Keeping a Promise...
It feels like quite some time since I last blogged on here. As always the time flies as though it really does have wings and as I write this, on my way back from a very hot London, it hardly seems possible that we are almost at the end of June. 2019 is galloping by and I have spent most of it working on my new novel, THE PROMISE. This book is finally live, and I am proud and relieved and excited to be sharing it with you all at long last.
My last book, Polwenna 6, THE RHYTHM OF THE TIDE, was released last autumn and since then I’ve been working on THE PROMISE. Since the book is set during Cornwall in the Second World War it demanded a great deal of historical research in order to do justice to the events of that time and lend credence to the twists and turns of the narrative. This meant a great deal of reading and visits to museums, locations in the county and reading of eye witness accounts. These are all woven into the novel and so many of the events within it are taken from contemporary accounts – even the shocking events…
THE PROMISE is a novel that came from nowhere and also from everywhere. The Cornish coast where I live has so many quiet remnants of the Second World War beneath the tangled undergrowth and shifting sand. It was as though the past had overlapped the present and suddenly I saw the crumbling shells of pill boxes, ruin of a home guard station on the cliff and the ivy smothered Nissen huts in Cornish farmyards. The past was just over my shoulder; if I turned around fast enough I might catch it. These remains of the recent past are as much a part of Cornwall’s past as skeletal tin mines, weathered standing stones and ancient Celtic crosses. The seed of an idea was planted and a story began to unfold.
The narrative changed a little over the year, and required a substantial prune during editing stage, but it is in essence a love story and one which stretches across the generations. THE PROMISE has this in common with THE LETTER but it’s a very different story in many ways. It’s more personal to me too and writing it has been a healing journey. The plot involved issues I was facing at the time of writing and Nell and Estella’s stories forced me to revisit some very tough situations and emotions. At other times the narrative flowed so easily it was hard to keep up.
The heroine’s story is exceedingly personal as I lost my own father while working on this book - I’m sure a good therapist would have all kinds of theories about why I wrote this book and what it signifies! Some of my father’s memories of being a child during the Second World War are found within the story and I owe him a big thank you for talking to me at such length and when he felt so unwell. His tales of gas masks, odd food and rationing gave me an insight into what that time was like for a child
Although grief and loss are key themes of The Promise love, hope and the continuation of life have an equal importance. The ending of the story is a promise too – one of a new landscape and a future for Nell. Life is precious and every moment is to be lived. It’s also a collaborative novel in some ways since many people, from my immediate family to acquaintances, had memories to share about the war and their own stories to tell and these began to weave themselves into the novel. As always, the landscape of Cornwall was a huge inspiration as well as the myths and legends which are engrained in this ancient and mysterious landscape. These find their way into the story with the ley lines and the landmarks which can be found.
Pencallyn House and village are based on the wonderful Trebah House and Glendurgan Village.
A book like The Promise requires a great deal of historical detail and I spent a lot of time on research in order to immerse my wartime characters in the world of the past. This is one of the parts of writing I really enjoy and I’m always fascinated to see what lies beneath the surface of things I take for granted. Learning about the ‘friendly invasion’ of the US army was a revelation and the character of this sleepy part of the world must have really changed during that time. Life was uncertain and love affairs blossomed under the pressure of time and danger. Heartbreak and loss were never far away and marriages often took place after a matter of weeks.
In this book I’ve taken many anecdotes and eye-witness accounts of life in Cornwall during the war and woven them into the narrative. I was also lucky enough to have a diary that my granny kept during the Blitz and this gave me a real insight into how the war became a new ‘normality’. My granny talks about how people called Churchill a ‘war monger’ but when my grandfather, who worked in a metal factory designing filing cabinets and office furniture, came home and said he’d been asked to design gun racks for trucks they realised he was right and that war was coming. My granny was pregnant with my uncle at that point, and he was a small child during the Blitz, but she never seems to have been afraid but simply got on with daily life. She writes about how hiding under the kitchen table during bombing raids became something they grew accustomed to. In the wartime sections of the book I’ve tried to create a sense that normal life did carry on, and how children knew nothing else.
There’s so much more I could say about this book but that would take up another novel’s worth of words! I’ve heard so many stories, spoken to so many interesting people and learned more about local history than I had ever expected. Although THE LETTER was based on my own great-aunt’s story, THE PROMISE is in many ways a novel that explores my own journey and that of my grandparents and their generation. In some ways it’s also my father’s story too. I really hope you enjoy the book and that it leaves you with the same feeling of hope and continuity that I felt when I type THE END.
Now to think about Polwenna 7…