When an orphaned kitten is discovered in the Hong Kong docks in 1948 by a British sailor, he has no idea of the journey that awaits him. Smuggled onto HMS Amethyst and named ‘Simon’ by his new friends, the little cat quickly gets used to life on the seas and appoints himself chief rat-catcher.
When tragedy strikes, Seacat Simon keeps spirits up – but it’s a long and dangerous journey back to England for the heroic kitten and his crewmates . . .
Inspired by real events, this is the story of ‘Able Seacat’ Simon’s adventures and heroics in dangerous wartime seas, as told by the cat himself!
Paperback published by Simon & Schuster
10 Random Things about Able Seacat Simon by Lynne Barrett-Lee
1. The first I knew of the Yangtse Incident, the Amethyst, and Simon, was when my publishers got in touch to ask if I’d like to turn his story into a book. I’d already written another book for them, about a great dane called Giant George, then the world’s biggest dog, so they had a hunch I’d enjoy writing another animal tale. And they were absolutely right. I did.
2. I couldn’t have written Able Seacat Simon without the help of my own cats, Harvey and Lola. Like Simon, they were both orphaned as tiny kittens, and were rescued – not by sailors, in this case, but by the RSPCA. Harvey looks almost exactly like Simon, too, so he modelled for me regularly. I try to make sure he doesn’t get too full of himself.
3. Nothing on board a ship is called what you expect it to be called. I didn’t fully appreciate this until I began writing, and it meant doing lots of research. What we landlubbers call the walls, floor and the ceiling, sailors call the bulkheads, deck and overhead. Luckily, Simon didn’t know any of that either, so we both learned as we went along. For younger readers, happily, we’ve included a glossary in the abridged version. We both could have done with one ourselves…
4. I never managed to find out why the captain of the Amethyst decided to call Simon Simon – a rather curious name to choose for a kitten! The crew never called him that either; to most of them, he was always known as Blackie. But it struck me that Captain Griffiths might have named Simon for a reason; perhaps after a loved one he’d lost. The scene in which Simon realises who he’s been named after was one of the most emotional ones for me to write.
5. Simon is the only cat ever to have been awarded a Dickin Medal, which is named after Maria Dickin, the founder of what we now call the PDSA, and honours animals who’ve shown conspicuous gallantry or bravery in times of war. It’s been awarded 54 times since its inception in 1943, mostly to dogs and pigeons, and a number of horses. Cats, being independent souls, tend not to be found in war zones, which makes Simon’s contribution even more special.
6. Authors are used to opening strange tabs on their computers, as they research things for their books, but the weirdest search I’ve ever had to do was for footage of a cat taking on an adult rat. (My cats are good mousers, but neither has managed that feat. Yet.) It didn’t make for very nice viewing, but it did bring it home to me what a brave little cat Simon was; a fully grown rat is a formidable beast, and Simon was such a tiny thing – not to mention weakened by his injuries.
7. Simon was laid to rest in PDSA Animal Cemetery, in Ilford, Essex, after a service attended by many of his shipmates, with full military honours. The cemetery was renovated in 2007, and you can still visit his grave today.
8. I learned something about cats that I didn’t know before I wrote the book. I knew a cat could use them to measure if they would be able to fit through an opening, but I didn’t know that they can also ‘see’ with their whiskers. Called vibrissae, a cat’s whiskers are so sensitive that they can detect tiny changes in air currents, which enables them to work out where obstacles are, and helps them see in the dark. For a cat to lose their whiskers – as Simon did from the shelling – is therefore to be partially blinded.
9. Writing from the point of view of an animal is challenging and exciting in equal measure. It’s challenging because the star of your story can’t speak, so you have to think about all the other ways he might communicate with humans. It’s exciting because putting yourself into another creature’s body allows you to see the world from a whole new perspective. Walking a (nautical) mile in Simon’s paws was one of my biggest ever joys as an author.
10. I have a not so secret dream. That one day a famous director like Stephen Spielberg will read Able Seacat Simon and decide to make a film about his part in the Yangtse incident. Harvey is very keen to take the starring role. J