We asked Jean Pendziwol five questions about her new international bestseller, The Lightkeeper’s Daughter, and how music played a role in writing the book. You can find her at IFOA 2017, and IFOA Thunder Bay on October 30th.
IFOA: The Lightkeeper’s Daughter has been described as a love story of human connections. What inspired you to write it?
Jean E. Pendziwol: It’s interesting that a story of human connections has its roots in setting. Having spent many summers of my childhood on Lake Superior on our family’s sailboat, I grew to respect this inland sea; to admire the stunning beauty, the isolation, the temperamental changes of wind and weather.
When I started to consider developing a story into a novel for adults, I knew I wanted the lake to play a major role. I have visited the Porphyry Island lighthouse—the main setting for the story—many times, first as a child, filled with romantic ideas about the lives of lighthouse keepers, and again as an adult.
From that place, the story of Elizabeth and Emily grew. What would it be like to be raised on an island, in many ways cut off from the world, in an environment that is at once both threatening and protective? What does it mean to be family? To love unconditionally? Once I started to write Elizabeth’s story, Morgan began to emerge, demanding more time on the page to explore her own identity and to forge a connection with a woman more than sixty years older than her. Alike in so many ways, it was still the thread of Lake Superior, sometimes quietly, sometimes tempestuously, moving in the lives of the characters that shaped the stories of their lives.
IFOA: If we were to see The Lightkeeper’s Daughter on big screen, who would you cast as Elizabeth?
Pendziwol: Since the story captures Elizabeth at different stages of her life, there would need to be at least two actors playing her. The voice I heard speak to me most when I was writing her, however, was the elderly Elizabeth—blind, intelligent, stubborn and worldly wise—so she would be best played by Helen Mirren. Or maybe Meryl Streep. I could see the younger Elizabeth being played by Ellen Paige.
IFOA: Can the reader expect to find glimpses of you when they read about Elizabeth?
Pendziwol: I think Elizabeth and I share a love of—and respect for— Lake Superior and the natural world. We have a few other things in common as well, like a childhood spent reading. Being out on a sailboat for weeks at a time served to instil in me a love for books, just as Elizabeth’s childhood at a remote light station did. But Elizabeth is much more self-assured than I am. And much more perceptive.
IFOA: Music fills the vacancy left by Elizabeth’s blindness; did you listen to any music throughout your creative process? If so, what did you listen to?
Pendziwol: I don’t usually listen to music when I’m writing, but I would intentionally seek out Mozart and Beethoven for inspiration. From Morgan’s playlist, I also listened to traditional Celtic fiddle tunes, like those played by Pierre Schryer, and symphonic metal. Vanessa Mae and Lindsey Stirling are both classically trained violinists who apply contemporary interpretations to their music, and I think Lindsey Stirling would make an amazing Morgan in a movie version of the book! And, of course, I had to listen to Gordon Lightfoot’s The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald because, “The lake, it is said, never gives up her dead…”
IFOA: What are you reading now?
Pendziwol: I usually have a few books on the go at once. Right now, it’s Ami McKay’s The Witches of New York, a steampunk thriller by H. Leighton Dickson called Cold Stone and Ivy: The Crown Prince, and The Nightingale by Kristen Hannah.
Jean E. Pendziwol was born in Thunder Bay and spent much of her childhood aboard her family’s sailboat. After working as a freelance writer and photographer, she spent several years raising her three children before publishing her first book for young people. She is now the author of eight children’s books. She was shortlisted for the Governor General’s Literary Award for Children’s Literature and the TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award for Once Upon a Northern Night, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault.
She lives in Ontario with her husband, two of her three adult children, a lovable mutt and three temperamental chickens, who sometimes lay eggs. She presents The Lightkeeper’s Daughters.