The difficult second novel
It is autumn time and on a peaceful Cornish beach, Finn and his sister Ava defy planning regulations and achieve a childhood dream when they build themselves an illegal beach hut. This tiny haven will be their home until Ava departs at Midwinter for a round-the-world adventure.
In the town, local publican Donald is determined to get rid of them. Still mourning the death of his wife, all he wants is a quiet place where he can forget the past and raise his daughter Alicia in safety. But Alicia is wrestling with demons of her own.
As the sunshine fades and winter approaches, the beach hut stirs old memories for everyone. Their lives become entwined in surprising ways and the secrets of past and present are finally exposed.
Some places are so beautiful you forgive them for occasionally trying to kill you. For me, that place is Perranporth Beach in Cornwall. Two miles of tawny sand. A saltwater lido built into the rocks. The kind of surf that even Australians admit is worth a trip. Mysterious caves that bleed into the old mine workings. A cross-current that will have you halfway across the bay in a couple of minutes. Towering black cliffs with the occasional sign saying things like “DO NOT CLIMB THESE CLIFFS”, “NO, REALLY. DO NOT CLIMB THESE CLIFFS” and “IF YOU CLIMB THESE CLIFFS YOU WILL DEFINITELY DIE, YO”. A tide that, with the wind and the full moon behind it, pours up the beach in a great foaming rush, faster than you can run.
My dad’s a Cornishman, and my whole family spent every summer of my childhood with our grandparents in Falmouth. Every day my brother and I were five minutes from the beach and six minutes from the ocean, throwing ourselves in and out of the waves, digging terrifyingly deep holes, going to chapel on Sunday mornings with our grandparents – immersed in these glorious Other Lives we’d somehow been lucky enough to be given. And – because we were kids and contractually obliged to be ungrateful – we spent really quite a lot of time nagging our parents to take us to the North Coast, so we could go to Perranporth and look at the caves and go body-boarding and get lost in the beauty and occasionally almost die.
The sea off Perranporth’s had quite a few things off my family over the years. Once we slightly misjudged the speed that the tide was coming in, and had to run all the way up the beach to escape the surge, and the sea took my best bucket as tribute. (For the record, it was an excellent bucket. Bright yellow with a green handle, in the shape of an actual castle, with windows and a door and crenulations and everything. I hope the mermaids were grateful.) Once it took my bodyboard – just ripped the tie right off my wrist, I’ll have that thank you, and then it rushed off towards the horizon and my board was gone for ever. The biggest thing it ever tried to take was my mother, when she was climbing round the rocks on the headland and a giant wave nearly washed her off the rock. She was saved by my brother, who grabbed her as the water went over her head – so we compromised on her shoe, which the wave slurped off her foot as it retreated. It also stole a decent chunk of my heart, which – along with my bucket, my bodyboard and my mother’s shoe – now lies somewhere in the North Atlantic, just off the Cornish coast.
I think most writers, at some point in their lives, have the specific fantasy of running away to live in a special tiny space where only they and their writing materials will ever be allowed. Apparently Winston Graham wrote his wildly successful “Poldark” series in a little hut overlooking Perranporth Bay. That sounds beautiful. But if I could choose, I’d want to build a little closer to the ocean, and take my chances with the tides.
“The Beach Hut” is published by the brilliant Legend Press. It’s available from bookshops, direct from the Legend Press bookstore and from Amazon, in both paperback and Kindle editions.