Hello again. I’m Charlotte, your Showcase editor for October. This month, we’re thinking about the themes of ‘Reality And Perspectives.’ At The Wilbur & Niso Smith Foundation, where I work as Prize Manager, we’re in the business of adventure writing, so you’ll have to excuse the art metaphor, but I’ve started to think of reality as a canvas, and perspectives as the way we perceive, a bit like an artist’s brush. We all start with a canvas, but it’s when our individual brushes make contact with it that the most profound truths emerge.
The same is true of adventure writing, of course. But more than this, adventure writing is the art of bridging the realms of reality and perception, transforming ordinary words into extraordinary worlds. How lucky I count myself to spend my days working with adventure writers of all ages, from all over the globe, and to welcome some of them to join me in this month’s Showcase!
With that said, I’d like to introduce this first extract, which is from Nicholas Herrmann’s novel, Short Rains. Nicholas was a winner of the 2022 New Voices award, and bowled us over with his powerful manuscript. Against the backdrop of a Kenyan national park, the protagonist struggles with his shifting perception of himself as he navigates the harsh realities of wildlife conservation, poaching and corruption.
The Land Cruiser bumped along the track, startling a bushbuck. He turned north and picked up speed. The sun was climbing over the horizon now, revealing a different world from the day before. The sky had lifted, cotton-ball clouds pinned to craft-paper blue. The ground had mostly dried out. Only signs remained of the short rains that had filled his days for weeks: puddles in potholes, the touch of his damp jacket collar against his neck, dried streaks of mud on the inside of the car door.
He thundered across the savannah, past desert dates and bushes of evergreen. He enjoyed this part. The day still half asleep. Before fatigue set into his bones. Animals already dotted the landscape as though they had grazed through the night. Wildebeest shuffled like old men across the plain. A family of zebra trotted beside the track. A silverback jackal flashed in the grass. He rolled down the window and relaxed into his seat. Just a few miles further. He would be there soon.
He pulled up alongside Emmanuel and turned off the engine. The car ticked as it cooled. A breeze blew through the window. He kicked the door open, climbed out and yawned.
‘Mosquitos for breakfast again?’ Emmanuel was leaning on the front bumper of his car, whittling a piece of wood. The red and black shuka wrapped loosely around his shoulders was all that signalled his Maasai background. He wore no beads on his wrists, around his neck, or in his ears. He was covered in camouflage from head to toe – the olive and khaki of the service.
‘You interrupted my breakfast. I have to eat something.’ He gripped his friend’s hand.
They had remained close since training together at the academy. He leant beside Emmanuel on the car. ‘Is it bad?’
‘It’s bad, mzungu.’ The way people here used the word was affectionate, playful – more term of endearment than accusation. Foreigner. White person. People usually addressed him in English, too. His Kiswahili was rusty, but he knew it fine. It’s just that the two tended to go together.
‘Which way?’ the mzungu said.
Emmanuel put the piece of wood in his breast pocket and sheathed his knife. He was carving a nativity scene for his daughter, due on Christmas Day. He’d finished most of it, he was working on the manger now for the wooden baby Jesus. He unfolded his hat, punched it, and lowered the brim over his eyes.
The mzungu followed Emmanuel through a thicket of orange leaf croton. The sun was higher and the mzungu was starting to sweat. He took out his own hat to towel his forehead, then unfolded it and put it on.
Emmanuel’s steps were deliberate and assured. Both men had their ears pricked for movement, their noses alert to the scent of animal. In the Land Cruisers, rangers were ignored by the wildlife, but on foot they lost that anonymity. The seasonal waters of the small river, still struggling for strength in the halting rains, trickled out of sight. It meant there might be hippos nearby. This was one of the first things they had learned: the animal’s size, temperament and speed made it one of the most dangerous in the park. Startling a hippo could be the last thing they did.
Two vultures blundered into the sky as they emerged into the clearing. Emmanuel took his hat off again. Even before the mzungu saw anything, the place felt like death. A gigantic elephant lay on its side, the colour of wet stone. Its flank was punctured by several oozing bullet wounds. It still had its tusks attached. They were enormous, like something from a fairy tale: two impossible arcs of ivory long enough to scrape the ground.
Orok. She had been one of maybe twenty big tuskers alive on the whole planet. And now she was dead.
The flattened, twisted grass surrounding the elephant indicated panic. Strips of clothing confettied the ground, and blood streaked it red. On the other side of the clearing, a passage had been trampled through the vegetation where the herd must have fled. The mzungu followed the trail of debris to the body of a human. The bullets inside Orok were his. He knelt down and waved the flies away. The body was all torn up: torso crushed, part of his face missing, arm severed at the elbow.
He looked at Emmanuel, gesturing at the stump. ‘Lion?’
Emmanuel nodded. That was bad. Now it had a taste for human, they would have to kill it.
The sound of engines grew behind them. The cavalry was arriving. He stood up, a little unsteady. His headache felt like it was getting worse. ‘Not even a month since the academy,’ he said.
Emmanuel said nothing. When the mzungu turned around, the ranger’s jaw was clenched and he was gripping his rifle tightly.
(c) Nicholas Herrmann, 2023
If you have a work-in-progress manuscript you think could benefit from help from an industry expert mentor, agent and editor, then take a look at the New Voices award. More details here. In the meantime, let’s enjoy some poetry.
