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Biography & Autobiography Literary

Try Not to Be Strange

The Curious History of the Kingdom of Redonda

by (author) Michael Hingston

Initial publish date
Sep 2022
Literary, General, Personal Memoirs
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Sep 2022
    List Price

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On his fifteenth birthday, in the summer of 1880, future science-fiction writer M.P. Shiel sailed with his father and the local bishop from their home in the Caribbean out to the nearby island of Redonda—where, with pomp and circumstance, he was declared the island’s king. A few years later, when Shiel set sail for a new life in London, his father gave him some advice: Try not to be strange. It was almost as if the elder Shiel knew what was coming.

Try Not to Be Strange: The Curious History of the Kingdom of Redonda tells, for the first time, the complete history of Redonda’s transformation from an uninhabited, guano-encrusted island into a fantastical and international kingdom of writers. With a cast of characters including forgotten sci-fi novelists, alcoholic poets, vegetarian publishers, Nobel Prize frontrunners, and the bartenders who kept them all lubricated while angling for the throne themselves, Michael Hingston details the friendships, feuds, and fantasies that fueled the creation of one of the oddest and most enduring micronations ever dreamt into being. Part literary history, part travelogue, part quest narrative, this cautionary tale about what happens when bibliomania escapes the shelves and stacks is as charming as it is peculiar—and blurs the line between reality and fantasy so thoroughly that it may never be entirely restored.

About the author

Michael Hingston is the books columnist for the Edmonton Journal. His writing has also appeared in the National Post, Alberta Views magazine, and McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. Born and raised in North Vancouver, Hingston now lives in Edmonton with his partner and two kids. The Dilettantes is his first novel.

Michael Hingston's profile page

Excerpt: Try Not to Be Strange: The Curious History of the Kingdom of Redonda (by (author) Michael Hingston)

1: Perpetuating the Fraud On the evening of November 24, 2009, a new email appeared in Michael Howorth’s inbox. It was a crisp, windy Sunday evening in Downton, the village in southern England where Howorth lived along with his wife, Frances. Downton straddles the River Avon and is dotted with more than a hundred recognized historical buildings, and Michael and Frances had lived and raised their family there for many years. But now that their youngest daughter had grown up and moved out, the couple used Downton mainly as a home base for their work as freelance journalists covering the yachting industry. They were a double threat: Michael wrote the stories, Frances took the photos. Over the years their work had appeared in dozens of trade and maritime-themed magazines and websites, and had taken them from Africa to South America to the Galapagos to the Maldives. Just that month, the couple had been to both Amsterdam and Fort Lauderdale, Florida, attending trade shows and keeping tabs on the local accommodations. One rather cozy Dutch establishment had, as Howorth wrote on his blog, “the smallest elevator known to mankind that is far from kind to men of ample girth!” As the end of the month approached, however, Michael and Frances were back in England, recovering from the previous trips and mapping out their travel plans for the remainder of the year. The charter yacht show in Antigua, for instance, was coming up in mid-December. This was a big event in the yachting world: a chance for brokers from around the globe to view boats from the area, of which there were dozens, on display in multiple harbours around the island, and decide if they wanted to rent them out. The show’s abundance of parties and liquid lunches, meanwhile, was, according to Howorth, “the perfect place for a yachting journalist to pick up a good story.” But in his opinion, the quality of the Antigua show had been going downhill in recent years. Plus, in order to attend, he and Frances would have to fly themselves down to the Caribbean on their own dime. Like any good freelancer, Howorth was weighing the upfront costs against the potential future profits that came with selling a story or two. And in this case, he just wasn’t sure it was worth it to try and find a new angle on the same old boats. Then he checked his email. The sender’s name was unfamiliar, but Howorth’s eye was immediately drawn to the subject line. He clicked on the email. It read: Dear Michael An old sea chest was found in the bilge of King Bob the Bald’s naval flagship, the Great Peter. Within this sea chest were some water damaged papers including one assigning the Kingship upon his demise. I attach a copy of the document. I have the original. Regards John Duffy P.S. I am just helping to perpetuate the whole fraud. Attached was a scanned copy of a smudged, single-page document that looked like a homemade attempt at an official government proclamation. A tri-coloured flag had been copy-pasted into the top of the document; instead of hand-written calligraphy, the main text was written in a cursive font that came standard on Microsoft Word. Howorth didn’t follow everything in the email, but he did recognize a few key words and names—especially the one signed in a simple but confident cursive (this time actually handwritten) at the bottom of the page. Then, all at once, the pieces clicked into place, and the realization of what was happening finally dawned on him. “Frances!” Howorth called to his wife in the next room. “Yes? What is it?” Howorth stared at his computer screen in disbelief. “I think I’m the new King of Redonda.”

Editorial Reviews

Praise for Michael Hingston

“A fresh take on the campus novel, Michael Hingston’s debut is a droll, incisive dissection of the terrible, terribly exciting years known as post-adolescence.”—Patrick deWitt, author of The Sisters Brothers

"This book captures the joy and excitement at first discovering Calvin and Hobbes, and the wistful sadness that it is no more."—Patton Oswalt

"The Dilettantes is a whip-smart and very funny literary portrait of the post-ironic generation. Don't miss this."—Zoe Whittall, author of The Best Kind of People

"His insights are rich and concise, but he never commandeers the work, as is the habit with writing about pop culture. As a critic, Hingston uses light touches of salt to bring out the flavours already in the work... A fine companion to a comic about a kid without much interest in companionship."—Bookshelf News

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