In 1965, Samuel Thwaite moves to Goodmews, a laid-back town known for its strikingly bright moon. He persuades the residents to let him set up the Moon Centre, which will celebrate the town and link it to the Space Age. NASA funds the Centre, and Thwaite hires a timid Visitor Assistant, Banno Culdrun.
Banno chances upon Thwaite's outrageous plan: to use a rocket to spread paint over a giant crater so the moon will no longer look white. Banno knows he should tell someone, but he has signed NASA's oath of secrecy and prides himself on keeping his word. He feels he can't even tell NASA, as he fears they may be in on the plan.
Cover artwork by Thirza Kotzen
This book offers a welcome escape: I quickly became immersed in a world beautifully conceived and captured by author Jeff Probst. There's a wonderfully light touch to the prose and a totally original storyline which, while highly imaginative, isn't beyond the realms of possibility. The whole feel of the town and landscape stays with me; that brilliant white moon and the various intriguing characters pulled together under its thrall.
I read the first five chapters without taking a break. “When the Moon was White” is a love poem to the moon, to seeing the beauty around us, and to enhancing it. And it is so much more.
Over and over, I felt drawn in. Like Francine, I have been so taken by a place I visited that I knew I had to return. For Francine, it was the moon over the woods of a small town in South Dakota, and the way its light reflected off the cliffs.
Francine did return and discovered that she was not the only one drawn to the town or fascinated by the moon. We also meet Sam and Tris and Banno.
There is poetry, songs of the sixties, and the inspirational attempt to do something dangerously exciting. Will the plan succeed? Is it even ethical? What are the right choices and who will make them?
Jeff Probst’s book is for people who like a good story that incorporates mystery, music, and science. It resonates with people like me who experienced the 1960’s, and I think others will be drawn in by the adventure and the beauty of the language. I recommend you give it a go.
I started reading this book as I lay on a beach in Thailand feeling care free. Straight away I could really feel the contrast to the story where a man sets out to change and manipulate a little sleepy US town for his own gains. It felt imprisoning. But the story became exciting, and it wasn’t obvious what was going to happen so it kept me gripped till the end.
The author’s language is quirky, but the book was an easy, enjoyable read. It was mainly about the characters, and they were described so well that it just kept me reading. I found them believable, I understood what they were about, and through their dialogue I could understand their dilemmas and how they interacted. The moon, for all its importance to the plot, was still a side story for me.
The novel’s structure is unusual, but it all made sense and was quite refreshing. For example, I liked the way the letter correspondence was used in a really smart way to tell some of the story, I could picture the changing moods of those involved in the plot, and the mystery slowly unfolding until the dramatic end.
I'm glad to have read this ‘Moon’ book. I don't read many novels but a friend recommended it to me and the title got me in, because the Moon is white, isn’t it? The book looked long but was an easy read as the style was pleasing, light and original. Its playful language and curmudgeonly musings were amusing and it was about many things I enjoy like light, colour and music, especially from the sixties. The characters were all believable and, as the plot intensified, I became aware of what the title meant. The riddle in the middle kept me guessing. I look at the Moon differently now.
R.C. Trussell, Retired Professor of Philosophy, Pikes Peak State College, Colorado
The book begins in a very quirky American town, Goodmews. As a night-sky gazer in rural Colorado, I definitely know what the town’s “Mars-colored cliffs” look like. Actually, the granite that became the Rocky Mountains tectonically punched through a long-receded ancient seabed. Its red-buff sandstone was upended into spires that appear all along the front range. They now smile knowingly at sister Mars. I’ve found seashells in them! If Marsan mysteries must wait for a sequel from author Probst, the moon’s geology, as explored in this book, was a sumptuous side dish to the many courses served in this novel.
The introduction of the main characters built the arc of the developing story well. Though as the plot jells, it was hard for me to care about the Goodmews townsfolk, as their culture and “moonstruckness” made them salt-of-the-earth, with the innocence of Hobbits, apolitical and seemingly blind to forces exploiting them.
