The Praying Nun
Slave Shipwreck Saga Book 1
by Michael Smorenburg
Genre: Historical Thriller
In 1985 two divers discovered an ancient uncharted shipwreck off South Africa's Cape of Storms. Salvaging the wreck only inflames the enigma with the trail of secrets compounding and the wreck refusing to yield her identity. Countless vessels, some crammed with bullion, have joined this ship graveyard over the centuries, but what sort of galleon was this, leaving only cannon, cannon balls and scant few clues behind? Three decades pass before the Smithsonian of Washington solves the riddle.
It's 1794 on the fevered coast of Mozambique. Chikunda and his wife Mkiwa, stripped naked and shackled, are heaved aboard the São José de Africa. Only a miracle may save them from the horrors below deck where more than 400 fellow slaves are crammed. But nobody can guess what fate has in store.
If you're a Wilbur Smith or Clive Cussler fan, you will be riveted by this fact-inspired fictionalized tale by Michael Smorenburg, based as it is by personal experience, extensive research and the legacy of artifacts salvaged from the São José de Africa. Pick it up now to go on the adventure of a lifetime.
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The stricken man was chained to a woman who was already dead.
“Put them over the side, but save the chain.”
Chikunda turned aside, he could not watch.
“Where do you think you are going, Christian?” The Bosun had taken to using Chikunda’s anointed name, as had all the crew. But he pronounced it with derision in his voice.
“I cannot…” Christian wanted to protest the inhumanity.
“You cannot? Cannot… watch? Well, then… Let me increase your stomach for these necessary matters. You will do the task yourself. You will throw them both overboard.”
Christian impulsively half turned away again.
“Insolence?” The word fluted in a high octave of excitement from the Bosun. “Well… you know, and I know, that the Captain has put you and your whore—Christian as the pair of you claim to be—beyond the reach of my lash. But he has not forbade me from persuading you by visiting its attentions upon one of the others in your stead. You speak a civilized language well, but can you also count?”
Christian could, but he shook his head, hoping that whatever sinister reason the Bosun had for asking, he could circumvent it through denial.
“No matter, I can do the counting on your behalf,” he suggested calmly and with a smirk. “You there,” he pointed the tangle of leather with shards of black iron plaited into its length toward the healthiest of the specimens just come on deck. “I need you to act in the favour of our good Christian here,” and he indicated Chikunda. “Kindly stand to the mast. Mate…” he called to the Captain’s second in charge, “…do be a good fellow and bind that man.”
It was done and the Bosun handed Christian the lash by its business end.
“I propose…. oh… how many days a’sail are we? A dozen? It’s a good number for the occasion, don’t you think, Christian.”
“Well, boy. Have at it, Christian, and make each stroke count or we’ll elect that good lady over there,” he pointed to an arbitrary young woman cowering, her eyes yellow with sickness, “...to be matched with the same. Kindly employ the lash.”
Slave Shipwreck Saga Book 2
It's 1794 and the slave trade is at its ugly peak. When the Portuguese slave ship Sao Jose Paquete de Africa shipwrecks at the Cape of Good Hope, only two hundred of the four hundred slaves aboard survive.
Chikunda and his pregnant wife evade re-capture only to face the impassable cliffs of Table Mountain. With the wild South Atlantic at their backs, Cape Town's gallows and whipping post to the north, the British garrison blocking escape to the south, and dangers of an untamed African coast to the east of a vast mountain range, escape seems impossible.
When Chikunda's wife goes missing, he has a monumental choice to make. Pick up The Reckoning now and lose yourself in a world you never could have imagined, a world where freedom slips ever more out of a man's grasp.
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“M’Lady,” the Bosun growled to the woman in a thickly laced Portuguese accent, miming an exuberant bow and tip of a hat that he did not wear.
The woman looked him up and down with disgust, as if the man were a column of faeces brought to life.
“I have come to fetch my wretched property,” he announced to the woman. “I am sorry if he has been cause for any distress to yourself.”
“The surgeon will be here now,” the woman spoke without looking at him, “to ensure that the man is fit enough to be released.”
“Oh, he is fit,” the Bosun guffawed, “fit enough for what I have in mind for him.” He smiled with a bizarre air of camaraderie toward Chikunda as if they had been firm friends for a long time. “Besides, these animals are tough beyond imagining, m’lady. They are not human. Come on,” he said to Chikunda, with a jerk of that boulder on his shoulders that was his head towards the door.
