1950s, Australia, award winning author, guest post, historical, Judith Sterling, lighthouses, romance, Stephen B. King, The Wild Rose Press, Thirty-Three Days, thriller, Winter at the Light
I’m thrilled to have Stephen B. King on my blog today! He’s a brother Rose (published by The Wild Rose Press), and he’s here to tell us all about the inspiration for his latest release, Winter at the Light. Take it away, Stephen!
Write what you know (so they say…)
Mostly, for the twelve books I have written and published, this tenet holds true. I am by nature a ‘pantster’, which loosely means that once I get an idea I have to write it to explore and see where it leads. Sometimes that spark turns into nothing I can use to build around, others it finishes around short story length, and occasionally the 100,000 words, or so, that to me works for a book length.
Along the way of re-modeling that idea into a novel I often drift into areas of which I know nothing about, so I have to stop the creative flow to research it. This has been particularly true of my psychological thrillers because I am neither a psychologist nor a policeman, though I have always had a deep-seated interest in both (along with serial killers). But, isn’t Google wonderful? On occasions, because I write stories set in my home state of Western Australia I have to visit those places I write about, but it’s all very piecemeal, if you know what I mean? I stop writing to research something that has popped up, figure it out, then go back to writing. I find that by writing this way, I want to know what is going to happen next, because truthfully I have no idea, and sometimes I pen a passage and sit back afterward and think, Where the heck did that come from? I have found, that in my humble opinion, the best things I’ve written came through me, and not from me, if that makes sense?
But for Winter at the Light, this was not the case. The idea came, as they often do for me, while I was driving along, almost in auto pilot mode. The traffic was its usual annoying self and I wasn’t thinking about anything terribly important, not even concrete if I’m honest. Suddenly, a random thought snuck into my consciousness and said: The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter. I have no idea where it came from, or why I even thought it, one moment I was wondering what time I’d get to work, and the next I was thinking about a lighthouse, and in particular the daughter of the keeper. Weird? You bet, welcome to my life.
When I arrived at work, I was so fascinated I Googled it and discovered it had been a book, written many years before and I felt immediately disappointed that it hadn’t been an original idea. But, it wouldn’t go away and all through the day I wondered things like, why is she looking after the lighthouse for her father? Surely, it had to be years ago as to the best of my knowledge lighthouses are mostly automated these days. Slowly the plotline came together, a twenty-year-old woman, a nurse who lost her mother during the war when she was a child agrees to tend a remote lighthouse miles from anywhere when her father is injured and he will lose his job if she doesn’t.
Then a very curious thing happened. I was driving home that same evening, daydreaming, and as clear as a bell, in my mind’s eye, I saw a young woman, in a horrendous raging storm risk her life and wade into the crashing waves to grab a life raft. In the inflatable dinghy, is an injured man, and he has lost his memory…or has he?
Never before, except perhaps when I had the idea for Thirty-Three Days, and that came to me in a dream, has an emerging plot line been so vivid in my imagination. I knew for example, the man was on the run, and he had been shot and wounded, but he says he can’t remember why. I also knew that the men who had shot him, were still hunting for him, and they would eventually turn up at the lighthouse to look for him. So, pretty much I had the outline for the whole story, but I knew nothing about nursing, lighthouses, or the era shortly after the war when in my soul I knew the story had to be set. And so, I researched like never before. By that I mean I studied so I could tell a story, and not tell a story and research along the way.
I found, online, a diary of a lighthouse keeper from the fifties, and read every single word. I learned how kerosene fueled lights operated, the responsibilities of the keepers in an era before we had satellite navigation, radio check ins, the officialdom that ran the operations, and so much more. Then nursing, what was it like in the fifties? It was male dominated and these wonderful women were, in general, treated poorly by the hospital, and doctors. Next the war, Molly (I’d come up with her name by then) lost her mother in an air raid, while her father was in the navy as chief medical officer; more research.
So, by the time I sat down to write the first words, I had an incredible amount of information I knew I would need to tell the story of Molly, and her stay at Forbe’s Reef Light, during the worst storm season of the decade, and her eventual fight for survival against two men who are going to come to the island and kill the man she has been nursing back to health. It was exhilarating for me, and I hope I have done the story the justice it deserved.
Winter at the Light is a love story, a thriller, and it is historical. It is set in a more romantic, less promiscuous era than now and features one very special woman. Molly is not one of the ‘beautiful people’; she is just a normal, everyday young woman, who must find strength and courage she doesn’t know she has to survive. When there is nowhere to hide, she must stand and fight back against two armed men who want to kill her.
Thanks so much to Judith for hosting me, and letting me rave on about Winter at the Light.
