Sunday, May 12, 2013

Blog Tour/Guest post: The Storm Bottle

What kind of research did you have to do to write your novel? Why did you choose the Bermuda Triangle?

The idea for The Storm Bottle came from one single incident that happened to me. I was walking along a beach in Lyme Regis, Dorset (on the south coast of England) when I saw a dolphin in the water, playing with a group of swimmers. Instantly I knew that I might never have this chance again, so despite not having any towel or swimming things, I took off my shirt and shoes and socks and ran into the sea. It was pretty amazing – you hardly ever see dolphins so close to shore in England, and this one was as playful as a Labrador.

Later I wondered: why did I do that? I’m not given to impulsive behaviour. What is it about dolphins that makes us so eager to go and swim with them? Why is it that some people even claim it’s ‘the number one thing to do before you die?’ That’s why I wrote The Storm Bottle – to try and find out why.

That was the initial seed of the story – but now came the hard part, the research. I read up exhaustively on the behaviour of dolphins, so as to get this as accurate as I could, and also to get ideas for the central story. 
Writing the dolphin parts was particularly challenging, because I had to throw out everything we normally take for granted. For instance, dolphins can have a chat from half a mile away, they can see in two ways (eyesight and sonar), they only sleep with half their brain at a time, and of course they have no hands or material possessions. So what do they even talk about? They’re also much more ‘human’ than we like to think, meaning they have a darker, more violent side. They’re also pretty sexist, the males travelling around in big gangs, herding and corralling the females. I didn’t want to paint them in an idealised way as so much fiction does, so I researched as much as I could.

The funny – or should I say frustrating – thing about researching dolphins so carefully is that a lot of people don’t believe me. Several publishers who rejected the book cited their main reason as my ‘anthropomorphic’ treatment of the dolphins. They thought that the dolphins behaved too much like human beings. But almost everything that my dolphins do in the book, wild bottlenose dolphins really do out there in the ocean. They have names, they call each other by name, they form bands and alliances and seemingly name those too – all with a distinctive ‘name whistle’ that each member uses – the males have social ranks, based on how many females they herd, while the females, sadly, tend to be more solitary and passive. The dolphins of Bermuda have also been observed doing another, very mysterious thing: going on long epic journeys out into the mid-Atlantic – no-one knows why yet. In The Storm Bottle, I do suggest a possible reason.

I also did quite a bit of research into Bermuda, and some of the local dialect. There are some fantastic ways that Bermudians have of expressing themselves. I have a jokey Bermudian ‘phrasebook’ which was a mine of information and local humour, and luckily my Bermudian step-mother was able to check my usage.

Other things I had to research included whales (blue, humpback and killer), boats, antique bottles and brain damage. For a long time, most of the human characters in The Storm Bottle think that Michael has suffered brain damage from his near drowning. But his odd behaviour is actually down the fact that a dolphin’s mind is now living in his body.

I chose to write about Bermuda because I know the place quite well, and bring in the infamous Triangle was an obvious thing to do. The Triangle really only features in passing – it’s not central to the plot – but the story does offer a rather interesting explanation as to what (or even who) might be behind it. My personal views of the so-called Triangle phenomenon are more prosaic: the whole thing is essentially a myth, as that area of sea doesn’t in fact causes more disappearances than any other comparable stretch of ocean. But I do agree it’s a marvelous story – and as you might have guessed, I love stories.

I hope you enjoy the book as much as I enjoyed researching and writing it.

More About the Book


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