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Writing What You Know – My Date with Daphne, Part IV

Alas, today we shall conclude our long walks on the beach with our gal Daphne. If you joined me for Parts III, and III of this series, I hope it’s been worth your while and that you’ll indulge me for one last post full of odds-n-ends on du Maurier’s corner of Cornwall. We’ve covered some key real-life settings of her novels Rebecca, The King’s General, The House on the Strand, and My Cousin Rachel, as well her novella The Birds, and today a few more tales have a chance to make their appearance, along with other sites significant to the area’s notable inhabitants.

To start, if we backtrack a bit from Menabilly and Gribbin Head to look out on St. Austell Bay, we’re amidst the stretch of coast where Daphne du Maurier walked her dogs daily:

This last one I have to throw in as my beloved “Goonies shot.” Tell me it doesn’t totally look like the end of the movie! Sing it, Cyndi: “Good enough…for me, it’s…good enough…for you…it’s good, good enough…”

The views over the bay from these cliffs are described in The House on the Strand and Rule Britannia.

Retracing our steps along the coastal path toward Polridmouth beach and beyond, we wind our way through more farmland (and might have to dodge some horned cattle like it’s Pamplona) until the town of Polruan comes into view on the hilltop as we approach the Fowey estuary. Before descending all the way into Fowey, though, let’s cut over to where St. Catherine’s Castle keeps watch over the sea:

This fortress was commissioned by King Henry VIII as part of his south coast defenses, and it was utilized yet again during Victorian times and WWII. It is here that Janet Coombe frequently climbs in du Maurier’s debut novel, The Loving Spirit, to look out to sea, watching the ships and seeking freedom—for it’s here that she feels “Nearer to something for which there was no name, escaping from the world and losing herself, mingling with things that have no reckoning of time, where there is no today and no tomorrow“…

*sigh* I confess that I myself tucked into a hidden, grassy spot here to sit and rest my weary feet as I, too, felt the freedom of seeing nothing but the water’s expanse, hearing nothing but the wind and waves. Ahhh…but it’s time to hit the trail again, so join me as I return to the path and descend into Fowey. At this point, it leads us right into Readymoney Cove—from the looks of the homes here, you might assume the name has something to do with the seeming affluence of this joint. But, actually, “readymoney” derives from a Cornish word meaning “pebbly ford”:

The cove was historically a landing place for goods shipped to Fowey and is where Lady Dona flees in Frenchman’s Creek. Directly inland from the cove is the Readymoney cottage where du Maurier lived with her children in the early 1940s prior to moving into the Rashleigh family’s Menabilly estate:

Isn’t it so cute? It was here that du Maurier wrote Hungry Hill. And if we venture into Fowey along the Esplanade that begins here, we’ll ultimately pass the lovely Fowey Hotel (a favorite of du Maurier’s with a stunning view from its tea garden) with the house of Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch (a Cambridge professor of English Literature known as “Q”) just across the street:

It was here that du Maurier established a good friendship with Q after Sunday tea, and, when Q passed away in 1944 having left his novel Castle Dor unfinished, his daughter asked du Maurier to complete it. The real Castle Dor is also located in this area around the River Fowey.

Before I conclude this literary journey of Daphne du Maurier’s Cornwall, I would be remiss not acknowledge, with the utmost of reverence, two special sites also to be found in the vicinity of the coastal path we’ve followed. The first is located not too far from where we’re standing in Fowey—if you’ll kindly backtrack with me to Readymoney cove, up the hill toward St. Catherine’s Castle, and just up a little further, I’ll show you a little, easily-overlooked trail heading steeply uphill into the thick of the trees and brush here…bringing us to the quiet, rather hidden resting place of the Rashleigh family who once owned all this land and each house that du Maurier occupied here:

And if we walk further back along the coastal path, it’s not too far inland from the inlet of Polkerris (which we explored in Part II) where, behind a rusted gate and along a short wooded trail, we’ll chance upon Tregaminion Church. This was the Rashleigh family chapel (originally part of the Menabilly estate) and where Daphne du Maurier’s family held a private memorial to mark her passing in 1989:

As seems so fitting in light of how much we’ve seen this area meant to the author and her life’s work, du Maurier’s ashes were scattered on the cliffs near her Kilmarth home.

