Look at this photo. Recognise the subject? Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus” is one of the most famous paintings on the planet, so I’d be surprised if your answer was “no”. This is the original, hanging in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. I know that because I took the photo myself, and a quick check online will confirm that is where the painting presently hangs. Fact.
Or is it?
We live in a sophisticated world. Our resources seem infinite, with freedom to gather information from books, magazines, newspapers and TV, or through the worldwide web. You can even speak to someone in person. Like me. I’ve been to the Uffizi Gallery and seen it with my own eyes, so that HAS to be the original fifteenth century painting on display, doesn’t it? But then, what would I know? I could only tell you what I have been told. And that information could have been false. I have no reason to doubt the claims of staff at the Uffizi, but how do we KNOW that what is on display is not a clever fake? Could the original instead be adorning the wall of some private collector, having previously been stolen to order – with the Gallery too embarrassed to admit a deception had taken place?
If that sounds more like a plot for a novel, forgive me. Such ideas are not new, and I have no intention of starting such a project. My point is simply to illustrate that most of us tend to accept what we are told at face value.
Right now, our world is suffering from the ongoing effects of a pandemic. Misinformation is rife, and lives are being lost as a result. Climate change is also a hot topic, with vast numbers of us under threat if our world leaders don’t agree on how to tackle it. But then those leaders are listening to their political advisers as well as to scientists – and again there are huge disagreements over “the facts”.
Here in the UK, many of us have been enjoying a TV drama aptly titled “Line of Duty”. The subject is anti-corruption among police officers, although the developing storyline also implicates political figures. In the real world, as I write this, the media are speculating on the potential fallout for the Prime Minister if he is found to have lied about money spent on his Downing Street apartment. Local elections are imminent, the Electoral Commission are investigating, and we are left in no doubt that there are serious questions to be answered about the PM’s behaviour. Fiction and fact – both painting a picture of lies and misrepresentation.
The BBC’s political editor, Laura Kuenssberg, today supplied a quote from a former minister once close to Boris Johnson: “The PM treats facts like he treats all his relationships – utterly disposable once inconvenient. It’s all about power. Facts, policies, people – they all get ditched if they get in the way.” It is easy to be cynical about what we read online, or watch on the television news. But when we are asked to elect someone based on the promises they make, we do need to consider whether we are happy to put our livelihoods in their hands. Does it make a difference if we are being lied to?
Politics aside, I believe a little scepticism is a healthy thing. Taking information at face value, on the other hand, can be risky. We’re all in the Gallery. Do we believe our own eyes? Or are we happy to accept what’s in front of us because it LOOKS like the real thing?
To quote Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Happiness is just an illusion caused by the temporary absence of reality.”
March 2021: the month I publish my second novel, and I find myself looking back while looking forward.
On the one hand, all the work that went into Novel Number Two is (on the face of it) coming to an end. All the hours spent at a keyboard, typing the words or searching for inspiration online; all the physical research, note-taking, questions and discussion – hours and hours of my life spent in pursuit of producing a story for public consumption. Has it been worth it?
In financial terms, the short answer would certainly be “no”.
Very few authors make money and I am no exception to that rule. While the exercise of writing costs very little (assuming you own a laptop and suitable software), it is what happens after completing the first draft that draws on the bank balance. Independent writers (like me) usually hand our manuscript over to an editor, who then marks our efforts with all manner of corrections/suggestions while charging a pretty penny for his/her time. Fair enough. That process is intended to polish up our raw material and produce something more palatable for public consumption. Imagine a diamond dug out of a mine. At first it looks fairly nondescript, misshapen and dirty, but once it passes through the hands of the cutters and polishers, that same diamond will gleam and sparkle. If my editor acts as the cutter, then my publisher does the polishing – another service I have to pay for. This second stage of the process sees my manuscript put through proofing and typesetting, then printing and binding with an attractive eye-catching cover. That needs skill, time and professional attention to detail. Then there’s the marketing etc, etc. You get the picture?
