For Frances and her family, living on a lighthouse, the war is both far away and scarily close. There are rumours of submarines in the Pacific. The Japanese have attacked Pearl Harbor, taken Singapore and bombed Darwin, so what's to stop them invading New Zealand next? But soon Frances, the only girl on the island, will have more to worry about than the threat of a Japanese invasion.
The Captain started talking as soon as he stepped inside the front door. His loud voice filled the hallway. "Heard the news yet?" he boomed. "The Japs have bombed Pearl Harbour."
There was a shocked silence and then a babble of conversation from all the adults in our lounge. Mrs Wallace's voice rang out above everyone else's. "Whatever do you mean? Are the Japanese in the war now?"
"Didn't even declare war first." The Captain's voice carried from one end of the house to the other. "Tried to take out the whole U.S. fleet. Invaded Malaya too, and Thailand."
"Malaya?" Mrs Wallace screeched in horror. "Japan has invaded Malaya?"
"Will they keep going?" Mrs Parker said, in her quiet, anxious voice.
"Singapore," Mr Wallace said, as though it was a magic name. "Don't forget we've got Singapore – that'll hold them."
I didn't even know where Pearl Harbour was. The war is against Germany. Nobody had mentioned Japan before. But even if Japan had bombed some harbour, even if they did get to Singapore, what did that have to do with us?
My arms were in a flurry of suds in the sink when I felt Stephen tugging at my sleeve. He's very good at keeping quiet.
What are they talking about? Where is Japan? His face was one big worried frown. Where is Pearl Harbour?
"Japan is – a long way away." I waved a soapy arm out the window, in the vague direction of the horizon, then reached down and gave him a hug.
"Britain will help us," Mrs Parker said. "They will come to our aid."
"Britain?" Mr Parker scoffed. "What use will they be? Miles away, on the other side of the world."
Violet nearly dropped a plate, caught it just in time and said, "Whoops!" The lounge suddenly went still, as though all the grown-ups had frozen.
"Frances? Who else is in there with you?" Mother's voice was sharper than usual.
"We're just doing the dishes," Violet said. Stephen had already sneaked out the back door.
"Don't worry, we'll do them later. You girls run off and play before it gets dark," Mrs Parker said.
Violet and I are too old to play. On the other hand, nobody ever tells us to leave the dishes, so it was too good an opportunity to miss. The grown-ups were murmuring in hushed voices now and we weren't going to hear any more.
The story behind the book
I've been fascinated for a long time by the idea of lighthouses, and what it must have been like to live on a lighthouse station. Then some research I was doing for another piece of writing led me to the story of the Niagara, sunk by mines off the Northland coast in 1940. Who knew that German ships had sailed down our coast during the war, laying mines? Not me! I knew about the bombing of Darwin, but not that midget submarines had invaded Sydney harbour. Then I found out even more astonishing stuff. Submarines had been lurking round our shores as well. Japanese float planes had carried out reconnaissance flights over our cities. One person told me a story of people living on a lighthouse station who had seen men from a submarine coming ashore at night for fresh water. The combination of lighthouses, war and the threatened Japanese invasion started to turn itself into a story in my mind.
• Look at this map of NZ lighthouses. Which one is closest to you? Have you visited any others?
• Talk to older people in your family or neighbourhood and see if any of them remember the threatened Japanese invasion.