Reading Cornwall: Past, Present and Future

Twelve months ago I set off on operation “Read Cornwall”, because there were so many wonderful books from and about my own particular corner of the world that I wanted to read and celebrate.

I set myself a target of twelve books a year, and I am pleased to say that I have done it and that I loved it.

I knew that I would, but I had to set the target so that I wouldn’t be distracted by other things.

Here are the books I read:

Rambles Beyond Railways by Wilkie Collins in a restored Victorian edition was heaven, and a book that I could quite happily read over and over again.

Snapped in Cornwall by Janie Bolitho was a mystery built on classic lines, and it captured West Cornwall perfectly. A very solid start to a series.

Bell Farm by M R Barneby was a family tale, simple but very effective, and it painted wonderful pictures of the countryside and a seaside farming community.

Archelaus Hosken’ Dilemma by F J Warren was a little comic gem, cleverly constructed and a masterful piece of storytelling.

Love in the Sun and Paradise Creek by Leo Walmsley were my books of the year, telling stories and catching the magic of real lives absolutely perfectly.

Roots and Stars by C C Vyvyan was a memoir of fascinating twentieth century life. Lady Vyvyan was a writer, traveller and nature lover, and I was charmed. i’ll definitely be reading more of her work.

Sarah Strick by Randle Hurley was lovely collection of comical tales set in my hometown in the 1940s. I was charmed and I could quite believe that my grandparents had known these people.

Manna From Hades and A Colourful Mystery by Carola Dunn were cosy mysteries set in a rather idealised 1960s. That threw me for a while, I liked the cast and the stories (well the first story, the second was weak) and so I kept reading.

An Unsentimental Journey Through Cornwall by Mrs Craik was another wonderful Victorian travelogue. I loved the author and I loved seeing Cornwall through her observant and perceptive eyes.

The Burying Beetle by Ann Kelley was a gem. The day-to-day life of a twelve-year-old girl who is both seriously ill and wonderfully alive, perfectly observed and beautifully written.

I’m delighted with my dozen for 2010 and there will definitely be another dozen in 2011.

I’m going to tidy up my Cornish Reading page too, and, if anyone else is interesting in joining me, I might just set up a Cornish Reading blog. Let me know …

But back to the books. I already have three lined up:

Framed in Cornwall by Jane Bolitho is lined up for letter B in my crime fiction alphabet.

From East End to Lands End by Susan Soyinka is an account of the wartime evacuation of the pupils of the jews’ Free School in London to a Cornish fishing village. There is a wealth of detail and it is so engaging: a book for both head and heart.

The Bower Bird by Ann Kelley has already found its way home, because I so want to meet Gussie again.

And there are many, many more …

Archelaus Hosken’s Dilemma by F J Warren

It was such a little book – just 109 pages – and it opens in my own home town, so of course I had to bring it home. And I am glad that I did – it offers a fine, traditional entertainment.

The year is 1807 and young Archelaus Hosken has been incarcerated in Penzance police station for two days, after being caught picking pockets at the town’s Corpus Christi fair. He expects to be taken up-county to the jail at Bodmin and face either hanging or transportation. But something totally unexpected happens. He is released into the custody of a young lady and her steward.

Why? Well, I’ll let that young lady explain:

“Listen to me, Hosken, and listen well. To keep the roof over my head and these lands within my control, I have to take a husband before my twenty-fifth birthday. From a young age, I have been used to having control over my life, and as I do not wish to surrender that control to any man, I have chosen a wastrel such as yourself to marry. Should you wish to refuse my offer, speak now! Trenear will welcome you back, no doubt, and Bodmin jail will be quite prepared to house the likes of you! It will probably be for quite a short stay; you’ll either sail or swing, but either experience will be worse than the life you could lead here I can assure you! You would be a fool to refuse this chance and I think your pride would not let you be thought of as the man who turned down Patience Polmennor!”

So what do we have? A young criminal, with a good heart, but an eye for the main chance too. A bright young woman, used to having her own way and maybe not as worldly-wise as she likes to think. And a great set-up!

It’s beautifully balanced, and the evolving relationship of Archelaus and Patience, set against a backdrop of family intrigue, provides a wonderful mixture of comedy, pathos, and maybe even a little romance.

There’s much to enjoy: a most unusual wedding, a very perceptive dog, intrigue at a country show, an unexpected inheritance, strange bidding at the farmers market, an unlikely cupid…

It all comes together to make a lovely story. And it works so well. The tale is told with great wit and verve, the details ring true, the dialogue sings, and, maybe best of all,  a wonderful cast of characters springs to life from the page.

I missed them when the story ended, but I have to say that the ending was just right.

And Penzance still has a Corpus Christi fair, though I daresay it has changed a bit since Archelaus visited …