Lighthouse Bay

A Novel

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About The Book

From the author of Wildflower Hill, this breathtaking novel travels more than a century between two love stories set in the Australian seaside town of Lighthouse Bay.

FROM THE AUTHOR OF WILDFLOWER HILL, THIS BREATHTAKING NOVEL TRAVELS MORE THAN A CENTURY BETWEEN TWO LOVE STORIES SET IN THE AUSTRALIAN SEASIDE TOWN OF LIGHTHOUSE BAY.

In 1901, a ship sinks off the coast of Lighthouse Bay in Australia. The only survivor is Isabella Winterbourne—escaping her loveless marriage and the devastating loss of her son—who clutches a priceless gift meant for the Australian Parliament. Suddenly, this gift could be her ticket to a new life, free from the bonds of her husband and his overbearing family.

One hundred years later, Libby Slater leaves her life in Paris to return to her hometown of Lighthouse Bay. Living in the cottage that was purchased by her recently passed lover, she hopes to heal her broken heart and reconcile with her sister, Juliet. Libby did something so unforgivable twenty years ago, Juliet is unsure if she can ever trust her sister again.

In this adventurous love story spanning centuries, both Isabella and Libby must learn that letting go of the past is the only way to move into the future.

Excerpt

Lighthouse Bay One
2011

Libby sat at the back of the small parish church mourning the man she had loved for twelve years. In a congregation of nearly eighty people, not one offered her a warm touch or a sad smile. They didn’t even know who she was. Or if they did, they didn’t show it.

It was a relief in some ways: at least there were no sidelong glances, no murmurs passed from lips to ears behind hands, no cool shoulders on either side of her in the pew. But in other ways it was a sad acknowledgment of the grubby truth. Nobody knew that the man they had come here today to bid farewell forever—the man whose strong body and brilliant life force somehow fit in that narrow box at the front of the church—was the most important man in her world. Mark Winterbourne, dead at fifty-eight from a ruptured aneurysm. He was mourned by family: his wife Emily and their two adult daughters.

Libby wasn’t sure about the rule for secret lovers of the deceased, but she assumed it involved sitting in the back pew with one’s heart aching as though it might crack into pieces while reining in the impulse to stand up and shout, “But none of you loved him as much as I did!”

On her birthday. Her fortieth birthday.

Libby discreetly touched her handkerchief to her leaking eyes again. The church was chill. February snow still lay on the ground outside. She shivered in her long-sleeved jacket. Mark wouldn’t have approved of what she was wearing. He had never liked her in tailored clothes: he said he spent enough time with people in suits. He liked her in jeans, loose dresses, or nothing. When she had pulled on the jacket this morning, an attempt not to stand out in a crowd that she knew would be immaculately dressed, she had remembered the last time she’d worn it. Mark had said, “Where’s that lacy shirt I like? Wear that instead.” The thought that Mark would never again complain about the jacket had hit her hard. Never again in the whole, long future of the universe would Mark say anything to her. Never again would his eyes crinkle with his quiet laughter. Never again would his hands clasp hers, would his lips claim hers, would his body press against hers . . .

Libby’s scalp pinched from trying to hold the sobs inside. It wouldn’t do for this unknown woman in the back pew to break down and let loose a secret held tightly for so long. Mark had always been adamant: his wife and children must never be hurt. They were innocent, they deserved no pain. Mark and Libby had to carry the entire burden. And what a terrible burden it had been, what an exhausting dance of soaring hope and blinding guilt the last twelve years had been.

The first of the tributes started, and Libby listened for a while, then decided these descriptions of Mark were not her Mark. So she closed her eyes and thought about what she would say, if she were free to say it.

Mark Winterbourne died at fifty-eight, but don’t make the mistake of thinking him a typical middle-aged man. He was tall and well kept, with a full head of hair and a flat stomach and hard thighs that were a testament to his healthy lifestyle and love of long-distance running. He was smart and funny and determined. He let nothing slow him down. He overcame childhood illnesses, dyslexia, the death of his father when he was only fifteen. We had so many good times, hidden and stolen though they were. Even after twelve years together, he took my breath away. He was generous, sweet and kind. So kind. The kindest man I have ever known. Hot tears squeezed from under Libby’s eyelids and ran down her cheeks. She opened her eyes, and saw that Mark’s wife had bent her head and was sobbing into her hands in the front pew. The vicar had come down the stairs to put his arm around her. Libby’s ribs squeezed tight with guilt. She should never have come.