If you’re a writer, I hope that this series has inspired you to look around your own stomping grounds more closely in case you’ve taken them for granted as a valid setting for your stories. Your local environment has perhaps not struck you as enthralling or inspiring, but try digging into its history more deeply, looking at it through a different lens as you evaluate what about it makes it home in your heart (or what could make it a heaven or hell for someone else). You never know what story-worlds could be built upon the foundations of your real one.

Or, at the very least, hopefully I’ve inspired you to visit Cornwall. 😉

I owe a HUGE debt of gratitude to Encounter Cornwall for providing the self-guided walking tour that led me not only through this fascinating Cornish terrain, but the dynamic landscape of Daphne du Maurier’s imagination.

PART I

PART II

PART III

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Writing What You Know – My Date with Daphne, Part III

“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.”

Ah, the famous first line that lured me into the Hitchcock film, then to the novel it originally came from and had me dreaming of going to Manderley…

Well, I got pretty darn close.

As you may already know from Part I and Part II of this series, I’m playing unofficial-cyber-tour guide through Daphne du Maurier’s Cornwall this week. Yesterday, we hiked through the old marshland and priory of du Maurier’s novel The House on the Strand. Today, we’ll venture uphill and onward into Rebecca and The King’s General territory.

Our tour picks up from where we left off in Tywardreath. Hoist that backpack and make sure you have plenty of drinking water and something healthy to snack on as we climb this hill to venture into those in the distance…

Once we make it out there and follow the coastal path a ways, we’ll again pass beneath du Maurier’s Kilmarth home, from which all this gorgeous rolling farmland dips down into the sea.

For a while it appears it’ll just be the grass, dirt, livestock, sweet air, and sea keeping you company, until eventually you round a bend and lo and behold: Polkerris.

Polkerris goes by “Kerrith” in Rebecca and makes for a lovely little beach spot (and bathroom break because this is your last chance for a while…). The Rashleigh Inn there is named for the family that owned all this surrounding land as of the 16th century and who had originally utilized Polkerris to house old pilchard cellars and the fishing fleet. In The King’s General, this is the site of Richard Grenville’s escape to France on a boat, only to return ashore to be with Honor Harris.

Continuing south on the coastal path, some ups and downs and twists and turns will bring the Gribbin Head tower into site (built in 1832 for the safety of mariners). Standing below it, if you turn your back on the sea, you can take in the vast expanse of land surrounding Menabilly:

Now, what’s the big deal about Menabilly that I strained my eyes close to popping trying to find that large Elizabethan manor hiding in the trees? To start, Menabilly is the main Rashleigh family estate where du Maurier lived for about 25 years. She adored the home and raised her children there, but, alas, had only been able to lease the property, as the Rashleigh descendants never put it up for sale. I believe it wasn’t too long after du Maurier’s husband passed away that she likewise received the heart-breaking news she had to vacate Menabilly so the Rashleighs could reclaim it. It was then, in 1969, that du Maurier moved to nearby Kilmarth.

Walking from the Gribbin Head tower toward Menabilly and Polridmouth beach.

These fields and valleys between Gribbin Head and Menabilly feature in du Maurier’s Rebecca, The King’s General, and My Cousin Rachel. The farmland to the left is where du Maurier was inspired to write The Birds when she saw a flock of birds swarming around a farmer on his tractor. Menabilly itself inspired and featured in The King’s General as a Royalist stronghold during the 17th-century English Civil War. It was centuries later in 1824 that renovations commissioned by then-owner William Rashleigh uncovered a skeleton in Cavalier clothing of the Civil War period; it was the remains of a young man who had evidently been in hiding in a chamber at the base of a buttress. This is the skeleton I mentioned yesterday that’s buried in the Tywardreath churchyard (where there’s also a memorial to the real-life Honor Harris) and gave du Maurier the idea for her novel’s dramatic ending.

