Thursday Thought: Come to the aid of King Arthur! NOW.

Do you long to visit Cornwall?

In your heart of hearts what do you want to see, to experience? The picturesque fishing villages? The historic tin mining country? To walk the rugged coastal paths? To visit the great houses and country estates? To delve into the ancient spiritual energies?

King Arthur

King Arthur

But here is the key question. Do you value the authentic, the historic, the unspoiled, the original? Or would you settle for a commercialized, ersatz, Disneyesque reproduction — of the kind you can see in any local theme park?

The travel section in Sunday’s The New York Times led with an appealing article “The Weird, Mystic Pull of Southwest England” recommending “a pilgrimage to sites steeped in Arthurian lore with weird and mystical stops along the way.”

Proposed Footbridge

Proposed Footbridge

However, here is the horrific breaking news. The English Heritage organization is planning for King Arthur’s castle in Tintagel on the north Cornish coast the same fate they delivered to Stonehenge: despoil and commercialize this irreplaceable historic site with inappropriate contemporary excrescences.

I plead with you to raise your voice to prevent this disaster (especially those of you who learned of King Arthur and Tintagel in my recent lecture series on the history and lore of Cornwall, and who heard from Councillor Bert Biscoe of Truro bertbiscoe@btinternet.com)

Write to the Cornish councillor in charge and strike a blow for the once and future king!




Thursday Thought: How much did the ancient Celts influence English?

The first lecture in my new course to the OLLI group in Cincinnati stirred a fascinating discussion. OLLI is the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute of the University of Cincinnati. (For a description of the course, click here.)  Were the Celts pushed to the fringes of Britain by the Anglo-Saxon invasion? Or did they remain and assimilate into Anglo-Saxon society? And what effect did they have on the development of the English language? — Contact me if you would like more details.

Message from Student (retired English teacher)

“I spoke to you yesterday about the hypothesis that Celtic influence on later English is more profound than many linguists admit.  John McWhorter has been an exception to this trend and has given solid bases to his premise that the Celts of pre-Anglo Saxon Britain were not pushed to the edges, as is often stated, but rather blended with the new populations and helped create a language far different from the other Germanic tongues that the invaders brought with them.
“Thank you for the course.  Tuesday’s class was fascinating.”

Response from a leader in Cornwall

“I think that the truth of what happened with the Celts when the Saxons (and others, including the Angles, who gave their tribal name to ‘England’) lies halfway between the ‘expunged to the fringes’ and the ‘stuck around and blended’ schools — I suspect that some stayed, and some went!

The survival of, and evolution into Cornish, Welsh (and Breton) ‘dialects’ of British, in Wales, Cornwall and Brittany clearly demonstrates that these places were predominantly colonised by Celts. The Patagonian colonisation also shows that there is an instinctual motivation in these Brythonic groups to protect their culture and its attritbutes by seeking a degree of insulation, and that ancient links and fraternities survive the passage of time. So, one can find in the exceptional diaries of Harold Nicolson (September 1941, from memory) a description of Nicolson being sent by the Ministry of Information to witness a speck in Kernewek, commissioned by the British government, to welcome and make feel at-home Breton refugees who took refuge in Cornwall after the scuttling of the French fleet. The irony is that Churchill found Kernewek an expedient in servicing wartime alliances (and brutally necessary acts) but his successors have only reluctantly acknowledged the existence of the language and remain cussed in their denial of resources to support its development. As I say, ancient resonances endure.

It is true to say that there is strong Celtic influence in the English language. We should never forget that monasteries were also seats of learning and that the beginnings of scholarship, writing and linguistic development happened here, and that monasteries were as much repositories of the ancient as they were developers of the new. So the blending may have had as much to do with monkish predilection as with the movement of peoples.

I would commend to your correspondent the career of John of Cornwall, widely credited as being one of the founding fathers of the English language. Irony abounds! A search of the net might throw up a second hand copy of Julian Holmes’ translation of John’s prophecies of Merlin. Nuts!


Thursday Thought: Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving! What a wonderful time for families and friends to get together and to celebrate. Celebrate what?

