People often ask where book ideas come from…a tough question because in my experience they seem to drop from the ether or have been like the grit in the oyster shell. I often say that writers are like magpies collecting shiny bits… be it snippets of witty dialogue, a view, a location or an object. This odd database just sits in the back of the mind until something new arrives and acts like a magnet pulling all this diverse ‘junk’ together. It’s magic, it’s the subconscious and it can be the most tenuous and precious thing in a writer’s life and yet we have so little control of it.
The origins of The Path to the Sea began when my mother-in-law died and we inherited a bursting old notebook filled with newspaper cuttings. A quick glance revealed the bits were recipes from newspapers that had caught her eye and, written on the pages were more of the same with full menus and guest lists. I placed it on my kitchen shelf and thought no more of it except to occasionally touch the spine and think of her.
Fast forward to when writer Brigid Coady was visiting about five years ago. Brigid is my critique partner and often understands my writing mind and work better than I do myself. She pulled the book off the shelf and looked more closely at the detail. No one during the 60s and 70s attending my mother-in-law’s dinner parties world ever have had the same meal twice. She had noted down what worked, what didn’t, seating plans and even what she wore sometimes! What a different world from today. Doing a dinner party once a month is strenuous but she was arranging several a week.
Brigid suggested I write the Cornish Supper Club based on this notebook…but it didn’t feel right. During that discussion my husband reminisced about being in the kitchen looking through the serving hatch waiting for the leftovers of his favourite foods…like pigeon and pea casserole and a chocolate charlotte.
In the ensuing years I wrote four more novels but the notebook and my husband’s memories hung around in my mind. Jump forward to a brain storming session with my agent Luigi. I raised the idea but I didn’t have the thing to pull it together. He told me a story and boom. The Path to the Sea was born and I instantly knew where to set it…Porthpean House where they filmed the Richard Curtis film About Time. Sometimes I think the magpie database in my head works like a random word prompt generator and that’s not far off the truth.
The important thing is to keep the writing ‘well’ fed by listening, looking, touching, moving, reading and living. So much of a writer’s time is alone with paper and pen or keyboard. More time is spent with fictional characters than real ones. It’s easy to find the well dry if it hasn’t been filled by something so simple as a walk in the park. There is much to be said for what I call my #plotwalks. Under the big sky I let my mind wander as the repeated steps release the ties that hold everything down. Connections that weren’t there at the start of the walk will magically be made. I rarely set out with a defined goal although towards the end of editing The Path to the Sea I still hadn’t nailed…what does Lottie want. That almost became like a mantra and it became clear that I hadn’t dug deep enough to find out what she wanted. Knowing what a character wants versus what a character needs is essential to creating page turning tension. For example, a protagonist might want to find a boyfriend but what she really needs is to learn to love herself so she feels they are worthy of love. The tension between what they the character thinks they need – a boyfriend and what she truly need is to love themselves creates and underlying tension as she searches for love in all the wrong places. Another example is a protagonist wanting their old life back when what they need to find a new life that is better for him/her. I eventually worked out what Lottie wanted as opposed to what she needed.
The next struggle was how to tell the story as it has a dual timeline…1962 and 2018. So I had a big house on the Cornish coast, a glamorous period in time, an important notebook and a child who witnesses something that changes her life forever although she doesn’t understand at the time. This all unravels over one long weekend in August be it 1962 or 2018. Three generations of Trewin woman all with secrets but what happens when you discover the secrets? What do you do then? Giving myself such a tight timeline to tell the story was challenging but it focused the story inward and prevented me from heading off on a lovely tangent aka a plot hole. At the moment, I’m trying to figure out the structure for another dual time wishing it could be told over one long weekend. I’m afraid I see a few plot holes ahead…but nothing is ever wasted when writing.
Here are a few tips that help me on every book…
- Make sure to fill you’re writing ‘well’ by reading, listening, looking, feeling and moving.
- Listen to your work – have the computer read it to you (best way to edit at the sentence level).
- Take a #plotwalk every day if you can…the repeated action of walking frees the subconscious.
- Work out your characters needs versus what they want and make sure they are in opposition.
- Remember your first draft is for you only…it’s you figuring out the story. You have permission for it to be terrible…this should free you to get the story on the page.
(c) Liz Fenwick
Writer, ex-pat expert, wife, mother of three, and dreamer turned doer….
Award winning author of The Cornish House, A Cornish Affair, A Cornish Stranger, Under A Cornish Sky, A Cornish Christmas Carol (novella), The Returning Tide and One Cornish Summer. After nine international moves, I’m a bit of a global nomad. It’s no wonder my heart remains in Cornwall.
My books are available in Dutch, Germany, Portuguese, French, Estonia, Norwegian, Danish, Czech, Turkish, Swedish, Latvian, Serbian and Hungarian.
About The Path to the Sea:
Boskenna, the beautiful, imposing house standing on the Cornish cliffs, means something different to each of the Trewin women.
For Joan, as a glamorous young wife in the 1960s, it was a paradise where she and her husband could entertain and escape a world where no one was quite what they seemed – a world that would ultimately cost their marriage and end in tragedy.
Diana, her daughter, still dreams of her childhood there – the endless blue skies and wide lawns, book-filled rooms and parties, the sound of the sea at the end of the coastal path – even though the family she adored was shattered there.
And for the youngest, broken-hearted Lottie, heading home in the August traffic, returning to Boskenna is a welcome escape from a life gone wrong in London, but will mean facing a past she’d hoped to forget.
As the three women gather in Boskenna for a final time, the secrets hidden within the beautiful old house will be revealed in a summer that will leave them changed for ever.
The Path to the Sea beautifully evokes the mystery and secrets of the Cornish coast, and will be loved by fans of Kate Morton and Rachel Hore.
Order your copy online here.