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!)
Need to know:
I don’t just write fiction.