I was thrilled to receive a copy of this beautiful book from the publisher to review. After reading it I had a chance to ask the author some questions. She had great answers which you can read below!
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The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter by Hazel Gaynor
Release date: October 9, 2018
Publisher: William Morrow
Page numbers: 416 pages
From The New York Times bestselling author of The Girl Who Came Home comes a historical novel inspired by true events, and the extraordinary female lighthouse keepers of the past two hundred years.
“They call me a heroine, but I am not deserving of such accolades. I am just an ordinary young woman who did her duty.”
1838: Northumberland, England. Longstone Lighthouse on the Farne Islands has been Grace Darling’s home for all of her twenty-two years. When she and her father rescue shipwreck survivors in a furious storm, Grace becomes celebrated throughout England, the subject of poems, ballads, and plays. But far more precious than her unsought fame is the friendship that develops between Grace and a visiting artist. Just as George Emmerson captures Grace with his brushes, she in turn captures his heart.
1938: Newport, Rhode Island. Nineteen-years-old and pregnant, Matilda Emmerson has been sent away from Ireland in disgrace. She is to stay with Harriet, a reclusive relative and assistant lighthouse keeper, until her baby is born. A discarded, half-finished portrait opens a window into Matilda’s family history. As a deadly hurricane approaches, two women, living a century apart, will be linked forever by their instinctive acts of courage and love.
I read this book in two days because I couldn’t put it down.
The interconnectedness of the 1838 and 1938 time periods was compelling and I was really interested in both perspectives (which doesn’t always happen for me). I was very invested in all the characters and their journeys.
It was an emotionally poignant story and made me cry more than once. The writing made me feel like I was present and could feel, smell, and see everything described.
I loved learning about Grace Darling as well as the other female lighthouse keepers that have served throughout the years. I found their stories and courage fascinating. Earlier this year I really enjoyed reading the picture book Hello Lighthouse by Sophie Blackall with my kids and it was on my mind as I read this book. I have always admired lighthouses and what they can symbolize, but I hadn’t thought too closely about the people who lived and worked inside them–especially in the time before operations became more automated. Both books gave a strong impression of how much the lighthouse was a part of these keeper’s lives.
There is a lot of tragedy throughout the book and at times it felt overdone to me. Perhaps that is more realistic to the time, but some instances felt unnecessary.
Overall I thoroughly enjoyed the story and definitely plan on reading more by this author.
Q&A with author Hazel Gaynor:
Q: Your book had a strong theme of family history and connections through generations which I really enjoyed. Did you pull from any personal experiences when bringing that aspect in? Why do you think there is value in looking to the past to those that came before us?
A: The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter is a novel about strong courageous women, and particularly about generational connections within a family. I’m fascinated by family history – and secrets! – and come from a long line of tough Yorkshire women. My grandmother is 99 next month and I really feel that sense of legacy passing on from her. My mum passed away when I was in my early twenties, and perhaps this experience also informs some of the themes I explore in my writing, especially the bonds between mothers and daughters. I really feel we owe it to those who came before us to understand their story and their struggles.
Q: As a historical fiction writer do you have a favorite place and time in history? Is there a setting you haven’t covered that you’d love to write about someday?
A: My novels to date have covered a number of different historic events and locations, but are all set during the late 19th to early 20th centuries. There was so much social change and turmoil during the first half of the 20th century and I would definitely like to explore that period in more detail. We are still discovering fascinating personal stories of both world wars, particularly how women were involved, and that is also something that interests me as a writer.
Q: You mentioned at the back of the book that you hoped Grace’s story would continue to be retold and never forgotten. Recently there have been so many great books released that bring attention to women who did extraordinary things and were forgotten in history. I have loved learning these stories and am sad they never got the attention before, but reading about how much Grace disliked the attention she received during her life makes me think about the balance of recognizing great acts and letting people maintain their privacy. Do you have any thoughts on that balance?
A: Great question! Grace Darling’s story became so widely known partly because she died so young, at the height of her ‘fame’. The few short years during which her heroism was reported have been amplified over the decades since. With any dramatic event from history, there is always a fine balance between respect and fascination. I felt this especially when writing about passengers on Titanic in The Girl Who Came Home, and in writing the story of Frances Griffiths and the Cottingley fairies hoax in The Cottingley Secret. I hope to get that balance right and that by re-telling these true stories, we keep the memory of these incredible people alive, without being disrespectful to them in any way.
Q: In the Author’s Note at the end I loved hearing about how during your research your family became temporary lighthouse keepers and also visited Grace’s lighthouse. Were you interested in lighthouses before researching this book or was it more of a result of being drawn by Grace’s story?
A: I’ve always found lighthouses intriguing, but it was Grace’s story that led me to truly appreciate them, and the lives of those who worked in them. I read many books about Grace, and about the workings of lighthouses, and the lives of the light keepers. My research also led me to the fascinating history of female light keepers and the story of Ida Lewis who became the inspiration for Harriet, and the connection between Northumberland and Newport, Rhode Island. Lots of lighthouses now offer short stays and I can highly recommend it! There’s really something quite magical about them. I can’t pass one now without looking at it in a very different way.
Q: Can you share what you’re working on next?
I’m currently writing my second collaborative historical novel with Heather Webb (we co-wrote the 2017 release, Last Christmas in Paris). Our new novel, Meet Me In Monaco is set around the wedding of Grace Kelly to Prince Rainier of Monaco and will be published in summer 2019. I’m also working on my next solo historical novel which will take me into a new era and location and a piece of history I can’t wait to share with everyone. I’m very excited about it and hope to be able to share more news soon!
Other books by Hazel Gaynor: