Haunted cabins and butter sculptures fascinate Joanne on QM2 crossing

//Haunted cabins and butter sculptures fascinate Joanne on QM2 crossing

Joanne-Harris-001.jpgThere was a second writer who caught my eye while on board a ship this year. After David Nobbs I discovered Joanne Harris, the author of 15 books including Chocolat and Runemarks, was at sea. Not exactly on a cruise, however. She travelled on a Transatlantic crossing aboard Cunard flagship Queen Mary 2, spent a week in New York, and then sailed back to Southampton talking and Tweeting all the way.
On the westbound journey she was part of a literary double act, and appeared to love her new environment from the first minute. “My stateroom has orchids, Champagne and chocolate-covered strawberries,” she wrote. “Bill Bryson is next door. Could get used to this. Oh, and the butler is called Victor Hugo. How camp is that?”
It wasn’t all plain sailing. On the second day she commented: “Massive swell at sea and I have a lecture in two hours. Do I suffer from seasickness? Watch this space. Bill Bryson is coming to my lecture and I’m convinced I’m going to puke. Or he is.”
She turned out to be a better sailor than husband Kevin, which is ironic given that she travels by sea because he will not fly. But when the sea calmed he threw himself enthusiastically into life at sea, playing everything from table tennis to Scrabble, and later they had an astonishing moment watching a school of 100 dolphins following the ship.
The crossing wasn’t her first time at sea. She told me later: “Last year we took a cruise up the coast of Norway, and a few years ago we did a cruise from Italy to Alexandria. Both of these were eclipse-watching trips – my husband’s idea.”
Would she have sailed to New York if she hadn’t been enlisted as a guest speaker? “Quite probably, though I doubt we would have had quite such palatial accommodation!”
She was fascinated by the life on board – “There’s a man here whose only job seems to be making the butter sculptures for high table. I think he carves the vegetables, too” – and was equally intrigued by her fellow passengers: “Surreal. On the deck, a group of elderly men, all in identical overcoats, like a flock of Magritte characters about to take wing.”
The 46-year-old author, who lives in Huddersfield, added: “Passengers on the Queen Mary 2 are mostly older people and they are great readers, fond of culture and nostalgic for the days when travel meant something special rather than just being a means to an end.
“The split is about even between Americans and British – though there’s a smattering of other nationalities, too. They come from all kinds of backgrounds – my friend and his wife, who were on their honeymoon, were sitting with a Geordie undertaker and his wife; Kevin and I were with a British psychiatrist, his actor partner, and an American who had made his fortune through slot machines.”
Joanne might also have found the germ of a plot for her next book while on board. During the return crossing she became convinced that one of Queen Mary 2’s cabins was haunted, and imagined some strange goings-on in the passengers’ launderette.
She was delighted to have her butler on hand again. “Greeted once more by the splendid Victor Hugo who, on seeing I was reading a book by his namesake, brought me a basket of fruit,” and later: “Victor Hugo excelled himself by making me a fabulous cocktail; dark rum, steeped in something that tastes exactly like Christmas pudding.
For me, her experience is summed up by one glorious message she Tweeted to a curious fan who was wondering where where she was: “I’m on the QM2. Having Adventures. I’ve never worn so many frocks. Or drunk so much Champagne.”
I told you it was a tough life.
Chocolat, starring Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp, is showing on Film 4 at 9.00 pm on Christmas Eve

By | 2017-06-15T16:00:13+00:00 23 December 2010|Cruise Entertainment|3 Comments

About the Author:

John Honeywell is a travel writer specialising in cruise ships and cruise travel. Winner of CLIA UK's Contribution to Cruise award 2017.


  1. Oman 23 December 2010 at 11:50 am - Reply

    John – thanks for all the great posts – here is a traditional Happy Christmas from Oman for you as you sail the seven seas

  2. John Honeywell 23 December 2010 at 1:09 pm - Reply

    Thank you. I am looking forward to spending a couple of days in Oman in early February, when I arrive on Brilliance of the Seas . Christmas greetings

  3. Oman 30 December 2010 at 4:58 am - Reply

    John – Muscat is a nice stop and you should enjoy it. If you need suggestions or help – please let us know

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