This potent debut by award-winning writer Moreton weaves a richly evocative story of heartache and secrets, set along the precarious coastline of the Sussex Downs. It opens as Jack races from London to the cliffs near Beachy Head, convinced that his wife, Sarah, plans to end her life after a final, failed IVF cycle. But Sarah doesn’t want to be found, and nor does Gabe, a man holed up in a disused lighthouse and known locally as ‘the Keeper’. In finding each other, they’ll rediscover themselves. Pacy and packed with bittersweet lyricism, it’s a multilayered tale with a surprise ending.
Hepzibah Andersonin Event, the magazine of the Mail on Sunday
Clive James was dying when I met him. Everybody knew it, because the great writer and broadcaster had said so in print. He had written a poem about he would never see the leaves on the Japanese maple in his garden turn green again, because leukaemia was about to claim him … but then the tree died first.
‘We’ve had it replaced,’ said James sheepishly, when I went to see him at home in Cambridge, two years later. ‘I am highly embarrassed to still be here,’ he said at the start of a long afternoon and early evening in which he talked with surprising candour but unsurprising fluency about his life and loves. There were tears, from both of us.
Never meet your heroes they say, but they’re wrong. He had been a writing of hero of mine since I was a teenager, when his brilliant memoir made me realise it was possible to be a writer even if you came from a place everybody else thought was nowhere. I’m glad I met him. It was a privilege. This is the first draft of what I wrote, an account of the encounter that is more raw and far less polished than what appeared in the Mail on Sunday, but closer to how it was.
We went for a walk this afternoon, after lunch in the Giant’s Rest pub, and happened to pass through a churchyard. There a tombstone caught my eye, and I paused in the misty rain to run my hand over the metal, trace the words and read the story. It broke my heart. It does again now, writing this.
Elizabeth lived in these parts, around the mysterious Long Man figure in the Sussex countryside, in the 1700s. She and her husband Thomas had 11 children: four sons and seven daughters. Then, over a period of five years, she lost six of them.
The first was Jane, in 1725. She was three years old. The next was Stephen in 1726, also three years old. That same year, Elizabeth also lost Frances, who lived for only three months.
Three years passed, then Thomas died, age one. Richard was next, in 1730, when he was nine months old. That same year, her teenage daughter Mary died, aged 16.
A year later, Elizabeth lost her husband and their father, Thomas.
I don’t know why any of this happened. I don’t know who they were. I feel the need to mark their existence though, having met them like this. Here’s to them. Jane and Stephen and Frances and Thomas and Richard and Mary, and their Dad Thomas. They were here, long ago. They lived. I also want to honour Elizabeth, who somehow found the strength to go on living for 26 more years.
This is the kind of place where time stretches. The tomb is overlooked by a mighty, twisted yew tree whose weary arms are held up by posts and chains. It is said to be at least 1600 years old, which means there is a chance it was alive when the Romans were in Britain, before the legions withdrew.
Time stretches and time spins.
And in another corner of the churchyard there is a memorial to a pair of sisters, Pattie and Catherine, who died 97 years apart. That feels astonishing to me.
Ninety seven years. Pattie in 1894, aged 15 months. Catherine in 1991, having witnessed the First and Second World Wars, the Nuclear Age, the Space Race and the dawning of the age we live in now. She was 93 years old.
Their surname is Ade, which in Sussex is a contraction of Adam, a name that links us all. Walking away, one of us says they must have been related. I go back and check the tombstone and find that yes, it’s true of Elizabeth and Thomas, who lived and loved and raised and lost their children more than a century before the sisters were born. They were called Ade too.
I’ve been banging on about The Light Keeper novel for a while – and obviously I would still very much like you to get a copy, spend time in that world where the seabirds soar and fall in love with the characters – but now I’d like to mention something else. There’s an album. A collection of songs, written by myself and the musician David Perry in response to the story and the characters of Sarah, Jack and Gabe, the Keeper. This summer we slipped into the Saffron Lounge studio, run by our mighty friend and producer Bruce Pont within walking distance of the cliffs where the story happens, to record the songs as live, playing and singing together. Bruce added voice, drums and keys and Phoene Cave, a very fine singer, gave us backing vocals. Then I recorded extracts from the novel to set up each song. The result is The Light Keeper by The Light Keepers (see what we did there?) and it’s available now on iTunes, Spotify and all the usual streaming services as well as for direct download here. What does it sound like? The best way to tell you is to play you something, so here below is Holding Out For More, a song about the love between the Keeper and his partner Rí in their early days. Hope you like it. Let me know. We’ll be launching the album in the cinema of the Towner, a world class gallery, on Thursday December 5 at 7.30pm. Tickets are available here. The performance will feature readings, the stories behind the novel and the songs as well as images from visual artists who have responded to the same stunning landscape. See you there, if you can make it. If not, settle down, choose your player and have a listen to The Light Keeper. Thanks.
Seven songs found or re-found in the last seven days, just for fun and the sake of it. This latest weekly list is a little more mellow than the last, or melancholy if you prefer. I do. The lonesome note. A wonderful song about Samson; the aching and longing of a tune you may have heard on Wallander; Luke Sital-Singh’s brand new cover of a Travis banger; Michael Stipe and 1 Giant Leap listening to the silence; Cornershop in a new light; Buddy Rich’s 12-year-old daughter stepping up to the mic for the first time and Sheila Chandra’s chilling take on a very old song. Love is a killing thing, indeed. (That’s Hedy Lamarr in Samson and Delilah by the way. She was also a brilliant inventor who helped create the technology behind mobile phones. Fact.)