Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Notes from Canvey Island

I've been meaning to go to Canvey Island for ages and yesterday I finally went! I've set a section from the middle of my current novel there, but I decided I couldn't do that without actually seeing it in real life. I love visiting places as research - somehow even the journey feels like an adventure, and it makes the story almost cross over into reality. I put Canvey Island in my book because it's one of the nearest places to London where you can see the ocean.
And there it was, in the far distance between Essex and Kent, under a sky just waiting to pour down. That's when I realised that I must have seen this bit of coast before. My first ever sight of Britain would have been here, from a P&O liner called the Chu San. I was only three so I can't remember seeing the Thames estuary narrow into the river that leads to London, but it was nice to think I'd been here before, only in the sea rather than on the land. As I walked along the seawall, taking photos and working out where various things could happen in my story, it started to rain torrentially and I got so wet that my jeans were dripping. But that was good, because it rains the whole time my protagonist, Logan, is there. In the moments between showers, there was something beautiful about the light and the huge expanse of sky.
The other thing I loved was watching the ships, boats and sailing boats passing to and from London. Some of them were so near that I could hear the rumble of the engines. I could look at them for hours, and other people obviously do this too because even in the worst of the wind and rain I met people cycling and walking along the sea wall or sitting in the shelters watching the boats.
After getting so wet (including my notebook and the inside of my bag), I decided to write up my notes inside the Labworth cafe, a 30s' building that looks like a ship and serves delicious apple pie and piping hot tea. Was it worth it? I asked myself. Will my book be better because I came here? I think it will - even if these scenes change beyond recognition. Because I spent the day walking round Canvey Island in Logan's shoes, his story came alive for me in a different way.
I found it inspiring to go somewhere new. I'd like to go there again. There is an interesting mural about the flood of 1953, memorial benches under the sea wall, and palm trees dotted alongside the beach:
And there's also this!

8 comments:

  1. I've visited Canvey three times now to do school visits and I've stopped for coffee at that very same cafe. Intrigued by your book!

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    1. That's nice, Candy! There are a few nice cafes on the seafront.

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  2. I can't wait to read the new book!!!

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    1. Thanks, Kathy! Almost a first draft, now.

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  3. What a lovely piece, Jeannie. Canvey Island is one of those places that I always vaguely mean to visit and never get round to; the apple pie and tea are a good motivation too!

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  4. Always fascinating to see how places shape stories! Thank you, Jeannie!😊

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    1. Thanks, Barbara! Lots of potential in Canvey, I think...

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