Hello everybody! Today, I’m really excited to share a guest post from Lucy Strange, the author of Our Castle By the Sea, which I read and really enjoyed in December (as you’ll know if you read my December reviews post yesterday!). Onto the post!
“My Lighthouse Quest” by Lucy Strange
My research for Our Castle by the Sea took me on a quest around the coast of England, visiting some of our most atmospheric and beautiful lighthouses. I began close to home with the South Foreland lighthouse near St Margaret’s at Cliffe near Dover in Kent. The ‘castle’ in my story – Petra’s lighthouse home – is largely inspired by this sturdy, fortress-like structure. A perilous sandbank lurks just off this coast, responsible for wrecking and swallowing up many hundreds of ships over the centuries, and this was the inspiration for the legend of the Wyrm – the bloodthirsty sand-dragon that haunts Petra’s nightmares.
I like this photograph of the lighthouse in Southwold (below), as so many lighthouses are lonely, isolated, storm-battered outposts, but this one is surrounded by houses and shops, bobbing up cheerfully from among the roofs and chimneys – part of the town itself. It reminded me of the significance of lighthouses within coastal communities. In Our Castle by the Sea, the community itself is at the heart of the story, as are their changing attitudes to Petra and her family once the war begins.
I had a wonderful time exploring the lantern room, spiral staircase and living quarters of this retired lighthouse – you can almost feel the vigilant presence of the last lighthouse keeper. I loved discovering the curved furniture, and the desk still covered with paperwork. In order for my story to feel real to readers, I felt it was important for me to understand some of the technology of the lighthouse – the lamp and the optic, for example – how everything would have worked, and also to understand what it felt like to look out over the sea on a grey, cloudy day, or to hear the sound my footsteps made on the cold, concrete steps
I wanted the experience of sleeping in a lighthouse too, and for this I went to the remarkable Belle Tout lighthouse near Eastbourne, which is now a boutique hotel. You can choose between a normal, comfortable hotel room in the main house or the cosy lighthouse keeper’s bunk in the lighthouse itself. I can tell you that sleeping in the bunk was a little like being on a ship – there wasn’t the movement of being at sea, but there was the same sense of being unusually close to the elements, somehow at the mercy of the rain and the fierce, clifftop winds.
This lighthouse was in many ways the starting point for ‘Our Castle by the Sea’, as it was an Eric Ravilious painting of the view from Belle Tout’s lantern room that first set my imagination in motion. When I first saw this painting I was captivated by the unique perspective – the shape of the room, the windows, and the glorious feeling of air, light, sea and sky beyond. I knew straight away that I wanted to write a story told from this viewpoint – a wartime story – and I imagined a girl up in the lantern room – small and scared and all by herself, determined to keep watch over the sea and sky . . .
OUR CASTLE BY THE SEA by Lucy Strange is out now in paperback (£6.99, Chicken House)
Find out more at www.chickenhousebooks.com and follow Lucy Strange on twitter @theLucyStrange
Are you planning to read this book? Have you ever read something that prominently features a lighthouse? I’d love to hear in the comments!