Cornish Reading Challenge: Explore the magic of the moors with Terri Nixon

Since publishing in paperback for the first time in 2002, Terri has appeared in both print and online fiction collections, and is proud to have contributed to the Shirley Jackson award-nominated hardback collection: Bound for Evil by Dead Letter Press. As a Hybrid author, her first commercially published novel was Maid of Oaklands Manor, published by Piatkus Entice.

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I live and work in Plymouth, and was brought up on the edge of Bodmin Moor, where I spent most of my free time getting stuck in bogs, falling off rocks, and wondering if I was late for tea yet. Doesn’t sound like the most fun, does it? And yet it was – and not only because of the clean, fresh air, the freedom, and the mind-melting views; something about growing up surrounded by moorland, with the sea just over the horizon, has stayed with me all my life, and I’m certain it has played a huge part in the way I write now.

It’s currently en vogue, I believe, to write stories set in Cornwall, and why not? It’s picturesque, rustic, pretty, and has a perceived ‘old world’ charm about its little villages and their inhabitants. But there is so much more to explore; the history itself is rich and colourful, though often bleak, and even frightening, and in an area so steeped in folklore, it’s easy to let your imagination take you on some wild journeys.

My books tend to shy away from the cutely countrified, and instead feature rugged cliffs, bleak moorland, deep forests, and the strength to be found in a hard-working community. My latest novel, the first in The Penhaligon Saga, takes place in a mining town and its neighbouring fishing hamlet, and as the characters form and grow around each other, shoring up each others’ stories with their own, it’s getting harder and harder to remember that it’s not a real place. I feel as if I’ve been there, that I know the publican, the grocer, the doctor (and his, erm, curious housekeeper!), the aloof Battens from Pencarrack House, and, most importantly, the Penhaligon family themselves.

Growing up in a small village – North Hill, which was featured heavily in Jamaica Inn – I and my friends were part of real country life, right in amongst it all. We didn’t lock ourselves away and learn about life from a distance – we spent time on our friends’ farms, and worked there in our holidays; we were members of the church choir, and got told off for whispering about last night’s TV during the sermon; we were sent on errands for various people around the village; we mucked in, and mucked out.

So now, although it’s been a long time, I can recall the smells and colours of a farmyard as clearly as if I’m standing in one, and I’m able to pluck those memories out, and put them in my work. I can smell the tang of silage in the air and taste it in the back of my throat; I can feel the uneven, spongy squelch of a tuffet of boggy moss, and I can place it carefully beneath someone else’s boot, and watch them deal with it.

I grew up surrounded by derelict mines, too, and would often wonder what might be hiding in their depths. Folklore tales are rife on Bodmin Moor, and this was the basis for my Mythic Fiction series, The Lynher Mill Chronicles. I wanted to wrap a gritty modern tale of betrayal, addiction, and revenge in traditional Cornish fantasy, and watch to see what happened. It turned into something quite unusual, and pretty interesting! With the human villagers becoming increasingly enmeshed in the world of three factions of Cornish spirits – the Moorlanders, the Coastals, and the Foresters –  unlikely alliances, strained friendships, and misplaced loyalties started to appear, and the story unfolded in quite a different way than I’d expected.

Whenever I’m on those moors now, I still find myself walking more quietly among the old engine house chimneys, peering down the shafts, and holding my breath in case I hear the low murmur of voices…

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Penhaligon’s Attic by Terri Nixon is available to buy now.

1910. Anna Garvey arrives in Caernoweth, Cornwall with her daughter and a secret. Having come from Ireland to take up an inheritance of the local pub, she and her eighteen year-old daughter Mairead are initially viewed with suspicion by the close-knit community.

Anna soon becomes acquainted with Freya Penhaligon, a vulnerable girl struggling to keep her family business afloat in the wake of her grandmother’s death, and starts to gain the trust of the locals. As their friendship deepens, and Freya is brought out of her shell by the clever and lively Mairead, even Freya’s protective father Matthew begins to thaw.

But when a part of Anna’s past she’d long tried to escape turns up in the town, she is forced to confront the life she left behind – for her sake and her daughter’s too . . .

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3 thoughts on “Cornish Reading Challenge: Explore the magic of the moors with Terri Nixon

  1. What a fabulous article! So evocative! I felt as if I was watching a film instead of reading some words on a screen. brilliant just like the books!

    Liked by 2 people

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