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Ralph Hammond Innes was an only child in an English family of Scottish descent. He started writing as a child. He graduated from the Cranbrook School, Kent, in 1931, but instead of following his father into the banking profession, he chose journalism. In 1937, he married Dorothy Mary Lang, an actress and a relative of Sir Walter Scott and Andew Lang. That same year, he published his first novel, The Doppelganger. Wreckers Must Breathe and The Trojan Horse came out in 1940. At the start of World War II, Innes volunteered for the armed forces. He served in the Royal Artillery and rose to the rank of major. In 1941, he published a war novel, Attack Alarm, which was the only story of the Battle of Britain written on a gunside under fire. He continued to write during the war, and his books were serialized in the USA in the Saturday Evening Post. After the war, he became a full-time writer and one of the most popular thriller writers in the English language. Until 1953, he also published children's books under the pseudonym Ralph Hammond. Maddon's Rock (1948) dealt with Innes's favorite element, the sea, as did The Wreck of the Mary Deare (1956). Many of Innes's travel pieces appeared in the American magazine Holiday. A collection, Harvest of Journeys, came out in 1960. It was followed in 1967 by Sea and Islands. His wife described their trips in her book Occasions (1972), using the pen name Dorothy Hammond Innes. Innes bought a 42-foot ocean racer named Mary Deare with the money he made selling the rights of his novel to MGM, and the couple sailed the coast of Europe from the Baltic to the Bay of Biscay. His historical works included The Conquistadors (1969) and The Last Voyage (1978), a fictionalized account of Captain Cook's voyage. His final novel, Delta Connection (1996), included all the familiar elements of a Hammond Innes book: daring escapes, cliffhanging situations, and overpowering forces of nature. His works were translated into more than 30 languages and several were adapted into films or mini-series for the BBC. Innes served as vice-president of the Association of Sea Training Organisations. He was made a C.B.E. in 1978, and shared a 1993 Bouchercon Lifetime Achievement award, given at the Anthony Boucher Memorial World Mystery Convention, with Ralph McInerny.
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