Author Emily Barr reveals how Cornwall kick starts her creativity
There is nothing quite like sitting on a Cornish beach, chewing the end of your pen as you stare out to sea, and writing inspired ideas down in a notebook.
The fresh air invigorates your thinking, the shifting water calms your mind, and suddenly the story starts to take shape. You start frantically scribbling in your book as plot holes resolve themselves.
The landscape here is a wonderful setting
And then I wake up. In reality, writing in Cornwall is like writing anywhere else: you need to shut out the world, stare at the work in progress, drink your bodyweight in coffee and swear under your breath at the realisation that you still have 47,000 words to write and a looming deadline. Nonetheless, writers tend to spend a lot of time looking out of the nearest window, and what you see from a Cornish window can be distracting enough for the chapter to be finished with relative serenity. Not only that, but the landscape here is a wonderful setting for characters to go about their dramatic lives.
I have lived in Falmouth for six years, and am working on my thirteenth novel: much as writing is inevitably a solitary indoor pursuit, Cornwall is an inspiring place to live and work. I adore the light, even on a misty day. I love having the Atlantic ocean all around. There is something magical about being at the very end of the country, on the edge of the continent, teetering on the brink of thousands of miles of ocean. The long shadows on the beach on a winter afternoon make the scene otherworldly, halfway to fairyland.
Cornwall is rich with writers, past and present
In a literary sense, Cornwall is rich with writers, past and present. My favourite novel is Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne Du Maurier, which is set on the Helford Estuary. It tells the story of a disgraced society wife, Lady Dona St Columb, coming to her husband’s estate in Cornwall and meeting a dashing pirate whose boat is moored in the creek (something that happens to me all the time). The setting is a character in itself, and the book is a glorious love letter to the area as well as a breathtaking adventure.
Numerous writers have taken inspiration from a Cornish setting range: they range from Patrick Gale to Rosamunde Pilcher, who is single handedly responsible for bringing many many German tourists to Cornwall. Not only that, but there are many people living here who love to write, as a sideline, because they feel a compulsion to put pen to paper. I teach creative writing courses here from time to time, and am always amazed at the talented writers who come along: Cornwall attracts and inspires writers and would-be writers.
I loved the sleeper train so much that I set my novel there
And, of course, that there is not a single motorway in the county, there is only one city, and there is an enormous amount of seaside. If you are here, you might as well write a book. London is 300 miles away: to get there takes at least four hours by train. I used to try to drop my children at school, occasionally, in the morning and dash to London in time for a lunchtime meeting with my editor. I would always be running late, texting en route about train delays. When I discovered that there is a night train, that you can go to sleep in Cornwall, in a comfy bed with a duvet, and wake up in London at seven am, my life was transformed. I loved the sleeper train so much that I set my novel there.
But that, as they say, is another story.
Find out more about Emily Barr's novel 'The Sleeper'.
Emily Barr's Insider Guide
What do you love about most Cornwall? The light. It’s different here from the way it is elsewhere in the country. Particularly on a sunny winter’s afternoon, being in Cornwall can be magical.
Must see sight? St Michael’s Mount off the coast of Marazion. How often do you get to walk at low tide to an offshore island? Not only that, but the castle contains a room called the ‘Chevy Chase room’.
Must do experience? The ferry between Falmouth and St Mawes. A straight line between the two places goes directly across the water, and the ferry service does the journey in 20 minutes. Travelling across the water with the wind in your hair and a castle at either end of the journey is breathtaking and very good for the soul.
Most people don’t know but… If you’re travelling between Falmouth and St Mawes on the ferry, although the ferries stop running at around 6pm, you can use your return ticket on the water taxi, and so enjoy a night out and go back across the water at whatever time you like.
Good value tourist ticket you can buy? The National Maritime Museum Cornwall, in Falmouth: as tickets are valid for a year, you can go back with children every time it’s raining, and they love playing in the lifeboat and standing at the top of the observatory tower.
Souvenir you must take home? Armfuls of Cornish-set books, from one of the wonderful independent bookshops, eg the Falmouth Bookseller.
Local delicacies to try? Sit in the Waterfront pub in Falmouth with chips from Harbour Lights and a drink of something local. Life feels good.
Local tipple? Cornish sparkling wine - surprisingly impressive!
Best viewing spot? The Hub in St Ives, upstairs by the harbour. Sit back, enjoy a lengthy lunch, and look out at the sun reflecting off the water.
Best place to explore on your own? Anywhere that involves a walk along the coast path - ideally a stretch with a pub at the end of it.
Best place to see with a guide? I have never seen anywhere in Cornwall with a guide, but I would like an expert to show me the ancient monuments in West Penwith, and to tell me all about them.
The best place for shopping? I love Penzance, with its mixture of independent shops, budget shops, and lovely pubs. There are not as many chains as you get in town centres elsewhere, and I am constantly diverted into odd-looking places with windows crammed with interesting things.
Where is a must-visit which will keep the kids entertained? Sennen. The beach is wonderful and has life guards, there is a lovely café, and you can walk the mile to Land’s End along the coastal path, avoiding the parking charges, and let the children loose in the brilliant playground.
Anything else? The sleeper train that runs between Penzance and Paddington makes the 300 mile journey a joy. If you pay the extra for a cabin.
Emily Barr, has three children and now lives in Falmouth, Cornwall. Once a journalist for The Guardian, she has now followed her dreams and written 12 fantastic books, her latest being 'The Sleeper' set in both Cornwall and London.