LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION: TWO LIGHTHOUSES AND A MADRID PENTHOUSE

TLKD LOCATION PIC COLLAGE.JPG

‘What made you set your story in a lighthouse?’ I’m often asked. The truth is, it wasn’t intentional. The story was inspired by my unexpected, Twitter-initiated friendship with a well-known flamenco guitarist – and I just found myself exaggerating our true-life locations: his comfortable house in outer Madrid became a penthouse apartment in the vibrant city centre, and my (then) near-coastal bungalow became my local lighthouse… at Beachy Head.

The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter follows Imogen, borrowing her Aunt’s renovated lighthouse while recovering from the break-up of her marriage, and, thirty years earlier, her lighthouse keeper father on the nearby Beachy Head lighthouse – until he mysteriously drowned there in 1982. She discovers that he was intensely corresponding with a young female penfriend – just as she is, with (you’ve guessed it) an actor-musician Twitter friend in Madrid. They learn that these unexpected, irresistible connections can have wonderful – but also possibly tragic – consequences.

 

BEACHY HEAD

I think it’s common to want to run away to the coast; there’s something energising about it, as if reaching the edge of the land makes you face up to things. But Beachy Head is no ordinary edge: towering 530 feet above the sea, it’s the highest of the series of chalk cliffs undulating between Seaford and Eastbourne in the South Downs National Park. It takes Imogen a while to get used to the ‘the earth dropping and swaying beneath her’. Many years ago, as a heart-broken twenty-something, I escaped to Beachy Head myself – not to go anywhere near the edge, but just to stand there like some French Lieutenant’s Woman and feel sorry for myself. I didn’t know then that the area has always been a renowned suicide spot. Although numbers have been much reduced by the Beachy Head Chaplaincy team patrolling the cliffs to help despondent people, about twenty to twenty-five poor souls each year still lose their lives here – some unintentionally (the chalk cliff edges are notoriously unstable). Although there’s an awareness of this sadness, and danger at the cliff inevitably finds its way into the story, The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter mostly celebrates the invigorating beauty of the area, just as local people and a million or so visitors do each year.

One of the reasons I chose the Beachy Head area for Imogen’s coastal escape was because it has not one but two lighthouses. The squat little Belle Tout was built in 1832, but the cliff top was often so foggy that its light flashes couldn’t be seen from the sea. It was decommissioned in 1902, a few days before the new lighthouse in the sea below Beachy Head was ready to take over. The Belle Tout has passed through the hands of a number of private owners, including two physicians, so it didn’t seem unreasonable for Imogen’s aunt and physician uncle to have bought it. It’s now a beautiful little B&B, and it was wonderful to be able to stay in the original keeper’s bunk room that became Imogen’s in the story.

I never got to see inside the Beachy Head lighthouse, but I was lucky to be able to spend a magical afternoon with lighthouse expert Rob Wassell (author of The Story of… books about the two lighthouses and Birling Gap) on a boulder-strewn low-tide walk to it. As Imogen says, ‘from the cliff top, it was an endearing, little red and white striped ornament; on the beach it is shockingly tall, its colours majestic, a sad and mysterious presence.’ Like many lighthouses at the time it became automated in 1982, making the keepers – and their profession – redundant; this impending change, which must have been very distressing for many of them, is an important element in her father’s story.

 

MADRID

Given the novel’s theme of communication, I wanted to include the viewpoint of Imogen’s Twitter friend Santi in Madrid. His setting is as contrasting as possible from hers; the land-locked capital city and the seaside cliff top initially make them feel like they might just as well be on different planets. My research in Madrid included the delightful but Spanish-taxing company of flamenco musicians, many weeks walking around the city, observation (and being asked to take over) a community English class, and a nerve-wracking audition for a television drama!

For someone with a fear of heights and a frequent dislike of capital cities, researching my two main settings for The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter could have been a challenge, but I surprised myself by quickly falling in love with both places. I still visit my friends in Madrid whenever I can, and particularly enjoy all the flamenco venues, the Sorolla Museum, the Retiro, Jardines de Sabatini and numerous other glorious parks. As for Beachy Head – well, I now live five minutes from the lighthouse.

You can get a copy of The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter from any good book shop, or online from various sites e.g.  https://www.amazon.co.uk/Lighthouse-Keepers-Daughter-Cherry-Radford/dp/1911583646/ref=mp_s_a_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1532207378&sr=8-1&pi=AC_SX236_SY340_QL65&keywords=cherry+radford&dpPl=1&dpID=51yBWY3XBwL&ref=plSrch

‘DESCRIBE THE SOUNDTRACK TO YOUR LIFE’ – AND OTHER IMPOSSIBLE INTERVIEW QUESTIONS

Spotify life soundtrack

How do you pick 5 songs for the soundtrack to your life? This was one of five questions in my most taxing but favourite online interview so far.

