Author Patricia Nicol reveals a selection of the best books on lighthouses
- Patricia Nicol has revealed her best selection of books on lighthouses
- Says The Lamplighters by Emma Stonex is a literary suspense mystery
- Writer Robert Louis Stevenson chose literature over following his grandfather, father and uncles into lighthouse engineering
One of my favourite tasks when I worked (briefly) for a regional newspaper in Scotland, was a late-night ring-around to lighthouses and coastguard stations.
It was like my own personal shipping news. I’d telephone somewhere like Fair Isle or Cromarty and ask: ‘Has anything happened?’
In my mind’s eye, I’d imagine a person positioned at the top of a lighthouse, surveying the churning or placid sea, possibly dressed like Tintin’s Captain Haddock.
Around that time, the UK’s last working lighthouses were being automated. Yet still they exert a literary pull as destinations, places of solitary sanctuary and beacons of guidance.
Patricia Nicol has revealed her best selection of books on lighthouses including To The Lighthouse (left) and the Lamplighters (right)
The Lamplighters by Emma Stonex is a literary suspense mystery, with a bleak Cornish backdrop.
In December 1972, a relief boat arrives at the desolate Maiden Rock lighthouse, off Land’s End, to discover the entrance barred, a meal set for two, clocks stopped and the chief keeper’s log describing non-existent storms.
Most strangely, the three keepers have disappeared. Twenty years later, an author contacts the men’s widows to write a book about the effect of those events.
Stonex was partly inspired by the real-life disappearance of the keepers of the remote Hebridean lighthouse, Eilean Mor, in 1900.
Another Scottish island lighthouse, Eilean Ban, was thought to be Virginia Woolf’s inspiration for her novel To The Lighthouse. Woolf’s classic is an account of two summer trips, separated by World War I, to the Ramsay family’s holiday home on the Isle of Skye.
Writer Robert Louis Stevenson chose literature over following his grandfather, father and uncles into lighthouse engineering.
But surely their stories informed the vivid shipwreck scene in Kidnapped? His forbears’ heroic history of building life-saving coastal structures is explored in Bella Bathurst’s non-fiction book The Lighthouse Stevensons.
If you take to our seas this summer, spare a grateful thought for those who try to make them safer.