This week I’m joined by fellow Choc Lit author, Sue McDonagh to talk about childhood holidays. We had great fun behind the scenes preparing this post as my childhood holiday photographs are very similar to hers. Sue has recently released her fourth book for Choc Lit Summer of Hopes and Dreams, which has a gorgeous cover that Sue herself painted!!!
Over to Sue …
I regularly plunder my bulging stash of life experiences for my novels, and my book 4, Summer of Hopes and Dreamsis no exception. Rosie’s adventures at the outdoor pursuits course are inspired by my own, and I believe that my willingness to throw myself into outdoor adventures stems from childhood holidays in the sixties.
Covid has forced us to appreciate our own beautiful local land and sea-scapes, and with prices for hotels and guest houses rocketing, more and more people are flocking to beauty spots in tents, caravans and motorhomes. Even in term time, it’s impossible to book a week in a camp site near the Welsh coast right now. But camping today, with all its wonderful mod cons of air tents and double skins, air beds and double gas burners, is a far cry from my first camping expedition, aged about four.
We didn’t even have a tent. My little brother and I slept in the front seats of our tiny Ford van while Mum and Dad slept in the back on our first foray into the wilds of Cheddar Gorge, after arriving in the dark. The following morning, I heard Dad exclaim that we were on the edge of a massive drop into the gorge… just a few feet more would have meant no novels written by me! What if I’d accidentally released the handbrake? Ah, sigh, the days before the Nanny State kicked in.
We’d upped our game a few years later, acquiring a vast ex-army canvas ridge tent, camp-beds with minds of their own, and a dog, Lucy. We headed west, to Cornwall, land of cream teas and bewildering accents. There was no motorway, and the journey from Essex took twelve hours.
Dad had a list of town names tucked under his sun visor that still sound romantic to me now: Taunton, Exeter, Okehampton, Launceston, Bodmin, and finally St Austell. He’d pull into a layby for a nap about two thirds of the way, and I remember dozing, feeling the car swaying with each passing lorry. No motorways also meant no services, but schools and community centres used to open, manned by the WI, dispensing tea and sandwiches to tired drivers and their families on the annual pilgrimage to the sea.
The huge tent took Mum and Dad hours to erect, whilst my brother and I explored and made nuisances of ourselves. For some inexplicable reason, we later all went for a shower, leaving the dog tied to the central pole of the tent. Our return was memorable by the sight of the flattened tent, and Lucy wagging her tail in the wreckage, still attached to the centre pole.
The musty scent of stored canvas is enough to bring those childhood memories flooding back. We learned to surf in Porthtowan, on curved wooden belly boards, we were burned scarlet every year and our skin hung in tatters like a badge of honour. The only suntan lotion was factor 0 Ambre Solaire oil, another scent from my childhood.
We were outside on the fresh air as soon as the sun rose and stayed out with the bats as they flew out of the trees at dusk. When it rained, which it did often, we’d drive around the ghostly narrow lanes to the opposite side of the peninsula and emerge into the sunshine again. And if that failed, we’d go to the little shop at St Agnes, buy sweeties, puzzle books and paperbacks and cocoon ourselves into our snuggly sleeping bags to read and wait it out.
I adored choosing my paperback – the smell of the pages, the cover design, the blurb on the back to help me decide whether it was going to transport me to another time. I immersed myself in Poldark and Jamaica Inn, and everything Daphne du Maurier.
Cornwall was a land of romance and mystery to me then, and still is. When I first visited Wales, many years before I ever thought I would live there, it reminded me so much of Cornwall, that I felt instantly at home. I’m delighted to be able to set my novels there now.
About Sue McDonagh
My career as a policewoman in the Essex Police was interrupted when I was twenty four by ovarian cancer. A year of surgery and chemotherapy meant a successful recovery, which led to a convalescent year in the Essex Police Press Office. This suited me as I’d always fancied being a journalist, and meant that I could play with joined up writing and stationary.
When I moved to Wales to marry a man widowed by cancer and became instant mum to his two little boys, I used my Press Office skills and wrote press releases and eventually, blog posts for the various clubs and organisations I was involved with.
Art evolved into a full time occupation and I made a living teaching and sketching portraits on the spot at agricultural and seaside shows, moving into more considered work as time went on and appearing on Sky TV in 2014 in the regional finals of the Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year.
I now work almost exclusively to commission, but also give demonstrations and talks to art societies and other groups, which I enjoy.
In 1982, following chemotherapy, I cycled from John O’Groats to Land’s End in ten days, fundraising over £8000 towards a cancer scanner for St Bartholomew’s Hospital, where I was treated.
After my first hip replacement sixteen years ago, I and three friends took part in the Four Inns Challenge and walked 45 miles across the Peak District in 16 hours, raising £10,000 for MacMillan Cancer Support.
When my second hip needed replacing, I thought about commemorating it with a further bonkers fundraising idea, but to everyone’s relief, found my excitement in writing.
Twelve years ago I learned to ride a motorbike, and now help to run Curvy Riders, a national, women only, motorbike club. Learning to ride inspired my first novel, which took me four years to write. I was delighted that ChocLit believed in me as so many publishers had turned the book down as they didn’t like the motorbike theme. Many women have since written to me to tell me that they’ve felt empowered to learn to ride themselves.
I’m lucky enough to live a scant mile from the sea, and I swim in it most days with a group of wonderful women, no wetsuit required, and I also cycle regularly with another group of friends. I also knit socks and crochet blankets, very slowly!
My novels, Summer at the Art Café, Meet Me at the Art Café and Escape to the Art Café have been published as digital, audio and paperbacks, and also published in The Netherlands, and have all reached BestSeller orange flags.
My fourth novel, Summer of Hopes and Dreams was released on 29 June, 2021.
To keep in touch with Sue you can use the following links:
Amazon page: https://tinyurl.com/y5f44qd5
Can “Dozy Rosie” spice up her life and prove she’s not boring?
Rosie Bunting has spent her life caring for others, often at the expense of her own hopes and dreams. But when she overhears somebody describing her as “boring”, she decides it’s time for a change. Little does she realise that the outdoor pursuits weekend brochure handed to her at the local Art Café will kick start a summer that will see her abseiling down a Welsh cliff face in “eye watering” leggings, rediscovering her artistic side and unexpectedly inheriting an old fire engine. It also involves meeting hunky outdoor instructor, Gareth Merwyn-Jones – although of course he’d never be interested in Dozy Rosie Bunting … would he? One thing’s for certain: Rosie’s path to achieving her hopes and dreams might not be smooth, but it’s definitely not boring.
Thank you, Sue. What a lovely post. Mx