There’s something about Titanic …

titanic boarding pass with ship

I often get asked why I am so fascinated by the Titanic. Why does this tragic event hold such interest for me? Why did I write a book about it? Many people presume I have a distant relative who sailed on Titanic, or that I have some vague connection to the White Star Line or the shipyards in Belfast.

I don’t.

In fact, there is very little to connect me to Titanic at all – other than a long held fascination with the story of the unsinkable ship of dreams and all its amazing stories of survival, unimaginable tragedy and heart-breaking loss.

But there have been other great disasters, other dramatic, historical events. So, what is it about Titanic in particular which continues to fascinate me – and thousands of others?

Liam Kennedy, Professor of Economic and Social History, Queen’s University Belfast believes that our fascination with Titanic is a combination of many things. ‘There is no simple answer because there are so many reasons for it. Interestingly, there are other events which have had much greater historical significance, but with Titanic, it is the human element which has such universal appeal. It is the contradiction between the arrogance of those who boldly claimed she was unsinkable and the almost unbelievable fact that she did sink.’

Perhaps one of the most interesting human aspects of Titanic was the manner in which it encapsulated the social class system which was in place at the time. ‘People are, of course, always fascinated by social class and it was shown so starkly on Titanic,’ comments  Professor Kennedy. ‘The passengers were layered according to income and wealth in a manner which saw absolute luxury and poverty co-existing. In many ways, Titanic was a floating microcosm of wider society, producing – for perhaps the first time – an incredible physical proximity of social classes.’ The fact that these social class divisions still held, even at the height of the disaster – determining who got into the lifeboats first and even the order in which survivors disembarked the rescue ship, Carpathia, – is unimaginable to us today.

The timing of Titanic is also vital in the fact that it continues to captivate us, happening, as it did, at a pivotal time in history. ‘There are many other maritime disasters which are much more intriguing and have far greater historical significance,’ comments  Michael Martin, founder of the Titanic Trail in Cobh. ‘The sinking of the Lusitania off the Head of Kinsale in 1915 didn’t get the same attention as Titanic because it happened during a war and there was another disaster shortly afterwards. In many ways, 1912 was a slow news year compared to what followed in the years after.’

Professor Kennedy agrees that the timing of Titanic is an important factor in its continued legacy. ‘Titanic happened at the time when radio communication was a relatively new invention. It was therefore the first major news event of the 20th century, and the first to be broadcast around the western world. Similarly, 9/11 happened at a pivotal moment of US foreign policy. All disasters are dreadful, but some carry a heavier charge than others because of the time at which they happen.’

titanic headline

And of course it is also the ship itself which continues to grab our attention. ‘In Belfast, people were so involved and so proud of the ship and the achievement of the shipyards in building Titanic,’ comments Professor Kennedy, ‘and yet, it is the themes of humankind and technology which also play a part in our continued fascination with the event. Yes, the technological achievement of Titanic was progressive and liberating, but the sinking is a harsh reminder that technology can also carry dangers – something we have seen occur again and again since Titanic.’

Interestingly, Titanic wasn’t the first liner to be built to such high standards. ‘Titanic was a replica of its sister ship Olympic,’ remarks Michael Martin. ‘It was actually the Olympic which was the first ocean liner to set the new standards in engineering and ship building innovation. Much of the innovation created for Olympic was simply replicated on Titanic. The ship itself wasn’t anything particularly new, it is the tragedy and the fact that it occurred on the much-hyped maiden voyage that has made people fascinated.’

The Titanic tragedy has, of course, been recreated innumerable times in movies and novels. Just four weeks after the disaster, the first Hollywood movie was made, starring silent movie actress Dorothy Gibson who was on Titanic and wore the same dress for the movie as she wore on the night of the sinking.  ‘What has made Titanic so permanent is Hollywood’s preoccupation,’ comments Michael Martin. ‘Titanic also sank at the dawning of the film industry and the story has been told over and over again, utilising new technology as it was developed.’

This was certainly seen with James Cameron’s 1997 Hollywood epic which was inspired by his own fascination with shipwrecks. Cameron is quoted as calling Titanic ‘the Mount Everest of shipwrecks’. Interestingly, it was diving to the wreck  of Titanic he was initially interested in and requested Hollywood funding for, not making a movie about it.

