The Next Chapter

How Kim Izzo is connected to the doomed ocean liner Lusitania

Her latest book, Seven Days in May, is about women aboard the Lusitania in 1915. It's based in part on her great-grandfather's survival aboard the vessel.
Kim Izzo's latest book, Seven Days in May, is inspired by her family's history. (CBC/Kim Izzo)

The sinking of the Lusitania was a turning point in World War I; it sparked outrage among Americans, and the country declared war on Germany shortly after. There is a theory that says that the ship was allowed to sail into a trap. Kim Izzo's latest book, Seven Days in May, follows the lives of young women on board as they deal with love, lies, betrayal and loss. The story also happens to be based on Izzo's own family history. 

Family History

[My great grandfather] Walter Dawson, actually sailed on the final voyage and survived. And I just grew up hearing these stories about how he jumped into the ocean and tried to save two little boys from drowning; unfortunately they both succumbed. But he was in the water for up to eight hours before he was rescued. 

A historian [who is] an expert on the Lusitania actually had a copy of my great-grandfather's survival record. It's an interview that he gave to a newspaper in England a couple of weeks after the sinking, and it was like actually listening to the generation crossing through time. He was on deck that day, and he saw the torpedo come through the water and hit the ship, and then all the debris falling up. He described them in quite vivid detail, and when the ship began to sink so quickly, he obviously made for the highest point of the ship, and then realized the ship was going down so fast he jumped into the water. So he just swam as far as he could, and then just clung onto whatever debris he could until a fishing boat came. 

Winston Churchill's cameo

There's a whole flood of movies being made now about Winston Churchill and World War II, and that's what we think. We think of the English bulldog with his cigars, the overweight guy, and what a wonderful leader. And I think nowadays, when we have so few great leaders, I think we're all looking back and saying "Oh Winston, where are you now?" But you don't think of him in World War I. It's fascinating to research how he was at 40 years old. Still not a young man, but younger than what we think of him. And he was quite the dandy, he was very into fashion and the arts and wine and champagne. I wanted to convey that in the novel because I think it's just a different aspect of his character that I found fascinating. But it was quite daunting. I'll never forget the first time I typed in "Winston Churchill says," and I was like, "Who am I to put words in his mouth?" And World War I wasn't his most shining hour. He ended up having to resign his post with the admiral team. He quit politics for a while, actually, because of that.

Kim Izzo's comments have been edited and condensed.