Author Lynne Barrett-Lee was inspired by the true story of a cat’s heroics soon after World War Two. Her latest novel is a fictional reimagining of his dangerous sea adventures on board the H.M.S Amethyst.
From the moment I was asked if I’d like to tell Simon’s story, two things became immediately clear. First that I would say yes, without a moment’s consideration, and second, that it would be a labour of love.
After all, how could it not be? I love cats. I love writing. I especially love writing while in the company of my cats. So, to write as a cat? What could be nicer?
And what a joy it has turned out to be. But, unlike most of the novels I have written in the past, it also involved an element of responsibility. For all that this is fiction—a reimagining of a famous naval incident—it was vital that I remain true to history.
Not so much the small, day-to-day things, because that would be impossible, but to the memories of both my doughty four-leggedprotagonist , and to those of the men with whom he served.
It goes without saying that I have done much research. I’ve read books and testimonials, pored over maps, charts and photographs, tried to familiarise myself with ‘jackspeak*’ and naval lore and ship parts, and welcomed the word ‘corticene**’ into my life.
Image via Maritime Quest
It’s obviously my hope that the book wears this lightly—with enough verisimilitude to capture the moment but sufficient innocence that a small, skinny, black and white kitten feels very much the narrator of the story.
However, what I’ve mostly been is humbled. Like Simon, an innocent in matters military and nautical, the more I immersed myself in the horror of the Yangtse Incident, the more awed I became. It’s already well-documented that the Amethyst’s young crew returned as heroes, and that many were duly decorated, and rightly so.
But, as is often noted when it comes to momentous events, in order to fully appreciate how it felt you probably had to be there. And though I lay no claim to that—I was only there vicariously—my need to ‘be’ there, in the sense of getting to better know these brave seamen, has helped me understand what they went through on a much more personal level.
I hope I’ve done them justice (and that they’ll forgive me putting words in their mouths) because I could not respect or admire them more.
* jackspeak (n): naval slang words and phrases
** corticene (n): a floor-covering material made from ground cork
Lynne Barrett-Lee is an award-winning novelist with several Sunday Times bestselling titles to her name. Her work includes The Baby Laundry for Unmarried Mothers, Giant George: life with the world’s biggest dog and the global sensation The Girl With No Name, which has been translated into 23 languages.
Feature image via Wiki
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