“He is very much human, I can assure you,” she responded with haughty disdain, “and a surgeon for humans will first inspect him. I would be pleased if you would wait out of my sight.”
The look the Bosun wore as he retreated down the stairs told Chikunda that a heavy debt would be levied for her words.
“I'm sorry,” was all that the woman said.
In the minutes it took for the surgeon to arrive, Chikunda tried to explain that he was a baptized Christian and the woman nodded sagely.
“I will make these representations,” she assured.
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I was born in 1964 at the tip of Africa, Cape Town, South Africa.
Quite why I have no idea, but I was drawn to be an entrepreneur straight out of college. I’ve consequently never had a salary in my life.
In 1995 Michael I moved to Southern California where I founded a business consultancy and online media and marketing engine in the burgeoning internet space.
But once Africa has a hold of you, it is impossible to resist, and back to South Africa I returned in 2003 where I launched a security company.
In 2015 I semi-retired and divested of the business to write full time.
Michael’s greatest love is the ocean, reading history, keeping up with the latest breakthroughs in science, understanding the cosmos and sharing all I can.
I consequently “dress facts up as fiction”–I find interesting historical, anthropological or other scientific facts I think would fascinate people, and I weave them into stories that give them context.
What is the name of your latest book and what inspired it?
I’d long wanted to see our world through the eyes of our ancestors and who better than a band of Vikings?
What does litter packaging floating in the ocean look like to them? Cut grass and a tarred road? A powerboat on a trailer and TV in a darkened room at midnight?
But where to put them?
On the periphery of civilization of course… on the deserted coast of their Vinland, our Newfoundland.
But I’m a science guy… how to get them here? Magic doorways or touchstones won’t work for me.
And then, NASA to the rescue! Google it yourself — NASA are dabbling with Warp Drive… with collapsing space as a means to travel.
Spacetime — they’re one indivisible thing, so said Einstein.
So if an above-Top Secret NASA experiment in the southern ocean, south of Australia — on the antipode or opposite side of the world to Newfoundland’s coast — were to backfire… rather than space warping, a column of time might swirl and punch right through the earth at light speed, emerging in a vast aurora on the other side.
There’s our setup.
Flying out of Paris, home to Los Angeles, we meet our protagonist, Tegan Mulholland — a bored Hollywood movie executive and former investigative journalist. As her plane approaches the Newfoundland coast, the plane almost falls from the sky. Fate has them right at the event horizon of a cataclysmic aurora. Deep inside the swirling light show ships and planes have been plucked into oblivion by some rogue Bermuda Triangle.
Tegan’s plane survives… only just survives.
It’s 9/11 all over–international aviation is grounded while the UN grapples with the inexplicable event off the Canadian coast and a seemingly unrelated military stand-off unfolding on the other side of the world where Russian and Chinese spy satellites have detected what seemed to be an American rig setting off a nuclear device.
…and days later the first midnight massacres of hamlets along Newfoundland’s coast begins–survivors and grainy CCTV evidence roughly dressed, heavily bearded biker-gang types.
Still dealing with the emotional trauma of her harrowing near death aurora and plane experience, Tegan is navigating a prickly budding romance with Pete — the charming passenger who sat beside her and helped her through the terror. But the more she sees of these seemingly unrelated dramas unfolding on the news, Tegan senses that these events are connected in a way that nobody else has spotted.
She begins to delve.
Do you have any unusual writing habits?
I don’t think. I don’t plan. I don’t question.
When I’m gripped by a story, I just sit down and let it write itself.
The moment I ask a question whether a character “should do XYZ”… the magic disappears.
I’m just the scribe here. My job is to simply record the story that wants to be told – and the story teller doesn’t like to be interrupted.
I love it. The best books I’ve ever read are the ones I’m astonished to see appearing on the screen before me.
What authors, or books have influenced you?
Frankly I get bored with most stories unless I’m getting something out of them.
I’m a facts guy. I read a lot of non-fiction to understand how things and people and cultures and history works.
To me, reality is more exciting than any fantasy I’ve ever encountered.
So, fairly limited ficton:
James Clavell, Leon Uris, James Michener, Wilbur Smith
Just about ever science, history and anthropology popular textbook out there.
