the keys for Kal just a few months later, I handed him a copy of the book, and told him to read Chapter 12 so he’d truly understand what driving out of the parking lot in my yellow Land Rover meant to me. People who know my family, people who remember my father and his Land Rovers… understand the emotional connection my brother and I have to these vehicles. These days many people see Land Rover as a brand. But for us Land Rover isn’t a brand. Land Rover is a philosophy. For the Barron family, and now the Tam family, Land Rover is the embodiment of my father’s personal philosophy that anything is possible, that anywhere is possible. In a Land Rover with my father, there was never a question of not reaching our destination. In a Land Rover with my father, we could do what others would not, go where others could not… not because it would be easy, but because we were willing to take the time needed, work through problems, and overcome whatever obstacles arose. In a Land Rover with my father, even the everyday was just a little more adventurous and exciting. The Land Rovers we drive today honour my father and his memory, all that he taught us so well, and the remarkable father he was. We love our Land Rovers –– their personalities, their quirks, their very souls –– just as he loved his. How could we not, when we loved our father so. Happy Birthday, Dad. I’ll miss you a little bit more than usual today, but when I go out, I’ll be driving Kal... and as always, when I'm behind the wheel of a Land Rover, you'll be right there with me.
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