It isn’t necessary to have read The Murder Tree to enjoy The Titanic Document. Some of the same characters appear in both stories, but the plots and sub-plots are not related.
Wait a minute… “Plots and sub-plots”? What do I mean by that?
Okay, as the main purpose of these posts is to give readers an insight into what I do as a writer, it may be worth a word of explanation. Most storylines work on at least two layers. The surface layer is the plot that runs through the whole book, while underneath there is usually a connected theme that evolves as the main story unfolds. Take Dickens’ A Christmas Carol for example. The (surface) plot concerns a miserly man haunted by ghosts who visit him over three nights. But the sub-plot is about the poverty of people around Scrooge, and how it affects his relationship with them.
So, looking back at The Murder Tree, the top layer is the search for a personal connection between ancestor and descendant over a murder in Victorian Glasgow. Beneath that are the criminal actions of a brilliant academic using his unique talents to further his personal ambitions. One of the main characters is Billie Vane, a Manchester-born librarian working in Glasgow’s Mitchell Library. He is befriended by an American girl, Chrissie Fersen, and helps with her quest to understand how she relates to a woman convicted of killing her best friend. Throughout that story, Billie is often at odds with Chrissie’s protective brother Ed, who remains sceptical of Billie’s interest in his sister. At the end of this first story, Billie and Ed become friends.
On to The Titanic Document. Six years have passed, and the friendship is now well-established. An author attends The Mitchell Library in Glasgow to promote a new book about Titanic and her sister ship Olympic. Billie and Ed both attend the talk, one from a personal interest in the tragedy and the other as a marine engineer. The two are drawn into providing professional research input for a second book by the author, unaware that a high-ranking politician is taking extreme measures to obtain a document he believes to be in the author’s possession. And he’s desperate enough to commit murder in the process.
The sub-plot here is built on the criminal activities of a former Cabinet minister. In earlier posts I’ve made no secret of my cynicism for the UK political elite. To a degree that is a result of personal experience, but when looking for material for a second novel I was heavily influenced by news articles from 2016 – the period in which much of The Titanic Document is set. One such story was the demise of Operation Midland, an investigation by Metropolitan Police into allegations of child sexual abuse and homicide. Coupling that with media accounts of personalities like Jimmy Savile, Cyril Smith and Jeremy Thorpe, a toxic mix of powerful men abusing their positions seemed to me a suitable vehicle for development. I make no apologies for including sections in my story that might be labelled “adults only”, but on the subject of “abuse” I found further examples attributed to figures in the story of Titanic. I didn’t need to dig too deeply to find parallels between the political climates of 1912 and the present. In 2016, the UK voted on a referendum to leave the European Union, while America stunned us all by electing Donald Trump as President. Just over a hundred years earlier powerful businessmen with ambitions in America and the UK tried to capitalise on a developing situation in Europe that would lead to international turmoil. Not much difference there.
That then is the “Who” (Billie, Ed, an author, the police and some dodgy politicians), and the “What” is the plot and the sub-plot. I’ve also touched on the “When” – 1912 and 2016 – but in the next post I’ll explain why historical events in 1985 also played a key part.
By the way, THE TITANIC DOCUMENT is now available to pre-order online at all the big bookstores – including Waterstones, W H Smith and the new Bookshop.org. (Oh, and Amazon, naturally!)
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(I don’t just write fiction.