richard pierce

richard pierce

12 November 2012

Amundsen's Secret Diary

Any author goes through countless versions of a book before the final, definitive text is sent to be published. Dead Men was no different. There were three different endings, several different time lines, and some characters who appeared in the early drafts but were excised by the time of the final draft.

          What fascinated me about Roald Amundsen, beside his obvious single-mindedness and ruthlessness in achieving his goals, were his destructive relationships with women, and the way those relationships were subjugated to his ambition rather than being the inspiration for his quest for the North and South Poles. One relationship I found particularly intriguing was the one with Bess Magids, a woman he had met in Seattle, and whom, in the end, he promised to marry. The rest, as they say, is history.

          As far as Amundsen’s polar journey is concerned, one thing that baffled me as I was doing my research was that his language, in The South Pole and in his diaries, is always very unemotional, very spare, cold and reserved, especially when compared to Scott’s style of writing. Although Norwegian is a very functional language, shaped by the weather and the environment, it is capable of emotion (see Rolf Jacobsen’s poems for wonderful examples of this), so Amundsen’s approach to language was very puzzling.

          This is where I began to set out a scenario where Amundsen would have kept an alternative polar diary, one in which he recorded, without self-editing, his fears, his hopes, his rages, his true self. This idea was precipitated by the false start of Amundsen’s polar party to the South Pole on 8th September 1911, a trip on which Amundsen and his men came close to death, a journey which is glossed over by many pro-Amundsen historians, a journey which split the Norwegian party into two factions, raised issues regarding Amundsen’s leadership, and can be said to have directly caused the suicide of one of Amundsen’s men.

          Just to reiterate, what is contained in Amundsen's Secret Diary is a fictionalised account of a real part of Amundsen’s life, and the diary entries below are entirely made up (and were, in the final version of Dead Men, condensed into a letter which plays a fairly significant part in the story). I am a great admirer of Amundsen’s achievement and courage, and of his capabilities as an explorer. However, writers explore the light and the dark, both in themselves and in other people, and most of all, in what they write.

          One final word – what you are about to read are rough notes, words excised from the final text of Dead Men because, at the time, I deemed them not to be of sufficient relevance to the final narrative.

Richard Pierce, Stradbroke, 12th November 2012
Dead Men is published by Duckworth in the UK and the Overlook Press in the US. It is available from online and bricks and mortar retailers.

Please note that the free download is no longer available.

Frederick Hooper's diary, 12th November 1912

F.J. Hooper was one of the party who went searching for Captain Scott, Wilson, Bowers, Captain Oates, and P.O. Evans in October 1912, after the Polar Party had not returned from their push for the South Pole the previous March. His diary was started as a letter to his fiancee, and recounts the Search Party's quest to find the Polar Party, a journey which unexpectedly culminated on 12th November 1912 with the discovery of a tent containing the bodies of Scott, Wilson, and Bowers.

11th, 12th November 1912
We found the Pole Party this evening about 11 miles south of 1 Ton Depot. We noticed what we thought was a cairn 1 miles to the west of our course, when we got up to it we found it was a tent badly difted up. We dug it out & lifted the tent off & I shall never forget the sight that met our eyes. Capt. Scott was laying with his head opposite the door, half out of his bag, both of his arms were thrown across the other two bags which we found contained Dr. Wilson & Lt. Bowers. It's apparent they have died of starvation. Dr. Atkinson read us a few details of Capt. Scott's diary. They reached the Pole on Jan. 17th, 1912, three weeks after Amundsen had reached it. Comping back down the Beardmore P. O. Evans fell and hit his head [on] some blue ice. He died shortly after on the Lower Glacier. They had very bad weather & low temperatures all the time. Capt. Oates was badly frost bitten about the face & feet. About two days from Mt Hooper they had a blizz. & Capt. Oates went to sleep with the intention of not waking again. He has been suffering for some time with frostbites. On the following evening he said he was going out of the tent for a minute & would not be long. He was never seen again after that. It appears he walked to his death to save his companions. They reached here on March the 21st, short of food and fuel & badly frostbitten. They only had 2 cups of tea from the 20th to the 29th. The last entry in Capt. Scott's diary was on the 29th March. It appears he was the last alive out of the three. I don't know at present when the others died. He said death was due from shortage of food, fuel & frostbite.

We had a service over them & buried them as they were totally stiff, frozen in every limb. It was an awful sight to see our dear comrades in such a state, a sight I shall never forget in a hurry. I forgot to say that a blizzard kept them at this place. It lasted over 8 days.


Dead Men, the novel, is based on the scientific fact that Antarctic blizzards cannot last for more than three days. So why did Scott and his companions spend their last ten days in a tent 11 miles from the relative safety of a large food and fuel depot?

Birdie Bowers, an infamously secretive painter, is a woman with a dead man’s name. Her parents were obsessed by her namesake, Henry ‘Birdie’ Bowers, one of Scott’s companions. Almost a hundred years after his death, she is determined to discover what really happened to him. On her way to view some of the things recovered from Scott’s tent, she collapses, and is rescued by Adam, a bored computer geek, who falls in love with her, to the extent of agreeing to travel to the Antarctic with her to discover the site of Scott’s tent, now under 30 metres of ice.

