Araminta Hall, author of the novel Titanic: “It’s hard not to feel responsible”

Author Araminta Hall’s great-grandfather, Lawrence Beesley, survived the sinking of the Titanic in 1912 and wrote a book about it. He only survived because he went against the advice of others and ended up on the penultimate lifeboat.

raminta always wanted to novelize the story of his great-grandfather and wrote a thriller based on the Titanic.

The result is hidden depths. A young woman, Lily, is pregnant and is traveling on the ship with her husband, housekeeper, and doctor so she can have her baby near her family in the United States.

However, her husband is not the man he claims to be. Lily is not safe. She then meets a man named Lawrence, but will he be her means of survival? Well, maybe…Lawrence has his own plans and he doesn’t experience the journey like just about everyone else on board.

Here, Araminta discusses our endless fascination with the ship and the tragedy that remains so important to so many.

How much more personal did it feel to write hidden depths know your family’s connection to the Titanic?

Much more, because I have never written anything other than total fiction. In fact, I think that’s what took me so long to make it work because I had to let go to get into telling a story. Because, even though I’ve tried to be as accurate as possible with all the historical details, and even though I know so much about Lawrence, we never know exactly what anyone is thinking or feeling. So, in the end, I had to give in to my storytelling side and remind myself that I was writing a novel.

Was it harder to write than Perfect strangers because of family ties?

Absolutely. I thought it was hard to plan a novel where you can make it all up. But when you write something based on facts, especially when those facts are so closely tied to people you care about, it’s hard not to feel responsible. It became a double puzzle to make a plot work as well as possible, while getting all the details and hoping I didn’t offend anyone.

How do you take something real, but turn it into a work of fiction?

I think it’s difficult because there will always be people who know so much more than you ever could, who have studied it their whole lives. In fact, it’s not just the Titanic aspect of this book that’s true. Lily, whom Lawrence meets on board, is an American heiress trapped in a terrible marriage, and although she is fictional, her situation is real. At that time, there was almost a trade between wealthy American industrialists and broke British aristocrats, who married off their daughters in exchange for a title.

These marriages were often horrible and I felt like I owed these women to tell their stories.

But, obviously, the Titanic is a story that almost everyone knows something about and a lot of people know a lot about, which made it even harder. I spent a lot of time getting to know this ship, so now I feel like I can almost walk through it in my head.

It was an important thing to do because if you’re asking readers to go with you on a story, I think you owe it to them to have the details correct. So even though the actual story is a work of fiction, I hope I have been completely accurate in the workings and layout of the ship and the times.

Is the history of travel something that has interested you for a long time?

It was, mainly because I always knew my great-grandfather was on board. I first read the book he wrote about it, The loss of the SS Titanic, at a fairly young age, so he always felt connected to me. But, actually, I think the Titanic story is fascinating to so many people. The last trip I took before the first lockdown was to Belfast to see the amazing Titanic exhibit and I was delighted to see how embedded its history is in your city.

What do you think of the tragedy that inspires literature?

I think we hope to learn from the tragedy, because otherwise they feel even more lost. In the case of the Titanic, I think it became a symbol of consumerism and like a cautionary tale. The largest, fastest and most unsinkable ship sunk on her maiden voyage by nature. It almost feels like a warning against greed and lust, which we still haven’t heeded, which is probably what makes it so fascinating.

Your great-aunt said your great-grandfather would have loved your books – what does that mean to you?

Well, I hope that’s true. My great-aunt and my grandmother told me that Lawrence loved to read and write mystery novels. Apparently every Christmas he wrote a play for all of them, which usually featured a murder or two!

The characters feel so alive in hidden depths. Is characterization what you would normally start with, or are you plotting?

Yes, I always start with the character. I really believe that you can adapt a plot to a character, but never the other way around. If you have a character who acts inauthentically, the reader will never believe them and the story will seem fake. That said, everyone knows the plot of Titanic, so the plot of this book was very difficult to understand. I had to create a mystery around a story where everyone knows how it’s going to end. The only way I could do that was to give Lawrence and Lily exciting stories independently. Of course, the only way to do that is to write believable characters.

hidden depthsby Araminta Hall, Orion, £16.99, available now

Irene B. Bowles