I became most engaged with the faster pacing in the middle of the book, which carried on to the end. The many Sixties song references slowed me down some as I had to pause and recall the melody—call it a guilty pleasure that filled me with smug satisfaction if I got it right. If not, a quick trip to YouTube was a toe-tapping delight. The ideal reader, like myself, lived through the years of the space race which were the years of these songs. Yet everyone has heard them at one point or another, either by the original artist or percolating through the decades with new interpretations. But I was astonished how the lyrics came to occupy center stage in a new and pivotal role.
I found the colour scientist’s search for an original color fascinating. An art instructor at the college where I teach certified its accuracy.
Especially masterful was the agonizing way one character struggles to communicate what was actually going down. The others wrestle to figure it out. With the reader in the know, their efforts are less Sherlock Holmes and more like Keystone Cops. All the while, Mission Control’s clock approaches the point of no return.
What leaped out to me here was the author’s insightful juxtaposition into this character’s neurotic and troubled self, who reveals that the promises he made to himself and others were “iron-clad, inviolate, a straightjacket that suited him. A lifejacket.”
What struck me throughout was the author’s use/play with language. For me, he is the most magnificent master of alluring alliteration, seasoning the meal with polygamous puns. I liked the similes too, which offer wise insight into life lived and experience of the world around us.
Samuel Thwaite is a small-town megalomaniac who wants to leave his mark, not on the world but on the moon. Can a motley cast of loners and dreamers muster enough teamwork to stop him?
This is the strange conundrum of Jeff Probst’s funny, original novel. It's set in Goodmews, a fictional place which crosses small-town America with leafy north London, England – where Californian Probst has lived for over 30 years. It reads like a love-song to both those locales, their gardens and much-trod pavements, their scents and atmospheres as the seasons revolve. If this sounds poetic, it is – but the poetry is served up with a precision and wit which make the book charming and readable.
If a novel can have a soundtrack, this one rings with classic rock tunes and guitar riffs. The characters roam their world with music sounding in their thoughts – the songs a commentary on all kinds of experience, trivial and tragic.
What a good read! Whimsical, yet serious in its intent, I was entertained from the get-go. The characters are well written and believable, the story itself is engaging, compelling. I buzzed thru it, feeling sorry that it had to end. I wanted the story to go on, to learn more about the characters and “what happened next.” I hope the book attracts an audience. It’s a pretty cool piece of work and worth your time!
I read this book the way I like to read books – slowly, as it’s not one one can rush. It is written beautifully, and honestly, as I’m sure aspects of the author’s life are woven into the fabric of the story. The tension builds as the book unfolds and drew me in.
I was intrigued by the science regarding the moon and the creation of the paint, and by NASA’s role in the plot. But what was most satisfying, even with all the research the author must have done, was that the book read effortlessly, like a good book should.
Jeff is a friend for whom I designed the cover of his new novel. Although I knew a little about the setting of the story, reading the book came as a bit of a revelation. I thought this is a fat book, will it be too heavy? But I was very pleasantly surprised at how the pages turned and how interested I was in what was to happen next. I thought that his research into the science of colour and how a rocket would take the colour to the moon was believable. A crazy but interesting concept... not one I approve of by the way. But I liked Jeff's play with words, his interesting characters. I see him (Jeff) in all of them, and that made me smile. The author, teacher, hippy, music-head. I liked that this book feels personal. That is not always easy to do. It makes for a pretty good read.
I loved this book. I loved the vividness of the colours, and the descriptions of the colours. I found it such a compelling and very visual book, which reminded me too, of the beauty of the English language. I enjoyed the story and getting to know the characters. I highly recommend it.
It is a feat of the author's quirky imagination that one is soon drawn into the charming world of Goodmews, a small town that contains more original features than anything I imagine that ever existed in the US in the 60s. The place would surely be subject to a preservation order, with an olde worlde counterculture all of its own, with horse and carriage tours, British type letter boxes, roman numerals for house numbering and street signs and shop windows full of puns and jokes. The place becomes instantly endearing and with a rural backdrop of orange-woods, flora and fauna. And then one becomes interested in the characters who are introduced one by one in different scenes and who have been drawn to Goodmews after hearing a broadcast about the unusual brightness of the moon including a woman who is an astro-geologist, and a man who wants to make a name for himself, somehow. I liked the characters, and their independent solitary natures who come together for the moon project and you wonder about what might happen between them. The wordplay throughout is really delightful is helped by having a character who is a proofreader, and there are plentiful observations about people's idosyncracies, anything and everything and descriptions. I also liked the author's attention to colour, to painting, and his broad knowledge of a wide range of things. A good unusual read.