But also…Menabilly is Rebecca’s “Manderley“! And it’s back there somewhere in that cluster of trees, but I’ll be damned if I could find it; it’s just as concealed as Manderley is described in the book, though not nearly as large and extravagant as depicted in Hitchcock’s film:

What I could get right up close to, however, was further along the coastal path, which leads down to Polridmouth beach. It was at the boathouse here that the infamous Rebecca of the novel of same name carried on her infidelities and ultimately met her death (not a total spoiler there—you know she’s dead from the beginning). The shipwreck where Rebecca’s body was found was also in this bay:

Polridmouth beach (left) and Rebecca’s boathouse (right).

View of the bay from Polridmouth, with Gribbon Head in the distance.

An actual shipwreck that can be seen at Polridmouth at low tide.

Polridmouth is also the beach at which the Roundhead foot soldiers amass and await rescue in The King’s General. Alas, they are left at the mercy of locals, including those from the Cornish town of Fowey, where we’ll travel onward to in my next post.

In the meantime, sit for a spell at the beach, perhaps fix yourself a lovely picnic, forget the darkness of our dear Daphne’s tales, and just enjoy the breezes and waves. Ahhh…

PART I

PART II

PART IV


Writing What You Know – My Date with Daphne, Part II

If you were so kind as to join me yesterday for Part I of this “My Date with Daphne” series, lace up those hiking boots for a literal and literary journey through Daphne du Maurier’s old stomping grounds in Cornwall. Today we’re hitting the trail for her novel The House on the Strand.

Our tour begins in Tywardreath. Tywardreath—pronounced tower-dreth—derives from a Celtic word that originally meant “house on the sand”:

The Benedictine Priory of St. Andrew was founded in Tywardreath in the 12th century, and the parish church (pictured below) was dedicated in the 14th century. The church/priory accounts for much of The House on the Strand’s early description and is the stopping point for one of protagonist Dick Young’s drug-induced travels in time. While his consciousness is exploring the old priory back in the 14th century, his body is physically wandering the 20th-century churchyard, where the Vicar taps Dick on the shoulder and wakes him to the present.

This church also figures into du Maurier’s novel The King’s General—in the book, its graveyard serves as a cache for weapons during the Cornish revolt against Parliament, and it’s the actual burial site of a skeleton discovered in du Maurier’s Menabilly home, which in turn inspired The King’s General’s ending.

For those of you who haven’t read The House on the Strand, its main character Dick and his friend Professor Lane frequently take an experimental drug that causes the mind to time-travel, if not the body. It consistently takes the men about 600 years back in time, and their 14th-century wanderings lead them into awkward if not dangerous circumstances in 20th-century places. In addition to the churchyard, below are a couple more such locations:

The house on Polpey Lane where Dick (soaking wet from wandering through the marshes in his drug-induced state) awakes to a very confused modern-day postman.

Treesmill Farm, where Dick frequently returns trying to find the lovely 14th-century Isolda where she lives in the House on the Strand. Once an old ford when the original southern Cornish coastline extended much further inland, Dick crosses the water only to wake up in the middle of a modern-day road, where he’s almost hit by a car.

The train tracks just down the road from Treesmill where Professor Lane’s “time traveling” inadvertently leads him into the path of an approaching train.

The changing coastline and landscape over the centuries was a fascination for du Maurier, so The House on the Strand gave her ideal opportunity to research this and play up the contrast as her main character travels between two time periods. The locations below are examples of areas that were once underwater:

The old marshland has left behind a residual creek, which you cross when following the Saint’s Way path north out of Tywardreath.

Following the creek-side trail west toward Par leads you to the vicinity of the 14th-century shoreline where Dick Young witnesses Oliver Carminowe’s ambush and murder of Otto, Isolda’s love interest.

Par Beach, located just below Tywardreath and which was once part of a broad estuary. It since clogged up with silt from mining waste to create this barrier against the sea that helped reclaim much land from the seabed.

From Par Beach, we continue south along the coastal path to pass below Kilmarth, where Daphne du Maurier and her character Dick Young lived at the top of the hill. Dating back to the 14th century, the house’s original owner (Roger Kylmerth) and the occupant just prior to du Maurier (a scientist, who left behind a basement full of odd jars containing things like embryos) provided key inspiration for The House on the Strand. Roger is fictionalized as Dick’s “guide” through the past, and Professor Lane is the fictional present-day owner of house who allows his friend Dick to holiday there and whose experiments in the basement include the time-travel drug in question.

Kilmarth, as viewed from the road high above the coastal path.

Time to depart The House on the Strand and continue along the coastal path to the real-life influences of Daphne du Maurier’s other works…if you’ve stuck with me this far and are keen for more, see ya tomorrow!

PART I

PART III

PART IV


Writing What You Know – My Date with Daphne, Part I

Young Daphne du Maurier (about 1930) Русский: ...

Daphne du Maurier (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Well, it’s April, and the Monkey has climbed back up its tree. The branches up here are budding, and I’m likewise hoping to turn a new leaf and make this spring a productive one of blogging and creative writing. Until now, travels, hosting, and craploads of editing have derailed me; I recently finished my first freelance edit and am presently juggling two simultaneous manuscripts for the publisher. Having to donate my eyes and brain to others’ work makes it difficult to write my own stuff, but it’s always a learning process and always satisfying to at least be working on something that’s getting published.

In any case, last August when I’d found myself in a similar predicament, I’d whisked myself away to Cornwall for a solitary writer’s retreat (“A Cage of One’s Own“). I found myself doing more hiking there than writing, but even that activity was steeped with literary inspiration. I was walking in the footsteps of British author Daphne du Maurier and her characters, you see, and learning a great deal about how a writer’s environment can effectively influence the settings of his/her stories. I’d promised way-back-when to blog about this and totally flaked out, but now I really have no excuse considering I just returned from an Easter holiday weekend spent at the very same location in the very same room-with-a-view! I brought my husband this time so he could also hike the trails and find much-needed respite after completing one hell of an intense graduate program. Thus, ’twas a time of needed togetherness, not for me to go all reclusive-artsy-fartsy and climb into my turret to write.

Yet the breezes off that dynamic coastal landscape still carried the sweet inspiration of Daphne, so, starting this week, I’ll finally share with you my summer photo-journey of the real-life settings featuring in so much of her work. du Maurier lived in three homes between Par and Fowey (Menabilly, Kilmarth, and Readymoney) that were not only the places where she wrote, but also where she wrote about. Menabilly and Kilmarth housed her characters as well, which I find really validating considering my own two manuscripts are set in actual apartments I’ve lived in. I at first viewed that as a rookie comfort-zone, writing-what-you-know in the extreme, but the fact is, my stories are set in these places because these places—their distinctive features and histories—are what initially inspired my stories. So, why not? Daphne did it.

I’ve admittedly only read three of du Maurier’s novels, but her writing resonates with me. Weaving dark tales with beautifully crafted language, she managed to write commercially appealing plots with literary merit—which, in my opinion, is the ideal to aim for. Of the novels I’ve read, my hands-down favorite is Rebecca, which I first experienced through Alfred Hitchcock’s faithful screen adaptation of same name (du Maurier’s novella The Birds was likewise adapted into another not-as-faithful Hitchcock film of same name). A few years ago, a random stroll through Daunt Books in London resulted in leaving with Jamaica Inn in my hands (which takes place at the actual inn in England’s Bodmin Moor), and my return to Daunt soon after for The House on the Strand is what ultimately led me to choose the wee village of Tywardreath (the book’s setting) for my Cornish holiday.

And Tywardreath is where we’ll begin tomorrow as we travel a bit of southern Cornwall to view the inspiration behind du Maurier’s The House on the Strand. Dress warm, pack light, and wear some comfortable walking shoes. 🙂

PART II

PART III

PART IV


From Sentiments to Sentences – Part II


Hiya!  I’m back from where I left off yesterday. Hopefully I didn’t leave anyone in a great deal of suspense, as this post will only reek of anticlimax :).

What I was about to continue yammering on about last night, at any rate, was that sentimentality is not the only way my past informs my writing.  To start, yes, I’ve had a lovely life—I’d be an ungrateful twit not to acknowledge that and count my blessings every day (I know, la-dee-frickin’-da, right?)—yet to be honest it concerned me this would hurt my writing, make it too naive, idealized, and anything otherwise be too two-dimensional and cliché.  And that’s a very valid concern…

I couldn’t help but peek ahead in my very-neglected Room to Write book, where on page 90 Bonni Goldberg says:

“Where we come from influences both what we write and how we write. […] This is why six people can describe the same tree differently. Each person sees it through a unique set of experiences.”

And then she warns that:

“Cliché seeps into writing when writers forget or neglect to bring who they are into the piece.”

This reinforces what eventually got me over the above concern.  Everyone’s life brings something to the writing desk, and maybe some of things I don’t understand first-hand consequently don’t have a place in my writing. Maybe this, then, helps me narrow down my focus, find my creative niche where what I do know can be optimized.  OR maybe what I don’t know presents that extra intellectual-emotional challenge that could be enriching to explore further through research and imagination, as when a method actor immerses into a new role.  In that way, I don’t have to be so pigeon-holed after all.

Then there is the simple fact that, despite general trend, my life of course hasn’t been entirely rosy! I know pain, heartache, depression, and have sharpened my teeth around anger and resentment pretty well in my day…I may idealize the past out of sentimentality, but I’ve also brought in the darker emotions from the tougher experiences I’ve had—case in point being the “writing-as-therapy” I mentioned yesterday. As a result, my protagonist shared in my own downturn, and in a way we worked through it together.  Then, when I succeeded in pulling out of mine, I could outstretch my hand to lift her out of hers.

I’m not going to do the writing prompt today, but the exercise on that above-mentioned page from Room to Write asks us to write about our origins, beginning with, “I come from.” In doing so, we’re to also consider the sensory details coinciding with our memories that, by virtue of experiencing them, have impacted who we are.

Now, to put my teacher-cap back on briefly, I can’t help but recall from this a poem I had to teach my sophomores during a unit on discovering our cultural identities and identifying how they shape our individual frames of reference:

Where I’m From, by George Ella Lyon

I am from clothespins,
from Clorox and carbon-tetrachloride.
I am from the dirt under the back porch.
(Black, glistening,
it tasted like beets.)
I am from the forsythia bush
the Dutch elm
whose long-gone limbs I remember
as if they were my own.

I’m from fudge and eyeglasses,
from Imogene and Alafair.
I’m from the know-it-alls
and the pass-it-ons,
from Perk up! and Pipe down!
I’m from He restoreth my soul
with a cottonball lamb
and ten verses I can say myself.

I’m from Artemus and Billie’s Branch,
fried corn and strong coffee.
From the finger my grandfather lost
to the auger,
the eye my father shut to keep his sight.

Under my bed was a dress box
spilling old pictures,
a sift of lost faces
to drift beneath my dreams.
I am from those moments–
snapped before I budded —
leaf-fall from the family tree.

In “An Interview with George Ella Lyon,” the poet says:

“If I weren’t from Appalachia (or from my family and my genetic expression and my experience — I don’t know how to separate these), my writing — and I —  might be bolder.  I might live in New York or L.A. and push it more. As it is, I’ve chosen to stay close to home and to be somewhat restricted in what I’ve written and/or published.  I anguish a lot about hurting or betraying family members…On the other hand, if I weren’t from Appalachia, my work might not have the same support of noncompetitive colleagues, of a community of memory, and of strong voices from my childhood that still speak in my head.  Certainly it wouldn’t have its roots in the rocky creeks and high horizons, the enfolding spirit of trees that I call home.”