The train back down through the Channel tunnel to Paris was largely empty, and Libby put her bag on the seat next to her and laid her head on it. Now the great hollowness could start in earnest. Mark was buried; the line between her old life and her new one had been marked in six feet of soil. She tried not to think of the things that she and Mark had never done, the things he had wanted to do but she had refused. Things that she needed to do herself, now that she was alone. Now that she was so keenly aware of how tenuously life was held. The train bumped and swayed and Libby breathed deeply. In, out, aware of her breath, so temporarily housed in her warm body.

“Claudette wants to see you.”

Libby looked up. She was just unwinding her scarf and hanging her bag on the back of her chair. Here at Pierre-Louis Design the cubicles were as bland as the reception area was bright. Libby worked all day on her large-screen Mac designing glossy brochures for jewelry and fashion houses while surrounded by gray furniture and beige room dividers. Gradually the entire building was being refurbished, but somehow the refurbishers never made it to her quarter of the workplace.

“Why does Claudette want to see me?”

Monique, Claudette’s secretary, blinked back as though surprised. “I don’t know. But she said to seize you the moment you came in.”

Libby sighed. It had been hard enough to get up in her little flat in Levallois. The weight of her limbs had astonished her. She had managed to take off the last five days, since Mark died, by claiming illness, and it was a kind of illness. An ache from toes to scalp. But it would never go away. She would never be fit for work. “All right,” she said. “I’m coming.”

Libby’s French had been of the awkward, high-school variety when she’d first arrived in Paris twenty years ago. Now she was fluent, could think in French, but she missed speaking English. She missed the nuance available in so many synonyms, she missed being able to string adjectives one after the other like pearls, and she still had to hesitate if she was trying to express herself in French while upset. Claudette, her boss, had a reputation for upsetting her staff, so Libby was on her guard.

Claudette’s office featured floor-to-ceiling windows through which, if she desired, she could watch the Seine all day. But Claudette had purposely placed her desk so her back was turned away from the view. It had been the only change she’d made on her arrival eight months ago, but it had been a telling one. In Claudette’s opinion, there was no time for looking out windows, and the relaxed atmosphere that Libby had once treasured about her work had gradually withered and died.

“Ah, Libby,” Claudette said, indicating the chair at the side of the desk. “Do sit down. We need a little chat.”

Libby sat down, realized her heart was speeding and tried to take a deep breath without Claudette noticing. She crossed her legs and waited while Claudette fixed her with icy blue eyes. The window was open, and she could hear the traffic on the two bridges that bracketed the tip of the Ile Saint-Louis.

“Happy birthday,” Claudette said at last.

Libby was taken aback. “Thank you,” she said.

A pause. Claudette still hadn’t smiled.

“Is that all?” Libby asked.

“I am suspicious,” Claudette said. “You took five days off over your fortieth birthday.”

“I was unwell.”

“And yet you look well this morning.”

She did? “Because I’ve had five days off.”

Claudette narrowed her eyes, then leaned back in her chair, turning a lead pencil over and over in her fingers. “I must believe you, I suppose. I simply do not like being made a fool of, Libby. Five days’ leave costs me a lot of money. I would hate to think you were taking advantage of your employer, simply because you had a milestone birthday to celebrate.”

Claudette was famed for these little offenses, so Libby didn’t bite. “I assure you I was incapable of coming to work.”

“And yet Henri saw you on the platform at Gare du Nord yesterday afternoon.”

“I was coming back from London, from seeing my specialist.”

“Specialist?”

Libby held her ground. “It’s private.”

Claudette frowned. Libby fought back guilt. It wasn’t in her nature to lie, even after twelve years with Mark.

“I can do nothing but accept you are telling the truth,” Claudette said with a little shrug.