Many of us tend to simply celebrate our togetherness or express our gratitude for the blessings we enjoy. The tradition originated as gratitude at this time of year for the harvest. In Britain when I was growing up it was called Harvest Festival and was centered around the churches. Parishioners shared their bounty, decorating the church with sheaves of corn (the generic term for grains including wheat and oats and barley), home-made bread, fruits, pies, jams, jellies, all kinds of good things. Often the congregation would partake in a great communal feast.

Crying the Neck

Crying the Neck

In my native Cornwall there was an older tradition, “Crying the Neck”. Some say this stemmed from ancient Egypt. The people gather in a cornfield where the harvest is almost finished. The farmer cuts the last stalks of corn, typically with an old fashioned scythe, and binds them into a sheaf.

Turning to the east he raises up the sheaf and cries three times, “I ‘ave ‘ee, I ‘ave ‘ee, I ‘ave ‘ee.” The crowd responds,  “What ‘ave ee? What ‘ave ee? What ‘ave ee?” The farmer shouts, “A Neck! A Neck! A Neck!” The crowd chants,”Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah!” In many parts of Cornwall the ritual is repeated in the Cornish language.

They all leave the field and go to the church or chapel for a service giving thanks for a bountiful harvest. The Neck is left in the church until the following spring when it provides the seed for the next planting.

I give special thanks this year for the joy given me by my historical novel The Miner & the Viscount. The pleasure has been beyond my fondest imagination. Researching the history added to my knowledge and understanding. I grew enormously as a writer through working on the manuscript. In the first six rewrites, my wife Penny helped me understand deeper character development. In the next three edits, my editor Mo Conlan helped me weave a more compelling story. What I anticipated to be a chore turned out to be the joy of incremental improvement.

On top of all that, through the interest and enthusiasm generated by the book I have made new friends, not only in America and Britain but around the world where the Cornish have emigrated through the centuries. Marvelous people with a profound interest in their origins and the world around them.





Thursday Thought: Tin!

West Cornwall, 1895. A once-glorious tin mine, on which the whole town has depended for generations, is on its last legs.



A weather-beaten opera company arrives to give a performance of Beethoven’s “Fidelio” in the town hall and finds itself tangled up in a scam to offload worthless shares in the mine. When the mine unexpectedly yields up new treasures, melodrama starts to spill over into everyday life, reputations crumble and any notion of fair play is abandoned.

The fate of the whole community rests on the courage of one feisty young maid.

Benjamin Luxon

Benjamin Luxon

Made in Cornwall and based on a true story, Miracle Theatre’s highly anticipated feature film stars Jenny Agutter, Dudley Sutton and Ben Luxon alongside Helen Bendell, Ben Dyson, Steve Jacobs, Dean Nolan, and Jason Squibb.

Ben Luxon enjoyed an international career as an opera star. He was a main attraction at last year’s International Gathering of the Cornish American Heritage Society. He lives in Sandisfield, MA, where he leads community theater.



Thursday Thoughts: Characters!

My book tour in Cornwall in July brought up a lot of memories. Here is one that I have added to my  “Memoirs While Memory lasts” about some wonderful characters in my boyhood.


Liskeard Guildhall

Liskeard Guildhall

When I was a little boy my favorite aunt was Aunty Betty. On second thoughts she was one of my favorites. There were lots of aunts to choose from and they were all pretty nice and inclined to spoil small nephews. My mother was one of ten children, five boys and five girls. Like many of their generation two were spinsters, their fiancés killed in the Great War. My father had one sister, Hilda, who was very interesting but lived a long way away in Wadebridge where my father was born. You had to hire a car to drive the twenty miles. Rarely done. However, they all lived in Cornwall.

Part of the reason why Aunty Betty was a favorite was that she always gave me £5 at the beginning of every school term. That was in the days when £5 notes were bigger than £1 or 10 shilling notes and printed on one side of crisp white paper, the kind called banknote. £5 was worth so much then that whenever a note changed hands you signed your name on the back. My mother said that Aunty Betty was comfortably off and could well afford it. She had been widowed twice and both of her husbands left her quite a bit of money.

She had a stepson with one of them, Uncle Rodgy. He was a retired tea planter from India, a bachelor, and lived in rooms with Mrs. May at the end of Manley Terrace. He had a gimpy leg and walked with a cane but went down every day to The Stag just before lunch. My mother said he drank. He was a dry old stick and used to tell me stories with a raspy smoke rough voice. He gave me some serious advice. “Don’t marry for money, my son, but be near where ’tis.”

