I am familiar with the oft-quoted Confucian proverb: be careful what you wish for, the Gods might just grant it, but I had never thought that I would be able to amend it into a stricture of my own: be careful what you write. In my case, the Gods, the Fates, or perhaps a malevolent Djinn, did actually transpose me into the pages of my first novel for children – Sea Djinn.
When I left St Edmund Hall (PPE) I became an investment banker, a career I safely followed for seven years before escaping to write financial thrillers.
This I did happily for twelve years, penning five which were published around the world. These were not without their own attendant dangers. The Chief Executive of one City bank debated long and hard whether or not he should sue me, before deciding rather sensibly I thought that he would prefer not to stand up in court and say that I had based a corrupt, murderous Chief Executive in one of my novels on him. Then there were the unwelcome attentions of a famously intrepid narco pilot who used to fly coca basica from the Huallaga Valley in Peru to the processing factories in Colombia. His stories were fascinating, and they made for research of the highest order, but when he confessed after many hours’ conversation that I understood him better than his wife I thought it was time to leave his jungle stronghold, that I had more than enough background detail for my novel, Into the Fire.
After having had three children, I decided that I had done enough dangerous research. I had long wanted to write for children, and when we moved to Dubai four years ago, I found inspiration in the djinn which feature so strongly in the folklore of the region.
I began to craft Sea Djinn. The plot came to me as I strolled along the beach which is five minutes from our house. A young boy, Finn, would walk that same beach. One evening in the gloaming, he would meet the Sea Djinn of the Light who would reveal to him that his parents had been kidnapped at sea by Hydrus, the Dark Sea Djinn. Together with his cousin, Georgina, and his friend Fred, Finn would steal a boat and set sail for the Dark Kingdom to do battle with Hydrus and free his parents.
With one hundred pages written, my husband and I were kidnapped at sea by the Iranian navy. We were held hostage for two weeks. Fortunately my own children did not have to steal a boat and set sail to any Dark Kingdom to release me and their father. That blessed magic was performed by the UK Government.
I completed Sea Djinn, re-writing the kidnap and captivity themes with considerably greater authority and insight. It was not, however, a form of research I would care to repeat.
So, was our kidnap co-incidence, mere bad luck, or had I written a part of my own destiny, invoked it, perhaps seen it delivered by a malevolent Djinn, of whom, many Emiratis firmly believe, there are many bedevilling this sandy and beguiling region?
A poem written in captivity:
Trapped in a prison of smiling faces,
Wearing a veil to hide my own,
Answering scores of repeated questions,
When will they let me go home?
Pouring with muck sweat under my burka,
My hopes depend on them,
Left alone for a million minutes,
Time stretches without end
Promises, promises roll from their lips,
But nothing is ever delivered.
Inshallah, say the smiling faces
But I think he’s looking away
A birthday cake for a nightmare birthday
A puff and the candles are blown,
Oh please sign the papers in triplicate
And let me go back to my home.
Written for The Aularian, the St Edmund Hall, Oxford, alumni magazine, Spring 2009
‘We set sail on a perfect summer’s morning. Within hours we were in fear of our lives’ – Telegraph
A mother who was detained at gunpoint by Iranian authorities after taking a sailing trip from her Dubai home has spoken about her ordeal.