Friday, December 16, 2011

Ian Rankin

The secret of good research, and how to play God

“I find writing crime quite cathartic – it gets it out of your system, so crime writers tend to be fairly well balanced people,” says Ian Rankin. Crime fiction is also brilliant if you want to write social realism – the problems we have in society whether economic, racism, it’s a great medium for exploring these questions. I there’s a preoccupation with Scottish writing per se - the notion that we all carry within us the ability to be good and to be evil.” He pauses. “If you look at The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, you’re never sure if she’s a force for evil or for good and I like the ambiguity. Are some people born evil or made evil?”
Ian Rankin’s soft Scottish burr gives an added intensity to the ideas that bubble out of him like spring water. As the UK’s number one bestselling crime author, he has won numerous awards and is most famous for his Inspector Rebus books which have been translated into 23 languages and are bestsellers on several continents as well as being made into a major TV series.
But Rebus wasn’t popular straight away. “It was book 7 or 8 before I hit the bestseller lists,” says Ian, “I was lucky that publishers would take a risk then, i.e. publishing at a loss for a long time in the hope that eventually they would find an audience. When the books did find an audience it was a big one.”
So why are the Rebus books so popular? “He’s a conflicted character with a lot of baggage – he’s not easy to get on with.” Ian laughs. “I guess male readers like him because he can do things they wish they could still do, such as play rock music late into the night, and drink whisky. I don’t know why women like him – maybe they want to change him. They seem to want him to stop smoking and have a decent meal.” He pauses. “But he’s a maverick, and we all have a soft spot for mavericks.”
The Impossible Dead, out October 2011, sees the return of Malcolm Fox. “Having spent some time with Malcolm I felt the process wasn’t yet complete so I thought I’d find something else for him to do. I liked the milieu he works in – Internal Affairs, and the idea of cops who are more like professional voyeurs – they are investigating themselves so they are liked by nobody,” Ian explains. “To be that kind of person you have to have a certain mentality that is pretty much 180 degrees from Rebus.”
A sense of place is very important in Rankin’s books. “The Rebus books have a strong sense of Edinburgh,” explains Ian. “I think it’s something that crime fiction does very well. You can walk through Maigret’s Paris, or Raymond Chandler’s Los Angeles, and I wanted to show a side of Edinburgh that people don’t usually see, and I thought a detective was a good way to do that because police have access to different layers of society.” He pauses. “I still write about Edinburgh because I still haven’t found out what makes it tick.” For those eager to experience Edinburgh through Rebus’s eyes, there is now the Rebus Walking Tour and if you have an Iphone Rebus has his own App. “I think readers like that it takes place in a real city with real pubs and a real police station; as an author it helps to get the readers to suspend disbelief. If they know that this stuff is real they might start to believe that what I write is also real.”
Having read his books, it’s surprising to hear that he doesn’t do a lot of research. “I’m not research heavy. I go to the police if I have a specific problem but I don’t want my books to be PR exercises for the police.” The research doesn’t come till after Ian starts writing. “I get a question that I want to try and answer, and find a plot to allow me to do that. Then once I’ve done work on the structure I start writing. Between the first and second draft I’ll go and visit the place. An agent said to me a long time ago, ‘Keep writing, do the research after.’ Sometimes you can know too much and the secret of good research is to persuade the reader that you’ve done it without hitting them over the head with a sledgehammer.”
When it comes to the requisites for a good crime novel, Ian believes there is no easy answer. “There are tightly structured whodunnits like Jonathan Creek which are about solving the puzzle, or some books are about spending quality time with a character detective. Other books explore a sense of place in a different culture like Vienna or Los Angeles, and some books are about social commentary and ask big moral questions about the state of the world.” Ian pauses. “Put them all together and you get a rollercoaster ride of tension and danger thrown in which for a reader is about getting ‘a lot of bang for your buck,’ as the Americans would say. Hopefully you’re getting all of those.”
Given all the ingredients required, Ian does not plan his books in any detail. “I’ve never been to a creative writing class: I’ve tried teaching it and find it incredibly difficult because I just write off the top of my head most of the time,” he explains. “I’ve got a theme I want to explore, I’ve got the inklings of a plot, I’ve got enough notes to write the first 20 to 30 pages and by the time I’ve written these first 30 pages I’ve introduced a cast of characters and I’ve decided which are relevant, but the story constantly surprises me.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen when I start writing: the book knows what’s going to happen, but I don’t. And so the story will say, ‘hang on , Ian, we need to go here now because that guy who walked out 20 pages ago is the guy who was in the hotel that night’. And I go, ‘oh right! I didn’t know that!’ So the first draft of the book is me playing detective: getting to know the characters and their motives and how useful they can be. I don’t take a lot of notes before I start but I make notes as I go along during the course of the first draft.” He pauses. “It all gets tidied up in the 2nd or 3rd draft. The first draft is making sure the plot makes sense. I write that very quickly – in about 2 months. The 2nd/3rd draft puts meat on the skeleton of the characters, colours in the settings so they are vibrant and realistic, makes sure the theme is there; that’s when the hard work gets done. Then it gets finished about mid June.”
So what does Ian find hardest about writing crime? “Making it all work! You’ve usually got a large cast of characters, maybe 3 or 4 different subplots that eventually need to meet up, and I don’t know how it will end. It’s only when I get to know the characters that I know who the potential villains are. And there is this fear that this time you’re going to fall flat on your face: that it won’t work out.”
Of course Ian Rankin’s books always work out in the end, a fact that he doesn’t take for granted. “The most enjoyable moments are when I start to see connections between characters and plots. But sometimes it can be the second draft when that happens which is really quite worrying.”
Having written since he was a young boy, it’s clear that Ian has found his métier in life and loves it. “I get to play God!” He laughs. “This morning there was a big queue in the post office: a guy at the head of the queue was taking his time, holding everyone up, and I can just come home and kill him! That is quite cathartic – the power of life and death.” He pauses. “Also I think writers are all children who’ve refused to grow up so we still play with imaginary friends. It keeps you young,” he adds cheerfully.
When it comes to advice for writers, Ian believes that reading is vital. “Read lots of writers and maybe early on copy their style, whether consciously or sub consciously, and only through doing that does your own style emerge,” he says. “You have to have a story that you don’t think anyone else is doing, but apart from that there really are no rules. The structure for a crime novel is crime, investigation, resolution, but within that you can do pretty much anything you want.” He pauses. “And if you’re really clever you don’t even need to stick to that.”

The Impossible Dead is published by Orion October 2011

Writers' Forum January 2012

Monday, August 8, 2011



“I do think one of the most adorable and admirable qualities of British people is their sense of humour,” says Bill Bryson. “It’s the best sense of humour in the world.” And as an American famous for his highly entertaining books, he should know.

“I think humour is just something I naturally do,” he explains in his measured, quiet voice. “We all have certain language skills that we do well and things we don’t do so well. I always struggle with descriptive passages or lyrical prose, but I seem to have more of a knack for seeing a joke and I learned to make a virtue of that.” He smiles. “Technically it’s a real challenge to write humour successfully but I find it’s very satisfying.”

Though of course Bill doesn’t just write humour – he has written books about travel, the English language, science, history, a memoir, his love of the English countryside, and about the home. “I’d gladly write another 25 books if I thought I was going to live long enough,” he continues. “I think from now onwards, I have to start getting more selective and for that reason I’m taking more care in committing to the next book. But I haven’t made a decision yet.”

Bill grew up surrounded by books. “We had floor to ceiling bookshelves and I used to go in and just take these books down - I had no idea what I was reading and discovered people like P.G. Wodehouse and Robert Benchley; all funny writers.” But it was Wodehouse that made an impression on the young American. “P.G. Wodehouse particularly seemed wildly exotic, describing life in England in a way that I had no personal connection to; it was just funny and engaging. That was very important to me - not just in writing in a way that made people laugh, but also being able to connect with people.”

Bill’s parents were both journalists so it was no surprise that he chose to become one.
“I wasn’t under pressure but it was just the natural progression, and English was the only thing I was ever any good at,” he explains. “I didn’t have any scientific or mathematical aptitude.” So Bill worked as a sub in Bournemouth, then went to London. “I worked for the Times, and then I worked on the Independent when it first started which was a very exciting period.” He smiles. “I’m proud to say I was one of the founding journalists (of the Independent) - though not a very important one,” he adds. “Then we moved to Yorkshire and I quit my job and was a freelance all the time.”

The move from journalism to writing books was a gradual one. “When I was working at the Evening Echo in Bournemouth, I started doing freelance articles to earn more money as I had a young family, and little by little I discovered it was something I enjoyed very much. I started writing books in my spare time and I thought this is what I would really like to do – not commute into London every day and fight the crowds and all of that, but live in a nice rural, idyllic spot and write for a living.” He pauses. “At the time I wrote articles and books – you know, anything that people would pay for – and that’s what I have done ever since.”

Bill’s writing day starts very early, before he’s properly awake. “I get up around 5-5.30 at this time of year and have one cup of coffee with my wife, and we have a brief chat about what we intend to achieve that day.” And his endearing honesty is one reason why his books are so incredibly popular. “Then I take my second cup of coffee and go to my desk and start writing before I have any time to reflect on how little I want to work - that’s the only way I can do it. If I went to check things in the greenhouse, I would never get back to my desk.”

When it comes to planning his books, Bill needs to know where they are going. “I don’t necessarily write them sequentially; I hop around a bit, but I do need a clear idea of what ground I’m going to cover and how to link all these things up.” He frowns. “Sometimes you discover things or stumble across devices as you work away on it, but at other times, in a weird way, what goes on in your head doesn’t actually seem to relate to what comes out of your fingertips.”

His current book, At Home, came about when his family returned from America to live in England in 2003 and it was time to come up with the idea for a new book. “I’d just written A Short History of Nearly Everything and took on the whole universe and I thought what’s left to do? I was sitting at the kitchen table and realized that a house is sort of a universe in its own right. The idea was that I would wander from room to room and write a history of the world from the perspective of each room, and how those rooms had been lived in throughout history. So the bedroom would be the history of sex and sleep, the bathroom of hygiene, the kitchen cooking and so on.”

