Doesn’t that sound completely enchanting? A lighthouse bookshop. Years ago on holiday near Hexham, I was standing outside in the twilight watching bats when I noticed a steady flashing white light in the distance. Between us friends we discussed what it might be and without really thinking I said ‘ is it the lighthouse?’ A male friend, somewhat scornfully, said ‘not unless it’s an inland lighthouse.’ I vowed from that moment to write a children’s book about a girl who builds an inland lighthouse as a metaphor for all those ideas women have that get shot down by men. I even wrote a quick version in my writing journal. This week I’m still recovering from a series of neurotomy procedures in my back and I wanted something to read that was easy to get into, where I’d be taken into a different place and community and be charmed. I should have known to go for Sharon Gosling, whose books set in a beautiful and remote corner of Scotland are always diverting with characters you can get attached to. Here we meet Rachel, who runs an extraordinary bookshop in Newton Dunbar built on the side of a hill miles away from the sea. Owned by elderly resident Cullen, it was designed as a library back in the 18th Century by one of Cullen’s ancestors James Macdonald. Rachel took on the job of looking after the bookshop several years ago and lives in the charming but tiny accommodation upstairs. Yet, life never stays the same for long and new people start to come into Rachel’s comfortable world; young, homeless girl Gilly and investigative journalist Toby, who’s recovering from a traumatic incident where he was shot. Yet these aren’t the only changes coming Rachael’s way as she loses someone close to her and makes an incredible discovery.
Gosling’s characters, particularly the women, are so well created and intriguing. Most have interesting and complex pasts that unravel as we go along with the main story. Gilly is a resourceful, but scared and closed-off teenager. She’s been sleeping in a tent in nearby woodland, until local developer and villain of the piece Dora McCreedy comes along. She finds the tent on her land and instead of allowing Gilly to move on, she takes a knife to the only thing keeping Gilly from the elements. As both Rachel and local artist Edie start to become closer to the girl, they begin to wonder what has sent this girl running and how can they help without sending her scurrying for the hills. Rachel realises more than most that it’s a tentative friendship growing between them, Gilly can’t be rushed into accepting help and they must take it at her pace. She knows this because it’s only five years since she turned up in a camper van and Cullen took her under his wing. She never talks about her past and while the friends she has made in the village ask no questions, Toby’s instinct is to root out the truth. Will he be able to resist digging, while helping research the library’s history and what might his discoveries mean for Rachel and their friendship? Edie was my favourite character. A rather irascible and formidable lady in her sixties who makes a living from her art, creating prints of the lighthouse and beautiful countryside surrounding the village. Edie has a natural elegance and a rather no nonsense manner, especially when it comes to neighbour Ezra and his marauding goat. I loved the relationship she builds with Gilly and the ‘will they – won’t they’ romance she’s embroiled in.
As you might realise from my opening, the plot based around the lighthouse’s history was really interesting to me and I loved how the mystery unfolded as Rachel found a hatch to the top level of the lighthouse. She finds it never had a light, but it did have a purpose that takes her and Toby back to James McDonald and the tragic love story passed down about his wife. Eveline is known as another madwoman in the attic, a woman who descends into madness and burns down their mansion. Using old documents in a local archive as well as finds from the gatehouse where Cullen lived, they start to piece together the true history of a couple trying to get over the worst loss they could ever experience. All this in the midst of a land grab by Dora McCreedy who would level the tower in order to make an access road for her residential development and the true heir to the McDonald’s fortune deciding whether or not to sell. It’s tense and while Toby desperately looks for a way to preserve the bookshop and Rachel’s home. The conclusion is satisfying, romantic and left me with a smile on my face. Exactly what the doctor ordered.
Published 18th August 2022 by Simon and Schuster U.K.
Meet The Author
Sharon started her writing career as an entertainment journalist, as a reviewer of science fiction and fantasy books. She went on to become a staff writer and then an editor for print magazines. Her beginning in books was as a writer of non-fiction ‘making-of’ books tied in to film and television including The Art and Making of Penny Dreadful and Wonder Woman: The Art and Making of the Film. Sharon now writes both children’s and adult fiction – her first novel was called The Diamond Thief, a Victorian-set steampunk adventure book for the middle grade age group, which won the Redbridge Children’s prize in 2014. She wrote two more books in the series before moving on to other adventure books including The Golden Butterfly, which was nominated for the Carnegie Award in 2017, The House of Hidden Wonders, and a YA horror called FIR, which was shortlisted for the Lancashire Book of the Year Award in 2018.
Her debut adult novel was published by Simon & Schuster in August 2021. It was called The House Beneath the Cliffs, set in a very small coastal village in Scotland. Her adult fiction tends to centre on small communities – feel-good tales about how we find where we belong in life and what it means when we do. You can find my review of this novel in the archive. Sharon lives in a small village in northern Cumbria with her husband, who owns a bookshop in the nearby market town of Penrith.