So, at present I am well and truly out of pocket, which is where I should be. I got what I paid for, and now I have to wait and see if readers will buy my stuff. This, then, is where I hope the answer to the question “Has it been worth it?” will produce a different answer.
It took me around two years to write this book. During that time I changed the title from Sisters, and right now I’m contemplating whether my readers will pick up the strong siblings theme running through the story. The Titanic Document is the second adventure for my librarian character, and I felt it was time to tell my readers why Billie Vane spells his name the female way. Will that tick a box for someone? How will people react to my handling of the child abuse element of the plot? My last novel was a crime thriller, yet this time around the emphasis shifts to politics, so how will that go down? Then there’s the fictional theory I constructed about Titanic’s fate– and which surprised even me when I found it to be more plausible than I first realised. All this is now ‘out there’, and I am about to discover what the first readers think of my work. It is THAT part of the process which motivates me to be a writer in the first place. I formulated some ideas in my head and shared them with the world, and now I await the world’s reaction. I know I won’t please everyone. That’s the nature of the beast. But believe me, if just ONE person reads this story and tells me they enjoyed it, then the effort WILL be worth it.
March 2021. Note to self: the wait is almost over.
If you look at the front cover of The Titanic Document you will see the words The Truth Is About To Surface. From my author’s perspective the intention is to intrigue potential readers about what they might discover within the pages of my book. Will this truth reveal something about the sinking of that great ship? Unlikely, as this is a work of fiction. Reading the text on the back cover makes it clear that it is a political thriller, so perhaps this is an implication of how truth can be a threat to politicians?
My simple (and truthful) answer would be that it means both those things.
When looking for an angle on Titanic that I felt would lend itself to my genre, I had several options. Many authors have been inspired by her tragic history, and I had no wish to trot out one more book that trivialised hundreds of deaths in the pursuit of a fictional thrill. For me, a conscious respect for those directly affected by the tragic event would influence my handling of “The Truth”. I needed to look at arguments presented by historians and established aficionados. One opinion that intrigued me was the idea Titanic had been secretly swapped for her sister ship Olympic, and that the owners had planned an insurance scam that went tragically wrong. This was a theory championed by Robin Gardiner in his (non-fictional) Titanic – The Ship That Never Sank? The book was published in 1998 and the switching of ships theory has since been largely discredited. But Gardiner did convince me of one thing: somebody’s plans HAD gone wrong (causing unintentional loss of life), but what exactly were those plans?
Answering that important question was the key for me to build my fictional story: My librarian character of Billie Vane could do some research in that direction. All I had to do was build a plausible theory for him to find.
The politics of 1912 provided more material. Ambitious men of power in an era of turmoil between nations – the stuff of life that is as relevant today as it was in the years preceding the Great War. The American entrepreneur J P Morgan was the ultimate owner of Titanic and Olympic. He pulled all the strings, held vast wealth and influence in business circles, but found himself frustrated by those walking the corridors of Westminster. He had ambitions for dominating the profitable Atlantic shipping route, in direct competition with Cunard, and he was not one to give up without a fight. Think Elon Musk today!
If plans affecting the fate of Titanic need attribution to anyone, who better than the ship’s owner? John Pierpont Morgan was a man who sought fortune before fame, and was content to keep a much lower profile than Mr Musk. Factual accounts of his activities are scarce. To present a realistic yet controversial stimulus, I invented a boardroom scene featuring Morgan chairing a meeting that included the ship’s builder Lord Pirrie and White Star Line’s Bruce Ismay. Following the severe damage caused to Olympic while Titanic was still under construction, it was inevitable such a meeting would have taken place, and no doubt there would have been written notes. But no such record is in the public domain. My fictional version of those notes forms the basis of “The Document” in my story.
This, as they say, is where the plot thickens.
And, like all good thrillers, there’s a delicious twist!
