Date Published: 5/17/2013
This darkly comic YA novel, set on a lighthouse in 1983, introduces us to the deeplydysfunctional Captain Church and his crew of social misfits, whose well-ordered universe is turned upside down by the arrival of a marine biologist, who has come to study the local puffin colony. This in turn leads to an encounter with a nasty gang of drug dealers, a surprising undersea discovery and a hamster called Steve.
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The following extract is from early in the book, when Principal Lighthousekeeper Church discovers a problem with the supplies. He is joined by Jake, a young 19-year-old with a stammer, who is on a temporary work experience placement on the lighthouse. Jake is curious about their new arrival, a biologist, who has come to study the puffin colony and they work out an idea where she can sleep, involving Steve, Church’s pedantic second-in-command.
In the Mess, Church is unpacking the provisions and carefully putting everything in its allocated space. He is talking to himself, thinking aloud. “Where’s the…? Uh-oh.” He frantically rifles through the rest of one box and rips through the others before kicking one across the room, hurting his foot in the process. Jake comes in to see him hopping up and down, in pain and anger.
“W-W-What’s up, Captain?”
“Come here.” Jake does so. “Notice anything?” Jake looks intently. Immediately to the left of the stove is a shelf with a big space on it. Church looks at the big space and then back at Jake’s clueless expression. “Tell you what, I’ll give you a clue. It’s a letter between S and U, one syllable and rhymes with tee.” He waits for a second or two. “TEA, YOU MORON! How’s the lighthouse supposed to function without tea?”
“W-W-Was it on the list?”
“Yes, it w-w-was. Next to money and brain.”
“I-I-I remembered the money.”
“AGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH! Do you know what trying to live a normal life is like without tea?”
“I’m starting to get an idea. We-we-we’ll just have to go c-c-cold turkey.”
“What kind of madman d’you think I am?” Jake opens his mouth to answer and then closes it again quickly.
“Why is she here?”
Church pauses for a second but accepts the non sequitur without question. He is very used to how Jake’s brain works. “She just wants to observe and unusual…colony close up.”
“Yes, birds. You know, those things with wings that fly around outside. Now just go and make-up the unexpected guest room.”
“Where’s that then? And who’s gonna come here?”
“If we knew who they were, they wouldn’t be unexpected, would they? Do I have to do all the thinking around here? Use Steve’s room.”
“W-w-won’t that be unpopular? With Steve for a st-start.”
“He can share with you.” Jake starts to protest. “No B-B-Buts. Desperate times call for desperate measures. He can use some of my cupboard space.”
“He won’t be h-h-happy.”
“No change there then.” Jake strops out like a surly teenager.