Sarah stands on the brink, arms open wide as if to let the wind carry her away. She’s come to the high cliffs to be alone, to face the truth about her life, to work out what to do. Her lover is searching, desperate to find her before it is too late. But Sarah doesn’t want to be found. Not yet. Not by him. And someone else is also seeking answers up here 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 is all too aware that sometimes love takes you to the edge . . .
David Baddiel is Jewish. His grandparents fled the Nazis in 1939 but lost people they loved to the gas chambers. So it’s no wonder he felt disgust at having to shake the hand of a man who insists the murder of millions of people never happened. “I wanted to be very up-front about how much I didn’t want to meet a Holocaust-denier,” says the writer and comedian, who accepted the greeting in order to film an interview for a new BBC documentary but was visibly disturbed by it. “There were a lot of emotions in meeting him. I was very angry at bits of that interview and very exhausted after talking to him for a long time, three hours or more, with him saying unbelievably offensive things. I was like: ‘What the f*** am I doing here? What am I doing to my mental health?’”
This is a true story. We’re in East London, early Eighties, I’m 15. I really like Laura. She’s arty, graceful, smart, cool. Out of my league. We go to drama club. She dances to a song, I’m mesmerised. So I go off to the record shop to buy it. Derek’s Records, Walthamstow Arcade. “It goes dooo- do-dooo … I think it might be Dire Straits.” Derek laughs. “No mate, that’s Lou Reed. Walk On the Wild Side.” He sells me the single. I love it. A few days later I go back for the album, with money from my paper round. So I take Transformer along to drama club and leave it on the side. Devious, eh? Laura sees it. “Whose is this?”
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.