No spoilers here, but while weaving facts into interesting strands to build a story from my imagination, I stumbled on a discovery that was NOT fictional: historical detail that appears to support my own “conspiracy” theory! I read plenty of contemporary accounts in my attempt to make the story as authentic as possible, including the records from the British Inquiry following the disaster. Within those pages are the words of Bruce Ismay himself, and at one point he makes a statement that, taken on its own, has no apparent meaning. But when read in the context of the fiction I’d created myself, has a more curious connotation. Could I have accidentally stumbled on another Truth? You can make up your own minds by reading the extract featured within the pages of The Titanic Document.
Please remember that I wrote this story as entertainment. I do not seek to participate in a serious debate on what happened to Titanic in April 1912, but I remain convinced that what I have presented for public consumption is a good basis for an argument. You can judge for yourselves, but whatever you believe IS The Truth, I do hope you enjoy the way I’ve told it.
Finally, while 28th March 2021 is the official publication date for the paperback version of The Titanic Document, there is every likelihood that retailers will receive physical copies earlier than that. It is simply a matter of when the printer delivers, which I understand can be up to two weeks before the advertised date. Don’t be surprised if (after placing an advance order), you receive your copy before the month end!
WHERE can you get a copy? Answer: any online bookstore! WHEN? As an eBook from 8th MARCH; as a paperback from 28th MARCH. (Pre-orders now being accepted)
The crime that originally inspired me to write The Murder Tree took place in 1862. But for the main part I set my story in 2010, focussing on people in present day Glasgow, Perth and Inverness, as well as across the pond in the USA. These were my fictional heroes and villain, but the settings were locations from a familiar world. When it came to my second novel, the historical events surrounding the sinking of Titanic occupy a relatively small amount of the story. For the most part the narrative is set in 2016, principally in Manchester, Lancashire and Merseyside.
But I set the opening chapters in Northern Ireland in 1985. Why?
Three things: Titanic was born in Belfast; the wreck was found at the bottom of the Atlantic in September; and in November the Anglo-Irish Agreement signalled the beginning of the end for The Troubles.
Controversy and drama accompanied all three.
I felt this was the ideal starting point for a political thriller. A British agent is sent to kill a dissident Irish police officer, and to destroy documents that could threaten the peace treaty. But the full scope of the mission has not been officially sanctioned. The man who ordered it, Cabinet minister Peter Gris, has his own personal agenda, and this is just the beginning of a mounting body count.
Thirty years later, as Britain faces political upheaval from the European referendum, Peter Gris remains an influential figure in the Conservative Party. But a loose end from 1985 returns to threaten his future, and the author of a new book about Titanic appears to be the source. Billie Vane unwittingly puts his own life at risk by helping the author, following a trail that leads him back to his home city of Manchester, before an explosive conclusion at the railway station in Preston.
But at the heart of this story are the disastrous events from 1912. The question of how Titanic came to hit an iceberg in the middle of the Atlantic is what intrigues Billie Vane in the first place. Was the sinking a simple matter of bad luck? Or did tragedy strike as a result of plans that were criminally ambitious?
The Titanic Document blends historical facts with imaginative fiction, and ultimately it is up to the reader to decide whether the real truth has finally surfaced.
COMING NEXT: Titanic facts and myths – and the discovery of a secret in plain sight.
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!)
It has been over seven years since I published The Murder Tree. At that time I had no plans for writing another novel. This was a one-off, an outlet for a story that had been nagging away at my brain for years. That might have been my one and only attempt at fiction, especially as the next project on my To Do List was a non-fiction piece from my own family history. But the reaction from readers of The Murder Tree was so warm that I knew a second novel deserved serious consideration.
So, here it is.
Right now, The Titanic Document is only weeks away from publication. In this post I want to explain a little about the process of bringing my second novel to print, and over the intervening period I will tell you more about the story itself.
But first, why has it taken so long?
The simple answer is: I write slowly! Every writer has his or her own methods. Some (like me) need time for ideas to formulate, and have distractions in their lives that often pull them away from the keyboard. Sometimes that link between brain and fingers NEEDS to be broken to preserve a semblance of normality (or avoid domestic strife). Others apply themselves every day, treating their writing hours like a job and being supremely disciplined about it. L J Ross is an independent author at the top of the Amazon rankings who regularly trots out several books per year. That works for her, but a conveyor belt mentality would never do for me. I prefer to treat my work as a craft proceeding at its own pace. Then there’s another element I feel that separates my style from Ross’s: teamwork.
