Take a bunch of writers from different genres, many who have never met before, and put them on the same table at a fancy dress dinner and see what happens.
For one group of writers, who met at GenreCon in 2019, it resulted in a multi-genre anthology entitled Lighthouse – a collection of fifteen short stories all featuring lighthouses.
Why lighthouses? To get the answer to this, and a bunch of other questions about this project, Lorikeet Ink caught up with two of the Lighthouse’s contributing authors – Anthology Organiser, Chris Foley and Anthology Editor, Bianca Millroy.
LI: So Chris, can you tell us where the idea came from?
CF: The spark that kicked-off this anthology was a light-hearted dinner conversation during GenreCon held in Brisbane by the Queensland Writers Centre. Introductions and explanations of our respective genres of choice intermingled across the table with ‘Wouldn’t it be fun to write a story which…’. One writer mentioned her writing was inspired by real-life lighthouses. And so, the premise for the Lighthouse Anthology flickered into existence.
The idea could have remained just a dinnertime conversation except that it lodged in our imaginations and we continued to talk about it afterwards. Maybe, just maybe, a cross-genre collaboration could work.
Editor’s note: The theme for the dinner was Poltergeists and Petticoats and Chris was dressed in an Edwardian-inspired uniform complete with epaulets and other elaborate details. His striking costume triggered an animated guessing game of what character he could be. A crew member from the Titanic? The concierge from a haunted hotel? A lighthouse keeper…
The rest as they say is history.
LI: Can you tell us about the different kinds of genres and stories featured in this anthology?
CF: Our group of Australian authors found that lighthouses were the perfect setting for all the different genres we write in. In Lighthouse you’ll find a collection of fantasy, sci-fi, romance, crime, historical fiction, dystopian and paranormal short stories that all feature lighthouses in one way or another.
LI: Bianca, you have a personal interest in lighthouses, can you tell us a little about that?
BM: I do? Is it that obvious? *Looks around at the lighthouse painting on the wall, shabby chic writer’s desk with lighthouse-themed pinboard, lighthouse books and lighthouse coffee mug…* Hmmm yes, an…interest, we shall call it that.
My fascination with lighthouses was piqued in 2014, when I wrote a 1500-word story for my university creative writing course. I’d recently watched an Australian film called ‘South Solitary’, which is set on a remote island with a lighthouse. It led me to researching the real South Solitary Island, located nine miles off the Northern NSW coast, and writing a fictional story that revolved around an imagined lighthouse keeper’s daughter. Over the next six years, I developed this story into a novel manuscript, which was recently shortlisted for the Queensland Literary Awards Emerging Writer category.
LI: After you wrote the short story, didn’t you discover a personal connection to South Solitary Island?
BM: Yes! I found out later that my late Great Uncle, “Dr. Jones” was the primary GP who used to go over to the Island in the 50s and 60s to care for the lighthouse families on Solitary!
LI: Since then haven’t lighthouses become central to your life?
BM: In 2017, I had the incredible opportunity to visit South Solitary Island and tour the lighthouse. The tours operate on two weekends each year only, and the access is via helicopter! From 2017 to 2019 I volunteered as a tour guide for the Caloundra Lighthouses and, in 2020, as part of my ‘day job’ with AustLit, the Australian Literature database, I was invited to curate an online exhibition about lighthouses in literature, ‘Liminal Spaces, Solitary Places’.
LI: Why do you think people are so fascinated by lighthouses?
BM: I believe that lighthouses, both in their functional and symbolic form, are a vessel for hope and humanity. They reveal both the light and the dark, act as a visual guide and a central point of certainty when all else is thrown into darkness and chaos. Lighthouses have an epic history spanning centuries and have morphed over the ages in both their structure and technology, but one thing has remained: their purpose.
People are drawn to lighthouses through the appreciation of their connection to landscape and nature, local history, shipwreck tragedies and tales of survival, ghostly apparitions, gothic folklore and much more. As a writer, there are endless stories to be told.
LI: So this is why lighthouses feature so predominately in literature?
BM: In literature, the setting of a remote island or an isolated lighthouse, especially depicted in Australian literature, gives the writer the child’s equivalent of a playground. So much can ‘play out’ on the set between a lonely lighthouse keeper, the lighthouse and the sea. Additional characters can come and go, or come back from the ‘dead’, or not feature at all.
The archetype of a Lighthouse Keeper is one of quiet bravado and stoicism, reliability and strength. Straddling both land and sea, the lighthouse as a ‘liminal’ setting and character is important in both fiction and traditional folklore for their links with ancient mythology, such as gods, monsters, sirens, leviathans, humble fisherman and great warriors.
Lighthouses feature so predominantly in literature because, quite simply, they are vaults of infinite storytelling opportunity, can be a backdrop or a focal ‘character’, are adaptable to time period and genre, and are an essential vehicle for driving narrative, especially stories with atmosphere, suspense, mystery and mayhem – much like the stories in our anthology.
LI: Chris, what do you think readers will get out of Lighthouse?
CF: Within its pages are stories that will surprise and entertain the reader. As a cross-genre collection of stories, many readers will be pleasantly surprised by the storytelling from writers outside their own usual reading genres.
Readers want stories that excite their emotions and imaginations. Some want characters and settings that are recognisably real world but tweaked and stretched so that the reader can fantasise that it is them that are being swept away in an adventure or wild romance. Lighthouse features all of these things.
LI: What did each of you enjoy most about being part of this anthology?
CF: The people! We began our journey together as strangers, each uncertain about what he or she was getting into. What we found was that each author stepped forward to share their skills, energy, and good humour for the common good. Lighthouse is greater than the sum of its parts.
BM: I am someone who loves a creative challenge and as writing can be quite a solitary occupation – magnified by the pandemic lockdowns in 2020 – I found myself craving connection. I was invited in early 2020 to edit this anthology – a new project that would enable collaboration with other writers, both established and emerging. This opportunity felt exciting and daunting at the same time. . Our Lighthouse project has fulfilled all of these passions, and more.
Now, it is our collective mission to steer this ship out from the safe harbour and may it find its way into the hands of our greatest supporters – our readers!
Editor’s note: Hear! Hear!
Lighthouse is now available to purchase. You can secure a copy or get a free sample story here.