I first became aware of Leo Walmsley at the age of 11, when my brother introduced me to his novel Foreigners (1935), which I read with tremendous enjoyment. Surprisingly one of the boys in my brother’s class revealed that he actually knew Walmsley. He was a boarder and his home was in the Cornish town of Fowey. Walmsley, he said, lived a bohemian writer’s existence in a hut on a beach near the town. A cheap second-hand Penguin edition of Foreigners was duly taken home by my brother’s friend and came back after the school holidays signed by the author.
Even then I thought this a kindly act – the autographing of a battered paperback which had probably cost me 6d or less – and so began a long-standing interest in Walmsley’s books. Although he is strongly associated with Robin Hood’s Bay in North Yorkshire – the setting for Foreigners and a number of other works – it is his two Cornish books, Love in the Sun (1939) and Paradise Creek (1963), that I have recently been rereading with pleasure.
Leo Walmsley achieved some success as a writer in his lifetime. His first novel Three Fevers (1932) was widely praised and became the basis for Turn of the Tide which, in 1935, was the first ever Rank film production. Love in the Sun was selected as Book of the Month by the Book Society, sold 20,000 copies within a few months, and was published in the USA. Alexander Korda was keen to buy the film rights for a generous sum.
Love in the Sun provides a detailed account of life in that hut on a beach. In this strongly autobiographical novel we meet Walmsley at a turning-point in his life; he has left his Yorkshire home and is seeking a remote and tranquil sanctuary where he hopes to start a new life and settle down to some serious writing. Short of funds he arrives in Fowey on Christmas Day. By a stroke of good fortune he manages to rent for 3 shillings a week a disused arm
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