Like most people who have written a book, and more people who haven’t, I had always entertained a desire to write. The arts were my strong suit in high school, yet somehow I found myself studying medicine. I told myself that many of my favourite authors, from James Joyce to Conan Doyle, had studied medicine. I told myself that through the privileged relationship I would gain with my patients, I would have access to countless ideas for writing when the time came. What I couldn’t possibly know is that medicine these days, done well, done rigorously, didn’t leave much time for exploring the lives of others outside their pathology, much less detailing them in print. And I liked my job. So I worked and worked and didn’t write.
About 10 years ago circumstances compelled me to change the path of my training. They required me to start afresh. I had a bit more free time and spent a lot of it wishing I could turn back the clock, get back those years I’d misplaced and get back on track. Something in all that desire for wish fulfilment lead me to The Company of the Dead. Clearly, turning back time wasn’t on the cards. Exploring what someone else might do if they could turn back time, however, was.
Company began as a short story. Despite all the permutations I considered I was sure of one thing. It would begin on the decks of the Titanic. I think everyone has some sense of amazement, of disbelief at how that cold April night in 1912 played out. I also suspect that whenever anyone reads or watches a program on the subject- they entertain a secret desire to see the ship arrive safely. Or perhaps that’s just me.
I read widely on the subject. I read history books, fictional accounts and even the odd conspiracy tale. I discovered that the subject dominated the headlines of periodicals for many years after the event. Resurgences in interest in the ship occurred at times through out the years culminating in a major theatrical release in 1998. My amateur research left me with a subject that appeared to bookend the 20th Century. So much for a short story…
My research led to many interesting and strange encounters- with historians and physicists and gangsters and even intelligence agents. (That’s what you get for phoning up an International airport and enquiring how someone might steal an aircraft on September 9, 2001. But that’s another story.)
The day after I submitted my manuscript I told my wife, ‘It’s over, it’s done. It’s out of my system.’ As if something had been exorcised. And the day after that I started making notes for a new novel. Let’s see if I can cut it down to five years this time.
— David Kowalski