This review has been pending since June when Ross Pennie launched his latest book, Beneath the Wake, to an enthusiastic, standing room only crowd in Ancaster. It also includes further discussion from our book club in October when Ross joined us for spirited discussion. We have been so privileged to have Ross join our group to discuss Beneath the Wake in October and Up in Smoke in 2015. Both visits have provided our book club with additional insight into his novels and we had memorable evenings discussing his quirky characters and writing process.
Ross shared that he has always had an affinity to cruise ships. His parents met on a cruise ship in 1949, he had travelled on the Queen Elizabeth 2 and this spring, he had returned from an 128 day cruise around the world. Cruising has been a beloved method of travelling so it seems fitting that the setting for his latest book had to be a cruise ship!
Who knew that cruise ships are equipped with morgues? When you reflect on the large number of travellers and the average age of those aboard, it does make sense that cruise ships (often in warm climates) must make a contingency plan to store bodies in case someone dies at sea. Thinking about a morgue is the last think that anyone wants to think about while planning their idyllic cruise!
Ross was curious about the logistics of death on a ship and learned that 22 million people travel by boat each year and of that population, there are 200-300 deaths. He discovered that there are often murders, drunken falls, deaths while on shore leave, snorkelling accidents and approximately 50 people that go overboard!
Bodies can be offloaded at ports of call, brought home or, surprisingly, even buried at sea. The crowd was interested to hear that there are specific rules for being buried at sea including that the ship must be 3 nautical miles out, at a depth of 600 feet and that the body must have bricks attached to the feet to weigh the corpse down.
Beneath the Wake is told from the perspective of different characters – he experimented telling some of the story from the perspective of a teenage boy and provided more detailed descriptions when narrating through Natasha. He referred to himself as a “master of details” when it comes to characters and keeps detailed descriptions handy. At the book launch, his wife laughed that it feels like the characters live with them!
It was interesting to learn that he had a more specific plan when writing his previous novels but this time, wrote with no outline. He shared that his “marvellous” editor “hated” the last quarter which was rewritten. He also garnered our interest when he shared that he was in the midst of writing another novel, set in Hamilton.
Ross likes to write at home and edit on vacation. The first draft took 5 months, followed by 3 months of editing and another month of “tweaking“. He tends to write in the mornings from 830-1130 and found that it was easier to write when he was working (we love that he had been an infectious disease doctor at our local hospital) because it became part of his morning routine.
Ross is a fascinating individual. He adds bits of his own experiences to his novels giving them authenticity. He brings a perspective of curiosity to his writing, adding details (like medical assisted death) to the story which make readers ponder the narrative. If you are intrigued, Ross will be part of the Bell City Author Series hosted by the Brantford Public Library, in April.