The Midnight Watch

The Midnight Watch

David Dyer

Penguin 2016


Published in 2016, The Midnight Watch is a historical fiction novel by David Dyer, a former London lawyer who now writes and teaches in Sydney.

The novel is set in 1912 and takes place during and after the sinking of the RMS Titanic. We all know of this infamous ship that sank to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean after colliding with an iceberg. But not all of us know about the SS Californian: the closest ship to the Titanic while she was sinking, but failed to come to her assistance. If the Californian had come, many or perhaps all of the 1,500 people who died could have been saved.

Why didn’t the Californian come to Titanic’s assistance? This is what John Steadman, a fictional American journalist, endeavours to find out. It turns out that Herbert Stone, the Californian’s Third Officer, saw the Titanic firing distress rockets on the horizon from midnight onwards, and he wasn’t the only one. The Californian’s captain, Stanley Lord, was notified, but didn’t issue any orders until 5am the next morning, when it was too late (the Titanic sunk at 2:20am). Lord’s explanation as to why he didn’t go to Titanic’s rescue immediately changed over time, and Steadman finds that pages from the Californian’s log had been torn out. This motivates him to discover the truth, no matter what.

The novel is well-written and is historically accurate. It’s clear that Dyer heavily researched everything to do with the Titanic. In fact, he lifted quotes from original letters, witness statements, and inquiry testimonies, along with other primary documents, and used them in the novel’s dialogue. The story is told from multiple points of view, which I found jarring at first, but I quickly became accustomed to it.

The novel’s themes are easily identifiable. The main theme is perhaps truth versus point of view. The truth can easily be warped by people’s point of view. As Obi-Wan told Luke in Return of the Jedi: “Many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view”. This is certainly evident in Stanley Lord’s case, as his version of events confused many but obviously made sense to him.

But being a former journalism student, the theme that stood out to me the most was miscommunication. Early press reports in the immediate aftermath of the Titanic’s sinking gave false information. For example, it was thought at one stage that the Titanic, heavily damaged from the iceberg, was being towed to the nearest port by another ship. This obviously wasn’t the case. But back in 1912, they could only communicate using Morse code on one wireless frequency, so it was easy for information to become jumbled. Steadman came across as an admirable journalist, as he goes to extreme lengths to uncover the truth.

Despite being set in 1912, all the characters are believable in the sense they’re relatable and realistic. They are written as human beings, not as stereotypical twentieth century people who come across as two dimensional. They all suffer grief, internal conflict, anger, confusion – the list goes on!

I thoroughly enjoyed The Midnight Watch, and would strongly recommend it, especially to other history buffs.

5/5 stars


Words by Callum J. Jones

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Creative, honest, and reliable, Callum J. Jones loves writing fiction and non-fiction. In his spare time, he likes to read, watch movies and TV shows, and going on walks.

You can follow him on Facebook.

‘Crashing Waves’ by J.R. Polkinghorne

 

Wind whistled over the deck, howling through every nook and cranny, growing in strength and lowering in pitch as it whooshed around me like a cold blanket encasing my body. Waves clashed on either side of the ship in rapid hits like a hundred thrashing drummers beating endlessly away at the ship’s wooden panels.
The wind picked up and the waves grew larger around me, while the crew snored away below. I was showered in a spray of icy salt water as I clung desperately to the ship’s edge, watching as Davy Jones pulled and tugged at the vessel, trying to drag us down into the watery depths of his locker.

I tied myself to the deck, the coarse rope rubbing against my soft flesh as the waves knocked me back and forth. One moment I was standing upright, and in another a wave had bashed me down onto my hands and knees. The first time it happened I tried to scream, but nothing came out. All I accomplished was filling my lungs with water and heaving it up on the deck until another wave came.
I should have stayed below with the others; they were all tucked away in their beds, warm and dry. I should have ignored the sounds coming from above, but by god, I was stupid. The thought of drowning in my sleep sent such fear over me that I scrambled on deck in nothing but my pants and socks. What a mistake that was. Every time the icy water hit me stabbing into my skin over and over. My limbs were getting stiff from the cold and yet the waves could still toss me around as though I was a ragdoll. And although the rope didn’t let me go far I still managed to slam painfully into everything. I thought of going back. Back into the dark under the deck, and yet I stayed frozen. The fear kept me in place and the fear would be my doom.