However, Aunty Betty was a tough old bird and she made her feelings known, especially when I slipped into the habit of only seeing her three times a year, once at the beginning of every term. She was used to being frank with her opinions. She had retired as matron of the Bristol Royal Infirmary and she was not persnickety about dealing with little boys who needed to pee and poop. Apparently she had terrified the young nurse probationers at the hospital. She was still in charge when my big sister Pat went there to qualify as a physiotherapist. Pat admired her. The war was still on and during the blackout Aunty Betty used to walk her home at night through the rougher city streets, protecting her from the young servicemen keeping themselves cheerful with too much beer.

Before we moved, we used to live next to Aunty Betty. My Uncle Dick built our houses. My father thought Aunty Betty was bossy, although he usually kept that to himself. The nice thing about her house was that it had concrete paths. These were much better for my little red pedal car than our gravel paths, so I spent a lot of time there. She lived alone upstairs and rented the ground floor to a retired farmer and his wife. When I visited her she would give me a Jacob’s Cream Cracker with butter, scraped thin because it was rationed.

I especially enjoyed sitting at her front window looking out and waiting for Ernie Penna to arrive. Poor old Ernie didn’t have very good jobs because he wasn’t right in the head and couldn’t speak clearly. He was a well known local character. Every day he would walk down to the railway station to pick up the evening newspapers from Plymouth and come back up Station Road with them in a canvas bag slung over his shoulder. He also carried a long pole and lit the gas lamps along the street as he went. Ernie would call out, “Eeran Errol”. If you were in the know, you knew that was Evening Herald. Aunty Betty would give me a penny and I would run out across the street to buy her paper from Ernie.

Just a month or two after the war ended the Labour Party withdrew from the coalition government. Parliament was dissolved on June 15 and there was a general election. We were all very excited. People expected Winston Churchill and the Conservatives, the Tories, to win in gratitude for his inspiring war leadership. Our family was Liberal. My father particularly admired the great Isaac Foot who had been our M.P. before the war. Mr. Foot’s father had been a humble carpenter. Isaac educated himself and became a lawyer, a solicitor, in the nearby city of Plymouth, although he lived in Cornwall. He was a student of Oliver Cromwell, a Methodist lay preacher, and an ardent teetotaler. He became lord mayor, was elected to the House of Commons and rose to being the Secretary for India in the last Liberal government.

Isaac Foot had five sons and every morning at breakfast each son had to make a one minute speech. That practice stood them in good stead. They all went to Oxford and three became presidents of the Union, the debating society. Hugh went into the Colonial Service and triumphed as the last Governor of Cyprus. His brothers said that he loved dressing up in fancy uniforms. However, he settled the intractable Cypriot civil war between the Greeks and the Turks. His reward was a peerage and he retired as Lord Caradon, named after the Cornish tin mine near his father’s home.

Dingle Foot went into law and was elected M.P. for North Cornwall. After the death of his father, and indeed virtually the Liberal Party, Dingle joined the Labour party, became the Solicitor General and was knighted. John was the Liberal Candidate for Southeast Cornwall in the 1945 election, of which more anon, joined the family solicitor’s practice and later became Baron Foot.

Michael was Isaac’s secret favorite. He was strongly anti-fascist and a rabid socialist, taking his father’s progressive politics a big step further. As a young man he was a hard-hitting and widely read London journalist. He was elected M.P. for Devonport and became an effective and passionate orator in the House of Commons. He rose to become the parliamentary leader of the Labour Party and would have become prime minister had Labour won the election. True to his principles he refused the peerage offered him upon retirement.

The youngest son, Christopher, led a private life spent with the family firm of solicitors. His reputation is that of a delightful man, an able lawyer and of the highest integrity.

When I became president of the Oxford University Liberal Club, charged with putting together a program, I invited both Dingle and John Foot to come and speak. Both were kind enough to accept. John was even kinder and gave me a speaking tip. I had been asked to be a paper speaker at the Union and was a bit nervous about introducing the debate. John told me to soften up the critical audience with humor and gave me his father’s favorite joke. As I later stood at the dispatch box, I intoned with what I trust passed as originality, “One must not think that the Church of England is the Tory party at prayer.” Appreciative chuckles reverberated through the debating hall.

