Penelope Alexander

Penelope was our guest back in 2011…

The Turn of the Tide

Linford Romance Library [Thorpe publishing] £ 8.99

alpe-tide-t.pngIn the North Cornish village of Penarren, widow Jenny Hawke and her family struggle to keep The Chough café going. When Kit Venning returns, causing controversy, Jenny unexpectedly falls in love with him. Then Kit joins the crew of the lifeboat Etta Trelawney. It takes dramatic events at sea and the rescue of Jenny’s grandson, Ben, to settle past difficulties between the Trelawneys and the Vennings… and to help Jenny and Kit realise what they mean to each other.

Ten years ago – yes, I am the typical ‘overnight success’! – I took part in a workshop. We were invited to devise a scene in which two people meet after a long separation. Now, I am pretty wary about writing-to-order. Either words spill out like fleeing mercury, or stick together worse than an overstuffed pastie. But occasionally it’s positive to ditch the goblin telling you what a rubbish author you are. So I dreamed up Jane [later, Jenny] clattering cups in her patchwork beach-hut restaurant. She was remonstrating with her wayward, difficult son, while the sign of the red-beaked Cornish Chough creaked overhead.

Gary later acquired a sweet wife and two children and his character changed the most of all, but I always liked him. Later, I gave him a good singing voice and he managed to keep his individual outlook on life.

Other characters [e.g. a cheery, tone-deaf lifeboatman, or Lily Pinch, ace biscuit-maker] continued to gather themselves into my mind at any time, day or night, unbidden and sometimes even unrecognised. Usually at 3 am when, frankly, saner persons might be asleep. Luckily, the trusty notebook was handy! I’ve never been able to plan anything without recourse to drawing, sketching, collecting, maps and diagrams [lists are only useful for shopping, in my opinion] and at this stage, the spider-grams were expanding like pondweed.

The specific challenge jolting me towards putting everything into working order boiled down to this:

“How would you feel about a serial?” asked my nice editor, after many short stories with People’s Friend. “Something including lifeboats, maybe…?”

“I’ve never submitted anything longer than a couple of thousand words in my life,” I said, gulping slightly. “But since you ask, yes, I’d love to!”


Easy peasy, I thought. After all, most of the hard work was done, wasn’t it? In fact, almost everything had to change, except the main idea! So let’s just say that over the following two years and a bit, as a four-generation Cornish family came to life and ten episodes of their story were emailed to and fro, I was more than glad of my editor’s cool eye and can-do attitude.

Not to mention the support of fellow writers and the RNLI who sent me lots of helpful information and gave me a tour of the Aldeburgh lifeboat, one similar in type to the Etta Trelawney.

Once the serial completed its magazine run, the story was free to seek its fortune elsewhere… and lo! it grew into a book, courtesy of Ulverscroft Publishing. If you come across The Turn of the Tide on your library shelves, [please ask for it if you don’t] I really hope you’ll enjoy it. And my fingers still itch to sketch some black choughs tumbling in all that blue sky on the cover!

Penelope Alexander