Although many of us are fascinated by Titanic’s opulence, grandeur, size and the romantic notion of sailing across the Atlantic Ocean, we forget that this was an extremely ordinary event in 1912. ‘Huge liners calling into Cobh was a normal, everyday occurrence at the time,’ comments Michael Martin. ‘Titanic’s was just another routine visit on an ordinary day.’

Ultimately, Titanic was the most tragic of accidents. We simply cannot believe that this really happened; that such a huge vessel sank with such a devastating loss of life. Perhaps we are fascinated by the notion of what we would have done in those circumstances. It is the ‘what if’ factor which events such as Titanic, 9/11, the Indonesian tsunami and even the recent Concordia ferry disaster, continue to show that tragedy on a massive scale, can and will continue to affect and fascinate us.

Whatever the many and varied reasons for our fascination with her story Titanic’s tragic allure will, undoubtedly, only grow stronger over time.

The Girl Who Came Home is available now on the Amazon Kindle store and will soon be available in paperback.


The Addergoole Fourteen: The real story behind The Girl Who Came Home

Addergoole Fourteen

Sometime around May 2011, I began researching the Titanic. I knew I wanted to write a novel about Titanic – not so much about the ship itself, but about the people who sailed on her. I wanted to find out what happened to those who survived the tragic event. I wanted to find out how friends and families, especially those in Ireland, first heard the news that the ‘unsinkable’ ship had, indeed, sunk in The Atlantic. I wanted to find an ‘un-known’ story within this famous tragedy, which would be the inspiration for my fictional re-telling.

In survivor accounts and newspaper reports from the time, the same Irish survivor names kept coming up: Annie Kate Kelly, Delia McDermott and Annie McGowan. I dug a little deeper and discovered an incredible story of three young girls, travelling as part of a larger group, who had survived. One (she believed) took the last place in the last lifeboat and another jumped out of one lifeboat in order to return to her cabin to fetch the new hat she had bought in Ireland especially for her arrival in New York. Luckily, she was able to make a jump of fifteen feet to get onto another lifeboat as it was being lowered into the water.

Through further research, I discovered that Annie Kate, Delia and Annie were part of a group which has, in recent years, become known locally as The Addergoole Fourteen: a group of emigrants – friends and relatives – who had left their small villages in rural Ireland, travelled by cart and train to Queenstown in County Cork and boarded Titanic. Eleven of the group lost their lives in the tragedy. These three young women survived with miraculous stories to tell. I knew immediately that theirs was the story I wanted to tell in, what became my first novel, The Girl Who Came Home.

With help from Michael Molloy and others at The Addergoole Titanic Society, I began to understand the impact of the Titanic event on the Parish. I was so moved by the stories of parents waiting for days and days of news of their sons and daughters. I read about the wakes they held in their homes for the family members who would never be brought home. The event had a profound effect on the entire community and it is now remembered annually with a candlelit, bell-ringing ceremony. The local church now boasts one of only two Titanic-themed stained glass windows in the world.

For the people of Lahardane, the real Titanic village of my imagined Ballysheen, the memories of the fourteen who left their homes that spring day in April 1912, live on through the annual memorial service and through the plaques which recall the names of the fourteen and through the stained-glass window. The homes of some of the fourteen are still standing, although many are now just ruins.

With the Titanic centenary in 2012, the Addergoole story found a new audience. What I hadn’t realised, as I was writing The Girl Who Came Home, was that an Irish production company was in the process of filming a documentary about The Addergoole Fourteen. My novel was published in March 2012 and the TV documentary ‘Waking the Titanic‘ was shown on Irish TV channel TG4 to coincide with the centenary in April, 2012. For me, watching this was like watching my characters – and the real people who inspired the creation of them – come to life, and I will never forget how I felt as I watched it.

As we approach the 101st anniversary of the sinking of Titanic, we find ourselves faced with the prospect of a Titanic II being built. I have mixed thoughts about that (which will, no doubt, become a future blog post) but for now, I am simply humbled by the bravery and hope shown by those fourteen people – and hundreds of others – who left their homes and their families in search of a better life.