For such a prolific writer, I was surprised when Bill announced that all his books have been “a nightmare” to write. But the hardest was A Walk in the Woods, about walking the Appalachian Trail. “Essentially we were just walking which is the hardest thing in the world to write about,” he explains. “I felt there was no material for a book and I felt quite gloomy about the whole thing. So when I finally managed to get a book out of this experience, I felt most pleased.” He pauses. “I realized of course that things did happen but I didn’t necessarily pay much attention to them at the time. This happens every time I write a travel book.”

It is clear that Bill is content with his life, although not so happy about getting older. “I turned 60 this year and it does make you realize that there is a finite period. But I very much enjoy writing and I don’t want to stop working: I feel lucky to be able to do it.” He gives another slow smile. “Writing to me is the greatest indulgence in the world because I can indulge a huge area of curiosity and make a living from it. I can’t think of a better wheeze than that!”

Although he concedes that life is tougher now. “It’s harder being freelance. One of the things that I used to be able to do was sell the same articles over and over. One to the Washington Post and then to the San Francisco Chronicle and the Chicago Tribune and you can’t do that any more because you sell it to the Washington Post and they put it online and they have world rights. So it’s become a lot harder to find markets for some things.”

But when it comes to new writers getting published, Bill is pragmatic. “It is difficult but it’s always been difficult, and a lot of aspiring writers think that it’s a question of being sprinkled with fairy dust, whereas it’s actually mostly hard work and application and the ability to withstand rejection and keep plugging away.” He pauses. “Just go into any big bookshop and look at all those books - every single one of those writers was unknown when they started out. Half a million books get published every year so it’s not that remarkable a thing – it’s a question of persevering. Though if you do fail again and again you do have to ask yourself is this the right line of work for me?

“You have to be able to take rejection without taking it personally,” he continues. At first it’s natural to feel slightly crushed and that the odds are stacked against you. But I don’t think publishing is stacked against you any more than life is generally. Assuming that you have some talent and a real story to tell then things will come good for you.”

At Home is published by Transworld, out now.

Writers' Forum August 2011

Par Walk

Airing our hangovers with “foreign” friends from over the Tamar

I originally met John and Annie as they lived in the same village as my mum. Over the last few years we've had holidays together: my husband did the cooking, while John and Annie and I explored before settling down to enjoy Pip’s cooking. Last time, John had a bad back so we decided on a shortish circular walk starting off at Par Beach to air our hangovers.

From Fowey, we took the main St Austell road (A3082), turning left just before the railway bridge at the bottom of Polmear Hill, past the Ship pub. Continuing along this road for several hundred yards, we parked in the car park on the left, near Par Beach, which is free in winter.

We walked back towards the Ship pub with a row of almshouses next door: these were built in 1650 by the Rashleigh family and converted into modern houses in 1977/8. By Chapel Cottage there is a Saints Way sign and a yellow waymark leading uphill to a very steep path, populated by holly trees with rich red berries and festooned with particularly vicious nettles which weren't good for myself and John, both wearing shorts. We struggled and panted up the path which led to a large field at the top of the hill populated by five very lovely horses.

John was route master for this walk, and directed us across the field where a faint path could be seen through the grass heading towards the trees on the skyline. Looking down over the huge Par Beach is a fabulous sight: St Austell Bay stretched out in the distance, while the china clay chimneys smouldered around Par Harbour, and we could see a huge pool, next door to the caravan park.

John found some mushrooms here but discarded them as not being good enough – having picked them since he was a child he is something of a connoisseur. We turned right here, parallel to the hedge, heading inland until we reached another stile on the right, with a rotted waymark sign lying forlornly on the ground. We walked diagonally left until we reached a double wooden and granite stile in the corner of the field which led us to the busy, fast road heading down Polmear Hill.

Hurrying over the road we reached the pavement on the opposite side and headed uphill. Ahead was a road sign to Polkerris Beach and Menabilly on the right and we took that, past the sign to Trill Horse Trail and walked along, passed a lone letterbox. Turning right again down to Polkerris, the clouds parted and we walked down the narrow and steep hill with high banks on either side smelling of warm wet earth from the recent rain, fresh autumn air, and a sudden blast of white sunshine gleaming off glossy ivy leaves. Blackbirds sang on either side as we passed underneath the remains of a footbridge, with dense, ivy clad woods on either side.

We walked past a cottage draped in Virginia Creeper and a couple of blue tits feeding in the garden and continued down to Polkerris which consists of several pretty whitewashed cottages with beautiful fuchsias growing in abundance outside. Until the end of the 19th century, Polkerris had one of the largest fish cellars in Cornwall, which still dominate the beach, and a huge fleet of seine boats.

At the bottom of the hill is the Rashleigh Arms, which was orginally in what is now the car park: the present pub building was once a boat shed. The granite wall of the harbour curved like a strong protective arm, and John pointed out several canons tipped up to act as bollards. This pier was built by the Rashleigh family around 1730 and what is now Sam's cafe was the old lifeboat house. John disappeared into the pub to get coffee for our hangovers, while Annie and Mollie and I sat outside in the garden admiring the view over St Austell Bay with the stunningly placed golf course off to the right.

“Don't get too comfortable,” John said a few minutes later. “They don't open till 12.” As it was only 10.30, we headed up the hill in front of a couple of cottages with gardens on either side, planted on an almost sheer cliff face. Fishing nets had been used as bird cages to tend the late raspberries, and Evening Primrose towered on either side of us, nodding lemon yellow heads as we climbed.

At the top we found a bench where we sat and digested the view as we sipped our bottles of water. Far below us a very young father with baby strapped to his body, wandered from the beach to the cafe, back into the car park. “He's probably been awake all night and is frantic for caffeine,” said Annie.

Heading back along the coastal path, we were greeted by the last of the blackberries, devoured by Annie, gradually acquiring a black mouth. Bright red and orange berries glistened in the hedges next to big fat sloes, making us think of sloe gin, and winter log fires. Old Man's Beard grew in abundance next to hawthorn bushes covered in grey-green fingers of lichen.

A cacophony of crows gathered and screeched above us, warned off by seagulls. “What's the collective noun for a group of crows?” asked John. “A congregation?” None of us knew, but having looked it up it is “a murder”: very apt, thinking of The Birds, and this being du Maurier country.

The sun was shining silver on the water far out to sea so we stopped and stared in admiration, while the tip of Gribben Head was just visible over the tops of the far hills. As we looked back, the young father appeared, baby still strapped to his stomach, and suddenly a skein of Canada geese flew over head, honking loudly. To our left, over the sea, flew a bunch of oyster catchers with their eerie scream as we turned the corner and a beautiful hill rose up on our right, in smooth emerald green. The path wound round back to where we started at Par beach, and we noticed the Canada Geese coming in to land on the pond at Par.

As we walked the last of the footpath, the ground was splattered with dark blackberry juice and we climbed down steep steps, over a little bridge and back to where we'd parked the car. Climbing onto the sand dunes, we looked out over Par Sands, where a couple of collies played tag in the lazy waves rippling on the edge of the sea. The sand was studded with silvery reflections and the sun beat down like a blessing. We sighed happily, hangovers gone. What could be better?

OS Explorer Map 107 St Austell and Liskeard
Grading: a few steep hills, paths can be very muddy after rain. Varied views, landscape and wildlife.
Walk: 2.5 miles
Length: just under 1.5 hours
Dogs are allowed on Par Beach all year round.
Car park at Par Beach £2.10 all day at time of writing. Car park also at Polkerris.
Public toilets at Polkerris
Refreshments: Ship Inn at Par, Rashleigh Arms and Sam's cafe, Polkerris cafe at Polkerris

Cornwall Today 2011

Wednesday, June 29, 2011


A dramatic walk in the Mount Edgcumbe Country Park
and a house famous for its artistic treasures

I was intending to come to Kingsands and Cawsands for a holiday this March, but without my husband, it didn't seem right. However, Viv had been waxing lyrical about the two 17th century fishing villages, so I was looking forward to this walk, intrigued by the fact that Kingsands was once in Devon, with Cawsands in Cornwall. Ever one for useless detail, I also liked the idea that in days gone by, life for the smugglers of Kingsands and Cawsands was a constant battle with Customs: girls apparently took brandy into Plymouth under their petticoats.

Back to the present day, and minus petticoats, we took the A374 and followed signs to Millbrook, then headed into the picturesque village of Cawsands, where we parked in the car park in the middle of the village. From there, Mark, who ran the car park, gave us directions and a map, and we turned left up the street, past the village shop and turned right, past the Rising Sun Inn. Lost already, we got instructions from a friendly Welsh builder to go up the hill then turn right into Mount Edgcumbe Country Park.

Ahead lay Minadew Brakes, a wide grassy area with fabulous views stretching out over the huge expanse of Cawsand Bay, and Plymouth Sound further up. Fort Picklecombe could be seen ahead, and woods up on our left: this is a popular walk for walkers and dogs, who were both soon covered in the brick red mud typical of this area.

It was a raw grey winter's day, but beautiful nonetheless: a kestrel hovered overhead, and waves crashed angrily on the rocks to our right. But spring showed promise with daffodil buds shyly peeping out from walls of dried bracken and gorse flower the only colour on this scowling day. “Gorse in flower, kissing in season,” said Viv optimistically, though there was no one en route on which to try this out.

Heading for Maker church, we passed what might have been a quarry where huge trees hovered over us with bare roots like tortured arms, and branches like belly dancer's limbs; supple and bendy looking.

At the end of Minadew Brakes, we came to a kissing gate where we turned sharp right onto a lane which led in front of a large house and Hooe Lake on our right, then first left through an iron gate. Ahead of us were three paths – we should have taken the left hand path which leads straight to Maker Church, but we started off on the middle path – luckily two German walkers put us right and we found ourselves at the top of what looked like a grassy, incredibly steep canyon, which we had to cross.