“It is the truth,” Libby lied.

Claudette glanced at her notebook. “While I have you here . . . I heard this morning that Mark Winterbourne died. You handled his account, yes?”

Libby’s heart screeched, but she tried not to give any outward sign. “Yes.”

“Can you call his office today and see who is taking his position? We’ve had his account for twelve years and I don’t want to lose it. The Winterbourne catalog is one of our signature productions.”

“Call them today? We don’t normally sign the contract until mid-year.”

“They’ll be distracted. Everything still up in the air. We can’t risk another studio getting the contract.” Claudette shook her head. “He died of an aneurysm, you know,” she said. “I heard it was genetic. He’s not the first Winterbourne to go that way, apparently.”

Libby winced. She hadn’t known that. Of all the intimacies they’d shared, he’d never mentioned a predisposition to drop dead suddenly. Had he not told her because he wanted to protect her from worry? Or had he not told her because she was only his lover?

Claudette shrugged. “Life is short. Let’s get the contract. Call them today.”

Libby returned to her desk with her stomach churning. How could she dial that familiar number now, knowing that he wouldn’t be there to take her call? How could she go on working on the catalog without Mark to plan it with her? Her job, once the sweet refuge where contact with Mark was sanctioned, had emptied out. There was nothing except the beige room dividers and cranky boss. She stared for a long time at her blank computer screen—she hadn’t even switched it on—wondering if anyone ever recovered from such a loss. Then she stood and picked up her handbag, scarf and coat and, without a word, left the office.

She wasn’t going to call Winterbourne Jewelers. She was going to call her sister.

Libby perched on the edge of her rented couch in her rented flat on Villa Rémond and tapped out her childhood phone number; familiar yet half-forgotten, stretched out of shape by international dialing codes. As it rang, she noticed she was holding her breath. She forced her shoulders to relax.

“Hello?” a voice croaked, and Libby realized she had made the error of not checking international time zones properly. She had woken Juliet.

Voiceless with embarrassment and self-blame, she allowed the silence to go on a little too long.

“Hello?” Juliet said again, this time with a tinge of fear.

Libby hung up. She didn’t know what else to do. Who was she kidding? Juliet wouldn’t welcome her coming home. If she knew that was what Libby planned, she might actively discourage her. Don’t come back. Ever. That’s what Juliet had said to her. And Libby had replied, I never will. Ever. For twenty years, Libby had made good on that promise.

But things teenagers say to each other shouldn’t be plans for life, and there were good reasons for going home. Mark’s voice started up in her imagination. You’ll paint. We’ll look at the sea together. Maybe get to the bottom of the Winterbourne family mystery. How could I not buy the cottage? Our annual retreat. Then he’d handed her keys that she’d swore she’d never use, and a title deed that she swore she’d never read. Once in a while he’d mention it, always before an opal-buying trip to Australia. Checking if she was sure she didn’t want to go. But she’d held firm. If Juliet had seen her with Mark . . . God, if Juliet had told Mark . . .

Libby glanced around her flat. It had always been too expensive, but she’d stayed because Mark wanted her to live somewhere central. She focused on the door to the bedroom, holding her breath, certain that at any second Mark would walk out, tall and strong, dressed only in his boxer shorts and his blue silk robe, his dark hair curling over his ears. And he would smile at her and touch her hair and he would be flesh and blood and breath. But he didn’t walk out. He never would again.

And one of the only other people who knew what that loss felt like was Juliet.

Libby and Mark’s favorite café had been on Boulevard Saint-Germain, a café whose art-deco interior had barely been touched since the 1930s. They always sat just outside the entrance, at the table to the left of the door. Mark became irrationally irritated if they arrrived and somebody else was at their table. He always had a copy of The Guardian with him, usually bought from the international newsagent, but sometimes it was the copy he’d brought with him from London.