One of my proudest possessions is the cut crystal fruit bowl given me as a wedding present by Isaac Foot. These memories were in my mind when I visited Liskeard, my home town, during my book tour with my daughter Sarah in July. Then one of our daily synchronicities happened. Being from Boulder, she was tickled to see a car with Colorado license plates. That afternoon I gave a talk at the Liskeard Public Library, complete with a Cornish cream tea. The enthusiastic librarian introduced herself as Tracee Foot. She turned out to be the owner of the car.

“Foot?” I asked. Her husband proved to be Jesse Foot, grandson of Michael. They met at university in Colorado and decided to settle in Cornwall after they married. We arranged to have tea the next day, a delightful opportunity to get to know them and learn of Jesse’s political ambitions. It must run in the family.

Well, speaking of elections, my first campaign was supporting John Foot in 1945. He and his supporters had to move fast with the campaign lasting only three weeks. As a boy I was more enthusiastic than valuable but my biggest sister Pam was fantastic. When she was at Cambridge (which we Oxonians disparaged as a technical college in the fens!), like Michael Foot she strayed to the left of traditional Cornish liberalism. She had been impassioned by the Spanish Civil War when Cambridge undergraduates had fought against Franco’s fascists. For a while she thought that Karl Marx made a lot of sense.

She campaigned for John Foot all over the countryside, warming up the crowds in the towns and villages with eloquence, erudition, passion and humor. She was particularly effective in attacking the Tory candidate, Commander Douglas Marshall, R.N. He was a novice and not yet an imaginative speaker. His speech was a variation of three repeated themes delivered in a plummy accent that my sister parodied with barbed wit. “I believe in a strong navy, a strong army, and a strong air force. Furthermore, I am convinced of this country’s need for a strong air force, and a strong army as well as a strong navy. To which I would add . . .” And so forth.

I should not be too hard on him. He did get elected. Later when he came to speak to the Conservative Club at Oxford he was kind enough to invite me to dinner. I seized the opportunity to ask him for advice. “Commander Marshall, what is the secret of success as a Member of Parliament?” Without hesitation he replied, “Constitution of an ox, Richard my boy, constitution of an ox.”

On one memorable evening during the campaign Commander Marshall gave his familiar speech from the balcony of the Conservative Club at the end of Fore Street in the center of Liskeard, just below the Guildhall with its imposing clock tower. My sister Pam was part of the crowd listening below. The crowd was not spellbound by the oratory and grew restive. Among the distinguished supporters on the balcony behind the candidate Pam spotted none less than Ernie Penna, with his bag of newspapers slung over his shoulder. She also spotted an opportunity. She started a chant, “We want Ernie, we want Ernie!” The crowd picked it up. “We want Ernie, we want Ernie, we want Ernie,” drowning the speaker who simply gave up.

When a grinning Ernie stepped forward and spoke in his incomprehensible garble the crowd hooted and hollered. Commander Marshall never regained his composure or control of the crowd. The meeting broke up. John Foot’s supporters sensed victory.

Unfortunately, however, a Liberal victory was not to be. On election day on July 5 a Labour interloper had split the vote and the Conservative won. Cornwall once again ran against the national tide. The Conservatives were defeated, Labour won in a landslide and the Liberal Party was in tatters.

Aunty Betty, Uncle Rodgy, the Foots, my sisters, Douglas Marshall, Ernie Penna. What characters! What a boyhood.


© Richard Hoskin 2015


Thursday Thought: Another 9/11 Anniverary

This is “Another memoir while memory lasts”, this one prompted by a recent conversation with some friends. I entitled it “Alert”. 

Another anniversary of 9/11 has come and gone without incident. Well, no headline-worthy event within the American homeland and that is all that counts, right?

The perspective is different for people who have not always lived in America, a country blessed to have suffered only one significant attack on its mainland in the last two hundred or so years. Air raids killed ten times as many civilians in Britain during the Blitz in World War II as in America on 9/11 (some 32,000 compared with around 3,000. Both totals were a fraction of the massive casualties inflicted by the allies’ strategic bombing.) The city of Plymouth, home to the Royal Navy dockyard in Devonport, was targeted by 59 German air raids.

