Sea Music is on  a Kindle promotion for the whole of August for 99p

This is how I came to write the story of Sea Music…

One summer evening many years ago I was walking along a deserted creek at dusk. It was a place I loved, atmospheric, eerie, full of the sound of curlews and waders making filigree patterns in the mud. I saw a woman ahead of me walking on two sticks and I slowed down to talk to her. She was worried about spoiling my walk and said, almost casually. ‘I have to use sticks now. The Germans injected Arsenic into my bones…’ I stared at her, the hairs rising up on the back of my neck, thinking I must have misheard.

When I could speak I asked her how she came to be in Cornwall.  ‘My husband was one of the soldiers who liberated the camp and carried me out of there. He was a Cornishman, he looked after me, got me to England. He brought me all the way to Cornwall with him. He has just died.  It is why I walk by the water when the paths are quiet, to remember him.’

Seeing my shocked face, she said. ‘My dear, I have had a wonderful life. We built our house together above this creek, but I am lost without him.’

It was now dark and the woman urged me to go back to my car. I realised in the shock of her startling revelation that I had not even asked her name or found out  where she lived. For months I searched the creek paths  but I never saw  her again  and I wondered if I had dreamed the whole episode

A few years passed but I never forgot her. I felt compelled to write a story about a woman like her. I imagined what her life might have been. I researched  and immersed myself in the story of Martha, a woman who survived the concentration camps and  was saved by the love of a doctor. A woman who never talked of her past to her children and so they were never able to understand her fears and foibles.  Martha, in frail old age, found the past slid back to crowd out the present to haunt her, until a ghost from her childhood finally brought Martha peace.

When I finished the book I dedicated it to my lady by the creek, wishing I could have seen her again, had her approval for my book. But I thought she must be dead.

I was telling  a friend about my book when she excitedly declared that she knew who my old lady was. She had just got married again at the age of eighty. She found me a telephone number and  urged me to ring her. I did so with trepidation. It was unlikely that she would remember me after so many years, but remember me she did.

It was the start of a close and wonderful friendship that lasted many years. Before publication, I left the manuscript with her, if she objected to it, I would not publish.

She approved and loved it. ‘How could you know all these things? How could you get it right? I have even married a doctor…’ The one thing she asked me to change was the ending. ‘It is the next generation that matters You must end with hope and new life. With a birth, not a death.’

The reason that I do not give a name to my lady of the creek was that just before publication of my book the interest in it for my inspiration by my publishing team was keen. My Lady’s husband called me  early one morning. She was having nightmares. When I got there she was terrified the press might find her and then ‘They’ would trace her, like they did her father. ‘They’ were the communists back home in Slovakia who had flown her father to her address in Cornwall after the war, to show, she told me, that they knew where she was. Her father arrived mute and could never tell her what they had done to him. I had no grasp of  post -war  communism or whether her fears could possibly be founded after so many years, but her terror was real. I had to make sure she was protected so I vetoed any ideas of her being involved in any publicity and I never used her name or whereabouts. Her fear was so profound that I was shaken and even all these years later I cannot use her name.

 Sadly, my lady’s second husband died and she was alone again. With failing health, she had to go into a nursing home. Her body was frail but her mind was as sharp as ever. I visited her there until she died. I loved and admired her greatly. She was inspiration for a book that changed my life. What I choose to remember of that special lady is a photograph tacked onto the wall of the small stuffy room where she ended her days. It was of a beautiful young girl, with her life in front of her, smiling in a field full of flowers, somewhere in Slovakia..

Sea Music was refused by nine publishers before HarperCollins picked it up. It was my breakthrough novel and was published in ten languages. It is the only book that I have ever had posted on billboards at railway stations. It led me to many wonderful people and exciting and enriching  experiences.

While researching for Sea Music I came across the name Irena Sendlerowa. She was a social worker who worked for the Polish Underground Resistance in WW2. She was the courageous woman who smuggled hundreds of Jewish children out of the Warsaw Ghetto. She was caught by the Germans and tortured. I knew she had to go in my book, but I did not think she was still alive.

About a year after the book was published, out of the blue, a Polish woman called Lily rang me after reading Sea Music and told me she was a friend of Irena Sendlerova. Did I know she was still alive and living quietly in Warsaw? Stunned, I told her no. She said she was going to Poland shortly and she was going to take Mrs Sendlerova a copy. I told her Sea Music was being translated into Polish. Was I going to Poland?  Lily asked. Was there a launch? Would I like to meet Irena Sendlerowa?

 Lily and I met in Warsaw for the (very odd) Polish launch of SEA MUSIC and Lily took me to see a very frail Irena Sendlerowa in her flat. She was frail and we did not stay long. She had the Polish version of my book on her bedside table. She was warm and gentle and still suffering the long -term effects of her capture by the Germans. She was mystified about why I had put her into my book.  To have the privilege of meeting this wonderful brave and humble woman was the most profound experience of my life.

Sea Music was refused  by publishers who thought the subject of the Holocaust and middle -class life did not sit well together.  When I gave talks about the book my audience were mostly middle class, often Jewish women who related passionately to Martha in my book because of the experiences of their parents, family members or friends. So many stories. So much bravery…

Follow Sara