Authors can be solitary individuals, and today’s technology allows a writer to produce a document they can publish themselves using Amazon’s proprietary software. No middle-man. Quick and relatively easy. If you have the creative skills, the dedication and the technical mindset that Ross clearly displays, you can make a success of being a one-woman band. I did something similar when I published my mother’s memoir (A Kangaroo In My Sideboard) through Amazon in 2018. But the major difference between me and L J Ross is that, in writing both The Murder Tree and The Titanic Document, I incorporated a team of experts at every stage.
That process did slow things down, but for me, feedback on my draft work was hugely important. Periodically I would receive critique from fellow writers on the text I produced. Then I would make adjustments, or re-write sections. Even when I’d finished the whole story, I employed a professional editor to provide an in-depth analysis that induced further changes before starting the publication process with Troubador. Their professional services (typesetting, design, marketing and distribution) can easily take around six months, even longer for the big traditional publishing houses like Random House, Penguin or Harper Collins. All these companies (including Troubador) have high standards, and the quality of the books they put on shelves in our shops and libraries is what I aim to match.
So, it all takes time.
I’ll end this post with a link to Troubador’s shop window. This is where you will find the paperback version of my second novel, and because of the present restrictions imposed around Covid-19, it’s a useful place to obtain a physical copy in future. Have a look around HERE. The standard of the products on offer is second to none, and each one only gets there after months of careful application by a team of skilled professionals. I’m proud to work with people who care as much as I do about quality – but, at the end of the day, it is the reader who will judge the end product.
In around eight weeks’ time…
COMING NEXT: Who, What, Where and When? The Inside Story of The Titanic Document.
There is something to be said for Mother-in-Laws at Christmas. Mine (Edith) is 88 and becoming increasingly frail in recent years, but her contribution to 2020’s seasonal event was nothing short of spectacular. Before I tell you how she brought so much laughter to our Lockdown Festivities, a short prequel:
Edith had been a regular visitor to ours for Sunday dinner, when I would make the half mile drive to my brother-in-law’s house to collect her from her granny annexe. Last February, oblivious to how the world was about to be torn asunder, we’d all enjoyed my wife’s ample roast, and it was time to take Edith back home. I stood on the driveway holding the passenger door open, took mum’s handbag off her while she placed one foot inside the car – and then found myself pushed violently backwards as my elderly charge lost her balance. We both fell to the ground, Edith on top as I had the presence of mind to cradle her head from hitting the concrete. The result could have been worse – a bruised ego for me, but a nasty broken ankle for my passenger.
Since that fateful day, Edith recovered well, but like so many people of her age she was frustrated by enforced isolation and extremely limited excursions outside her home. Christmas Day 2020 would be her first return visit, so I was understandably nervous of my duties.
But it started well enough. I couldn’t help smiling when I collected her. She was standing there, dressed all in black apart from a fluffy white hat that somehow made me think of Cruella de Ville. The hat was a Christmas gift, and not her normal choice of headgear, but what the heck? I noted with slight concern she was wearing a long skirt that came halfway down her calves, possibly restricting her movement. Hmmm… But we managed the first leg of our expedition, reaching the car without incident.
Our driveway is on a slight incline, potentially hazardous for elderly passengers entering or egressing vehicles, so I parked up on the level ground in front and walked round to assist Edith on the final leg of the journey. What came next could have been straight out of a Christmas Panto. Bearing in mind the previous calamity ten months ago, I was playing it extra careful. Guiding Edith to grab the edge of the door with one hand and my arm with the other, I was relieved to get her to stand with both feet on solid ground. But then it happened: Edith’s long black skirt dropped around her ankles!
Life, eh? The circle was complete. Mother-in-Law’s return was a total triumph. I did help Edith restore her dignity by pulling the skirt back up to its correct position (hem just below the knee) – but I was laughing my head off while I did it. To give the old girl her due, she handled it well. We got her safely in to the house, where she had a lovely meal before snoring gently under the noise from the telly. And yes, I also delivered her safely home, a smile on her face as if she’d planned the whole thing.