11 November 2012

Excerpts from Frederick Hooper's diary

F.J. Hooper was one of the party who went searching for Captain Scott, Wilson, Bowers, Captain Oates, and P.O. Evans in October 1912, after the Polar Party had not returned from their push for the South Pole the previous March. His diary was started as a letter to his fiancee, and recounts the Search Party's quest to find the Polar Party, a journey which unexpectedly culminated on 12th November 1912 with the discovery of a tent containing the bodies of Scott, Wilson, and Bowers. Here are some brief excerpts from Hooper's diary:

17th October 1912
We are to leave here, Cape Evans, on Oct 29th for Hut Point where we shall stay 3 days packing sledges for a start on the night of the 1st Nov weather permitting. 7 mules 2 dog teams & 11 men, 8 men with the mules, 3 men with the dogs are the party going south. Most of the food is at Hut Point, so we leave there finally.


29th October 1912
Left Cape Evans at 10.30 a.m. for Hut Point where we shall make our final start, overcast when starting, Erebus covered with a cloud. After being on the way for an hour the sun broke through the clouds. ... We are starting for the south tomorrow night, Oct 30th.

30th October 1912
Up at 8.0 to breakfast, packed sledges. ... Had lunch at 1.0 p.m. & turned in till 6.0 p.m. Had supper and got underway at 7.15. Absolutely splendid surface to Cape Armitage, not so good to barrier, sledges drawing light, but mules sinking above the fetlock. Reached the Barrier edge about 9.0 p.m., and had a little trouble in getting mules over. ... Camped about 2 miles in on the Barrier at 11.0 p.m. ... Mr Wright, Lashly, Keohane & I are tent mates.


2nd November 1912
Corner Camp. A very dull day, wind & drift from the south. ... Started blizzarding just before turning in, temperature minus 10.


7th, 8th November 1912
A very bright day, cloudless sky, good marching, another 12 miles. ... Temperature at lunchtime 62 degrees of frost, tonight 49 below. We are now 4 miles south of Bluff Depot, 103 miles from Cape Evans.

8th, 9th November 1912
... We are now 16 miles north of 1 Ton Depot which we hope to reach the day after tomorrow.

9th, 10th November 1912
12 miles, good today. Weather bright but cold. Surface soft in places. Temperature 55 degrees of frost at lunch. Tonight much warmer 41 degrees. Abdullah is absolutely tired out, & so are all of them. He has not eaten anything again today. I have got a few frostbites on my fingers & also my face. As a matter of fact we are all suffering from frostbites. We are now camped 4 miles north of 1 Ton Depot.

4 November 2012

A new season of Radio Stradbroke's Sunday Sessions

Today marked the beginning of winter for real, as the great crew at Radio Stradbroke ramped up with the new season of the Sunday Sessions. When I say it marks the real beginning of winter, what I mean is that we schedule our season of weekly broadcasts to coincide with the season of the worst weather, when we think people would probably rather stay at home and listen to the radio than go out shopping or playing sport.

Anyway, I had the honour of opening this year's season, and decided to do a show made up of tracks from some of my favourite albums - and all on vinyl as well. Which left me well out of my comfort zone seeing as I usually do my shows using mp3 files and a tidy piece of broadcasting software.

The show was great fun. Lots of people on twitter, facebook and email said unnecessarily nice things about me, despite my appalling cueing of records (at the start anyway), and my incessant chat. The best thing was that putting the 3-hour show togather (which took me about 8 hours!) reacquainted me with some long-lost friends of albums. I think we often just don't make the time any more to listen to complete albums, and mp3s make music into so many soundbites rather than an hour-long experience. Perhaps I will do another vinyl album show next time, just to get more of these old things played, although it is hard work cueing, fbing, tweeting and emailing, all at the same time.

I love radio.

Here's the podcast

Here's the track listing:

The Sex Pistols - Seventeen
The Sex Pistols - Anarchy in the UK
Nina Hagen Band - Der Spinner
Nina Hagen Band - Pank
The Stranglers - London Lady
The Stranglers - Princess of the Streets
The Stranglers - Hanging Around
Graham Parker & The Rumour - You Can't Be Too Strong
Graham Parker & The Rumour - Passion Is No Ordinary Word
The Cure - In Between Days
The Cure - Kyoto Song
Kraftwerk - Geiger Counter
Kraftwerk - Radioactivity
The Cranberries - Zombie
Siouxsie &the Banshees - Placebo Effect
Siouxsie & the Banshees - Icons
Madness - Razor Blade Alley
Madness - Swan Lake
Emerson Lake & Palmer - Promenade
Emerson Lake & Palmer - The Gnome
Billy Bragg - The Saturday Boy
Billy Bragg - Island of No Return
Konstantin Wecker - Willy
Joy Division - The Eternal
Joy Division - Decades
The Smiths - Still Ill
The Smiths - Hand in Glove
The Smiths - What Difference Does It Make
Pink Floyd - Have a Cigar
Pink Floyd - Wish You Were Here
ABC - Poison Arrow
ABC - Many Happy Returns
ABC - Tears Are Not Enough
ABC - Valentine's Day
BAP - Drei Wuensch frei
BAP - Sendeschluss
Pauline Murray and the Invisible Girls - Screaming in the Darkness
Pauline Murray and the Invisible Girls - Dream Sequence 1
Pauline Murray and the Invisible Girls - European Eyes
Nena - Rette Mich
Nena - ?
Nola Wren - Young