Sliding down was one thing, but half way up the almost vertical bank opposite, I looked nervously back at Viv, who has a heart condition. She was puffing but was alive which was a bonus. Reaching the top, I looked back over Plymouth Sound and noted two Navy destroyers coming in. Rain clouds loomed on the horizon and above us, in the middle of miles of gracious parkland, a helicopter hovered: at any minute I expected machine guns to rain down on us, forcing us to flatten ourselves to the ground. But the helicopter moved on, and we continued our walk towards Maker Church that peeped out of the winter gloom like Rapunzel's tower.

Passing woods on our left, with dead branches waving ghostly grey fingers, we reached the top of the hill which must be one of the highest points of Cornwall – there is such a feeling of space here, looking out over Plymouth Sound, the River Tamar and Plymouth Docks, with Edgcumbe Park stretching magnificently in front of us. Behind us were fields and fields of emerald green with hardly a house in sight.

We decided to pay a quick visit to the church, the tower of which was used as a naval signal station, but it was locked so we turned our attention to Edgcumbe House and Park. Sir Richard Edgcumbe of Cotehele built the original house in his deer park in 1547-50. It was largely destroyed in the Plymouth blitz of 1941 but has now been restored and houses paintings by Sir Joshua Reynolds, Gerard Edema and William van der Velde, 16th century tapestries, Irish bronze age horns and 18th century Chinese and Plymouth porcelain. In the 18th century the family created formal gardens, temples, follies and woodlands with Californian Redwood trees sheltering a herd of wild fallow deer.

Setting off through the park once again, we headed along a path towards Harbour View Seat. The path disappeared and we were concerned that we would end up in Cremyll when we'd only got 6 hours of car parking time. Unable to find Harbour View Seat, we headed right, past the impressive Grotton Plantation on our left, and a herd of delicate deer gazing at us in the distance. “Is it rutting season?” said Viv, stumbling over the rough path. “No, I replied stoutly, “that's April isn't it?” I had no idea, but walked faster just in case.

The paths on our map bore no resemblance to the parkland we walked through, but we headed back towards the sea where Viv was determined to find Fort Picklecombe, which was hard enough to say when sober. We found ourselves on the seaward side of the canyon we traversed earlier, and a very steep path roughened by sliding hoof marks led us back to the iron gate near the road and we retraced our steps past Hooe Lake, with Kingsands and Cawsands nestled in the cliffs ahead of us.

“If we'd turned left, do you think we'd get to Fort Picklecombe?” said Viv hopefully. Seeing my frozen face, she added, “I don't want to do it today. Perhaps another time?”

From here we reached a sign saying Kingsand 1 mile and retraced our steps along the Minadew where we sat on a bench and ate the last of our sandwiches. This walk is full of beauty - the sheer size and scope of the parkland, the water and the woods – but wrap up warmly, for it is exposed on all sides.

We'll definitely come back to this forgotten area of Cornwall: we want to explore the villages, which boast several pubs and art galleries, as well as the many and varied walks. “Though we'd better get in training,” said Viv, sharing a biscuit with the dogs. “With the SAS.”

OS Map 201 Plymouth and Launceston
Length: Approx 3.5 miles
Time: 2 hours
Grade: - some very steep hills, can be extremely muddy.
Refreshments: Rising Sun Inn and Cross Keys -
and plenty of other pubs
Mount Edgcumbe House and Garden – 01752 822236
A passenger ferry operates between Cawsands and Kingsands and the Barbican in Plymouth.
Whitsand Bay, the longest sandy beach in England, is nearby.
Parking in Cawsands: £1 for 6 hours at time of walking.
Public Toilets next to car park in Cawsands.
Galleries -

CT July 2011

Magnificent Seven

Best for Campers

This is an ideal walk for campers, with several campsites within easy walking distance of both beaches. Polly Joke is a remote jewel nestling round the corner from Newquay’s brasher beaches, and this summer walk provides incredible views through the tamarisk trees on Pentire Head which is carpeted with red poppies in summer. From Crantock Beach, head up through the sand dunes past fields onto West Pentire Point, where skylarks soar overhead and rock pigeons swoop over the rocks. Drink in the stunning views before arriving at Polly Joke, where the soft sands beckon to families, surfers and dog walkers alike. The path winds inland over Cubert Common, while buzzards linger overhead, back to Treago Farm and along the road back to the Bowgie. Sit outside and watch the spray crashing off Goose Island, long waves rolling up the Gannel Estuary, and the misty outline of Trevose Head in the distance.

Best for small children
This beach is a children’s paradise, with fine golden sands perfect for building sandcastles and swimming. The walk is also suitable for small feet if you can bear to leave the tempting rock pools. From Daymer Bay, head out towards the Norman church of St Enodoc Church which was buried in the sand for many years and is the final resting place of John Betjeman. Keep an eye out for golfers as you cross the golf course and head towards Rock where you can stop for a drink in one of the many pubs, or catch the ferry over to Padstow. Wander slowly back through the sand dunes and look out over the Camel Estuary and the famous Doom Bar, which has wrecked over 600 ships since records began 200 years ago. Arrive back at Daymer Bay in time for a paddle and an ice cream – and back to those wonderful rock pools.

Best for exclusive hotels
St Mawes can be reached via the King Harry car ferry from Feock or by passenger ferry from Falmouth, both providing the feeling of coming abroad to this seaside town popular with those wanting a special holiday in one of the exclusive hotels. An easy walk rambles along Cliff Drive, past apricot coloured roses and walls of tumbling rosemary to St Mawes castle, where the sea sparkles and shimmers in the summer sunshine. Meander along Newton Cliff and pause at the top to look out over Falmouth harbour and the docks. On a Saturday afternoon watch dinghies, yachts and all manner of seagoing vessels race on the river Fal, or go for a sail yourself. Return in time for a cream tea or a cocktail. In these stunning surroundings, any of the exclusive hotels in St Mawes will ensure that your stay is unforgettable.

Best for painters
When the painter Lamorna Birch came to stay here, he decided to take the name Lamorna, so stricken was he by the quality of the light and the stunning seascapes. He was closely followed by other painters who made up the Newlyn School of Painting, and this walk, starting in Mousehole, shows the wonderful views that inspired them. Take in Lamorna Pottery, and their fabulous coffee and cake, before walking down to Lamorna harbour where Carn du headland lies to the left. On a clear day look out over to Tater Du lighthouse and you may see the satellite dishes of Goonhilly in the distance. The path passes through Kemyel Crease, up and down incredibly steep steps before arriving back in Mousehole. Enjoy the magical views out over Mounts Bay and St Michael’s Mount, then take time to enjoy the many galleries and craft shops here and in Penzance. You will return as excited as those famous painters of the early 20th century.

Best for seafood
Cadgwith hit the big screen with the 2004 film, Ladies in Lavender, starring Judi Dench and Maggie Smith as two spinsters who rescue a handsome young man who is shipwrecked and washed up in Cadgwith. Visitors are constantly drawn to this tiny fishing village where crab, lobster and local fish are still caught. The village used to be famous as being one of the most important pilchard fisheries in Cornwall: the old pilchard cellar still stands on the quay beside the pub. Take time to wander round the village and enjoy succulent seafood for lunch. The walk takes in Grade Church, the second most southerly church in England, and continues past the unforgettable Devil’s Frying Pan, a collapsed sea cave where the sea funnels through a narrow arch at high tide – a spectacular sight in a storm.

Chapel Porth
Best for mesmirising views
Climb up from Chapel Porth beach and pause at the top of the cliffs to enjoy the views over the beaches of Portreath and Porthtowan. Further on, come to Wheal Coates, one of the most photographed mine engine houses in Cornwall, and one that adorned the cover of Daphne du Maurier’s Vanishing Cornwall. Further on, come to St Agnes Beacon, where bonfires are lit on Midsummer Eve and other special occasions and on a clear day you can see 30 church spires or towers. From the highest point look westwards to St Ives, and up to Trevose Head near Padstow in the north. Surfers and swimmers alike enjoy the excellent café at Chapel Porth, so return along the cliff path as the sun goes down. Sit outside the café with steaming mugs of tea and cake while nature paints a fantastic backdrop of yellow, red, pale blue and rose pink.

Best for hikers
This is one of the loveliest summer walks, which takes about 3 hours and shows the many facets of the Helford river at their best, with a good variety of walking through woods, fields and creeks. The passenger ferry from Helford Passage (check return times) will take you to the whitewashed cottages of Helford Village, then through Bosahan Woods where the sunlight sparkles white on ivy leaves. Round Antony Head, walk through fields of summer grass and look out at the many boats on the Helford river, then round to Gillan Creek, where beautifully restored gypsy caravans perch on the side of the river bank. Every Good Friday local families gather at the cockle beds around here to collect cockles and other shellfish. This tradition, dating from pre-Christian times, is known as trigging. Continue along the creek to Manaccan where a fig tree grows out of the church wall.

Best for cyclists, horse riders - and historians
This walk is perfect for a summer’s day ramble exploring the mines of this area, and parts of it are also suitable for wheelchairs and buggies. At 3 miles long, the Great Flat Lode was the longest and richest vein, or lode, of tin in Cornwall and part of the group of Basset Mines. World Heritage status for this area was granted in 2006 and has helped provide funding to interlink all the mineral tramway projects in this area. There are many interconnecting walks here, with beautifully preserved mine workings which are safe to explore and information boards provided. Visit Wheal Basset Stamps to find out how the tin ore was crushed, and further on visit South Wheal Frances and associated buildings, some as elegant and regal as cathedrals. These walks provide a fascinating mix of quiet grassy lanes, high open moorland and a sense of Cornish mining history that is all around.

