My featured read this week is the gripping Word War Two historical novel, The Lighthouse Sisters, by popular historical author Gill Thompson. Grab yourself a cuppa and let’s find out more about the book before we start chatting to Gill.
‘They were there for each other during the war just like the lighthouse, a source of hope and protection over the years.’
1940: For sisters Alice and Jenny life is just beginning when the Nazis seize control of the island of Jersey, driving the girls down separate paths. While Alice is forced by the enemy to work in the German hospital, Jenny is attracted to the circle of islanders rising up to resist the occupiers. And as the war tightens its grip, it will cause each of the sisters to make an extraordinary choice, experience unimaginable heartbreak and emerge forever changed…
1996: The war may have ended decades earlier, but for the elegant woman sitting alone now, the images live on in her memory: her sister’s carefree laughter, the inky black of a German soldier’s boots, the little boats that never came back. And the one constant through it all: the lighthouse that always guided them back to the island…
Welcome, Gill, Congratulations on the paperback publication of The Lighthouse Sisters. Have you always wanted to be a writer?
Yes! I think many authors started writing when they were very young and I’m no exception. For some reason, instead of obsessing over pop or sports stars like most of my friends, I became fascinated by Henry the eighth. I was always constructing stories around him and his wives. It’s probably no accident that I became a historical fiction writer.
It’s a fascinating field and requires a lot of research. Has any author inspired you?
I love the way Philippa Gregory brings Plantagenet and Tudor history to life in her novels. Tracy Chevalier is another favourite. I’m also fascinated by what Kate Atkinson does with form. And I’m a great fan of Maggie O’ Farrell’s – I thought ‘Hamnet’ was stunning.
What do you like writing most?
My debut novel (The Oceans Between Us) was inspired when I happened to catch the lunchtime news and heard Gordon Brown apologising to the ex child migrants who’d been sent to Australia decades previously. I was horrified to discover the children had been told their parents were dead, when they were often alive and searching for them. This led me to research the topic and eventually weave a story around it. I then wrote a novel based on a Czech girl rescued by Sir Nicholas Winton in World War two (The Child on Platform One). I hope this doesn’t sound pretentious but I didn’t want to just write novels that entertained or diverted people, I want to appeal to their sense of injustice – at the way ordinary people were often betrayed by world events – and to create admiration for those who sought to fight oppression. When people write in reviews that my stories make them cry, I hope it means I’ve been successful!
Do you have a special place for writing?
I used to share a study with my husband. He’s very tidy and likes to listen to the radio while he works; I’m very messy and like to work in silence. It was a recipe for disaster! So I’ve migrated to the settee in our lounge where I type on a laptop. Lately though, we’ve been discussing ways we can economise on heating by shutting off rooms in the winter, so I might have to return to the study. If so, I’ll definitely be investing in a set of ear plugs!
Are you a pantster or a plotter?
I used to be a pantster, with a vague sense of where I was going, albeit with historical events as a template. Since gaining a publisher, I’ve had to learn to plan more thoroughly as my editor likes me to produce a synopsis up front. I find them very painful to write – and I must admit, I do still deviate from them when my characters behave in ways I hadn’t anticipated.
Is your writing ever inspired by your family or real life incidents?
I’d always felt a little guilty that I rarely had a personal connection to my stories, apart from the fact they were set in world war two, a war my own father fought in. So I was delighted when I researched some family history and discovered my father’s family originated on Channel Island Jersey. My third novel, The Lighthouse Sisters, is set on the island and is about a family called Marett, which is my maiden name. At last I can claim that personal link!
What are you writing at the moment?
I have just started to write my fourth novel, set in Glasgow and Hungary, again in world war two.
What inspired you to write this book?
I have always loved swimming so I was excited to read about a Hungarian Jew, Éva Székely, who became an Olympic swimming medalist during the war, despite enduring terrible persecution. I then started to research Budapest under the Nazis and came up with a story about two girls who use their swimming skills to survive.
What time of the day do you write best?
Morning. I’m useless in the evenings (pretty useless in the afternoons too although sometimes needs must).
What are your hobbies?
Reading, walking, theatre/cinema, cooking, swimming, grandchildren (not necessarily in that order!)
What advice would you give to other writers?
I don’t think you can be an effective writer if you aren’t a reader first and foremost so I would suggest reading widely, particularly in the genre you want to write in.
Great advice! I always believe that the love of writing starts with the love of reading books. Thanks for dropping by to talk to us today, Gill. Lots of luck with your future writing.
Gill Thompson began her working life as a teacher and spent over forty years at the chalk face. More recently she also became an author, gaining an M.A in Creative Writing from the University of Chichester. Gill’s debut novel The Oceans Between Us, about a mother and son separated by war and by continents, was published by Headline in March 2019 and The Child on Platform One, about a little girl on the Kindertransport, came out in December 2019. Both books were digital number one bestsellers and The Child on Platform One was a USA Today and Wallstreet Journal bestseller. It has been translated into nine European languages. Her new novel, The Lighthouse Sisters, about a wartime family on Channel Island Jersey, came out in ebook on 4th February and in paperback on 1st September.
Twitter: Gill Thompson@wordkindling