Last Reach Point lighthouse has been home to the Jackson family for years. When half of its garden crashes into the sea during a storm, Beth Jackson knows she can’t delay the inevitable. It’s time to find a new place to live. Out of the blue, Beth receives a lifeline from TV celebrity and would-be politician Gareth Dakers. He offers the Jackson family the chance to live at his home in London. Beth’s father and son are delighted with the move, but Beth has her doubts. Moving to the big city is an upheaval, and there’s certainly more to Gareth’s offer than meets the eye – but it just might heal some old wounds.
“A simple story with complicated undertones, this book provides a warm, humourous account of what happens when our country cousins get thrown into big city life.” – Manx Independent
“Unusual, warm and touching.” – Leicester Mercury
An extract from True Colours:
The cliff-edge had vanished as cleanly as a stone dropped down a well.
Only a few hours earlier, Beth Jackson had walked outside, into the shrieking wind and rain, and, even though she knew it was a stupid thing to do, she had stood right on the brink of the cliff. The sea was tearing at the rocks deep below in the darkness: she could taste the tang of salt in the air and hear the roar of it. The wind screamed louder, dragging the breath from her mouth and whipping her almost-black hair around her head so that she looked like a sea spirit. She wrapped her arms around herself, burying her cold fingers deep into the wool of the big blue sweater she was wearing – the one that had been Martin’s favourite.
Beth knew she was too close to the edge, dangerously close even, but she felt as if she needed to be: that if she didn’t look her fears straight in the face sometimes she might be overwhelmed by them. On stormy nights like this it was her habit to go out to that spot; sometimes she cried and sometimes she howled at the wind in anger and if she also felt frightened, so much the better. Afterwards she always felt it had helped.
This night felt different. The storm was more fierce than anything she’d ever known in a whole lifetime of living by the sea, and for a moment it was as if she wasn’t standing on the ground at all but was being whirled around in mid-air. She turned to look back at the lighthouse for reassurance. It had stood since 1890, the tallest building for miles around and the brightest, even though the light had been decommissioned and replaced by the automated one out on the rocks. A sudden snatch of moonlight appeared between the filthy black clouds, illuminating the white-painted tower. But on this awful night, instead of looking reassuring it looked like the arm of a drowning man.
Beth pushed a wet hank of hair away from her pale face, her eyes huge and dark and sad. She’d started to shiver, and belatedly realised she was soaked through. Before she turned away to go back to the house, she cast a final look across the black expanse of sea. She did this so automatically she hardly realised she was doing it, and would never have admitted to herself that even after three years she was still looking for the lights of a boat that was never going to come back.
Her feet squelched on the path as she made her way to the largest of the three white-painted cottages that formerly housed the families of the keepers of the Last Reach Point light. The other two were currently unoccupied, their windows unlit.
Beth’s father, Bill, was sitting by the fire reading. The table lamp cast deep shadows in his face. Only in his early sixties, he had the deeply-lined face of a person who’s spent most of his time outdoors, generally in bad weather. Even with the lines, he somehow managed to look young. It was the spark in his eyes and his resolutely black hair that gave him a Peter Pan look. He looked up, putting his book down on his lap. “There you are, Beth. Nasty old night,” he said, with his usual genius for understatement. He didn’t comment about Beth going outside in such weather; it was his nature to let people be what they wanted to be and not to worry much about it. Beth thought of her mother, who would have been rushing about getting towels and running hot baths for her when she saw how wet and cold she was. That was the difference between mothers and fathers, and since this particular father had been a lighthouse keeper all of his working life, he wasn’t going to get worked up about a bit of bad weather. But this was more than a bit of bad weather: Beth had felt genuine fear and vulnerability out there.
“The waves are slamming at the foot of that cliff so hard you can feel the ground move,” she said, holding her frozen fingers out towards the fire.
He nodded. “It’s a bad ‘un. I’ve seen worse, mind.” Beth knew he was putting on a brave face, and how worried he really was by the ever-crumbling cliff. Their property, which had once been fifty metres from the sea, was now practically falling in – ten metres and counting.
“Where’s Danny?” The thought that her son might be outside on such a night really did terrify Beth.