Porth Joke campsite, Treago Mill, Crantock, Newquay, TR8 5QS. Tel: 01637 830213
Treworgans Holiday Park – Cubert, Wesley Road, Cubert, Newquay TR8 5HH. Tel 01637 830200.
Polly Joke is dog friendly all year round.
Daymer Bay - The Camel Estuary is a haven for birds and wildlife.
The Camel Trail winds from Padstow to Bodmin, covering 17 miles: bicycles can be hired.
St Mawes Sailing Club -
King Harry Ferries -
St Mawes Castle -
Lamorran Gardens open Mon, Wed and Fri, April – September 10-5.
Victory Inn – 01326 270324
Cadgwith Cove Inn – Cadgwith, Helston 01326 290513
Helford Passage ferry -
Ferryboat Inn, Helford Passage - 01326 250625.
Shipwrights Inn, Helford Village – 01326 231235
The beach at Helford Passage is not dog friendly in summer.
The Cornish Mining World Heritage Trails are free and easy to use.
Go to
There are several free car parks in the area but beware of open mine shafts with children and dogs.

CT July 2011


A very picturesque part of Cornish history

MollieDog and I went to meet Viv and Titch one sunny Sunday morning but our journey was delayed by a very special birthday – Viv’s neighbour, Alice, was 100, so we had to call in and sing Happy Birthday. Alice was more alert and sparky than the four of us put together, and on that sobering thought we set forth with our sandwiches for Lostwithiel.

On the A390, we headed east from St Austell and approaching Lostwithiel, continued past the traffic lights and turn right at the signed car park, just after the Royal Talbot pub. We went downhill past the fire station and parked round the back near to the park.

From here, we headed uphill out of the car park to cross the main road and took the first right (Duke Street) past the Royal Talbot, boasting a plume of wisteria outside. Duke Street was long, narrow and very steep – at the first junction we continued right past a house called Mount Pleasant on the right. We struggled on past bluebells, primroses, campion, and a plethora of dandelions – or dandelion clocks - which seem to be exceptionally prolific this year. Lords and Ladies (“I thought that was an Arum,” said Viv) nestled in between celandines, overhead birds sang undisturbed by traffic, and all was right with the world – except for the hill that continued up and up.

Eventually, about 100 yards up from the school, opposite Knights Court was a Public Bridleway on the left which we turned into with some relief and passed through a metal gate leading to a narrow, leafy lane. Through another wooden gate we continued along the path where a slight breeze ruffled the baby ferns, shyly unfolding their new leaves to a warm spring morning.

Viv picked a small flower that she thought was a Scarlet Pimpernel but as it was purple, decided it probably wasn’t. It survived the journey home but has so far defied categorisation. The path continued steeply downhill towards a road where we turned right and looked out for a turning ahead. The turning was a long time coming – “You can tell the person who wrote this walk hasn’t done it,” growled Viv, muttering expletives as the road continued up and up, steeper and steeper. The banks were full of the sweet lemony scent of primroses, and in an orchard nearby were a cluster of Gunnera-like nightmare rhubarb.

Eventually we found the turning on our right past a signpost to Lostwithiel, and shortly after a Public Footpath sign on the left through a wooden gate. This led to a path with the most fabulous views over the fields and woodlands, with Restormel Castle peeping out from a cluster of trees.

We vowed to learn more about birdsong, as the birds were so loud they drowned out our chatter. We continued over a ladder stile into a field with a ridged section at the top, with views over Lostwithiel golf course to the right, and Restormel Castle growing nearer. The air here is pure and clear and there is a tremendous, almost giddy-making sense of breadth and depth, of space and height. It’s a place to bring visitors from cities, turf them into the field and say, “Breathe!”

At the end of this field was a notice indicating the footpath through a gate and we turned left into another field then another ladder stile at the end that led into another field. This path, on the right hand side of a field, led through a wooden kissing gate and another very steep ladder stile into a field of sheep (put dogs on leads) - and finally below us was Restormel Castle and car park.

The wealth of Lostwithiel, once the administrative centre of Cornwall, relied on the Cornish tin trade but it was this that caused the decline of the town when the River Fowey silted up with tin waste: as the port of Lostwithiel declined, so did the importance of Restormel Castle. The 13th century circular shell-keep of the castle stands on an earlier Norman mound surrounded by a dry ditch, on top of a high spur beside the River Fowey. It was once a luxurious residence to the Earl of Cornwall and built in the largest deer park in Cornwall.

During the Civil War in 1644, on 21st August, Sir Richard Grenville took the castle from the Roundheads. After this it became ruined and is now in the care of English Heritage – the principal rooms are still in amazingly good condition.

Many thanks to Lorna Trevallion-Law who allowed us in so we could take pictures of the castle and enjoy the wonderful views over the surrounding countryside from well placed benches while we had our picnic. As usual I’d eaten mine so Viv gave me a spare hot cross bun which I felt duty bound to share with Mollie – we have an agreement. We called in to see Lorna on the way out and Mollie and Titch had a good nose round the well stocked shop where poor Lorna was recovering from a bad bout of bronchitis. We nearly succumbed to an ice cream but as we were without cash this proved a good deterrent and the dogs made do with a welcome drink at the dog bowl provided.

Having made more friends, we left the castle, walked into the car park and down a steep narrow road. By this time we had discarded jumpers as the sun was quite strong and we felt smug as we passed various walkers puffing their way up this road – we’d done our fair share of hills for the day.

At the bottom of this road was Restormel Farm and we turned right, hoping to find a footpath to take us back to Lostwithiel. We ended up having to return on the road but we had plenty to look at along the way – the wind rippled through ridges of pine trees towering in the woods up on our right, sounding like a fast running river, while water meadows full of placid sheep lay on our left. At a hole in the wall we noticed two cock pheasants, vying each other for some food. We’d hoped there might be a bit of action but they merely lunged at each other before waddling and squawking off in a huff.

This road was apparently the Royalist route from the castle back to Lostwithiel, but today the road passed Lostwithiel Bowling Club, where the first bowlers of the season enjoyed the peace of the emerald green lawns with Lostwithiel golf course as a backdrop. Soon we reached the outskirts of Lostwithiel and the road led us back to the main road near the Royal Talbot pub. We crossed the road and walked as far as the bridge over the River Fowey, where we found a path on our right which led back along the river bank. The dogs could scamper here off the lead and we basked in the afternoon sunshine, watching for any tales of the riverbank, while a train rumbled by in the distance. A perfect end to a beautiful spring walk.

OS Explorer Map 107 St Austell & Liskeard
Length: 3.5 miles
Duration: 2.5 hours to include visit to Restormel Castle
Grade: several very steep hills. - check website for opening times. Dogs and children are welcome.

Cornwall Today May 2011

Tuesday, May 17, 2011


Trope: in literature, a familiar and/or often used symbol, style, character, theme or device.

“I have a problem with the term 'horror' because it's not a genre, it's an emotion,” says Steve Feasey. “My books are action/adventure stories with a healthy dose of horror aimed at young adults and teenagers.”

Steve's first book, Changeling, came out in 2009. “Since then I've been pumping them out every 6 months, at an average of 80-90,000 words,” he says. “I didn't realise just how much stress I'd be under.” Writing for teenagers and young adults has its own pressures. “Because it's a young audience we are hoping to hit, and there are five books in a series, with a book a year you've lost your audience very quickly because it's unlikely that, if they start to read the books at about 12, they will carry on reading them when they're 17 or 18.” Steve pauses. “We had to strike while the iron was hot.”

It was a television programme that initially sparked Steve's interest in writing. “Post war there were lots (of books) for boys but that had died away and with Harry Potter suddenly people are starting to write for boys again,” he explains. “A lot of the books mentioned were ones that I'd grown up with – Treasure Island and Kipling - and at the end of the programme it was almost like an epiphany. I read lots of fantasy as a teenager and sci-fi and then I moved into horror so I felt I wanted to amalgamate the two. So I just went ahead and had a go.”

As a lifelong reader of this genre, Steve knows a lot about tropes, a term not known to many. “A trope is something that immediately resonates with a reader: they may have come across it before in another form of entertainment – a book or film,” he explains. “As a writer your job is to take those tropes – those recognised elements – and rework them so they fit within your world, the one you are creating for your reader. It's very rare that you get a truly original monster.”

The protagonist in Steve's books is a werewolf called Trey. “Werewolves are a tragic symbol of duality – like Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde - but I think that works incredibly well for teenagers. The analogy of a teenager caught between the child and adult worlds, and a reluctant hero who discovers he straddles the human and supernatural realms is an interesting one, but I wanted to explore it in a new and exciting way.

“I wanted Trey (the protagnist) to baulk at and resist his powers, and not just come across as an all-conquering, two-dimensional superhero. So I explore his feelings and emotions in a way that I hope isn't typical for books that are mainly aimed at a young male audience. Yes, there are gore filled action sequences in the books, but I wanted to really explore the werewolf myth – to take the lycanthrope trope and make it fresh and exciting and thought provoking.”

Horror fiction often features twisted monsters – like Frankenstein - but why do we love them? “I think there's something fundamental in most of us that we just love to be frightened,” says Steve. “That's why there are so many thrill seeking things these days like rollercoasters – we love that moment when it tips over the top edge and plunges down and the adrenaline rushes.”

Steve believes that monsters have that kind of appeal. “They're a trademark; like spaceships in science fiction, good horror uses monsters in the mundane and I think that's when they work really well. Long gone are the days when we have mist shrouded castles in Transylvania – the great thing about modern horror is that it brings the supernatural into your living room and kitchen, into the workplace. I think that's why it works – anybody could be anything.”

Monsters have different purposes. “They can be a foil for bringing the supernatural into the human realm, or you can develop them into a more important character,” Steve explains. “Because horror relies so much on extraordinary events, the protagonist reacts in an extraordinary way and perhaps that's the key: the monsters imperil the protagonist in a way that other fiction perhaps can't, and allows the protagonist to become the superhero that many of us would like to become. In doing so the monster will realise strengths and weaknesses they didn't know they had.”

And they don't just have to be the bad guys. “My hero Trey is a good guy so that's another example of spinning out an old trope. You don't have to adhere to old ideas of what a trope should be. With writing you can rework those old energies yourself.”