2020 has been quite a year, and I don’t apologise for beginning this post with a non-original phrase. I’m a little rusty, not having posted anything here for what - two months? That’s a little unusual for me, but then it all comes back to that phrase about Fact and Fantasy. Let me explain:
We’ve reached a time of the year when, in between the rush to be ready for Christmas, we tend to look back on the events of the year. I’m no exception to that, and as I’ve spent those last two months referred to above catching up on all manner of tasks, I’ve now started to count up the good stuff from 2020 against the bad. I’m one of the fortunate ones, having completed writing two books (*), enjoyed trips to both Crete and Australia, and spent time with the people I love. Against that, like many others, I have seen much of my normal expectations in life disappear. The virus caused that, but at least I was never close enough to personally fall victim.
My initial impressions in March were of a distant threat that was probably no more dangerous than a strong dose of the flu. My latest experience in the last week was of the death of the father of a close friend, a resident in a care home. Some lessons from life are the toughest to learn.
The coronavirus epidemic has been an education for us all. I’ve learned a lot. The most important one I will take with me into 2021 is the amount of influence politicians have over our lives. I was in Australia when the various governments around the world began to place restrictions on our daily lives. I saw what happened there, and then I left to endure the shambolic knee-jerk nature of decree exercised in Britain. It happened alongside the diminishing time for the UK to negotiate a trade deal with the European Union, another event which we hoped our political governors would handle with due care and urgent responsibility. No such luck!
So, this is where I come to the fact and the fantasy.
This year I can look back and realise how easy it is to be led by a fantasy and ignore the facts. That virus thing so far away is now ever-present around me, and affecting everything I do. I wrote a book that highlights the damage done to us all by politicians – a fictional story, but one based on facts. I watched the television news and noted how a US President could be so openly delusional, believing his own fantasies, while millions of Americans placed their trust and still gave him their vote. And here in the United Kingdom I saw the trust placed in our own government to do the right thing betrayed over and over again.
But, on the plus side, this year I’ve learned the power of a smile – even from behind a mask. I’ve seen communities come together and help strangers. I’ve found that people in other countries are just like us, and I know how good it feels to open up and to share our knowledge and our resources.
There’s a New Year ahead. Let’s all go into it better prepared from what we learned in 2020. We need to turn the fantasy of a better world into reality. And that’s a fact.
* Three Bears and a Jackaroo was published through KDP in June, and The Titanic Document is currently with my publisher Matador, due for publication in March 2021.
Well, it depends on what we’re talking about, but as I’m both a reader and a writer, the details I’m referring to here are the ones that enhance reading matter. Putting enough detail into a manuscript was the one thing I worried about when I started to make the transition from theatre scripts to books. Prior to writing my first novel I was accustomed to almost exclusively using dialogue to shape a story, and so I had a lot to learn. I knew what books I enjoyed reading, which authors I held in high esteem, and I knew I had to try and emulate their standard. So, for me, the detail did matter.
Look at the work of Agatha Christie or Arthur Conan Doyle. Think about the intricacy of plotting by those authors. Both used their medical skills from earlier professions to great effect, but the discipline they learned as a chemist or doctor also applied to the way they wrote. Their research was exemplary, and they put great care to make their characters recognisable as real people. Miss Marple made a point of applying her knowledge of human characteristics to understand those caught up in criminal activity. Reading about those incidents helps us all relate to them, making it easier to lose ourselves in the story.
So, let me tell you a little about how that applies technically for a writer. The detail in my head when I started out writing both my novels was sketchy at first. I knew the basic framework for beginning, middle and end. I had some ideas for particular incidents I wanted to include at some point, but I let the prose develop naturally. Many writers will do the same, often working through to the end, and then going back through their first draft to add extra layers of plot, or to take something out. But mainly they will put in little bits that complement the story, linking elements of plot or characters to enrich the detail. I tend to find myself regularly reviewing as I go along, and then look at the whole thing for further tweaking once that first draft is complete. Most writers do something similar, or… do they?