“Skulking in his room as usual.” That was no surprise: for Danny to be out would require him to move, and he was currently in the middle of a very prolonged phase of teenage inertia.
“What’s he doing?”
“Whatever it is he does up there – your guess is as good as mine. What that lad needs is a hobby. When I was his age – ”
“I know,” Beth managed a little laugh. “When you were his age you had your amateur radio.”
“It’s a decent hobby,” Bill said. “Did I ever tell you about the time…”
“You probably did,” she said, knowing that he wouldn’t be offended, “And I’d love to hear about it all over again, but I need to change out of these wet clothes first.”
In her bedroom, which was small, plain and white walled, like all the other rooms in the cottage apart from Danny’s which he’d painted a delightful shade of blood red, she exchanged one pair of jeans for another, and dragged the soaking woollen jumper off over her head. She held it in her hands for a few moments, reluctant to let it go: wearing Martin’s jumper felt like the nearest thing to having his arms around her and she always hated to take it off. She sat down on the bed, still holding it, and gazed out of the window. The storm seemed scarcely less frightening for being behind a pane of glass. It was alive and real and snarling around under the windows. Beth thought about the last time she’d seen Martin, when his boat had rounded the Point and he’d stood on the deck waving at her, as he always did. Except that time, he hadn’t come back.
The bedroom door opened a crack. Reflected in the window it was as if she was seeing the ghost of Martin as he’d looked when she first met him. They were both fourteen. Beth’s mother had recently died. Bill had been appointed as principal keeper at Last Reach Point, and he and his daughter moved up from the Channel Islands which was where his last posting had been.
Lighthouses were so much a part of Beth’s life that she was primed to pick out the brightest beacon in any landscape, and in the school playground on that first day it had been the bright chestnut hair of Martin Jackson that had drawn her towards him like a harbour light signalling to a little tugboat. He was so funny and confident, she’d loved him from the day she first saw him, although it was years later before she got him to admit he’d always felt the same about her.
“Mum?” The reflection in the window suddenly spoke, and Beth turned to see her son Danny standing in the doorway. Tall and whip-thin, with his father’s red-brown hair and almost turquoise eyes, Danny was looking more handsome every day, if only he hadn’t looked so miserable the whole time. At sixteen he was the age and build to carry misery most elegantly, but it tore at Beth’s heart that he was always so sad.
“Hi,” she smiled at him encouragingly. He carried on simply standing there. “Did you want something?” Sometimes talking to Danny was like talking to a rather taciturn toddler. She patted the bed next to her and was quietly pleased when he came and sat down. He reeked of cigarette smoke, and she was about to say something but let it go. “I was just thinking about your dad,” she said.
“Don’t.” His voice came out cracked, like it used to when it was breaking, and he cleared his throat.
“Don’t what? Think about him?”
“Talk about him. Don’t.”
“Oh. Okay.” Beth had tried both approaches with Danny since Martin had died: talking about his father, not talking about his father. In three years she still hadn’t managed to work out what was best, what would help. All she knew was that talking about Martin helped her.
“Is everything okay, Danny?” In the window she watched his reflection, his eyes rolling to the ceiling, his mouth forming a straight, stubborn line. But at least he was sitting there; at least he’d come to find her. Maybe there was hope yet for her beautiful boy.
Before he could speak there was a sound like a bomb going off in slow motion. Beth and Danny jumped up from the bed and ran downstairs. The front door was open, and the wind whipping through it was blowing the pages of Bill’s book, abandoned on the hearthrug. They rushed outside to where Bill was already standing. Ashen-faced, he motioned frantically to them to keep back. “A big chunk of the cliff’s just fallen,” he said.
The ground that Beth had been standing on only a few minutes earlier was now fresh air. They stared at the jagged, broken edge of the cliff and the gaping darkness beyond it.
As if they’d rehearsed it for a scene in a documentary about the doomed Last Reach lighthouse, all three turned and looked at the lighthouse tower. Once so invulnerable and safe-looking, it now looked all too precarious. The distance between its base and the sea was only about half of its height – you didn’t need to be an engineer to work out that it wouldn’t cope with much more of the ground falling away.
“Now what do we do?” Danny said.