Travelling to The Couple at Causeway Cottage with Diane Jeffery
Devon, Ireland and Causeway Cottage
Diane Jeffery is here today to talk about Raithlin Island in Devon, and Northern Ireland where she has set her novel The Couple at Causeway Cottage.
Kat and Mark move to an island off the Northern Irish coast for a new beginning. It’s the perfect place to bring up the family they’re longing to start.
But as soon as they arrive, cracks begin to appear in their marriage. One of them is lying , the other one is keeping an explosive secret about the past.
The couple in Causeway Cottage are hiding something – and the truth can be deadly…
Setting plays a major role in all five of my novels. In some of my books, I use a dual setting and catapult my main character into a place where she feels she doesn’t belong. Belonging and the sense of home are recurrent themes in my books. As I’m originally from North Devon, this is usually the place that represents home in my novels. As a British expat living in France, it’s also the place I think of as home and I’ve been known to get quite homesick!
The Couple at Causeway Cottage, my fifth novel, out on 18th August 2022, is the second of my novels to be set in Northern Ireland, where I spent a lot of time growing up. The Silent Friend is set in Belfast and Lyon, France, where I live, and The Couple at Causeway Cottage is set partly in North Devon … but mainly on Rathlin Island.
I visited Rathlin Island several times as a child, then again more recently, shortly before the first lockdown, with my parents, husband, kids and dog. We hiked all around the island. The views were breathtaking and the weather was beautiful. But my mind was whirring, wondering what it would be like to live here in the winter, when storms can cause islanders to be stranded – either on the island or on the mainland. When I got on the ferry to leave Rathlin that day, I knew I would set my next novel here. Even before the characters took form in my head and the plot came to me, I had a clear idea of the setting.
Rathlin Island is a small, boomerang-shaped island and the only inhabited island off the Northern Irish coast. As such, it’s a rather unique setting for a novel. Northern Irish authors Bernie McGill and Bernard McLaverty have both used Rathlin as the backdrop to their historic novels, but, to my knowledge, The Couple at Causeway Cottage is the only modern-day novel to be set here.
My main character Kat Fisher, who, like me, is from North Devon, and her husband Mark move to Rathlin Island to be closer to Mark’s ailing mother and also for a fresh start. Both Kat and Mark have family ties to Northern Ireland and they’re also harbouring secrets, which they would like to keep buried, but which threaten to resurface. One of those secrets could be deadly …
The novel opens with Kat’s first glimpse of the island from the ferry. She wonders if she has made a mistake in accepting to move here. She has never seen her new house – Causeway Cottage – or even set foot on the island itself. But she’s a keen photographer and dreams of making a living from her hobby. Rathlin will provide the perfect environment for this goal, with its abundance of wildlife and bird species as well as its stunning views. It’s also a place she can escape to – from her frenetic life in London, where she worked, as well as from Mark’s clingy ex-wife.
In my novel, the setting really is a character in its own right. I can’t imagine having set this novel anywhere else. The sense of place grows as Kat’s character develops and Rathlin provides an emotional landscape for Kat’s story. Her mood and temperament often reflect the weather, for example, when she’s stuck inside her cottage for three days upon arriving due to torrential rains, but she’s itching to get out and explore her new habitat. Furthermore, the weather and landscape affect the decisions she makes as well as her indecision at times.
But the setting doesn’t always work with Kat, in harmony; at times it works against her, in counterpoint. While she appreciates Rathlins’s beauty, Kat soon feels lonely and isolated. She wonders if she will always feel like an outsider here or if she’ll eventually fit in. Before long, she realises that she’s in danger but she doesn’t know who she can trust. One of the most climactic chapters takes place on the night a storm unleashes its fury on the island with Kat getting caught in the gales and a violent downpour. The ferries can’t operate and, as a result, not only can Mark not get home, but Kat can’t get away, either. She’s trapped and frightened, a prisoner in the very place she escaped to at the start of the novel.
The Couple at Causeway Cottage is my lockdown book and writing it provided essential escapism for me. I’m holding a book launch on Rathlin Island on 27th August, the day of the Rathlin Run, which features in my novel. I can’t wait to go back there!
BookTrail Boarding Pass: The Couple at Causeway Cottage