In the spring of 2013 my husband and I rented a cottage from Classic near St Buryan. Tucked at the end of a farm track, The Coach House Cottage made the perfect base for exploring the far west. I was just starting work on a new novel, a love story set in Cornwall, and my intention was to immerse myself in the area. 'The Sea Between Us' is my third book, and as with my others (The Book of Summers and A Heart Bent Out of Shape) the idea began with a place – and, specifically, a picture within a place. An image of two people had lodged itself in my imagination - a girl and a boy sitting atop a granite rock, staring out to sea, the Atlantic crashing and rolling before them. I knew it was their story that I wanted to tell.
When I was a child we once holidayed in Marazion, and every day we walked the coastal path, haring across deserted beaches and alighting on hidden coves. We lived in a rural part of Devon but Penwith, with its russet moors, wooded copses and huge surf, was something else. It was wilder than we were used to, and wonderful with it. I fell in love with Cornwall on that holiday and, without realizing it, the seeds were sown for a future story. Returning as an adult, the place was every bit as magical as I remembered it; the idea for my novel took root, and grew into 'The Sea Between Us'.
While staying in St Buryan we roamed every which way. As we took the cliff path from St Loy’s Cove to Lamorna we were swiped by rain and high winds, but nonetheless sunshine-coloured daffodils danced at our feet. We were treated to days of radiant sunshine at Porthcurno and Sennen, and ran into the sea with our jeans rolled up. We parked at Treen and found our way to Pedn Vounder, clambering down the steep rocks to discover the most perfect of coves. Back then my novel had another name and, for luck, I traced it in the sand, and there it remained until the waves took it.
After the St Buryan stay in the spring, we rented another Classic house that summer, 4 Bowling Green in St Ives - we’ve now booked the same place three times. I’ve so many happy memories from these trips, and in some form or other they’ve worked their way into my writing. Pushing my sleeping baby through the quiet streets of The Island at first light, then body-boarding at Porthmeor, spitting saltwater and whooping for joy. Coffee and Brownies from the West Beach Bakery, just as it opens, while watching surfers turn their tricks in the swell. Eating every kind of fish, hanging out in all the cafes, exploring back street galleries. Sitting in a sheltered spot in Barbara Hepworth’s garden, eyes closed, dreaming, as gulls wheel and cry overhead. I worked on my first draft sitting in a converted attic room, sunlight streaming from the open window, feeling as though I was living in a Ben Nicholson painting – the tumbling rooftops of the town, the sea running to the sky, a mug of Smugglers Brew tea on the table in the foreground.
While 'The Sea Between Us' is a story of girl meets boy, it’s also a love letter to the coast, and the corner of Cornwall that I’ve come to know and treasure. What makes the far west so special is, for me, the remarkable blend of landscape, surf, and art. It’s rugged and beautiful, it’s daring and imaginative, it’s both stirring and serene. I hope something of this particular spirit can be found in my novel - there’s certainly a secluded cove, dawn surfs, and plein air painting. And while I no longer have the excuse of ‘research’ I’m headed back to Penwith again this summer. In fact, I can’t imagine a year ever passing again without us winding our way westerly. Some love affairs, you see, are meant to last forever.
Want to read more? There's a video trailer and synopsis here, where you can also order your copy.
Emylia Hall is an author, avid reader, Devonshire lass and lover of Cornwall.