Article published on January 15, 2016.
I am a writer for the simple reason that I like telling stories. It all started with bedtime stories for my children, Emily, Liz and Nick, long grown up now, but then sweet little kids who would simply not go to sleep without a story.
Like most parents I began reading them children’s classics: Ferdinand the Bull, Orlando the Marmalade Cat, Winnie the Pooh and of course the Beatrix Potter stories. Repetition dulled bedtime interest and I soon began making up my own stories.
There were tales of Mary and George, two porcupines in Africa whose sharply pointed quills saved them from many a misadventure when beasts of prey gathered by night at the watering hole.
Then there was the family of swallows who flew from England to the warm south every winter battling encounters with hawks, surviving storms and crossing the Sahara desert by hitching a lift on a camel train.
Making up these tales came easily to me and I would often find myself continuing to whisper the story to my children long after they had gone to sleep. Later over a glass of wine or two I would play the story back in my head and build it up, but I never wrote a word down.
That changed the night I told two sleepy heads the story of the man who loved seals and how he had gone to sea in a boat to watch them one day and fallen overboard.
Once in the water the man discovered that seals were all around him and to his astonishment he found himself swimming with them quite naturally. Quite soon he found himself living with a colony of seals.
At this point the sleepy heads became less sleepy and sat up asking questions. What did the man eat, wasn’t he cold in the water and wouldn’t the seals bite him?
So I went back to porcupines, swallows and rabbits whose mythical adventures my children happily accepted.
But the story of the man who lived with seals stayed with me and eventually I wrote it down. It became my first novel published in the UK as On the Broken Shore and in the US as The Language of the Sea.
I delighted in the research required to take the reader into the maritime world of seals. Similar research has helped create a credible background (I hope) for my latest novel Midnight in Berlin, based on the true story of the British diplomat in Berlin who planned to assassinate Hitler in 1939 and how the Gestapo tried to stop him using blackmail and entrapment.
Sadly my children, now all grow up, pay little attention to my novels – but they all remember every one of their bedtime stories.
– James MacManus
Midnight In Berlin by James MacManus, published by Duckworth on 21 January, 2016
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