x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

How Liz Fenwick's memories of Cornwall help her write novels in Dubai

We chat with Fenwick about her new novel, the page-turning entertainment A Cornish Affair.

Liz Fenwick draws on her memories of Cornwall in her fiction. Courtesy Liz Fenwick
Liz Fenwick draws on her memories of Cornwall in her fiction. Courtesy Liz Fenwick

During Liz Fenwick’s first visit to Cornwall more than 20 years ago with her soon-to-be husband Christian, she became enchanted with the place.

Despite hailing from Boston in the US, she says the rugged moors and scenic coastlines of the south-west English county truly affected her.

“I just felt totally at ease and at home there,” recalls the 50-year-old author, who now lives in Dubai. “I remember that the sky was blue, foxgloves were jumping out of hedgerows like exclamation marks and the sea was so gorgeous.

“My husband also loves Cornwall. I think if I hadn’t fallen in love with the place, I don’t think we’d be married now, nearly 22 years later.”

But as well as helping cement their relationship, Cornwall has also acted as a muse to her creativity. Hot on the heels of her debut novel The Cornish House, this month has seen the publication of her second work set in the county – A Cornish Affair.

The tale begins with our heroine Jude’s wedding day. As she walks down the aisle to marry her lawyer fiancé, she realises she is only going through with these nuptials to please her family.

So she bolts from the church and eventually ends up in Pengarrock, a crumbling cliff-top mansion in Cornwall. Here, she becomes embroiled in an ancient mystery, as she delves into the history of the building and the family who lived there.

As this synopsis suggests, the book is meant to be page-turning entertainment rather than heavyweight, intellectually challenging literature. “It’s definitely a light read,” admits Fenwick. “I’d say it’s meant to be a beach read. You should be swept away with it.”

So far, many are willing to be swept away in her world. The Cornish House sold reasonably well and her follow-up has already won positive reviews from its readers.

Fenwick says this validates the long struggle to see her work in print. She wrote her first book in 2004 but the Mills & Boon-style romance was roundly rejected by literary agents and publishing houses.

Disappointed, but not disheartened, she accepted its criticisms and vowed to write books that appealed to her, rather to what she thought publishers expected of her.

She chose a literary style that was inspired by two of her favourite authors. “I wanted to achieve something that was like Daphne du Maurier meets Jodi Picoult,” she explains. “Du Maurier really gets Cornwall. As for her descriptions of the landscape, for me there is nobody better.

“I also wanted some of Jodi Picoult’s qualities, which is grabbing on to a key issue and making it into a page-turning quality. So I’d describe my work as romantic suspense.”

Fenwick and her husband have lived in Dubai since 2001. Here, she feels her geographical distance from her beloved Cornwall helps her literary endeavours.

As yet, however, she doesn’t feel compelled to chronicle the expat life in Dubai. “I love Dubai but at this point in time I don’t have any stories in my head,” she explains. “If I did, I think I would write about the desert. There is something about driving out to Liwa and just looking at the emptiness and the majesty of the desert that fills me in the way Cornwall does. But I’ve yet to find a story that I could capture that in.”

Hence when they eventually leave the Emirates, she may well be inspired to write such a book.

“I read something recently that you have to leave a place in order to write about it,” she says. “That’s why I find it so easy to write about Cornwall while living in Dubai, because I hunger for it. Maybe I’ll write about the Emirates when we’ve left and I hunger for the blue skies, the bougainvillaea or the desert itself.”

A Cornish Affair (Orion Books) is out now


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