I remember the first time I encountered Rosamunde Pilcher. When I was about 15 I watched a TV Dramatisation of Coming Home. It had an all-star cast, with names as illustrious as Peter O’Toole and Penelope Keith and Joanna Lumley, alongside then-newcomers Keira Knightly and Paul Bettany. I loved the story, the scenery, the world that Pilcher had created.
I read Coming Home as soon as my mother obtained a copy and discovered, to my initial dismay and subsequent delight, that the story was vastly different to the TV portrayal, but infinitely better. There were new characters added to the mix who outshone their counterparts, and Pilcher’s description of the Cornish landscape and the works of art created by her characters were even more shining and brilliant than anything a TV producer could conjour up for the screen. My family had been visiting Devon since I was 11 years old, multiple times a year. I already knew the charms of the south western coastlines of England. For the first time, I began to think that Cornwall might be worth investigating too.
Fast forward a few years to my mid twenties, where I first read The Shell Seekers. I had vague memories of the TV adaptation starring Angela Lansbury and my mother cherished a battered copy of the book, but I had been too young to really pay attention. Whereas Coming Home had a fourteen year old girl as its primary heroine, The Shell Seekers told the story of a 64 year old woman. Not really something I could engage with at the time.
But by the age of 24, I’d completed my degrees in English and was training as a teacher, equipped with the skills and willingness to engage with characters who did not reflect my own position in life. Consequently I fell in love with Penelope Keeling. Her vivacity, generosity and open hearted approach to life sang to me and laid out a life that I longed for. Not one filled with money or prosperity, but with love and friendship and companionship.
Cornwall once more provided the backdrop to a significant portion of the story, with another artist taking centre stage. The descriptions of Cornwall through the eyes of a devoted, talented painter were delicious to read and I could see Pilcher’s world so clearly in my head, it was as if the paintings already existed and had become old friends.
Fast forward another few years, and now I am 32 and have been married to my best friend for one year. We planned a trip away to the South West, as discussed in my previous entry, and first stop on the agenda is the Rosamunde Pilcher Shell Seekers Exhibition at Bude Castle. I am as excited as a small child, not only to be seeing these works of love and homage but to finally be visiting Cornwall, which I feel I know as well as Devon, experienced through hundreds of re-readings of Pilcher’s books through some of the best and worst times of my life.
It’s always fascinating to see how other readers engage with the books that you love. Which parts reach out and touch your heart, which bits sing to your soul. The paintings that touched me most deeply were the ones which were inspired by my favourite sections of the books.
‘I would have understood’ by Lynne Holehouse moved me to tears.
The end of the novel and the discoveries made by Olivia Keeling about her mother’s life and history touched me very deeply. When my own grandmother died, I realised how little I had actually known of her life and how much of her personality, beyond her role as my grandmother, had passed me by and become lost to history. The longing to reach for someone through the written records of their life is a feeling well known to me and I felt that this picture captured that desire beautifully.
Lynne’s work ‘Darling Richard’ carries the same sadness.
How a man’s existence and life, after death, can be reduced to so little. I was reminded of the sadness I felt reading the end of ‘Fried Green Tomatoes At The Whistlestop Café’ by Fanny Flagg, where Evelyn realises how little is left of the friend she had come to cherish, with all of her possessions and memories condensed into a small box. People do not automatically live through the possessions they leave behind, which may be few and may seem insignificant to those who do not understand their relevance. They live on through memories and their places in people’s hearts.
Not all of the works were framed in sadness though.
Clair Roberts’ depiction of ‘Doris’ made me laugh, it was so sparky and filled with life and cheek and absolutely captured the spirit of that character, even down to the little pinky sticking out. And when asked to vote for my favourite, I had to opt for Tim Martindale’s beautiful photograph of the Bude sea pool though. I felt that in one shot, he had captured Pilchers Cornwall in a single sky. A combination of thunderous dramatic cloud, chalky blue flashes of sky, the brilliance of the light all combining with the wildness of the sea and the rocks alongside the domestic safety of the pool. For me this was a stunning summary of Cornwall’s power and beauty, the same no doubt that captured Pilcher’s imagination and drew her back to these places for inspiration time after time in her works.
Cornwall was a magical place to visit and Bude in particular now occupies a special place in my heart. For a woman who loves the domestic peace and quiet of canals, the happiness of family beaches, the energy of rivers and the wild power of the British coastline, Bude quite literally offered the combination of these features.
Alongside a backdrop of history, social vibrancy and a sense of pride and satisfaction in its endeavours and strengths, the town was a fantastic place to visit. I will certainly be going back, but I am delighted that I made this trip in particular, to see an exhibit which touched my heart very deeply with its respectful celebration of my favourite author, Rosamunde Pilcher.*[Got something to say? Submit to Project Shandy]*