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  • The Lightkeeper's Daughter
  • Written by Iain Lawrence
  • Format: eBook | ISBN: 9780307433930
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The Lightkeeper's Daughter

Written by Iain LawrenceAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Iain Lawrence

eBook

List Price: $6.99

eBook

On Sale: December 18, 2007
Pages: 272 | ISBN: 978-0-307-43393-0
Published by : Delacorte Books for Young Readers RH Childrens Books
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

Three years have passed since Squid McCrae last saw her parents and the remote island where she grew up. She returns now at seventeen, a young woman with a daughter in tow. The visit, she knows, will be rough. Lizzie Island–paradise to some, a stifling prison to others–brings an onslaught of memories. It is the place of Squid’s idyllic childhood, where she and her brother, Alastair, blossomed into precocious adolescents. But Lizzie Island is also the place where Alastair died.

Now the past collides with the present as Squid’s homecoming unleashes bittersweet recollections, revelations, and accusations. But nothing is what it appears to be. No one possesses the complete truth, and no one is without blame.


From the Hardcover edition.

Excerpt

Chapter One

In the bow of the ship, high above the sea, stands a girl of seventeen. She looks like a figurehead carved from wood, her arms never moving, her hair chiseled in place and painted with gold.

The ship carries her north at the speed of the wind, as though forever in a calm. The flags at the mast are twists of limp cloth, the smoke a gray column rising straight from the funnel. It's the sea, not the ship, that appears to be moving. It bursts on the bow and roars down the sides in tumbling foam. It carries rafts of torn kelp and logs that tilt through the waves. Seagulls and auklets skitter away, but the girl stares only ahead.

At her side is her daughter, dressed all in red. Too small to see over the rail, she crouches instead on the deck, peering through the oval of the hawsehole. Her tiny hands are cupped on the metal, and she stares out between them, the way a cat watches from a windowsill. Wedged between her knees is a red plastic purse, its flap buttoned across a Barbie doll too long to fit inside. A frizzy head juts out from one end, a pair of pink feet from the other.

The sea marches past, bashing at the bow, flinging droplets of spray that skitter like beetles on the water. It surges below the girl standing there, now reaching toward her, now falling away as the ship, meeting a wave, rises to the crest. And far ahead a tiny bright cap appears on the skyline. A single white eye blinks at her over all the miles of water.

In a moment it's gone, lost in the waves as the ship drops from the crest, as the foam at the bow billows toward her. But the girl watches and waits, and again it appears, the little red cap, the blink of the light. It's what she's been watching for ever since the Darby turned at the Kinahan Islands an hour ago. And at last she moves. She raises a hand and covers her mouth.

The island seems to rise from the sea like a surfacing whale. Trees and rocks appear, veiled in a silver of spindrift and mist. A tower forms below the red cap, at first so tiny and white that it makes the girl think of a gravestone. Then buildings emerge, red roofs and white walls. Squares of green lawn. Dark swaths of salal.

Each little piece fills the girl with a particular feeling, with a picture in her mind, or a smell or a sound. She was born on that island; she's the lightkeeper's daughter. Her name is Elizabeth McCrae, but all her life she's been known as Squid.

"Tatiana, look," she says. "That's Lizzie Island there."

The child doesn't answer. She seldom speaks. Her little shoulders are bent, her head thrust forward. She's always been small for her age, but now she looks tiny and fragile, closer to two than to three. Squid settles beside her, on the gray steel of the deck. She holds on to Tatiana as though the child might slide through the hole and into the sea.

Tatiana looks up, her eyes jiggling, all her teeth showing in her peculiar grin.

"You doing okay?" asks Squid.

Tatiana nods.

"We're almost there. You'll meet your grandma and your grandpa. They've got a boat with a glass bottom, and a little tractor that can pull you in a wagon."

Squid wants to tell her everything: about Glory, the little winged horse; about Gomorrah and the wailing wall; about Alastair's flute and the singing of whales. But Tatiana isn't listening. The child has already turned back to the hawsehole, watching the water rush past the boat.

On the island, the wind feels brisk. It drives the waves against the shore and shreds them into spray. It gusts up the rocks and over the sodden lawn, where Murray McCrae, the lightkeeper, stands in his khaki shorts.

"Darby's coming," he says, making it sound as though he doesn't care, as though he hasn't been watching for the ship since dawn first came to Lizzie Island. In his hands he holds the things the sea has cast ashore: strands of kelp and bits of bark and sticks like old men's fingers, warted with barnacle shells.

