Lottie Moggach on a much loved Guardian First Book contender

28 November 2013

Lottie Moggach, whose novel Kiss Me First is shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award 2013, recalls a much loved book from the award's first shortlist in 1999.

I've read and loved many of the nominees for the Guardian First Book Award over the years, among them Bella Bathurst's The Lighthouse Stevensons (HarperCollins) from the very first shortlist in 1999. I think her book exemplifies what the award, and literary prizes in general, are good for: bringing to one's attention books you might otherwise pass by because you don't yet know you're interested in their subject matter. I had never given a second, or indeed a first thought to lighthouse building in Scotland in the eighteenth century, but found Bathurst's account of three generations of the Stevenson family, who were responsible for erecting 14 lighthouses along the Scottish coast as well as producing Scotland's most famous author, Robert Louis Stevenson, enthralling. What sounds like an obscure, narrow subject is actually an epic tale, rich in fascinating period details and universal themes, such as the value of art versus science. Even the engineering bits are good.

Bathurst has had an interesting career since, producing similarly thoughtful and engaging studies of shipwrecks and cycling, as well a novel, Special (Picador), and she's a writer I admire very much.

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