Featherlight

Guest Post by Peter Bunzl

The spark of inspiration for Featherlight came one day when I was flicking through one of my old notebooks. and a few lines of an unfinished poem caught my eye:

‘I am the lighthouse keeper’s daughter,

And I keep the lighthouse by the water.

Keep the oil lamps burning bright,

Through the stormy hours of the night.’

That was all there was of the poem. I didn’t remember writing it, but immediately I was drawn to those words. I could almost hear them spoken aloud by a young girl as she went through her chores. 

A lighthouse keeper’s daughter would make a great character in a children’s book, I realized. So I began researching lighthouses. 

I poured over books in the British Library, searching for photographs of old lighthouses and accounts of how keepers and their families lived. 

I visited South Forelands Lighthouse, which stands on the white cliffs of Dover above the dangers of Goodwin Sands. Generations of the same lighthouse keeping family, the Knotts, lived there. And it was where the first ship to shore message was sent. The inventor of radio, Marconi, sent a message from the lighthouse to a ship in the channel using the first radio transceiver.

I read about famous lighthouse keeper’s daughters from history like Grace Darling, who lived with her family on the Farne Islands in a small lighthouse keeper’s cottage. Grace and her siblings would help her father, who was the keeper, and their mother with the chores. When she was older, Grace assisted her father in a daring sea rescue.

All of this research gave me plenty of ideas for what the life of my lighthouse keeper’s daughter might be like. But what type of lighthouse did she live in? I discovered there were three main types of lighthouse:

Clifftop lighthouses on the mainland, connected to local towns. Rock lighthouses built on barely accessible outcrops in the ocean that were manned by shift workers. Men who were winched across to their tower prison in a dangerous storms for three month stints. And Island Lighthouse, built on small costal islands or skerries and reachable by boat.

The Island Lighthouse had some of the qualities of both the other types of lighthouse. Their setting was not quite as harsh as Rock Lighthouses, so families could live in them, but it was not quite as comfortable as a Clifftop Lighthouse, which would have been a bit too accessible for the type of story I wanted to tell. So an Island Lighthouse became the home of my lighthouse keeper’s daughter.

How did she feel about living there with her family? It would be an isolated and self-sufficient life. She would have to get used to danger and braving the high seas. She would probably love wildlife living in such a remote spot. Gradually my lighthouse keeper’s daughter gained a character. And a name: Deryn, which means bird in Welsh. 

I started to sketch in Deryn’s family around her, but the final piece of the puzzle was the bird, Tan, who Deryn finds on her island and nurses back to health. When I realized who Tan was and what that meant for the story, all the pieces of the puzzle finally slotted into places and I was able to finish the book. 
You will have to read Featherlight to shine a light on the rest of its secrets, and be illuminated about how the story ends. When you do, I hope you enjoy it. I wish you happy reading!

Featherlight is published tomorrow by Barrington Stoke, priced at £6.99(pb).

Any opinions expressed may not truly reflect those of the FCBG

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