STUDLAND BAY, DORSET
Today Jane Cable writes about how a day trip to the village sparked her latest novel, Another You.
It’s 3rd September 2010 and I am sitting in my mid-life crisis soft top Saab with my friend J, waiting for the ferry from Sandbanks to Studland. I’m worried I’ll be sick. He tells me it only takes five minutes.This summer I have been to many places with J as he recovers from a major breakdown. What I don’t know at 9.30 is that today will be the first day I’ll feel I have my old friend back, and that our destination will spark what will eventually become my first traditionally published novel.
For those who don’t know the Dorset coast, the short ferry ride from the swanky hotels and apartments of Sandbanks takes you not only across the mouth of Poole Harbour but into another world. The Studland peninsular is a strip of heathland with a single road running through it and bordered by sandy beaches which end in the crook of Old Harry’s arm. Cared for by the National Trust it is a nature-lover’s paradise with a very special history too.
On that September morning we drove straight to the village and parked next to the pub before walking along a grassy path towards the sea. The view was breath-taking, yachts bobbed in a sheltered bay, the bluest of seas lapping against the massive chalk cliffs rising to its right. To my absolute amazement, parakeets darted from the trees above our heads.
We didn’t go down to the beach straight away but headed for a concrete blockhouse called Fort Henry and J told me that Churchill, Eisenhower and King George had watched the rehearsals for D-Day from there. It was the first time I’d heard of Exercise Smash, which would become so central to Another You.
What inspired me that day though was the sheltered shoreline with its higgledy-piggledy row of beach huts. A while afterwards I wrote a short story about a group of teenagers whose barbecue turned decidedly ghostly but it was only when my mother told me I had the opening of a novel that I began to research the area further.
First and foremost I am an author inspired by place, but for a story to gel and take off I need another idea to collide with it. At the time I was already writing The Faerie Tree (inspired by a real tree on the banks of the river Hamble) so I set Studland to one side. Then my husband bought me a book of true ghost stories, and one of the hauntings happened in the village. I started to research the history of place and very soon Exercise Smash and the tragedy which came of it leapt to the fore.
I went back to Studland again and again to research the area more closely. I walked where my character Marie walks, returning to my car to take copious notes. I sat in the pub garden and imagined what it would be like for her to live and work there. I dreamt of the secret life of beach huts, and what could happen behind their closed doors and spent hours in contemplation at the small memorial to the men who lost their lives. Most importantly I went back there on the 70th anniversary of their death and met John Pearson, WW2 historian and tank restorer who knew everything and more about Exercise Smash.
The result was a novel so grounded in Studland that many readers have told me it makes them want to go there. One of my proudest moments was when the manager of the local National Trust shop told me that I’d captured the area perfectly. Because I write romance with a strong element of mystery – and even a little ghostliness – grounding the story firmly in a real place helps me to make it powerfully believable.
STOP PRESS: Jane Cable has teamed up with the National Trust to organise a day of talks, walks and displays about Studland’s wartime history. Dive into D-Day is a free event on Sunday 1st October. For more details visit Jane or the National Trust’s website.
Jane Cable is a writer of romance with a twist of suspense in a beautiful British setting. Her first novel, The Cheesemaker’s House, was a finalist in The Alan Titchmarsh Show’s People’s Novelist competition and won the inaugural Words for the Wounded independent novel of the year prize. Another You is published by Endeavour Press and tells how chance meetings around the sixtieth anniversary of D-Day have the power to change downtrodden Marie’s life forever.