Spirit of the Titanic- Titanic Fiction
That calm, sunny day is one I'll always remember…because the twentieth of April, in the year 1910, was the day that I, Samuel Joseph Scott, died.
The fascination which children have about the story of Titanic has been translated into many different books. They tend to take the form of illustrated, simple stories such as that of Polar the Titanic Bear. However one children’s author has taken a new tack on Titanic as a children’s story, with a novel about the ghost of a Harland and Wolff catch-boy and his journey on the liner.
Nicola Pierce’s Spirit of the the Titanic
, published by O’Brien Press, takes the true story of Samuel Scott, a 15 year old who died during the construction of Titanic in Belfast in 1910. As a catch-boy, he would have been part of one of the many riveting squads which worked on Titanic and her sister, Olympic. It was a dangerous job, working with red hot rivets in precarious parts of the ship. Looking back at the health and safety through today’s eyes, it is hard to understand how more people did not fall to their deaths or receive fatal injuries during the construction.
The Spirit boards the Titanic
Using her own research and some creative licence around Sam’s story, she puts him on board the Titanic as it journeys to New York and lets his character interact with other famous names on the ship such as Captain Smith
, the Marconi radio operators
, the orchestra members, the baker and the chef. Samuel’s ghost is able to observe the last hours of Titanic and to help an emigrating family who happen to have been his neighbours as they try to find their way to the lifeboats. Although Sam cannot be seen, the baby of the family can sense his presence and it is through her that he is able to show them the path to safety. Nicola describes a heart rending scene where the father says goodbye to his young family, knowing full well that he will not be on another lifeboat and that he is in the final minutes of his life.
A story about people
It is a tale which reinforces the idea that Titanic’s wider story is about people. By taking the examples of the people with whom Sam’s ghost interacts, she brings home the terror, sadness and tragedy of the ship’s last moments. Also portrayed with a great depth of feeling are Sam’s own thoughts on the death of his father before Titanic.
Nicola first came across the story of Samuel Scott when she was reading a book about Belfast City Cemetery by former Belfast Lord Mayor, Tom Hartley. Tom has studied the graves within the cemetery and conducts tours based on some of the more interesting characters buried there. His book mentioned the unmarked grave of this young catch boy, the first casualty of the Titanic.
'I spent the next six weeks researching, all day every day. I visited the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum, and got hold of every film and documentary I could find, alongside building up a “Titanic” collection of books,' Nicola explains.
'The story unfolded naturally, starting with my determination to use Samuel to tell a story that happens two years after his own death. I read that the men working on Titanic knew they were building the biggest ship in the world so it was just one of those Eureka moments: what if Samuel loved his job so much, his ghost stays with Titanic while his broken body ends up in Belfast City Cemetery?'
But the real triumph of the book is the fact that Nicola was able to repay her narrator. In April of 2011, one hundred and one years after his death, Samuel received a marked headstone at his grave. Nicola was amongst those at the unveiling ceremony which she says was an emotional day.
'I just felt that Samuel had helped me to tell my story and now I could repay him with this headstone that his family couldn’t afford for him, back in 1910. It isn’t often a writer can do something for their narrator. I’m forever grateful to the West Belfast Festival who organised the event, and then the day became even more emotional when I was introduced to Mrs Scott Donnelly, Samuel’s niece. She remembers her father talking about the brother, he never met, who died in Harland & Wolff; in fact, her father was named after the brother: Samuel Joseph Scott.'
Nicola Pierce hails from Dublin and now lives in Drogheda, having lived in Belfast for a number of years. A graduate of UCD, she has worked as a bookseller and has co-written a number of successful non-fiction titles. Spirit of the Titanic
is her first work of fiction for young readers and can be purchased from O'Brien Press
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