Tropes evidently work well within horror fiction, for it seems that the same monsters turn up again and again. “Stephanie Meyer, Marcus Sedgewick, Alex Duval, to name but a few, have all written books that explore vampirism in different ways,” Steve explains. But werewolves differ in that they explore the two sides of man. “The original seed was Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde: the brutal side of man versus the more refined side. Most werewolves explore the question: when the person does change, will they be able to control their animal instincts and overcome the beast?”

Steve believes research is vital when reworking these old favourites. “I did a huge amount of research on old legends and supernatural creatures. That way you can work out which elements you want to keep and which to discard.”

While some might consider horror an unsuitable topic for children, Steve laughs. “Children are the most bloodthirsty creatures you could ever wish to meet! If it was up to them the books would be full of gore but the publishers are aware of the parents, librarians and teachers.”

Looking ahead, Steve has another contract with MacMillan, but this time to write a trilogy. “It's going to be a different genre completely, and I will be doing one book every 9 months, which gives me a bit more breathing space.” He gets a lot of school bookings and is keen to encourage young readers. “I most enjoy talking to the reluctant readers. It's much more rewarding if you can enthuse them to explore fiction.” He is surprised by how many girls read his books, “because I write the book that I would have enjoyed (as a boy). But girls are on the whole much more avid readers than boys and I get very good feedback.”

Steve's literary influences have been Elmore Leonard, Stephen King – and Enid Blyton. “They all understand that the story comes first. You have to appeal to a wide audience,” he explains. “They all hook you in and drive the story forward. As a boy I devoured Enid Blyton's books because she writes short chunky chapters with a great hook at the end that makes you read on.” He laughs. “I remember being under the covers way past my bedtime as a boy because she just didn't let me go and I think great writers do that – they don't let you go.”

Writers Forum 2011

Saturday, May 7, 2011


“I'm a history nut!” says Lynda Small. “I love researching things and I love anything to do with social history.” So it is fitting that she is Chairman of Callington Heritage Centre, which must be one of the smallest museums in Cornwall. “It's in one half of a cemetery chapel.” She laughs, anticipating my expression. “The chapel is in the cemetery and one side is consecrated and we are in the unconsecrated part - the cemetery itself is split into the left side, which is the Methodists and the right is Anglican. The Heritage Centre is basically one room with an attic above and a porch area so we are very small.”

The idea for a heritage centre came about when a local history group was formed in 1984. “The idea was to try to engender an interest in heritage of the whole area,” Lynda explains. “Our interests span all aspects of the social and economic history of Callington and the surrounding parishes which include South Hill, Killaton, St Dominic, St Eve, Stoke Climsland, St Mellion, Calstock and Linkinhorne.”
As well as being a place of interest, the Centre provides resources for anyone interested in the local history, and welcomes visits from local schools, youth groups, and any others. Lynda adds, “It is very much a local centre, but because of the mining history of the area, we get people coming from all parts of the world. Not a season goes past without Americans or Australians coming to research the mining history of their ancestors.”
Callington Heritage Centre was opened on 2nd June 1994 and modernised and re-launched on 22nd July 2006. Unfortunately it was hit by a terrible fire in March 2007 and wasn't able to re-open until 2008. “The fire brigade saved most of the archive, albeit with smoke and water damage, but there is some china that will need professional restoration and we are trying to raise the £5000 towards this,” says Lynda.
The importance of chapel china is not easily understood nowadays. “Methodism was very strong here in the late 19th and early 20th century, and could be part of your entire life, and certainly your social life,” Lynda explains. “There were a lot of chapel teas which were big events and much looked forward to – they all dressed up for them and were on their best behaviour and had their tea using the chapel china.”
So restoring the china is of great importance. “We are being charged £700 to professionally restore one saucer and we don't have the funds for that,” Lynda says. “Often when a chapel was closed, the china was distributed amongst the members, so we need to find these people. We're hoping they might donate or loan some on a long or short term basis - we could come to some agreement about it.”
Because the chapel is so small, the Centre has found that the best way of exhibiting their archive of 1600 items is to put on constantly changing exhibitions, although they may supplement these with material borrowed from the Royal Cornwall Museum in Truro and the Plymouth Museum.
“We've just done an exhibition on Kit Hill which changed throughout the year, and one on the Guides Anniversary, one on Collars on Clothing and a few other smaller ones.” Lynda pauses, her enthusiasm highly contagious. “Next year we are doing an exhibition on Tipplers and Teetotallers – the history of drink in this area. This will include the history of ancient pubs around Callington, the pubs that have disappeared (the Methodists were responsible for the Temperance movement which got rid of a lot of them), the history of the beer mug, and dimples – which were multi faceted beer mugs. They started off in the 19th Century and are virtually disappearing now: the way things are going, beer mugs will disappear too.”
Bottle openers will also be included in the exhibition. “They are quite fascinating,” continues Lynda. “Somebody's loaning some spittoons and we're collecting bar paraphernalia such as old match holders and ways of igniting them. We're not quite certain whether we're going to touch on rum, but we are definitely doing flagons and beer holders, because in the past every town had their own maker of ginger beer and mineral water. There is quite a lot involved but it's very interesting and we're probably putting together a leaflet on it.”
In addition to the exhibitions, the Heritage Centre has many facilities available for the Callington area, which can help towards researching family histories. These include parish registers, census records, cemetery records, directories and surveys, newspapers, Wills and computer records. A huge selection of photographs has also been donated, and all of this information is free, though donations are much appreciated.
“We are entirely voluntary, and a key example of one of the smaller voluntary facilities and services to the community with no funding from anywhere,” explains Lynda. “We do get free accommodation from the Town Council but that's our only support. We have to raise £2,000 just to cover our costs and that doesn't allow us to publish books properly.”
As all their income comes either from donations, membership fees or sales, the Centre needs to boost their membership, which is their only reliable income. “We have the same problem of all museums: people expect to do all their research from their computers,” says Lynda. “It's the problem of trying to get people over the threshold, and because Callington is not a big tourist town we have to keep getting the people of Callington to come back, although we do get some other visitors, and we do put a certain amount of information on the website.”
Volunteers are much in demand, particularly for stewards. “We give training and it's a wonderful opportunity for people to have a good rummage and see what we have,” says Lynda. “If people could give us 3 hours a month that would be an enormous help. We also need someone with IT skills and an interest in history for the website so that we can set up our online shop and update things. And we need someone to organise events.” She pauses. “Ideally, we'd love a nice dry building rent free in the centre of town as we can't accept larger items.”
In these digital times, it's clear that the importance of Callington Heritage Centre cannot be underestimated. “If we don't preserve the heritage, who's going to do it?” asks Lynda. “We can store old papers and records in the correct, humidity controlled environment. We are the focal point: without the Centre all the records would be lost.”

Callington Heritage Centre, Liskeard Road, Callington, Cornwall, PL17 7HA
01579 389506 or e-mail us on
During the closed season it may be some days before messages are picked up.
Open: Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Bank Holidays, 10am–4pm, Easter - end October 2011.
There is disabled-friendly access


The writers' community that's taking Cornwall by storm

“Good words are good words regardless of their purpose,” says Clare Howdle, one of the founders of Telltales. Clare was brought up in Liskeard, but worked in London until 6 years ago. “I didn't plan to come back, but I met Helen Gilchrist, who was setting up Stranger magazine in Cornwall, and everything spurred me on to move back,” says Clare.

Telltales came about through Clare and her friend, Chelsey Flood. “We wanted a reading night which was an inclusive community to welcome everyone to share their writing.” Clare talks quickly, using her hands for emphasis. But Telltales wasn't to be an open mic night. “We wanted a wide variety of writing styles to be profiled alongside each other in a dynamic set which would keep audiences engaged and leave fellow writers inspired. We wanted Telltales to represent first timers and established authors who would all draw something valuable from reading their work out. Finally, it couldn’t be intimidating.”

Telltales started in Babahogs, a tiny cafe in Falmouth, but quickly outgrew that space and is now in its third venue, at the Rum Bar above Nancy's bar in the middle of Falmouth. “Jane Pugh often says it has a New York 1960s boho feel to it with all the candles on the table and I love that idea,” says Clare.

In terms of material to be read out, there are no rules. “It's about the quality of the words, not experience,” says Clare. “As long as it's an original piece of work by the writer, we take prose, poetry, novel extracts, travel journals – any writing that has a creative bent to it. ” Work can be submitted by the website – But Clare aims to achieve a balance. “We get a lot of submissions so I try and make sure we get different people reading out every month – that way we give as many people an opportunity as possible.”

Now people have understood what Telltales is about, the quality and diversity of work has improved. “We wanted to provide the opportunity to aspire to something, which is why we put first timers alongside more experienced writers. So it's about the upwards curve which is where the idea for the Parabola Project came from.”

The Parabola Project is a collection of short stories by Telltale writers. “I've always had a passion for print and a sense of independent publishing,” says Clare, enthusiasm bubbling out of her. “It struck me that after 18 months we'd heard so many talented writers but sometimes, if they weren't practised performers, the audience needed to read it themselves so it was really about wanting to take that talent to the next level in print.” She leans forward, eyes sparkling. “For a lot of writers having something in print is really important and can make a big difference for someone wanting to launch their career or reach a new audience.”

Clare managed to find funding for this project and worked with Venn Creative to make a book that has style and substance. “You don't often see a marriage of imagery and design with words in creative writing, and that makes a big difference when it comes to people picking it up. I was so impressed with how it looks and reads.”

Telltales also featured at the Port Eliot festival in 2009, and Clare had bigger ideas for 2010. “I wanted to be on one of the main stages so in 2010 I pitched much earlier and they scheduled us in the Walled Garden. We were the first literary act and it went down really well and the writers were asked to perform again,” she beams. “It's great experience for the writers to perform in a different environment, and we hope we're doing it again this year.”

