After getting lost in the first Poldark novel, and with St Piran’s Day just around the corner, it seemed like the perfect time to start the Cornish Reading Challenge.
Now, some of you may think I’ve got some cheek organising anything to do with Cornwall. I’m not Cornish, and I currently live up country. But I lived in the south west for three years, studied in Cornwall for two, and came to love the place. Fortunately for me, it adopted me right back. So this challenge is my way of giving something back to the county that gave so much to me.
Unlike Cornish pasties, qualifying books don’t have to have been written in Cornwall. Just pick a book that is set in Cornwall, was written by a Cornish author, or features Cornwall for part of the book. It can be set anywhere in Cornwall, be any genre you like – romance, historical fiction, crime, thriller – and be published at any time. It can even just be inspired by Cornwall, or feature a Cornish figure. It’s completely up to you. So if you prefer classics to contemporary, get your du Maurier on. Or if you love modern fiction, try Fern Britton out.
To get involved, simply pick up a Cornwall-related book, read it, and write about it. This can be a detailed review on your own blog, a comment below, a review on Goodreads, or a few lines on social media. If you tweet, please do use the hashtag #CornishReadingChallenge. Feel free to tweet me too – @VikkiPatis. The challenge will officially start on the 5th March, St Piran’s Day, and end on 9th May, to mark the beginning of the St Ives Literature Festival. I hope this challenge will get you in the mood for reading, introduce you to some amazing new books, and inspire you to visit Cornwall in the summer.
I’ve compiled a list of books below to get you started. This list is by no means complete, so please do get in touch if you have others you’d like to add. A big thanks to TripFiction and Lovereading for all their help.
Ghostwritten by Isabel Wolff
Jenni is a ghost writer. It’s a job that suits her well. Still haunted by a childhood tragedy, she finds it easier to take refuge in the memories of others than to dwell on her own. Klara was a child in the Second World War. Interned in a camp on Java during the Japanese occupation, she has never before spoken of her ordeal, but as she prepares to turns eighty she knows that the time has come to tell her extraordinary story of survival at last. As Jenni helps Klara to shed light on her childhood, she realises that there are heart-breaking parallels with her own life. Can Jenni and Klara help each other to lay the ghosts of their pasts to rest?
A Seaside Affair by Fern Britton
Genre: Women’s fiction
When the residents of the Cornish seaside town of Trevay discover that their much-loved theatre is about to be taken over by coffee chain, Cafe au Lait, they are up in arms. It is up to Penny Leighton, hotshot producer and now happily married Cornish resident, to come up with a rescue plan. Armed with only her mobile phone and her contacts book, she starts to pull in some serious favours. The town is soon deluged by actors, all keen to show their support and take part in a charity season at the theatre. One of the arrivals is Jess Tate, girlfriend to TV heartthrob Ryan Hearst. His career is on the rise while hers remains resolutely in the doldrums. But when opportunity comes calling, it isn’t just her career prospects that are about to change. Trevay is about to put on the show of its life – but can the villagers, and Jess, hold on to the thing they love the most?
A Perfectly Good Man by Patrick Gale
There’s a particular strain of English mildness that carries within it a finely wrought undercurrent of viciousness. It’s there in the title of Patrick Gale’s new novel, A Perfectly Good Man, which you could either take literally – that Barnaby Johnson, priest to the Cornish parish of Pendeen, is perfect in his goodness – or as a tight-lipped rebuke, that he is adequate at best.
Crossed Bones by Jane Johnson
Genre: Historical fiction, romance
This is a fictional account of a pirate raid which occured off of the Cornish coastline in the 1600s, but is actually based on historical facts that have been meticulously researched. 60 villagers are captured and stolen off to sea and their tale is told through the diary of Catherine Anne Tregenna. In the modern day, Julia Lovat comes across the diary and she heads for North Africa in search of information.
Diving Belles by Lucy Wood
Genre: Short stories
12 short stories…..Cornwall’s magic casts some pretty strong spells. The stories in Lucy Wood’s debut collection have a distinctly otherworldly sensation to them – slightly surreal, steeped in enchantments and shimmering with an infusion of the area’s folklore and landscape. This is a world in which fairies and spirits and bards circulate freely – and steal just as freely from modern-day television soaps – while humans are tethered by conditions of love, nostalgia and regret.
Blue by Lisa Glass
Genre: YA, romance
Surfing is sixteen-year-old Iris’s world, and when the ultra-talented Zeke walks into her life, it soon becomes her passion. Over one amazing summer, as she is drawn into his sphere, she experiences love, new friendships, but also loss, with an intensity she never dreamed of. But is Zeke all he seems? What hides beneath his glamorous and mysterious past? When Iris decides to try for her own surfing success, just as her ex-boyfriend comes back into her life, she will test her talent, and her feelings for Zeke, to the limit…
Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier
Genre: Historical fiction
The scenery and setting are a crucial background to this book. Mary Yellan is to go and live on these very bleak and hostile moors at the solitary and isolated Jamaica Inn, run by the frightening and cruel drunkard, Joss Merlyn, to whom her Aunt Patience is married. There are strange events during the night, skulduggery, and Mary plots how both women can make their escape.
Empty Vessels by Marina Pascoe
Genre: Crime, mystery
Meet Inspector George Bartlett and Constable Archibald Boase in their first investigation together. In the closing months of 1921, Bartlett and Boase have a missing girl on their Falmouth patch. Before long they find themselves drawn into a murder investigation when another girl is found dead on a local beach. We met the Pengelly family, unwittingly drawn in through their daughter’s involvement with the prime murder suspect and find ourselves involved in mysterious goings-on at Penvale Manor, secret meetings in the middle of the night and a race to prevent more deaths. Add spoilt twin heirs, blackmail, and strange, unexplained activity aboard the St Piran and this all makes heavy weather for Bartlett and Boase. Deception and disguise come together in the final spectacular and surprising showdown when the killer is revealed.
The Levelling Sea by Philip Marsden
Genre: Non-fiction, historical
The story of Britain’s colourful maritime past seen through the changing fortunes of the Cornish port of Falmouth. Within the space of few years, during the 1560s and 1570s, a maritime revolution took place in England that would contribute more than anything to the transformation of the country from a small rebel state on the fringes of Europe into a world power. Until then, it was said, there was only one Englishman capable of sailing across the Atlantic. Yet within ten years an English ship with an English crew was circumnavigating the world. At the same time in Cornwall, in the Fal estuary, just a single building – a lime kiln -existed where the port of Falmouth would emerge. Yet by the end of the eighteenth century, Falmouth would be one of the busiest harbours in the world.
I hope you enjoy the challenge! Please do let me know what you think by commenting below, tweeting me, or commenting on my Facebook page (links below). I’ll update my blog throughout the challenge, with interviews, reviews, giveaways, book recommendations and updates. More information as it comes – watch this space!
And for those of us who aren’t fortunate enough to live near Cornwall, and this challenge isn’t enough to fill the void (my apologies), Kernow in the City is a great way to celebrate St Piran’s Day. They’re promising proper pasties – who can say no to that?