Artists of all types are drawn to Cornwall, some paint, some play music and some write novels. The landscape and people of Cornwall have been inspiring writers for years and we have picked eight novels here that date back as far back as the 1880s, but also feature two that have come out in the last couple of years. Some will be familiar, others more obscure, but we believe they are all worth reading.
The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher
The Plot: The bestselling book tells the story of Penelope Keeling as she examines her past including her relationships with her children. The Shell Seekers is a painting by her father given to Penelope as a wedding present, which she now realises is worth a lot of money. Should she sell it?
The Author: Born in Lelant near St Ives in 1924, over the years Pilcher has become very popular with German visitors to Cornwall, far eclipsing the interest from UK readers of her work. This is mainly due to German TV serialising many of her novels. The author died in 2019.
Rule Britannia by Daphne du Maurier
The Plot: What if Britain had joined the European Common Market, and then decided to leave when finances got out of hand?, The alternative is to join up with the US and become a single nation, but when a US warship arrives off the Cornish coast, the locals are not happy….
The Author: Daphne du Maurier’s novels are known around the world, Frenchman’s Creek, Rebecca, Jamaica Inn and The Loving Spirit amongst others. Living in the Fowey area for many years, her life and novels are celebrated every year with the Fowey Festival.
A Cornish Stranger by Liz Fenwick
The Plot: Jaunty is 92 and lives in a remote cabin on Frenchman’s Creek off the Helford. She is now frail but used to be an artist and has captured the area in many paintings over the years. One day a stranger turns up at her door. He tells her that he has been left a painting in a family legacy, of a remote cabin just like hers. Now, he’s keen to find out why.
The Author: American author Liz Fenwick became so captivated and enchanted by Cornwall’s charm, the landscape and art, that she started writing novels about it. Her latest novel, The Path to the Sea, is also based in Cornwall.
Dead Men’s Rock by Arthur Quiller Couch
The Plot: When two sailors are washed ashore on the Lizard, the secrets they hold lead to adventures as far afield as the mountains of Ceylon. We are brought back to Cornwall with deaths a plenty in this old-fashioned, rip-snorting ripping yarn!
The Author: Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, also known as Q, lived by the water in Fowey, where he wrote Victorian novels and short stories, usually based in Cornwall. A good friend of Kenneth Grahame, who may have been inspired by visits to Fowey to write The Wind in the Willows.
The Newcomer by Fern Britton
The plot: It’s springtime in the Cornish village of Pendruggan and as the community comes together to say a fond farewell to parish vicar, Simon, and his wife Penny, a newcomer, begin to cause quite a stir…
The Author: Starting her TV career down here in the West Country gave Fern Britton plenty of time to explore Cornwall. The Newcomer is the latest of several novels Fern has based in the region. Ideal reading for a day spent on a sunny beach.
Ross Poldark by Winston Graham
The Plot: In the book that started it all, Ross Poldark comes home from the American War of Independence to find his sweetheart Elizabeth is about to be married to his cousin. But he soon gets over it when he meets a wild young girl called Demelza… but is he really over Elizabeth?
The Author: Graham wrote 12 Poldark novels, starting with Ross and finishing with Bella Poldark, published in 2002. He lived in Cornwall for 35 years, setting the novels near his home in Perranporth, something not portrayed in the TV adaptations which were filmed in the far west.
The Widow Woman by Charles Lee
The Plot: Set in a west Cornwall fishing village in the late 1800s, it tells the story of Mrs Elizabeth Pollard, twice married, twice widowed and now, despite the fact that she is a large woman with a moustache and at times, traces of a beard, has several suitors looking to become husband number three. Could it be the boats and cottages she owns?
The Author: A Londoner by birth, Lee moved to Cornwall and for a while lived in and around Newlyn, which at the same time that it was a favourite haunt of the artists now celebrated at the Penlee Gallery in Penzance. He captures the dialect and gentle humour of the times so well in his stories, but sadly they are now all out of print, check out secondhand bookshops!
The Constant Gardener by John le Carré
The Plot: A diplomat’s wife is murdered in the wilds of Africa. Investigating on his own, he uncovers disturbing evidence. Was her death linked to illegal medical experiments, or even worse, corrupt British politicians?
The Author: Up until his recent death, John le Carré had lived in west Cornwall for around 40 years, writing many of his best known works here. A very private man, sadly he never seems to have written a novel based in Cornwall.