SISTERS OF FORTUNE Research and Inspiration

by Anna Lee Huber

In a nutshell, Sisters of Fortune is inspired by the lives of the Fortune family from Winnipeg and their journey on board the doomed RMS Titanic, but how I came to write it is a bit of a twist of fate. Before its conception, writing such a novel honestly wasn’t even a blip on my radar. For one, setting a book on the Titanic seemed like an immense undertaking. The research alone would be daunting, not to mention the differing takes on the given facts and the controversies that still surround it.

So when my editor initially approached me about writing just such a novel, I was reticent, to say the least. However, I knew it could also be a wonderful opportunity to explore something different from my long-running mystery series. It would be a monstrous challenge, but an exciting one. Therefore, I asked for some time to think about it.

I realized right away that the success of the entire book would hinge on the main character. They would have to be someone fresh and unexplored, glamorous but also accessible.  So I delved into the passenger list, searching for someone who fit the bill. Someone who inspired me and fired my imagination.

In fact, I found three of them—Ethel, Alice, and Mabel Fortune.

No one I spoke to in those early days of planning had ever heard of the Fortune sisters or the rest of their family—not even those friends I counted as Titanic enthusiasts—but a brief search turned up some intriguing information. The more I read about them, the more I felt a connection to them. I also come from a family of six children, and I understand the dynamics of multiple sibling relationships. I also appreciate the widened perspective that travel can give a person, and the longing for home and belonging.

The Fortune sisters had come alive for me, and I suddenly very much wanted to write their story. Fortunately (*wink*), my editor agreed, and Sisters of Fortune was born. Though that didn’t mean everything from then on was smooth sailing (I can’t resist!).

Once I began to dig deeper into the research in earnest, I discovered there is actually very little known about the Fortune sisters, especially about their time on board the Titanic. Even among family, they were notoriously reticent to speak of it. So when I tried to suss out these details, I was left with large gaps to fill in terms of action, personality, and motivation. I chased rumors—some of which I discarded because they could not be collaborated and were contradictory to other evidence—and scrutinized every first and secondhand source I could get my hands on. Still the gaps remained.

This left me with both a blessing and a curse, at least from a storyteller’s perspective. While it was frustrating not to be able to uncover more details to make a fully accurate depiction of each of the sisters, it also freed me to use greater creative license to flesh them out.

As such, while the core of the Fortunes’ story and the fascinating anecdotes I uncovered about them form the backbone of this book, much of the rest of their tale is pure fiction. This is why it is important to note the distinction that these characters are inspired by the Fortunes and are not meant to be a comprehensive historical representation. In several notable instances, I deliberately strayed from known facts for a number of reasons. In particular, in regard to the eldest sister Ethel, whose name I changed to Flora (her middle name) to deliberately note the difference.

One other way I strayed from the historical record was by including one fully fictional passenger, Chess Kinsey. However, he is based on two real survivors, both tennis stars—Karl Behr and Richard Norris Williams II. I chose to utilize Behr as a friend to Chess, partly because Behr’s actual shipboard romance with Helen Newsom mirrors Chess’s romance with Flora, but Williams is absent from my tale. This is mainly because I chose to have Chess borrow some of the details from Williams’s struggle with frostbite after he escaped the Titanic in the swamped Collapsible A.

However, in every other detail I painstakingly tried to stick to the historical record as closely as possible, bearing in mind that there are some aspects on which one can only make an educated guess. I also attempted to include as many documented events, anecdotes, and conversations as I feasibly could, though the timing of some of those incidents had to be slightly adjusted in order to have my characters witness them. Many of these incidents were pulled from the recorded testimony and memoirs of Titanic survivors, as well as the transcripts of the British and American inquiries into the disaster.

There are still many mysteries surrounding the Titanic, and many hotly debated topics that we may never have definitive answers to. There are dozens, if not hundreds of details that are not uniformly agreed upon, and I do not profess to know the answers. In most instances, I chose to depict what I felt to be the most likely scenario, based on my research. Other times, I opted to be deliberately vague. Which, when writing historical fiction about one of the most famous events in history, is sometimes the best policy.

Based on the true story of the Fortune sisters, three young women each at a crossroads when they boarded the RMS Titanic in the spring of 1912 – and how that maiden voyage would transform their lives in profound and unexpected ways.

Fans of The Second Mrs. Astor by Shana Abé and Patricia Falvey’s The Titanic Sisters will be captivated as USA Today bestselling author Anna Lee Huber expertly weaves real historical figures and events into this vivid, surprising, emotionally powerful novel about the longing for independence and love—and the moments that irrevocably change even the best laid plans . . .

“Lush with sumptuous historical details and riveting as the events of that fateful voyage unfurl, readers will love this one!” Madeline Martin, New York Times Bestselling Author of The Keeper of Hidden Books and The Last Bookshop in London

“Vividly detailed and painstakingly researched, Sisters of Fortune threads fact and fiction into a compelling story.” —Bryn Turnbull, author of The Paris Deception and The Woman Before Wallis

Filled with luscious detail of the Titanic’s maiden voyage and spot on depictions of its many passengers, from the grand to the ridiculous…absolutely riveting until the very last page!” —Shelley Noble, New York Times Bestselling author of The Tiffany Girls

April,1912: It’s the perfect finale to a Grand Tour of Europe—sailing home on the largest, most luxurious ocean liner ever built. For the Fortune sisters, the voyage offers a chance to reflect on the treasures of the past they’ve seen—magnificent castles and museums in Italy and France, the ruins of Greece and the Middle East—and contemplate the futures that await them.

For Alice, there’s foreboding mixed with her excitement. A fortune teller in Egypt gave her a dire warning about traveling at sea. And the freedom she has enjoyed on her travels contrasts with her fiancé’s plans for her return—a cossetted existence she’s no longer sure she wants.

Flora is also returning to a fiancé, a well-to-do banker of whom her parents heartily approve, as befits their most dutiful daughter. Yet the closer the wedding looms, the less sure Flora feels. Another man—charming, exasperating, completely unsuitable—occupies her thoughts, daring her to follow her own desires rather than settling for the wishes of others.

Youngest sister Mabel knows her parents arranged this Grand Tour to separate her from a jazz musician. But the secret truth is that Mabel has little interest in marrying at all, preferring to explore ideas of suffrage and reform—even if it forces a rift with her family.

Each sister grapples with the choices before her as the grand vessel glides through the Atlantic waters. Until, on an infamous night, fate intervenes, forever altering their lives . . .