“A splendid read--The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter is not to be missed!”- Kate Quinn, New York Times Bestselling Author of The Alice Network
“Hazel Gaynor’s skillful artistry as a storyteller glitters like the sun...”- Susan Meissner, New York Times Bestselling Author of As Bright as Heaven
“This is historical fiction at its finest.”- Fiona Davis, national bestselling author of The Masterpiece
“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.
From the Author: Shining Lights - The forgotten history of female light keepers
I first heard the incredible story of Grace Darling in a primary school history lesson, and was instantly captivated by her. There was something about this young woman’s heroic rescue of survivors of a shipwreck, her isolated existence on a remote lighthouse, her Victorian clothing - and her hopelessly romantic name - that absolutely intrigued me. Several decades later I started to think about writing her story, but it wasn’t until I stumbled across an antique book about Grace in a second hand bookshop, that The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter really began to take shape.
Historical research is always very important to me and for this story I wanted to not only understand the events surrounding the dramatic storm and rescue of 1838, but to also understand who Grace was before the Forfarshire disaster, and who she became amid the unwanted fame that followed. Although she was written about very widely at the time of her famous rescue, the accounts show a one-dimensional version of Grace: that of the classic Victorian heroine. As a novelist, I wanted to dig deeper. I wanted to walk in her shoes and live her days in the confined spaces of her lighthouse home. I wanted to know how she reacted to the tragic events she’d witnessed, and what she thought about in the privacy of her bedroom, because aside from being the brave heroine depicted in the newspaper reports about her, Grace was a very ordinary young woman with feelings and desires, and a complicated family around her. When I discovered a tantalising suggestion that she’d formed a romantic relationship with a young man from the area, possibly one of the artists who visited her at the lighthouse to paint her portrait, I was intrigued. Grace Darling in love? Now there was a story to tell.
When it comes to my writing and my research, I always try to include my family as much as possible. This book saw the four of us become temporary lighthouse keepers during a weekend stay at Wicklow Head lighthouse in Ireland, which was built in the 18th century. Always keen to immerse myself fully in the subject I’m writing about, this was the perfect way for me to understand a little of what it feels like to eat and sleep in these enormous windswept structures. The views, the silence, the privacy – we all absolutely loved it, although I since discovered that the lighthouse is haunted by a headless woman, said to have been decapitated by a jealous boyfriend in the 19th century. Perhaps not quite so romantic after all! I’m pleased I knew nothing about this before locking the ancient door at night and settling down to sleep.
We also travelled out to the Farne Islands to visit Longstone Island and Grace’s lighthouse home. It was incredibly poignant to step into the small bedroom from which she first saw the foundering ship, setting in motion a chain of events that would change her life. To climb the steps to the lantern room and to walk along the rocks and beaches where Grace spent her life and where I imagined her collecting her seashells and sea glass was very emotional. We also visited the wonderful Grace Darling Museum in Bamburgh, her monument at St. Aidan’s church and Horsley Cottage, where she died.
It was an amazing experience to research Grace’s life and to try to understand the complex young woman who struggled beneath the glare of unwanted fame. Through my research, I also discovered the fascinating history of America’s female lighthouse keepers and one light keeper in particular, Ida Lewis, who became known as America’s Grace Darling. It was this extraordinary connection between two women, a continent apart, that led to part of The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter taking place in Newport, Rhode Island, and to me reading more widely about the generations of women who kept the lights in America. Their stories inspired my characters, Matilda and Harriet, and the narrative in the book set in 1938.
At its core, The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter is a novel about women ahead of their time, defying convention and pushing the boundaries of society’s limitations. It is also a novel about family and the bonds between mothers and daughters, and ultimately asks the question: what does it truly mean to be brave? As with so many incredible women from history, overlooked by historians or forgotten over time, too many women still struggle to find a voice. Through Grace and Sarah, Matilda and Harriet, I hope they might find one.