World Storytelling Day: Aesops Fables & Silly Stories

Today is World Storytelling day – a day to celebrate the art and the joy of storytelling and to celebrate this event I want to tell you about some wonderful children’s books from Miles Kelly Publishers.


Their Aesops Fables series is a wonderful collection of all the old favourite tales such as The Boy Who Cried Wolf, The Fox and the Stork, The Goose that laid the Golden Eggs and The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse. Each book includes ten well-known fables which are brilliantly illustrated with vibrant, engaging images.

silly stories

The Silly Stories collection is another series of engaging tales of – well – silliness! The collection includes titles such as The Hare-Brained Crocodile, How The Cow Jumped Over The Moon and How The Leopard Got His Spots and other well-known stories from Kipling and Lear as well as many others. Again, these stories are superbly illustrated with each book containing four ‘silly’ stories.

The books are roughly A4 size and are soft back and produced to a very high quality finish. They are great value – currently retailing at £2.99 per book on the Miles Kelly website. Both my 5 and 7 year old boys loved both collections. These are great books to keep as a series and would also make lovely birthday gifts.

To find out more about the fantastic range of fact and fiction books for children, visit the Miles Kelly website, or visit their Facebook page

Happy storytelling!


Then and Now: Sheena Lambert, author of ‘Alberta Clipper’


This month, as part of my regular feature to share and celebrate author success stories, I’m delighted to welcome Sheena Lambert to Whims & Tonic. Sheena recently took the plunge and self published her debut novel Alberta Clipper. Sheena will be speaking about her self publishing journey at Waterford Writer’s Weekend on Friday 22nd March. See website for full details, but here’s a sneak preview of her self publishing success!

Where you were at with your writing this time last year?

I finished my novel ALBERTA CLIPPER before Christmas 2011. By March 2012, I had set it aside for two months, and was back editing it helped by questionnaires I had sent my BETA readers in January. These questionnaires were very helpful, in particular where they revealed issues common to all the readers. During March, I also was fortunate enough to have Chris Binchy, Dun Laoghaire Rathdown Writer-in-Residence look over my work, and his feedback further helped me with my edits. I hadn’t as yet contacted any publishers in any serious way, although I had made a few early enquiries with agents.

What was causing you the greatest challenge with your writing?

Actually, there was one particular chapter which was driving me crazy. When I ‘finished’ the novel in 2011, I knew that this chapter had to be improved on, but I really didn’t know how, and the harder I worked at it, the harder it was to see clearly what needed to be done. Two things helped me resolve the issue; the first was a chat with Vanessa O’Loughlin of who in a couple
of sentences helped me see the major problem with the chapter, the second was the BETA reader questionnaires which also helped me realise what was wrong with the passage in question.

What important decisions did you make in the last 12 months?

The decision to self-publish was, of course, huge. My novel could still be an undiscovered pile of A4 pages stacked beside me on the kitchen table, instead of being in every major Irish bookstore and on Amazon for kindle. I can now read 5-star reviews of Alberta Clipper from book reviewers in the USA I have never met nor heard of, something that would have not happened had I not self-published.

What was the pivotal moment for you in the last 12 months?

Deciding to self-publish was certainly pivotal. Having had very positive feedback from a couple of publishers who nonetheless were not prepared to take on ALBERTA CLIPPER, I decided that based on the outcome of one last submission, I would self-publish or not. When this particular publisher
turned ALBERTA CLIPPER down, and yet encouraged me, based on the book’s quality, to self-publish it, I took it as a sign.

The second important moment for me was getting my book distributed by Easons in Ireland. Having them decide, independently, that ALBERTA CLIPPER was good enough to sell in their shops and to distribute to other bookshops was a great moment for me. Self-publishing is a lonely business, and some positive affirmation is always welcome!

What were the high points of the last twelve months?

I’ve been on the radio and TV since publishing ALBERTA CLIPPER, but having my book stocked by Bookstation and then Easons were definitely two of my highest points. My first independent book review was exciting too, especially as the reviewer was very complimentary about the book. Getting through to the quarter-finals of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award has been great – watch this space for any news of the semis! And of course, getting my first paperback proofs in the post from Createspace. That was nice.

What is the most important thing you have learnt about your writing during the last twelve months?

That I can write. I have had newspaper feature articles published very successfully before, but I wasn’t sure that I could write a novel. Now I know I can.