Six feet behind him, Hannah looks up and turns toward the sun. It's well to the south so late in September, and it glares off the waves, off the rocks wet with spray. She squints, then puts her hands to her face and peers through the tunnel made by her fingers, the shape of a heart on the sea.

The Darby is far in the distance. A plume of brown smoke, a speck of red for the hull. Her daughter's out there, an hour away.

Murray carries his sticks to the edge of the grass and heaves them back where they came from, over the cliff and down to the sea. He claps his hands together, then hitches up his shorts. "Better get hopping," he says. "I've got things to do. Sand to carry."

In a moment he's off on his little tractor, bulging above it like a circus bear. A rickety cart, rusted and squeaking, bounces behind him as he rattles down the boardwalk and into the forest.

Hannah goes the other way, over the trestle and up through the tower, out at the top to the platform that circles it. For nearly a week, a lone humpback whale has been feeding on the shallows off the island, and she looks for it now as she might watch from a porch for a friend passing by. The wind buffets at the long, dark dress of the lightkeeper's wife, at the crimson scarf tied round her hair.

Once this was her favorite place, above the houses and the patch of emerald lawn. Ringed in by the railing, she was never frightened by the height, though she stood so high above the sea that the birds flew below her and the surf flickered white on the distant reefs of Devil Rock. Autumn, once, was her favorite time, a summer's end when the whales and the birds stopped to rest on their southward migrations. But now the island is a prison, and the sea a wall around it. Autumn is the start of winter and the coming of the Undertaker. Even the wind makes her frightened.

She believes now that it has a voice. She has heard it often in the last three years--as a breath in the summer's tall grass, as a whisper through the forest of moss-bearded trees. It has shouted her name in the storms that come from the south, when the gulls are flung through the sky like scraps of paper. She hasn't told Murray any of this, but the voice on the wind is their son's.

Yesterday he was there. When the storm was at its peak and the house rattled and shook, when the Canadian flag tore itself into streamers of red and white, she looked out and saw him in the flash of the light. He was gone in the darkness that followed: there and then gone. Poor Alastair--four years drowned--blown up from the sea in the storm.

Hannah shudders, remembering that, her vision of him. She moves back from the rail and leans on the glass. Though eighty feet above the sea, it's stained with salt, remnants of last night's storm. Hannah rubs at the white splotches with her hand, and then with the scarf, tearing it off to let her hair blow in tangles. Every five seconds, the light flashes in the cupola.

It's a pathetic thing now, that light, a plastic dome on a little stick of a pole. The old lantern is long gone, the one that floated in its mercury bath, going round and around with a brilliance brighter than sunlight.


From the Hardcover edition.
Iain Lawrence

About Iain Lawrence

Iain Lawrence - The Lightkeeper's Daughter

Photo © Donald Lawrence

“Writing for young readers is almost like dipping into a fountain of youth; for hours a day, I am a child again.”—Iain Lawrence

Iain Lawrence is a journalist, travel writer, and avid sailor, and the author of many acclaimed novels, including Ghost Boy, Lord of the Nutcracker Men, and the High Seas Trilogy: The Wreckers, The Smugglers, and
The Buccaneers.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

When I was 12 or 13, I wrote picture books for my younger brother . . .

I started writing short stories after I graduated from high school and kept it up—though sporadically—during my ten-year career as a newspaper reporter. But journalism has a way of sponging creativity, so I went to work at a fish farm instead, in the hope that I would have more time to do my own writing. Two years later, when the farm went bankrupt and I found myself on employment insurance, I started writing seriously. I thought I could produce a publishable book during my one year of E.I. It was a naive idea; five years passed before I sold my first book.

My favorite stories from my childhood are the ones that were read to me . . .

The first story that I remember reading for myself is Robinson Crusoe. I would take it down to the river that flowed behind our house and lie in a little grassy nest. But I never finished it; I didn’t have the patience to read books as thick as that. I remember reading Owls in the Family and Born Free, skipping every second page and then every third in my hurry to reach the end.

My favorite stories from my childhood are the ones that were read to me, a chapter or two at bedtime. Strongest in my memory are beautiful stories like Stuart Little and The Wind in the Willows, and others that gave me nightmares like Treasure Island and Moonfleet.

Stories for young people are tremendously fun to write . . .

I love the shorter length, the quicker pacing, and the necessity of trying to see everything through the eyes of a child. Writing for young readers is almost like dipping into a fountain of youth; for hours a day, I am a child again.

I don’t think any story begins with just one idea . . .

