A long time ago a man named Christopher Ward became a very important person in my life. I have often thought that if my meeting with him 30-odd years ago had not gone so well, I might never have become a Daily Mirror trainee journalist, and so I might never have met Fiona. If I had never met Fiona we would not have had the children we have. And if I had not trained on the Mirror, I might never have become the political journalist I became, which is the route that led me to politics and all that followed.
So I often think that Chris Ward, Ernie Burrington, Peter Thompson, Dan Ferrari and the other Mirror execs who interviewed would-be Mirror trainees way back when were pivotal figures in our lives.
I remember my interview with Chris for the fact that a copy of Forum magazine, in which lurked one of my pieces, was on his desk. Oh God, I thought – he knows! But it turned out he had read it, and thought it was, er, ok, and quite enterprising that I had turned my hand to sex writing as a student.
By the time we had finished our training two years later – by now I had met Fiona and we were living together – Chris was editor of the Daily Express and he offered her a job, thereby becoming pivotal in our lives once more.
… And then the trail went a little cold … he left newspapers and went into magazine publishing … then a couple of years ago I bumped into him, and later when I was speaking at The Borders book festival out of the blue Chris contacted us to say he lived nearby and we should meet up. So we did, and had a very nice time.
At the time I was promoting my early diaries and my first novel (volume 3 of the diaries is published early next month btw and I have decided not to do too much by way of media promotion so please do tell your friends). Chris meanwhile was working on a book he intended to publish for his kids and grandchildren, about his own grandfather, who was a violinist in the band which played on board the Titanic.
Two years on, I have just read it. Thankfully, it has been snapped up by a publisher and is now reaching an audience far wider than the Ward family. Indeed it has made it into the Sunday Times top ten, and I confidently predict it will be there for a while.
There have been many many books about the Titanic. What is terrific about this one is that in addition to telling the basic story of the sinking, with some wonderful colour about the band, and some chilling insights into the role of class in the whole ghastly story, Chris has researched in real depth the story of his own grandfather, Jock Hume. So it has become a story not just of the disaster but the lasting impact on those his grandfather left behind – a fiance who was carrying Jock’s child (Chris Ward’s mother), a horrible father who hated said fiance and would get up to all sorts of nastiness to cheat her of money from the various disaster funds, Jock’s sister who hated her father and would later fake the death of a third sibling to try to punish her father and her equally hated stepmother.
It is no surprise to me having read the book that the rights have been sold for a two part drama documentary. It really is a gripping and moving account not just of the sinking of the Titanic, and the wretched class system which bedevilled the aftermath, but of the impact upon the survivors and dependants. What started out as a story for his family has become something for all of us. I read it in two sittings, and was immersed from the first page. I learned a lot about the Titanic, and a lot about British and especially Scottish society at the time.
And if my commendation all sounds a bit over the top, and you think I’m just paying back someone who helped me get into journalism, and gave Fiona her first big break, well there you go. What goes around comes around. It is a very good book and I am delighted to plug it for him.