Our Book Club author this week is Liz Fenwick. We’re excited to share an exclusive interview and reading from her latest Cornwall-inspired novel.
Author and Seasalt Friend, Liz Fenwick has written several novels based in Cornwall. Our latest Seasalt Words Book Club read is her new book, The Path to the Sea. We caught up with Liz to find out more about her work and you can watch her reading from The Path to The Sea in our exclusive video below.
The story is set at Boskenna, a house on the Cornish cliffs that means something different to each of the Trewin women; Joan, Diana and Lottie. As they return to the house one last time for the summer, secrets will be revealed that change them forever.
What was the inspiration behind The Path to the Sea?
I think writers are magpies, collecting bits and pieces all the time. The Path to the Sea began with a notebook stuffed with recipes that I inherited from my mother-in-law. It is filled with her dinner party plans from the Sixties and Seventies. This included not only what she served but who attended, so she never offered the same dish twice. She noted down what worked and what didn’t and sometimes what she wore as well as seating plans. It was a window into another world when people gave dinner parties on a grand scale several nights a week. My husband recalled those evenings when he waited hopefully in the kitchen by the serving hatch for leftovers to return. I then found the magic ‘what if’ question that normally begins to pull an idea into something more concrete for a novel. What if a child saw something he/she didn’t understand, but it altered their life? The only thing missing was where to set this story. I adored the film About Time directed by Richard Curtis and more than fell in love with the house used in it. I discovered you could rent Porthpean House, so I did just that for research. With those three ‘ingredients’ in place I began to write the story of Joan, Diana and Lottie.
The story explores the relationship we can have with a place. What are the places that mean the most to you?
Frenchman’s Creek is probably the most meaningful place for me. The creek itself weaves its magic around anyone who walks its banks or comes across it via the Helford River. But it holds my heart not just because of its magical beauty, but because on a sunny August bank holiday weekend my boyfriend, now husband, proposed while we were walking there. So now, every time I venture to Frenchman’s Creek I am filled with a glow of happiness.
The other place that brings me great joy is the beach near where I spent all my childhood summers on Cape Cod. From learning to swim, to peppermint stick ice cream, to post midnight beers and stolen kisses, I grew up there in so many ways. Visiting the beach again a few years ago, the child and teenager of my past were there with me as I walked along the wide stretch of sandy beach. All my fears of what life would or wouldn’t bring hovered in the salt-tinged air – would I ever become a writer; would I ever find love? With the sand between my toes, I assured that fearful child within that life is good.
For Diana, she grew up in Cornwall and she has idyllic memories of it. Where did you grow up and how has it influenced you?
I grew up in a small city outside of Boston, Massachusetts and spent my weekends and summers on Cape Cod. I think my time on the Cape had the greatest impact and pulled at my heart the most. It is the house I return to in my dreams at times of stress, as Diana does in the novel. Life on the Cape, like my life here in Cornwall, was framed by the weather and the tides. It holds all my carefree memories of late nights in the garden with the neighbours, mosquito bites and barbeques. Thinking of the Cape, I see screen doors and freedom to roam on foot and on my bike. They are precious memories that were crowned by holding our wedding on the Cape with a reception overlooking the bay. A month later we had a blessing in Cornwall in a church by a beach and a party with a view down the Helford River.
What is it about Cornwall that has kept you coming back (in literature and life)?
When I met the man, who is now my husband, I had only heard of Cornwall. Within the first month of dating he brought me to meet his parents, or so I thought… It was actually for the ‘Cornwall Test’. If I hadn’t fallen in love with Cornwall, I know we wouldn’t be coming up to our twenty-ninth wedding anniversary this summer. That weekend in June the weather was hot, the sky was eye wateringly blue and the hedgerows were bursting with foxgloves. It stole my heart. What I hadn’t known then was that Cornwall would become my muse. I had always wanted to be a writer, but it was Cornwall that unlocked the right stories for me to tell. I see stories in the landscape, the history, the folklore and the people. It calls to me, but the only way I can hold it and call it mine is to capture it in words.
Are there any particular places or times of year you love best here?
I love the winter when you can see the architecture of the trees. They twist and bend with the prevailing wind or reach low down to the creeks. I will admit that on a summer’s day there is no place better than being out on a boat enjoying the Helford River. As a family we love Dollar Cove, and still do even though my kids are now adults. It is a beach that is always changing thanks to the weather and the tides. Another favourite when the weather is a bit rough, is to head to Lizard Point and watch the power of the sea.
Is being close to the sea important to you?
Yes, always has been. Having spent most of my growing-up years on Cape Cod, the sea was ever present. I love that just a short walk brings me to it – even on a bleak, wind-ridden day, it lifts the spirits.
What are the ingredients for a brilliant story?
History, mystery, setting and a love story. I love learning something new and immersing myself into the book, so in effect I live another life.
What are you working on now?
Book eight, which is as yet untitled. I’ve always been fascinated by the Tamar and how it divides the two counties and people. So, imagine forbidden love, a forgotten crossing and a forlorn cottage all set on the banks of the Tamar.
We’d love to get some recommendations from you for our Seasalt Words Book Club. Can I ask you to recommend one brilliant book…
You’ve read recently or are reading now?
I’ve just finished The Sea Gate by Jane Johnson. It immerses you into Cornwall’s past and present revealing its beauty and its sometimes dark underside.
From a novelist you love
The Glittering Hour by Iona Grey. Exquisite, emotional and evocative of the legacy of WW1 and the Bright Young Things.
You’ve read several times
The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield. The prose… it’s so beautiful as the story twists you around and captures you.
With a twist you didn’t see coming
The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton. A wonderful dual timeline thread, unpicking the past and revealing secrets.
About a place you’d love to visit
The past… currently reading an early copy of a debut, The Secrets of Saffron Hall by Clare Marchant, set in the current day and the early 1500s in Norfolk, a county I don’t know well but I am intrigued.
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