This is a really charming and idiosyncratic novel, and probably quite unlike anything else you're likely to have read!
The plot is a low stakes romp which, while very engaging and fun, is almost a device around which the author can weave a kaleidoscope of his own musings, observations, word play, rhetorical questions and fragments of poetry. I cannot recall reading a book with quite as vivid a reflection of the author's working mind, which makes this a real pleasure.
The author has found wonder and interest in some of the smallest things in everyday life, which in turn prompts us, the readers, to observe these things ourselves. He manages to identify tiny shards of the common human experience in the least likely places: thoughts on the colour of a pavement, or how softly a door needs to be shut to latch fully. This all may sounds trivial but it's triviality is what makes is common and meaningful to all of us, I was often left thinking "huh...I never imagined that someone else might have noticed that!".
There is a wistful, nostalgic shading to the writing, but not in a cynical or bitter "oh it was better back in the day" sort of way. Again it's more about recognising the simple joys. That said, some of the observations of human behaviour, particularly the small ways people call bully and demean others are spot on, and not joyful in the slightest. These are acutely observed and very well drawn so as to make the reader wholly empathetic with the characters.
I can highly recommend this book. It may at first seem whimsical or slight, but I think it has a deeper heart to it that reflects where joy can be found in life and shows the process of understanding the world and others around us.
John Hegley, English performance poet, comedian, musician and songwriter
Having sung on street corners myself, I much liked the song lyrics of the busking lad being so valued and listened to with such care in the story – by one person, at least. I also warmed to the meticulousness of describing the meticulousness of the proof-reading (is there a hyphen!) and also the name Crescent Crescent.
H L Talbot
Andy Watson, Director, A P Watson Ltd clothing export company
This book is different to anything I’ve ever read, and it was a pleasure to read. I might even say it’s a classic, but readable (as many novels I’ve tried to read aren’t). It’s not a short book, but it was an easy read.
The prose is beautiful. The author clearly has a love for the sound and rhythm of words, which include ones he’s made up, yet the language feels natural. And the invented setting, imbued with the author’s presence, feels real.
The book cover implies a gentle, quirky story, which in many ways it is, but it’s much more than that. It has heft and tension, especially as it shifts into high gear, building towards the denouement.
The imaginative plot in brief: in 1965 a Mr Thwaite sets out to manipulate a sleepy little American town for his own ends. The town is famous for its clear and striking views of the moon, and the plot, which involves the moon, flows from this. Will anyone work out what the bad guys are up to in time? Will their mad plan succeed or will they get their comeuppance?
The main characters all work for Mr Thwaite in his Moon Centre. I felt especially sorry for poor Banno, a man who feels he must always be honest, who becomes confused and disoriented at the hands of his unpleasant Mr. Thwaite.
The book’s structure is intriguing but easy to follow. Besides all the well-researched and enjoyable facts about the moon and sixties pop songs, the letters between the characters strike just the right tone. The exchanges with NASA, for instance, which help guide us through the plot, are hilariously formal and quite believable, and the importance of pop songs to the story becomes clear as the story continues.
Though the book is clearly set in the sixties, it somehow has a timeless feel. My sense, when I’d finished, was that this was the story the author felt he had to tell, and in his own way.
Stewart Wilkinson, Engineer
Full disclosure: I’m an engineer and I know the author, and for six of the years he worked on this book I advised him on what would and what wouldn’t work for his ‘moonstick’, the rocket used in the book’s plot to stain the moon with colour. I suggested how to approach the moonstick’s design and materials and its weight and pressure demands, and how these factors would affect its orientation, flight and landing on the moon.
Jeff’s imaginative idea for the story really spiked my interest, and I did my best to help create a reasonably believable scenario for the plot. It was a tricky balancing act. To give the story credibility, there needed to be enough science, but too much would bore readers. I tried to simplify the technicalities somewhat so that the prose flowed logically. And while Jeff took some poetic licence, that was in order. It was difficult to ensure that at all times the content of the story was technically feasible but I hope that the liberties taken do not detract from the story.
