The Storm Bottle – Nick Green
At school I was voted the guy least likely to tear off his clothes and run into the sea. That’s not actually true. But it could be. I don’t do crazy impulses. I’m the man who holds up the coffee shop queue before ordering the same latte as ever. I use SatNav. On the train. You certainly wouldn’t catch me braving the
in October, without so much as a towel to hand. And yet, on one autumn
afternoon several years ago, I did. And I’m still trying to understand why.
My wife and I were in Lyme Regis, in
Dorset (this location itself is a somewhat spooky
accident). We were walking along the sea front when we saw a commotion in the
water. In the midst of a group of swimmers, something dark kept bobbing up. We
saw a fin. It was like a scene from Jaws, except the screams were not of terror
but delight. Then shouts from around us confirmed it: ‘A dolphin!... A
My first fear – that the creature must be in distress, to be so close to the beach – vanished almost at once. The dolphin was clearly revelling in the attention, scooting from one bunch of kids to another, splashing them, letting itself be stroked, and generally showing off.
At that moment I realised that I’d probably never have this chance again. To swim with dolphins is often held up to be one of life’s great experiences. Some polls have even voted it ‘the number one thing to do before you die’. And this wasn’t some tame dolphin in a pool, or some purchased, pre-packaged experience. This was the real deal, a wild dolphin, an utterly random stroke of fortune, quite literally out of the blue. And I didn’t have any swimming things.
No-one was more astonished than me when, a minute later, I was splashing out into the cold water towards the dolphin. (Note to
Dorset police: I kept my shorts on).
The next ten minutes was like being a kid again. I was amazed at the creature’s
speed, disappearing underwater and reappearing many metres away, almost at the
same instant. Its skin I recall as feeling wonderfully strange to the touch,
like a living bar of soap, though when I tentatively grasped its fin to see if
it might tow me along like Flipper, it rolled over with a glare as if to say,
‘I don’t do tricks.’ It occurred to me then that this animal, with its size and
power and huge jaws, could easily have killed any one of us human beings in
seconds – without meaning to, or even noticing. Yet there we were, children and
adults all, prepared to risk our literal necks just for the sake of being close
to a dolphin.
Why? What possessed me? For a long time afterwards I struggled to answer that question. And because I happen to be a children’s author, I suppose it was inevitable that these musings would result in a book.
The Storm Bottle is a tale of humans and dolphins, an imagined one, but drawing for inspiration on that very real experience.
The more I thought about it, however, the more sure I was that the story would have to be set not in
, but in England Bermuda.
Firstly, there was the strange fact of meeting the dolphin in Lyme Regis, the
place from which the Sea Venture set sail. Also I have a family connection to
Bermuda, first visiting for Christmas at the age of 12, and being able to swim
in the sea on Christmas Day (though it was cold). I’ve been back many times
since, but nothing compares to the wonder of that first trip, and exploring a
place so remote, so like home, and yet so strange and fascinating. The place
has harboured a mythos all of its own for centuries, since before it was even
settled, becoming the setting for Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’, an island
haunted by demons and enchantments, before growing into its more recent legends
of the Triangle. Could these elements also be drawn into my story?
It was on my first visit to
Bermuda that my elder brother found an antique glass bottle,
buried in sand on one of the unpopulated islands. And at the house of a family
friend, I marvelled at her own huge bottle collection, like a real-life haul of
pirate treasure. And my stepmother told me about the Sea Venture that first
settled the islands by a pure twist of fate, having set sail from – wait for it
– Lyme Regis. And she told me about shark-oil barometers, and the Sargasso Sea that has no shore, and about hurricanes. All
of these sparkling fragments sank down into my mind, patiently waiting for that
moment when, years later, a swim with a dolphin would bring them bubbling back
to the surface.
Most authors don’t like to tell you where they get their ideas from. Most, I think, don’t even know. But on this occasion, I do know. Sometimes, everything just fits together.