I know that 2020 isn’t quite over yet but let’s just say it didn’t exactly turn out as we had all hoped! One silver lining for me this year is that I have been given the opportunity to review some really wonderful books published by Cornish writers or written about Cornwall.
I thought that I would combine some of those reviews together to give you an idea of the amazing talent out there and maybe some inspiration for Christmas stocking fillers too. These books may not have reached the international bestseller list just yet but each represents a different and wonderful aspect of Cornwall. Each presents Cornwall in a new light – with fresh eyes, with playfulness and joy or explores themes of nostalgia or grief. And each page is the result of hours, perhaps years, of rumination, thought, sleepless nights and innumerable rewrites. That by itself is something to honour and to celebrate.
Supporting new writers, Cornish writers, is vital! Don’t let Amazon or the Booker Prize dictate what you read!
The Secret of Creek Cottage – Tina M Edwards
Tina M Edwards is an internationally published writer of poetry and flash fiction, but The Secret of Creek Cottage is her first novel. As the editor of The Beach Hut, an online writing platform, Tina encourages writing for wellbeing, particularly work that has been inspired by the coast and nature. She currently lives in the south west of England and says that much of the inspiration for this book was found walking its many fields, paths and headlands. This book is a heartfelt story of two couples living in the same imaginary village in Cornwall a century apart from each other. It is a book of loss, love and friendship with threads of folklore woven through it and an often otherworldly atmosphere.
The story moves between the lives of Loveday Nance and her husband, Will, who at the start of the book is away fighting in the Great War, and that of Kitty and Ben Gridley who have just moved to Cornwall from Bristol looking for an escape from the hustle of modern life. But when strange things start to happen Kitty realises that there are secrets hidden within the walls of Creek Cottage, ripples from the past, that somehow need resolution. This is a haunting tale, beautifully told with fully-formed believable characters that hook you into the narrative.
The Grief of the Sea – Jennifer Edgecombe
This is Jennifer Edgecombe’s debut book, a short collection of eleven poems. The Grief of The Sea is an exploration of loss and our eternal relationship with the ocean, in her work these two elements it seems are bound to each other.
Each poem is either set somewhere on the Cornish coast or is tied to it in some way – Zennor, Godrevy, Carbis Bay, the Penlee Lifeboat disaster. But this is not a Cornwall of bright, sunshiny beach days, this is a rain-soaked, granite black, ‘night-time in the day’ kind of place – elemental, unforgiving, visceral. This collection will not be for everyone, but I loved it and look forward to seeing what Jennifer will give us in the future.
A Clattering Beneath the Woods – Sally J Hubbard
When I was a child I was obsessed with adventure stories – The Famous Five, Over Sea Under Stone, Nancy Drew, Moonfleet. And growing up on a farm I wanted to read about other girls who loved the freedom that the countryside gives you, girls who were independent and who didn’t mind getting muddy! So I really wish I had known Polly when I was younger.
Sally has created a wonderful group of warm, interesting and unique characters that we are immediately intrigued by and rooting for. A Clattering Beneath the Woods is set in the picturesque Tamar Valley and the value and importance of the nature there is a thread that runs throughout the book. When Polly discovers that her beloved woods are under threat she knows she must do all she can to save them. Along the way she makes some rather magical friends who love the woodland as much as she does but who also need her help with a rather sticky problem!
This is a wonderful story about self-belief, friendship and standing up for what you believe in. Sally weaves together beautifully the different threads of story, merging history, enchantment and myth, alongside a deep appreciation of the natural world and what it means to be brave.
(For ages 8– 12+)
A Degree of Uncertainty – Nicola K Smith
Set in the fictional Cornish town of Poltowan tensions are rising between locals and the growing university. Nicole K Smith’s A Degree of Uncertainty takes a wry, witty and insightful look at the complex and polarising issues that face smaller communities when they are faced with change.
The main characters are the Cornish Estate Agent Harry Manchester, who fears his hometown is turning into a student ghetto, and the ambitious Dawn Goldberg, who is Vice Chancellor of Poltowan University. These two become archenemies as each either battles to push through their vision for the Poltowan’s future or desperately tries to preserve its character and community. The student perspective is nicely represented by the ever optimistic media student, Ludo.
