Search This Blog

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Cornwall Spells Adventure Part Three

Part Three: Writing as well as reading

A confession: I too succumbed to the lure of Cornwall and its adventurous past – both fictional and literal – when searching for a setting for a tale I was writing for my daughter during university. The village of Polzeath, the hill known as Brea, the church of St. Enodoc that was (by the early 1800s) almost completed swallowed by a sand dune (and was already beginning to be rehabilitated to its current state below):
.....and especially the infamous, ship-wrecking sandbar known as the Doom Bar, comprised the locale for an adventurous tale involving smugglers, storms, and a dashing French spy. Where could my inspiration have come from?

That early novel of mine, written for the mutual entertainment of my daughter and myself, cannot compare in evocative settings nor absorbing characters to the Cornish house, residents and visitors in Mary Wesley's The Camomile Lawn. 

Filmed largely at Veryan, Cornwall in and around Broom Parc House (now a B&B), this novel followed five young people through the perils of reaching adulthood during WW2, and into their later adulthood. A mini-series made from this novel in 1992 follows the novel closely, and features, amid a strong ensemble cast, mother-daughter actors Rosemary Harris and Jennifer Ehle playing the older and the younger incarnations of the character Calypso.

Other notable writers claimed by Cornwall include William Golding, perhaps best known in Canada for Lord of the Flies, and Rosamunde Pilcher, whose many novels of family and relationships include The Shell Seekers, whose two movie adaptations were filmed largely in Cornwall where the book was set.
Cornwall is a land of many stories, and almost as many novelists.And yet, for all the years and novels that have passed my way, when I stood on a headland this summer with the wind whipping my hair and the seabirds calling with their many voices, I shaded my eyes against the sun and peered out through the sea-haze, looking for a rocky isle topped by a building that might be either a ruined castle or a crumbling engine-house. At that moment, I could not help but wonder if by chance Enid Blyton stood here one day decades ago and said, “I will call that island Gloom, and send four children and a parrot there on an adventure,” or “I will name that rock Kirrin Island, and send four children and a dog there on an adventure.” It's not likely either, but in my imagination one of those calling gulls may not be a seabird at all, but Kiki the parrot mocking them, and calling me to adventure.

I am not alone in this mental wanderring. Cornish settings were used in several tv adaptations of this author’s novels, as recently as the late 1990’s. Such is the power of stories read in childhood.

For me, Cornwall is and forever shall be a place where Adventure is around every corner.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Cornwall Spells Adventure Part Two

Part Two: Smugglers and Wreckers

However it came about, my fascination with Cornwall endured, and I confess to a visceral thrill when, soon after crossing the Tamar into Cornwall, I saw the sign from the motorway: Jamaica Inn.

Yes, the Jamaica Inn of Daphne DuMaurier’s novel still stands, much as it has done for more than 300 years, frowned over by the higher tors, its gray stone face frowning in turn down on the rock walls and green fields below.

Now the building is a combined hotel, pub and smuggling museum, in which Daphne Du Maurier and her novels have pride of place.  A tour bus was leaving as we arrived, another arrived as we departed, but the querulous voices of visitors could not drag me from my fictive dreams any more than a train thundering by could wake Dick Young from his in The House on the Strand.

Mary Yellan walked those fields in Du Maurier’s imagination and in mine, to escape the oppressive atmosphere of the inn below and the ever-imminent violence that brooded inside its landlord. 

The bar is rich in aged wood and it’s easy to imagine gangs of smugglers, wreckers, ruins that once were men, plotting their villainy over their pints.

There are two movie versions of the novel, Jamaica Inn: one from 1939 (only three years after the book was published) stars Charles Laughton and Maureen O’Hara in a typical Hollywood adaptation that wipes much nuance from the novel along with several key characters, and the other a 1983 tv movie starring a very young Jane Seymour, which is a bit closer to the novel and, being in colour, effectively utilizes the dramatic scenery of Cornwall.

Indeed, it is impossible for a dedicated reader of DuMaurier to traverse Cornwall without seeing signs of her books everywhere. 

As we traveled away from Jamaica Inn, circling toward the northern coast, there was a sign for Saint Colomb, and instantly I was with Dona of that name as she scrambled down a woodland path toward Frenchman’s Creek. King Charles has fled England
before the advancing Dutch armies of his daughter and her husband, leaving Catholics like Dona and her children in danger from emboldened Protestant lords and their soldiers. Dona falls hard for a Frenchman, formerly a pirate and now a French patriot, who hides his ship in the creek of the novel's title. 

Seeing that sign brought it all back to me: the fraught political situation that chased Dona from London, the spies creeping around her manor house by night, her children's peril, her torn loyalties. That is the power of a master of the craft of fiction, to bring all that back a decade or more after my last reading of the novel.

That is the magic of Cornwall, to inspire masters of their craft to bring the place, the people, the essence of that land to readers all over the world. Would that I, one day, could bring some essence of my land to readers far away, that they, when they come at last to my forests and foothills, will remember half as much of my work.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Cornwall Spells Adventure

Part One: Getting there is half the fun

Rocky tors, windswept moors, a restless sea ever coiling around the knees of granite cliffs… This is Cornwall of yesteryear, and of today too, barring the odd motorway and a plethora of holiday villas. 

Instead of mine-shaft engine houses belching steam and smoke, now wind turbines march across the spine of the Peninsula, as alien to 21st-century residents as were the engine-houses to those in the 17th century. 
Even so, I love Cornwall, and loved it long before I was ever so privileged as to visit.

The Cornwall of my imaginings is peopled not by IT professionals and taxi drivers, exhausted moms with over-stimulated tots and bored teens in tow. Instead, characters from books ride those narrow, stone-fenced byways and stride across the trackless moors. Smugglers, wreckers, wayfarers of good or ill intent all traverse the lands.

What books hooked me on Cornwall? Impossible now to say. Was it in 4th Grade, when Enid Blyton’s first “Adventure” book sent Jack and Lucy-Ann, Phillip and Dinah, into a long-abandoned copper mine off an iron-bound coast? Unlikely, as Ms. Blyton was careful to avoid labeling the real-life locations that inspired her fictional settings and, indeed, is claimed by Dorset if by anywhere.
Was it, then, when I as a teen followed Daphne DuMaurier’s Dick Young as he stumbled across the moor near Kilmarth in search of his (and my) 14th century fictive dream? Much more possible. 
DuMaurier loved Cornwall, set many of her books and short stories there, and lived long there in a semi-hermetical seclusion that can only be envied by authors forced to flog themselves in the screaming marketplace of today.

However my fascination with Cornwall came about, the moment of crossing the Tamar from Devon last month was a homecoming in a literary, if not literal, sense.