Postcards from the Past

Bodmin Moor

Bodmin Moor

The opening scene in this book in reality took place at home as Marcia looked out over the pond from her study windows and watched the two moons. The lake in the book is larger than our pond: the only birds that use it other than to drink from it are the heron – after fish and frogs – and the blackbirds – very partial to tadpoles in season. Marcia, of course, wanted some photographs of the two moons but the results were hardly helpful. It sounds quite simple but there are a number of problems. Do you focus on the true moon in which case the reflected moon is out of focus or vice versa? Obviously you have to use a very low stop and a very long exposure. The first makes focussing even more difficult: the second means that the slightest breath of wind ruffling the water surface destroys the mirror effect. This is one of those cases where the descriptive writer can do a far better job than a photographer and I am sure we would all agree that Marcia does it extremely well.

This was a very muddling period for Marcia. Often she would be waiting for some new characters to appear but now quite a few of the older characters were lining up clamouring for attention. For example we were parked up by Colliford Lake one day. I was vainly trying to take some photographs of wild fowl – vainly because on that occasion they were all elsewhere – and Marcia had pottered off with Jossie.

‘I can feel Liv up here walking with a dog,’ she said when she returned. Liv was a character in The Way We Were as I am sure you remember. ‘The trouble is I can’t see how she fits in to anything. To make it more difficult, although she’s up here walking a dog, and I’m not sure which one, I am sure that she is living on a quite sandy beach.’ Only now, some four years on, is this beginning to make some sense.

Anyway, she flopped into the chair beside me and then suddenly grabbed the binoculars and started staring at a field on the other side of the reservoir. She was watching a white horse and a boy and, as soon as the boy had ridden off, it was out with the notebook. This scene, but through Ed’s eyes, is described in the book exactly as it took place.

So, what were we doing at Colliford? Marcia could see the setting for the book as being alongside a stream or river of some sort and she felt there were two buildings involved – one larger than the other. That is not much to go on so we were exploring. We had driven east along the A30 to Bolventor. This is where you can find Jamaica Inn which featured in Daphne du Murier’s novel of that name. It is also close to the head waters of the River Fowey and we turned left to take the lane that winds down the valley, never more than a few feet from the river. The feel up there is of moorland with boggy areas, an abundance of sedges and rushes, small wind-deformed trees (mainly thorn) and a few areas of poor pasture being nibbled by the sheep. Actually it is all enclosed now but even so it must be hell trying to make a living up here. However, as the river makes its way down towards the sea, so the landscape becomes kinder. Fields have been drained and fertilised, there are more trees and the various buildings look well kept.

We found a bridge over the river. This led nowhere and so we parked on it and made ourselves some coffee. It was clearly nothing to do with the book but was a good place to brood and we stopped there every time we came down trying to find out where the book was set. Having reached the A38, we decided to go a bit further west and return up to the moor via St Neot which is a charming village on the River Lovery, itself a tributary of the Fowey. There were a few days when we were convinced that St Neot was going to be important and I took photographs of the village with that in mind. It was not to be.

From there the lane takes you up to Colliford Lake but not before you come to a fairly big house and what seemed to have been a smithy. Out with the camera again – this time the results were of some use: these buildings inspired the hamlet in Indian Summer although they were moved up into Devon for that book.

So far we had characters and now a location – but none seemed to be right for this book. We decided the time had come to move up onto north Bodmin.

When we were exploring for one of the earlier Bodmin books (either Echoes of the Dance or The Way We Were but I’m not sure which) we stumbled upon one of those perfect places to park up the camper van and brew up some coffee. The lane wound down to a tiny bridge over a stream before which there was a cattle grid before rising between steep banks which, we discovered later, were covered in flowers in the spring, Before the bridge, which carried the lane over a cheerful chuckling moorland stream, on the right was a wide flat area of grass, perfect for the van, and then the remains of an old tin mine pumping station with its iconic chimney.

We were both taken with the place and often stopped there – I have some photographs of us there with Max, the old labrador we ‘rescued’ when his people died, so we had been doing so for some few years. On this particular day, however, it took on a new significance and Marcia began to see how a plot that had been developing in her mind could be played out here. You could argue that this was the first book that Marcia wrote where the plot and the characters were being developed side by side. Previously her book were definitely character driven with the plot secondary to the development of the relationships between the people.

There was one more really serious muddle before matters began to straighten out. The scene with the landrover where it skidded across some snow and, as a result, a person died. How did that fit in with the cast of characters that Marcia had been developing: the trio here – a brother, sister and half-brother – and the step-brother who, after an absence of fifty years, was to return to visit them? In short, it didn’t but it was to return when Marcia was writing Indian Summer. Never had two books been so oddly mixed up together. However, not for long and the resolution came from a very unexpected quarter: Peneglos, the fictional village at the centre of The Christmas Angel.

Once the link had been made between the two communities, as it were, Marcia soon saw the whole book before her with the various blind alleys tucked away in her sub-conscious until it was time for them to be brought out, dusted down and given their moments in the sun.

One of Marcia’s closest friends is Susie. Her father had been a member of the diplomatic corps and the family spent most of their time overseas. However, there was always home and home was always down in Cornwall. Her father bought an old butter mill, converted it and called it Mellinpons. It was as is described in this book. However, when her parents became elderly they sold Mellinpons and moved down to the very tip of Cornwall. The house is now completely different and has been given a new name which is why Marcia felt she could use it in this book. The other connection was, of course, Jossie.

Jossie had been a ‘Cinnamon Trust’ dog and had been fostered by Susie’s mother. When she died, Jossie came to live with us and she was, sadly, the last dog we were to have. Her spirit, together with those of all the dogs we have lived with over the years, lives on, of course, in the dogs in Marcia’s books and in this above all else they play most important roles. How would the people have sorted themselves out if it had not been for the dogs’ tea parties?

For some notes and photographs describing Postcards from the Past country the link is PFTP Country.

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