Guess who’s here today? None other than the award winning author, Patricia Elliott. Patricia’s an old friend of GHB – regular readers will remember that she’s guest blogged with us before. Patricia’s dropped by to share how she wrote her latest Connie Carew Mystery, THE SHIP OF SPECTRES. A huge welcome back to GHB, Patricia. 

Drowning in ‘Don’t Knows’: Writing The Ship of Spectres

There are a lot of things you have to find out when you’re writing a novel. You can think up the plot and the characters in your head, but the background – the setting – may be another matter. You may have to do research and that in turn can influence your story.

What I did know, when I began my latest Connie Carew Mystery, The Ship of Spectres, was that it was going to be set on a steamship to New York in 1909. The passengers would include, besides Connie Carew herself, a number of famous celebrities and they would be threatened by sinister events on board. One of them is intent on murder and it is up to Connie to find out who it is.


What I didn’t know was what a sea voyage in a steamship in those days would have been like. We’ve probably all been on voyages by boat, even if you’ve only crossed a river by ferry or climbed into a rowing boat. We’ve experienced that feeling of the world suddenly tilting beneath our feet as we step on board. In an Edwardian steamship on the wide, wide ocean, without the stablisers we have today, that sensation would have been emphasised a hundred times over, especially if there was a storm – as there is in The Ship of Spectres. It would have felt dangerous, life-threatening. And I sail with my husband, so I did know as bit about that! But not much else.


So I read loads of books and looked at websites. I learned about Edwardian turbine engines and the vast number of coal-burning furnaces needed to generate enough steam to drive them, about the fabulously luxurious fittings of the great early liners, about the Turkish Baths and the gymnasiums, the restaurants with their glittering chandeliers and silver cutlery and the pale pink ceilings to soothe seasick passengers.

edwardian-gents-in-their-shipboard-gymnasiumBut what gave me the greatest insight into what Connie experienced was researching the tragic last voyage of the Titanic, which happened just a few years after the voyage of The Ship of Spectres. As you may know, the Titanic, the most gigantic, most luxurious cruise ship built so far, was on her maiden voyage to New York when she hit an iceberg and sank. More than 1,500 passengers were drowned. The modern cruise liners of today still use the same route and pass the spot but, of course, there’s nothing to see.

I studied the Titanic’s deckplans, the menu of the last dinner on board, the amazing clothes of the first class passengers. It’s all very poignant and sad. But it was incredibly useful.

Luckily Connie’s steamship, the Princess May, doesn’t sink on her way to New York and against all the odds Connie foils the murderer’s plans.

There’s so much to know when you start a novel, but fortunately there’s so much you can find out!

The Ship of Spectres, the new Connie Carew Mystery, is out now published by Hodder Children’s Books @PElliottAuthor

Thanks, Patricia. Makes you want to a) rush out and get the book b) rush out and book a cruise! 

Patricia is generously giving away 3 copies of THE SHIP OF SPECTRES. Hop on over to our competitions page for the FREE to enter giveaway. 






  1. Been trying to write a novel for a time, but could not finished, I ended up always writing short stories. The tips in this post will definitely help me! Thanks Patricia.

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