I set my cycle of three novels ( Hidden, 2011, Illegal 2012, Stuffed, yet to be published) on Hayling Island, off the south coast of England, opposite the Isle of Wight. My parents lived on the Island for 25 years and it always feels like going home, even though they passed away a long time ago. But once I finished the books and two came out, I felt my links to the Island began to wane and I wondered if I would continue visiting. For years I was coming down to the Island for weekends and day trips to do my research or just to write in all my favourite places. For three years running we rented an apartment on the beach and I wrote chapter after chapter. But this summer we had no plans to come for a week.
Then Whitsun weekend promised to be hot and sunny, family were planning visits and I felt the old pull of the Island and all its quiet and restful beauty. I booked a B&B, we packed up the boot and off we went. And do you know something? All those wonderful feelings about the Island came flooding back in! Never mind I wasn’t writing a novel in this setting anymore; never mind I didn’t have any reason to research; all my favourite places drew me back in and hugged me as if I had never been away.
We started as we always do at Langstone High street and the Old Mill which is on the mainland, just past the bridge to the Island. This is one of my favourite walks of all time. Neville Shute wrote his novel Pied Piper in the Mill and the mill ponds behind the Mill feature in Illegal.
Then we walked round to the old smuggler path which led up from the beach.
I have been walking this path up to Pook Lane, where the smugglers took their contraband off the beach, since I was nineteen years old and it gives me just the same thrill all these decades later. Pook Lane is a wonderful green tunnel this time of the year, a sunken path between fields which probably goes back to medieval times.
Then we crossed the bridge to the Island and over the weekend we visited all our favourite places again.
This is one of the sites left over from defences build on the Island for WW2. Nearby was a gun emplacement which was bombed and several soldiers killed in the aftermath of a bombing raid on nearby Portsmouth.
This is one of the houseboats on the Kench,which features in my novel, Illegal. Lindy and Karl spend a couple of nights in a houseboat like this one. This one is a converted D-Day Landing craft. Part of the Mulberry harbour which was towed over to the Normandy beaches was built around this part of the Island and there is still a piece of it sitting out at sea.
As it was late May, it was poppy time on the Island.
Coming back to the Island made me realise that I still love being here, writing on the beaches and in the cafes and thinking about my next novel, even though it is nothing to do with the Island. I have found a lovely new place to stay, with a balcony, so I am already planning my next writing retreat down on the Island to whip the WIP into shape and of course, breathe in the wonderful inspiring sea air.