Today I have a guest post from author Chris Penhall.
Finding Summer Happiness
You won’t find happiness without breaking a few eggs …
Miriam Ryan was the MD of a successful events and catering company, but these days even the thought of chopping an onion sends her stress levels sky rocketing. A retreat to the Welsh village of her childhood holidays seems to offer the escape she’s craving – just peace, quiet, no people, a generous supply of ready meals … did she mention no people?
Enter a cheery pub landlord, a lovesick letting agent, a grumpy astronomer with a fridge raiding habit – not to mention a surprise supper club that requires the chopping of many onions – and Miriam realises her escape has turned into exactly what she was trying to get away from, but could that be just the thing she needs to allow a little bit of summer happiness into her life?
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All of the summer beach days I enjoyed as a child were filled with sun, sand and sea. I don’t remember the rain, I really don’t. I’ve edited it out, although, as I am from South Wales, I really know that we must have had a few wet days here and there….
The snippets of childhood memories I have of growing up near the seaside, and then visiting the glorious South Wales coast when we moved away to Essex for a while are what I used when I was writing Finding Summer Happiness.
In the novel, the main character, Miriam Ryan is leaving behind a successful events and catering company for a long, peaceful break on the Pembrokeshire coast. Her P.A., rather hurriedly, has found her a house in a little village she used to visit with her family when she was very young. She’s looking for memories, but they are hard to come by.
However, every now and again, there’s a flicker of recognition of the past, and I’ve dipped into my knowledge and love for coast for those little moments.
I have walked some of the Pembrokeshire Coastal path and was entranced by the landscape around me, with its dramatic cliffs, wild blue ocean stretching to what seems like infinity, golden beaches and wide-open spaces. The colours are particularly striking. I remember walking on one very, very wet spring day – so wet it was raining directly into my eyes for what I would describe as an ‘invigorating’ few hours – and the pinks and yellows of the flowers really stood out against the lush green grass; it was almost ethereal. I’ve seen baby seals basking far below in secluded coves, heard nothing but birdsong and waves for miles, stood staring into the distance in awe and paddled in the warm sea at Newgale at the end of a sun-drenched walk to gorgeous Solva and back thinking how lucky I was to have experienced the whole thing.
So, I put Miriam there – a place where she could escape to and think, as well as somehow be surrounded by people. The village her holiday home is situated in is fictional – a complication of favourite places in Pembrokeshire and Gower which is near where I grew up in West Glamorgan. It’s a teeny tiny version of Tenby and Solva rolled into one plus a smattering of Mumbles, with a local pub run by Jim the Landlord based on a hotel my friends and I went to one summer evening where we sat and watched the sun set over St Brides Bay. There were also a lot of fairy lights there too..I love a fairy light me…and there’s a little homage to that in the one scene I wrote set in Neath which is where I was born.
Neath is an old industrialised town nestled (its Welsh name is Castell Nedd..or castle in the nest) in a valley between the sea and the Brecon Beacons in the far distance. There is also a housing estate called Fairyland and a bus that goes there. The reasons for this are unclear, but it is said that a Roman Centurian once got lost there and fairies helped him find his way home. I love that. So, as far as I’m concerned, the whole South Wales coast is a magical place, industrialised or not. And that’s why I set Finding Summer Happiness there.
I’ve also included a lot of food, plus there’s quite a lot of singing. It is Wales after all. I also thoroughly enjoyed creating some of the occasional characters that appear in the book, as well as the section about the look-a-like festival. I was supposed to go to a Secret Cinema Dirty Dancing Experience in London this summer, which has been postponed till last year. The idea of dressing up as a character and pretending you’re in a film in just my kind of thing, and that’s probably why I included the festival in the story.
I’ve also been an extra a couple of times. I just wanted to try it. The days were long, but it was such fun. Odd…but fun. But the programmes were contemporary so I wore my own clothes – although my hair was put up in a purple scrunchie for the first one, so I suppose that’s sort of a costume. And for the second we were all given sponges soaked in fake blood to throw at a car…..(you’re trying to work out what on earth that was for aren’t you….!)
So, Finding Summer Happiness – a mixture between serenity and fun-filled chaos. I hope you enjoy it!
Chris Penhall won the 2019 Choc-Lit Search for a Star competition, sponsored by Your Cat Magazine, for her debut novel, The House That Alice Built. The sequel, New Beginnings at the Little House in the Sun was published in August 2020. Her short story, Lily McKee’s Seven Days of Christmas appears in Choc Lit and Ruby Fiction’s Cosy Christmas Treats anthology.
Her new novel, Finding Summer Happiness, which is set in Pembrokeshire in South West Wales was published in May 2021.
Chris is an author and freelance radio producer for BBC Local Radio.
She also has her own podcast – The Talking to My Friends About Book Podcast in which she chats to her friends about books. Good title!
Born in Neath in South Wales, she has also lived in London and in Portugal, which is where The House That Alice Built is set. It was whilst living in Cascais near Lisbon that she began to dabble in writing fiction, but it was many years later that she was confident enough to start writing her first novel, and many years after that she finally finished it!
A lover of books, music and cats, she is also an enthusiastic salsa dancer, a keen cook, and loves to travel. She is never happier than when she is gazing at the sea.