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 …

Sarah Strick by Randle Hurley

Who is Sarah Strick, you may be wondering.

Well I believe that she’s the lady on the right.

On the left is her husband Jacca and the other lady is their Aunt Emma.

Randle Hurley has put together a lovely little collection of stories about them.

In the late 1940s they lived in Penzance, my hometown, in a small cottage at the top of Causewayhead.

There’s a picture of Causewayhead as they would have known it, painted by Stanhope Forbes, a little further down the page.

But I should tell you a little more about them as these are very much character stories. Sarah and Jacka are in their seventies. She’s a little cautious, a little careful. Not is a bad way, she just wants a nice home and to be thought of well. Jacka though is rather more lackadaisical. Aunt Emma is a gregarious old lady, and still very active. A fine family!

They are all utterly believable, and it was very strange to read about them walking streets, visiting places that I know very well. They let the Western National bus pass by to catch the cheaper blue bus to Newlyn and Mousehole. I did the same thing as a child some years later when I went to visit my cousin who lived between those two villages.

And I can imagine the Strick family passing my mother and father, both small children, one in Penzance and one in Newlyn, back then.

They are lovely stories. Anecdotes really, that they would have talked over and maybe laughed about with friends and neighbours.

  • Aunt Emma feeding the birds, a nest on the roof and high jinks as Jacca tries to get it down.
  • Excitement at the coming of the modern wonder that was the Cwop (or Co-op, if you’re on the other side of the Tamar) and the divi. But comic complications ensue when Sarah makes her claim.
  • Jacca confined to bed and receiving conflicting advice from the doctor and the district nurse, until it is finally worked out that his tonic might be doing more harm than good.
  • Aunt Emma volunteering to look after the new neighbours cats, and being told they must not get out. Of course they do, and then how do you get the right cats back in?

Eight tales altogether, and every one a joy to read.

The story telling is wonderful, and it’s proper Cornish. I can hear the local voices in my head, and I recognise the warm, dry Cornish wit.

There’s a little dialect, but that shouldn’t put you off. It’s terribly readable, and there’s a glossary at the back that explains the exact meaning of such important Cornish terms as “dreckly.” Which literally translates as “directly”, but actually means at some point in the future should the mood happen to strike. Well, Cornwall is that sort of place.

And this lovely book is Cornwall distilled. Highly recommended!