Ten Books for Cornish Holidays

I’ve spotted a lot of Top Ten Holiday Reads  lists lately. Fascinating reading, and they set my mind spinning in a direction that was similar but different.

Ten books to transport you to Cornwall. Or to read on holiday in Cornwall.

I’ve picked books that are in print – and I think they are all available electronically – and I’ve picked wonderfully readable books, old and new, that I can happily recommend.

And her they are …


Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier

“The road to Manderlay lay ahead.  There was no moon.  The sky above our heads was inky black.  But the sky on the horizon was not dark at all.  It was shot with crimson, like a splash of blood.  And the ashes blew towards us with the salt wind from the sea.”  

Daphne Du Maurier fell in love with a house named Menabilly on the north coast of Cornwall. In Rebecca she calls that house Manderlay, and she spins a wonderful tale of suspense intrigue and romance, with lovely echoes of Jane Eyre around it.

Diving Belles by Lucy Wood

Lucy Wood comes from Cornwall, she understands, really understands what makes it so special, and she mixes myth and real life to fine effect in this wonderful collection of short stories.

The Rose Garden by Susanna Kearsley

“Crossing the Tamar for some reason made me feel different inside. It was only a river, yet every time I crossed it I felt I had stepped through some mystical veil that divided the world that I only existed in from the one that I was meant to be living in.”

Susanna Kearsley captures the magic of crossing the Tamar Bridge, leaving Devon and coming into Cornwall, and she captures the magic that draws so many people here in this lovely story of a house, a garden, history, time travel, and above all romance.

Rambles Beyond Railways by Wilkie Collins

Wilkie Collins crossed the Tamar by boat, a few years before the bridge was built, and he and his friend, the artist Henry Brandling, set out on a 214 mile walking tour.  This account of their travels holds a wealth of  material, wonderful vivid writing and extraordinary insight.

Love in the Sun by Leo Walmsley

“Leo Walmsley gives the reader a true story, classic in its simplicity, of a man and a girl who possessed nothing in life but love for each other and faith in the future, and because of these things, were courageous and happy…”

So said Daphne Du Maurier, in her introduction to a story that is vividly and beautifully written. The man and the girl are utterly real, every detail rings true, and it is so easy to be pulled in, so easy to care.

Tales of Terror from the Black Ship by Chris Priestley

A visitor tells two children stories of the sea as they wait in their home, and Inn on a Cornish cliff, for the storm to abate and for their father to come home. Tales are deliciously twisted, and the final revelation – who the visitor is and why he has come – is perfect.

The Burying Beetle by Ann Kelley

This is the story of twelve year-old Gussie, who has a head full of films and books, who is fascinated by nature and the world around her home in St Ives. She is ill, waiting and hoping for a heart transplant, and that makes life all the more precious, and her story all the more life-affirming. I loved Gussie, and I loved seeing Cornwall through her eyes.

Peril at End House by Agatha Christie

On holiday at a Cornish hotel Poirot encounters an accident-prone heiress, and  he soon realises that her accidents are not accidents at all. A solid mystery, a very nice setting; all in all, a lovely period piece from the 1930s.

Penmarric by Susan Howatch

A wonderful family saga, spanning half a century, telling their story and the story of Penmarric, their grand Cornish home, in five voices. The house, its inhabitants, the world around them come to life in a dramatic, compelling story. I had no idea when I first read it that it was inspired by real mediaeval history ….

The First Wife by Emily Barr

The story of a girl from a Cornish village who loses her home when her grandparents die, moves to town, and finds herself caught up in a story elements of chick lit, strands of a psychological thriller, and echoes of Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca. It’s wonderful fun!

I’m waiting now for Emily Barr’s new book, the story of a woman whop disappears from the train between Penzance and Paddington. A train I have travelled on so many times …

There are more books of course, by these authors and by others.

Have any of these books, or have any other books, transported you to Cornwall, I wonder … ?

The First Wife by Emily Barr

Lily Button was abandoned by her feckless parents when she was very young. Her grandparents took her in, and gave her a stable, traditional upbringing in the Cornish countryside. But as Lily grew up her grandparents became increasingly frail, and the balance shifted. Lily had to look after them.

When her grandparents died Lily found herself alone in the world. And she found herself homeless. The family home was heavily mortgaged, there were debts to pay, and Lily was left with nothing.

She was devastated, and so was I. Because Lily was lovely, and she had charmed me from the very first page.

Lily realised that she had to move on, had to make a new life for herself. She moved to Falmouth, the nearest town. She finds a friend, and he helps her to find lodgings with a local family and a job with a cleaning agency.

And so Lily takes her first steps into a new future. It was lovely to watch her making friends, making plans to go to college, and simply enjoying life in a lovely seaside town. She realised that her life held so many possibilities.

I was happy watching Lily moving through life, until she took what I was sure was a wrong turn.

One of her cleaning jobs was at the home of local celebrity couple, Harry and Sarah Summers. They had a lovely home, a wonderful life, and they had taken an interest in the young woman who wasn’t your typical “woman who does.”

Harry and Sarah went to Spain on holiday and Harry came back alone, a grieving widower. Lily’s natural compassion pulled her towards Harry, and his charm drew her in. A relationship blossomed.

I worried. Lily was terribly inexperienced, and I had a very bad feeling about Harry. There was nothing concrete, but there were a lot of worrying signs.

The story dipped a little here. I missed Lily’s old life, and I didn’t believe that Harry would give her the happy ending she deserved.

I was relieved when Lily began to have doubts, when she decided to take a trip to Barcelona to Spain to find out just what had happened there.

The story moved up a gear, and turned into a thriller. What happened was a little predictable but I didn’t mind, because it was right.

I very nearly got the ending I wanted – it was just a little too quick and the loose ends were tied up a little too neatly.

Along the way I met some lovely, and believable, characters. I saw some wonderful places. And I enjoyed some very nice sub-plots that really complemented the main storyline.

All of the details were right.

There were elements of chick lit, strands of a psychological thriller, and echoes of Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca. Emily Barr made them work together, and I have to say that she writes very well.

I was charmed by her heroine, and by her story.