Interview: Atlantic Adventures on the Queen Mary - with Children's Author A M Howell
To quote the great philosopher, mystic, and wise man, Grandpa Potts, star of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, “Oh the posh posh traveling life, the traveling life for me. First cabin and captain's table regal company.”
What could be more luxurious, more refined, more posh, than the travelling life of sailing across the Atlantic on a fabulous Ocean Liner in the 1930s? Nothing, that’s what, but adding some adventure and mystery to proceedings sure would make the voyage much more exciting! This brings us to the brand-new children’s book ‘Mysteries at Sea: Peril on the Atlantic’.
This terrific tale for ages 8 and up takes the elegance of a transatlantic crossing in the early twentieth century and adds a sprinkle of daring danger, resulting in a fabulously thrilling read!
We really enjoyed the book, and so were delighted to have the opportunity to interview its author, A M Howell.
Anne-Marie tells us more about her book and her writing, as well as lots of fascinating historical facts about the real-world ship star of the book, ‘The Queen Mary’.
Read on dear reader!
Imagining History - Hi Ann-Marie, first off, could you let our readers know a little bit about your fantastic new book, ‘Mysteries at Sea: Peril on the Atlantic’?
A M Howell - Peril on the Atlantic is set on the Queen Mary in 1936 as she travels between Southampton and New York. 12-year-old Alice is on board with her father, who is second in command, and she has never left England before so is very overwhelmed to be amongst such luxurious surroundings. As she begins to explore the ship, she comes across a shocking attack in the first-class swimming pool.
Alice and her new friend Sonny decide to investigate the crime and they soon discover a sinister plot involving gold bars, secret notes and lost silk gloves, but she realises her father is also keeping secrets too. Why does he visit the ship’s luggage hold each time it docks in New York? What Alice discovers will change the course of her own life forever. I would liken the story to an Agatha Christie for kids, with lots of suspects and a mystery to be solved – along with a dollop of danger too!
What was it about the RMS Queen Mary that made it the perfect setting for your story?
All my books so far have been based on real places and I decided that featuring a real ship in Peril on the Atlantic would be a good basis for my research and provide the opportunity to pop some fun ship facts into the story too. The Queen Mary made transatlantic crossings from the 1930s to the 1960s and since then she’s been moored up in Long Beach, California where she’s used as a museum and a hotel. My parents stayed on her back in the 1990s and as I chatted to them about this and researched the ship’s history I saw I had found the perfect setting for my story, with her celebrity passengers and amazing interiors.
Some of the characters aboard the Queen Mary are attempting to win the Blue Riband race; was this race a real thing and, if so, what did it involve?
The Blue Riband was real but wasn’t a race in the traditional sense as ships were not racing each other, but trying to cross the Atlantic in the fastest time. Speed was very important back in the 1930s as this was before the advent of transatlantic air travel and ships were the only means of crossing the Atlantic. Ocean liners provided a vital role in transporting passengers and cargo so every shipping line was keen for their vessel to be the fastest and win the prestigious Blue Riband Trophy. In 1938 the Queen Mary made the eastbound crossing from New York to Southampton in under 4 days and her Blue Riband speed record remained unbeatable for the next fourteen years which was a huge source of national pride.
How did you go about researching the HMS Queen Mary for ‘Mysteries at Sea: Peril on the
My dad was very obsessed with ships and the sea and had lots of historical books about ocean liners, so I had a ready-made library for my research which was very useful. When my dad found out I was writing a story set on board the Queen Mary he bought me a DVD of historical footage of the ship which helped enormously in visualising what it would have been like on board. I also spent a long time searching through newspaper archives for historic articles about the Queen Mary. All of these things built up a picture of what it would have been like to travel on the ship which helped hugely when writing the book.
And how did you go about making all that research fit within the story and to be accessible for a younger reader?
I would say that about 90% of the research that I do never ends up in a story! However, I never see this as wasted work, as research is essential to give a good grounding in the subject I'm writing about, in this case, the Queen Mary and the 1930s. I do try hard not to overwhelm young readers with too many historical details, as ultimately I want my books to be fun, pacey reads, but I love weaving in interesting little facts that will hopefully capture imaginations and give readers a thirst to learn a little more about the subject or time period.
The real-life HMS Queen Mary went on to have an exciting career, what did she get up to during World War 2?
During the war, the Queen Mary was requisitioned by the Merchant Navy because of her amazing speed and passenger capacity. She became a troop carrier and carried nearly one million soldiers and steamed over 650,000 miles in the war to parts of the world she had never been to before. The ship continued to set new records during this time and on a voyage in July 1944 she carried 15,740 troops and a crew of 943 – the most people ever carried on a single voyage. It's also a well-known fact that the British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, enjoyed travelling on the Queen Mary and it's reported that he even reviewed plans for the D-Day invasion on one North Atlantic crossing!
What happened to the Queen Mary after the war?
After the war was over the Queen Mary helped repatriate United States personnel as well as GI brides from Britain and Europe who left to start new lives in the USA. During my research, I even found out that four babies were born on board! The ship was finally decommissioned as a troop carrier in 1946 and converted back into a luxury liner and began her service across the Atlantic once more. This continued until 1967 at which point the Queen Mary set sail for her final voyage to Los Angeles where she is now moored up and used as a hotel and museum.
We were excited to learn there are two more books in the ‘Mysteries at Sea’ series coming in
2024, can you tell us anything about them?
The second book in the series is called The Royal Jewel Plot and was inspired by a voyage that King Edward the VIII and Mrs Wallis Simpson took in the summer of 1936 around the Adriatic. The story features a very poisonous octopus and a priceless opal, and when both go missing on the king’s voyage Alice has a new mystery to solve. I’m still writing the third book which is also set in the Mediterranean so I can’t say too much about it, apart from the fact it features a kidnapped Hollywood actress and is perhaps Alice’s most puzzling case yet!
A giant thank-you and a palm-achingly solid high-five to Ann-Marie for answering all of our questions so brilliantly!
Mysteries at Sea: Peril on the Atlantic by A.M. Howell is the first book in a gripping new historical mystery series for 8+ readers, out now in paperback, £7.99 from Usborne.