Clare's enthusiasm is infectious, and she has many other events planned for the future, including live events at the Poly in Falmouth. “I'd love to do it all day every day but because I do it in my free time I just don't have the hours in the day,” she says regretfully.

But she is delighted at how Telltales has taken off. “More and more people are coming along just to listen and have a good evening. Maybe people who haven't picked up a pen in years will think, 'maybe I could do a bit of writing'.” She finishes her coffee and looks up. “It's really gathering momentum and I want to keep that momentum going. I love to see someone growing into their own writing and sharing their work.”

Check website for future events and next meetings -

Cornwall Today May 2011



“Health is about fulfilling our potential as human beings and part of that potential is our creative potential,” says Jayne Howard. “If we don't fulfill that, it contributes towards all sorts of ill health.”

Cornwall Arts for Health was formed as a charity in July 2001, but didn't become active until 2004. “I was their first director - we've been very active and grown hugely since then,” Jayne says.

In the Arts for Health office are several posters, by people who have been helped by the Arts Response project. “I feel like I was starting a new day,” reads one. “I feel a sense of belonging,” says another. “I felt like I was in a black hole before I started the programme,” and “Every Wednesday was like opening a door into a new world.”

No wonder that this organisation has won two esteemed awards: the Guardian Public Services Award, 2009 and the GSK King's Fund Impact Award, 2010. “The King's Fund is very prestigious in health terms so it's hard for the NHS to ignore that,” Jayne explains. “The King's Fund gave us great training and development which has helped us a lot. The recognition of these awards gives us a lot of confidence and can be a shortcut for people.”

One of the many ways Arts for Health has helped is in changing GP surgeries. “A lot of waiting rooms are often overloaded with notices, dingy, and if you're already anxious they don't make you feel better,” says Jayne. Truro Health Park is a new building which brought together 2 GP surgeries plus a range of health services. “We were involved from the beginning to integrate art into the design of the building,” explains Jayne. “We asked people from the local estates and they said they wanted a sense of the outside and the inside. They really wanted running water which is a very therapeutic life-giving source but there are problems in a health care building with infection control, so we've created artworks that give the illusion of water. When the light plays on the glazed sculptures, it gives the effect of rippled water on the floor but they're not overpowering works of art – they are much more subtle.”

Another area where they have wrought change is in hospitals. “We have found that if people can see nature they recover more quickly,” Jayne continues. “We can't always provide that but we can create the effect of a natural environment and think about the light. In hospital people are over stimulated with some senses and under stimulated with others: there's usually a lot of noise and visual distraction but it's not very interesting. But they are often under stimulated with touch, smell and taste, so it's about trying to improve the sensory aspect.”

Arts for Health have two part time staff as well as Jayne who is full time, “but we have contracts with about 20 freelance artists who deliver work for us.” The artists aren't art therapists, but have to be able to communicate and empathise. “There isn't any specific training but we are looking for a real generosity as an artist so they can share their skills and expertise in order to allow other people to find their own creativity,” explains Jayne.

The type of creativity offered depends very much on the evidence available. “We've seen that singing, dance and creative writing have real benefits for people with dementia, so we try to give people a choice of what media they work with,” Jayne says. People can be referred via a GP or there are leaflets in libraries, surgeries and health centres as well as information on the website.

“Arts Response sessions are for people suffering a range of mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. They run in Truro, St Ives, Perranporth and Bodmin so if people ring up they can just go along,” Jayne says. The sessions take place in a safe environment, with an artist and a volunteer, and people are encouraged to be creative.

“Some of it is about being with other people with similar issues but it's more about being able to create something, and people are often amazed at what they can do,” Jayne explains. “This has a huge impact on their confidence and self-esteem which can translate to other areas of their lives. It's not about being judged.”

Focusing on the creative aspect can have other benefits. “It can allow people to talk about very difficult things and move on,” Jayne observes. “Textiles work very well as it doesn't feel scary but it frees up the mind so people talk and share. One group said it was the first time they'd laughed together and had fun because they weren't just talking about their problems.”

Arts for Health have numerous projects underway, including Memory Cafes for dementia, arts for stroke rehabilitation, a group for siblings of disabled children, and work with the homeless. It might sound like a stressful job but Jayne beams. “It's the best job I've ever had. It brings me into contact with lots of creative people and I like the fact that we can be seen to make a difference for individuals – that is really lovely. The fact that we're quite small means we can be very flexible and quick to respond.”

But, as ever, there is a downside. “Funding is always an issue.” Jayne sighs. “To have security of our core funding would free up a lot of time. Also, the evidence around arts and health is out there but it's patchy and I would like more awareness of what we do.” But she has plenty of plans for the future. “What I want to see in all of our key areas of Cornwall is a regular weekly creative opportunity for people who are experiencing problems. And it's there when they need it, and it's free. We've started but we have quite a way to go.”
Jayne Howard
01326 377772, Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm.
Unit 7, Jubilee Wharf, Commercial Road, Penryn, Cornwall, TR10 8FG


A walk near Land's End with some of the most breathtaking coastal views in Cornwall

One of the many enjoyable aspects of these walks is the friends I make. Anne Pengelly, who runs the plant and vegetable stall at the Farmers' Markets in Falmouth and Truro, always reads these walks and has extensive knowledge of plants.

When I found a strange wallflower, I took it to Anne who said, “I'll ask Brian (her husband). He'll know.” Sure enough, the next week Anne greeted me with a huge wave and a smile and said, “Toadflax!” Not just that, she lent me one of Brian's flower books so I could read all about it.

Anne hadn't done this walk, but I always report our latest escapades. One drizzly afternoon Viv, Titch, MollieDog and myself left Penzance, taking the A30 towards St Just, then turned left onto the B3283 signposted St Buryan. This changed to the B3315 and at Polgigga we turned left signposted Porthgwarra and parked in a private car park.

Porthgwarra is a beautifully unspoilt cove whose sole occupant was a lone fishing boat on the tiny beach: here it really feels as if the clock has gone back several hundreds of years. Despite Viv reading from an OS map and three books, we were unsure of the route, but followed the signpost saying Land's End 3 ¾ miles.

“We can't really go wrong on the coastal footpath, can we?” said Viv - the sort of comment that usually precedes disaster on a grand scale. But as we walked, the clouds cleared and my spirits rose along with some incredibly steep steps. Looking down onto Porthgwarra we saw a boulder perched at the very edge of the cliff, as if it was just about to roll down into the sea.

Porthgwarra is the most south westerly valley in the British Isles, and choughs have been reintroduced to the area but look out for stonechats, meadow pipits, skylarks, jackdaws and buzzards. Adders are also to be found along these paths when it's sunny, so watch your feet and wear walking boots.

For those with vertigo (like me) or with dogs (like us), this part of the coastal footpath is not too close to the cliff edge so not as bad for the nerves. Soon we reached Gwennap Head Lookout Station, run by the National Coastguard Institution and noticed two beacons, one like a black and white rocket aiming at the sky. We were admiring the dramatic views when a voice said, “Want to come up?”

We looked up to see a figure dressed in navy blue uniform standing in the doorway of the lookout station. John Machary showed us around and we watched as a small fishing vessel passed by. “That's Lamorna,”said John, looking it up in a book that lists every fishing vessel and port in Cornwall. “She's out of Newlyn.”

He told us that the beacons are navigational aids and are different shapes according to how they're seen at sea. There is a reef on the way in from a large buoy, and these beacons guide the vessels through a gap in the reef. On a good day you can spot the southernmost tip of the Lizard Peninsula and the Isles of Scilly, 28 miles to the southwest.

Next we had a close up view of Wolf Rock, ahead, and Longships lighthouse, off to our right, through their special telescope. I noticed the NCI have a book where every walker is logged – in case they go missing, presumably. Details such as sex, clothing and hair colour were noted. (What would he put about us?) We could have stayed there all day, but finally we left the warm confines of the lookout station and headed out onto the cliffs.

The cliff face and boulders along this coast are magnificent hunks of granite with large crystal lumps indicating that the magma cooled very slowly, over 275 million years ago. There are numerous examples of lines of weakness in the granite where the sea has eroded the rock causing huge towers of rock, 200 feet high. These cliffs are like castle walls, with huge rectangular lumps of rock and long narrow buttresses. In several places the rock has weathered into strange shapes – we spotted one like an armadillo, another like a turtle, and much of the granite is covered in beards of feathery lichen of the palest green.

Leaving Gwennap Head behind us, we followed the footpath round towards Land's End, noting the next headland of Carn Guthensbrias, and passed through a ramshackle kissing gate in the middle of a granite dry stone wall and took note of a series of coves with magical names: Porth Loe, Folly Cove, Zawn Kellys and Pendower Coves, before arriving at Carn Les Boel and further round, our destination: Nanjizal Bay, otherwise known as Mill Bay.

From here we looked out onto the huge headland of Land's End, feared by most sailors. By the time we reached it, the sun was out and the sea glinted turquoise and aquamarine: the calmness of the water belied how treacherous it could be. As a fisherman said to me, “From Land's End you hope you can get into Newlyn, for there are no safe harbours on the North Coast until you get to Padstow.”

The landscape, looking inland, is very sparse here, bringing to mind Winston Graham's Poldark novels, and indeed little has changed since then: a few distant farmhouses, a sturdy church tower on the horizon. A field of cattle and a derelict house and barns with gaping holes to the sky where the roofs should be.

Despite checking the map, we took a short cut on our return journey which resulted in bad tempers and upsetting a field of cattle. “We'll have a better idea of where we are when the stars come out,” Viv said - a comment that didn't fill me with confidence. Inland a dark storm cloud hovered, so hurriedly we retraced our steps as we should have done - to Ardensawah Cliff on the south side of Pendower coves, then took a path inland. This finally led past a row of cottages to a tarmac path and the valley of Porthgwarra where sleepy violets and wild daffodils greeted us, blackthorn shed its white confetti, and blackbirds and skylarks sang above us.

