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.
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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.