Although it’s more than a century since the sinking of the Titanic in April 1912, people are still fascinated by the tragedy and artefacts that have been recovered from the ship are prized. When I began toying with ideas for the plot of A Timeless Celebration, I did some background research about the town that inspired Fenwater, including online browsing through the collection of the local museum.
I was excited to stumble across a pocket watch that was labelled as a possession of a Titanic survivor. But I felt a quick let down when I read the detailed description of the item and discovered that the survivor had owned the watch later in life and it had not been aboard the ill-fated ship. The watch lost its significance for me. But, although this item did not have the historical significance I had hoped for, it got me thinking and the idea grew that an artefact from the Titanic should play a part in my novel.
My research revealed that since the Titanic’s resting place was discovered in 1985, several salvage operations have retrieved a huge number of artefacts from the seabed around the wreck. In fact, so much has been amassed that Guernsey’s Auctioneers & Brokers in New York, in a controversial auction, sold more than 5000 items estimated to be worth $190 million in a single lot in 2012. Included in the sale were watches, jewellery, clothing, a cook’s hat, binoculars, tableware and much more. The lack of light and air on the ocean floor as well as the fact that goods were made to be durable a century ago goes a long way to explain why so many of these items have survived in the depths of ocean for so long.
As well as items recovered by salvagers, personal items found on the bodies of victims also survive. First Class Lift Attendant Alfred King from Tyneside possessed a copy of a telegram from his uncle to his family telling them not to worry about Alfred as the ship was unsinkable. The telegram and other personal effects, including Alfred’s pipe, purse and watch were on his body when it was found.
Of the many types of items that have survived the shipwreck, I think one of the most poignant is the pocket watch, a personal item that was often engraved and spanned the social classes. They were recovered from many bodies, including wealthy businessman, John J Astor; second class passenger and Cornwall native John Chapman, who was travelling to America to start a new life with his bride, and third class passenger Mary Mangan from Addergoole parish, Ireland.
Pocket watches consist of many tiny components which can easily be damaged by rough use and the oil that greased the internal mechanism was prone to freeze at very low temperatures. So many of these watches stopped when their owners were thrown into the ocean as the ship sank. Their hands still displaying the time they stopped provide a chilling reminder of the tragedy.
After reading about some of the individual tragedies associated with these items, a pocket watch that had survived the sinking of the Titanic seemed the right choice for the artefact that would be central to my novel’s plot. It’s small and easy to conceal, which would make its theft practicable and it’s an item that has huge emotional significance. So an antique lady’s pocket watch became the starting point for A Timeless Celebration.
So far, from what I’ve told you, you know that the watch in the story has been stolen. Who did it or why? Well, you’ll have to read the novel for those answers. But the novel isn’t available yet. I’ve finished writing it and am ready to edit and print it – when I have raised the money to do so. Pre-ordering a copy of the novel, which you will receive before it’s released on Amazon, will help to make the book happen. Find out more: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1073238739/a-timeless-celebration-a-century-cottage-cozy-myst