Today Libby arrived at the café alone, placed the folded copy of The Guardian where Mark would have sat and ordered their usual: a café au lait for her, an espresso for him. Then she waited for the drinks to arrive, taking in the familiar view of the pale cream and white neoclassical buildings on Rue Saint-Benoît, the traffic, the pedestrians in their dark coats, the unfurling leaves on the elms overhead. She breathed in the scents of Paris—exhaust fumes, cut lilies, rain on pavement—and wondered how it would be possible to leave. The farewell party at work had seemed as though it were happening to someone else; some happy, unconflicted woman with no dark past and a bright future.

“You are expecting your friend?” the waiter said to her as he placed Mark’s espresso next to the newspaper.

Libby forced a smile, but her heart pinched. No, he’s never coming again. She sipped her coffee while Mark’s cooled in the morning air. She closed her eyes and imagined a conversation with him, drawn from so many of their conversations.

“How was the journey down?” she asked.

“Good,” he replied. “I got a lot of work done on the train.”

“Have you been busy?”

“Always.” A slight smile, a tap of his knuckles on his newspaper that said, Let me read.

Libby opened her eyes. Gray clouds had gathered overhead and a damp chill was in the air. Her flight was leaving in three hours. Behind her ribs, her stinging heart pulsed coldly. Everything ached. Slowly, she drank her coffee. The last time. She gathered her bag and keys and stood. The last time. A light shower started as she walked away. She turned to look behind her. Mark’s coffee sat untouched on the table, his newspaper flapping in the breeze.

“Good-bye,” she said, leaving Paris and Mark behind her.

The last time.

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for Lighthouse Bay includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Kimberley Freeman. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.


Introduction

In 1901, a ship sinks off the coast of Queensland, Australia. The only survivor is Isabella Winterbourne, now a widow, who carries with her a priceless gift meant for the Australian parliament. In the unfamiliar world of Lighthouse Bay, Isabella must determine who she can trust and where she truly belongs.

Over a century later, Libby Slater returns to her small hometown of Lighthouse Bay after losing her lover. Before she finds the peace she’s after, however, she must navigate her dark past and a rocky road to reconciliation with her estranged sister, Juliet. Both Isabella and Libby must learn the hard way that only by leaving the past behind can they discover what lies ahead.  

Topics & Questions for Discussion 

1. The author chooses to unveil the story through several different points of view. What did you think about this decision?
 
2. Though a century divides them, Lighthouse Bay provides an escape for both Isabella and Libby. In what other ways are the two women alike? How are they different?
 
3. The sea is an ever-present force in this novel. What significance does it hold for each of the characters?
 
4. What was Isabella’s motivation behind getting rid of the mace? In what ways did her decision surprise you?
 
5. Discuss Isabella’s desire to take Xavier with her to America. What are her reasons for this? How do you think Katarina would have reacted?
 
6. Describe Matthew’s feelings toward his first wife. How does his relationship with Isabella differ? Why is he hesitant to join Isabella on her voyage to America?
 
7. What role does Berenice play in the story? What effect does she have on Isabella?
 
8. What is your reaction to Isabella’s grief for the loss of her son? Do you believe that she is, as the Captain suggests, one of those who are “in love with their own grief ” (p. 38)?
 
9. “We each mourn in our own way,” Isabella says to Berenice (p. 275). Do you think Isabella mourns her husband? Several of the characters in Lighthouse Bay have lost loved ones. How do they each deal with their loss?
 
10. How do you think Emily would react if she knew the truth about Libby and Mark? In what ways was Libby’s decision justified?
 
11. Juliet and Libby carry the burden of their anger and guilt for many years. How does the past shape their adult lives?
 
12. Why do you think Libby ultimately changes her mind “about everything” (p. 403)? Discuss how her character evolves throughout the story, and what inspires these changes.
 
13. At the end of the book, Libby discovers that “Things don’t have to be worth a lot to be treasured” (p. 411), something Isabella knew all along. What do each of the characters treasure, and what does this say about them?
 
14. What do you think the future holds for Libby and Isabella?

Enhance Your Book Club

1. Libby is intrigued by the story of a shipwreck in her hometown of Lighthouse Bay. Spend some time researching your own local history. Share a firsthand account or story that you’ve discovered with your book club.
 
2. Investigate real Australian shipwrecks online at http://www.environment.gov.au/heritage/shipwrecks/index.html. Write your own first-person diary entry as if you were a passenger aboard one of these ships.
 
