Gorse on the Left, Gorse on Right. Into the Moat of Thorns Rides the Cyclist.


Andre Jute: Dawn on the Ruined Castle at the Ford of Innishannon
Oil on canvas, 8x6in, 2015
Click the photo to see a larger version.

Gorse on the Left,
Gorse on Right.
Into the Moat of Thorns
Rides the Cyclist.
(with apologies to Alfred, Lord Tennyson)

Andre Jute is a novelist and painter who also keeps a bicycling page.

Photo Essay by Andre Jute: Coca-Cola Zero Bikes share scheme in Cork, Galway and Limerick

andre_jute_instructions_coca_cola_zero_bikes_cork_andre_jute_instructions_coca_cola_zero_bikes_cork_a_popular_service_stand_overview_800pxwThe Coca-Cola Zero Bikes share scheme in Cork, Galway and Limerick is interesting. These photos are from one bike point in Cork between the central bus station and Merchant’s Quay, a convenient central position.

andre_jute_instructions_coca_cola_zero_bikes_cork_andre_jute_instructions_coca_cola_zero_bikes_cork_hub_dynamo_roller_brake_800pxwThe scheme works by subscribing to an annual €10 membership for your city, which gets you a card that releases the bike of your choice from its locking post.There is also a €3 three-day membership. The first half hour is free, then there are reasonable rates, but after several hours the rates rise steeply. If you keep the bike longer than 24 hours they charge your card the lost bike deposit of €150, which is only to be expected.

andre_jute_instructions_coca_cola_zero_bikes_cork_instructions_800pxwThe bikes are super. Here are the simple instructions for operating them, in English and Gaelic.


For the technically competent, there’s a lot of interest: Nexus dynamo hub, Nuvinci continuously variable  stepless hub gearbox, completely enclosed roller brakes, excellent lamps, coat/skirt guards as usually seen only on good Dutch city bikes, a rotary bell, coiled coded cable lock for when you have to leave the bike temporarily. The only thing these simply but completely furnished bikes don’t have is a mirror, which I find indispensible in traffic.

andre_jute_instructions_coca_cola_zero_bikes_cork_andre_jute_instructions_coca_cola_zero_bikes_cork_nuvinci_rear_lamp__coat_guard_800pxwFor the technophobic, it is an equally appealing bike: one you can get on and ride without having to fight derailleurs or get your clothes dirty. It is a bike for the millions of people who haven’t cycled since they were children, or perhaps ever.  And it is cheap enough, and the bike points are near enough in the centre of the city, to use the bikes all the time.

andre_jute_instructions_coca_cola_zero_bikes_cork_andre_jute_instructions_coca_cola_zero_bikes_cork_nuvinci_rotary_control_lock_basket_800pxwA helmet is not required. Special bicycling clothes arenot necessary. You can ride this bike in a suit or an evening dress. Riding along the quays, looking at the architechture so typical of a northern mercantile seaport, you could mistake Cork for Rotterdam…

corkA couple of nearby bus drivers tell me the bicycles are very popular, and the riders are no bother to the buses because there are bike lanes everywhere. We have a giggle about the incompetent placing of some of the bike lanes. Situation normal…

I think I’ll make up a party of pedal pals to try out those bikes.

Andre Jute is a novelist and painter who also keeps a bicycling page.

Portrait of the netstalker Peter Howard aka Little Howie, corruption bursting from every pore, his inner child screaming to be let out.

Many artists have stalkers, now that the internet has enabled the spite of those vicious enough to take out their own lack of talent and enterprise on strangers. But one of the advantages of being an artist is that all experience is grist to the mill, and the mill grinds income, so here is a particularly worthless stalker turned into a painting in my Rorschach series.

Portrait of the netstalker Peter Howard aka Little Howie, corruption bursting from every pore, his inner child screaming to be let out. One in a series of Rorschach Paintings by André Jute. Monotone oil on canvas, 6x8in, signed and dated. From left to right: Complete painting; detail of The Child Peter Screaming To Be Let Out; two superimposed positioning details, the upper one of the child screaming, the lower of the mother and child; Peter’s Mother Leading Him in Prayer; and a highlight of the three-quarters portrait hiding in the fullface portrait.

Portrait of the netstalker Peter Howard aka Little Howie, corruption bursting from every pore, his inner child screaming to be let out. One in a series of Rorschach Paintings by André Jute. Monotone oil on canvas, 6x8in, signed and dated. From left to right: Complete painting; detail of The Child Peter Screaming To Be Let Out; two superimposed positioning details, the upper one of the child screaming, the lower of the mother and child; Peter’s Mother Leading Him in Prayer; and a highlight of the three-quarters portrait hiding in the fullface portrait.

There are more subliminals, what I call “juju details”, for those who want to search them out, so here are some larger versions.

Portrait of the netstalker Peter Howard aka Little Howie, corruption bursting from every pore, his inner child screaming to be let out. One in a series of Rorschach Paintings by André Jute. Monotone oil on canvas, 6x8in, signed and dated.Portrait of the netstalker Peter Howard aka Little Howie, corruption bursting from every pore, his inner child screaming to be let out. One in a series of Rorschach Paintings by André Jute. Monotone oil on canvas, 6x8in, signed and dated.

Still, no-one is unadulterated evil, through and through. Everyone was a child, more or less innocent, once. And most mothers try to inculcate decency in their offspring, though not all succeed.

Portrait of the netstalker Peter Howard aka Little Howie, corruption bursting from every pore, his inner child screaming to be let out. One in a series of Rorschach Paintings by André Jute. Monotone oil on canvas, 6x8in, signed and dated 2013. From left to right: Complete painting; detail of The Child Peter Screaming To Be Let Ou

Note in the black and white version, at the left, that it is a full face portrait. On the right  is The Child Peter Screaming To Be Let Out.

Peter’s Mother Leading Him in Prayer

Above, Peter’s Mother Leading Him in Prayer.

the_netstalker_peter_howard_5__corruption_breaking_out_of_his_skin__the_inner_child_screaming_to_be_let_out_800pxhOil is a marvellously plastic medium both figuratively and metaphorically in what the practised painter can layer with it. But, looking for my M. Graham oils, the first wooden paintcase I picked up held my Winsor & Newton oil bars, which are thick columns of pigment stiffened with wax for direct application, beloved of graffitologists only next to spray cans. (Oil bars were first invented by Sennelier for Pablo Picasso, a noted iconoclast…) It struck me that what stalkers do is slash graffiti across the face of the beloved object, so this would be an appropriate medium. Of course, oil bar on a canvas only six by eight inches isn’t an ideal medium, unless one makes a lateral mental hop. I found the “soft” narrow-blade palette knives Franco Pastrello invented in conjunction with the artisans of RGM at Maniago the ideal tool for getting tiny detail with a stiff medium on a small canvas, and aided their good work with the misnomered “colour shapers”, silicon-tipped tools clay sculptors use. Here you can see that the full face portrait as  well incorporates a three quarters portrait of a toothless old man, which is how I imagine this particular stalker.

