Cornish Reading Challenge 2016: Amanda Jennings

Amanda Jennings, proud Cornish maid and talented author, explains why Cornwall means so much to her.

I am fifty percent Cornish. My mother and her family, back through many generations, are proudly Cornish. And I’m equally proud of my fifty percent.

My other half is Pinner. This bit I’m less proud of. Nothing against Pinner, of course, it just doesn’t have quite the same romance attached to it.

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I adore Cornwall. Ever since I can remember it’s been a part of who I am. As children we used so spend part of the summer there. We would bundle into the car, tummies fizzing with anticipation, and spend the long drive counting down the miles whilst gazing out of the windows, counting yellow cars or trying to spot dartmoor ponies, and eventually excitedly craning our necks for that first glimpse of the sea. Once down there, our days would be spent eating fish and chips from the paper, warm and dry in a parked car, overlooking stormy waves as the wind and rain raged around us. Or building camps in the woods below my gran’s house. Or getting hot and sunburnt while running in and out of the freezing sea and building villages in the sand that we would decorate with seaweed and shells and flags made from lolly sticks.

Then there were the post-beach baths to wash the sticky Sennen Cove sand from our bodies, warming up as the multi-coloured grains gathered like silt in Gran’s bathtub which was the same pink as a conch shell. We used to go down for Christmas too, and today there is still a New Year’s day swim. It’s a tradition, emerging blue and cold and tingling, to a nip of cherry brandy.

Gran was born and bred in Cornwall. Her father was the headmaster of the local secondary school in Penzance, and her mother, like her, was an optician. Both women worked their entire lives in Penzance. Gran was also the optician who covered the Scilly Isles. As a child I thought this was terribly glamorous, her boarding a helicopter to fly over to these beautiful, seemingly-tropical, islands where the sun always shined and the sea is was clear as the Caribbean and the same colour turquoise.

aj1My grandmother was a keen amateur actress, and regularly performed at the Minack Theatre, Shakespeare her favourite, on the magical stage that overlooks the sea. She loved to take us there and we would spend the afternoon making pasties, carefully carving our initials into them, then packing them into a cool bag with flasks of coffee and hot chocolate. Then we would set off for the theatre, where we would sit with blankets over our knees and thin cushions beneath us which provided little comfort on the stone seats carved into the cliff.

Gran was passionately Cornish. Even as she approached a hundred years old, there was no way she was ever going to leave either her home or Cornwall. She stayed obstinately put, living independently as she always had. She died on Mother’s Day last year, a few months before her centenary. She passed away peacefully with my mother beside her, in her bed with its beautiful view of St Michael’s Mount and the sea.

In Her Wake is dedicated to my Gran. Sadly, she died before it was published, but she was ever so delighted I’d set it in Cornwall. My parents now have a house in Zennor, and the village and its mermaid play an important role in the book. My own children, and my sister’s, now spend their summers at my parents’ house and its wonderful to watch them cementing their own indelible relationship with this ruggedly beautiful corner of England. They are becoming as passionate about Cornwall as the rest of us, and though they might only be a quarter Cornish, it’s a quarter they are very, very proud of.

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To find out more about Jennings and her work, visit her website, or follow her on Twitter, @mandajjennings. To read my review of In Her Wake as part of the Cornish Reading Challenge, click here.

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