3. If you live near a lighthouse, arrange a meeting with the lighthouse keeper and have him tell you about the harbor’s history.
 
4. Channel Isabella by participating in a jewelry-making class, or try your hand at developing your own line of jewelry made from items you find in nature. The more creative, the better!   
 

A Conversation with Kimberley Freeman  

What inspired you to revolve your story around a shipwreck? Was the story of the Aurora based on an actual event?  

The coastline of Australia is literally crowded with shipwreck history. I grew up in a town where a wrecked ship was used as a breakwater at the bottom of my street. So the wreck of the Aurora was imagined after a lot of reading about wrecked ships in Queensland. One particular source was a journal, written by a man who had survived a shipwreck with his wife and dog (everybody else on board was lost). They had eventually been picked up by a passing trade ship and made it back home, where he wrote down everything he could remember. The description of the shipwreck itself was more harrowing than anything I could have imagined. It would be the equivalent of going down in a plane: that kind of horror and feeling of complete helplessness. I really tried to capture that when writing the scene of the Aurora going down. In fact, some of the details (for example, the ship breaking into pieces) were taken directly from the journal account. I had no idea that something as large and well-built as a sailing ship could just turn to splinters under the force of rocks and stormy water.

What was your research process like? Did you discover anything in your research that particularly intrigued you?  

It’s a funny thing, but this is the first time I have written about the area where I live. I’ve always reached for slightly more exotic places, but I started to realize that where I live doesn’t feel exotic just because I’m so used to it. When I started working on the first idea for the novel, I developed a strong friendship (which later grew into a lovely relationship) with a man who lived up at the Sunshine Coast, about two hours’ drive away. I spent a lot of time going up there and back, falling in love with the area, mapping out where the story would take place. I also spent a lot of time in the State Library where I live, reading up about local history. It was wonderful to find those deeper layers of history in the place where I live, and to find that my hometown was just as full of romance and intrigue as any of the other places I’ve written about. In terms of what really intrigued me: when I discovered that paddle-steamers used to take people between the Sunshine Coast and Brisbane. That blew my mind! I think I let out a little whoop of joy in the library and said to myself, “I am SO putting a paddle-steamer in my book!”

Isabella overcomes many physical and emotional hardships in her life. What do you think is the source of her strength?  

Isabella was a great character to write in some ways, and in others being trapped inside her head for months on end was unbearable. She was just in so much pain. But I did love the idea that, no matter how bad things got, she was able to stand up and keep going. In some ways, I saw this as an innate stubbornness in her: she gets an idea in her head, and she won’t let go of it. Once she sees the lighthouse, she knows she must go there. Of course this gets her in trouble, too—it’s the same willfulness that makes her want to take Xavier to America, for example. Isabella is a person who lives a lot in her head, so it’s really mental tenacity that gets her through.

Lighthouse Bay is, in many ways, a story about relationships. It reflects how men and women can build each other up as well as bring each other down. Can you comment on how this idea factored into your writing?  

I had cause to see this fact firsthand during the year around the writing of the story, which was the most difficult time of my life. After twenty years and two children together, my childhood sweetheart and I had parted. The incredible complexity of relationships was very much on my mind, and that’s not to say that any of the characters were based on anyone I know. Far from it. I have a lovely relationship with my ex husband, and he is a wonderful friend and father to the kids. But in the slow breakdown of my marriage and in the horrible, horrible aftermath of the split, I thought a lot about relationships and how impossibly difficult and complicated they can be. And then of course while writing the story, I was trying very hard not to fall in love and eventually capitulating! So I think a lot of that turmoil of the heart has made its way into the story.

Distance and history deeply complicate the relationships between both pairs of sisters. Are you writing from personal experience here?  

No, I have no sisters. I have a brother and we have always had a very close relationship. But I remain fascinated by the idea of sisters. I have a handful of incredibly close female friends, I love the company of women, and I imagine having a sister must be the most wonderful thing in the world! Anyone who has one is so lucky (not that I’d trade my gorgeous brother in!).

