Location, Location, Location
No... not the TV show, book locations.
I've spent the last two weeks away from home. The first week I was on the Devon/Somerset border and the second week I was in Cornwall.
If you're a regular reader of my blog, you'll probably know that I was on a Writer's Retreat for the first week at Northmoor House, near Dulverton. Not only was I in Lorna Doone territory, but Northmoor is the inspiration for Mill Grange in Jenny Kane's popular series. I spent a lovely afternoon with Jenny, tramping around the grounds while she pointed out all the locations I'd read about, including the chickens (who - just as Thea discovers in the book - make extremely good listeners. Yes, I did go and have a chat with them to talk about a plot problem, which they helped to resolve!)
Cornwall, is of course well known as the location of several of Daphne du Maurier's books. I had already read Jamaica Inn before we went, I'd read both Rebecca and My Cousin Rachel as a teenager and while we were there, I read Frenchman's Creek. There was something magical about walking through the trees alongside the creek with a slight mist in the air, just as it was getting light. I could imagine Dona walking down from Navron House and coming across La Mouette moored up in the creek. Much to my delight, there was an old boat laying in the mud, rotting away - not quite La Mouette, but close enough to fire the imagination.
We also drove over Bodmin Moor in the driving rain and it was easy to see how Mary had got lost following Joss and how it had provided such inspiration to du Maurier herself when she stayed at the Inn. Indeed, just reading about the history of the Inn gave me the plot of my own book, which is quietly brewing away while I work on the current novel. Although we didn't make it into Fowey, where du Maurier lived and we didn't see her beloved Menabilly, I will definitely be re-reading Rebecca and My Cousin Rachel when we go back down to Cornwall in February. I may also have bought a copy of Jamaica Inn from the gift shop, purely so I could say I'd bought it in the place the book was set in.
With regards to Northmoor, I am going back again in March and am sincerely hopeful that by that time I will be approaching the end of the novel it inspired for me and I will be able to use my time there to fact and location check everything.
My final word comes from the master herself. I had forgotten quite how beautiful du Maurier's prose is and she is in her element when setting the scene. The opening to Frenchman's Creek is one of the most beautiful I have ever read and appeals to my love of location description. Having now walked along that particular path, I can confirm that her description is perfect, not only in the literary sense, but in capturing the essence of that isolated spot.
When the east wind blows up Helford river the shining waters become troubled and disturbed and the little waves beat angrily on the sandy shores. The short seas break above the bar at ebb-tide, and the waders fly inland to the mud-flats, their wings skimming the surface, and calling to one another as they go. Only the gulls remain, wheeling and crying above the foam, diving now and again in search of food, their grey feathers glistening with the salt spray.