As a writer of historical fiction, I think that writers owe it to their readers to provide some reference as to the veracity of the information he or she is providing even if it is a fictional work. I mix true stories based on facts that appear in history books with plausible fictional characters and events. I stick as close to the facts as possible.
And when I say that my new novel Shipwrecked Lives is based on 2,000 pages of testimony given before the Commission of Inquiry into the sinking of the Empress of Ireland passenger liner in the St. Lawrence River on May 29, 1914, I am serious. The testimony before the court in my novel is almost word for word. I don’t invent testimony when I have the real thing before me. By saying this in the foreword to a book, you are defining the limits of invention within the work. It is important because the reader can believe that the novel is really based on a true story.
Shipwrecked Lives is a fascinating historical novel for Canada and Quebec putting the reader on the waterfront in the Port of Quebec in the summer of 1914. The harbour was filled with boats of all kinds: schooners, goélettes, coastal steamers, tenders, barges, ferries, shallow-draft lighters and harbour runabouts. Calèches and hansom cabs were the favoured method of transport in town. Newspaper reporters from around the world gathered in the town to report the latest details emerging from the Commission of Inquiry.
One of the most amazing scenes in Shipwrecked Lives was the opening of the Purser’s safe in the lobby of the Bank of Montreal on rue St-Pierre in Quebec City. The CPR had paid the salvage company to remove the safe from the wreck and haul it to Quebec City to be opened under controlled circumstances so no false claims could be made to fortunes lost on the ship (which was the case of the Titanic disaster). This was a huge job and the divers had to cut a hole in the ship’s side and bring out a safe the size of a phone booth encased in steel. I won’t tell you any more, but a locksmith opened the safe in front of the press in the lobby of the bank and the shock was total.
*Originally posted in July 2018