I often felt I was a co-pilot on this ‘moon mission’ of Jeff’s, my expertise complementing the extensive research he did into other aspects of the book, like the colour science and the moon’s composition, and I’m heartened that my technical advice was taken. I believe that the book’s plot is as scientifically sound and as plausible as possible. While it is extremely unlikely that anyone would be able to alter the moon’s appearance in the way described in this novel, who knows what future threats there may be? Perhaps we’ll find out in a sequel?
Beyond the book’s technical aspects, Jeff described the emotions of the characters very nicely, thus presenting a believable and want-to-read story. My only criticism was that on a number of occasions there was too much detail, which stalled the story somewhat, but that may have been me being impatient to see how the story progressed. I was absorbed by the interaction between the opportunist and the rogue NASA engineer as they planned their crime against the moon, and I found myself wanting to read more.
Jana Rollo-Fennick, Editor
I really enjoyed this book. I could tell what care and thought the author put into descriptive images, taking time to finely craft them. I appreciate what he did, and enjoyed the results! I especially liked his very visually evocative descriptions and interesting metaphors and turns of phrases.
I also enjoyed all the references to music/lyrics from the sixties, and how the author wove them into the story to illustrate points and mind-sets of the characters, while conjuring up some nostalgia for those times.
The plot was unusual and quirky, based on an outlandish notion to paint the “eye” of the man-in-the-moon a newly invented color visible from Earth. But as the story unfolded, it became interesting to see if maybe it was possible after all. Hmmm…
Jody Gillen-Worden, Licensed Clinical Social Worker
I've known Jeff for 50 years, since we were at college in California. These days I live in Maine and he lives in London. I am not very literary, being immersed in mystery and detective novels, but I read the first chapter of his book and found myself already captured.
I hate attending to small details because it interferes with my enjoyment of a story, so what I took away from the book are feelings, and I am still carrying the feelings generated by this strange, sad story. I also love the cover and I love the way the book smells and feels in my hands.
The sense of deep loneliness, isolation and yearning for connection Jeff captured in Banno's character was so powerful. All Banno wanted was to be "seen." And the quirkiness of the Tris character and his instant connection to this guy grabbed me. I heard Jeff's voice in Tris's voice right away, noticing a change in the language from the way yucky old Sam talked. Tris was more lyrical, more playful, language-wise.
I admit that I am not objective, but the intensity of the story, playfully concealed by the old rock lyrics and the silly, but loveable non-English American town, would have grabbed me even had I not known Jeff. It speaks to me - the lies underneath so much of what we live with every day, the joy of creativity (I loved the frenzied color creating scene), the worm that often lurks within the purest apple, and perhaps, most of all, the fear of being responsible and the shame of not.
Zenka. Krakow, Poland. English teacher.
Shortly after I received this book in Krakow, I got some unexpected bad news which put me in a depressing and traumatic situation. To take my mind off my troubles, I read this book. I loved the first 100 pages and read them three times, and read the whole book twice. I went, gladly, to the Moon.
As a philologist I was especially sensitive to the language. And what a plethora of vocabulary – cleverly coined. But not only invented words – lots of real, though not necessarily common, everyday words. And Moon connected words found in flora, music and poetry.
I liked the way reality changes the small town of Goodmews into a Moontown (what an idea – a moon town!) with a Moon Centre, and I liked the way the characters were presented with delicate humour. There is one whose ego and obsession grows and grows into his sky high – or rather Moon high – climb to the glory of his endeavour, there is one whose common sense emerges when quite unexpectedly brutal reality appears, and there is one “who does not fit”.
The text on the back cover is like an invitation to daring, highly subversive activities, and as I read I wondered how the author was going to resolve this predicament.
An excerpt from 'When the Moon was White'.
My Writing Room entry
An excerpt from 'When the Moon was White'.
Fellowship House’s Weekly Talks have been a Suburb institution for the last 16 years. They are organised by Suburb resident Sally Botterill. There have been hundreds of talks on a wide range of subjects by a myriad of speakers from north London and beyond.
Andrew Botterill, Sally’s husband, is at his laptop next to me in the top picture. He played Sixties tracks mentioned in my novel, and projected photos from my neighbourhood that inspired some of the novel’s passages (the photos are in the Imagery section of this website).