During the past two weeks I’ve been sleeping in a tent in a field on the south coast of Cornwall, in the place where my third novel is set. I’ve been holidaying with friends and family, and writing, and all the time making mental notes of the subtle changes in weather, the habits of local birds; watching fun and frolics among the lucky people who come to this beautiful place each year. The five families with whom I have holidayed have now left, as have my husband and two children, and I remain on my own in a one-man tent, with little more than eggs and boil-in-the-bag rice. But it’s all okay because I have some writing to do. By next Thursday, I hope to have my first draft complete. In the meantime, here are a few things that I have learned:
You can make your desk anywhere with any view, as long as you’re comfortable. Every other morning, I’ve sat down on mossy springy grass on the side of a tumbling promontory, overlooking the sea, and have written until my bottom hurts and my calves burn.
Close by to my outdoor office, the gulls swoop down to deposit piles of small bones from the fish that they eat.
A limpet has a home, a scar on the rock, to which it always returns. At high tide it goes out to graze and uses its tongue to eat the algae off the rocks, only to return to the exact same spot some hours later.
This has been the summer of stings: baby stinging nettles on the lawn of the campsite that have stung the base of the children’s bare feet.
The sun can set and disappear in the time it takes to smoke a roley.
At times the night sky is so clear here that you can see the milky way stretch from one horizon to the next. ‘Saturn and Mars are in my skyline,’ says Christopher.
We’ve talked a lot about tombstoning, as the kids found their confidence, some for the first time, to jump from the rocks at our local beach. I found myself doing the same. It was exhilarating and terrifying, and left me shaking, and my nose dribbling seawater for hours afterwards. But it didn’t stop me from doing it again. ‘Why fall off a rock when you can jump from it and make it fun?’ says Christopher.
Swifts populate our campsite, and are extraordinary in that they spend the whole of their life in flight, only touching down to reproduce. They stay aloft day and night, through the winter and summer. They even sleep on the wing.
We saw a magnificent electrical storm come in over the sea. The lightening pulsed through the sky for hours. The locals said they’d never seen anything like it. The Cornish like to talk about the weather.
There are often hijinks before a storm. People are riled up; the energy is nervy and exciting.
Spring tides come every two weeks after the full and new moons. The word comes from the Saxon word ‘sprungen’ to ‘spring’ or ‘burst forth’. Two days after the quarters of the moon, again fortnightly, we have the neap tide. ‘Neap’ is from a Scandinavian root meaning, ‘barely there’ or ‘hardly enough’.
‘My skirt,’ I commented as we sat in a restaurant one night, ‘has just about everything on it: fruit juice, wine, oil, beef blood and mucous.’
Yes, the white crests of wind-blown waves look like horses manes (apparently, I’m not the first person to notice this).
There’s a blowhole that runs from one side of a rock to the other, like a ten-meter tunnel. It’s cold down there and the waves echo as they enter and retreat. If you’re a strong swimmer, you can go into the black water and come out the other end on one breath. I am not a strong swimmer.
The primary schools in Penzance are good, I am told.
St Michael’s Mount was once surrounded by forest, and not the sea as is now the case.
Cowries are very tiny pretty shells, which are quite rare. If you find one, kiss it and give it back to the beach. A tower shell makes a very pretty tattoo.
The Cornish for sea cave is fogo, ogo or gogo.
If I continue to drink wine and eat chocolate every night, I will become quite roly poly.
‘What’s not to like?’ asks Christopher.