The Lightkeeper's Daughter

September 2017

Local author Jean E. Pendziwol is known in Thunder Bay for her award-winning children’s picture books, but her foray into adult fiction has propelled her to the top of the Canadian bestsellers lists. I was able to track Pendziwol down for a quick chat between interviews with BBC in London, England and Word on the Street in Toronto.

Jean, you’re a highly successful children’s author. What made you take the leap to novelist? What were the surprises, joys and struggles of doing this?

I love writing for children, especially picture books. It requires a conservancy of words while maintaining respect for the reader and the ability to craft an engaging relevant story. I also love the concept of co-creation, where an illustrator adds a visual element to the text. I took on a longer project because I had a story to tell that needed more space – space for the characters to grow and develop, space to weave themes and complex plot lines together. It was fun and challenging to explore the novel format and I learned a lot through the process of writing The Lightkeeper’s Daughters. One of the surprises has been how I’m viewed as a writer – that somehow I’ve “graduated” from writing for children.

I don’t see it that way at all. Different stories require different formats. Writing for adults does not make me “more” of a writer. Literature created for children is no less valuable and no less literature and I intend to continue writing in whichever format, for whichever audience the story needs to speak to.

Why did you choose to set the Lightkeeper’s Daughters on Porphyry Island? Is there something about grounding the story to actual locales (as opposed to inventing a lighthouse and surrounding region) that appealed to you? Did that present a challenge, or did it make it easier?

I chose to set my story on Porphyry Island because it was a place I had visited as a child. I grew up sailing on Lake Superior, and always loved stopping in at the lighthouse to see the keeper. I thought it a terribly romantic place and wanted to live there. I also knew that I wanted the Lake to play a role in the story. It is a magnificent body of water – vast, cold, temperamental and beautiful. While using an actual location can present challenges, I was also very fortunate to be able to interview people who had served at the Porphyry Island Light Station. They added colour and texture to the story, with their tales about fishing and picking berries and storms. I have taken some liberties with my interpretation, but there are many tie-ins to facts and locations.

You did a fair bit of research on this project, including interviewing graffiti artists and lightkeepers themselves. Can you describe what you were looking for?

Because the story is historical fiction, it was important to me that I ensured accuracy as much as possible. But in addition to facts, the people I interviewed also added to my ability to create atmosphere. I learned about the process for lighting the lamps, where people went to pick berries, that bears often visited the island, and the names of the plants that grow there. I approached the contemporary story the same way. If I’m writing about graffiti and one of my characters is out tagging, it’s important that I present that reality as accurately as possible, within the limits, of course, of writing a work of fiction. I feel this adds believability and helps readers connect more with the characters and story.

You’ve lived in Thunder Bay for most of your life. Do you think being so isolated helps the creative process or hinders it?

A little of both. I am very much inspired by where I live – by the Lake and the boreal forest and the Nor’wester Mountains and the resilient, hardworking, and diverse people who live here. But at the same time, accessing the larger CanLit network can be a challenge, limited by geography. But we do have a vibrant local arts scene and writing community that has been growing and evolving over the years, and I am so appreciative of that.

The dual perspectives in the novel are a huge part of its strength, but it was also a risk in terms of literary style. What made you choose this alternating POV (Point of View) form?

Both Elizabeth and Morgan had a story to tell. The alternating POV facilitated that – allowing the reader to get into the head and heart of each of them in turn. It happened quite organically when I started writing, so I just went with it.

Your book rocketed to the top of the Canadian bestseller lists almost immediately upon its release. How does that make you feel? How has the response been locally to your success?

Wow. It’s just been so amazing! It makes me feel humbled and honoured, and I’m especially grateful for the local response and support. I walked into Chapters the other day (it’s a habit… so many books in my TBR pile, never enough time) and someone was walking out with a copy of my book – and I DIDN’T EVEN KNOW HIM! I didn’t squeal – not very loud anyway.

What are some books/writers that influenced you growing up? Why?

Oh this list seems to change all the time when I remember more great books that I read as a kid. Nancy Drew, of course, Enid Blyton, Black Beauty and Misty of Chincoteague, Island of the Blue Dolphins. Later, I fell in love with historical fiction, especially the Mary Stewart series about Merlin and King Arthur. And then, Ken Follet, Leon Uris, Agatha Christie. I loved to read and read a wide variety of books and authors.

The summer of 2017 is a busy one for you with the release of another children’s picture book, Me and You and The Red Canoe. Do you plan to continue expressing yourself in both children’s and adult book formats?

Absolutely. See question number one. ;)

Follow Jean Pendziwol’s journey online at, on Twitter at @JeanPendziwol and on FB at
The Lightkeeper’s Daughters can be found at Chapters, Coles, and wherever fine books are sold!

Heather L. Dickson is a photoshop guru, zoologist and author of 6 novels.

Visit her website at

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