André Jute is a novelist and painter described by the NY Times as “wild but exciting”.

Text and images copyright © Andre Jute 2015

Final report on factory lube/chaincase experiment (X8 chain, Chainglider, Surly SS & Rohloff)

The test was aborted at 3562km on 26 April 2015 when the Bafang QSWXK front motor on my bike gave up the ghost and was replaced by a Bafang BBS01 mid-motor (on which the 38T Surly chainring couldn’t be made to fit), the new motor in a new test receiving its own brand new KMCX8 chain.

Just a reminder. The purpose of the test was to run a KMC X8 chain 4506km on the factory lube, inside a Hebie Chainglider, with a Surly stainless steel chainring and the normal Rohloff sprocket at the rear. The 4506km was set as a target by the previous chain, also KMC X8, running in a Utopia Country chaincase (similar to the Chainglider), but with Oil of Rohloff added every 500 or 1000km, reaching 4506km before visible “stretch” was found (less than 0.5mm). The ulterior, overall motive of the test was not to save a few Euro on chains but as a step towards a near-zero maintenance bike.

Kranich_kmcx8_factory_lube_3500km_0-5mm_worn_800pxhA gilmpse inside the famous Jute Laboratories. That’s the 0.75mm side of the gauge, so the chain wear, eyeballed, could be around 0.5mm

The KMC X8 chain ran on the factory lube inside the Hebie Chainglider together with a Surly 38T stainless steel chainring and a 16T Rohloff OEM sprocket, without any other lube being added at any time, or any cleaning being performed, for 3562km before the test was aborted, as described above. During this time the wear on the chain, measured as “stretch”, was less than 0.75mm, eyeballed on the rough gauge as around 0.5mm. There is no doubt in my mind that the KMC X8 would have made 4506km by the time it required replacement at 0.75mm “stretch”.

However, I’m happy to replace chains, the cheapest component in my transmission, at the first sign of measureable wear, which is around 0.5mm, so in that sense the factory lube fell short of the same chain under roughly the same circumstances serviced with Oil of Rohloff, 3562km to 4506km.

No excessive wear of the Surly stainless steel chainring or the Rohloff sprocket was observed. In fact, there is no wear observable. (This is very unlike my previous installations of Shimano Nexus transmissions, in which in around a 1000m/1600km I would use up a chain, a sprocket and a crankset because the chainring was in unit with the crank.)

The late, great Sheldon Brown once said that the factory lube was good for 700 miles. In my two experiments the factory lube plus Oil of Rohloff chain went 944km further than the factory-lube only chain. That, if scaled up to the full 0.75mm wear, is pretty close to Sheldon’s 700 miles!

Now, I know, some of you think that 3500km and 4500km on a chain isn’t much chop, the mileage of a wrecker. But I’m over the moon with these mileages. Considering that previously I rarely got over a thousand miles (1600km) out of a chain, two and three times that distance per chain is exceptional.

I’m very happy to declare these two experiments, 8068km altogether, a success.

They have confirmed my belief that the only enclosed chaincase that I can in good conscience recommend is the Hebie Chainglider, that KMC makes high commendable chains, and that Oil of Rohloff is the light chain oil of choice. I suspect that another thing they indicate is that a precision chainline is worth setting up with repayment for the effort in extra chain mileage.

With thanks to all who helped with advice, and to everyone for their patience in waiting for these results.

This is Andre Jute signing off with only slightly oily hands.

Now Paypal tries to grab the copyrights of artists, writers and photographers, free and forever

Paypal has sent out notice of an Amendment to their User Agreement (1) that will grab without recompense the copyright of any “content” sold through Paypal.

I’m not a lawyer but a contract I drew up for my Australian publishers was for many years recommended by the British Society of Authors and used on both sides of the Atlantic, and the chapter in my textbook WRITING A THRILLER (A&C Black, London, St Martin’s Press, NY, translations into Spanish, Italian, French, etc, still in print after a generation) was never once queried. So, if the Paypal amendment answers to plain English and means what it says, it’s an unprecedented rights grab.

If the “content” that Paypal intends to claim rights over is just the promotional copy and graphics in the advertisements of sellers, one can understand that Paypal’s lawyers want to cover their ass and avoid a nuisance suit.

But Paypal isn’t just claiming rights over specific promotional material, it is claiming rights over the very bread on the table of millions of writers and painters and photographers. Not only will Paypal not pay for the use of this copyright material, there is absolutely nothing in the agreement to stop them selling someone’s copyright product for profit.

Worse, the agreement that gives Paypal every artist’s life comes into effect automatically on 1 July 2015 unless you explicitly opt out. “You do not need to do anything to accept the changes as they will automatically come into effect on the above date.”

The “content” that Paypal will claim rights over includes the text and images, the very product and livelihood of artists.

paypal_rights_grabSuppose you’re a novelist. Of course you post a sample chapter to your netsite where you also have Paypal buttons. That’s “content”. It now belongs to Paypal to publish wherever they please. The rest of the novel and even the characters now belong to Paypal: that’s the parenthetical “including of works derived from it”. No serious publisher will want a series when you’ve given a gorilla with clout like Paypal a licence to interfere in the market at will. Amazon went into TV and film production; what’s to stop Paypal following them? With your intellectual property as Paypal’s capital.

Suppose you’re a painter. You show a photograph of an artwork for sale. Normally you either reserve reproduction rights in the art to yourself, the artist, or it goes explicitly, contractually to the buyer. These reproduction rights, which include all photographs, including the one published with a Paypal button next to it, are often more valuable than the physical painting on the wall. But, because you posted the photo to Paypal as an advertisement, Paypal can republish the photo at any time, or sell it to the greetings card industry and pocket that income. Check it out: it says nowhere in Paypal’s agreement that Paypal can’t do this.

The risk is total if you’re a photographer, because control of  the photograph and all its reproductions is your very product, directly the bread on your table. If Paypal has a perpetual free right to publish the photo, why should a stock company want to license it from you? For that matter, would you want a stock supplier to use Paypal when you know that every photograph they show (and how will they license the photographs to graphic designers if they don’t show them?) automatically belongs to Paypal as well?

This is a grotesque case of lawyers covering their ass by throwing in the kitchen sink, without ever stopping to consider whether they shouldn’t first put their minds in gear.

Paypal appears to know there’s something wrong. They say: “Should you decide you do not wish to accept them you can notify us before the above date to close your account (https://www.paypal.com/uk/cgi-bin/?&cmd=_close-account) immediately without incurring any additional charges.”

No additional charges — that’s real generous!

Now Paypal will claim that all this is being done to protect them against chancers bringing frivolous law suits, and against sellers using stolen copyright materials. If that is so, then Paypal should say so in their agreement. Instead Paypal simply grabs everyone’s rights, and takes a bullying “like it or fuck off” attitude about it.

Next Paypal will claim that they are a huge, honorable institution, in the money markets, and have no intention of trading in your copyrights. Yeah, right, ten years ago Jeff Bezos couldn’t even dream of entering the movie business.

