The Lightkeeper's Daughter is the story of a girl returning to the remote lighthouse where she grew up, to introduce her parents to their grandchild. Her present life and her past blend together when she finds the diaries that her brother kept, and peers into his secrets to learn why he died.

It is set on Lizzie Island, on the northwest coast of Canada, just below the Alaska border. Though the island is fictional, it is based very closely on the real Lucy Island, which lies just to the west of Prince Rupert.

I went many times to the real island. I met the lightkeeper and his young children, and they seemed the happiest family anywhere. They ran through the forest and played on the beach, and kept the light burning through all sorts of weather.

But one day I sailed past the island and saw smoke rising from it. Thick and black, it spread out for miles and miles. I turned the boat to pass close below the tower, and I saw the houses burning. The lightkeeper and his family were gone, and the government was burning the buildings.

Only the tower remained, with machines to keep it running. Lucy Island never again seemed so pleasant.

It was strange to go there and not find people laughing. It was upsetting to walk over the ruins of their houses, flattened and bulldozed. It seemed in a way that the spirits of the people were still there, and that's how The Lightkeeper's Daughter began to take shape in my mind.

Images of the family appear in the story, when my characters are in their happiest years. But I changed the name of their island and moved it fifty miles away, just to separate it from those real keepers of Lucy Island. My fictional family isn't nearly as happy as they, and not always so kind. They are not the same people at all, except for their fondness of their homes. Just as the real keepers loved Lucy, my fictional family loves Lizzie. It shapes the lives of the lightkeeper's daughter and her brother, who's dead when the story begins.

There are more bits of truth in The Lightkeeper's Daughter than in any other book I've written. The house where the children grow up is the same as the one that I lived in, with its gurgling pipes feeding rain into cisterns, and its windows bowing in the storms. The lightkeeper makes whirligigs that include copies of ones I made myself. He repairs the door of his fridge with a wooden handle, just as I did, though his repair is more successful.

And in my last visits to the island, it was my fictional family that I saw there. I could pick out the place where the lightkeeper's daughter nearly died in the forest, the place where her grandchild took hermit crabs in her tiny hands, the place where her father wished to be buried. It was as though Lucy Island had become Lizzie, and the real people had been displaced.

I sometimes felt guilty about taking a beautiful place and making it a scene of despair. I felt as though I was betraying the island that had given me so many days of enjoyment, that had sheltered me in gales of early summer.

But I hope it seems as beautiful and magical as the real-life Lucy Island.

Copyright © 2002 by Iain Lawrence


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