I was fortunate to grow up in Cornwall in the small and strategically unimportant town of Liskeard, some 20 miles from Plymouth. Once some incendiary bombs fell in a field a mile or two away, jettisoned by a German bomber lightening its load to flee home across the Channel after the raid. That was the closest we came to actual danger but the threat was always there.

Barrage Balloons

Barrage Balloons


The Battle of Britain started in the summer of 1940. Above the horizon beyond the fields behind our house we could see barrage balloons, great hydrogen filled blimps tethered to steel cables, floating above Plymouth to obstruct attacking planes. We boys learned to identify aeroplanes, ours and the enemy’s. I spotted the Gloster Gladiator fighters patrolling the

Gloster Gladiator

Gloster Gladiator

approaches to Devonport. It was not a reassuring sight. They were biplanes with a top speed of 250 mph, armed only with four point 303-inch machine guns. Their inexperienced young pilots were heroic but overmatched by the modern German Messerschmidt monoplanes armed with 20 mm cannons. Gladiators were all we had at the outbreak of the war until Hurricanes and Spitfires arrived.

I was a very small boy when the war broke out. My father was too old to rejoin the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry with which he had fought in India, Mesopotamia, Palestine and Egypt in World War I. He volunteered for the ARP, the Air Raid Precautions organization responsible for civil defence, and was appointed Senior Warden responsible for the southern half of our town. My Uncle Dick joined the Home Guard and was issued a bolt-action Lee Enfield rifle with a magazine for five cartridges. He made a toy wooden rifle for me. It had a trigger guard with a hole big enough for my finger and I sanded it smooth so there were no splinters. I practiced marching with my rifle at the slope and could even present arms. I took it with me everywhere, just in case.

Everybody in the town did their bit, those too old, too young and too infirm for the armed forces. The ARP installed a device for detecting poison gas in our front garden; actually it was a one foot square piece of plywood mounted at a slope on a six-foot post. It was painted a yellowish green color which was reputed to turn pink if hit by chlorine.

And a stirrup pump and buckets for sand and water were delivered to our house for defence against incendiary bombs. I joined enthusiastically in the training for their use and was the only one agile enough to get up from the prone position

Stirrup Pump & Gas Mask

Stirrup Pump & Gas Mask

shown in the manual. It really wasn’t much more than a garden hose and the intent was to lie down below the smoke and crawl closer to aim the jet or spray of water into the heart of the fire. The old men in our team just did their best and stood up. How effective all this would have been in the event of attack was never explained but at least the civilian population could feel that something was being done.

People came around collecting tin cans and old saucepans and cutting off the beautiful decorative railings in front of the houses to be melted down for munitions. Miss Bryant at No 2 Manley Terrace complained that she had just had her railings painted, but the man in charge said, “That’s all right, mum, we’ll take them paint and all.”

At first the ARP wardens had drills, distributed gas masks to everybody and showed people how to put them on, and made sure that no cracks of light showed through the blackouts at night. They instructed the churches never to ring their bells except to warn that the invasion had started. One thing that disappointed the town’s fathers was that the smart new electric lights just installed to replace the gas lights in the main streets did not get used for another five years.

They called this period the phoney war, but things became real enough when the air raids over Plymouth started. My father decided at this point that he would have an air raid shelter installed in our back garden, partly to protect his family but also to set a good example. Uncle Dick’s building firm dug a deep hole and built a sturdy concrete structure to a government design. There were a wall and sandbags to protect the main entrance and the emergency hatch at the back against blast, and the roof was sloped to deflect bombs. There were layers of bunks to sleep us all and we kept supplies of food and water and blankets and bandages.

Dad’s working day at The Cornish Times was tiring because he had to help out with the work that the young men who had been called up used to do. But he was up night after night once the raids started. He would see us to the shelter but then have to put on his tin hat and his ARP arm-band and go off with his hooded flashlight to carry out his warden’s duties.

The siren sounding the “Alert” made an awful racket, howling with long rising and falling notes for minutes on end. There was no sleeping through it. Sometimes I was glad to be woken on the nights I had nightmares about German paratroopers breaking into my bedroom. My evacuee friend Leslie Solt subscribed to a magazine about war and weapons and the images he showed me of heavily armed and jack-booted Jerries frightened me more than I cared to admit.

