Here’s what it’s like to step out of the Lantern Room at the Belle Tout lighthouse near Beachy Head in Sussex, in the South Downs National Park, and walk around the platform on the outside of the tower. Yes, the outside. A long way above the ground, and beside a four hundred foot drop. I’m afraid of heights – my children still laugh at the way I clung on to the inside wall of the Eiffel Tower for dear life, genuinely scared, so this was a challenge. The heavy breathing is because I was frightened! Worth it though, for the astonishing views. Enjoy! It’s the setting for The Light Keeper, my first novel, published this August. If you want to know more about the book or read the first three chapters for free, just let me have your email here. You’ll automatically get the chance to win a night in the lighthouse.
I have a new story to tell. It’s about a young woman called Sarah who is caught up in the stress of trying for a baby, through fertility treatment. The cracks are showing in her relationship with her lover Jack. They’re in that terrible moment between having the last cycle of treatment you can afford and finding out whether it has worked. I remember it all too well.
Their nerves are shredded. Sarah needs to be alone, away from him, to face the moment of truth. So she runs, out of the city and down to the coast, to the high cliffs and beautiful down land around Beachy Head and the Seven Sisters.
When he finds her gone, Jack sets off in a hurry to find Sarah, convinced he must do so before it’s too late. But she doesn’t want to be found. Not by him. Not yet.
And there’s someone else seeking answers too, up on the cliffs where the seabirds soar. A man known only as the Keeper, living in an old lighthouse right on the cusp of a four hundred foot drop. He’s only too aware that love sometimes takes you to the edge.
This is the situation at the beginning of my debut novel The Light Keeper, which comes out in August. It’s about love, loss, longing, faith and hope. I hope you’ll want to read it. Matt Haig has. The author of Reasons To Stay Alive and Notes From A Nervous Planet loves The Light Keeper, as you can see below.
I’d love to send you the first three chapters as a taster. Will you give me your email address so that I can send them, please?
There’s more to come. I have a brilliant publisher, Marylebone House, but getting a story out there and heard by people who might really love it is a challenge. Right now, the story and I need friends. People who will read it, tell their mates, spread the word. Could that be you?
If you sign up you’ll also get exclusive access to a load of good things, including videos, readings, podcasts, competitions and the chance to win a book, a walk and lunch with me in that stunning landscape or even a night at the lighthouse for two people.
You can also ask me anything, any time. If you have a book club, a group, a church or a bunch of mates I’ll happily come round and talk about The Light Keeper and the themes within it, which we’ll explore together over the coming months.
Last night at the Lapwing Festival I watched and listened to the Syrian musician Maya Youssef play a piece of music called Syrian Dreams, which she wrote after watching the news with her young son asleep on her lap in London, seeing a child of the same age in a war zone familiar to her from home, who had died. It’s a piece that expresses both sadness and hope, and special in itself, but seeing it in that location was extraordinary. The sides of the tent were open, the breeze was on our faces, there were flaming torches to keep us warm and beyond that was the Cuckmere Valley with the chalk faces of the Seven Sisters looking out to sea. It’s one of the great views of the world, expressed in art of all kinds many times, and it has come to represent a certain kind of idyllic Englishness. There were certainly people in the audience who had grown up with or aspired to that ideal. But last night, migrating geese were passing and calling as Maya played, bringing their life and energy from elsewhere in the world. The cliffs were a reminder that although we like to think this time and place is all there ever was or will be, they’ve been both present and continually changing as the sea washes up against them for centuries. For millennia, actually. Heading that gorgeous, profound music that comes from both here and there, seeing that landscape that is both ancient and always changing, I thought about the ways we define ourselves and our borders against the Other, whatever we perceive it to be. And in that moment, in that time and place of connection and humanity and beauty and resonance, all our borders seemed to dissolve and there was no them, just us. One moment doesn’t seem enough. I wish we could live like that all the time, the world would be a better place if we could only connect.
Here’s the piece, have a listen. If you’d like to hear the podcast about the festival I made with Emily Jeffery it’s at http://www.edgeofengland.com or on iTunes as Edge of England, episode four.Continue reading “Syrian Dreams in the Cuckmere Valley”
I’ve been making a podcast with my friend Emily Jeffery, an award-winning presenter and producer, about the landscape in which we live, down here on the southern Edge of England. There’s a dog called Mabel, a Spitfire that haunts us, a lighthouse and a lot of cliffs, some incredible stories and a beautiful bit of Bach by the beach. The first season of six episodes is on iTunes or you can listen to all of them on the website www.edgeofengland.com.
Thanks, do share if you like it and let me know what you think.
Words from 2006, offered in memory of Kingsman Jamie Hancock, killed in Basra at the age of 18. Reposted in the light of Chilcot’s damning verdict on why the war was fought.
Kingsman Jamie Hancock was killed within moments of starting his first ever sentry duty at the Old State Building in Basra. He was 19 years old. He had been in Iraq for two weeks. His father, Eddie, 60, said: “It makes no difference to Jamie whether he was killed accidentally by one of his own side or by insurgents. He still died a hero and a man, serving his Queen and his country. I get some comfort from the thought that he would have died instantly, without suffering.”
Mr Hancock previously accused Tony Blair of treason and called the Prime Minister “the mother of all liars” for sending troops to Iraq under false pretences.
In the last letter Jamie wrote home, on the night before he was shot, he says: “I had my first rocket attack about two hours ago. I was on the roof just looking at the view and I heard a whizzing noise and then a big bang. One of the rockets didn’t explode it went straight through the toilets. Unlucky.”
Next to that word he drew a smiley face. Hours later he was dead. The letter was passing through the Army mail system as uniformed officers called at the family home that evening, and over the days that followed, as those who loved him grieved.