This is a well-rounded book which presents the conflicting opinions well and with pace, engaging dialogue and dashes humour. A thought-provoking, enjoyable read. “It is town versus gown and something’s got to give . . .”
The Mermaid of Doom Bar – Keith Maxwell
Stories are part of our Cornish bedrock. They once helped us make sense of the world around us, to explain the unfathomable, the mysterious or the frightening. Whether it was using giants to account for our fantastic geology or those naughty piskies to explain why we got lost on the way home from the pub. And it is the same today, stories entertain, they enlighten, but very often they help us to understand and to heal.
In The Mermaid of Doom Bar Keith Maxwell weaves the whispers of an ancient legend into a modern allegory. This is a haunting tale of loss and bereavement but it also an affirmation of the importance of allowing the magical and the unexplained into your world.
Beautifully illustrated throughout this is a small book that tackles some big themes with sensitivity. It could be useful tool when approaching the subjects of death and grief with a child but it also stands alone as an entertaining and thought-provoking story. Keith’s love of and connection to Cornwall is clear and heart-warming. The scene he creates is both recognisable and timeless. The Mermaid of Doom Bar is a lovely traditional fable told with a contemporary voice.
A Cornish Cargo – Alison Baxter
This book is the story of the Dupen family, ‘a family of merchant venturers, mariners and engineers of Huguenot origin with a propensity to wander far over the earth’.
In 1835 Sharrock Dupen moves to Hayle to become a steward on the new paddle steamer service to Bristol and from there subsequent generations found their way to adventurous lives in all corners of the globe. Sharrock’s son George jumped a ship to Madras to become a coffee trader and his brother John joined the navy and ended up in the Malay state of Perak. The youngest, Ernest, joined the merchant service on a ship carrying tea from China, pilgrims to Mecca and miners to the gold fields of Australia. This one family’s story drives home in so many ways that era when a Cornishman could be found in every corner of the globe.
This book will interest anyone who has inherited family stories or boxes of curious keepsakes, anyone fascinated with the twists and turns researching family history can take or with the seafarers of the Victorian era. It will also inspire anyone who, like myself, believes that there is no such thing as an ‘ordinary life’.
A Cornish Almanack – N.P. Cooper
The moment this book arrived I knew I was going to love it! This is a mammoth book on so many levels, the research and effort that has gone into putting it together really is to be applauded. A Cornish Almanack gives the reader one significant person or event from Cornwall for each day of the year. The depth and breadth of interest here is just wonderful, from scientists to writers, artists and musicians, politicians to geologists and mineralogists – men and women that have shaped Cornwall and its culture but also, as the author Nick puts it, have ‘shaken the world’.
There are many familiar names and faces within these pages but also I can promise you many people that you will never have heard of. Each page, each day, is a lovely surprise and a wonderful resource of information for anyone interested in Cornwall, its history and its influence on the world.
And finally . . .
Wayfaring in Brittany – Wendy Mewes
This book is my wild card because, quite clearly it is not about Cornwall! But there of course is a deep connection between Cornwall and Brittany. We share so much, not just ancestrally, but culturally too.
Wendy has written several walking books before but this is not really a guide for walkers per se, this is a journey along the paths of the past. It is a narrative of her exploration of old routes, tracks that span human history from prehistoric megaliths to medieval times. But I also feel that this book is mostly about our connection to landscape and Wendy takes us along scared ways and pilgrim paths in search of this. She writes:
“They are still here, these shadowy ancestors of ours, the people behind the stones, not completely driven out by thousands of years of inconsequence, by tomb-raiders or archaeologists, shepherds or their sheep, by fire-lighters or fire-fighters, tourists or time-travellers. The line holds, though many stones have fallen, the alignment fulfils its promise.”
Its a wonderful journey!
So I hope that you have enjoyed my picks! Please let me know if you have read any of these books and what you thought of them.
And as I said at the beginning this year of all years consider supporting one of our wonderful local writers! Each of the books is available to order online, direct from the author or in some local bookshops. Enjoy!