This next piece explores the intersection of reality and perspectives through fragmented and introspective glimpses into the speaker’s thoughts and emotions. The poem suggests a disconnect between the speaker’s dreams and daily life, portraying the tension between their aspirations and the mundane routines that occupy their existence. The contrast between the perceived happiness in solitude and the detachment in a curated life highlights the fluidity of our perceptions and how they can shape the reality of our experiences.
and a crisis
Small daily competitions
My fears where to the limit
You might not want to hear them.
In my daily life.
I was happy away from the city
Alone in my studio
In my curated life
I feel detached.
Repeated tasks consuming
me for days
Did I have plans?
In my enclosed life.
(c) Mirta Imperatori, 2023
You can read more of Mirta’s beautiful poetry on her website: www.mirtaimperatori.com
This last extract comes from another of our 2022 New Voices award winners, Roubert Faubel. He has been hard at work on his novel, Her Farthest North, alongside an editor and Foundation mentor. It tells the story of remarkable scientist and explorer Henrietta Truelock Thurlow, whose struggle against gender bias in a male-dominated field illustrates the conflict between objective reality and the biases that shape how it is perceived.
Her Farthest North
Hetty Thurlow knew they must be close to the northern shore of Czar Nicholas II Land and that it must now be considered an archipelago. From Cape Exhaustion, the coastline veered off to the northeast at a forty-five-degree angle. By the end of the third week in July, Higalik and she reached a second cape which jutted out directly to the west. Standing on the crest of the highlands, they could clearly see the general shape of the rounded peninsula before them.
“Higalik? What do you think we should name this place?”
The Inuit women sniffed the air around her and the faintest of smiles appeared on her face. She twitched her nose and then placed two large fingers in here nostrils and pulled them forward.
“qinaq” she said in Inuit. It was her native word for nose.
Hetty laughed at the gesture. “You made a joke, Higalik. Your first joke since I have known you.” Higalik made a broad sweeping gesture at the landscape. It was shaped kind of like a human nose, Hetty realized. Funny, but somehow the name was appropriate.
“OK, my friend. You have convinced me. We shall christen this place, “Big Nose.” I shall give you all the credit in my memoirs. The day we climbed up the Big Nose shall be commemorated in history as your day of discovery.”
The two women had tired of struggling along the jagged coastline and decided to seek an easier inland route. They discovered a narrow but passable valley that extended up from the beach. A gash in the side of Big Nose, leading to the headlands above. This valley exposed various geological strata from which Hetty eagerly obtained rock samples.
It had taken them most of the morning to drag the sleds and supplies one at a time to the top. But now a relatively flat plateau running parallel to the coast opened before them. The heavy overcast that had engulfed the polar sea to the west began to lift that afternoon. A black hump appeared on the horizon to the northwest. Hetty focused her binoculars on the spot.
What materialized was an island, about twenty-five miles offshore, whose cliffs were now dappled in sunlight. It was an isle of substantial size, which revealed itself like magic from behind the fog.
Hetty marked the location of this new island on her map drawing. As she continued to watch the sea around it, the fog completely lifted. It was round, she observed, and heavily glaciated. This gave it the whimsical appearance of a white-frosted cake.
“Hagalik? What do think about that island?”
“It long way out in sea. Bad spirits live in such place.” As they watched a dark cloud bank, filled with either rain or sleet, blocked the island from view. “See. Bad spirits know we are here. They hide.”
Hetty could not name this discovery and only recorded it as “island off to northwest.” Part of the formal permission she had received from the Czar’s government clearly stated one restriction. Any islands, bodies of water which separated them or large geographic features such as island or glaciers, could not be named by her. That privilege would remain the exclusive province of the Imperial Russian Navy. But this proviso did not include landmarks and other topographic features. She was therefore determined that the locations she had encountered, such as Cape Exhaustion and Big Nose, would be recorded as such on all future nautical charts.
The travel along the crest of Big Nose was a pleasure. It was an extension of a frozen plateau rimming the coast. A ten-mile-wide belt of rolling snow covered plain that extended inland to the base of a massive glacier which capped the entire interior of the island.
It was a Nordic skiing wonderland. Like the treeless regions of Norway and Sweden, where ice crusted snow slid effortlessly beneath your feet. Goran Halvorson would love this place, she thought. She imagined his sleek Viking form, trailblazing her a way forward toward the northern horizon. He had loved her, she remembered. That type of romantic, unrequited love that never could be satisfied. “Goran,” she said aloud to herself. “I hope you have found love and happiness wherever you may be. It is a shame that we could not share this moment here, now, just one more time.”
Higalik pushed on ahead. As she neared the crest of a low hill, she let out a scream. A deep, guttural sound as much animal as human. When Hetty arrived, she noticed her companion was shaking uncontrollably. Beads of sweat which had formed on her upper lip, now began to freeze in the declining temperature.
“I see many evil spirits. Whole army of ghosts.” Higalik said.
Hetty’s brows drew closer together. She rubbed a hand on the back of her neck.
“Okay…Just where did you see these goblins?”
Higalik pointed to crest of the hill. “Out there. Don’t look. We go now and maybe they not follow.” But the Inuit woman knew such a request was useless. Hetty’s natural curiosity had no boundary.
“You stay here and rest. I will return soon.”
Hagalik reached into her parka and extracted the amulet. The same charm she had given Hetty when she ascended the meteor crater on Ellesmere Island. Her pained, watery gaze pleaded for her to take it.
“No. You keep that.” Hetty said. “It will protect you more than me.”
(c) Robert Faubel, 2023
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