Rachel Abbott travels to the Cornish locations in Don’t Look Away
Rachel Abbott’s Cornwall in Don’t Look Away
The crime writer Rachel Abbott talks all things Cornish. Some lovely but lethal locations in the
Finding the perfect locations for my stories has, for me, always been one of the great pleasures of writing. I want to take the reader there – whether to an underground bank vault or to a windy cliff top – so they can immerse themselves in the sights, smells, sounds and the atmosphere surrounding the character at the centre of the scene.
Sometimes the locations are places drawn entirely from my imagination, such as the first book I set in Cornwall – And So It Begins – when I pictured a stunning, modern house, hanging from the side of a cliff with wall to ceiling windows looking out over the ocean, but in Don’t Look Away, much of the action takes place outside, along the wonderful cliff walks looking out over stormy seas.
In fact, in Chapter 1, a young boy falls from the cliff into a swirling sea and swims into a cave, waiting to be rescued, and as I walked along the South West Coastal Path, I could picture the scene. I didn’t have a visual reference for the skeleton he finds there, though!
Nancy, the main protagonist in Don’t Look Away has reluctantly returned to Cornwall to stay in a small cottage owned by her late aunt, and although I couldn’t find the exact property, I took inspiration from the cottages of Mousehole, stone built, often painted white, with coloured windows and doors.
The closest town to Nancy’s cottage needed to be vibrant – a place she could go with friends. But it also needed a beach, because her mind is flooded with memories of her teenage sister, Lola, who disappeared from her aunt’s cottage eleven years previously.
When deciding how this town might look, I took inspiration from St Ives, a beautiful, vibrant town. The location in my imagination didn’t match precisely, but it was an excellent starting point and a popular holiday destination.
During my research trip, I admit to spending a reasonable amount of time finding the best restaurants! But in fact, this was very relevant to the story. At one point, Nancy is eating in a restaurant with a friend when she sees someone who she believes has been following her. When she leaves the restaurant, there is a man she has seen once too often leaning on the railings opposite. These scenes came directly from a visit to this restaurant in Port Leven. I remembered the amazing meal we had, and for some strange reason could picture the railings opposite, where the man is leaning, arms folded, watching Nancy.
Many of the tense scenes in Don’t Look Away take place when Nancy takes a walk along the coastal path, and for this I was able to recall my own experiences during a research trip. It wasn’t the best of days, with a thin drizzle falling, but it didn’t stop me drinking in the atmosphere. Every glimpse of the sea from the coastal path was enticing, and as I live in a property surrounded on three sides by the English Channel I am constantly fascinated by its changing moods.
The path itself revealed surprising secrets, with footpaths disappearing into the undergrowth, steps cut into the soil, and even a broken gate that seemed to lead nowhere.
Nancy, however, was focused on reaching one destination: the cove where she used to meet her lover; the place where he told her he never wanted to see her again.
When thinking of the perfect location, I dreamt of a steep path down the side of a cliff, a cottage nestled into the hillside above a sandy beach. It needed a headland, because on the other side there were the caves – essential to the story.
My thoughts and research led me to this location – Kynance Cove.
In this photo, the waves are washing up on what is a sandy beach, but the sea with all its moods and its ability to climb up the rocks at high tide is crucial to the story.
The climax of the story takes place in this area, when lives are in danger and Nancy discovers a secret from her past that fills her with horror.
There is nowhere quite like Cornwall for dramatic scenery, and with its every changing moods, it lends itself perfectly to my psychological thrillers.