Posted by: Alice Fitzpatrick | July 3, 2012

The Origins of Meredith Island

When I sat down to write the first book in the Kate Galway series, I knew that I needed a setting to which I and my readers would want to return time and time again.  I wanted a place where I could control all aspects of the setting: the weather, the geography, the flora and fauna.  I feared that a real location would involve endless hours researching minutia lest I get  irate e-mails from readers saying that I got it wrong.  For my first book, I invented a toxic mushroom known on the island as  Widow’s Teacups.  Its name comes from an incident 150 years before when a woman made broth from these mushrooms and gave it to her husband every day for two weeks.  The toxic build-up eventually killed him.  I’m not sure if a mushroom with this characteristic exists or if it would be able to grow on an island, but in my world it does.

As a writer of traditional British mysteries, I wanted an isolated location, and there’s nothing more isolated than an island.  I’ve always lived near large bodies of waters, and I especially love the sea.  To spend every day with the changing colours of the ocean, the smell of salt in the wind, and the sound of waves hitting the rocky cliffs, well, this is the closest I get to heaven.

My fondest childhood memories are of carefree summers spent in Tenby, a resort town in Pembrokeshire on the southern coast of Wales.  So when I created Meredith Island, I couldn’t help but be influenced by Tenby.

Part of the medieval wall in the town.

The town’s history dates back to the Norman Conquest and many of the castle walls built in 1264 can still be seen today.

The next 550 years saw Tenby’s rise and fall, including its success as a busy national port, the site of a battle during the English Civil War, and a plague epidemic.  During the 19th century it was revitalized into the favourite summer holiday spot it is to this day.  Victorians flocked to Tenby’s beaches and the spa-like bath houses for the benefits they believed sea bathing provided.

Tenby Harbour

 

Because Meredith Island’s history only spans 150 years, it doesn’t have Tenby’s elegant Georgian and Victorian row houses.  But like the streets that curve down and around Tenby’s harbour, Meredith Island has a road that runs along the edge of the cliffs past Kate’s cottage and sweeps down to the island harbour.  There you will find The Fish and Filly pub (known to the islanders as The Filly), The Sea Breeze restaurant, Craggy’s Shop (a combination of post office, bank, and convenience store), a wharf for the ferry that travels back and forth to the mainland, and a shelter for fishing boats.

Cliffs at St. Govan’s Head

 

 

 

 

Travelling along the Pembrokeshire coast, we find tall cliffs rising out the sea, places not unlike where I imagine Kate’s Aunt Emma must have drowned over fifty years ago.  It is her death that Kate investigates in the first book.

 

 

Looking over the wall from my cousin’s house.

 

 

 

 

The church next door to my cousin Jim’s house is the inspiration for the island church presided over by the Rev. Imogen Church.  Kate observes that God must have a sense of humour to have given someone called Church a religious calling.

 

 

 

 

St. Govan’s Chapel

 

At St. Govan’s Head a long flight of stone steps leads down the steep cliff-face to a 14th century chapel built over the cave where St. Govan lived and preached eight centuries before.  I took the liberty of reducing a similar building to ruins so that in the second book a team of archaeology students can come to Meredith Island to excavate it, only to discover — well, something a lot more interesting than foundation stones.

 

English Heritage plaque commemorating George Eliot’s time in Tenby.

 

 

 

Tenby has been a vacation spot and inspiration for many writers, including Daniel Defoe, Lewis Carroll, George Eliot, Beatrix Potter, and Dylan Thomas.

 

 

 

 

Beatrix Potter’s blue plaque on the hotel owned by the family of my cousin’s partner.

 

 

 

 

While I don’t anticipate getting a blue English Heritage plaque anytime soon, I’m humbled to be in such esteemed company.

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Responses

  1. I had some happy summer holidays in and around Tenby as a child. It was lovely to see your photos. And I wouldn’t give up on that blue plaque with your name it!

    • It’s amazing how many people have some connection to Tenby. As you know, it’s a wonderful place for a summer holiday if you’re a child. And it’s still wonderful to visit, full of nostalgia for a more innocent time: all sea shells and sandcastles and 99s. I try to go back every couple of years. And thanks for the encouragement on the blue plaque. Even though I now live in Canada, I’ve kept my British citizenship in the vain hope that it will keep me eligible for the plaque!


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