(Many thanks to @JillBookCafe. Check out FIVE ON FRIDAY in jillsbookcafe.wordpress.com to see others put through it).

 

 

  1. Which 5 pieces of music would you include in the soundtrack to your life, and why?

Blimey, are all the questions going to be this hard? Having put myself through these agonising decisions, I thought I’d make a Spotify playlist of them: http://sptfy.com/Eyj ENJOY!

Life on Mars? (David Bowie)

My big brother bought this LP, and I remember sitting on the carpet, legs all anyhow, poring over the album sleeve. Who was this strange, wonderful man? Until then, music had meant my parents’ Light Classics, used by my friend and me for hilarious made-up ballets in the living room. This was something else; Bowie took me somewhere I’d never been.

Étude Opus 10, No. 3 for Piano (Chopin)

Fast forward to Music College, where my Polish piano teacher had me playing plenty of Chopin. So beautiful, so emotional… so bloody difficult! Chopin will also remind me of my love of the piano, even if that love is not fully requited (I have pathetically small hands). This is just one of my favourites – and probably one of Jerome Kerns’ too, because Smoke Gets in Your Eyessounds just like it. [Listens as adds it to Spotify Playlist]. Hm. Bit teary.

Shining (Steel Pulse)

Let’s cheer up a bit with this irresistible bit of reggae. There’s so much going on in this track – busy bass line, percussion bitty-bobs and delicious vocal harmony asides everywhere – one play is never enough. And oh, the lyrics – including a classic line for a late developer like me: You took your time trying to find out what life, what life, what life has in store for you… You’ve guessed it: my wedding video music.

Como Me Duele Perderte / How it Hurts to Lose You (Gloria Estefan)

I came across this when I started Salsa dancing as part of research for my first novel, Men Dancing. Its bitter-sweet sadness matches both the novel and what was happening in my life at the time, but the song also reminds me of those early exciting but scary days of being a writer.

Dos Puñales / Two Daggers (Josemi Carmona, Paco de Lucía)

I’ve done well to limit the flamenco here to 20%, when it’s probably taking up 80% of my iPod. This is a wondrous example of flamenco fusion; it’s earthy but accessible, and beautifully produced. I love the way the music seems to have a narrative – whatever you want. A tweet asking where I could get hold of the album (Las Pequeñas Cosas), followed by a later one asking about this track, eventually led to a  friendship with the artist. This chance connection was one of the inspirations for  The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter.

 

  1. Highlight 5 things (apart from family and friends) you’d find it hard to live without.

My Piano

I don’t play as much as I like or should, but when I need it (because I’m bored / fed up / nervous / happy / miserable, waiting for something), I have to have it, now. One of the reasons I enjoy teaching piano is that I want my darlings (adults and children) to have this wonderful support and delight in their lives.

The Sea

I’m generally uncomfortable in locations that aren’t near the sea; there’s a sort of a background feeling of if I’m not near the edge, where the hell am I. Exceptions like Madrid and… (can’t actually think of any others right now) have to have a lot going for them. My current distances from the sea (by foot, door to wet toe) are 10 (Eastbourne) and 3.5 (Almería) minutes.

Why do I love it? The salty smell, its ever-changing colours and moods, and (most) of the beautiful creatures in it. I’m susceptible to flour-soft sand, but I also love beaches where I can collect stones and shells. I’m a keen (if three-limbed – see later!) swimmer, and during Summer and Autumn I’ll check the flag, put on my beach shoes and be in whenever I can (in both countries). It’s also the best place (along with the bath) for getting writing and plot ideas.

Home in Spain

I’ve only had this little town house in San José (near Almería) for a couple of years, but now don’t know how I coped without it. My half-Spanish mother brought me up to be a hispanophile, so for as long as I can remember I’ve been drawn to the country and its people. I also get very miserable and lethargic when starved of bright natural light and warmth, so escaping there lets me recharge my batteries. Although my Spanish is at a high level, I can still zone out of conversations around me – perfect for writing under a beach umbrella.

Thai Food

I’m not a foodie, but I’m insanely excited about these fragrant and spicy flavours and the flowery presentation. Spain needs to discover it; its absence there is one of the few reasons I ever want to come back to Blighty.

My mobile

It would probably do me good to live without my mobile for a while, I’m on it far too much, but the pain of being separated from my WhatsApping friends (including Spanish ones I can’t see as much as I’d like), Twittermates and Instagram would be considerable.

 

  1. Can you offer 5 pieces of advice you’d give to your younger self?

Put more face, hand and sun cream on

I thought I’d be young forever. But if I’m still not listening now, I certainly wouldn’t have listened then. Sticky, messy stuff.

Label and date your photos

Uh, those boxes of loose photos with vaguely recalled faces and scenery…

Don’t lose contact with people you care about

Petty arguments or laziness caused me to lose contact with some friends.

