Nicholas John Turney
Monsarrat, son of a distinguished surgeon, was born
in Liverpool in 1910. Gaining a law degree from
Cambridge he decided that the solicitor's career for
which he was being trained did not suit him. He went
to London where he tried to make a living writing
novels and journalistic pieces such as a regular
restaurant review that supplied him with one good
meal a week...
Although he was a
pacifist, Monsarrat decided to join the Royal Naval
Voluntary Reserve. He was to write later that "I
decided to help win the battle first, and deal with
my moral principals later."
constant exposure to danger aboard the "Compass
Rose' Corvette vessel escorting convoys, described
so graphically in The Cruel Sea and his other
war books. His distinguished war service and his
magnificent narratives about Britain's sailors were
recognised by the nation when he died, and he was
buried at sea with full Military honours from a ship
of the Royal Navy.
On leaving the RNVR
in 1946 he joined Britain's diplomatic service and
was sent to Johannesburg in South Africa as an
information officer. It was during his stay in South
Africa that he wrote The Cruel Sea, the book
that made him immediately famous. The book was
filmed in 1953, the year in which he was transferred
to Ottawa in Canada as British Information Officer.
His sojourn in Africa was to provide the material
for two books, the bestseller The Tribe that Lost
its Head (1956) and much later, a sequel to this
book, Richer than all his Tribe (1968)
He wrote the first of
these two books during his three years in Ottawa;
another well-known book of this period being The
Story of Esther Costello (1953) a striking novel
about the manipulation of an Irish blind deaf-mute
by her American guardian, and the girl's tragic end.
This book, which is a strong attack on unscrupulous
fund-raising for charity in the United States, was
also later made into a movie.
In 1959 Monsarrat
decided to leave the diplomatic service to dedicate
himself to writing full time. By the end of his
life, he had published twenty-eight books, including
two volumes of his autobiography with the title;
Life is a Four-Letter Word. From then onwards he
produced books on a regular basis, most of them
topping the bestseller list, The Kappillan of
Malta and the incomplete The Master Mariner,
ranking amongst his best work.
Nicolas was living in
Guernsey in the late Sixties when his good friend
Professor C.N. Parkinson, the academic who thought
up Parkinson's law and who was also a novelist
specializing on the Royal Navy in Napoleonic times,
told him of the Maltese Island of Gozo, which he
liked but thought it was "much too quiet."
It was precisely this
comment that fascinated Monsarrat and led him and
his new wife Ann to buy a charming house in the
village of San Lawrenz, where they initially
intended to stay for only a few years, but the
peacefulness of San Lawrenz together with the
magnificent view of the sea and of the Gordan
lighthouse from his office window, endeared him and
Ann to live there until he passed away in 1979.
I recommend you start
reading the "Cruel Sea' first, then "Life is a Four