It’s something a lot of people have asked – why is The Cold Cold Sea set in Cornwall, when there’s such a lot of even colder sea back home in Scotland? The answer is easy. Think beach holidays in the UK. (Okay, many people wanting a beach holiday nowadays opt for sunnier, drier and warmer climes, but bear with me for a moment.)
When I was small, we spent several family holidays in Newquay. They have merged in my memory but I’d be about seven, eight, nine years old, and to a Glasgow child used to the beaches on the Clyde coast, where you rushed into the water and then rushed back out again for your ‘chittering bite’, it was like stepping into a different world.
Compared to Glasgow, Cornwall was HOT. And bright and sunny. I remember the buildings in Newquay – those big hotels and shops – being much lighter-coloured than anything in my home town; the whole place looked exotic – there were palm trees! Our hotel had a porter called Leith, and they served a fish course at dinner, on a snowy-white tablecloth with napkins to match. How completely different it was to the holiday flats I’d known in Ayr.
Everything about these Cornish holidays seemed special. We mingled with T-shirt-clad tourists in shops where you could buy all sorts of holiday kitsch; Aladdin’s caves to an eight-year-old. My mother was an enthusiastic window-shopper and I think the two of us went to every shop in town. I remember creeping through department stores gazing at glassware and china. Such riches, I’d never seen so many wonderful things. My mother swithered over a beautiful sea horse paperweight I wanted, but it was just too expensive.
What I remember most of all, though, is the sea. The beaches. Golden sands and crashing waves; high cliffs and dark, mysterious caves disappearing into the rock face. White foamy breakers with surfboarders riding them – how I’d have loved to try but I was much too young. The vivid shades of sun, sand, cliffs and sky – and the blue-green-white surges of the ocean. I would stand there on the beach, gazing out to sea, wishing I could stay there forever. Unlike the Clyde coast there were no islands to break up the horizon, and I remember the feeling of staring into infinity.
It was perfect and it was beautiful and I’ve never forgotten it. And that’s why I placed my fictional village near Newquay – because all the time of writing The Cold Cold Sea I was revisiting those beaches in my mind, smelling the cool air in the caves, hearing the crash of white water on the rocks, and feeling the wind in my hair.
And one day I really will go back.