Lighten up!

I was such an intense young person, playing melancholy piano and sitting around reading Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus. Can’t think how anyone put up with me. A year abroad (with light and warmth!) would have done me good.

Yes, you can write a book!

I should have taken the course, bought one of those elasticated leather notebooks, stopped making excuses, and started writing much earlier.

 

  1. Tell us 5 things that most people don’t know about you.

I used to be a keyboard player in a band

For some years, I was a piano teacher doing the day and played in a band a few nights a week. The second band I joined even had a single out; I’ll be in trouble for not including it in my five soundtracks, but you’d be glad I didn’t!

I used to be a post-doctoral scientist

I re-trained, and worked for Moorfields Eye Hospital for many years as an optometrist and post-doctoral researcher.

I used to be a ballerina

…at the Royal Ballet. No, just kidding! But I did teach piano at the Royal Ballet Junior School for some years – and got free tickets. Maybe in my next life.

I have limited use of my right arm

I have a congenital problem with my shoulder that makes it painful for me to open a door or lift anything as heavy as a hardback book with it. An operation didn’t help. But I can somehow do reasonable flamenco arms, and swim without going around in circles!

I almost died of pneumonia over the millennium

The last eighteen years – including the publication of my three novels – have been a bonus.

 

  1. What are the first 5 things you’d have on your bucket list?

Having my book out in Spanish

The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter has equal male and female, English and Spanish viewpoints – Bicultural People Fiction! I’d love to see it in Spanish, and give it to some of my Spanish friends whose English isn’t good enough to read it in its present form.

Tour South America

I’d like to visit the places where my half-Spanish mother grew up, and more. My cousin and I have talked about it, but… This is what I should have been doing in my maudlin early twenties!

Learn how to high dive

Researching high diving for my next novel, this has become my new ballet. Ah, and I’d like Greg Louganis to teach me (check out the documentary film Back on Board and you’ll see why – what a lovely man).

Learn how to cook Thai food

Family over shoulder: ‘What? Learn how to cook anyfood!’

Have a grandchild

But not too soon, boys!

The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughteris available – currently only in English 😦 – from good bookshops, or online at Foyles, Books etc, Waterstones or this place:  https://www.amazon.co.uk/Lighthouse-Keepers-Daughter-Cherry-Radford/dp/1911583646/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1529011473&sr=8-1&keywords=cherry+radford

FIRST IMPRESSIONS: THE POST(BOOK)NATAL AUTHOR

LH CUPCAKES & BOOKDespite the unreliability of my writing hormones post(book)partum, you’re going to get my first impressions of being newly delivered of a shiny book baby.

After years of gestation; antebooknatal tests (i.e. proofs – sorry, enough); online interviews about my inspirations and stuff like The Five Things I (shouldn’t) Want My Readers to Know About Me; a couple of bladder-pressing stints on radio… The Day arrived. 

Inviting people to my book launch had felt like such a huge conceit, but it’s quite staggering how many seem to want to come to these things. With the bizarre This-is-Your-Life type gathering, it feels a bit like a wedding – until the horrific realisation that, apart from the publisher doing a brief intro, you’ll be doing ALL the speeches. In my case at Waterstones Piccadilly, surrounded by photos of illustrious previous launchers…

The next morning – feeling a bit sick after attempting to finish off the lighthouse cupcakes on the train home – my phone hand goes into cramp as I attempt to keep on top of tidal waves of social media. This must be what it’s like to be famous, I’m thinking… until one human offspring informs me that Amazon has decided products related to my new novel include Tart Cherry Extract Capsules, and Deep, an erotic military romance. The other boy has unbelievably managed to enter the barbed tangle of Goodreads.com, and found a quick-off-the-mark 1-star detractor complaining about my female protagonist’s lack of (selfie-worthy) interest in her appearance. 

I was going to go swimming, get on with the day, but this new book baby wants constant care: even after just a quick bath, I come back to 23 Twitter notifications screaming for attention. Oh, and of course I feel the need to check the book’s development, compared with other new-borns… in the Amazon Sales Ranks. I soon had post(book)natal depression – meaning a squashed tip to my Amazon-tapping index finger. 

In the end I reasoned that, since much of the book was written in bed, it was fitting to have a postbookpartum pyjama day to celebrate. After years of abortive efforts (see My Potholed Path to Publication post), I finally have what I want, as long as I keep my expectations realistic. Much as I’d like my book to grow up to be a bestseller, it will be nurtured by an energetic independent publisher rather than one of the moneyed big five. We’ll give it all the best chances we can of course – but I also need to get on with giving it a sibling!

New and shiny The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter is available from  https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/aw/d/1911583646/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1523175942&sr=8-1#featureBulletsAndDetailBullets_secondary_view_div_1523181417109