Porthgwarra valley provided a stark contrast to the drama of the coastal footpath with its several hundred feet of towering granite rocks. Looking out, the sea glinted silver, then blue and green with ribbons of white where the waves crashed on the rocks. Don't miss this walk – it's one you will never forget.

OS Explorer 102 Land's End, Penzance and St Ives
Duration: Approximately 2.5 hours – allow 3 hours for rests, photographs and enjoying the spectacular views.
Length: 3.5 miles
Very steep in places, can be very muddy
Small shop selling refreshments only in summer.
Parking £1.50 per day at time of walking.

If you have suggestions for walks that you would like to see featured in Cornwall Today, please email

Cornwall Today May 2011

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


How Rowan Coleman makes her characters so realistic

“I'm terribly nosy,” admits Rowan Coleman with a giggle. “I am very interested in people: what makes them tick, and their motivations: why people do, think, act and say what they do. I am really interested in how they interact. For me that's the heart of a book.” Which might explain why Rowan's readers find her characters so realistic.

Rowan Coleman worked in bookselling and publishing for seven years before winning Company Magazine Young Writer of the Year in 2000. Since then she has had eight books for women published, including 'The Accidental Mother,' The Accidental Wife' and 'The Baby Group'. She has also had published five books in the Ruby Parker books - a series about a 13 year old girl who happens to be famous. Rowan's first paranormal adventure for teens, 'Nearly Departed' was also published in 2010, written under the name Rook Hastings and has just been selected for the Manchester Book Awards.

Rowan describes her books as character driven, and she puts a lot of time and thought into creating her characters. “Obviously plot is important, but I think if you don't have fully fleshed, three- dimensional characters, then nothing works as well as it should do,” she says. “The characters come from an amalgamation of things I might see on a train or at a bus stop.” Although some of her characters might have been used before. “The character in Happy Homes (her most recent novel) was originally in a short story I wrote for Woman & Home, and I thought she had a lot of potential so I wrote a whole novel around her.”

To start with, Rowan spends several months thinking about her characters. Then she writes a biography for them. “I write down their secret longings, their quirks and flaws, and do that for each main character and it's quite exciting – the further in you get. From the four or five main characters, other characters and plot ideas will be generated. It's like the building blocks for the book,” she explains.

Rowan doesn't have a series of questions but she needs to know how old the characters are, their family background and what they look like, and this comes at the planning stage. “I physically base my characters on people I've seen or know. The character I'm writing about now looks exactly like Keira Knightley – I can't help it, that's just how she looks.” She laughs. “I hope it's positive thinking and it'll be made into a film!”

But it's not just how they look. “Their voices are very clear. The rhythm and tone – and they speak even when you don't want them to, like in the middle of the night.” She pauses and sounds almost apologetic. “If you don't write, I think a lot of people find that difficult to get their heads around. For most writers it's the same: you have these weird personalities in your head that are very real, living breathing people and it's quite hard to talk about that in case people think you need medication!”

Next step, Rowan writes her biographies in a notebook. “I'm dyslexic and the connection between head and hand works better if I hand write it – it comes to about 5 pages per character.” But once she's written that down she tends not to need to refer to her notes again.

The past is always important to Rowan's characters. “My books usually take place over two or three months and always what's gone before is crucial to what is happening now,” she explains. “The book I'm writing now, the childhood and early teens is very significant to the character and the plot.”

Knowing when characters are ready to write about can be difficult, but Rowan is intuitive about hers. “It's when they become independent people, living and breathing,” she says. “When you don't have to think about what they say or how they behave.” Getting to this stage takes Rowan two or three months, but then she will write the entire book (about 100,000 words) in the next two or three months.

Until recently, Rowan only ever showed her work to her agent and editor, but the arrival of another writer friend has changed all that. “We've started an ideas club,” she explains. “We meet every 2-3 weeks and bounce ideas off each other, with the strict understanding that we take only our own ideas away and it's strictly confidential.” She laughs. “You know what writers are like.” This, she finds, helps her see things she hadn't thought of. “I find it really useful: we talk about plot and characters and it gives you a fresh eye.”

Conflict is obviously important in a novel, but something that Rowan finds difficult. “I find it hard to put my characters in terrible situations because normally I really like them,” she says. Even so, she puts her characters through “a heavy helping of real life and real situations” such as rape, murder, drugs, alcoholism and domestic violence. “It makes it more interesting to write: it's more like real life,” she adds. “For me a good story is one the reader falls into, is part of, doesn't want to put down and feels sad when it's finished.”

Feedback from her readers clearly validates what Rowan does. “My biggest thrill is when someone says they identify with one of the characters,” she says. “That to me is the pleasure of writing. I've had loads of brilliant feedback on Facebook and Twitter – they like believable characters that they can relate to, they like the romance, they like the humour.”

She has also found out what some of her readers don't like. “I've been told off because most of my characters are deeply flawed and some readers don't like that. And I very rarely write a neat and tidy ending – there's always ends left untied and some readers don't like that.” She pauses. “I don't think you necessarily have to write for other people – it could be just as valid not to, but I definitely write for other people. That's always in my mind when I'm writing.”

Meanwhile Rowan has a busy time ahead. When we spoke, she was busily planning her wedding in three weeks' time, and is writing another novel for adults. “Then I think I'll tackle something for young adults – I think there's a gap in the market for something that hasn't got vampires in!”

But a busy life obviously suits Rowan. “Writing is just my absolute joy,” she says. “When everything's flowing, I don't think there's a better feeling in the world.”

Happy Home for Broken Hearts is published by Simon & Schuster in August 2010
Immortal Remains is published by Harper Collins in September 2010

Writers' Forum 2010


How Sue Mongredien balances writing adult novels with children's books

“It feels like the Holy Grail because it's really hard to crack,” says Sue Mongredien, “but I love it.” Sue is talking about writing picture books for children – her most recent achievement as a writer of over 100 books, and many more in the pipeline.

Sue's publishing career started in 1992 when she began working for Random House in the children's editorial department. “I began to get a feel for what made a good book,” she says. She started writing a teenage novel in secret “because I didn't want anyone to say 'you only got your book published because you work in publishing,'”. I sent it to an agent under a false name and they sold it – after that, I just got the bug.”

She was commissioned to write much more for children, but it wasn't until Sue had her own children that she started writing adult fiction. “I started an evening class in writing and wrote about how I loved being a mum, but how it was so domestic - and boring in some ways - and that turned into my first novel. I really enjoyed writing a longer piece and exploring the characters and taking them to extremes.” Her first Lucy Diamond novel was published in 2006 and since then she has written for adults as well as children. “I really like that – it's a better balance.”

So what about the name Lucy Diamond? “My first novel was quite racy so I needed a different agent and he said he thought I should use a pen name and keep the genres separate,” explains Sue. “I'd just written a children's story about Lucy and the Diamond Fairy and he said, 'what about Lucy Diamond?' I loved the name, and that was that.”

The disciplines involved in writing children's books are very different from novels. “With picture books, you're very limited – it can be about 300-500 words and it's like a puzzle. Every word counts and you have to think visually,” Sue says. “You can't use descriptions as the pictures have to do the work. And you have to think in terms of a two page spread - there has to be enough story to justify the illustrations.”

Picture books might be short, but the structure is the same as a novel. “They still have to have a plot, and you have to develop the characters - they need to go on a journey but you have to condense it into a much smaller space.” Sue clearly enjoys every aspect of this new challenge. “And it's lovely to have an artist do beautiful pictures to go with your words!”

When it comes to children's books, this is a different practice. “Children's books are about 6,000 words each, and I start with a synopsis, then I do a chapter breakdown, planning out really carefully what will happen in each chapter, which has to end on a cliffhanger,” she explains. “There has to be some movement of the story in every chapter and I chart when it's all going to happen. I find that so useful in children's books, because you can see the peaks and troughs, when the big action's going to happen and build up to the resolution at the end.” Writing for children also means using vocabulary suitable for that age level. “I have to consider if a 5 year old would understand certain words, and if they are a reluctant reader, I really have to grab them from the word go,” she adds.

The Lucy Diamond books are written differently again. “These novels are about 100,000 words each, and I don't really plan that much. I just sort of blunder off.” Sue laughs. “I start off with my characters and I know the theme, and I tend to know how it will end up but not how the characters get there. I work that out as I go along.” She pauses. “There's much more room to explore characters and themes in an adult novel. Often, once I know what's going to happen I go back and plant a few seeds at the beginning and I do quite a lot of editing.”

Because children's books have much shorter deadlines, Sue works on both at the same time, “but the novel is always going along in the background. I quite like working like that – I like the balance and it suits my moods.”

Sue's output is phenomenal by most standards, but she clearly enjoys the different challenges the books all bring. “Last year I wrote one Lucy Diamond novel, about 20 children's books at around 6,000 words each, and one picture book,” she says cheerfully. “A novel takes just under a year, whereas I can write the first draft of a picture book in about an hour but I go over it and over it. A children's book takes about 2 weeks for a 6,000 word book.”

Sue believes her training as an editor has helped her to manage her workload. “The children's books take a short period of time, whereas I'm thinking about the novel all the time - when I'm washing up or doing chores – I even dream about the characters.” She pauses. “Having been an editor I'm always really organised about deadlines. I've never let them waft by.”

The mark of a good story, Sue believes, is very good characters. “Ones you care about, believe in and want to keep reading about. Style is important too: I like a warm style of writing so you feel like a friend is talking to you and that's how I try to write, and engage the reader.”

Sue's workload continues apace, with several more Lucy Diamond novels in the pipeline as well as many more children's books. One of the many things she loves about being a writer is her own children's roles as critics. “They're very earnest, particularly the oldest, who is quite harsh with me now! She's given me loads of ideas and titles which is fabulous.”

Feedback is also very important for Sue. “I get lovely letters and emails from children, and I love going to schools and seeing their faces when I'm reading them stories. When they laugh, it's just brilliant! But I also get lots of emails about the Lucy Diamond books which is fabulous because writing a novel is such a solitary thing.” She pauses. “To have someone write and say 'I really enjoyed it,' makes it all worthwhile.”

