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Alice Fowler’s Guide to The Truth Has Arms and Legs

  • Submitted: 13th March 2024

Alice Fowler –  The Truth Has Arms and Legs

My collection of short stories, The Truth Has Arms and Legs, contains twelve stories, all with different settings. For Author on Location, I’m going to focus on three which mean a lot to me.

The story Something You Need To Know is set on an unspoilt beach on Greece’s Peloponnese peninsula, where baby sea turtles are hatching. They emerge in nests deep within the sand, often metres from the sea. Even if they hatch safely – undisturbed by dogs, cats, BBQs and sun loungers – they face a perilous journey to the water.

Map of locations in The Truth Has Arms and Legs

Zaga beach in Greece (c) Alice Fowler

Zaga beach in Greece (c) Alice Fowler

Map of locations in The Truth Has Arms and Legs

The beach I had in mind when I wrote the story is called Zaga Beach. It lies close to an ancient town called Koroni, which has a ruined Venetian castle, a monastery, and a maze of narrow, stepped streets leading down to a small port, edged with restaurants. I’ve stayed there twice, in the same small family-run hotel. Both times, I’ve got up early to join a group of conservation guides who monitor the turtle nests, working to ensure as many hatchlings as possible survive.

Turtles! (c) Alice Fowler

Turtles! (c) Alice Fowler

Map of locations in The Truth Has Arms and Legs

It’s a moving sight to see these tiny creatures, measuring just a few centimetres, make their short but dangerous journey to the sea. Nearby lights can mislead them, meaning they head the wrong way, up the beach. Dogs, foxes, cats – even humans – may dig up their nests. A passing seagull may snatch one in its claws.

Watching this life-or-death journey, I had to write a story. An idea came when I discovered visitors could pay a small sum to ‘adopt’ a sea turtle. What would make one small family find added meaning in the turtles’ fight for life? From there, my story – about a mother, father and their young daughter – grew.

Inspiration for the No-Eye-Contact Cafe, Calstock, Cornwall (c) Alice Fowler

Inspiration for the No-Eye-Contact Cafe, Calstock, Cornwall (c) Alice Fowler

Map of locations in The Truth Has Arms and Legs

Another story, Tide Change at the No-Eye-Contact Café, takes place in a riverside village in Cornwall’s Tamar Valley. The village that I pictured as I wrote it is called Calstock. It’s a tranquil place, most famous for its spectacular railway viaduct above the River Tamar. I know it well as my mother used to live there.

Merrow Down in Surrey (c) Alice Fowler

Merrow Down in Surrey (c) Alice Fowler

On several visits, I’ve stopped to enjoy a coffee at a small boatyard café on the outskirts of the village. No one was ever there to help; customers were expected to help themselves to coffee, tea and cake and leave money in a box. In all my visits I never glimpsed whoever worked behind the scenes.

Inspiration for the No-Eye-Contact Cafe, Calstock, Cornwall (c) Alice Fowler

Inspiration for the No-Eye-Contact Cafe, Calstock, Cornwall (c) Alice Fowler

Map of locations in The Truth Has Arms and Legs

Back home, this unusual café inspired me to write a story. I invented the character of a lonely, reclusive widow, reluctant to see or speak to anyone; and the photographer who washes up at her DIY café.

Inspiration for the No-Eye-Contact Cafe, Calstock, Cornwall (c) Alice Fowler

Inspiration for the No-Eye-Contact Cafe, Calstock, Cornwall (c) Alice Fowler

Map of locations in The Truth Has Arms and Legs

That story is an affectionate, slightly teasing portrait of a place I’m attached to. It’s also a reminder that nothing stays the same. On a more recent visit, I was sad to find the café that inspired me closed. With spring on the way, I hope it may re-open soon!

Merrow Down in Surrey (c) Alice Fowler

Merrow Down in Surrey (c) Alice Fowler

A third location, for the story Dancing in the Grass, I know better still. It’s a beautiful stretch of downland called Merrow Down, on the edge of Guildford, where I often go to walk my dog. Remarkably, given that it’s hemmed in by houses on three sides, it’s a rare piece of chalk grassland. Chalk blue butterflies flutter, larks sing and, in early summer, wild orchids push up through the sward.

common spotted orchids (c) Alice Fowler

common spotted orchids (c) Alice Fowler

For me, these exquisite flowers are a delight. For the narrator of my story, her passion for the orchids takes a sinister turn. Dancing in the Grass explores an unequal relationship, in which neither party comes out entirely well. I’d say it’s the most uncomfortable story in my collection: written with the sense that I was pressing on a bruise.

Why such beautiful flowers inspired such an unsettling tale is a mystery. It’s the story that emerged as I sat down to write – and shows how location, as much as character, is a powerful creative force.

 

Many thanks Alice for such a vibrant trail!

 

BookTrail Boarding Pass: The Truth has Arms and Legs

Twitter: @AliceFwrites

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