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.”


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.

Kenneth Tam: Return to the New World
Kenneth Tam: Return to the New World
Mountains, foothills, and wide open prairies –– by now, readers of His Majesty's New World and Champions are familiar with the landscape of the planet that Britain and the United States began colonizing in 1881. Whether it be the Royal Newfoundland Regiment marching into the unknown in 1919, Alex and Stephanie fighting Scourge in 1942, or the veterans of Sergeant Barnes' outfit seeking a fresh start in 1896, the new world has been an essential part of every story I've told since Defense Command wrapped up in 2012. And now, at last, I'm moving back there. Sort of. You already know the most tired cliche about writing: you must write what you know. This gets over-used and misconstrued, but there's definite value to including as much reality as possible in what you write. However, there's a more important philosophy that I subscribe to: write what you long for. I eternally want to be in Newfoundland, but the reality is that I can't be right now. The opportunities to do what I'm good at full-time don't quite exist (yet) in wonderful places like Woody Point; until they do, I can live vicariously through Alex and Stephanie, who spend a great deal of time on the island (whether they like it or not). The same can be said of the new world. I lived for three-and-a-half years in Lethbridge, in southern Alberta, and though at the time I may have been too young to realize what was happening, Alberta's big skies and big mountains were being etched into my subconscious. Nothing can supplant a Newfoundlander's love of home, but when it came to creating a new world for the Royal Newfoundland Regiment to march across, there was no other place I wanted to go back to. If Waller's b'ys couldn't have the mighty Atlantic, they could enjoy the majestic mountains and endless prairies. And because they could enjoy them, I could too. After living with the new world in my head for seven years, I'm delighted now to have the opportunity to return to the province that inspired it –– in this case, to the capital city of Edmonton. North America's northernmost city with a population over 1 million will be my new home, and Iceberg's new home. Indeed, all three of us partners are packing up and making this move –– by some welcome machination of fate, we've been presented with opportunities in Edmonton that we can't ignore. As it has for countless families over the past few centuries, opportunity is taking us west. We're very excited. Of course, the logistical challenges of such a move are considerable. For those unfamiliar with Canada, the driving distance to Edmonton from our current base in Waterloo is some 3,500 kilometers –– a little shorter than the distance between New York and Los Angeles, but considerably longer than the distance between Paris and Moscow. Unfortunately, we don't have a real skycruiser to carry us there in 30 minutes (though if anybody has one we can borrow, we'll certainly take it). We therefore have to do it the old-fashioned way, and though we've moved across Canada twice before, knowing what we're in for doesn't reduce the time required to wrap up affairs in Ontario. We've had to push back some timetables. Owing to the way Outports ended, we knew we had to keep Progeny on schedule –– that's why it released yesterday, after some editing tactics that I suspect Jacqui will write a note about (when time permits). However, we've had to delay the launch of our new HMNW project (featuring images from South Africa, courtesy of the Dundee Diehards) until January, and we'll be announcing a new schedule for the 2015 Champions releases. All of that will come soon, but in the interim we'll continue to be relatively quiet as we pack up and hit the road. Stay tuned for updates… and in the meantime, have a look at our real new world. It won't be hard to see why I long for it:
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]
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