The old adage of walking a mile in another person’s shoes in order to feel their truth is vital. Authors do this every day. But what if those shoes were on Titanic?
An author who writes about the Titanic must transport themselves to the Titanic during its final hours. I had to feel the terror as the truth dawned:
I’m on a sinking ship. I can’t swim. Below me is the dark freezing waters of the North Atlantic. Flares explode like gunfire. The night sky, filled with stars, bursts with shooting red S.O.S. comets that plummet and fizzle into the horizon. I huddle into a lifejacket wishing I’d brought my gloves. I stand, pushed aside on the boat deck with chaos erupting into fights over going and staying. For a while I’m a woman in first class clutching a jewelry box. I must say goodbye to my grown son. I’m the wife who won’t leave her beloved husband. I stand on deck – a wealthy millionaire stripped of power, consigned to die. I don’t want to die. It’s women and children first. I’m supposed to be stoic and fearless and heroic, but I don’t want to die. I’m going to die.
Most of the time I’m Finn Cleary, a five-year-old boy in steerage, about to drown, locked behind a metal gate guarded by crewmen following cruel orders. I’m angry and abandoned. Betrayed. I’ve been Finn’s mother and his father. I’ve been his brother and his baby sister. I’m the baby onboard he’s supposed to marry.
I feel nauseating panic. I feel the ship list. I fall against corridor walls, grab at slippery doorknobs and clutch stair railings. I watch Titanic from a lifeboat. I watch the lifeboats from the boat deck. I avoid the spillage of loose items cascading down ‘Scotland Road.’ I slide and stumble and climb, gravity challenged and frantic.
In other words, I wear the shoes of every man woman and child on board and experience the horrifying truths of gut-wrenching terror. I am traumatized. Sickened. Nothing is real. Everything is all too real. I’m compelled to write a story in a state of shock.
MUSEUMS ARE TIME MACHINES; ARTIFACTS ARE GHOSTS; AUTHORS ARE TIME TRAVELERS
What is great about writing fiction is how quickly inspiration arrives when strolling through an art gallery or a museum. What’s sad about writing historical fiction is that the everyday human details of obscure individuals are unfairly eclipsed by the famous. Some identities are misappropriated, others are relegated to the historical background, but most are lost completely. That’s why I like to mind-travel to fifteenth-century Florence to track down missing art, and breathe life into unrecorded lives. Finding forgotten people often begins at the end – their gravesites and locations of buildings that no longer exist.
When I moved to Nova Scotia I did what I always do in a new place. I explored the local heritage. I visited the Titanic graves, moved by toys left in the rain for the unknown child. Some were wrapped in cellophane to keep them dry, and I thought, no, they should succumb to weather to make sense. I couldn’t help but connect the similarity, albeit climatically opposite, to the childhood toys of Tutankhamun left in his tomb for his afterlife pleasure.
Quite often the graves of heroic figures exist only in memory. Leonardo da Vinci’s remains were desecrated for building renovations after the French Revolution; Mozart was buried in a mass grave; and then there’s the opposite – the tributes to unknown soldiers and the monuments honoring entire clans on a battlefield. Beautiful architecture is often confiscated and turned into offices or worse, car parks. There’s often no place to pay one’s respects above a final resting place. Only a few privileged divers will ever gaze at Titanic from a submarine window.
Behind every museum artifact is the ghost of a love story. Behind every story of love there’s a hint of magic. Behind every lost soul there’s heartbreak and jealousy.
‘THE UNTHINKABLE SHOES’ – a TITANIC-inspired novel by V. KNOX– a novel of Literary Fiction /Magical Realism to be released on or before April 15th 2016 – the 104th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic.