Author Jennifer Bell is under the spotlight this week, telling the tale of leaving her life in London to go west to Cornwall to set up a pottery venture. Not just any pottery venture. Her and her husband’s pots were so successful they were sold beyond the UK to Europe, USA, Japan, Australia and South Africa. Now retired and living in a riverside cottage, I caught up with Jennifer to talk about her books, her pots and her love of Cornwall…
Hello! I’m Jennifer. I am well retired – to the point of not counting birthdays anymore. Living beside a river on the south coast of Cornwall and still, compulsively, it might be said, obsessively, writing stories for children.
“Pot Luck” is the tale of your move from London to the wilds of Cornwall, where you had set up an internationally successful pottery company. So what gave you the inspiration to move from the city to deepest Cornwall and to write a book about it?
From childhood, growing up in a Manchester suburb, I dreamed of a country cottage and a rural life-style – you know the idea, an orchard, chickens, rosy- cheeked children ….I was fortunate to meet a man who shared my dream and who had also studied pottery at Oxford Art School before going on to do music at the R.C.M. We both knew Cornwall slightly from childhood. It really is a different country. You feel it as soon as you cross the Tamar. It’s an ancient landscape, somehow history is nearer the surface, evident in the windswept cliffs, deep lanes, Celtic saint names, old stone crosses ….
You originally trained as a nurse – so how come you decided to get involved in running a pottery company?
I enjoyed nursing very much – looking after people, ill and often apprehensive – and I liked being able to make a difference but the lure of taking charge of your own life, living to the full, experiencing both excitements and disasters was irresistable. No cheque at the end of the month but many adventures. I think our two sons also benefitted from seeing the self-discipline needed in running your own business and both have successful careers.
You’ve also just written a delightful children’s story “Jem The Fowey Pirate”, set in the Cornish town of Fowey. How fun was it to write a children’s story? What was the inspiration behind this tale?
Our granddaughters love coming down to Cornwall (from London) and have a special song that they sing when crossing the Tamar bridge – this can cause a little surprise when travelling by train. We live by a river ( Kenneth Graham’s inspiration for ‘The Wind in the Willows). The girls love walking and making camps in the old, oak woods and are always asking for a story ….
As much as you like writing children’s books, is there any genre you would like to dabble in that you haven’t yet tried?
I’ve always written and love setting myself challenges – a short story starting and finishing with the same sentence, another – a bleak railway halt and the most unlikely person to alight from a train ( it turnes out to be a London prostitute!). Most of all though, I love telling stories to children – seeing the world through their eyes.
What books did you enjoy reading as a child? What genre of books do you enjoy reading now?
I was lucky as a child that my grandparents lived in Snowdonia – very beautiful but wet, wet, wet! On those days I would hide in my grandfather’s study, behind his tatty, leather armchair and read to exhaustion. He didn’t have any children’s books beyond a complete set of Arthur Mee’s Children’s encyclopaedias – but he had Shakespeare’s plays which I was lucky to read before anyone told me they were difficult. He also had bound copies of Punch through the 1920s and 30s. Fascinating! Nowadays, I particularly enjoy 19th century Russians. I have just watched the TV drama ‘War and Peace’ – lovely Sunday evening stuff – but that novel has always been my default holiday reading so now the story is spoilt! I may have to find something else. I love the quirkiness of Annie le Proux and have just enjoyed ( and always enjoy) Anne Tyler’s ‘A Spool of Blue Thread’.
Having run your own businesses – pottery, a B & B establishment and a smallholding on a wilder part of Dartmoor – you are now retired and an author – so, when you are not writing what other hobbies/past times do you enjoy?
Our garden is part of The National Garden Scheme which raises money for charity, so it’s a fairly full time job keeping our acre up to a good standard for visitors. I do have an escape clause though, in a phrase that I have adopted from Prince Charles. I heard him describe Highgrove once as ‘ never weed free but exuberantly planted’. A good description of a garden. I also love dress- making both for myself and for my granddaughters. We also have a small motor boat which we pootle around in. Malcolm fishes and we sometimes, when tide and a lovely evening coincide, go down river for supper in Fowey and Golant.
Personal now – what outfits and shoes would you normally be found wearing?
I would love to say that I am “au fait” with the latest designers, but I’m afraid our uniform down here is mainly Barbours and wellies. For special occasions though we have two really interesting shops – casual clothing in beautiful, natural fabrics – Bridget Foley in Tavistock and Mount’s Bay Trading in Truro. I also have a pair of black, knee-length boots, bought in Italy, which I cherish.
“Pot Luck” is published by Jennifer Bell in conjunction with WRITERSWORLD, and is produced entirely in the UK. It is available to order from most bookshops in the United Kingdom, and is also globally available via UK based Internet book retailers.
It was so lovely to have you on the blog, Jennifer. Your grandfather’s study sounds delightful – I’m a bookworm and my idea of a heavenly room is a snug room lined with books and a big comfortable armchair to curl up in. Dear readers, what would be your ideal room? Would it be a walled garden, a verandah overlooking a river bank, an airy conservatory, or a walk in wardrobe? Do share your views – I’d love to know!
All photos have been published with kind permission from Jennifer Bell.