This isn’t a tribute to Hamilton, although that is an astonishing piece of work. Wonderful. No, this is about the privilege of telling a story in the room where the action takes place, and singing songs inspired by that story there too. The video is below, have a watch. When I started out writing The Light Keeper a long time ago, I was living in a new town by the sea, trying to get used to it all and looking for friends. I walked the landscape around Belle Tout, Beachy Head and the Seven Sisters with an open mind and heart, looking for a way to respond to it as I had the landscape of the Dingle peninsula in County Kerry for the book Hungry for Home. I was hungry for home when we came to live here; hungry for a place to settle, raise kids and belong. So what a joy to be able to go up into the Lantern Room of the Belle Tout lighthouse and tell stories and sing songs from The Light Keeper, which opens and closes with scenes in that very room. The views are breathtaking, genuinely, as you will see during this performance filmed by Neil MacInnes. The song is Come Way, written by myself and David Perry, who is on guitar and vocals, with Bruce Pont and Phoene Cave also singing. Thank you to David Shaw, the lighthouse owner, for making it possible and for the manager Ian Noall for hosting us with a small audience. The great news is that we are hoping to do it again in the Spring, and there will be another chance to win tickets. In the meantime, you can come and hear the stories and songs at the National Trust Cafe at Birling Gap this Saturday at 5pm. This will also be very special, as it is another place where the action of the story happens and it too is right on the edge of the cliff. Tickets are available here. Get yours now because there aren’t many left. But also have a look at this, for a taste of what you will hear.
My first novel The Light Keeper is a story of love and hope, grief, faith and longing.
A young woman called Sarah stands on the brink, arms open wide as if to let the wind carry her away. She’s come to the cliffs to be alone, to face the truth about her life and to work out what to do, Her lover Jack 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 seeking answers up here where the seabirds soar – a man known only as the Keeper, living in an old lighthouse right on the edge of a four-hundred-foot drop. He is all too aware that sometimes love takes you to the edge …
The book comes out on August 15 but you can pre-order a copy here at a special discount or sign up to the mailing list and get the first three chapters to read immediately, for free.
Now the lovely people at the Belle Tout lighthouse are letting me give away a night’s luxury bed and breakfast there for two people, again for free. It’s a stunning location on a cliff in the beautiful landscape near Beachy Head in East Sussex, close to the Seven Sisters. You will never have stayed anywhere like it. And this is the setting for much of the book, so you will have a sense of being right inside the story.
I’ll be reading from the book, telling the true tales behind it and singing some of the songs written to go with the book, in an exclusive event at lunchtime on Friday 13 September. This is in the Lantern Room of the lighthouse, with spectacular 360 degree views of the sea and the Downs. It’s exclusively for members of the mailing list and there are only a dozen places available, so you have to sign up for a chance to win a pair. We’ll choose them at random (by number rather than name) on publication day, and also select the person who will be offered the chance to stay with a plus one that same night, in a lovely room with a spectacular view. If you win and you can’t come, I’ll give you a signed copy of the book and arrange a private reading at a date to suit you.
Thanks for reading, and hope to see you at the lighthouse.
Love and strength,
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 live on the coast. I can hear French radio on the car stereo. Ferries leave for France every day. The fishermen here are related, way back in time, to families from Normandy and Spain. We’re nearer to France here than we are to Westminster … yet my town voted for Brexit, by a large majority. The same goes for other towns all along the edge of England, for people living by the side of the Channel. I was fascinated by that and wanted to explore what was going on, in real life, way beyond the headlines and the B-word balls up. I do believe, in general, in the words of the late MP Jo Cox:
“We are far more united and have far more in common than that which divides us.”
I wondered if that was true here and now, in this fraught and divisive moment. And I was lucky, even blessed, that the perceptive Mohit Bakaya at Radio 4 was prepared to commission radio on this theme.
So I got together with my partner in radio, the producer Jonathan Mayo, and we devised a two-part documentary that would take us walking through Calais first then Dover, talking and listening to people who live, love, work and play beside and on the stretch of sea that the French call La Manche and that can seem like a bridge on a beautiful clear day, but is almost as often a barrier.
The model was the programme we had done for Radio 4 called The Walk: For Richer, For Poorer, walking through Kensington meeting the very rich and those who were struggling.
The Walk: Across The Water was floated, if you will forgive me, in the Autumn, just as the first reports began to come through of migrants trying to cross the Channel in small boats, having been told by people traffickers that they should try to get here before Brexit closed the doors for good. Men, women and children nearly died in the attempt, but they were rescued by the admirable servants of the Coastguard, the RNLI, the Border Force, the ferries or the fishing fleet. Even as we were researching the programmes, the Home Secretary Sajid David sent more boats to the Channel and declared the migration a national emergency.
I went across to Calais in early January for a research trip with my son Joshua, who has good French. We went to the top of the Calais lighthouse on a terrifyingly windy day, saw the White Cliffs of Dover and met Sebastien, the guide, who turned out to be a fan of Doctor Who and as a cosplay enthusiast who dressed up as David Tennant’s Doctor. On the way back I got terrible toothache as the result of an infection under a tooth on the lower left side of my mouth, which screamed to be taken out. I didn’t dare do that though, for fear that having it removed would make me sound like Daffy Duck right in the middle of making two radio programmes that were increasingly coming to mean a lot to me, personally. I waited until after they were made before having the tooth out, which meant suffering the pain for a couple of months. It’s gone now, which is a relief.
Anyway, I returned to Calais with Jonathan later in January and we met up with Sophie Tritz, a French journalist who turned out to be a brilliant fixer and great company. You can listen to the results here, but let me just say that the love story between Beatrice and her partner is extraordinary. So are the jaw-dropping, hardline things the Deputy Mayor of Calais says about migrants. Dover proved equally full of surprises. If you’d like to read more about either programme, I wrote a piece about Calais for the i newspaper and another about Dover here. The Walk: Across The Water was made by TBI Media on behalf of the BBC, with excellent sound work by Andy Partington. Thanks for your interest. I’ll post some photos of the trip below.
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.