Any institution is only as honest as the men in the boardroom. Copyright is an artist’s pension. Do you want to entrust the comfort of your old age to some unknown person, perhaps not even born yet, who will then be in charge of Paypal, and perhaps has dreams of being in the “moom pitcher bidness” with the rights, unpaid for and nothing due, of your copyright as his earnest money? Or have the owners of Paypal sell out to new owners whose primary interest is “monetizing all these copyrights the old management just sat on”?

I didn’t think so.

Copyright © 2015 Andre Jute
No Paypal buttons anywhere!  Free for republication as long as the piece is complete and includes the copyright notice and this permission.

(1) Here is the text from Paypal being discussed above:

Amendment to the PayPal User Agreement.

  1. Intellectual Property

We are adding a new paragraph to section 1.3., which outlines the licence and rights that you give to us and to the PayPal Group (see paragraph 12 below for the definition of “PayPal Group”) to use content that you post for publication using the Services. A similar paragraph features in the Privacy Policy, which is removed by the addition of this paragraph to the User Agreement. The new paragraph at section 1.3 reads as follows:

“When providing us with content or posting content (in each case for publication, whether on- or off-line) using the Services, you grant the PayPal Group a non-exclusive, worldwide, perpetual, irrevocable, royalty-free, sublicensable (through multiple tiers) right to exercise any and all copyright, publicity, trademarks, database rights and intellectual property rights you have in the content, in any media known now or in the future. Further, to the fullest extent permitted under applicable law, you waive your moral rights and promise not to assert such rights against the PayPal Group, its sublicensees or assignees. You represent and warrant that none of the following infringe any intellectual property right: your provision of content to us, your posting of content using the Services, and the PayPal Group’s use of such content (including of works derived from it) in connection with the Services.”

Speed limits are definitely a good thing for the British, the Americans and other dangerous drivers.

Sdakota-simon_s_interviewimon Duringer was careless enough to ask Dakota Franklin her view on speed limits on the public roads. Here’s her response:

“Speed limits are definitely a good thing for the British, the Americans and other dangerous drivers.”

Read the whole fascinating, highly charged interview, in which you can check out Dakota’s idea of driving slowly on the autobahn in her Bentley Mulsanne Speed, and her list of who doesn’t need speed limits.


Does it infuriate you when you are cheated by mailorder on something too small to return?


by Andre Jute aka Brassed Off 

It was only a pencil sharpener, albeit a specialist sharpener for sketch artists and obsessives who must have a fine long point. Being cheated about it is bad enough, but what made it worse is that it is just too small an item to return for the total cost of Euro 7.99 including postage. It costs me more than that to write a letter. Instead I wrote this review on Amazon.


The KUM Automatic Long Point Pencil & Lead Sharpener is worth five stars. The sharpener I received is worth one star because it isn’t the sharpener described in the advertisement on Amazon.

The lies Amazon permitted The Socieity for All Artists to tell about the KUM sharpener. Click on the photo for an enlargement.
The lies Amazon permitted The Socieity for All Artists to tell about the KUM sharpener. Click on the photo for an enlargement.

This statement on Amazon, in the advertisement by the seller, The Society For All Artists, is an outright lie: “Includes … Two lead pointers for 2mm and 3.2mm lead holders…” The headline over the advertisement is an outright lie: “…& Lead Sharpener”.

The sharpener The Society For All Artists sent is the cheaper model with no lead pointers. Nor can the sharpeners for the lead pointers be retrofitted as there are no holes to put the leads through in the casing, only two neat circular ridges where the holes should have been if the The Society For All Artists hadn’t cheated me.

Let me stress: my disappointment and disgust is with the The Society For All Artists for false advertising, and with Amazon for permitting it. The sharpener itself — those parts of it I received — works really well and would have received five stars, or perhaps I might have been tempted to remove half a star because the space for shavings is rather small and must be emptied inconveniently often.

There are two models of the KUM Automatic Long Point Pencil Sharpener. One, the AS2M, includes separate pointers for 2mm and 3.15mm leads; these are definitely worth having as they are better pointers than you can buy elsewhere, if you can even find any (I have a dedicated KUM pointer for 5.6mm leads and, though pricey, it is wonderful). The other model, the plain AS2, does not have the pointers. Both models have two spare blades in a slot behind the shavings catcher to fit the floating two-hole long point mechanism. The “Automatic” in the name refers to a clever auto-stop feature built into the design of the sharpener. KUM sharpeners are made in Germany and are clearly very fine German engineering.

The Society For All Artists advertised the KUM AS2M with the lead pointers, then fraudulently supplied the AS2 without the lead pointers.

kum_auto_long_point_800pxwFor making really fine long points, there really is no alternative to the KUM Automatic Long Point Pencil & Lead Sharpener except a surgeon’s scalpel and a sanding board, which are much clumsier to carry into the field. I just wish I wasn’t cheated out of the Lead Sharpener part of the sharpener.

One star for a dishonest, disappointing transaction with The Society For All Artists on Amazon.

Andre Jute is a novelist and painter.

Buggins’ Turn the Original Screenplay by Andre Jute, reviewed by Matt Posner: “farcical”

Matt Posner taking notes in Malmo, Sweden
Matt Posner taking notes in Malmo, Sweden

Buggins’ Turn is a farcical screenplay that reads like it has come out of the 1970s. I seriously could envision the forty-years-ago Dudley Moore (R.I.P.) or Peter Sellers (also R.I.P.) and Dyan Cannon in this one. Buggins is a mild-mannered, clueless nebbish who gets pushed around endlessly and has little control of his fate till the love of a woman begins to break through his timidity.

Buggins is up against a mega-corporation run by Lord and Lady Amazon. As one might expect with farce, Lord Amazon is way shorter than his wife, a riff that is coincidentally also found in some of the Shrek movies. I read the presence of a company called Amazon as an unsubtle play upon Jeff Bezos’ company.

buggins__turn_cover_800pxhBuggins’ allies are Celia (the woman I mentioned) a bumbling agent named Allan Allin (I may have botched the spelling) and Bloody Raztoz Razzamatazz, a nihilistic, dreadlocked Caribbean rap artist. Also featured are a hateful neighbor with an aggressive male dog named Lassie, a street urchin, the crackpot owners of a dictaphone store, and a number of villainous business types. Hell’s Angels make an extended appearance, with somewhat of the comic intensity of the motorcycle gang in Every Which Way You Can.

André Jute passing through Singapore. Photo: Roz Pain-Hayman.

I can definitely see this type of plot and action getting filmed in the 1970s; I saw many films of this type as a child. I think that Buggins’ Turn is however really more of a quick, amusing read than a viable script at this point, for which purpose I used it this morning while waiting in a room.

See more books by Andre Jute.

See Matt Posner’s books.


Spookier at Rosscarbery, Ireland, or Gloucester, Massachusetts? The Synthesis of Memory and Image.