. . . but from a connection of unrelated thoughts. I think all my stories begin with this idea of reliving old favorites, and of trying to capture the emotions that went along with them—fear or wonder or magic. When I look for new ideas, or decide what to tackle next, I think of what sort of story I would like to hear.

I write every day, starting in the morning and going on until mid-afternoon . . .

In winter and in rain, I go back to it in the evenings. But I find summer days too tempting to keep me inside. I always write on a computer and always play classical music, often the same CD over and over and over. In an annoying ritual, I have to win a game of computer solitaire before I can actually begin writing.

I begin every story with an outline, working forward and backward to fill in the plot. The outlines include notes on characters and settings, and they tend to be very chaotic, written almost as a dialogue with myself. They are full of questions and answers, of diverging alternative plots. I revise as I go along, replacing sentences and paragraphs with better ones, but keeping all the words on the computer screen. The passages that I’ve changed—and little notes that I’ve made to myself—keep piling up below the point that I’m working on. When I reach the end, I’ve got many, many pages of disjointed phrases, sentences, and paragraphs. It’s like a junk pile that I like to pick through now and then, just to see if there’s anything useful among the things I’ve thrown away.

I hope most of all to create characters that readers will remember . . .

I think it’s an amazing process that allows a reader to actually see what a writer imagines, to actually feel what a writer feels. I love getting letters from readers who say they felt as though they were inside the story. When I was the same age as them, I read about Captain Bligh’s amazing voyage in an open boat. I remember being so enthralled by one scene, where the sailors were trying to capture a seabird that had landed on the gunwale, that I almost shouted at my sister, who came into the room just then, “Shut up! You’ll scare the bird away.” That’s the feeling I’d like to create for my readers: that the story is utterly true at the time of its reading—that if you so much as move, you’ll scare the bird away.

Iain Lawrence lives on one of the Gulf Islands off the coast of British Columbia, and is an avid sailor. He lives with his longtime companion Kristin, as well as their dog Misty, and cat Sam.

A CONVERSATION WITH IAIN LAWRENCE ON THE LIGHTKEEPER'S DAUGHTER
Q: When did you develop an interest in writing? Did your teachers recognize your talent and encourage you?
A:
My grade three teacher told my parents that I would grow up to be a writer. In later years, in junior high school and high school, creative writing class was my favorite part of school. I remember being praised but not encouraged. I was a very shy child, so it was intensely embarrasing if my stories were chosen to be read aloud, and excruciating if I had to read them myself.

In grade eleven or twelve, I volunteered to be a school correspondent for the neighborhood newspaper. But my first published story was so changed from the version I submitted that I never wrote another one. When I graduated from high school, though, I hoped to be a writer.

Q: In the Acknowledgments you talk about Lucy Island as the inspiration for the setting of The Lightkeeper's Daughter. What was your inspiration for the characters and story?
A:
The first time I sailed to Lucy Island, there was a lightkeeper and his family living there. The last time, their house was just a stub of foundations poking up from burned and bulldozed ruins. It was like a different island, sad and somber, and it's this one that the McCraes inhabit–with a different name so that the real and very happy lightkeepers won't be mistaken for my fictional ones. The McCraes were inspired in part by the sense of loneliness and loss that lay thickly over Lucy then, and in part by the needs of the story. I gave each of them one strong desire, and their relationships arose naturally from the clashing of their different wants.

Q: You write "Alastair was good at everything because he only did the things that he was good at" (p. 101). How should we decide what to do, if it's not simply the things we're good at? Is there something you're not good at that you enjoy?
A:
It's a bit of a Catch-22, isn't it? You can never enjoy doing something you don't do well, but if you do it badly long enough, you get good enough to enjoy it. There are many things I like to do now that were only painful at first. By never trying twice, Alastair limited himself to a very narrow range of interests.

Q: Tell us about your process. Some writers say that their best writing comes out of revising and editing, while others prefer the spontaneity of their first version. How do you work?
A:
I love writing but don’t care much for rewriting. Once I’ve told a story, I tend to lose interest in it and want only to go on to the next one.

I used to start a novel knowing nothing of what would happen. I just began at the first page, wrote through to the last, and called the whole thing finished as soon as I reached the end. After many rejections, I realized I was doing something wrong. It’s my theory now (and I wonder sometimes if I didn’t just pick it up from someone else) that you can outline and write, or write and rewrite. But, really, it amounts to the same thing. A story that is started without an outline will become the outline, going through changes and revisions until it seems right.

