There are fringe benefits to writing about true mysteries. Sometimes you find you can actually touch them in some way. This was particularly the case with my first novel The Murder Tree, when I imagined what it might be like for someone from the present day to discover their personal connection to someone involved in a historic murder. It was hugely satisfying for me to be approached by one lady who read the book and realised not one but two of her ancestors had been closely involved with the nineteenth century crime! Karen Clarke has since explored her family tree more closely, and fed me with some snippets of historical information that add to my own interest in the story of Jessie McLachlan.
I’m not sure that The Titanic Document will follow a similar pattern, but already one reader has supplied a curiously personal anecdote that ties in with my observation of events from 1912. Jenny Edwards tells me that one of her distant relations is in her late 90s and still lives independently somewhere in the south of England. It appears she too had experience of a historical figure who features strongly in the Titanic part of my novel: She and her siblings were dumped in an orphanage by their father after their mother died. Upon leaving the orphanage, she went into service and got a job as a chambermaid in the House of Commons. Following this she obtained a new placement as a parlour maid, still in London, to a family in Mayfair I believe. She told me, and I quote "They had already been ostracised by London society. Their name was Ismay".
Joseph Bruce Ismay, Chairman of the White Star Line that owned Titanic, escaped any blame at the British Inquiry, but his standing in London society was severely damaged. He did indeed live in Mayfair until his death in 1937 at the age of 74, leaving behind his wife and five children. If my assumptions of his part in the 1912 disaster are correct, together with his conduct during the Inquiry, it is hardly surprising that the family felt ostracised. Imagine the private conversations that would have been witnessed by that parlour maid… Now there’s another story!
Need to know:
I don’t just write fiction.