This watercolour, made in my big new sketchbook, is a sketch for an oil that, if it happens, will probably have to be at least 20x30in to support the details. There’s a house right on the tideline near Rosscarbery, down the road here in Ireland, which haunts my memory. A photograph published by the American designer and writer Kathleen Valentine of a similarly placed house near Gloucester, Massachusetts, reminded me strongly of it. This painting is a mental synthesis of the two images.

andre_jute_the_point_watercolor_on_cotton_paper_11x7.5in_2015_800pxw_balancedAndre Jute: The Point, watercolor on 300gr octavo, 2015

Andre Jute is a novelist and painter.

Today’s ride to Kilmacsimon Quay along the River Bandon

Today’s ride: 21km across the hills nestling in a loop of the river between where I live on the River Bandon and Kilmacsimon Quay at the tip of the upper estuary.


The photo is of a restful lane providing a shortcut home via Ballylangley, from nearer Innishannon, also on the river.

You can’t ride home along the river because right by Innishannon there is a short section of narrow road without hard shoulders and very fast, impatient commuter traffic.

More about my bicycles and adventures on them.

Factory lube/chaincase experiment (X8 chain, Chainglider, Surly SS & Rohloff)


The second transmission on my Utopia Kranich at 3500km, with the  KMC X8-93 chain inside still on the factory lube. There has been no extra lube of any kind. There has been no service or cleaning of any kind. Notice how clean everything is inside the Chainglider. It looks like this setup will make the target of 4605km set by the previous KMC chain, which operated inside a different sort of enclosed chaincase, and which was oiled every 500km with a few drops of Oil of Rohloff.

Full description of this experiment.

More about my bicycles and adventures on them.

Come Join my Tea Party: Tinting your own Art Paper with — wait for it! — Tea.

As I pointed out the other day when I described the genesis and construction of my Unsewn, Unstapled Sliding Quarter-Imperial 100% Cotton Embossed Leather Multimedia Sketchbook, most sketchbooks you can buy are rubbish by lowest common denominator makers for lowest common denominator consumer units.

andre_jute_sketchbooksThe Greek watercolorist Marialena Sarris says it is no accident that so many artists take the time to make their own custom sketchbooks. She’s right. That is certainly my experience. At the right is a very small selection of the sketchbooks, custom-made and bought, that I use. The two alrounders in sight are both my custom concoctions. The paper in bought books is always too lightweight and of too low a quality to satisfy for long, and in the few books which have first class paper, the binding is a barrier to employing the book satisfactorily.

These problems multiply themselves when the poor bewildered artist wants a multimedia sketchbook in which to work with both wet and dry media.

andre_jute_s_sliding_quarter_imperial_all_cotton_multimedia_sketchbook_cold_press2_800pxwBut if you think finding a white sketchbook is a pain, try finding a tinted paper (never mind a book!) that won’t disintegrate, or, if it remains together, buckle, then curl up and die, the moment it you bring a wet brush near it.

Ironically, one of the better colored papers available is the lightweight (160gsm) pastel paper from Canson, Mi Teintes, not because it loves water so much but because somehow, after buckling quite frighteningly at the application of water, it can be pressed acceptably flat again.

Even more ironically, the only good watercolour paper commonly available in tints is the student grade non-cotton Bockingford paper. Though Bockingford is archival and highly regarded well beyond academia, the tints are aimed at printing wedding invitations and stationary for genteel ladies, and too limp by far for my sort of slash and dash work with high strong colors.

So what can you do if you must absolutely have tinted paper of a certain quality, in my case 300gr 100% cotton in at least two finishes, NOT and Hot Press?

It ain’t rocket science. You can tint your preferred paper with an absolute minimum of equipment, all of which you probably saw the last time you were in your bathroom and your kitchen. The tinting materials are probably standing on your kitchen shelves too.

andre_jute_s_sliding_quarter_imperial_all_cotton_multimedia_sketchbook_11x15in_800pxwYour tinting substance must bond with the cotton paper, or whatever paper you’re tinting, and once dry must not wash out. It must not be acid, because acid destroys the paper rather shortly; vinegar and lemon are not wanted. It must not rot in the paper; pink mayonnaise won’t do it! It must not cause the paper to yellow over time. It must dissolve in water, or mix with it, or otherwise color the water so as to tint the paper, because the water will be your medium to carry the tint into the paper. The most common sunstance found in most kitchens which meets all these requirement is tea. Spices, used for cooking, may also work, but if you’re helping yourself in a kitchen that is not your domain, you’d better ask your better half before you grab the saffron or turmeric because many spices are pricey and difficult to get.

For tools you need a basin or bowl or tray a bit bigger than the paper you want to tint because you need to soak the paper in the colored water, another flat tray to dry a sheet of paper in, and a new kitchen sponge, and away you go. For the drying part, a clean, smooth, flat table or kitchen counter will do as well. You don’t need a stretching board: the weight of the paper and the water in it will flatten it very effectively against a smooth surface.

You gotta get the right tea, of course, especially if you’re a man, otherwise you won’t sound like an expert. I suppose that even Earl Grey, whose still paler bergamot cousin Lady Grey I drink with extra lime and honey, will tint paper a delicate yellow, or something.

But I already knew I wanted a dusty tan, strong but not too dark, for working on with sepia ink and a special, very beautiful amber ink I made for washes with the sepia, oil pencils but especially sanguine oil, earth-based water colors — everything you would use for that faux vintage look, both wet and dry. For this the right tea is the commando’s favorite, Red Bush, which I drink when I can’t be bothered to make a pot of something fancier.

The advantage of tea is that the tint is easily adjustable. I put two Red Bush teabags (Lidl house brand, whatever that is) in a half liter of hot water in a glass jug so I could check the color. White plastic also works. After a while I adjusted the color to slightly redder by adding an infusion of cherry tea that I was brewing up separately because I found it in a cupboard and wanted to see whether it was indeed a red tea. (It is brownish with a red cast; it might tint paper a dusty pink if I ever need a dusty pink…) You can probably also use green Chinese tea but I didn’t find any and it was too late to call the takeaway to deliver some. I went with what I had.

I worked in my bathroom because it has a full-length bath to contain the mess. Depending on how good your relationship with the housekeeper is, you might want to start work on quarter-sheets and leave the mess-making size of full imperial sheets (22.30in) until you have learned how to handle the wet paper without spraying tea-stained drops everywhere.


First pour the tea concentrate in the soaking bowl or basin or tray or whatever. You need just enough to float a sheet of paper. Add water to your concentrate to get the right amount of water, or the right depth of colour. My actual tinting solution was more the color in the photograph below than the one above.

In diluting the colour with water, you should keep in mind that a 300gsm sheet will have to lie in the water at least 20 minutes to be thorough soaked so it will dry flat, and a 630gsm sheet of paper had better be in there a minimum of one hour. These factors influence how dark a mixture you want to start with.

You may wish to experiment first with a small offcut of paper and a stopwatch. I didn’t bother with poncey nonsense like that.

