Cornish Reading Challenge: Angela Britnell talks about something old, something new

Author Angela Britnell talks about how Cornwall grabs hold and never lets go – no matter how far you travel.

When you’re born and grow up in Cornwall, it becomes part of you, and trying to stop it from influencing your writing is like trying to hold back the tide. I’ve been published for over ten years now and the vast majority of my stories are set wholly or partly in Cornwall, and usually feature at least one Cornish character. I suspect if I tried to write a fantasy novel set in space (unlikely, but go with me on this one), I’d still end up with a Cornish girl attempting to make pasties on Mars! I decided long ago to embrace my love for Cornwall, particularly since I now live in America and am a big fan of transatlantic romances (including my own of nearly 34 years). The culture contrast adds another layer of interest and often tension to my characters’ journeys. And where locations are concerned, there’s always something old, something new…

The old, familiar locations I use are places I remember from my childhood. I lived inland, as far as anywhere is in Cornwall, at the centre of the china clay mining industry. The waste piles are affectionately known as white pyramids and they sneaked into Love Me For a Reason, when I teased an American character that she would be able to go skiing on a visit there. I’m sure every small fishing village I describe contains aspects of Mevagissey woven through it, because my mother’s family came from there, and I’m still related to half of the village. The pastel painted fisherman’s cottages clinging to steep hills and surrounding a small harbour are typical of many others around the coast. The towns we shopped in, beaches we went to, and beauty spots we visited all find a home in my stories.

I often discover new locations to me when I’m writing. In the middle of Sugar and Spice, I needed the perfect spot for my hero to take the American celebrity chef he’s fallen in love with for a picnic, and settled on Cape Cornwall because it’s wild, beautiful, and less touristy than Land’s End. Luckily I was heading to Cornwall while writing that book and took the chance to visit. In the case of St. Agnes I’d been there as a child, but until I researched Cornish legends for Celtic Love Knot, I had never heard the fascinating story of the giant Bolster. My character was a Celtic mythology professor from Nashville, Tennessee (a touch of artistic license there!), who was particularly interested in Bolster. I found out about an amazing festival they hold every year recreating the legend, and am determined to make it there one May to see it in person. There are also Cornish settings that didn’t exist when I was growing up. Strictly speaking, Heligan Gardens did exist but wasn’t re-discovered until the 1990s, and I used it in a scene for one of my People’s Friend pocket novels when a character’s mother needed to be temporarily lost! Of course there’s also the marvellous Eden Project, which I was lucky enough to see being created from an abandoned clay pit around 2000. I’ve mentioned it on numerous occasions in my stories, but have yet to feature Eden as a main ‘character’, but I know its time will come.

When I’m in Cornwall, I make the most of soaking up every moment and never know when a place I visit, a new restaurant I try, or a snippet of overheard conversation will get the writing wheels moving.

Britnell’s new book, You’re The One That I Want, is available now. Don’t forget to enter the competition to win a copy of Celtic Love Knot!

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