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.
And UK politicians.
Because both feature heavily in THE TITANIC DOCUMENT.
I lived through the Seventies and Eighties, hence I remember certain newsworthy events from that era pretty well. For example, I remember hearing how a prominent politician and leader of the Liberal Democrats had been sent to trial in 1979 on charges of conspiracy and incitement to murder. Jeremy Thorpe’s fall from grace was more recently depicted on screen by Hugh Grant in a TV mini-series entitled “A Very English Scandal”. In 1979 we knew nothing of Thorpe’s sexual tastes.
Same era, same political party – and another “larger than life” character: Cyril Smith, MP for Rochdale. I remember being impressed with his blunt speaking, his sense of humour, and his ability to make fun of his size (over 400 pounds weight). A fellow northerner with a BIG personality – and a close friend of Jimmy Savile, who in turn got on very well with a certain Margaret Thatcher. Savile’s TV career was soaring throughout the Eighties. But as we were to learn later, so many of those close to him were turning a blind eye to his sexual perversions. It was a different world back then.
In recent years we have seen investigations into sexual abuse reported in the media, and the names of Savile and Smith achieved a different kind of fame. Their crimes against children in particular were horrific, and it was the freedom with which those men operated that encouraged me to create the character of Peter Gris for THE TITANIC DOCUMENT.
While not based on any individual, my fictitious politician begins the story in 1985 as Margaret Thatcher’s newly appointed Secretary of State for Northern Ireland – immediately before the wreck of Titanic was discovered by Robert Ballard. That event in turn occurred only weeks before the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement in November. Peter Gris would therefore have been actively concerned with a treaty intended to bring an end to “The Troubles” in the place of Titanic’s birth. Using my writer’s philosophy to ask the question “What if?”, I endowed this high-ranking politician with select characteristics from each of Thorpe, Smith and Savile. (He’s not a nice guy – but on the surface??)
So, now you know a little of the background to the key “villain” of the story. Far-fetched? I would say not. In fact, I’d challenge anyone to prove that such a powerfully-placed person could not exist in present-day political circles.
Makes you think, doesn’t it?
Next, I’ll share some personal details on what influenced me to write THE TITANIC DOCUMENT.
Need to know:
I don’t just write fiction.