Why Cornwall inspired author Vikki Patis
Cornish charms with Vikki Patis
Author Vikki Patis loves Cornwall and from the first moment she visited, she wanted to set a book there. Now, that kind of impact on an author turns into magic on the pages as you will see. Vikki shares her impressions, inspiration and love of Cornwall today and shows how location in a novel can really come alive….
In June 2019, what feels like a hundred years ago now, I booked a holiday in St Agnes, a village on the north coast of Cornwall, with my wife and some friends. I’d studied in Cornwall, finishing my degree at Plymouth University, and so we try to travel down to see our friends as often as possible. We chose St Agnes for the promise of stunning coastal walks and beautiful beaches, as well as its offering of gluten-free food! I was diagnosed with coeliac disease in 2018, which means I have to research places to eat quite thoroughly before travelling anywhere, but luckily St Agnes and the surrounding areas seemed to be able to cater for me.
When we arrived at the place we were staying – an annex of a family home at the edge of the village – I knew instantly that I had to set a book there. At the time, I was working on my third novel (which would become Girl, Lost and was also set in Cornwall). However, but the seed of another idea was planted as soon as I saw the village. By the time we visited Wheal Coates, the old tin mine standing proudly on the cliff, that seed began to grow.
The village is not named in Return to Blackwater House. I had to take some liberties with the layout of St Agnes in order for it to work, and Blackwater House itself is entirely fictional. However, I hope residents and visitors can recognise this beautiful place in my novel. Blackwater House stands slightly back from the cliff, roughly opposite the caravan park, and its back garden looks out across the sea. Wheal Coates is my happy place. During that holiday, we spent hours walking along the coastal path and sitting in the engine house, looking out at the endless ocean. Nothing but sea is a line from Return to Blackwater House, and if you’ve ever visited, you’ll know exactly what that means.
The location is perfect for the story. Situated on the edge of the village, with a back garden opening up to the ocean and the property shielded from the road by foliage, Blackwater House is the ultimate hideaway. Upon inheriting the house, Rebecca gets to work renovating it, which includes turning the garage into an annex for holidaymakers. Cornwall has a difficult relationship with tourism. Although in some ways it relies on the money the holiday season brings in, there are issues with ‘comers in’. the problem is that local people are priced out of home ownership, for example. Rebecca is originally from the village, so she understands the careful balancing act required. As for Kate, the FLO assigned to Rebecca and Daniel when Ava goes missing, is also a local. Together they bring that much-needed representation into the story.
It’s so important to me that we listen to own voices, giving people the opportunities to tell their stories. This is why I gave Rebecca coeliac disease. Following a gluten-free diet is almost always represented as a fad or a joke. However, for 1 in 100 people in the UK, it is the only way to live with coeliac disease. I want to see myself represented in fiction, my own, very real experiences. I am glad to have the opportunity to do so in Return to Blackwater House!
The story starts in autumn, taking us through to early January. Cornwall is a very different place between October and April. As a result, I found that my first experience of the usually bustling county outside of peak season quite eerie at times, particularly when coupled with the moody Cornish weather. I wanted to use the location and time of year to set the tone. This is not a bright, sunny week in Cornwall; it is dark and unsettled, with long winter nights and ghosts crowding the rooms. The walls are closing in, and Rebecca’s secrets cannot remain hidden forever.