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Author Spotlight - Nicholas Monsarrat

              by Leslie Weddell


Nicholas Monsarrat


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."

   He experienced 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.



This Is the Schoolroom (1939)


HMS Marlborough Will Enter Harbour (1947)


The Cruel Sea (1951)


The Story of Esther Costello (1953)


Castle Garac (1955)


The Nylon Pirates (1960)


The White Rajah (1961)


A Fair Day's Work (1964)


The Pillow Fight (1965)


Something to Hide (1965)


Whipping Boy (1969)


The Kappillan of Malta (1973)

I recommend you start reading the "Cruel Sea' first, then "Life is a Four letter word'



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