Release Day Post: Finding Summer Happiness by Chris Penhall
Thanks for inviting me to write a few words about my new novel.
Finding Summer Happiness is my third book and is set on the beautiful south Wales coast. It follows the story of Miriam Ryan, a successful businesswoman who has just sold her company and is search of rest, relaxation and solitude. However, when she arrives in her secluded idyll, she gets anything but!
I had wanted to write a novel set in Wales for many years, but it wasn’t until I spent a day walking with friends on the glorious Pembrokeshire coastal path that the idea for the story really began to take root in my mind.
We were walking between Manorbier to Bosherston, and as usual I kept stopping to take in the stunning scenery around me. As the path dipped down towards an empty beach, I had a flashback – completely out of the blue. I was on a beach with my family and friends when I was a child. We were playing cricket. And for the briefest of moments I felt I was there. But it wasn’t the beach I was walking towards: it was Oxwich Bay on the Gower Peninsula where we used to spend endless happy days swimming, playing ball games and jumping off the sand dunes.
And that is when my mind began to develop the storyline. I decided to incorporate those kinds of vivid little mental films that take us back to a particular time and place within the book to help tell Miriam’s story.
It took a few years to do, because not long after that my first novel, The House That Alice Built won the Choc Lit Search for a Star Competition, and I then I wrote the sequel to that Portuguese-set book, New Beginnings at the Little House in the Sun, before I started work on Finding Summer Happiness.
I also have a half-formed interest in astronomy and one of the things on my list of things to do – which is very long list as a lot of things on that list didn’t get done in 2020 – is to go to a dark sky event. So, I decided that one of the main characters needed to be an expert in looking at the stars, and that’s why Alan Thomas, astronomer, author and dreamer was born. Not literally, as in the book he’s got adult children of his own. Miriam and Alan, plus two other characters, Rhiannon and Jim decide to go to one of the events. You’ll have to read the book to see whether they get there or not!
During the story, I also take some of my characters to Neath, which is where I was born. It’s quite a way from Pembrokeshire, so I get them to stop off briefly in Swansea on the way. When they are in Neath, an area called Fairyland is mentioned in passing – this does exist and you can get a bus there. It’s a housing estate, and there’s a road, so nothing supernatural or anything. When questioned, Alan is a bit vague about the origins of the name, as am I, but I have been told (by my cousin who was told by a friend who saw it written somewhere) that it could have been because it’s said a Roman Centurion got lost in the area – Neath has a few Roman remains in and around the town, including one next to
my old school – and some fairies helped him find his way home. Is this true? Are there other theories or reasons? Probably. I like the fact I don’t really know!
This is one of the themes of the book; how you can find beauty and magic everywhere – whether it’s gazing out to sea on the Pembrokeshire coast, standing on top of a hill in an old industrialised town, or in the genuine kindness from people you don’t know when you are least expecting it.
I have to say I also enjoyed creating some of the minor characters; there are a couple of surprise tribute acts and a Look-Alike festival, too. The idea from that came from the Elvis Festival in Porthcawl – which is also on my to-go-to-list – and the number of events I’ve been involved with whilst working for BBC local radio!
Anyway, I really enjoyed writing Finding Summer Happiness, and I hope you enjoy reading it too. Perhaps you’ll feel like you’ve had a nice long cwtch when you’ve finished the book. That’s the Welsh word for hug and is one of my favourites.
About the book:
You won’t find happiness without breaking a few eggs ... Miriam Ryan was the MD of a successful events and catering company, but these days even the thought of chopping an onion sends her stress levels sky rocketing. A retreat to the Welsh village of her childhood holidays seems to offer the escape she’s craving – just peace, quiet, no people, a generous supply of ready meals ... did she mention no people? Enter a cheery pub landlord, a lovesick letting agent, a grumpy astronomer with a fridge raiding habit – not to mention a surprise supper club that requires the chopping of many onions – and Miriam realises her escape has turned into exactly what she was trying to get away from, but could that be just the thing she needs to allow a little bit of summer happiness into her life?
About Chris Penhall:
Chris Penhall won the 2019 Choc-Lit Search for a Star competition, sponsored by Your Cat Magazine, for her debut novel, The House That Alice Built. The sequel, New Beginnings at the Little House in the Sun was published in August 2020. Her short story, Lily McKee's Seven Days of Christmas appears in Choc Lit and Ruby Fiction's Cosy Christmas Treats anthology.
Her new novel, Finding Summer Happiness is is set in Pembrokeshire in South West Wales.
Chris is an author and freelance radio producer for BBC Local Radio. She also has her own podcast - The Talking to My Friends About Book Podcast in which she chats to her friends about books. Good title! Born in Neath in South Wales, she has also lived in London and in Portugal, which is where The House That Alice Built is set. It was whilst living in Cascais near Lisbon that she began to dabble in writing fiction, but it was many years later that she was confident enough to start writing her first novel, and many years after that she finally finished it! A lover of books, music and cats, she is also an enthusiastic salsa dancer, a keen cook, and loves to travel. She is never happier than when she is gazing at the sea.
You can find more information about her on www.chrispenhall.co.uk or follow her on twitter: @ChrisPenhall