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  • Writer's pictureThe Beagle

Writing ‘The Light’: how six people produced a novel

A few years ago, one of the members of Eurobodalla Writers’ day group came up with the idea of writing a novella together. We had published a few anthologies, so this was a new challenge, but we thought it would be fun.


Eleven met to discuss the possibility. Five dropped out for various reasons. That left six: Rhonda Casey, Eileen Dillon Smith, Stafford Ray, Rosie Toth, Judy Turner and me, Gillian Macnamara. Before we embarked on ‘The Light’, Stafford had published two novels: ‘Cull’, a political thriller, and ‘Australian Gulag’, a love story. Rhonda had a novel on the go: ‘Hessian’, historical fiction about Aboriginality and personal reconciliation. The rest of us had written only short pieces of prose or poetry.



One of the five who dropped out had recounted the true story of the mysterious disappearance over a century earlier of three lighthouse keepers from a remote Scottish

island. This became the basis of our plot. We moved the story to northeast Tasmania in 1949 and placed our imaginary lighthouse on a small island close to the fictional town of Littleton. The book opens with the light going out, a boat sinking, a man drowning and a lighthouse keeper vanishing.




Rather than writing a straightforward mystery, we were interested in exploring the impact of the tragedy on the locals, which meant inventing a cast of characters. One challenge we had been considering was how to produce a cohesive work written by multiple authors. As we fleshed out the characters, the answer became obvious: we would each write from the point of view of one or more characters, which would allow for different ‘voices’. This was not as straightforward as it seemed. We all had to write scenes that included other writers’ characters, and character consistency mattered. So, an important part of our regular reviews was to check: ‘would he say this?’ or ‘would she do that?’. It was interesting to observe how real our characters became to us and how much this mattered. We wrote in the third person, which made transitions from one character’s point of view to another’s clearer to the reader. The only exception to this was the free verse written in the first person in the voice of the lighthouse.


Several more decisions were needed before writing could begin, such as whether to write in the past or present tense. All decisions were made democratically. Tense was one decision that engendered considerable discussion before we had a majority in favour of writing in the present tense. We also needed to research the setting and the period, to avoid errors of geography, and anachronisms such as having characters saying ‘OK’ or drinking coffee.


We experienced plenty of hold-ups, some for happy reasons, others not so happy, such as serious illnesses and family emergencies. Then, of course, Covid arrived. Luckily, we had agreed that we didn’t need a deadline. There were many read-throughs and some time-consuming re-writes. Three of us took on editing as we wrote. Gradually, the novella became a novel. Most differences of opinion regarding the plot were resolved easily and amicably. The ending was the hardest to resolve – some wanted all loose ends tidied, some didn’t. So, we compromised with a few of each.


I took on the final slog of re-editing, formatting for printing and fixing the inevitable glitches. Of course, some of those glitches remain in the final version, which was published in 2022. But I think we can be proud of it. We are now considering readying it for epublishing when we have some spare time.


Since we embarked on ‘The Light’, Rhonda has published ‘Hessian’, Judy has published ‘Watermelon Days’, a collection of memoir and short stories and Stafford has a third book, ‘Pregenesis’, climate/science fiction set in Antarctica, ready for publication.


If you are interested in finding out more about any of these books or would like to purchase copies, please email the authors:


Rhonda: yarandoo@skymesh.com.au

Judy: turnersparadise@gmail.com

Stafford: staffordray@optusnet.com.au

And for ‘The Light’, email me at gillian1951@bigpond.com


Gillian Macnamara

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