Saturday, 23 August 2014

Budleigh in Books: Part 3

Click  here  to read my earlier post Budleigh in Books: Part 2 and  here  to read Budleigh in Books: Part 1

The English novelist Clare Morrall, born in Exeter in 1952, has lived mainly in Birmingham but has a strong attachment to East Devon.  Her mother lived in Lympstone, and she has been a frequent visitor to the area over the years.  

The Man Who Disappeared, published in 2010, is her fourth novel. It raises the issue of how well one can ever really know another person, using the device of an apparently happy marriage which suddenly falls apart when a secret is revealed. 

In the novel, Felix and Kate Kendall buy a house in Budleigh Salterton. He then disappears and is sought by police for money-laundering. The novel explores the impact of these events on his family.

It was, Clare Morrall was reported as saying, a real pleasure setting her latest book in the surroundings where she grew up. “I have always thought I would like to set something there because it is such a nice area and I love Budleigh Salterton, which is where the couple in the novel live."

The mouth of the River Mouth at Budleigh Salterton
Image credit: Barry Lewis

There are plenty of realistic touches, such as the mentions of Budleigh by name - no more ‘Pebbletons’ or ‘Pebblecombes’.  There’s even a recognisable description of part of the famous pebble beach, where one can watch the sea “flow into the Otter river, a deep current, guarded by a group of rocks at the entrance.” When Kate reaches the end of Budleigh beach she “gazes across the river at the cluster of pines opposite.” Out in the bay on the horizon she notices a tanker “almost motionless with distance, travelling across the world, passing Budleigh Salterton without acknowledgement.”  There is a mention of Sandy Bay with its cliffs and “rows of caravans stretched over distant fields.” Exmouth, Dawlish, Lympstone and Woodbury Common also find their place in the narrative.

There are fictional elements however. Budleigh Salterton is initially portrayed as somewhere special and idealised. Clare Morrall appreciates Budleigh for its special qualities, and these are emphasised to build up the picture of the ideal life before the domestic catastrophe.

The tranquillity of Budleigh beach is emphasised, for example.  During a family outing to Exmouth beach, before the move to Budleigh, Kate notices the comfortable sand, but the beach is busy with families and children “shrieking at the cold, shaking themselves like dogs.”  Her parents “recoiled from the random splashes, struggling to appear oblivious.” They live in Topsham of course, in a 17th century Dutch gabled house which has, incongruously, a large plate-glass window offering a spectacular view of the river Exe.  “We should have gone to Budleigh Salterton,” observes Felix, noting the unease of his in-laws. “They’re out of place here.” A few lines further on, he comments: “The air never feels as fresh here as it does at Budleigh.”

When they do move to Budleigh, it is to buy a home which turns out to be a dream property: an elegant home “Edwardian, white and draped with wisteria, looking out to sea from its position at the top of a cliff.”

A family walk along the River Otter after the move to this ideal home, in the good days before the crisis, inspires “a deep contentment” in Kate. “It was an exquisite moment that she would never lose, whatever might happen in the future.”

It’s almost a perfect world, hinted at with dramatic irony in this vision of the Otter: “The sky had been an intense, unbroken blue, stretching from horizon to horizon without a blemish. On the opposite side of the river, trees projected their image onto the water so perfectly that, if the world was turned upside down, no one would even know the reflection wasn’t the reality.”  The Man Who Disappeared is, after all, concerned with appearance and reality  in the central character’s relationship with her husband.

Clare Morrall seems genuine enough in her affectionate portrayal of the town. No longer is Budleigh the butt of the usual barbs by previous writers like Coward, Delderfield and others whom I looked at in earlier posts.  I did notice, however, the comment that “Nobody goes for walks in Budleigh at eight o’clock in the morning if they haven’t got a dog." And I found a comment in the same vein in an online review of the novel by a Jayne Charles. “Provided you can cope with the idea of international fraud being committed in Budleigh Salterton (quite a feat but I managed it), this is a fantastic read,” she writes.

Yet there is, so Clare Morrall would have us believe, a different side of Budleigh which Kate and her family will experience in their reduced circumstances brought about by Felix’s disappearance. They continue to live in the town, within reach of the beach. But the grandeur of the elegant Edwardian house has been replaced by a block of run-down flats. Two aunts visit. “Nineteen fifties, I’d say. Replacing the slums,” observes Aunt Beatrice. “But did they have slums in Budleigh Salterton?” questions Aunt Agnes, a thought that had crossed my own mind. 

Alarmingly, for those who treasure Budleigh’s cosy image, the plot turns melodramatic with its picture of juvenile street-gangs, car-theft and a final tense chase along the Exe marshes between Lympstone and Exmouth.

Away from novels, things are looking up for Budleigh in the world of books. First a literary festival which has developed from small beginnings into a highly successful and prestigious event. It’s been helped, of course, by the move to the town of a famous author who has since become its Patron.