Isabella’s most precious treasure is one that doesn’t cost much at all. Is there a particular object in your life that you value in this way?  

I have a little box full of bits and pieces I have collected through my children’s lives (they are ten and six years old): a paper Darth Vader made out of a toilet roll and black cardboard, a first scribble, a few locks of baby hair, the little wristbands they wore in the hospital. If my house caught fire, they are the things I would grab before I ran for it.

Several of the protagonists in your books are artists. In Lighthouse Bay, Isabella is a skilled jeweler, and Libby is a painter and graphic designer. What prompted you to make your main characters artists?  

Because I am a writer, I find it easier to write about people who express themselves through art. I would be utterly hopeless writing a book about, say, an Olympic athlete. I wouldn’t have a clue of that mindset.

Many of the women in your books struggle with a driving sense of loss. What inspired you to begin writing on this topic?  

It was just such a tough time for me, and writing stories is one of the ways I work my feelings out. When I started writing, I knew Isabella was sad, but I didn’t know why. When I realized that she had lost a baby, I cried for two days and wouldn’t write any more. I kept going through all the other possible scenarios: she’d lost a sister, her mother, anybody but a baby. But it had to be a baby. She had to be all but broken for the story to work. Because what I wanted was for her to have to come back from this horrible loss somehow, so that at the end the reader is left with a sense that hope always returns, even in the worst of circumstances. As for Libby and Mark, that was much less straightforward. She was grieving a man who had never been hers, so her grief had to be as secret as the affair had been. So while Isabella was openly broken-hearted, to the point that it annoyed her husband, Libby was covertly broken-hearted and couldn’t ask for comfort.

You are active on social media, particularly on Facebook. What value do these networks provide for you as a writer?  

Oh, dear, they stop me writing! I sometimes wonder if there is any value at all because social media are so addictive. But then I get a lovely message from a reader saying, “I stayed up all night to finish your book” (my favorite compliment, by the way), and I’m so grateful that the channel exists for them to be able to tell me that. I write in my pajamas first thing in the morning, while the kids are still asleep and the cats and dogs are playing around my feet. Then I get up and get dressed and get on with my day and it’s almost as though my writing has taken place in a dream, in another world, which has nothing to do with the real world. So being able to receive contact from other people who’ve appreciated those morning dream-sessions is just wonderful.

You’ve provided your readers with glimpses of Isabella and Libby’s lives before we meet them in Lighthouse Bay. Have you considered a prequel for either of them? What’s next for you?  

I don’t do prequels or sequels. The reader is free to fill in that backstory with her own imagination! I am one quarter of the way into a new book, tentatively called Ember Island, about a woman who takes a post as the governess to the prison superintendent’s daughter on a prison island in the nineteenth century. Only she is hiding a pretty awful secret, and when she starts to take an interest in one of the female prisoners who manages the superintendent’s garden, it all gets very complicated indeed. There’s also a present-day frame narrative that sets up some interesting business with an old diary to tease the reader: nothing is as it seems! I’m having a wonderful time writing it.

About The Author

Photograph by Justine Walpole

Kimberley Freeman was born in London and grew up in Brisbane, Australia. She is the bestselling author of Wildflower Hill and Lighthouse Bay and teaches critical and creative writing at the University of Queensland. She lives in Brisbane with an assortment of children and pets. Visit her website at KimberleyFreeman.com.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Touchstone (April 9, 2013)
  • Length: 432 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781451672794

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Raves and Reviews

"The author’s description of the beautiful Australian coastline will linger with readers long after they finish the book."

– Kirkus Reviews

"Freeman skillfully unites the stories of two women who live a century apart but both face the challenge of overcoming difficult pasts, and both under the lighthouse’s watchful presence...Freeman’s moving tale gives her two heroines the unique chance to make a fresh start in life."

– Publishers Weekly

“Freeman weaves the two time periods together so seamlessly."

– Booklist

"What a perfect beach read. A sunken ship, buried treasure, a home on the beach by the lighthouse, sister relationships, adventure, and romance. Lighthouse Bay packs a lot into its two-pronged story."

– atravelerslibrary.com

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