What are you working on now?
> A sequel to Ragnarok — one of the planes that went missing in the aurora that almost took Tegan’s plane crash lands onto the Hudson — and a decade later the now-retired captain is starting to remember where… or ‘when’… they went.
> A sequel to my “Slave Ship Saga” – the third in the trilogy. In the 1980s (fact) I found a shipwreck off our coast… in 2015 the Smithsonian of Washington identified it as the 1794 São José Paquete Africa, the first and only slave ship in history ever to have wrecked (with 400 chained aboard) and be discovered. “The Praying Nun” told the story of our discovery and then takes the reader aboard the fated ship where we meet one of the slaves. The actual ship in history had 200 survivors who were ‘saved’ and then sold the next day to recover costs. “The Reckoning” follows one of those slaves and his experiences of 1794. The book I’m working on, tentatively called “The Accord”, follows the same surviving slave but now in an overlap of his story through the eyes of our protagonist, Jayne Alphen, wife of the newly arrived governor of the colony at Africa’s tip. Jayne, an heiress, is in an miserable arranged marriage with her much older husband who she has come to despise for his meanness, cowardice, and perversions. He only has power through his marriage into wealth. Horrified by encountering a slave culture for the first time, Jayne is terrified that she is falling in love (or at least is infatuated) with a most unusual slave she encounters. His freedom promises to become a vicarious emaciation of her own imprisoned heart… but her husband has seen her obsession and she must tread carefully.
What is your best method or website when it comes to promoting your books?
Have you noticed – my stories sound really interesting, yet you’ve never heard of me?
Perhaps I’m too old for the modern marketing methods and I don’t write the vampire LGBT stories that agents are looking for.
At last, I have a team of PR and marketing colleagues who are set to help.
If I can win your interest today, then the first blow is struck!
Do you have any advice for new authors?
Just do it!
It is so rewarding.
Sit down and start to write.
Don’t over-think or over-plan it.
Nothing you ever write will be wasted — this is why God invented computers, you see. You write it and file it and go back to it another day.
Be smarter than me – write what people want to read, then let your imagination run wild. Don’t stop to say something in a better way, don’t worry about puncuation and spelling on the first go-round… that’s what polishing and editing and editors are for. Your’e the creator, so create.
What is the best advice you have ever heard?
Write what you don’t know.
It’s like looking at a building from the outside – you’ll have no idea what you’ll find till you open the door.
If something grabs you, learn about it. Google is your friend. Google Earth can take you places. Youtube will teach you everything, including dialects and accents. Involved yourself in Social Media and meet like-minded people in groups that incorporate your interests
What are you reading now?
About 5 books. Stephen Hawkins’ posthumous book. One of the Trump debacles books (half heartedly). “The Sunburned Queen” — A documentary story about a 5 year old English sole survivor girl wrecked on the East Coast of Southern Africa in 1732… how she became absorbed into a Bantu tribe and married a chief, and how hundreds and maybe thousands of European shipwreck victims had the same fate, peppering the local tribes of Africa with European genes. Fascinating.
What’s next for you as a writer?
Hearing from you, hopefully persuading me that I’m on the right track.
Readers have no idea how powerful they are in influencing a writer’s trajectory.
I may publish a compendium of my essays on various science and anthropology topics written over the years. Folks seem to like them.
I’m a simple guy of limited intelligence and vast curiosity. My special talent is being a bit slow to learn but then understanding what keys unlocked the stores of knowledge so that I can make these details more accessible to others in an engaging way and without the effort I had to put in. The idea of that thrills me.
If you were going to be stranded on a desert island and allowed to take 3 or 4 books with you what books would you bring?
Lordy… I’m a nerd, okay. Certain (non fiction) writers prompt me to leap to my feet and start furiously writing the moment I’ve read a few lines of theirs.
Carl Sagan and Cosmos must top that list.
Any of Bill Bryson’s books will keep me in stitches, and his “Short History of Everything” will keep me amused forever.
Many will know that Prof. Richard Dawkins is more than just involved in a religious debate – his groundbreaking contributions to biology are epic. His ability to explain the machinery of life would certainly keep me reading and re-reading.
Then one of the physicists or anthropologists or neurologist books that can help me understand my place in it all… 4 books is too few, unless, of course, they are 4 kindles stuffed to the brim!
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