Hope you’re well! I’ve had some good news: Palgrave Macmillan has agreed to publish my forthcoming monograph in their Crime Files series! More on this later.
This month, I self-published a short novella set on board the Titanic during its doomed maiden voyage. This is very special for me, because it represents regained self-confidence in writing and sharing creatively.
The Plot: 1912. The Titanic sets sail. They call it the Ship of Dreams, a triumphant construction that will take passengers to New York and into the twentieth century. But when a simple maid is murdered on board, there is a band of VIP suspects. The spiritualist, the art dealer, the suffragist, the crime writer… which of them did it? And why? Grace Ayres needs to know what happened to her sister, and Edgar Cain, a matinee idol with a secret, wants to help her. But when the ship strikes ice, does the truth really matter…?
It was this idea of a denouement on board a sinking ship that started it off for me. I wanted one person, eager to know the truth about a mystery, while others are just trying to save their own lives. It seems ridiculous (wouldn’t you find a lifeboat?) but what if you needed to know something, and preferred knowledge and death to a life of open questions? What if you had to make a snap judgment at a time of crisis?
The most famous sinking ship of all was irresistible. The Titanic represents the end of a gilded era, but also the height of arrogance, doomed to end badly. It was all style over substance – stunning decors, every comfort, and next to no lifeboats – designed to transport gilded imperial lilies all over the world. And its sinking was a wake-up call.
At the same time, a relatively young genre of popular fiction was gaining prominence: the detective novel. Arthur Conan Doyle was losing his appeal – his straightforward adventure stories were, perhaps, getting too jingoistic. The puzzle-based format had been around for a while but it was yet to take off in earnest. The genre was in an ever-growing, ever-glorified state of flux. I wanted to reflect this both in the structure of Dead in the Water and through a character: a crime writing priest known as the Clerical Terror.
I wrote this 17,000 word story as part of my MA dissertation, nearly five years ago. It obsessed me: the whole story of the Titanic, the weird world and customs of 1912… the characters, too, became real. I had a dream in which Grace Ayres chased me around Exeter train station, accusing me of her sister’s murder. Rood Hall and its inhabitants are real to me: in my head I know where it is, when it was built, and who lives there now (the wealthy Hooker family sold it in the 1920s. If you follow my writing, you’ll hear more about it one day). If I saw a copy of Hadley Chase Mortimer’s The Super Detective or The Body in the Billiard Room in a bookshop, I would pick it up with delight and recognise familiar passages that nobody, of course, has ever written.
Research, too, was meticulous. The Hooker family in the story is distantly related to two (real) prominent families in the nineteenth century: the Hookers of Devon and those of Boston. A certain Mrs Hooker, from America, was a well-known medium. I still know their family trees by heart. It was such fun to research the changing world of the early 1910s: imminent war, the cinema in its infancy, music hall artistes, sexual mores, class restrictions and class mobility, Anglo-American relations, popular songs, how people ate, spiritualism, baronetcies, the theft of the Mona Lisa…. And ice. Ice pierces. Ice melts.
The idea had been to self-publish in the run up to the Titanic’s centenary in 2012, but negative, unconstructive feedback from a famous writer put me off. It put me off pursuing the project, and it put me off writing altogether. From that day, until putting this up online, I didn’t shared my prose with anyone. A couple of months ago, I revisited my dissertation and the feedback. And I thought, this is quite good! The negative comments from the famous writer didn’t bother me so much; with a little more confidence than before, I just disagreed with them. I was proud of my work, and actually enjoyed reading it. Hopefully, you will, too.
Oh, and I’m pleased as punch with the solution! It is one of the few ‘twists’ that Agatha Christie never wrote! If you’ve read it, what did you think?
Thank you, Tina, for this lovely review:
You can buy Dead in the Water, an e-book from Amazon UK or Amazon US, or any other Amazon store. If you have Kindle Unlimited, it’s free! Either way, have a look at the preview and see what you think. :)