What are your hopes for the next twelve months?

I have two main aspirations for 2013. The first is to improve my kindle sales – I will work hard to emulate the success I have had in paperback in my ebook, and the second is to complete and publish my second novel. Whether I self-publish it or not remains to be seen…

Any other good news, inspirational or positive experiences to take away from the last twelve months?

I finished a novel, self-published it, and got it onto the shelves of every major bookstore in Ireland. I’m exhausted. That’ll do for one calendar year!

About the author

Sheena Lambert pic

It took ten years working as an engineer on a landfill site, five years running a fashion boutique and one year lecturing in waste management and recycling before 38 year old Sheena Lambert from Dublin, Ireland, realised she was supposed to have been a writer all along. Her first novel, ALBERTA CLIPPER, was published in November 2012.

Now, in addition to raising two boys and making the dinner every day, she writes feature articles for a living, and is working on her second novel.

Sheena lives in Dublin, Ireland for the moment, but if she wins the lottery, you will find her in a little village somewhere in the south of France, making red wine.

ALBERTA CLIPPER IS AVAILABLE IN EASONS, DUBRAYS, BOOKSTATION and all good indie BOOKSTORES ACROSS Ireland and on Amazon at the following links: and

Contact Sheena at or

The Women’s Prize for Fiction 2013

woman reading

Yesterday saw the announcement of the longlist for the 2013 Women’s Prize for Fiction (the awards formerly known as the Orange Prize) and, unsurprisingly, the promotion of the titles and the debate about their worthiness has begun in earnest.

I am always intrigued by book awards. Not only do they inspire me to indulge in my private, meandering thoughts about what my own acceptance speech would be like at such an event (brief and blundering, most probably), but they also interest me because they always seem to throw up some great opinions about the who, the why, the what and the really? Her? of the publishing industry.

Of course, everyone seems to be hoping that Hilary Mantel won’t win – again. Poor Hilary Mantel. You write a bloody good book which wins lots of awards and then everyone gets sick of you and your bloody good book and misquotes your views of Kate Middleton in the press and starts to root for the underdog. Fascinating psychology, if you’re interested in that sort of thing. Still, I think she is being treated a little harshly.

Having said that, I’m rooting for M. L Stedman whose wonderful debut The Light Between Oceans has also been long listed. I was fortunate to be invited to the book launch of The Light Between Oceans at the 2012 London Book Fair where I met and spoke to the author. A more humble, unassuming, lovely individual you could not hope to meet and I am sure she would be a very worthy winner of this particular award. You can read my review of the book and my interview with the author here.

In the meantime, you can follow the progress of the awards at the Women’s Prize for Fiction website.  The shortlist will be announced at the London Book Fair on 16th April.

Exciting stuff.

World Book Day and my love of reading …

It all started with Peter and Jane and their red setter, Pat, ‘the dog’ in this book….

peter and jane

I remember those classic Ladybird books as if I had only looked at them yesterday. I remember the repetition, I remember the pictures, I remember the feel of them (slightly soft and a bit crumbly) – I even remember the smell of them (book-ish). Those simple little books instilled in me a love of reading which I have never left.

Today is World Book Day and it has been wonderful to see so many associated events taking place across the UK and Ireland. My Twitter stream is jam-packed with publishers running competitions and give-aways and with authors and readers sharing their love of books and reading.

As a writer, I am perhaps too aware of the current changes taking place within the publishing industry and read, with sadness, regular blog posts and newspaper articles about ‘the decline of the bookshop’ and ‘the closure of libraries’ and depressing stats about how few parents read to their children. So, I am hugely pleased to see how much World Book Day is being supported today.

Having started with the simplicity of Peter and Jane, I am happy to report that my reading skills have progressed over the years and I am currently loving Rose Tremain’s ‘Restoration’, a wonderful book which I can’t believe I’ve never read until now and cannot put down. Earlier this week, I finished another really lovely book: Eva Rice’s ”The Misinterpretation of Tara Jupp’ and last month, I wept buskets as I read Cheryl Strayed’s incredible memoir ‘Wild’.



tara jupp


So, please keep reading, keep buying books and keep those vintage Ladybirds in a box in the attic. They are always good for a dose of 70’s nostalgia.