Sue's most recent children's series is The Secret Mermaid, published by Usborne.
Sweet Temptation by Lucy Diamond is out now, published by Pan

Writers Forum 2011


How one writer bases his thrillers on a core of fact –
then wraps it up in a contemporary setting

“I've never suffered from writer's block,” says James Becker. “To me one of the most alluring sights is the title of a book on my computer - centred, underlined and in bold type - from then on it's a new adventure.” Which is just as well given that he currently writes three novels a year: mediaeval thrillers as James Becker, Second World War thrillers as Max Adams and mainstream thrillers as James Barrington.

James has been writing thrillers from his home in Andorra since he left the Royal Navy in 1983. “For all the books I try to base the story on historical or current fact and build something around it,” he says. His next Max Adams book is called Right and Glory which is the motto of the Royal Engineers: his hero is a Corporal in the Royal Engineers. “That book was centred round a fort in Belgium called Eben Emael which it took the Belgians 8 years to build using German contractors,” he explains.

“The fort was designed to stop a German advance into Belgium and was an incredibly well defended fort with a garrison of some 1200 men, but the Germans took it in 20 minutes exactly. My guy Sapper Dawson is an explosive expert and he, with an officer, watches the German attack and realises the Germans must have a new type of explosive charge. So Dawson gets into the fort, steals a charge and there's a long race from Belgium to one of the Channel ports to deliver it, dodging the German army.”

James's interest in military matters comes from his time in the Royal Navy. “I was in the Fleet Air Arm for 21 years,” he says. “I joined as a pilot but I had a detached retina in my right eye which stopped me flying. So I ended up doing Air Traffic Control and other jobs.” Although it is his agent, Luigi Bonomi, who suggests what James should write about. “For Transworld, the Dan Brown type of thriller is the sort of thing I'm interested in anyway because at school I did mediaeval history,” James says. “With the Max Adams ones, Luigi was having lunch with my editor who was looking for someone to write Second World War thrillers, and Luigi said, 'oh James will do that, no problem!' So it's not something I had a burning desire to write but something I've always had an interest in.”

His readers tend to know a lot about their subjects, which means the historical background has to be highly accurate. “Without a doubt the mediaeval thrillers are the hardest to write, because there's so much involved working out the historical reality,” James says. “I have a friend who's a specialist researcher so I hand the manuscript over to him. He corrects where I've gone wrong and hopefully at the end it's historically accurate, even if the story is pure fiction.” James adds, “I use Google Earth a lot – you can get a snapshot of what the place looks like and it gives you the topography of the area so you can work out where things should happen. The detail is absolutely invaluable.”

James spends about a month researching a novel and working out the plot, and allows 3 months for the actual writing. When it comes to editing, his wife, Sally, comes in. “She tends to read the first draft with a large red pencil and will put a red line across a page and say Boring or Too Technical.” He laughs ruefully. “She's almost invariably right, so it's one of those things you put up with.” After those corrections, he prints it out again. “I find you see more mistakes on the printed page than you do on the computer screen. The other thing I find strangely helpful is to read it aloud; it's amazing how your ear hears things that your eye doesn't see.”

When it comes to his own literary taste, James tends to go for plot driven books. “The plot is the major part of the book though you need good characterisation. I particularly like good dialogue – for example Jeffrey Deaver – his dialogue is sharp and crisp and his characters are likeable. Nelson De Mille is another one who handle all aspects of the book really well. I tend to read the blurb on the back first and if the plot interests me I will buy it.”

James is under no illusions about his own books. “I make no claims that they are literary giants – I'm a jobbing author and I write straight commercial fiction. They are holiday reads designed for the masses. I hope the readers enjoy the story, I hope they empathise with the characters and I hope they like them enough to buy the next book. That's the bottom line.”

Given the content of his books, James has found feedback from readers tends to be very varied. “The Transworld mediaeval thrillers tend to completely polarise the readers – I either get one star or five stars on Amazon,” he says. “People who aren't very religious really love the books, and those who are religious really hate them. I always include an author's note saying which bit is fact and which is fiction and I try to justify what I've written. I'm not knocking Christianity, I'm saying what they are telling you is not correct - this is what actually happened in first century Judea.”

But he adds, “I get emails from people around the world saying how much they've enjoyed the books which is very gratifying. I reply to everyone because I think if they take the trouble to write to me then the least I can do is take the trouble to respond.”

Looking ahead, James has a busy workload. “I'm finishing The Nosferatu Scroll, set in Venice for Transworld. It's a slight departure from the other books as there's no historical setting - it's a mystery chase thriller with a vampire component. My next project is to come up with 6 synopses for the next Max Adams books and about 6 synopses for the next James Becker books for Transworld.” And as if that wasn't enough - “I also lecture on cruise ships so I'm preparing for two cruises in November and December this year.”

His schedule would make many writers shudder, but James clearly loves his work. “I can remember reading about a writer who was asked, 'do you find you can only write when the muse takes you?' and he said 'absolutely. I make sure the muse is right there over my shoulder at 9am every morning.' Writing is a job – you have to get on and do it.”

He pauses. “I love the freedom of writing. It's an addictive feeling to think – 'Well, what is he going to do now? Kill this guy?' And knowing I can make him do exactly what I want! It's a very exciting feeling.”

The Nosferatu Scroll by James Becker is published by Transworld, 2011
Right and Glory by Max Adams published by MacMillan, 2011
Manhunt by James Barrington published by MacMillan, 2011

On the Water

“'On the water' means every day of my life,” says Diane Bush, a deceptively diminutive figure who spends her days instructing people on motorboats and RIBs (Rigid Inflatable Boats), racing Sunbeams around the Carrick Roads, being part time skipper of the Flushing Ferry and as a member of the RNLI crew at Falmouth. “Before that I was coxswain of the Isles of Scilly Ambulance boat, which is the only boat run by the Ambulance Service,” she adds. “It's a 34ft twin jet propelled catamaran and seen as a challenge even to the local boatmen.”

Diane has lived in Falmouth for the last 12 years and runs South West Powerboating with her partner, instructing powerboat and motor boat training. “We do shore based courses so we can tailor the courses to people's needs. I am RYA trained for powerboats and one of 4 female RYA Yachtmaster instructors for motorboats,” she adds. “The best bit about teaching people is when they get the hang of the boat. The reward on their faces when they've cracked it is wonderful.”
Diane's father encouraged her love of boats when she was young. “On holiday, I'd be on the water the whole time with various different sports and activities,” she says. “I started off windsurfing at the age of 13 because my parents couldn't afford a boat, then my father got his first motor boat when I was 20.”
Having married a sailing addict, I was interested to hear what Diane loves about motorboats. “The time factor is different,” she explains. “You have enough time to shoot somewhere more sheltered. And they're more predictable – you can be somewhere like Fowey in a couple of hours whereas with sailing it can take 4, 5 hours or longer.” She laughs. “It's much warmer in a motorboat and you can shelter from the rain which is useful in this country.” And sailing? She sighs. “I love the peace and quiet of it all. When the wind's in the right quarter, you can't beat it.”
Diane must be the only sailor I've ever met who hasn't managed to get into serious trouble on the water. “I did get caught up on an anchor chain off Mersey Island when I was windsurfing. Thankfully my father was around and dragged me out.” But she was 14 at the time. “I've had a few hairy moments but I've managed to get myself back ashore,” she says cheerfully. “I have to be careful now we've got the school – the last thing I want to do is call the orange and blue boats out.”
Diane's first job was instructing windsurfing at Bude, followed by teaching dinghy sailing. The job as skipper of the Scilly Ambulance was advertised in the West Briton and not one that she ever expected to get. “But I knew I'd regret it if I didn't take it. I had to learn all about the different islands, and pass a Quay to Quay licence,” she explains. “One day, going over to St Agnes, the waves were bigger than the boat so we decided to leave it till another day.”
It was Diane's interest in powerboats which led her to the lifeboats. “I wanted to join the RNLI to give a little bit back and help others out who aren't that fortunate. The most frightening thing was getting to know the limits of the boat – going out in conditions that you wouldn't choose to go out in as a boating person,” she says. “You have to go out in it to appreciate it. But the craft are absolutely stunning.”
Dealing with fatalities is part of working with the RNLI, but Diane is philosophical. “We usually go to the boathouse for a cup of tea after a shout, and if there's anything unpleasant, that tends to be the time when everybody talks about it. Then you go home and everybody responds in a different way.”

But fitting in the RNLI with working life isn't easy. “Because we have this centre, I can't just leave people in the lurch if my pager goes off, so I explain to customers what I do and if they're happy for me to go on a shout, then I'll go,” she says. “Otherwise, I help launch the boat and come back. It's a hard balance sometimes but we're just round the corner from the lifeboat station which makes life easier.”

When it comes to her greatest achievement, Diane grins. “It's getting on the crew. But it's a team effort – there has to be different knowledge and experience or it wouldn't work. I hope I can carry on doing this till I retire – or they kick me off.” She pauses. “The best thing is making a difference to someone's life – you save them, get them medical assistance or treat them.”

But she has advice for those who spend time on the water. “Check the conditions, know your own limits and that of your vessel, and make sure you have the relevant safety kit on - and know how to use it.”

In addition to her many other jobs, Diane and her partner run the Flushing ferry on Sundays “and any other day we're needed.” So how does she fit it all in? She shrugs and grins. “Well, the summer goes by pretty quick.”
As for time off - “I crew on one of the Sunbeams in the summer – they're one of the oldest fleets in the harbour,” she says proudly. “They're very easy to sail – they're well balanced because of their age and it's one design racing so it's not handicapped.”
We're sitting in Diane's office, overlooking the marina. “What I love most about being on the water is the challenge,” she adds, her eyes lighting up. “Conditions are always different which makes for an ever-changing environment. You never stop learning.” She pauses and looks out at the beckoning boats. “If you take the water away from my life, I don't really have much else. It means everything to me.”
01326 211021

Cornwall Today April 2011