Yes, there are those that forget details, or just can’t be bothered – especially if they get the sales anyway. I know of one Amazon bestseller who churned out a new book every four months for the last five years. That kind of output is like a factory producing packets of cereal, and if you like that sort of thing, then fine. I read one out of interest but would never buy another as I found both the characters and the plotting to be too light on detail. Another author I encountered wrote a scene which just didn’t make sense. The story was building to an exciting climax. The heroine thought she was alone in an old house deep in the countryside when the killer broke in. She fled into the loft space and crept along in the dark hoping she could find a way down into the adjoining property. She could hear the bad guy behind her, but was relieved to find a hole just big enough to climb through. She swung her legs down first, aware that the villain was just seconds behind her. Then the writer ramped up the tension big time when she became stuck in the hole, staring up at her prospective killer. Now guess what part of her body got stuck. Hips? No. Shoulders? No. Answer: her HEAD. I know, I know. She must have been a very strange shape!
So, details do matter. Because if a writer doesn’t get them right and puts down something that (ahem) simply doesn’t fit, then it can ruin what otherwise might have been a decent story. Another point: Would I want to read any more stuff from that author? No. So no more sales there.
Details are important. I’ve just caught up on watching all five series of “Line Of Duty”. What terrific writing! The care and detail that went into making powerful drama out of each episode starts with the writer, Jed Mercurio. The standard of his scripts is matched by the actors and everyone working in production – and the success of the series is down to the lavish attention that is given to make the storylines as authentic as possible. Good writing is all about detail. Average writing skimps on it.
I’ll leave it to my own readers to judge where my books sit. Any observations so far?
A BLANK PAGE.
There is nothing more inspiring for a writer than that. Because it just demands to be filled.
But if I’m honest about the inspiration for writing The Titanic Document, it really comes down to two subjects: The Titanic and politicians.
I watched the 1958 movie A Night to Remember at the impressionable age of thirteen. A huge liner sunk in the middle of the Atlantic with only a third of those aboard surviving. Horrific – and then they told me it actually happened. A true story. WOW! The powerful nature of that event remained with me from the mid 1960’s.
Twenty years later, with the ship once again making headline news after its discovery by Robert Ballard, I was working for a provincial newspaper and received a copy of Titanic – Triumph and Tragedy by John P. Eaton and Charles A. Haas. It was a magnificent work, full of facts, figures and stories about the construction and the subsequent disaster. Around about the same time, my personal life was going into meltdown over my first wife’s adulterous affairs. Not a story for these pages but, to cut to the chase, one result of those affairs was a protracted argument with the British Government. It went on for years, and only came to an end after intervention by the European Court of Human Rights. I won the battle, but my personal encounter with government ministers left a bad taste.
It wasn’t helped in more recent years when in 2005 I helped champion a cause concerning my children’s primary school. Here I found myself up against the Education Department, who also failed to impress with their attitude. My experience with the Westminster crowd has therefore been more intimate than the average person, and I’ve not even touched on my years as a civil servant and union activist!
Okay. Titanic and politicians. I’ve had an interest in one, and less than happy experiences with the other. But what made me want to write a whole book around them?
The success of The Murder Tree demanded a sequel. My fascination with Titanic provided a historical back story in a similar fashion to Jessie McLachlan’s trial for murder in 1862. But I needed something “present day” to include in a contemporary thriller. In The Murder Tree I had a theme of futuristic science, with a gifted psychologist as my villain. In 2016 the UK was reeling from the result of the EU Referendum, and the exit of David Cameron as Prime Minister. The Metropolitan Police were also in the news as a result of two major investigations into the sex-lives of celebrities and politicians, sparked by the activities of Jimmy Savile and Cyril Smith.
Politics and Sex? Not a pleasant mix for some, but I looked no further.
Real life, no matter how raw, is always a source of inspiration.
Need to know:
I don’t just write fiction.