Caroline Woodward’s new book gives readers a peek through her lighthouse’s window.
Woodward watches over local and visiting mariners from the Lennard Island Lightstation spending seven-day weeks putting out weather reports and keeping up with maintenance and communications.
“82A is our channel if you need to know what the seas are doing beyond the calm harbour in Tofino or coming in to Templar Channel,” she told the Westerly News.
She recently completed a non-fiction book on her experience entitled Light Years: Memoir of a Modern Lighthouse Keeper.
“It took me all my life, in one sense, to write this book,” she said.
“Or seven ferociously focused months of writing, rewriting swaths of my journal and essays into chapter form, working with a substantive editor, a copy editor and a proofreader as well as a designer and, with my husband, Jeff George, selecting photographs, colour and black and white, to suit the chapters.”
The book was published by Harbour Publishing earlier this year and Woodward was thrilled to see the result of her collaborations.
“I am delighted with the rigorous editing and fact-checking and working with the publishing team, the colour quality of Jeff’s beautiful photographs, the way the designer used my Japanese poems at the beginning of the chapters, and the cover is just a knockout,” she said.
“I’m still at the stage where the new book is like a beautiful new baby, very happy with it.”
Woodward has been published in a broad range of genres but this is her first non-fiction work and she suggested Clayoquot Sound requires many mediums to be captured.
“This place inspires all forms of writing and storytelling, fiction and non-fiction. Some content is better shaped as a poem,” she said.
“Other stories need more space, the heft of non-fiction history for example. The beauty of wild animals is conveyed better with photographs than any kind of writing can do justice…and then there are children’s stories, requiring just the right illustrations to carry the intent of the story, reading after reading.”
Woodward first visited the West Coast in 1973 when she and her sister hitchhiked over Sutton Pass after heavy rainfall forced them to abandon their bicycles in Parksville.
“The road hadn’t been open long and I have memories of relentless rain, a Volkswagen van, a white dog belonging to the driver of the van, a lively pub night in Ucluelet and then camping on a beach, don’t ask me which one,” she said.
“We were woefully, totally, utterly inadequately dressed for the rain. There weren’t any hot showers or clean Parks Canada facilities or anything like that of course. I still can’t believe we thought we could bicycle over that road and back on a long weekend on ordinary ten speeds.”
She has since fallen in love with the area.
“There is something profound, something immensely powerful about being on the edge of British Columbia and looking out on the reefs and rocks and beyond to just the Pacific Ocean,” she said.
“Add to that living on a tiny island with a spruce grove sheltering us from the winds coming from the north and the Coast Guard buildings and lawns, the helipad, and the creative mind goes outward and inward, fed by the storms, the quiet, the noise, the voices of birds, the spouts of the whales, the boats heading into Tofino Harbour or out to sea, all of it. No distractions, just the beauty and power of Nature, this grand, watery world.”
Woodward had taken a hiatus from writing until recapturing her love of journaling, which brought her back into a daily writing routine that quickly blossomed.
“I started writing Japanese form poems, inspired by Clayoquot Sound, by the world I’m living in,” she said.
Her journey to completing Light Years started with an essay assignment from Adrienne Mason as part of the Clayoquot Writers Group.
“I came up with a short fiction story, except for one true bit about me at the hair salon, about lightkeeping women on Lennard Island over a century, each of them looking at Chesterman Beach for hours,” Woodward said.
She said the essay collection was postponed but her short story found its way to a publisher at BC Bookworld who asked her to contribute to an online magazine in 2014 about her experience living and working as a relief lightkeeper.
“Howard White, the publisher at Harbour, read the completely revised piece I sent in about first meeting a relief lightkeeper on the Alert Bay ferry and the rest is history,” she said.
The daily writing habit she developed through her journal helped her complete the project.
“I have to apply the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair and write something, anything, every single day. That’s where the journal habit rescues me from self-loathing,” she said.
“My schedule changes when I’m working as a lightkeeper and it’s actually very good for me to have shift work as it forces me not to dilly-dally and waste my life, my time. I have to get to work or nothing will get written. Simple as that. I do not intend to waste this precious time, these “light years” I have before me.”
She’s enjoyed touring with her book and hopes it inspires readers to pursue their passions.
“I’ve met some wonderful people like this on my book tours on Vancouver Island especially this fall,” she said.
“I want all sorts of people to read it and relate to it, of course, whether they want to be professional writers or just love reading about making my decision to choose love and adventure and to join my husband on the lights over security and a great job in the publishing world.”