Cornish Summer Memories from Gilli Allan

Posted on: August 10th, 2018

To celebrate the paperback publication of One Cornish Summer Gilli Allan tells us about her Cornish holiday…

What Cornwall Means to Me

I can’t think about Cornwall without remembering my mum. Give her a bucket and spade and a stretch of sand ideally with a stream running across it, and she was off.  Vast sand-castles, and complicated waterworks, would soon emerge.  We all joined in, but she was the enthusiast.

My memories of our Cornish family holidays have been greatly enhanced by my father’s photographs. He took colour transparencies. Mounted in glass they were looked at once or twice via a projector, but then they were put away never to be seen again. Since his death nine years ago, I’ve been able to copy the majority of these pictures and transfer them to the computer, opening a window onto my childhood.

Buying our first car was the catalyst that began our yearly visits to Cornwall.  Until then holidays were taken closer to home, to Kent Coast resorts we could travel to easily by coach or train. On one memorable occasion my dad even hired a car but it turned out to be a bit of an old banger, threatening to stall in disgruntlement whenever faced with a hill. The tribulations of our journey to Dymchurch were not improved by my mother. She may well have been an impressive civil engineer, but she was a poor map reader. We got lost, arriving instead in Folkestone.

I was eight, my sister twelve and my brother four when the second-hand Wolsely arrived and the family summer holidays in Cornwall began. I can still remember the leathery smell of that car, and the whine of the windscreen wipers during those interminable drives. My brother was always car sick multiple times, the map-reader’s skills still fell short of the bad-tempered driver’s expectations. Despite this, the blue and gold idyll of Cornwall remained an irresistible draw, beckoning us back year after year.  We would always stay on a farm in those days, offering us suburban children further unfamiliar sights, sounds and experiences.

I loved Cornwall then, I love it still, even though the tiny fishing ports and seaside hamlets have changed from working villages to more sprawling conurbations, more focused on the holiday trade than the locals. I remember Mevagissey and Polperro and Padstow when they were truly quaint and quirky and unselfconscious – when the fishing industry was still a vibrant force. I remember when there was still a cattle market in Wadebridge – always a good alternative option for a wet Wednesday (or whatever day of the week it was held!).

When my son was very small we didn’t take many holidays and certainly not to anywhere as far flung as Cornwall! But when Tom was five my mother booked a house share for us all on the western headland of Treyarnon Bay. ‘Us’ constituted her and my father, me and my husband, and Tom. Also due to accompany us was my mother’s mother – my beloved Nan – whose own forebears were Cornish, according to family legend.

But my mum died suddenly and entirely unexpectedly three months before the start of our holiday. We still went, but it was strange. My father drove too fast around the narrow lanes as if he had a death wish.  My memory of my Nan was a silent, chain-smoking presence, her face screwed up and staring from the huge windows that looked out onto the wonderful view. My husband and I tried to make everything as fun and normal as possible for Tom.  We went for walks, went beach-combing for wood for the open fire, and I made a huge and elaborate sandcastle.

We have continued to go to Cornwall, but far more infrequently than in my own childhood. But I have never tired of cliffs walks and the crashing surf. The implausible emerald and violet water in Kynance Cove is burned into my memory from the first time I saw it, as is the romantic charm of Helford.  The majesty of Bedruthan steps never fails to take my breath away, nor the appeal of a windswept yomp over heather and rocky outcrops to the top of Rough Tor.

But the image that always comes first when I think of Cornwall is of those early childhood holidays and my mum building sandcastles.

Known as Nell, wife and mother, Eleanor fears change, but it is forced upon her by her manipulative husband, Trevor. Finding herself in a new world of flirtation and casual infidelity, her principles are undermined and she’s tempted. Should she emulate the behaviour of her new friends or stick with the safe and familiar?

But everything Nell has accepted at face value has a dark side.  Everyone – even her nearest and dearest – has been lying. She’s even deceived herself. The presentiment of disaster, first felt as a tremor at the start of the story, rumbles into a full-blown earthquake. When the dust settles, nothing is as it previously seemed. And when an unlikely love blossoms from the wreckage of her life, she believes it is doomed.

The future, for the woman who feared change, is irrevocably altered. But has she been broken, or has she transformed herself?

Here’s the book link

Gilli Allan started to write in childhood, a hobby only abandoned when real life supplanted the fiction. Gilli didn’t go to Oxford or Cambridge but, after just enough exam passes to squeak in, she attended Croydon Art College.

She didn’t work on any of the broadsheets, in publishing or television. Instead she was a shop assistant, a beauty consultant and a barmaid before landing her dream job as an illustrator in advertising. It was only when she was at home with her young son that Gilli began writing seriously. Her first two novels were quickly published, but when her publisher ceased to trade, Gilli went independent.

Over the years, Gilli has been a school governor, a contributor to local newspapers, and a driving force behind the community shop in her Gloucestershire village.  Still a keen artist, she designs Christmas cards and has done some book illustration. Her novels – TORN, LIFE CLASS and FLY OR FALL are now published by Accent Press. All three have won a Chill With a Book Award.

Liz here…I’d also love to see and hear about your Cornish Summer memories. If you use the hashtag #OneCornishSummer  and tag me on Facebook, Twitter(@liz_fenwick)or Instagram  (@liz_fenwick)you’ll be in with a chance to win a copy and a bottle of Curio Rock Samphire Gin. (by joining the giveaway you confirm you are over 18). Winner will selected on 12/8/2018.