Now I like to plan the story carefully and fully, going through it chapter by chapter until I know, for each of them, the beginning and the end, and most of what will happen in between. I like to know the characters, what they are like, and how they talk. The writing always strays from the outline in places. But, like a new highway built beside an old one, they eventually rejoin.


Q: Do you have any personal experiences with whales? What is your connection to them, and why was it important to you include the whale in the book?
A:
This story really began with the whales. The very first thought that inspired it was to tell the songs that whales might sing to each other. Its title then, and nearly till the end, was The Singing of Whales. Several years passed from the day I started the first version to the day I finished the last, all during a time when I spent entire summers wandering the coast in a little sailboat. I often saw whales, and sometimes sought them out. I bought a hydrophone to listen to their voices in the water, and it was always incredibly moving to be near them. One time, we were overtaken by a pod of killer whales. We were going so slowly that they could have shot by, but instead they slowed as they passed. They surfaced right beside the boat, and all around it, a big group of adults and children, and it seemed for a while that we were traveling with them. It was magical, really. The killer whales of the coast represent the ultimate in freedom to me, and it breaks my heart that they're dying.

Q: Usually we think about parents sacrificing for their children. Yet, in a way, Alastair sacrifices his future for Murray's when he agrees to stay on the island. Do you think that happens often in families? How do you decide what to sacrifice for someone or something you love?
A:
I think children seldom make even small sacrifices for their parents. But when they're older, and adults themselves, they often make huge ones, I think. It's ironic that Alastair, by giving his father what he wants, almost guarantees that Murray can't hang onto it. I can imagine that Alastair might have gone to school, studied whales, and returned to Lucy Island one day. I can imagine, too, that Squid would have stayed, and that Murray would have died a happy man on his own little island. But Alastair found that he had given up too much, and by doing it had doomed them all. If sacrifice has a limit, I have no idea what it is. But I can't imagine giving up life for a country, or even for a tiny little island.

Q: In many ways, this story is a tragedy. The characters learn and change, but only through great pain and the death of Alistair. Did you consider other fates for Alastair?
A:
For a time, Alastair did have a different fate - or at least the possibility of one. An earlier version of the story made it clear, at the end, that Alastair paddled away from the island in hope of reaching Vancouver. Whether he arrived or not wasn't said. But it was unthinkable that Alastair would go on with his life without letting Squid, at least, know that he was still alive. So the ending was changed to be less ambiguous, and I think this one is better. But, yes, these character became very real for me, and I thought about them for a long time afterward, often wondering if Alastair might have survived.

Q: At one point Hannah reminds Murray that "No man is an island" (p. 112). Do you agree? Do you identify with Murray's desire?
A:
Hannah, of course, is quoting the poet John Donne: "No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main..." I agree very much with that. The more firmly a person is connected to the mass of humanity, the better that person seems. At the same time, I understand Murray's wish for a simple life in an idyllic place, free from the worries of the world. That he can't have it, no matter how he tries, is a sad reality. Like most people, I think, I'm often less of an island than I'd wish, and sometimes more than I'd like.

Q: Why did you want to tell this story (particularly for a young adult audience)?
A:
For a long time, I considered telling this story in a more straightforward way, beginning with Alastair's birth and ending with his death. It would have been the same story, but very different. Trying to tell it as a series of memories was a puzzle that interested me through the planning and the writing. I wanted a sad story about people struggling for something they couldn't quite reach, and settling for something close. That, to me, pretty well sums up what life is about.


PRAISE

THE WRECKERS
“A fast-paced, atmospheric yarn that will have adventure buffs glued to their seats. . . . First-rate!”—Starred, Publishers Weekly


GHOST BOY
“This poignant adventure invites readers to look beyond others’ outer appearances and into their souls.”—Starred, Publishers Weekly

“This touching novel, [set a few years after World War II], will speak especially to readers who consider themselves different, flawed, or misunderstood.”—Starred, School Library Journal


LORD OF THE NUTCRACKER MEN
“Big themes are hauntingly conveyed through gripping personal story and eerie symbolism.”—Starred, Kirkus Reviews
Praise

Praise

“A beautiful, unsettling story.”—Booklist

“A must-read for lovers of tales rich in setting, atmosphere, and human understanding.”—Kirkus Reviews, Starred

“A beautiful story of light and dark, of magic, ghosts, tempests and shipwrecks, and of sadness and letting go.”—Kirkus Reviews, Starred

“This lyrical novel is an experience not to be forgotten.”—School Library Journal, Starred

“With adult characters every bit as memorable as the teen characters, Lawrence’s novel may well attract a wide adult readership.”—Publishers Weekly, Starred


From the Hardcover edition.

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