Image credit: Joshua Irwandi

It was a dream fulfilled for Dame Hilary Mantel when she settled in the former Southlands Hotel on Marine Parade. The author of Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies had apparently discovered Budleigh at the age of 16, walking alone along the coast path from Exmouth where her parents had taken her on holiday. That magical view of the bay on a baking-hot day had touched her imagination. It looked - looks - like a Mediterranean town from above. She’d never seen a Mediterranean town, but knew what it should be like.



And now we have a crime thriller firmly set in the Budleigh area and written by children from the three primary schools. Published by Budfas Young Arts, Summer Storm is the first book in the Heroes of the Jurassic Coast series of adventure stories written by pupils of St Peter’s, Drakes and Otterton Primary Schools. 

The eye-catching murals created by students at Exmouth Community College to complement the publication of Summer Storm appeared at various sites in Budleigh. This one was painted on the sea-front

It’s very much a story on the lines of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five adventures as one of the main characters acknowledges early on, though this Budleigh-based story focuses on just two young adventurers: Caroline Booker, a pupil at St Peter’s School, Budleigh Salterton and her male school friend Eddie Carter. 

And of course there’s ‘Bud’ the dog, a reminder of the Famous Five’s Timmy. There’s a shipwreck, a criminal gang, a secret map identifying a hidden cave, an old Budleigh lady who turns out to be an MI5 agent,  a kidnapping and a happy ending. 

A dramatic seascape: near Brook Road

Enid Blyton gave us Georgina - a tomboy who prefered to be called George. Since then we’ve had the sexual revolution, and it’s confirmed in the way that Budleigh’s 21st century young writers portray Caroline Booker, a pupil at St Peter’s School, Budleigh Salterton. Eddie Carter, her male school friend, seems to be a bit of a whinger. Shivering with fear, he admits: ‘I’m scared.’ ‘Don’t be such a girl!’ said Caroline, who could be quite sharp.” 


Summer Storm scenes on the wall of Budleigh Salterton Library

There are plenty of other modern touches: the evil gang members drive around in a black 4X4 Mercedes and illegally monitor emergency radio frequencies, and there are mentions of pen drives and text messages.


However it’s the local colour which makes Summer Storm special for local readers. The list of characters with local names like Vanstone sets the action from the beginning firmly in Budleigh Salterton. Shops like Budleigh Wines and Premier Fish get a mention, as does the Gentlemen’s Club. There’s a den off the coast path, the sound of a Dartford Warbler allows our heroes to realise that they’ve been imprisoned on Woodbury Common and the Royal Marines make a triumphant appearance to save the day.

Cliff Road gets a make-over with this mural by Exmouth Community College students.

And more and more murals appeared in unexpected places to brighten up Budleigh: 

All had been created to illustrate moments in the book.

Summer Storm is, a foreword tells us, “a tale of heroes, of men and women, boys and girls who answered the call when danger threatened.”  It’s a thoroughly enjoyable yarn, especially for local readers. Maybe future books in the series will see heroes from the past stepping out from its pages.   

After all, the celebrated Victorian children’s author and historical novelist G.A. Henty had a daughter who lived in Budleigh Salterton.


Henty is noted unfortunately not just for that tremendous beard. He has been taken to task in modern times for his racist and jingoist views. But I have to admit that, as a naive boy reader, I rather enjoyed his novels 

Among Henty’s 100-plus titles I noted Saint Bartholomew's Eve: A Tale of the Huguenot Wars. This particular book reminded me that a 15-year-old Walter Raleigh, born in our own East Budleigh, was fighting in France during the 1570s with fellow-Protestants from Devon to defend Huguenots against their evil oppressors.  The novel, though I haven’t read it, is even today rated as a rattling good yarn according to the blurb promoting the audiobooks version.

Set in the days of the religious wars of Europe, St. Bartholomew’s Eve is the tale of the Huguenot’s desperate fight for freedom of worship in France,” writes the reviewer of an Audiobooks edition. “As the struggle intensifies the plot thickens, culminating in the dreadful Massacre of St. Bartholomew’s Eve. Henty, ‘The Boy’s Own Storyteller’ weaves the life and adventures of Philip Fletcher and his cousin, Francois DeLaville, into the historical background with thrilling battles, sieges and escapes along the way (not to mention a fair damsel in distress!)”

Young Walter, according to the history books, had apparently followed his cousins Gawen and Henry Champernowne to France. Gawen had married Gabrielle de Montgomerie, the beautiful daughter of a Huguenot leader.

If you’re looking for a further Budleigh connection, you’ll find it here, in the 1852 painting by Sir John Everitt Millais, celebrated in our town for staying in The Octagon while he painted 'The Boyhood of Raleigh.'  This earlier painting, used on the Audiobook cover, is entitled 'A Huguenot, on St. Bartholomew's Day, Refusing to Shield Himself from Danger by Wearing the Roman Catholic Badge.'

Yes, today’s Heroes of the Jurassic Coast are not short of interesting real-life characters from the past to inspire them to further adventures.  

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