Emma Stonex – on the role of the powerful sea in The Lamplighters

I’ve always wanted to write about the sea. When I came across the true story of the Flannan Isles vanishing – the mysterious disappearance, in 1900, of three lighthouse keepers from a remote island post – I knew I had found a worthy boat. The sea, with all its wild, changeable beauty, moves in contrast to the steady reliability of the light beam and its promise of sanctuary. It’s hard to imagine a pairing richer in symbolism for an author, especially in today’s unpredictable world.

Describing the sea is one thing – finding a way to capture its many moods and faces, from the calm, silver mirror we see in fair weather, to the roiling drama of a savage storm – but I wanted the sea to do more in The Lamplighters, and to surface as a character in its own right.

My lighthouse keepers are surrounded by water. It’s all they can see from their tower for miles, with little sense of perspective or scale. My objective was to conjure this feeling for the reader, of being so close to the sea as to become one with it, prey to its shifting allegiances and never knowing what the tide will bring in next. I decided to use multiple perspectives to give ebb and flow to the narrative, pulling readers in one direction on the basis of a single character’s truth, then, when more is revealed, letting the tide carry them off on a different tack.

I have committed in The Lamplighters to what I think happened to these three keepers. But it felt important to leave room for readers to disagree with me. The fascination of a real-life mystery is in its many possible answers. Like the sea, these roll everlasting through the ages, never to be caught, never to be tamed, and filling us with wonder.

Photo Credit Melissa Lesage

Emma Stonex was born in 1983 and grew up in Northamptonshire. Before becoming a writer, she worked as an editor at a major publishing house. The Lamplighters left harbour after a lifelong passion for lighthouses and everything to do with the sea; it has been translated into more than twenty languages. She lives in the South West with her family.

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