Delighted to welcome Ali Thurm to the blog today to share some reflections on one of the central images of her 2020 Retreat West novel, One Scheme of Happiness – the lighthouse.
When I was a child, we lived for five years on the coast in a small seaside town called Withernsea, in what was then the East Riding of Yorkshire. So close to the sea, my family spent hours playing on the beach and, because I hadn’t learned to swim, paddling in the sea. Here, south of the rocky cliffs of Flamborough head, the land is very flat, and constantly being eroded; so, the lighthouse was built inland, actually in the town itself. Of course, this made living here unique, and to add to it, the house where we lived on Arthur Street was so close to the lighthouse that at night the beam swept into the bedroom I shared with my younger sister, and (probably) into our dreams.
A lighthouse is such an iconic landmark, steeped in mystery and romance that it won’t come as a surprise then that I chose the town as the setting for my debut novel, One Scheme of Happiness. The area north of Hull is known as Holderness and, because I wanted to be able to adapt the setting for the needs of the novel, I changed Withernsea to Holdersea. And, because I’ve not been back for forty years, the town is really based on childhood memories with the generous support of Google Earth and the lighthouse webcam.
At the beginning of the novel Helen remembers the day the lighthouse was turned off, symbolising a change that everyone had to get used to, just as she has to adapt to life without her mother. Now, no longer in use, Withernsea lighthouse is a museum to the history of the town and the RNLI, as well as to celebrated actor, Kay Kendall who was born in the town.
To coincide with the publication of my novel in 2020, I got in touch with the museum and they very enthusiastically suggested I could give a reading in the lighthouse garden at their summer fete, and sell some books. That was 2020 so, as you’ll know, a month after publication, we were in lockdown and the event was cancelled.
Throughout the novel Helen’s relationship with the lighthouse changes. From a phallic symbol when she is having a relationship, to a stick of rock, or to a finger beckoning her to return when she is really desperate to leave the town. ‘This is where you belong.’
The East Riding was an amazing place to spend part of my childhood. I think all children long to live by the sea, don’t they? So, it became a great place to set a novel that deals with memory, desire and dreams. I plan to go back one day soon, and to climb up into the lighthouse at long last.
Buy One Scheme of Happiness HERE
About the author: Ali Thurm is a novelist, poet and teacher. Her first novel, One Scheme of Happiness was published by Retreat West Books in February 2020. Set on the isolated Yorkshire coast, it is a dark tale of delusion, dressing-up and Jane Austen.
Ali is currently working on a new novel, The River Brings the Sea, a story of survival in a flooded Britain where religious extremists have taken over. In 2019 it was placed third in the First Novel Prize (Daniel Goldsmith Associates) and described by the judges as ‘haunting’.
Born in Tynemouth, Newcastle, Ali came to London for a short time thirty years ago and has been there ever since.
You can follow her on Twitter @alithurm