My skin was turning purple from both the cold and the bruises. I was starting to look like a prune. I was damned soul stuck forever in a loop of pain and suffering for the sins I have no doubt committed in my short life aboard this ship. This wasn’t the hell my mother warned me about, but I couldn’t think of another word to call this.
My body was going numb and all I could do was think. Right now I wanted nothing more than to curl up in my mother’s arms against her breast and cry as though I was a boy. She would sing to me, her voice sweet and soothed my aguish.

I wanted to sing, I wanted to open my mouth and let the words out, but I couldn’t, not with the fear of filling my lungs again with foul fishy water.
My thoughts left me, and all I could do was stare blankly at the deck, as it sank into the endless depth of the sea, the impending doom of my watery grave mocking me, the promise of gold and adventure sinking along with me. I shouldn’t have jumped on this ship, shouldn’t have thrown away the life my mother gave me for a chance at adventure, but the idea of sailing across the sea, my name striking fear into the hearts of men, so tempted me.

But alas, my dreams were lost and my hopes were drowning, falling deep into hopeless despair. My death was forming around me clinging tightly to my skin as the darkness crept in. Death was on my shoulder, his breath like rotten fish, as he waited for my demise.

As the gloom started sneaking in, another sound picked up through the beating of waves and screaming wind. It was just a faint whisper, carried out along the sea, settling down against my cheek. The whisper turned into a song, moving in time with the waves and floating along the breeze. It was truly beautiful and it brought a small flicker of light into my soul, fanning the fire of my heart. I tried to stand—but to no avail. I still couldn’t move, my limbs cold and numb. The best I could do was open my mouth to call out, but as I tried another waved crashed down. This was the end. I didn’t have the strength to force the water out, nor the strength to search for the angel calling out to me.

Another wave washed over, covering the ship and bringing silence with it. I was no longer cold, only the suffocating embrace of the ocean was around, squeezing my lungs. My body didn’t hurt anymore. My lungs did though, and in that moment I felt the urge to breath, to move, to swim away. My limbs sprang into action and moved against the pull of the sea, but I was tied down; attached to the ship as it sunk. The thing I thought would be my saviour was instead aiding in my death as I, too, was dragged down with the ship. I tugged at the rope, my skin rubbing raw. It was no use. I was trapped.

I was dying and there was nothing I could do about it. Scared, helpless, and small, I was held down by something bigger than me. Even though I knew it was hopeless, I still struggled to swim towards the surface. I still struggled for that last breath of crisp air.
But I only sank further, my strength leaving me, my limbs stopped moving.

It was then, in that moment of defeat that I heard it again. The sweet voice kissed my cheek, a whisper through the silence of the sea. I wanted to see it. I needed to see the angel calling out to me before I was gone, before everything was gone and the only thing left was this vast sea. I gritted my teeth and forced my eyes open, the salt stinging them every time they opened even the slightest bit.

The voice was louder now, and I could almost make out words. Against my lids I could feel light shining, begging me to open them. Again I tried, and every time I did I let out a little more breath from the pain. I was running out of time. I couldn’t let it end like this. I needed to fight through the pain, through the despair and hopelessness, but it hurt. It hurt so much, and every time I tried it seemed I only got further from my goal. Even in the water I knew I was crying, for that one little glimpse of the light that was taunting my death. I don’t believe I have ever wanted something more in my entire life.

The song kept playing, and it was now that I heard my name. The angel was singing for me and me alone. I needed to see it. With the final force of my body I flung open my eyes. Light consumed me as I was blinded by it, but after blinking I could see it. The angel calling for me was no angel at all but the captain holding a candle by my face, her gruff features illuminated by it. I was still on the ship. The storm had died down and we hadn’t sunk.
I was still tied to the ship and wet from the waves, but the air was light. I could breathe. I was cold, but I could move. I sat up and looked at the captain who gave me a puzzled look before standing extending her hand to me. “You shouldn’t sleep on the deck. Men drown doing that you know.”

I laughed. I laughed so hard it hurt my lungs but I couldn’t stop. Even though the captain kept staring I still laughed. I laughed at the captain’s words. I laughed at my foolish dreams. But most of all I laughed because I could, because I was alive.

 


Words by J.R. Polkinghorne

Art by Rhianna Carr. You can find more of Rhianna’s art on Facebook @RhiannaCarrART