Long before Ross Poldark decided to do a spot of topless scything or gallop his horse across the clifftops, the rugged scenery of Cornwall made a huge impression on my writing.
Living in Polperro, one of the most photographed fishing villages in the county, I’m never very far away from a view, story or a colourful character to inspire me. Even when I moved away to live in the Caribbean for two years I was unable to forget the harsh beauty of home. Icing sugar beaches and bathwater seas just didn’t create the same creative alchemy as a wild sea never the same from one moment to the next, scoured light with a magical quality all of its own or legends, standing stones and lonely engine houses telling tales of times long past yet somehow only just out of reach.
It’s no coincidence that it was only when I decided to set a novel in Cornwall that my career as a writer really began. I’d met the late Cornish novelist, E V Thompson at a book signing and he gave me the best advice – write about what you know and love. What did I know about? Wanting to be a writer and living in Cornwall!
This was my light bulb moment and a year or so later my first novel, Katy Carter Wants a Hero, was completed. Set in Cornwall, and the not autobiographical at all (!) tale of an English teacher who wanted to be a writer this was the book that Richard and Judy championed and was featured in the national press. Neighbours from the next village over the cliffs, they came across my manuscript in the village shop and the tabloids thought this was a great story.
And that’s part of the magic of Cornwall. It’s a levelling county where A listers and fishermen rub shoulders in the pubs and where locals are far more interested in their own day to day lives than tall tabloid tales. It’s a place as refreshing and grounded and real as the unyielding rocks and pounding waves.
I never consciously intended to continue setting my novels in Cornwall but it just seems to happen that way. While living in the Cayman Islands, writing about the West Country became almost therapy for easing my homesickness. I called this twisting, turning pain ‘the claw’ because it really did feel as though talons were reaching in and clawing at my heartstrings. My latest novel, Runaway Summer, really helped me to imagine that I was back at home and Jake, Summer, Mo and Jules became my friends.
There are so many places and events in Cornwall that have inspired my books that it’s hard to know where to begin…
I taught English at Bodmin College for ten years and every day my drive to work took me through the beautiful Lanhydrock Estate. It was a journey that I never stopped appreciating and stunning at any time of the year. My favourite walk is from the small car park at Respryn, through the ornate gates guarding the property and up the drive to the main house. The driveway climbs steadily through the beautiful parkland, weaves its way alongside huge cross country jumps that make my heart belly flop into my boots, passes by ancient trees and finally arrives at the formal gardens by Lanhydrock House. What better after a walk in the chilly winter air than warming yourself by the fire in the Great Hall, buying some gifts at the Christmas Shop and then having lunch in the restaurant? This beautiful property is the partial inspiration for the Verneys’ Estate in Amber Scott is Starting Over.
I absolutely love the Fowey Regatta Week in August. From the heart stopping Red Arrows tearing across the sky to myriad boats clotting the estuary to magical fireworks on the final Saturday – there is something for everyone. The town teems with life; bands play, gigs race and even the smallest boats can take part in the torchlight procession. The Fowey Regatta was the inspiration for my book Escape for the Summer after I saw four girls having a whale of a time in their little motorboat…
It’s a badly kept secret that the Blue Peter Inn in my home village of Polperro is the inspiration for The Mermaid in “Katy Carter Wants a Hero” and The Ship in “Runaway Summer”. Practically dipping its toes into the harbour, the Blue Peter is lit by fairy lights and candles, warmed by crackling log fires and serves some of the best and heartiest meals you’ll ever come across. Their ploughmans is wonderful and the Sunday roast will leave you wanting a stomp across the cliffs to work it off – if you manage to eat it all of course! The Blue Peter has fond memories for me as I once worked behind the bar and I have had many wonderful times there with my friends, some long gone. With its low beams, relaxed vibe and friendly atmosphere and its one of my favourite places, especially as dogs are made welcome too and always get a biscuit. It also has a ghost – but that’s another story…
A coffee at The Harbour Tea Rooms in Polperro is always a treat. I don’t think there’s a coffee shop with a better view anywhere in the world. I love to sit here with my latte and watch the harbor kaleidoscope by as the water ebbs and flows, boats ride the tide and the seagulls paddle in the shallows. This is the place where Jake and Summer relax in “Runaway Summer”.
The Hurlers on Bodmin Moor fascinate me and there’s certainly an energy here that is ancient and powerful. I’ve never yet counted the same amount of stones twice, which could be down to my dreadful numeracy, but as a writer I like to think that it’s because of something far more magical. Riding my horse through the standing stones on a misty autumnal morning is a very spiritual experience for me. Mo in Runaway Summer feels the same way when she rides her horse there.
I absolutely love Kilminorth Woods in between Looe and Polperro, where ancient trees tangle the pathways and flashes of the sparkling river can be glimpsed through the branches. The woods are magical; full of dappled light and deep pools of green solitude. I often ride my horse here and if you’re on foot and take the lower path you might see a kingfisher or maybe a heron or two. In the summer my partner and I take our kayak up the river and picnic at the pretty hamlet of Watergate. This peaceful woodland is the inspiration for Fernside Woods in Runaway Summer.
Seagull cries are the soundtrack to my writing, as are the waves and the chugging of trawlers in and out of the harbour. Seagulls appear in all my books! Although they drive me crackers when it’s spring and I’m fighting the latest battle in my ongoing Seagull Bin Bag War just the sound of their cries is enough to transport me home, no matter how far away I am.
And lastly but probably most importantly, Polperro itself plays a starring role in my books. The narrow lanes with their evocative names, lichen crusted chimney pots topped with dozing gulls, fishing boats riding the ride and higgledy-piggledy model village houses are the perfect backdrop for intrigue and romance. When I was planning Runaway Summer, the first book in my new Polwenna Bay series I didn’t need to look far for inspiration for the setting.
Add to all of this pinch of imagination, a dash of artistic licence and a sprinkling of characters and my books practically write themselves. I can hardly wait to get stuck into the next Polwenna Bay novel and share the beautiful place I live in with my readers.