11 February 2010

John Biggins is Back... and so is Frans Michielszoon van Raveyck

I read recently that more than the usual number of bookstores in the United Kingdom have closed over the past year. The Guardian counts (almost) two a week, for a total of 102 shops closed in 2009, leaving just 1,289 in business.

Yes, that small store in the Cotswolds, the one you consulted for the name of a particular insect you saw the previous week in France, that store. It’s gone now along with “...the UK's only specialist crime bookshop, Murder One... Lancashire's award-winning Kaydee Bookshop... south London independent Crockatt & Powell” and all the others.

Perhaps for related reasons and the sorry state of publishing, the redoubtable British author John Biggins is planning to self-publish his next novel, “The Surgeon’s Apprentice.”

Due to a long-lasting, long-distance acquaintance with the author, I was privileged this week to read the not-yet-published Chapter 11, no financial irony intended. Mr Biggins’ dedicated readers, who have had nothing new from him for at least a decade and a half, can now anticipate further wonderful adventures among the feeble-brained and half-witted, in other words commanders, lords, and others in authority.

You may have read Mr Biggins’ previous novels. If you are not so fortunate, do treat yourself to one of the four paperback books. You likely will join many other readers who not only cherish and recommend these novels, but also suffer from the so far unfulfilled longing for more. Fans live on a forlorn island surrounded by the sea of lesser works, waiting to be rescued by just one more book from this author.

I continue to receive fan mail addressed to the author because previous WOBs I wrote on Mr Biggins live forever as searchable Internet space nuggets. For example, the the most recent, from Greg Coultis, in Brisbane, Australia:

“I have just finished reading the entire.. ‘Otto Prohaska’ series by the author John Biggins. What an entertaining read! The author has a wonderful style and I found the ‘historical’ side very engaging. I would love to read more of his adventures if the author is willing and a publisher can be found. True gems lying in the dust! I will be recommending these to all my friends.”

Biggins’ hero in the earlier books was a lieutenant in the land-locked Austro-Hungarian Navy, a navy consisting of one submarine and perhaps a few rowboats as World War One began. In the new series (yes, more than one ms. already has been drafted) the hero’s name will be much harder to pronounce: Frans Michielszoon van Raveyck, but he is likely to be just as unlikely a hero as Otto Prohaska. Van Raveyck is a surgeon’s apprentice serving in the Dutch navy in 1625.

In Chapter 11, “Frans, thanks to his knowledge of English and his ability to write shorthand, is sent by the admiral of the Dutch flotilla to take a note of Viscount Wimbledon’s council of war aboard his flagship off the coast of southern Spain... the fleet having arrived there after a fortnight at sea without any very clear notion of what it intends doing next. In the end nothing very much is decided: so when the fleet arrives before Cadiz the following day matters drift somewhat for lack of firm direction…”

In an email Mr Biggins wrote, “I've just finished the final edit and I have to say that I like the book and have enjoyed writing it, which is always a good sign. It's another cheerful canter through the limitless badlands of human folly, wickedness and self-deception with occasional halts to admire the things that we've accidentally created in the process of robbing and oppressing one another, like science and art.

“These aren't seafaring yarns even to the extent that the Prohaska books were, though the hero does spend quite a lot of time at sea and also ends up doing things like being the first European to explore Australia, thanks to his ship having piled up on the coast as the result of the flotilla admiral miscalculating their longitude and making the turn north for Java rather too late.

“Really they're about the world of the baroque and the very beginnings of science. But I'm sure you'll enjoy them even so. They're certainly not for stupid people or those who wish to be told only what they know already.”

John Biggins’ new web site will be online soon, his book will be available for purchase later this year, and his many fans should start placing nickels, or shillings, in the cookie jar in anticipation.

Biggins is writing again. Great news for smart readers everywhere!


The Guardian article...

“A Sailor of Austria: In Which, Without Really Intending To, Otto Prohaska Becomes Official War Hero No. 27 of the Habsburg Empire” by John Biggins. McBooks Press paperback $16.95. ISBN 9781590131077

“The Emperor's Coloured Coat: In Which Otto Prohaska, Future Hero of the Habsburg Empire, Has an Unexpectedly Interesting Time...” by John Biggins. McBooks Press paperback $16.95 ISBN 9781590131084.

“The Two-Headed Eagle: In Which Otto Prohaska Takes a Break as the Habsburg Empire's Leading U-Boat Ace and Does Something Even More Thankless” by John Biggins. McBooks Press paperback $16.95 ISBN 9781590131091.

“Tomorrow the World: In Which Cadet Otto Prohaska Carries the Habsburg Empire's Civilizing Mission to the Entirely Unreceptive Peoples of Africa & Oceania.” by John Biggins. McBooks Press paperback $16.95 ISBN 9781590131107.

(A current note from Alice Whitehead-Chan apropos of nothing above, but funny nevertheless) “The English are feeling the pinch in relation to recent terrorist threats and have raised their security level from ‘Miffed’ to ‘Peeved.’ Soon, though, security levels may be raised yet again to ‘Irritated’ or even ‘A Bit Cross.’ The English have not been ‘A Bit Cross’ since the blitz in 1940 when tea supplies all but ran out. Terrorists have been re-categorized from ‘Tiresome’ to a ‘Bloody Nuisance.’ The last time the British issued a ‘Bloody Nuisance’ warning level was in 1588 when threatened by the Spanish Armada.”

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