Put the sheet of paper in the soaking dish. Use the sponge rather than your fingers to push it so water washes over it. Now leave it alone. Don’t fiddle with it or you’ll put fingermarks on it.

Depending on the strength of your mixture and the tint you want, you may wish to leave the paper in the tinting solution longer than the minimum time to soak its particular thickness thoroughly, as required for flattening it again. However, you should not leave it in the water so long that it disintegrates, or that sizing is altogether washed out, or that the surface is destroyed. Forty minutes to an hour may well be a maximum for most weights papers if you are not to run the risk of losing all the sizing in the paper, and thus alter its handling qualities, perhaps adversely.


When the paper has taken on the tint you want, take it out by the edges between the pads of your fingertips. Try not to put nailmarks into the paper; be sure to take off rings; best to use tongs such as you can buy at photographic stores for darkroom use to handle the paper.

Wave the paper very gently so that the water rolls off it, then place it flat on the drying tray or table. Press it gently, rather than wiping it, with the sponge. Resist the temptation to lift up a corner to see; the back of the sheet is definitely the same color as the front. Don’t put it in front of a heater. I left my entire apparatus in the bathroom, which is generally a warm room, but the bath is at least eight feet from the heater.

The paper should be dry in about 24 hours. You know it is dry when a corner pops loose from the tray or table and raises itself only a little way. A dry sheet will slide on the surface of the tray easily.

You can now reuse the tinting water for the next sheet. Different base papers (Arches Aquarelle, Fabriano Artistico, Saunders Waterford) are different colors and will tint differently not only according to their base colors but according to the manufaturing treatment, especially the various applications of sizing (in the vat so it goes inside, on the surface, both), and even within brands between the different-textured surfaces of the paper, Hot Press or NOT.

The paper shown below, as bought and tinted, is Fabriano Artistico 100% cotton 300gr. The soaking time was the full two hours, and the surface of the paper is bit rougher than when I started. I like this particular tint very much, especially considering that I had something very much like it in mind when I bought the sepia ink I want to use on it, and made the amber ink I will use for shading.

The surface is still good for pen and wash work, but for the next sheet, in order to get the near enough the same appealing tint without even the minor chance of damage we have established with our first run, I will add more concentrate of tea tint, and make the soaking exposure shorter.


I have stopwatches and timers, of course, no fewer than four to hand as I write this: in my flying watch on my arm, in my iPhone in my pocket, in the Mac on which I write this, and in my diving watch in a wooden box on my desk because I’m fitting a new rubber strap to it in hope of a summer.

But in this rough and ready tinting method, I don’t even try for a perfectly consistent tint across the several pages I make. If I like the tint, it is right, regardless of whether it precisely matches any page I made previously on a color meter, which I haven’t even taken from the drawer. It is enough that the tint, whatever it is, is even across the quarter-sheet.

Pot luck and good luck suits me just fine. Try it, you too might like it.

There are three parts to this article:

Andre Jute’s Unsewn, Unstapled Sliding Quarter Imperial 100% Cotton Embossed Leather Multimedia Sketchbook

Simplified Instructions for Making Andre Jute’s Unsewn, Unstapled Sketchhbook

Tinting your own Art Paper with — wait for it! — Tea (you are on this part)

Andre Jute is a novelist and painter.

With thanks to Marialena Sarris for research and lots of constructive tips.

Copyright © 2015 Andre Jute




Andre Jute: Translucent Pondlife, 2013, Lavis by Ink, A5, check the snake fluttering her eyelashes at you


Andre Jute: Translucent Pondlife, 2013, Lavis by Ink, A5

Sure, I know snakes don’t have eyelashes.
But I’m rational when I do engineering; painting is what I do for fun.

Simplified Instructions for Making Andre Jute’s Unsewn, Unstapled Sliding Quarter Imperial 100% Cotton Embossed Leather Multimedia Sketchbook

Alitogata wrote:Though I didn’t get exactly how you made it I think that it is perfect! ( and now I’m jealous and I want one of the same).  :)

Here’s a simplified description:

There are four components required to construct this sliding book:

1. Signatures of your preferred paper. The signatures are not sewn, stapled or glued, just folded spreads tipped in. Their height controls all the other measurements. You may also want some thin paper for protection interleaves.


2. A signature holder. I used hollow plastic strips from a magazine holder; they look like an elongated 0. You can make your own from a strip of stiff cardboard or plastic with slits or holes to guide a string for each signature. The string goes right over the paper, with about 5mm space top and bottom, not through the paper. The signature holder also is loose: it “floats” on the inner cover. The signatures are not any way attached to each other. The operation of this book depends on their independence.

3. An inner cover cut to the full height of the space inside the strings, i.e. taller than your signatures. This is used for both vertical positioning control and as a slider mechanism to let the book lie flat. It is fed through under all the strings but on top of the string holder. It is not fixed to anything at all. It is helpful if this inner cover is smooth card or film, but flexible. I in fact use two cards, one for the front and one for the back, overlapping at the signature holder, not fixed to each other, for extra-smooth operation, but a single sheet of card will probably do you.


4. An outer cover, slightly larger than the inner cover. This must on the inside have either a fixed flap on each side inside which the inner cover can slide, or a vertical strip under which the inner cover can slide. This sliding space must be the same height as the total height inside the strings on the signature holder, closely matched to the inner cover. The flap is good also for lateral control, but I found it unnecessary if the materials for the book are chosen right. Vertical control is essential, so match the height of the slide closely to the height of the inner cover. Nothing at all in the book is firmly attached to the cover by glue, sewing or staples.

5. Optional for those who want a hard cover. Two separate stiffeners to slide between the outer and inner covers, one at the front and one at the back.


1. The inner cover is slid under the signature retainer strings on top of the string spacer, so hiding most of it.

2. The inner cover ends are slid into the flaps or strips on the outer cover. Position the signature retainer in the middle.

3. Insert each signature under a string so that the string lies in the fold. Arrange the signatures to lie half to the left and half to the right so that you can see the spine is position correctly.


4. Test the efficacy your choice of material textures and weights, and the punctilio of your construction. Close the book. Clasp it lightly by the spine, hold with opening end downwards and shake. Repeat for the ends. If the paper remains inside the book, and the edge is as even as you can expect with such thick deckled edge paper, you’re done. Your book will lie flat, hold it’s position by friction and weight of paper, close correctly, stay closed, and every spread will be indivually removable and used as an uninterupted spread by simply taking it out and putting it on top of its signature. Try it. Paint something.

5. Optional for those who want hard covers, two stiffeners to fit loosely (unglued, unsewn, unstapled, eh?) between the inner and outer covers at the front and the back. You should not stiffen the spine because the signature retainer needs to take on various attitudes to make this book work as intended. However, 300gsm paper even in a stack a few sheets thick is already pretty stiff, and when you have a block like my big book, stiffeners in the cover are superfluous.

Good luck.

There are three parts to this article:

Andre Jute’s Unsewn, Unstapled Sliding Quarter Imperial 100% Cotton Embossed Leather Multimedia Sketchbook

Simplified Instructions for Making Andre Jute’s Unsewn, Unstapled Sketchhbook (you are on this part)

Tinting your own Art Paper with — wait for it! — Tea

Andre Jute is a novelist and painter.

