Now Reading
The inspiration and real live events surrounding The Storyteller By The Sea by Phyllida Shrimpton

The inspiration and real live events surrounding The Storyteller By The Sea by Phyllida Shrimpton

I’m a child again, playing on the beach in Devon, the cool sand beneath my feet, the taste of salt on my lips. The red sails of Mirror Dinghy’s are billowing in the breeze and the sun is dropping diamonds on the sea, tumbling them into shore on the incoming tide.

Creating the story behind my new novel was a wonderfully therapeutic experience which took me back to my childhood summers at Shelly, Exmouth, Devon, an area comprised of Victorian seaside dwellings that hugged the beach and surrounded the working dock. It took me to a time when growing up in between the 60’s and the 80’s seemed embroidered with endless days of swimming, buckets and spades, crab lines and sandcastles, row boats, sail boats and evening suppers on seaside bungalow terraces.

But how to make a story from that precious time? Incorporate the blissful simplicity of those halcyon summer days, mix it together with a sprinkle of imagination and a timeline governed by real events, that’s how.

I set my novel in the 80’s just before the area known as Shelly was due to be bulldozed. My protagonist, Melody, an entirely fictional character, lives in fear of losing Spindrift, her own seaside bungalow, along with all that she knows. While battling with the discovery of a family secret, she puts her own worries aside to care for her younger brother, Milo. Every day, she combs the shore for flotsam and jetsam that she can bring back and weave into stories for him while he watches life from his wheelchair.

During the long, hot heatwave of 1976, I was a wheelchair user myself following an Road Traffic Accident and experienced a summer where swimming, sailing and the beach had been inaccessible to me. I watched it all from our beach bungalow terrace. Incorporating this experience and writing an ode to a friend who lived in a world where people with disabilities and/or learning difficulties met with huge barriers to living a fully accessible life, I created Milo.

In my research, I met with old friends who had stayed or returned to Exmouth and now live in the area around Pirate’s Cove, a local name for what was once Shelly Beach. We reminisced over the huge cargo ships that came into dock, the coal deliveries, the scent of wood from the timber merchants, the imposing grain silos against the skyline, how the dock workers would cast off their day’s toil at The Beach Pub and, of course, the devastation caused to the community when the bulldozers finally came.

Shelly had been formed when, in the late 1800’s, the Exmouth railway was built and wealthy tourists from Exeter and beyond began to arrive. Initially designed as holiday dwellings, bungalows were built on land owned by the Dock Company. So idyllic was this little corner of Devon where the river Exe yawns into the sea, that many made the bungalows their home and a new and thriving community grew. Soon, pleasure boats and canoes were at one with the cargo boats, fishing trawlers and lobster pots of the working dock.

The Dock Company sold the land in the 1980’s and declared the dock unfit for large cargo ships. Jobs were lost and homes were destroyed. A new Marina, shops, cafes and beachside apartments were built and the controversy surrounding this regeneration split the community of Exmouth in two, dividing opinions on old versus new.

There is no doubt that a modern world has a good deal to offer. Like many places, Exmouth now has sloping paths, ramps, more inclusive beach access, the Beach Wheelchair hire, and the wonderful Sailability scheme on the ‘No Excuse’ yacht.

The Storyteller by the Sea explores the loveliness along with the difficulties of an old-fashioned life for Melody, the secret that eats away at her, and the uncertain future she faces.

I was originally in the camp of people who believed that the simplicity of old Shelly was nicer than this new marina village. At first, that is…. Initially, unable to face new Shelly, it was years before I felt I could return. However, when I did, I knew instantly that this place is still beautiful, it’s just a different kind of beautiful.

The Storyteller by the Sea, Phyllida Shrimpton’s latest book is published on 14 September by Aria in Paperback, Ebook and audiobook.

View Comments (0)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.