It was worse on clear moonlit nights. The moon helped the defenders’ criss-crossing searchlights catch the bombers overhead, but the attackers could see their targets clearer. Once, going through the house in the dark huddled in my pyjamas and dressing-gown as I walked through the kitchen, I was frightened by a ghost. Blessedly, it was just my cat Tigger’s raw fish head lying on the counter, its scales glowing eerily in the dark with a phosphorescent moonlit glow.

We did not get much sleep in the air-raid shelter, disturbed by the persistent explosions of bombs and the ack-ack barrage. We were relieved eventually to hear the reassuringly monotonous note of the “All Clear” and creep our way back to our beds. I would lie awake in my own bed until at last I heard the steady rhythm of my father’s footsteps as he came back to the house and tried to get some sleep until he had to wake to go back to work the next day.

© Richard J. C. Hoskin; September 2015


Thursday Thought: A Mystery Discovered

The prologue of The Miner & the Viscount is the story of St. Piran, the Christian missionary who was tied to a millstone by Druids and hurled off a cliff into the stormy Irish Sea. Miraculously, he survived and floated all the way to Cornwall where he landed at what is now Perranporth. He became the patron saint of Cornwall, and part of the mystique of that ancient Celtic land.

St. Piran's Oratory

St. Piran’s Oratory

An Oratory, a chapel of prayer, dedicated to St. Piran was built probably in the 12th century near the spot where he landed. Over the centuries it was lost. What happened? It was buried by wind-blown sand.

Many efforts have been made to preserve the Oratory. In 2000 A.D the Piran Trust was set up to provide support and funding. My daughter Sarah and I enjoyed the privilege of being shown over the site by trustees Eileen Carter and Colin Rotallick (who plays the role of the saint in the annual reenactment), both of whom have earned the title of bard of the Cornish Gorsedh.

You can see more about our visit and the work of the trust at their website: http://stpiran.org/blog/page/2/





Thursday Thought: Once a Priory, now a Grand House

Port Eliot

Port Eliot

Edward Eliot, my protagonist in The Miner & the Viscount, inherited the great estate of Port Eliot, near St. Germans in Cornwall. This is one wing of the house, with the imposing main entrance wing to the right. The wing at the left at one point housed servants but now is where the estate offices are located.

 Here the Earl of St. Germans, the present owner, is showing me around the house.
Art collection

Art collection

He is enormously knowledgeable about the accomplishments of his famous ancestors. There is a fabulous collection of paintings, including 14 by the great English portraitist Sir Joshua Reynolds.

Chapter 57 in The Miner & the Viscount tells the delightful story of a visit by Reynolds to his friends the Eliots, who were among his earliest patrons. Reynolds and Edward Eliot tell stories of their travels, Edward’s still youthful mother flirts with the artist charmingly, and Edward’s wife Catherine does her best to pry from Reynolds the secrets of his technique and his earnings.
St. Germanus Church

St. Germanus Church

To the right of the house was the church of St. Germanus, once the cathedral of Cornwall. Port Eliot was originally a priory until Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries and sold it to a layman supporter. It was eventually bought by the Eliot family, who over the centuries improved it for family use.

Round Room

Round Room

  This is part of the spectacular 40 foot diameter Round Room at Port Eliot. It was designed by Sir John Soane the great 18th century architect and interior designer. The contemporary “Riddle Mural” was painted over several years by Robert Lenkiewicz from nearby Plymouth, but not finished when he died.

Thursday Thought: How 45 Minutes Took 5 Years

I was asked to contribute a guest blog for the prestigious Historical Novel Society. It is about how my novel came to be written.

Click here: http://awriterofhistory.com/2015/08/18/the-miner-the-viscount-by-richard-hoskin/

Although I did not realize it at the time, the birth of The Miner & The Viscount began when a professor friend asked me to contribute a Cornwall segment to his lecture series on aspects of the history and culture of Great Britain. I was recently retired and glad to embark on a new career as a lecturer, holding engrossed audiences in thrall.

“How many lectures would you like?” I asked. “Eight? Six?”

“Actually, one,” he replied, “and no more than 45 minutes including Q & A.”

