Novel Explores Legacy of Piper Alpha Disaster

When the idea was first floated for Iain Maloney to write a novel about the events around Piper Alpha, his response was clear.

“My first reaction was ‘no, absolutely not’.

“First of all, this is not my story. I wasn’t directly involved and my initial image of having a character on Piper Alpha at the time and going through it all… I didn’t for a second think I was the right person to do this, and just on the base there were other people probably better suited to it.

“And it’s still raw in Aberdeen, you know?” The way Hillsborough is in Liverpool or shooting in Dunblane. People remember it, it’s from living memory. I didn’t want to take something and ruin it, basically.

The Aberdeen native was just eight years old when Piper Alpha took place on July 6, 1988, and he was deeply concerned about a book’s lack of respect for the 167 men killed, their families and even the survivors, many of whom suffered the shock of the disaster for years and decades to follow.

Maloney’s father was a firefighter and his mother a nurse, and although they were not directly involved, exposure to such a cataclysmic event in the small town of Aberdeen (described by some as a village) left scars. vivid memories.

In discussions with his publisher, in 2015 a fictional story around the Lockerbie bombing had been published two years earlier by James Robertson (and other fictional works may be cited for 9/11 in the United States, the Mark Wahlberg’s Hollywood film Deepwater Horizon, or a play produced this year based on Piper Alpha in Aberdeen).

“I didn’t think for a second that I was the right person to do this”

Maloney later decided he would write a book, not directly about the night of Piper Alpha (although it was a short chapter), but a 33-year story examining the impact of a fictional survivor. , his family and Aberdeen as a city.

The book was first published in 2016 as “The Waves Burn Bright” and has been reissued this year under a new editor like “In the Shadow of Piper Alpha”.

“One of the things that shocked me the most, first publishing the book then and republishing it now, is how many people have never heard of Piper Alpha, especially the British.

“You had American friends, for example, who didn’t know, that’s less surprising.

“But the Scots, the Brits who are expected to have heard of Lockerbie, they’ve heard of Hillsborough but they won’t necessarily have heard of Piper Alpha.

“It’s shocking, it surprises me and I think, more than anything, it’s a reason for these kinds of stories to be told so that people are still aware of them.”

The story’s main character, Marcus, and his daughter are invented to try to “steer that line of respect while entering the story”.

© Provided by Iain Maloney
Author Iain Maloney

Where fiction meets reality is the study of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), reported by many real Piper Alpha survivors.

The Lockerbie bombing, Piper Alpha and the Hillsbrorough disaster all happened within the span of two years of 1988-89.

Then, with the outbreak of the first Gulf War, PTSD entered the public sphere in a big way.

Maloney said: “It evolved into a story about what trauma is and what that post-trauma is like.

“In the PTSD literature, Piper Alpha is sort of the starting point for many studies by psychiatrists and psychotherapists at the Aberdeen Royal Infirmary.”

In preparation for the book, Maloney examined Piper Alpha and survivor accounts of other events around the world.

He added: “At that time it was a very, very misunderstood thing.

“A big part of what I needed to do well was to see what PTSD looks like from the outside, from family members and other people.

“A lot of the kind of stuff you would expect, like heavy drinking and flashbacks that feel like outbursts of violence, but also smaller things like personality changes.

“I read a lot, I spoke to experts, but I also spoke to people who had experienced trauma or knew people who had experienced it, and then once it was written, I obviously passed it again in front of people and I understood well, is it realistic, is it not realistic?

“Because you will never be 100% realistic, it is only my impressions that are put on a page. »

PTSD has been misunderstood

So what do survivors and their families think of his work of fiction, what has been the feedback?

“Generally the response I’ve received has been ‘good for you for writing this’, in the sense of just keeping the memory alive,” he said.

“There is always what we must never forget and keep people’s memories alive and keep the story told.”

piper alpha

Maloney also had survivors in Aberdeen, Glasgow and Edinburgh who approached him with their thoughts.

“A man who was on Piper Alpha told me after reading it that I understood the descriptions of what happened or how he felt.

“But that’s none of my business. It has to do with the sources I used. Steven McGinty’s book, and a guy called Ed Punchard, his memoir of his experiences.

Keep telling the story

What the experience of writing “In the Shadow of Piper Alpha” gave Maloney a keen sense of disaster-induced safety culture and its lasting legacy in that regard.

“It kinda pisses me off when you hear people talk about ‘his health and safety has gone crazy’ and that kind of stuff. Going back to a time when there wasn’t really health and safety in the workplace, what happens when things go wrong? That’s good. That’s what happens.

“The real story behind what caused the disaster, all the things that the Cullen investigation brought up. A lot of it is about these little communication things and someone finishing a shift. Things we take for granted now are just taking notes on what you did at work and making sure everything is recorded.

“A lot of this came out of this understanding of this, could have been avoided. If these measures had perhaps been taken.

“You cannot overstate the importance of this perspective, with studies of PTSD, ARI trauma specialists have truly learned a great deal and moved the field forward in helping survivors and families of this.”

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