A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.
‘We weren’t supposed to be going to the pictures that night. We weren’t even meant to be outside, not in a blackout, and definitely not when German bombs had been falling on London all month like pennies from a jar.’
I’m delighted to be talking to lovely Emma Carroll about her thrilling and moving new historical fiction classic Letters from the Lighthouse.
Letters from the Lighthouse is set during the Second World War. What inspired you to write about that period?
It was hearing my mother in law talk about her experience of being evacuated- just a few off-the-cuff comments that made me start thinking about how it must’ve been for children to be sent miles from home to live with people they’d never met. From an author’s perspective it’s also a useful plot device for casting off the parents!
It’s a period we possibly feel we know more about than we actually do. Tell us a little bit about your research.
Some of my info came from family members’ memories- my parents, my grandparents and the older residents of my village who remember stray bombs dropping in the middle of the night and evacuees attending the village school. One of my favourite resources was the BBC website The People’s War which is an archive of first-hand accounts from WW2 across a huge range of subjects. My imagination played a big part too.
Was it a difficult book to write?
Yes, very. I wrote the first draft too quickly (I was working on another project for a different publisher alongside this one), so there was lots of editorial work to do. I have such a brilliant editor though and put my trust in her. The story came right in the end- I think it simply needed more time than I’d given it to develop. Esther’s story was very harrowing to write- as was Olive’s in places. I felt real heartache writing those scenes- more than I’ve ever felt in any other book.
This novel (and this is common to your books) has a strong message of empathy and kindness to others, wherever they are from. If your readers were to take only one thing away from this story, what would you want that to be?
Those issues are very important to me, especially given how volatile the world currently is. We hear a lot about ‘hate’, but it’s the acts of kindness that I find inspiring- the homeless man, for instance, who helped gravely injured people in the aftermath of the Manchester bombing. When writing Letters, I came across the story of a woman in Devon who helped Jewish refugees escape Nazi Europe. It was all done in secret- even her family didn’t know- and it was only on her 100th birthday that she finally came clean when her children discovered strange documents amongst her other paperwork. It’s personal stories like these that give me hope.
Like the Queen, you are having two birthdays because Letters from the Lighthouse was exclusive to Waterstones in May as Children’s Book of the Month. What was your favourite thing about that whole experience?
Gosh, where do I start? It’s been an incredible month from start to finish. The best bits have been seeing all the amazing lighthouse window displays- I was on a train when the first pictures appeared online; suffice to say I had a little cry- and meeting booksellers so passionate about their work. I’ve lost count of the number of wonderful bookish conversations I’ve had this month: book people really are the best! I’ve done my first school visits with Letters- it’s always exciting to share your latest book with the world. The people you meet at signings are also amazing. One of my favourites was the 84 year old lady whose father had been a lighthouse keeper. She insisted on giving me a very big hug!
What are you working on now? Sleeping, mostly. I’ve got some edits to do on my book for Chicken House- out in Jan’18- then its full steam ahead with the first draft of my next book for Faber. I’m a bit behind with that at the mo. (sorry Faber!)
Quick Fire Questions time!
What is your favourite lighthouse? Start Point, Devon.
What is your favourite place by the sea? Crantock, Cornwall.
Your favourite novel set during WW2 (other than your own!)? Carrie’s War by Nina Bawden or The Night Watch by Sarah Waters.
Toast and crab apple jam or carrot fudge? Toast and crab apple jam, definitely. I’ve heard terrible things about carrot fudge.
Trip to the ‘Picture Palace’ or walk along the beach? Ideally both, but if I can only choose one it’d be the beach walk.
Thanks Emma – it’s a brilliant and very special book and everyone should go straight to their nearest bookshop and get their very own copy to treasure, Perdita Cargill.
Letters from the Lighthouse Faber & Faber available everywhere but especially in Waterstones!
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Emma Carroll writes MG fiction. Her debut ‘Frost Hollow Hall’, a Victorian ghost story, won the North East Book Award 2013 and was longlisted for the Branford Boase. Her second novel ‘The Girl Who Walked On Air’ has been nominated for the CILIP medal. ‘In Darkling Wood’ was inspired by the Cottingley Fairies photographs, and published with Faber in July 2015. ‘Letters from the Lighthouse’ is her latest novel. In another life she wishes she’d written ‘Rebecca’ by Daphne Du Maurier. Emma lives in the Somerset hills with her husband and three terriers.
Perdita used to be the least numerate tax barrister ever to practise at the English bar but now she’s writing at last and it’s the best ‘job’ in the world – not least because she’s writing funny teen books with her daughter, Honor.