Copyright © 2015 Andre Jute

Andre Jute’s Unsewn, Unstapled Sliding Quarter Imperial 100% Cotton Embossed Leather Multimedia Sketchbook

Most bought sketchbooks are adequate only to the most undiscriminating sketchers. In almost all cases the paper just isn’t good enough, too thin or too weak to take much water or rubbing out or handling. In a few cases where the paper is good quality cotton, the book is so tightly sewn it won’t lie flat, or difficult to handle because it is ringbound on the short side (landscape format); always something unsatisfactory.

andre_jute_sketchbooksThe solution is to make your own. I have several sketchbooks I’ve made myself in a variety of leather covers, in various sizes up to A5, roughly 8×6. Those are all intended to go outside with me and the smaller ones are routinely popped in my pockets in case I see something I want to sketch.

andre_jute_s_sliding_quarter_imperial_all_cotton_multimedia_sketchbook_32sh_300gsm_all_cotton_800pxwBut for my desk I wanted something larger, say up to quarter imperial size, 15×11 inches. It would be useful if the same book handled 11×7.5in, octavo or one-eight imperial size, as I generally don’t have a lot of time and like finishing a sketch in one or at most two goes at it.

The large oxblood item is a custom-made Italian cover of embossed semi-soft leather, lined in silk for reasons that will soon become obvious. Open it measures 19in by 12.25in, edge to edge.

The next task after obtaining a suitable cover is to rip the 100% cotton paper and these are the tools I used: a blunted heavyweight stainless steel scalloped carving knife, bought at the charity shop for pennies, to give my sheets that vintage deckle edge; and a good quality bone folder, lying on the cover.andre_jute_s_sliding_quarter_imperial_all_cotton_multimedia_sketchbook_ripping_800pxw

Note that there’s no ruler. The paper is used as its own measure. You simply fold the sheet lengthways in half, flatten the edge with two runs of the bone folder in opposite directions, then rip it along the fold with the knife. You can get a larger deckle by hold the paper down with the blade of the knife, one hand on the blade and using the other hand to tear the paper against the scallops on the knife, but this risks ruining the sheet if you don’t do it right; 300gsm paper can be amazingly obstructive, especially if you’re tearing it against the grain. Then fold one long strip to 2mm short of half, and the other to 4mm short of half, and rip again.

andre_jute_s_sliding_quarter_imperial_all_cotton_multimedia_sketchbook_veritcal_fix_800pxwOnce the paper is ripped to near enough quarter sheets of 15x11in, they are folded to 11×7.5in, and signatures of 4 folds, eight pages are made up, the shorter spreads going to the inside in decreasing order, so that the edge of the book can be relatively even. You can staple or sew the signatures into a book; search for instructions on the net. My method is different. I like sketchbooks where all pages lie flat, and where any page in a signature can be pulled out and put in the middle to use as a spread. That requires some innovative thinking.

andre_jute_s_sliding_quarter_imperial_all_cotton_multimedia_sketchbook_construction_800pxwMy big sketchbook has no staples, no sewing, no glue, no pegs, no metal clasps, nothing. Instead all the signatures are hung on plastic strips from partwork covers (you could use twine strung on a piece of cardboard instead) and held together by the natural friction of cotton paper. It lies flat when open by the very slight slack in the plastic strips I used as retainers and by sliding against the silk lining of the casing. andre_jute_s_sliding_quarter_imperial_all_cotton_multimedia_sketchbook_11x15in_800pxwNote that, unlike in traditional bookbinding, there is no connection whatsoever between the signatures, nor between the signatures and the cover. The red card in the second photo above that appears to be a cover is instead a mechanism for fixing the book vertically by running through the plastic strips and the inside retainers of the leather cover at full height. There are separate front and rear cover cards and they overlap in the plastic strips but are not glued to each other, to the plastic strips, or to the cover. andre_jute_s_sliding_quarter_imperial_all_cotton_multimedia_sketchbook_32sh_300gsm_800pxwThe whole affair slides with a little stiction, and that with the good design is enough to hold it together. Furthermore, it opens perfectly flat, at any page or spread, though this assembly method makes working across pages irrelevant because every sheet can be removed and used as a spread by simply putting it on top of the signature to which it belongs.

andre_jute_s_sliding_quarter_imperial_all_cotton_multimedia_sketchbook_cold_press_800pxwThis particular version of  my Sliding Quarter Imperial Multimedia Sketchbook was built with one sheet each of Fabriano Artistico NOT  and Hot Press, and one sheet each of Saunders Waterford NOT and Hot Press, all of it 300gsm 100% cotton paper. I also had sheets of Arches NOT and HP standing by but the book was getting a bit thick already. Weight doesn’t matter too much in a tabletop sketchbook, but all the same it needs to be at least briefcase portable  for big adventures, and mustn’t be so heavy that you contemplate moving it without enthusiasm.

andre_jute_s_sliding_quarter_imperial_all_cotton_multimedia_sketchbook_cold_press2_800pxwIt contains 16 spreads (counting one side only) of quarter imperial sheet size, or 32 sheets (counting one side only) of 11×7.5in. 32 sheets/64pp of 300gsm cotton paper makes a book that with covers is an inch thick at the opening end and thicker at the spine. Between the thick paper, the stiff card for vertical control, and the silk-lined leather cover, it still weighs less than the two pounds which was my target.  That’s not excessive for such a large, thick, versatile book of novel construction.

andre_jute_s_sliding_quarter_imperial_all_cotton_multimedia_sketchbook_hot_press_paper_800pxwAll the paper will handle wet media like watercolours, pen and ink, etc, and the Hot Press papers will take considerable rubbing out and other handling in charcoal or pencil work. There are thin protective sheets at the back to be slipped between pages that shouldn’t rub, plus bond paper to soak up excess water should I decide to go wild with lavis.

There are three parts to this article:

Andre Jute’s Unsewn, Unstapled Sliding Quarter Imperial 100% Cotton Embossed Leather Multimedia Sketchbook (you are on this part)

Simplified Instructions for Making Andre Jute’s Unsewn, Unstapled Sketchhbook

Tinting your own Art Paper with — wait for it! — Tea

Andre Jute is a novelist and painter.

Copyright © 2015 Andre Jute



I came to cycling too late in life to learn cadence control, so my cadence is fixed between about forty and sixty revolutions a minute, depending on which side of the bed I got out of that morning. That has turned out to be a really good thing, because from the beginning it forced me to control my exertion by my respiration rate rather than by my speed or whatever the gearing of my bike demanded or even by the terrain. From that follows the gearing specification of my bikes, for fifteen years or so now with internal hub gearboxes, currently Rohloff Speed 14.