Though kids inevitably groaned over reading and writing poetry, I always loved this activity because they’d surprise themselves—by recalling and isolating the simplest of images, smells, sounds, tastes, and textures, they’d craft their own “Where I’m From” poems that offered profound insight into who they were, and I think in the end they were proud, learning that if they seized the power to really know themselves, they could harness the power to write.

Such a simple exercise here, yet so dense as we draw out the good along with all the bad to build the organs and flesh around the skeletons of our characters and infuse them with blood and soul.

And YOU, my dears? How does your sense of self inform your writing?


From Sentiments to Sentences – Part I

Sentimentality is both a blessing and a curse.

I’ve demonstrated before to what extent I can cling onto the past in my guest post for Real Bloggers United, “CSI: Chronically Sentimental Individual.”  Now, in the spirit of the recently passed Halloween, let’s just say my memories continue to “haunt” me…

But in good ways (hence, a “blessing”), though sometimes they hurt so good (hence, a “curse”).  I first conceived this topic last week when my parents’ visit came to an end and they returned Stateside.  Though the effect has had a few days to wear off, I remember how I walked home from the tube and almost couldn’t bear how everything I saw reminded me of them because of our recent walks around the neighborhood together.  Forget that I’ve traversed that same route for over two years now and between their two visits they haven’t even been in London a total of two months…the memories with them seemed to replace my collective everyday experience.  Same went for when I returned to the flat and sobbed over little things like the coffee remaining in the French press that we’d shared earlier that morning.  I know, I know…it’s passed now, though tonight I’m jolted with another stroke of sweet sentimentality from home, as I just checked my Facebook messages and saw one from a former student I taught my last year in the States. She was a freshman at the time and is now a grown-up senior about to graduate…simply cannot believe it! My babies! Anyways, she had the sweetest things to say, which made me really pine for those happy teaching years.

In view of such “ghosts” from my past, I find that they appear in some incarnation or another in my writing, perhaps in special homage of these special people and moments.  “Write what you know,” they always say, and I do, knowing full well I am clearly not alone.  I’m constantly reading intros to novels that state how they’re the “most autobiographical” of the author’s works, and, really, isn’t every work of fiction arguably so?  Just ways of telling our truths “slant”?

At the time I started my current manuscript, I was in need of emotional healing to follow leaving home and career, so the tale I began to spin was much more so a “therapy” than an ambition. I didn’t care if it was unoriginal; I let my first chapters draw very much from my own background, which resurrected the spirit of my earlier happiness and allowed it drift and swirl around me in my new atmosphere. The words brought it alive, brought the people and the values back to me and reminded me who I was in an otherwise unfamiliar context that sapped me of purpose. The story certainly evolved from there into a terrain highly unlike anything on which I myself have embarked, but those early chapters gave my protagonist her core, and in doing so assured me of mine.

Among the sentimental inspirations from real life, there are very direct ones that creep up in sentences reflecting the comforting closeness of my family like:

“They weren’t the stuff best-sellers and blockbusters were made of, and prayed they never would emulate what society spent its money on or turned its channel to.”

“Her mom multi-tasked concern for her child with rescuing bacon strips from their spitting inferno.  She wore her short, hairsprayed curls like a helmet ready to combat any threats to her family head-on.”

I’ve also incorporated actual snippets from childhood diaries and adulthood travel journals. Plucked entirely out of their original contexts, though, it’s crazy the way they fit in and communicate something entirely new and different and had inspired new offshoots of sheerly imaginative thought, not that from experience.  It’s been like dismantling a clock and using some of its gears to operate, ooh, maybe something like the Happiness Machine in Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine (which, in keeping with our theme here, is a valentine to Bradbury’s own childhood).

It’s all about our frames of reference.  No one could possibly perceive the world in exactly the same way that we do individually because we occupy separate space and move differently through it. This gives us our own private reality, then, and this is what writers constantly tap into to construct their fictional realities.  And there’s more I’d like to say on this, but am realizing this is getting long, so I’ll break it into two parts.  Fair enough?  Cool.  See you tomorrow.


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