Friday, 18 December 2015

Emylia Hall - guest post

Today we're delighted to welcome Emylia Hall back to the blog to talk about the joys of the out-of-season seaside .....

The highs of low season

I spent several weeks in Cornwall’s far west when I was writing The Sea Between Us, and my most atmospheric trips were undoubtedly outside of the summer, times when beaches belonged to the dog-walkers, the hardy surfers, the watchful gulls. There were no tail-backs in the lanes then, and the palms of Penzance blew like ribbons in the wind. I had a week in rain-lashed early April where, bar one day of sparkling sunshine, I hid beneath the hood of my Parka as I tramped coast paths and clambered down to rocky coves that were yet to see spring. There was another week in November, huddled up on a writing retreat I ventured out into the bright light and cheek-slapping cold for restorative yomps between all the words. Then we had a few days in December, just before Christmas – more pleasure than writing business - where we showed my baby son the fabled Mousehole Lights. As he slept bundled up in his pushchair we drank cups of mulled wine and warmed our hands on pasties, wandering the steep streets at dusk, breathing in curls of wood-smoke and that delicious salt-heavy air.

Mousehole Christmas lights
Much as I love the sweet blaze of summer (oh the patchworks of beach towels, the splashing of pot-bellied toddlers, the tan-bodied surfers with wetsuits rolled to their waists, the rainbow ice cream and the crackle of barbecues and the coconut scent of sun-cream!) there’s something about the winter months that make staying by the sea feel… intrepid. I like to soak up whatever the elements throw at me, lift my face to the wide open sky, let my ears thrum with the crash and roll of surf. Then I hunker in the cosiest spot I can find as my nose runs, and my fingers and toes sting their way back to feeling, and that first sip of beer, tea, hot wine, feels like some kind of a reward. Never has the inside-outside contrast been so happily felt.
Sennen winter

The Sea Between Us came out in August, and the sunset on the cover evokes summer’s end. Certainly it’s filled with sunshine - days where wildflowers wilt in the lanes and rock-pools are warm as a bath – but the sections I perhaps enjoyed writing most are where I let the weather rip. Robyn zipped up in a winter wetsuit, bristling with cold as she bursts into the water with her surfboard. Rain coming down all over the headland as Jago’s torch-beam searches for someone they’ve lost.
Wipers squeaking as Robyn and Jago drive home together in the mizzle. The story moves though seven years, and we see the residents of White Sands and Hooper’s House over several Christmases. There are holly berries on the cliff-tops, salt-spray on bobble hats and wellington boots. Snowflakes melt as they touch the water. People huddle closer in the winter months, and at Christmas, perhaps more so than at any other time of year, they try to tell each other that they matter.

I put lots of the things I love about a coastal winter in my story, and although I no longer have the excuse of research, I’m heading to Cornwall again in deepest January, to work on my new book. It’s not a sequel to The Sea Between Us, rather it’s set during an Italian summer – but the combination of blasting weather and cosy bolt-hole, stirring seas and whirring mind, makes for my kind of writing retreat. If I’m feeling brave I’ll channel Robyn and pack my board along with my notebooks. At the very least I’ll feel the wind coming off the water and let it fill me up, propelling me forward and onwards. Cold hands, warm heart, keep writing.  

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