FEATURED EXCERPT
The Count
The Count

The meeting was not going well. “I appreciate you taking the time, Sergeant Barnes,” the businessman, Travers, said kindly as he leaned forward in his chair and linked his hands on the table before him. It was the sort of earnest gesture that was undoubtedly meant to seem warm. “We have reviewed your plan most carefully, and because we will adopt some of the recommendations you’ve suggested, I will insist that we pay you a fee for your help.” As much as he wouldn’t admit it, those words actually took some of the sting out of what Edwin Barnes knew was coming next. “But for the mission itself, we have decided to go with a different provider of security.” There it was. As he heard the familiar words, the ex-Sergeant – who still wore his khaki, perhaps in defiance of some … 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
Jacqui Tam: The Place We Belong
Jacqui Tam: The Place We Belong
As I mentioned in my last post, the Iceberg partners were in Gros Morne, Newfoundland again this summer. It was our fifth trip to the area in five years. Truth is, we love that part of the world so much we’ve been accused of working for Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism. We don’t, of course, though we will take credit for helping some people decide to book a trip to the Rock. Iceberg Publishing started in the province of Ontario in 2002, and is now based 3,500 km west in Alberta, but the three partners are Newfoundlanders (even the one who was technically born in Trinidad) and we have a deep and abiding love for the province. The nonfiction story that launched our company –– Standing Tall: A Daughter’s Gift –– finds its beating heart in this province. It isn't the only one of our titles for which that’s true. However, we’ve come to realize that the majority of the people picking up Iceberg titles probably don’t know where Newfoundland is, let alone what it looks like. So for the thousands of readers from the United States, the UK, and Australia who are reading about Newfoundland and Newfoundlanders, we spent part of our summer vacation making an introductory video. This was possible thanks to a new DJI Phantom 3 drone that we’ve picked up for work on future projects… and more importantly, because Newfoundland itself cooperated with beautiful weather, and spectacular views. Watch it below (you can go full screen, at 1080p!), and if you want to take a trip to Newfoundland, check out newfoundlandandlabrador.com to start planning. Or, if you want to get a sense of Newfoundland without actually leaving your home, you can find it pretty easily in all of our books –– not just A Daughter’s Gift. After the video, there’s a quick guide explaining how the Rock figures into most of Iceberg’s titles. Newfoundland in Iceberg Fiction Champions The main characters in this alternate history series are based at a facility called Jimmystown, on the outskirts of Newfoundland’s capital city of St. John’s. The cast is multinational –– including a girl raised on the American frontier… of another planet –– and each novella takes the team abroad for action and adventure. However, they always come home to Jimmystown… and Newfoundland’s weather (blizzards, fog) has proved significant to their missions more than once. His Majesty’s New World In this alternate history series (which sets the stage for Champions), the Royal Newfoundland Regiment is deployed to another planet in 1919 –– so Newfoundland doesn’t appear at all. However, all Newfoundlanders carry a piece of the Rock with them in their hearts… and Regimental Sergeant Major Dunphy literally carries a bag of beach rocks around with him, wherever he goes. So as you follow the b’ys across the grasslands of the new world, a tiny bit of Newfoundland is joining the mission. Defense Command Set 200 years in the future, and spending most of its time in the midst of a war (or a love story?) that crosses the solar system, one might not think that this series could include Newfoundland. But of course it does. The seat of power for the Earth Empire government is in a city called Terra Nova, located on Capital Island. The main character and narrator, an Admiral called Barron, also hails from that place. He writes: “The fog was thick and the winds were up –– it was a lovely day on the Atlantic. Made me homesick, really. It also required a bit more focus as we cruised over the Cabot Strait –– the waterway separating the Capital Island from the mainland of North America.” Definitely Newfoundland… but I can’t provide more proof without major spoilers. Equations In the Equations series, humanity is driven from Earth by an intelligent bio-weapon sometime in the middle of this century. When humans return to the planet 700 years later, they find it has come under the protection of the Earthers –– a new race of humanoid wolves, cats and bears that were genetically-engineered into existence by the plague. These Earthers are better than humans in every conceivable way, and having learned from the wreckage of humanity’s past, they are wary of our return. Who leads these creatures? A wolf called Setter Caine, who happens to live in –– wait for it –– Newfoundland. So, are all of these Newfoundland connections… connected? I’ve asked Kenneth if there’s any significance (aside from ‘national’ pride) to the fact that one island seems to be at the heart of three otherwise-unconnected fictional universes. He never answers… so maybe he does work for Newfoundland Tourism… Either way, whether on the page or in person, we invite readers all around the world to spend time in our home province of Newfoundland and Labrador. The place we belong is truly beautiful.