812lf1lEueL._SL1500_In 25 years of cycling, a fair number of heart rate monitors (henceforth HRM) have been through my hands. Let’s leave aside cheap supermarket crap I bought to have another HRM on standby; they all broke too soon to justify their cost. Let’s also leave aside a Medisana Polar H7 copy, bought at Lidl, which did everything right with every software package I tried it with, except the last step: it wouldn’t put my heart rate on the display page, making it useless; returned for a refund. Let’s leave aside Chinese ripoffs of the Polar H7; none of them worked as expected.


BICYCLE-HAC4-on-wristThe Ciclosport HAC 4 PLUS was a superb HRM. with all the bells and buttons you could wish for. So it should have, at 300 Euro. For that price I expected it to last at least 10 years. It broke on the day after the three-year guarantee ran out. I didn’t buy another because I don’t like planned obsolescence! Also, as watch, it looked cheap on the arm. Note that the head unit, left on the bike when you remove the watch part, is vulnerable to theft; there is a thriving trade in these units on Ebay…

Sigma PC9 Heart Rate MonitorThe Sigma PC9 was altogether at the other end of the scale. It cost 40 Euro, had all the functions Iactually used on the Ciclosport HAC 4 (except altitude) and then some, was much more elegant as a watch, and still works after about ten years; it was replaced simply to save some space on my handlebars by combining various bits of kit/functions/displays into my iPhone. I’m a big fan of Sigma, and also use their bicycle computers; their stuff is very fairly priced, especially for top quality German goods, and lasts forever.

An iPhone or other smartphone with Bluetooth 4 (a low energy transmission protocol that saves battery use) with appropriate software, much of it free, is already an HRM. All the hardware you need to add is sensor/sender belt to fit around your chest. I’ve tried quite a few and the only one that is truly an allrounder (works with everything I tried it with) is the Polar H7, which cost STG 47.15 delivered in Ireland from Amazon UK. Mine was returned inoperative to the manufacturer shortly after arrival, fixed, and returned to me in a couple of weeks. It has worked well since.


I put the iPhone in a waterproof bag on the handlebars where I can see it, but I could keep it in a pocket because Polar’s own programme, which I use, reports every kilometer or mile, to choice, in a loud woman’s voice the elapsed time or average speed, and heart rate. If you need to control your heart rate closer than that, you need to cycle with your physician or a trained nurse. (My pedal pals include both.) With the phone on the handlebars you can control your exertion very closely to your chosen or permitted maximum respiration rate. (Here’s a tip: the physio will normally set a lower max heart rate than your physician or a cardiologist will. Get an opinion from all three, if you can.) I also have a motor on my bike, and when my respiration rate hits max, I keep up with the group by cutting in the motor.


The smartphone/BT4 belt setup has an advantage over all dedicated HRM. Your dedicated HRM is set up so that a bunch of roadies riding in a peloton don’t have HRM interfering with each other, so the range is at most 18in. This is a stupid irritation for a utility cyclist or a tourer who sits upright and usually has 24in or more between the sender on his chest and the reporter unit on the handlebars or even on his wrist if he’s being energetic. Any BT4 band though has a 10m/33ft sender radius, so there is no interruption in the flow of information if you step away from you bike. This can be important, because if you really need an HRM, the second most important thing you do with it is check your respiration recovery rate R^3: the faster your respiration settles, the fitter you are.

Polar’s H7 has the fastest latch onto a heart signal of any belt that I’ve ever tried; about a third of all the belts I’ve tried failed altogether to detect a signal. This is important especially when it is cold and your skin is not naturally moist.



If you’re a luddite or poor or a multi-gadgeteer, I recommend the Sigma PC9 (or its successor), which is easy to set up because it has very clear instructions, beautifully printed, and it just keeps working, and it is extremely reasonably priced, and goodlooking too.

I don’t recommend any Ciclosport because mine was ultimately unreliable, and they’re too expensive for what they offer.

If you have a smartphone with Bluetooth 4 already, I don’t see why you should want anything more than the Polar H7 belt, which lets you choose which software you want to use; I find Polar’s own free software quite good enough, and it has outstanding automatic record-keeping, useful when my cardiologist asks.

André Jute is a novelist and cyclist, and a teacher via his non-fiction textbooks of creative writing, engineering and reprographics.

Copyright © 2015 Andre Jute

The perfect finish — for the Seaveys


The Seavey’s are creaming themselves. The tracker shows the finish in Nome, the checkpoint in Safety 22 miles from Nome, and White Mountain. On the trail to Nome are 46 Dallas Seavey, 18 Mitch Seavey, 63 Aaron Burmeister.

Check the scale and grab your best guess from thin air about whether Mitch can overtake Dallas before Nome.

Negeqvak, the racer without a bib, biggest threat to every would-be Iditarod champion

Everyone knows why no one races in the modern Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race under Bib No. 1, right? It belongs to the late great Leonhard Seppala, hero of the 1925 “Serum Run” from Seward to Nome.

But did you know there is a musher with no bib, no number? His name is Negeqvak, and last year he took the victory away first from Jeff King within spitting distance from the finish line, and then from Aliy Zirkle when she dithered in the face of Negeqvak.


I’ll let a lifelong Alaskan, John Schandelmeier, a two-time winner of the other 1000 mile race, the Yukon Quest, explainthe relevance of Negeqvak with particular reference to champions and would-be champions:

“Dallas is faster, but if Aaron can force him to cut his rests short … that could change. Neither Aliy Zirkle nor Jesse Royer can be counted out. Neither should negeqvak.”

So who is this Negeqvak, the musher without a bib? Actually, it’s a what. It’s  the Yupik word for “north wind”.

Here’s Schandelmeier in the Alaska Dispatch News on a few of the years in which Negeqvak influenced the outcome of the race:

“Last year saw negeqvak become the deciding factor to give Dallas Seavey one of the biggest come-from-behind victories of all time. New, dry snow coupled with forecasted wind could again be instrumental. Some of the Iditarod’s most memorable victories have come with the wind, including Rick Swenson’s record fifth win in 1991 and Libby Riddles’ historic victory as the first woman champion in 1985.”

Right now at Koyuk, Negeqvak is blowing 15mph NNE.


My page Iditarod follows the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race live, as it happens. You’re cordially invited to join us.


André Jute is the author of the much-loved, multi-award-winning bestselling novel IDITAROD a novel of the Greatest Race on Earth, available in paperback and all ebook formats.

Risking everything to reach White Mountain first. André Jute explains the Iditarod end game.

No, it isn’t a computer game. It is a real race, the toughest and most dangerous race in the world, running a thousand miles behind a dogsled across the tundra of Alaska, within spitting distance of the Arctic Circle, all the way from Fairbanks to Nome. This is the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, famous or notorious depending on your outlook.

Photo courtesy of Alaska Dispatch NewsPhoto Alaska Dispatch News

And after you beat all the human odds of fatigue and sleep deprivation to get to the head of the field by the  time you reach the Kaltag Portage, you have to sprint 250 miles or so to get to White Mountain first.

