I was first taken to Tregenna Castle Hotel by my mother and father in 1945.
It was our first holiday together as a family. I was six years old.
We had three weeks of unbroken sunshine. I have a sharp memory of playing tennis with my father. He looked ridiculously happy in baggy white trousers, slashing his racket over the court. We were breathing fresh blue-spun air after years of fog and battle. Somehow we had been given a reprieve.
There is a silver-plated mascot on Rolls-Royce cars called The Spirit of Ecstasy. That described us exactly. We were ecstatic with happiness. We could hardly believe our luck. We had survived the Second World War.
The most extraordinary feature of Tregenna Castle Hotel is its height above the sea. In those days – seventy three years ago – the land that stretched away from it in the steepness of its hill contained no holiday homes. There was only the castle and its green grass tumbling into narrow river and waterfall. Climbing the steep hill to get to the castle was hard work. It still is. But in the end, teeth-grittingly worth every huff and puff.
Forty years later I went back, like a wounded soldier, to recover after major surgery. It was cold, wet and the beginning of winter. I left Sam on his own in our 1930s semi-detached house in Oxford to entertain his friends, feed the cat, and become a young man without his boring mother. I was so tired I never thought I’d find the strength to go home. Tregenna Castle Hotel gathered me up and nursed me back to health. It took three weeks. I remember almost nothing apart from the fact that somebody else did my washing. What bliss. I might have read a book but heaven only knows what it was.
One afternoon while I was sitting alone in the hall, feeling like a lump of lard, a sprightly looking middle-aged gentleman wearing a ginger suit with wide lapels came up to me holding a pack of cards.
“Pick one,” he said. His voice had a seductive Irish lilt. “Go on, young lady. Reach towards me and pick one.”
Barely summoning a smile, I did what I was told.
I stared down at a scarlet ace of diamonds.
“Now,” said the ginger lapels. “Don’t tell me what card it is you’re holding. Keep your mouth shut and your eyes down. THINK what’s in your hand. Spell it out for me in your head, if you please young lady, loud and clear.”
ACE OF DIAMONDS I yelled silently. I knew he could read my mind. This wasn’t some gangster’s trick. He looked down at me as I raised my eyes to his.
“You’ve got the ace of diamonds,” he said. “And you’re going to be just fine.”
I never saw him again – and he was right.
In the summer of 2001, when I was an energetic sixty-two year old, I began a new career as a writer of novels for teenagers. I was doing field research for the first of four, GIRL IN THE ATTIC, and staying at the Tregenna Castle Hotel.
Somebody told me of a Captain Philip Moran who knew everything there was to know about St Ives. I rang him and we made an appointment to meet.
Armed with my smart notepad and Parker pen, I slithered eagerly down Tregenna’s hill towards the sea. I waited for Philip in an outdoor café, drinking coffee and wondering what he would be like.
Somebody walked towards me: tall, slim, with a seaman’s easy walk and smile, he had white hair, sharp blue eyes and a shirt to match – and the most beautiful speaking voice. We were friends at first sight.
For the past seventeen years we have written our stories quite independently of each other. I only once visited his cottage, which featured in THE DROWNING, and has now become The Hideaway and a focal point in THE CHOICE. Philip has created the brilliant Soggy the Bear series with the additional enchantment of Michael Foreman’s illustrations.
We can laugh together on the telephone, hundreds of miles away, and he always calls me “gal”. A writer’s entire day can be inspired by a single good laugh.
Philip was, and is, a kindred spirit.
The spirit of agony and ecstasy.
And the spirit of Tregenna Castle Hotel’s life force.