Not quite what I had in mind but at least it would not take much effort, since I knew all about Cornwall having been born and bred there. I did some research to flesh out details, realising that stories from my childhood only skimmed the surface. The result was Cornwall: History, Mystery, Mansions and Mines. It proved a lot of effort for 45 minutes but at least I got them singing a rousing “Trelawney” at the end.

It seemed a pity to leave it at that. My New England wife suggested that since I loved Cornwall and enjoyed history, I should use the material to write an historical novel. She would help with editing. I was convinced. It would be a big project, imagined it would take at least a year. Moreover, I was passionate about telling the story of my Cornwall to a wider world.

The timeframe I settled on was the late 18th century. Widespread change was emerging: the agricultural and industrial revolutions and the invention of the steam engine, social unrest and the rise of Methodism, popular education and the influence of women, political corruption at home and expansion of empire overseas, the beginnings of the Enlightenment.

I assembled sources. Steven Watson, my tutor at Oxford, published The Reign of George III. My brother-in-law, Dr. J.R. Ravensdale had written the volume onCornwall for the National Trust. Lewis Namier devoted an entire chapter to the machination of the 44 Cornish MPs in his breakthrough work The Structure of Politics at the Accession of George III. There were biographies of William Pitt the Elder (whose grandfather bought Boconnoc), the journals of John Wesley, books on mining, scores of articles to be woven into a coherent pattern. And then there was John Allen’s History of the Borough of Liskeard published in 1856 by John Philp, founder of The Cornish Times.

But above all were my personal experiences of growing up in Liskeard, living in those beautiful places, knowing those sturdily independent people, absorbing their legends and their story. This is what got my imagination surging.

Following expert advice, I planned to begin with an outline. I decided to build my story around Cornish gentry in great houses and miners and farm labourers in tiny cottages. I picked famous historical figures to mingle with my fictitious characters. I thought up a title, The Miner & the Viscount. I picked a start date, 1760. I typed the title and “Outline” on a fresh document. Then I got stuck.

The only outline I ever created was one summarising what I had already written, to keep things straight. “A pleasure to make your acquaintance, my good man.” “But my lord, you already had me flogged in Chapter Six.”

I just started writing drafts. Fortunately, as I got into it the characters magically took over. Their loves, their hates, partnerships, rivalries, joys, sufferings, doings: their story became my story. I would finish a chapter and stare at my computer. What ever would happen next? And Willy Bunt would come into my mind. “Us just ’as to get on with it, zir, Oi’ll tell ’e what Oi’d do if Oi were ye.”

Location Research

Location Research

After three years and six rewrites I had a finished manuscript. A research trip to Cornwall would enable me to fill in a few details, add a little local colour. We visited Liskeard, Port Eliot, Boconnoc, Lanhydrock, Bodmin Moor, the tin and copper mines down west, absorbed the countryside, heard more stories about the people who lived there in the 18th century. We met Maureen Fuller, Grand Bard of the Cornish Gorsedh and she agreed to translate some dialogue into the ancient Cornish language, adding so much authenticity.

Back in Kentucky an experienced member of my writers’ group offered to burnish the final version, a little tweak here and there. After three more rewrites, 25,000 more words, and two more years we sent the manuscript to the publisher.

The story of Cornwall was finally mine to tell. Well, perhaps with a little help from Willy Bunt.


Thursday Thoughts: Boulder Gold!

Next week I’m off to Colorado for a very full visit. I will participate in the Historical Novel Society conference in Denver. My mentor is best-selling historical novel author, Diana Gabaldon. I will give talks on my book in Boulder and Brighton. And best of all I will be with my children and grandchildren.

There is great history of the Cornish in Colorado. Perhaps one of the most interesting times was the mining era.

Beginning in 1859, Cornish hard rock miners flocked to Colorado to mine gold, silver and lead. Dr. A.L. Rowse, the Oxford historian born the son of a clay worker in St. Austell, Cornwall, wrote in The Cornish in America:

“Cornish miners, with their long experience in underground work, contributed much to the improvement of mining technique. . . by their skillful sinking of shafts and tracing of veins and . . . their mechanical aids like the Cornish pump for removing water from the underground recesses.”

Cornish Miner Boulder, CO

Cornish Miner
Boulder, CO

The Cornish miner is commemorated by the famous statue on Pearl Street in Boulder.