Why? Because the race is deliberately rigged to set up a sprint for a photo finish under the arch on Front Street in Nome, 77 miles beyond White Mountain. That suited the framers of the competition well, and suits the current race organization equally well, because it also meets the greatest subsidiary aim of the race, next to keeping it alive.

You can tell by their environment that the organizers are hard men and women. But they’re clearly absolutely terrified by a good number of potentials for disaster in the unavoidable dangers that arise from the nature of the race and its immovable geography, terrain and weather. First, they are terrified that anyone will ever say that a dog was maltreated on the Iditarod; they take such good care of the canine contestants that a dog on the gangline, running in the Iditarod, stands a better chance of surviving the period of the Iditarod than the average pooch that you can see your neighbor walking. For the health of the dogs there are several mandatory fixed-length stops during the race. One of these, of eight hours, is at White Mountain.

I said the organizers are visibly terrified by a number of possibilities. We don’t have time or space to go into all of them, but another predictable worry is that a contestant will kill himself on the Iditarod, and perhaps get the race banned. They have very strict entry qualifications to guard against this, and a “rookie” on the Iditarod is always an experienced long-distance musher already. That everyone let into the Iditarod is a very hard case goes without saying, tough, fit, and with unshakable focus.

So now you have a bunch of very tough, fit, focused mushers coming down the mountain from Kaltag, having already beaten out the other very tough, very fit athletes to be in the first ten out of Kaltag checkpoint, knowing that beyond White Mountain, where everyone has to stop eight hours, everyone will be rested, and there will be only 77 miles left in the race.

Seventy-seven miles is not far enough to make up any significant distance on a top competitor.


Every musher wants to be first out of White Mountain. And that means arriving at White Mountain first.

Of course everyone else knows this too. That sets up a longrange sprint of attrition to be first at White Mountain. Every year the sprint for White Mountain starts earlier. This year it visibly started at Kaltag. Some might argue it started earlier, even much earlier…

It doesn’t matter precisely where it started. We’re into the sprint now. Enjoy.

My page Iditarod follows the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race live, as it happens. You’re cordially invited to join us.


André Jute is the author of the much-loved, multi-award-winning bestselling novel IDITAROD a novel of the Greatest Race on Earth, available in paperback and all ebook formats.

Come join me at the IDITAROD: The greatest race on earth since Marathon — and a bookie’s nightmare


Every year I take a busman’s holiday at the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. I have a page that helps people follow the race. In theory my presence and the helpful page promotes my novel about the race. In practice the book, long since a best seller, promotes itself, and is anyway better promoted by enthusiastic readers than by the author, and I maintain the page to help myself keep track of a confusing race spread over 1046 miles (approximately) of the most inaccessible and dangerous terrain on earth, and share it with others of like mind. The other thing I do every year just before the Iditarod is amusing: I try to pick some outsiders who will do well; I’m proud of an outstanding track record, for intance picking Aliy Zirkle in each of the years she came second. Obvious now, but this woman, already over forty, with small dogs, in the beginning just wasn’t an obvious choice against the hard men with their brawny dogs. Another example: I picked the poster boy, the Iditarod heart-throb, Joar Leifseth Ulsom, when he came from nowhere, with no track record at this level of mushing.

So, why am I bragging about past triumphs? Because this year the organizers, by accepting so many novices, have made it almost impossible to pick genuine outsiders, short of sticking a pin into the entry list, or laboriously tracing the provenance of each musher. And I intend “provenance” in the precise dictionary meaning: that a musher grew up in a mushing household and community clearly matters in winning the Iditarod, as does the learning experience of the race itself. It’s a dangerous race, so the organizers, terrified someone will die on their race, let in only those with experience and a track record in other tough races. This in turn makes it even more difficult to pick the newcomer who will emerge from the pack.

I wouldn’t bet tuppence of my own money on a race as long, and over such terrain, and through such uncertain weather, as the Iditarod. But if I were staking serious money, I’d grit my teeth and accept the short odds on Dallas Seavey to take a third win. Lance Mackey and Jeff King, both four-time winners, stand at the head of a line of contenders who think they’re finishing the Seavey’s run — Dallas’s dad Mitch is also a two-time winner and a current contender to be reckoned with. There, let’s leave the list of hard, experienced men, several more with victories or many high finishes on their record, and look at the outsiders.

At the beginning of the Iditarod last year (2014), Aliy Zirkle was all set, by her record of two second places, to leave the list of underdogs and outside chances for the permanent powers that be, the perennial threats. But events in the closing stages of the 2014 race have raised the question whether she is only a nice lady with athletic gifts — or whether she’s a winner. After Jeff King was blown off the trail and was forced to scratch only 25 miles from a fifth victory to protect his dogs, it was Aliy Zirkle’s race to lose. And she did lose it by not being ready when the gritty, relentless competitor Dallas Seavey arrived from nearly two hours behind to blow without rest through Safety, where Aliy was resting. Dallas staggered on to victory in Nome.

1924633_754426211236322_206420366_nDallas Seavey, winning the 1000+ mile 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race from 1h49m behind 77 miles before the finish.

That Aliy, had she not relaxed into champion mode already in Safety, could have caught the worn Dallas and his tired dogs is shown by the fact that, starting from 17 minutes behind in Safety, 22 miles later in Nome Aliy was only 2m22s behind Dallas, an otherwise incredible gain that tells us much about their relative condition.


The popular Aliy Zirkle, runner-up for the third year running in 2014.

Dallas won that race because he is first and foremost a winner.  Which is how come we pick him to win again. He’s a pretty obvious choice: young and hard, yet hugely experienced, a proven winner.

And once more I pick Aliy to upset the running behind Dallas, possibly to be second again, especially of there is a settled weather over all or most of the race to favour her light, fast dogs. Who knows, she may have learned her lesson last year: the race isn’t over till you cross the line, and use her chances better this year. We’re due for a woman winner, and Aliy is still the best-placed woman to deliver that victory.

For newcomers, the Iditarod is one of the very few great sporting events in the world where men and women compete on equal terms. As the saying goes, “Alaska, where men are men, and women win the Iditarod.” The late Susan Butcher has four victories too.

And for a new champion from among the outsiders? Once again I fancy the impressive Norwegian  Joar Leifseth Ulsom. This is no longer a daring prediction because everyone knows his time will come, but I’m betting on sooner rather than later.

An underdog who could easily choose this year to become a top ten top dog is Nathan Schroeder, the 2014 Iditarod Rookie of the Year.

If the ladies want someone interesting to follow besides Aliy, try DeeDee Jonrowe, a veteran runner with an enviable record of high finishes, still a threat for the top places. And don’t forget the grittily courageous Cindy Gallea, 63, who last year was forced to scratch through illness.

Fewer people have finished the Iditarod than have ascended to the summit of Mount Everest.


The toughest race in the world, a race of attrition because of trail and weather conditions just short of the Artic Circle.

My page Iditarod follows the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race live, as it happens. You’re cordially invited to join us.


André Jute is the author of the much-loved, multi-award-winning bestselling novel IDITAROD a novel of the Greatest Race on Earth, available in paperback and all ebook formats.