Kenneth Tam: The Last Ship
Kenneth Tam: The Last Ship
Navy stories are tough to get right – particularly in the modern era. The setup usually sounds appealing: an ensemble of characters working together within a ship that is a character all on its own. But when you get into the practicalities of storytelling, the complications are plenty. Those characters, for instance, are stratified by the hierarchy of their fleet, all work in highly specialized jobs that most writers have never done, and abide by certain principles that aren’t as common in general society as they ought to be. But at the same time, they’re still real people — just like the rest of us. With all those competing factors, getting a true ‘navy’ story right becomes one hell of a balancing act. I’ve certainly never managed it. I’ve written before about the connection between Defense Command and the Royal Canadian Navy — how learning about Canada’s fleet shaped the ships and characters that populate the Belt Squadron. But when you’re writing a sci-fi series set 200 years in the future, you get to cheat: the Defense Command Navy, for instance, allows relationships aboard ships (for better or worse), and is also much better funded than the Canadian fleet. These tweaks make storytelling a little easier. [caption id="attachment_4529" align="alignright" width="300"] Book-signing photo op with CFB Halifax commander Captain Angus Topshee, when we donated sets of Defense Command novels to the at-sea libraries of all Royal Canadian Navy ships.[/caption] When you’re abiding by a present-day naval reality, you have much less room to maneuver. It’s almost like writing a Jane Austen novel — characters must fit into their roles, so plot tension often comes from them pressing against the expectations of their position. The difference, though, is that in a navy story, expectations are rarely a bad thing. You might want Darcy to get off his high horse to be with Elizabeth; you don’t want a Captain to disregard his leadership responsibilities. Well, I don’t, anyway. All of this explains why, despite my obvious affection for the RCN, I’ve never written a story revolving around the fleet. I once did try –– a project featuring a character called Natalie Quinn began aboard a Kingston-class patrol vessel –– but as I drafted, I rapidly realized how little I knew about what I was writing. Unwilling to get everything wrong, I shelved it… and when I visited HMCS Halifax in 2013, I was glad I did. While I feel like I understood the characters, I wouldn’t have had a prayer with the technical detail, and the plot would have been all wrong. [caption id="attachment_4814" align="alignleft" width="221"] Sackville's skipper, Lieutenant Commander (Ret'd) Jim Reddy.[/caption] The challenge was similar when HMCS Sackville joined Champions in 1942. I’m unashamedly obsessed with Canada’s last surviving Second World War convoy escort –– she still sits in Halifax harbor, telling her stories to everyone who’ll listen –– so bringing her into Champions made perfect sense. Until I started writing Outports. Then I had to send anxious emails to the ship's current skipper, Jim Reddy, asking how to navigate the coast of Newfoundland in dense fog. I’m sure I got more than a few details wrong, but I was able to get away with it because Sackville was a guest character in that universe… and because it’s alternate history. Anything is possible in a world where a Flower-class corvette is swimming with a sarcastic alien dragon. But given my own inability to get the real navy right on the page, it’s probably no surprise that I’m truly impressed by writers (and producers and casts) who get fleets right on screen. Unfortunately, you don't see it very often. For instance: perhaps my favorite moment from War of the Worlds comes when H.G. Wells sends the Royal Navy against the Martian invasion, and HMS Thunder Child (a torpedo ram) manages to bring down one of the tripods. When Spielberg took a run at the story in 2005, I sat in the theater eagerly waiting for an AEGIS destroyer to show up and start slinging missiles… but we got tanks and Apache helicopters instead. It was my biggest disappointment with the film. The Peter Berg film Battleship might have been the antidote: a silly boardgame-to-screen adaptation, sure, but at least the United States Navy (our family at sea) was front and center. Unfortunately, aside from the jarring moment when one Japanese and two American destroyers first encounter the newly-arrived (heavily-plot-deviced) aliens, the film struck me as all sorts of wrong. Don’t even get me started about the notion that a museum ship crewed by a handful of veterans could put to sea for action in half an hour; fully crewed in 1945, USS Missouri could hardly have gone from cold start to open sea with such speed. For years, only the Australians seemed to have found the formula for effective navy stories on screen. For five seasons, Sea Patrol followed the fictional patrol ship HMAS Hammersley on missions against human traffickers, poachers, illegal fishermen, terrorists, and organized crime. The show veered towards soap opera from time to time, but not ridiculously so, and it was easily the best screen representation of a modern fleet I’d seen… until recently. This week, TNT’s summer thriller The Last Ship was renewed for its third season –– and it’s well deserved. Loosely based on the Cold War-era novel by William Brinkley, the series follows the USS Nathan James as her crew seeks the cure for a global pandemic. I won’t spoil the plot here, but suffice to say that all the writing challenges I’ve mentioned have been very ably handled by its creative team. I’m sure they must get some of the details of operating an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer wrong, but the close involvement of the United States Navy in the production makes any errors impossible for a landlubber like myself to detect. Most importantly: they get the characters right. Viewers accustomed to the modern practice of leading with antiheroes may find Nathan James’ crew a bit too good, earnest, and patriotic (even if their XO does occasionally kill people with an axe). However, as someone with an abiding affection for John Ford movies, the characters definitely work for me. They even ring true. [caption id="attachment_4813" align="alignright" width="300"] With Commodore (Ret'd) Cal Mofford in 2013.[/caption] Perhaps the thing I appreciate most about The Last Ship is that its characters remind me of people I met in Halifax in 2013: the junior officers aboard HMCS Halifax, who invited me into their mess for lunchtime steak, mashed potatoes, and beer; Flag Officers like Commodore Cal Mofford, who was intensely thoughtful and yet optimistic when discussing anti-terrorism operations after 9/11; Base Commander Captain Angus Topshee, from whom I’d previously learned about HMCS Toronto’s anti-piracy cruise around Africa; and of course: the navy veterans who work tirelessly for HMCS Sackville. I like spending time with those sorts of people, which is why they populate everything I write. And as a viewer, The Last Ship has earned my deep loyalty for giving those sorts of characters the chance to save the world. Just one flag-waving suggestion for the show’s writers: you started adding international characters in season two, so how about a Canadian for season three? We have plenty of excellent officers and sailors who have fought pirates, done massive drug busts, and even helped after Hurricane Katrina. Plus, our crews are well-accustomed to keeping ships operational without necessary resources. If you need another new face for Nathan James, perhaps give the RCN a call? Either way: a hearty congratulations to the creative team behind The Last Ship –– and to the excellent cast. I eagerly look forward to the third season, and hopefully, many more beyond. Bravo Zulu, Nathan James.
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