My pleasure, Stephen. It sounds like a wonderful story! I love it when inspiration strikes out of the blue; thank you for sharing yours with us. Wishing you all the best with the book!
A little more about Winter at the Light:
Forbes Lighthouse is a dangerous place. Twenty-year-old Molly McLaren agrees to tend the light when her father breaks his leg, so she leaves behind the city and her nursing career. Molly dreads the thought of three months as the sole inhabitant on the tiny island, nineteen nautical miles off the rugged coastline of Augusta in Western Australia.
Molly discovers she enjoys the solitude, and when a massive storm arrives bringing a life raft, Molly risks her life to save the unconscious man inside. On waking, he says he has lost his memory but as Molly nurses him back to health she wonders if he has. When the storm finally clears, Molly has fallen for the man she’s nicknamed John, but still has doubts about his honesty.
The real danger arrives with two men who are searching for her mystery man. They want to kill him and anyone else who can identify them, and Molly quickly learns; on a lighthouse, there is nowhere to hide.
A peek between the pages:
A man sat on a chair in front of the desk, and Mrs. Frost waited with fingers tented. “Come in, Molly, please take a seat,” Mrs. Frost said softly and smiled, but to Molly, it looked like a shark grinning. She was in her fifties with silver, gray curly hair and wore a yellow shirt buttoned to the neck with a ribbon tied in a bow at the collar. “This is Mr. Darcy Harpington, from the Department of Marine and Harbors; he has some news for you about your father.”
The man stood up and held out his hand to shake. He was short, balding, with spectacles which sat halfway down his nose and wore a gray pinstriped suit. Molly barely noticed as her heart leaped inside her mouth. “What about Dad, what’s wrong, is he hurt?” She struggled to retain tears of fear from pouring forth. She knew it would be terrible news; it had to be, why else is he here? She worried.
The man smiled and raised a placating hand. “No need to panic; your father is a remarkable man, Miss McLaren. He broke his leg out on the rocks while checking the moorings for the boat during a severe storm. He made it back to the light basically by crawling; it was quite a journey; he tells us. Being a doctor, he has splinted his leg and been in constant radio contact since. We are sending a boat out to pick him up tomorrow; the weather forecast is for the storm to ease enough to go and evacuate him. We need to get him into hospital for X-rays, set the leg properly, and make sure he’s done no permanent damage from crawling over the rocky ground.”
Molly looked from one to the other, unable to understand what they were saying. Dad broke his leg, she thought. She realized she was in shock. Molly sat down, hard, on the straight-backed chair, as the man sat back down too. Just for a moment, she had a mental image of her father dying, and her world went black.
She knew he could be stubborn and obstinate when he had a bee in his bonnet, and how typical of him not to lie down without a fight. Crawled back to the lighthouse with a broken leg in a severe storm? She was incredulous. Molly had spent three weeks there and knew the terrain well from her frequent exploratory walks. He’d achieved a miraculous result if the accident happened anywhere near the dock. Tears welled in her eyes, never did she realize just how much she loved him, and needed him in her life, until then. “He’s going to be all right?” she asked in a quivering voice.
“Yes Miss McLaren, we believe he will be fine after a lengthy hospital stay. It’s possible, I’m told, the doctors may need to reset the fracture, and put him in a cast, possibly stretch the leg back into place.” He nodded slightly and stared pointedly at her; the implication of the seriousness unsaid.
“I’d like to thank you, Mr. Harpington, for coming to tell me personally, that was very kind of you.”
“Oh, think nothing of it, Miss McLaren. Your father has done a sterling job for getting on toward two years for us, and he is a valued member of our lighthouse staff. Um, that brings me to another matter, which he asked me to discuss with you.”
She had been staring down at her hands as they gripped and clasped each other but looked up sharply at his words. She didn’t like the sudden change in his tone. “And, just what is that?” She recognized the defensive aggression in her tone of voice, and it shocked her. Calm down, Molly girl, you’ve had a shock, be careful, she told herself sternly.
He made a performance of taking his spectacles off, then removing a handkerchief from his jacket pocket and wiping them. “Miss McLaren, your father understands, we cannot leave the light unattended, and if we replace him with another employee, then…”
“You won’t let him go back?” She saw the predicament immediately and was suddenly angry, enough to slap the officious looking man. Molly stood up, furious and almost shouted, “Dad donates a leg to the cause, and he loses his job, is that what you are telling me, Mr. Harpington?”
“Mind your tone, Molly,” Mrs. Frost interjected. “Sit down; there could be an alternative which Mr. Harpington and I have discussed. Mr. Harpington has sought a special arrangement with his Department, and this hospital, at your father’s behest, to find a solution to the problem. I would suggest you hold on to that temper of yours until you’ve heard what he has to say.”
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