By HOLLY BELL
The Big Weekend
I had a plan. The annual Penseythen, a special weekend for Cornish language learners and speakers, was set for the summer. I’d reserved a beautiful room overlooking Mevagissey Bay. It would be my first visit to Cornwall for many moons. While there, I’d meet fellow students,and ramp up my Kernowek (Cornish). Just as importantly, I’d get a feel for the land, the towns and its people. It was also, crucially, an opportunity to take stills and video for the trailer of my first ever Cornwall-set book to be: Amanda Cadabra and The Strange Case of Lucy Penlowr.
A Twist of Fate
In the delightful realms of my imagination, I’d packed, was on the road, and stopping off at my chosen places for breakfast and lunch along the way. I’d be seeing my Cornish teacher, Kensa, in person for the first time. The excitement was mounting! And then …
The global game changed. As it happened, for me, for the better. More of that later.
Far, Far Away
So, if you want to communicate, either with writing or visuals, about a place you’ve never been or haven’t visited for a long time, how do you do it and still ring true? This is the question with which I was faced.
From West London to the East Indies
I took inspiration from HR Keating, author of the famous Inspector Ghote novels, set in Mumbai. He wrote at least eight of these before he had ever visited India. News of his literary exploits reached the ears of Air India, who offered him a free flight so he could journey to the land of his hero. Keating accomplished his authenticity years before the domestic availability of the internet. If he can do it, so can you and I, especially now that we have the world at our fingertips. But where to start?
New Best Friends
First, your Passepartout: Google Maps. It’s free, and easy to use. Type in the location — it can be as general as a continent — and you’re on your way. The action in my latest novel takes place on Bodmin Moor. I can zoom in and see a map of the towns and the rivers. Satellite view will show me how it looks from the air. Street view puts me on the ground on the roads and lanes. I can see the trees and plants, houses and shops, as though I were standing there.
Second, Wikipedia. I type in Bodmin Moor, and there are links at the bottom of the article to other websites, as well as links in the text I can click on. The secret is to follow your nose. See where your interest and enthusiasm lead you.
On Wiki, you can start your investigation with the history of the location. What are its customs, language or dialect, traditions, costume, food? What makes it different from the surrounding countries or regions? What is the weather like? Is there a difference in the way different generations dress, live, or speak the language?
How Will I Know?
Just write these questions into Google or your preferred search engine. Somebody somewhere has very likely posted the same question and garnered a treasure trove of answers. Alternatively, maybe someone who lives there is just waiting for someone to ask that question. That someone could be you. You could make their day for showing an interest in their corner of the world.
Glorious Global Food
Can you sample the cuisine? Can you buy it, order it in or even make it? For me, that would be pastis, scones and jam with Cornish clotted cream, Cornish Mead, Stargazy Pie, Saffron Cake, and more. Is there a festival, even if it’s just online, associated with that area? In my case, it would be St Piran’s Day.
Watch and Learn
A entertaing way to gather more experience of your chosen location is to watch films set in the area. I watched Doc Martin and Fisherman’s Friends, not forgetting classics such as Jamaica Inn and Treasure Island. In fact, I’ve just found some more! There are also documentaries, and, on YouTube, you may even find walkabout videos made by keen hobbyists and hikers. Let’s not forget Instagram and Pinterest boards. What about stock photography sites like Shutterstock, and iStock? It costs nothing to browse.
Ask questions of the people who post on social sites, and you’ll engage in some delightful interactions and even make some internet friends, along the way with whom you may one day be able to meet up.
Buddies on the Ground
I needed to know what birds and flowers there are, where and what time of year on Bodmin Moor. And what does it smell like, what is on the ground?
Hold on, though, I hear you say. Now we’re getting down to details that you surely need to be there for. Or do you? Actually, no. There are people who live there who can tell you. But how do you find these valuable individuals? And would they talk to you if you did?
Yes. On Facebook, there is a group for practically any place you can name, even for tiny villages. On Facebook, I found the splendid Bodmin Moor a-droos – which mean around Bodmin Moor. It includes actual residents and visitors who regularly walk there, covering all parts of the moor. There are many keen photographers among them. They are delighted to admit a fellow enthusiast for their beloved patch to their group. They will be happy to answer your questions, show you photos, direct you to websites for more information. There are groups for writers where you can ask for more ideas like these.
Lighting A Spark
It’s a wonderful journey and all from the comfort of your favourite chair, desk, or even your bed. One thing is certain: it will inspire you, and your inspiration will spill out onto your page, into your video, into your audience and into your life, infusing you and them with the desire to visit your on-location. And everything begins with a wish.
So, that is how I brought Looe (Parhayle in the books) Talland Bay (Mornan Bay) and Bodmin Moor to life in Amanda Cadabra and The Strange Case of Lucy Penlowr, released last month. I discovered delectable details and encountered kind, knowledgable and generous souls I would never have met if I’ve just been able to go there.
My Cornish teacher moved her in-person class to online. This meant I then had the pleasure of becoming part of a friendly, kind, and lovable group of students who, again, I would never have met if the unexpected had not happened. If you’d like to see the book trailer I created, courtesy of generous photographers I found on YouTube, you can find the link at the end of this article.
And you know, you don’t even have to be writing an article or making a video to do this. Pick a spot and start your journey today. Who knows where it could take you.
Cat adorer and chocolate lover, British author Holly Bell is a photographer and video maker when not creating novels. She had long experience of non-fiction writing before a serendipitous meeting with a successful fiction author. He convinced Holly that she could pen cozy mysteries.
Holly devoured all of the Agatha Christie books long before she knew that Miss Marple was the godmother of the Cozy Mystery genre. Her love of JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings meant that her first literary creation in this area would have to be a cozy paranormal.
Having derived immense delight from the adventure of writing Amanda Cadabra and The Hidey-Hole Truth and its sequels, Holly has more in the pipeline. The sixth book in the series Amanda Cadabra and The Strange Case of Lucy Penlowr has just been released and the next book is already in the plotting.
You can see a trailer here: