When I was a girl, we holidayed in a pilot’s cottage on the edge of a cove in north Cornwall, where the water seemed to pool petrol-blue and deep each morning then disappear as it slithered across the sand all day. Behind us the cliffs were high: a headland where you were buffeted by the wind and the sky stretched from Land’s End, to the west, and all the way up to Devon. Infront of us, the estuary shifted: silvered puddles of water then ribbons of sea, and as the waters grew deeper, a mass of charcoal ocean through which fishing trawlers chugged, drawing seagulls in their wake.
Beyond the sea, there were fields and a farm: a low-slung stretch of granite seen on the horizon. Our stay would often coincide with the harvest and I would watch the progress of the combine as it trundled through the fields of barley all week. The air was thick with the smell of crushed camomile, dog rose and gorse, and the shoreline casually offered its gems: jewel-like anemones; blennies and crabs; a shoal of mackerel, spiralling through the water; a pair of seals, spied from the cliffs as they basked on the salt-lashed rocks beneath.
Years later, I took my then-boyfriend to this place. “Why didn’t you tell me this place existed?” he asked me. Later still, we began to stay, first in the cottage, then on the farm with our kids. And as the lane opened up to offer a view of the estuary, and I spied the cottage where I holidayed as a child, I would always have the same response. “Oh no,” one child would say. “Don’t tell me,” my husband would look incredulous. “Oh yes,” the other would add. “She’s crying again.”
My over-emotional, some might think excessive, response is not just due to the beauty of this spot – though, on a cloudless day, it takes my breath away – but to the fact that this place is packed tight with memories. A world over-invested with positive emotions: the place I remember feeling so very happy as a child. And so, when I decided to write about an isolated farm on a stretch of the north Cornwall coast, it was inevitable that my memories of this place would feed into it.
The Farm at the Edge of the World, to be published on June 30, is the result.
Here’s the blurb:
The farm sits with its back towards the Atlantic; a long stretch of granite, hunkering down. For over 300 years it has stood here, steeped in the history and secrets of one family. A farm at the very edge of the world.
1939, and Will and Alice are evacuated to a granite farm in north Cornwall, perched on a windswept cliff. There they meet the farmer’s daughter, Maggie, and against fields of shimmering barley and a sky that stretches forever, enjoy a childhood largely protected from the ravages of war.
But in the sweltering summer of 1943 something happens that will have tragic consequences. A small lie escalates. Over 70 years on Alice is determined to atone for her behaviour – but has she left it too late?
2014, and Maggie’s granddaughter Lucy flees to the childhood home she couldn’t wait to leave thirteen years earlier, marriage over; career apparently ended thanks to one terrible mistake. Can she rebuild herself and the family farm? And can she help her grandmother, plagued by a secret, to find some lasting peace?
This is a novel about identity and belonging; guilt, regret and atonement; the unrealistic expectations placed on children and the pain of coming of age. It’s about small lies and dark secrets. But above all it’s about a beautiful, desolate, complex place.
If you want to read any more about its inspiration, I blogged about my Cornish farming ancestors here.