The Golden Waterwheel by Leo Walmsley

I fell in love with Leo Walmsley’s two autobiographical, Cornish novels – Love in the Sun and Paradise Creek – last year. But there were missing years between the two books, and I so wanted to learn what had happened in those years. The Golden Waterwheel is my first step towards finding out.

“When at last Dain and I decided to leave our Cornish home where we had lived for nearly four eventful and happy years, and make a new home on our well-beloved and remembered Yorkshire boast, burning our boats, for it seemed likely we should never be able to return, we thought of all the things we had against living in Cornwall, and all of the things that were in favour of going north …”

Life by the water, in a converted army hut, had been idyllic, but things had changed for the couple. A second child had been born, their finances had improved, and the awkward circumstances that caused then to pull up their roots no longer seemed important.

Home was calling.

The opening pages of The Golden Waterwheel explain all of this, and recall the life captured by Love in the Sun, perfectly.

I was captivated again. By a very human story, and by writing that was emotionally involving, simple and utterly believable.

And I was caught up by a wonderful new dream.

“We were going to build there, or have built for us, because we were only amateurs, an ideal house, preferably of Yorkshire firestone, with a red-painted roof like the farm buildings and cottages of the district. We didn’t want another army hut, or any other sort of existing building. We wanted to start from the beginning, design it and watch it being built exactly to our own ideas of what a home should be.”

Watching that dream come true, living through the progress and the setbacks, was a joy, and rather like catching on the exciting news of an erudite and articulate friend.

There were so many wonderful details, moments of anxiety, moments of contentment, and moments to catch my breath …

“Of the many stages in the evolution of a house none is more dramatic than when the actual building is finished and the workmen have packed up, and the place stands completely empty and silent. There are no curtains, no floor coverings, no furniture, and the walls are bare. This can happen only once in its history for whoever lives in it will make marks on its structure which nothing will ever completely erase and those marks will as inevitably be evidence of the character and behaviour of the occupants.”

Wrapped around all of this were wonderful stories of life and family. A chance find in the mud leading to a new friendship; fishing trips, and an extraordinary catch; a gate left open and a pony going walkabout.

And I found lovely echoes of the Cornish years. They inspired so much in the new family home, and they inspired a book. A book that I knew would become Love in the Sun.

I worried a little. That there here seemed to be a conflict in the roles of writer, husband and father, and that at times the author seemed distant from his family. I hoped that love and acceptance would win the day.

Life went on, and I was happy to follow. Because the people, the incidents, the countryside had come alive for me.

The Golden Waterwheel is a simple story, a slice of life, caught perfectly by lovely writing. It seems natural, almost conversational, and yet when I looked closely every paragraph, every sentence, was perfectly constructed.

That quality of writing, and masterful storytelling, make this a book I could happily read over and over again.

The story ended when war came, and changed everything.

Time for another dream … and another book …

15 responses

  1. I have stockpiled a few Walmsleys, on your recommendation, but have yet to read any…
    Judging from this review, I think you’d like Helen Thomas’ autobiographies As It Was and World Without End. This geniunely did come to my mind, and coincidentally I am offering a giveaway on the first of these 😉

    • I am impressed that you have been able to stockpile Walmsleys, I’ve only ever seen two, and they were prohibitively expensive. I’m reading courtesy of the Morrab Library and The Cornish Library Service’s fiction reserve.

      And a wise librarian has also stashed away both volume’s of Helen Thomas’s autobiography, so i have placed my order.

    • This one in set in Yourkshire, but if you would like some Cornish reading I would definitely recommend Love in the Sun and Paradise Creek, and if you find you like the style there are other Walmsleys out there too.

  2. I can’t believe I’ve never heard of Walmsley before, your review makes them sound wonderful and just what I love in a novel.

    I’m going to try and get my hands on one of his novels asap 🙂

    • I only came across Leo Walmsley because he was on the Cornish Fiction shelf in the library. The Walmsley society is bringing his books back into print, but they aren’t getting a lot of attention – though I’m doing my best to put that right!

      • That’s such a shame, I hate it when great writers or forgotten, especially when some shockers seem to always get remebered. I’ll get round to reading one soon and post a review.

  3. I will admit that I’ve never heard of him but Wikipedia supplied some information. As he would be writing about a time that I enjoy to read about I am tempted to give him a try.

    (Btw, in case my appearance gives the impression that I’m a troll perhaps this will help to set your mind at rest:

    As I have just discovered you (by googling ‘Archelaus’ – how sad is that)?I’m having a busy time trying to read my way through your interesting and informative posts. My gosh – you have devoured a lot of books!

    • I didn’t think you were a troll, but I’m afraid WordPress occasionally throws genuine comments into the spam folder, and I’m not always as quick as I might be fishing people out.

      Do give Walmsley a try – he really should be better known.

      You’ll find more information on the Walmsley Society’s website (

  4. Thank you for the link. 🙂 My appetite is now whetted!

    Should you trip over an old biddy on her knees in the ‘W’ section of the bookshelves of a second hand book shop it will probably be me! A nod in passing will suffice.

  5. The Golden Waterwheel is up for being republished in 2012, together with (all being well) its sequel The Happy Ending. These novels fill in the gap in Leo’s story between Love in the Sun and Paradise Creek. I’m happy to report that Golden Waterwheel is already on the system and a cover has been designed.

  6. That’s wonderful news. I have The Happy Ending in my library pile and I’m hoping to be ready to write a little about it early next month.

  7. Pingback: Three Fevers by Leo Walmsley « Fleur in her World

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