A new novel based on true events uncovers the mystery surrounding the Titanic and why nearby ship the SS Californian failed to respond to eight distress rockets fired from the sinking vessel.
Author David Dyer says The Midnight Watch is a complicated relationship between truth and fiction.
“Although it’s a novel, the main story is true, as true as I could make it. The central puzzle as to why the other ship didn’t go to the rescue, my answer to that I think is the true answer,” he said.
Central character John Steadman, an American journalist, was invented by Dyer but the newspaper he worked for and the accounts and quotes he says came from research.
Dyer has long had a fascination with one of the most famous catastrophes of the 20th centuries for years, eventually realising he needed to put his knowledge into words when working in London.
He grew up on the shores of the Illawarra which sparked his interest in the sea.
After leaving Warilla High School he began studying medicine at Sydney University but soon worked out it wasn’t for him as he’d faint in hospitals.
From there he spent time working as a ship’s cadet and third officer in the Australian merchant navy before moving to London as a maritime lawyer and employed at a legal practice whose parent firm represented the owners of the Titanic in 1912.
It took three years to complete the book through the help of undertaking a Doctorate in Creative Arts at the University of Technology Sydney.
“It’s because I’m a [history] buff that I already had a good understanding of it as I’ve done quite a lot of reading. Then I decided to write the book so I really rammed up the research,” he said.
“There was a lot of dedicated globe-trotting to get the answer … I went to Boston, New York, Liverpool where the main guys lived, and I even went to the North Atlantic to the wreck site of the Titanic.”
He said he was surprised to find so many documents praising Captain Lord of the Californian as courageous, dedicated and a capable skipper.
“For me that just deepened the mystery as to why he didn’t go to the distress rockets on that night.”
For Dyer’s next work he’s keen on keeping the maritime theme and is thinking of looking into the Costa Concordia disaster of 2012.
“I’d love to talk to the captain, ‘how exactly do you fall into the life boat when there’s still thousands of people on your ship?’”
The Midnight Watch, released through Penguin Books, is available at all good book stores and online.