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.
Beachy Head, 1939 is by the artist Eric Ravilious, who often visited Belle Tout and other areas of the South Downs. It was recently acquired for the Towner Gallery in Eastbourne which holds the best of his works. The view is from the approach to Belle Tout lighthouse or perhaps from the lantern room at the top. Here is the background as described in this excellent post by James Russell.
In 1939, as he prepared for his last major show as a civilian, Ravilious explored the region around Eastbourne (his childhood home, where his parents still lived) with renewed curiosity. His watercolours of Cuckmere Haven and the Wilmington Giant are what springs to mind whenever I hear the phrase ‘romantic modern’, since they take old provincial subjects – the kind of scenes an 18th century antiquary might have drawn – and make them new.
During this busy period the artist spent several days on Beachy Head, unknowingly rehearsing his wartime role as a painter of coastal defences. But he didn’t only work outside on the clifftop. Although known as a landscape painter, Ravilious produced a good proportion of his work indoors, and he had an eye for an interesting interior that few artists have rivalled. In his quiet, good-humoured way he easily persuaded the owners or occupiers of buildings to let him set up his easel, and so it was that he escaped the fierce breezes of Beachy Head for the calm of the Belle Tout lantern room.
‘Just now I am busy on the hills painting,’ he wrote to his friend Diana Tuely, ‘in the greatest comfort with my jacket off, and seated in a magnificent Chinese chair. That is to say I am perched in the top of the Belle Tout lighthouse (I wish you could see this) in the lantern drawing the immense expanse below with a gale blowing outside’.
Four hundred feet below the lighthouse, there used to be a hole dug into the chalk. More like a cave, with a carpet, table, chair and lamp. A man sat in it night after night, either saving sailors from the rocks or guiding smugglers safely home. Or both.
“You’ve got all the school groups coming through today,” Shirley, who used to work at the lighthouse, once told me as a group of hunched, listless looking teenagers snaked slowly uphill. They did not realise they were being watched.