Swimming with dolphins is said to be the number one thing to do before you die. For 12-year-old Michael, it very nearly is. A secret boat trip has gone tragically wrong, and now he lies unconscious in hospital. But when Michael finally wakes up, he seems different. His step sister Bibi is soon convinced that he is not who he appears to be.
Meanwhile, in the ocean beyond Bermuda’s reefs, a group of bottlenose dolphins are astonished to discover a stranger in their midst – a boy lost and desperate to return home. Bermuda is a place of mysteries. Some believe its seas are enchanted, and the sun-drenched islands conceal a darker past, haunted with tales of lost ships. Now Bibi and Michael are finding themselves in the most extraordinary tale of all.
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An Interview with Nick Green
What inspired you to write this book?
The idea for the story 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.
Did you plan to be a writer or did it just happen?
When I was a kid, I used to play with a small group of like-minded friends, and what we played wasn’t football [soccer!] but make-believe. Some days we’d be vampires and werewolves (this was long before the modern-day craze for them, so we want royalties, by the way), some days we would be superheroes, or aliens, or characters from the latest TV show. Eventually, one by one, my friends grew out of this, but I never quite did. And there’s a real problem with being an almost-grown man with a penchant for living inside his imagination. Most people call that ‘crazy’. So what you have to do, is start writing all that stuff down, and suddenly you’re not longer called crazy, you’re called a writer instead. So writing is just a way to stay loopy and be respected for it.
Then, as a teenager, I found a book in my school library: ‘Writing A Novel’ by John Braine. Although I’d often liked the thought of ‘being an author’ when I ‘grew up’, it had never really struck me as an achievable aim – any more than my previous ambitions of being a knight, an astronaut, or a time-travelling scientist. Suddenly, here was a book that would tell me exactly how to do it! Of course these days you can’t move for ‘how to write’ books, but that was the first one I ever found. I don’t know what I was expecting – lots of arcane wisdom probably, like the secrets of the Masonic Lodge – but it turned out that Braine’s advice was surprisingly simply: it was basically, begin at the beginning, go on until the end, and then do it again until the book is good. That was the kind of advice I could understand. But it was another ten years at least before I actually had any success with it.
If you had to sum up The Storm Bottle in 30 or less words, what would you say?
A girl and her step-brother discover why swimming with dolphins is the number one thing to do before you die.
Do you have a favorite character in The Storm Bottle? Who and why?
I’d have to say Bibi. She was interesting in that she was actually dreamed up for another book I was planning, which I never wrote. That idea collapsed, as they do, but she remained, too vivid to forget about. I changed everything about her background, but her fundamental character and essence remained. She’s also the first (and so far, the only) time I’ve written in the first person. Her voice came so easily. For me, she’s the most real-seeming character of all those I’ve written.
What has been your greatest challenge in writing The Storm Bottle?
Writing all the dolphin parts was particularly challenging, because I had to throw out everything we normally take for granted – even things like where people are when they converse with each other. 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? And how do you transcribe their click-based speech as words? I had to take all this into account whenever the dolphins were around. Some of my solutions were plucked out of thin air: for instance, I made my three main dolphin characters have Spanish names and accents, to suggest a culture that was ‘foreign’ but still quite similar to our own. This is how Michael (who becomes a dolphin) perceives them; they’re not really Spanish of course, but his brain interprets their ‘foreignness’ that way. Furthermore, all dolphins within a particular pod have similar or themed names. This was inspired by scientific research which found that dolphins in social groups develop similar name-whistles to emphasise their bond.
What is your favorite scene in The Storm Bottle?
There is a storm scene which took over and seemed to write itself. I have never been in a hurricane but after writing that scene, I felt as if I had.
What kind of research was involved for The Storm Bottle?
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. 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.
Of the books you’ve written, which is your favorite?
I usually say this one, but book 3 of my Cat Kin trilogy is also up there. It felt really good to finally finish the series.
What draws you to a book? Why do you pick it up off the shelf?
A title might attract me. After that, it’s the first page. I can usually tell within a page if I’m going to like something. Voice is everything. Subject matter, genre, none of that matters to me.
What has been your greatest pleasure or personal success as an author?
When my first book (The Cat Kin) was published, I was interviewed on BBC Radio about it, for the only radio show that was specifically for kids. That was awesome, going to the famous Broadcasting House and being treated as a special guest. Sadly they’ve stopped doing that show since.
Why did you choose to be an Indie writer and would you choose to self-publish again?
I self-published The Storm Bottle because no publisher has offered to take it so far. I don’t really know why this is, and nor does my agent. My agent represented Diana Wynne Jones so presumably she knows what she’s talking about. I still have faith in the book, so I hope that by e-publishing it I can let readers decide for themselves.
If you had a chance to rewrite, is there anything about your book you would change?
I have re-written it many, many times, so I hope that what you have now is the best I can do. No book can ever be perfect, but this one is my best shot.
What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve received?
What challenges did you face in getting your first book published?
My then agent submitted The Cat Kin to every suitable publisher, with no takers. So I published it myself using a POD service. I sent a copy to The Times book reviewer and she gave it a glowing review. Within two weeks, Faber made an offer for the book. This is an interesting lesson in how publishing works.
What was one of the most surprising things you learned while writing The Storm Bottle?
That dolphins can be so violent.
What is your favorite movie based on a book, where you preferred the movie?
The Prestige. The original book, though fun, is full of plot problems and loose ends. Christopher Nolan nailed the story that it ought to have told.
If you could get anyone to read your book, who would you choose and why?
Peter Jackson! Go figure.
Horseshoe Bay, Bermuda
Best Christmas present?
Unburned tobacco. (I don’t smoke.)
The Lord of the Rings trilogy
‘I do not know with what weapons World War 3 will be fought, but I do know that World War 4 will be fought with sticks and stones.’ – Albert Einstein.
Your best trait?
My sense of humour.
Your worst trait?
My sense of humour.
Author Nick Green Nick Green is a UK children's and YA author, best known for his trilogy The Cat Kin, published in the UK by Strident Publishing and in Germany by Ravensburger, and also as a BBC audiobook. He has appeared on BBC radio talking about his books, and has been shortlisted for two UK children's book awards. He regularly does school visits and other children's literary events. The Storm Bottle is his first straight-to-Kindle novel.
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