Saturday 15 December 2012

Filmed on location

When we think of art in Cornwall we think of painting and, maybe, sculpture, but we wouldn't necessarily think of film. But if we did think of film, we'd picture period dramas shot against dramatic coastlines, windswept moors and cobbled village lanes. But I wonder if anyone would consider the unpolished streets of Penzance and Newlyn an obvious film set? For Newlyn-based filmmaker and writer Mark Jenkin, local terrain offers a rich palette for his pithy work. His latest film, Happy Christmas, is a tender, human story that walks a delicate balance between bleakness and warmth, and for this, a remote seaside town in winter is the ideal environment. We met Mark at the Lost & Found Café on Chapel Street to find out more about the film and its maker. 

We are not film critics, so we won't attempt a review as such, but we will say that it made a lasting impression on us. We don't know if this because the local context gave it pertinence, but we do believe its message hit a chord. We were also struck by the natural performances, and we found out that this is because all dialogue was improvised. This is a tested, yet bold, directorial approach, where brief notes on character and scene context are all the cast have to go on; the rest is up to them. In this case, it worked. 

We asked Mark about the inspiration for the film and we were fascinated to hear that music was the starting point. In the main, the soundtrack comprises a set of songs by local artist and musician Daryl Waller. A demo sent to Mark was the first time the songs had ever been heard by ears other than his own, and such were their touching beauty, that Mark was driven to put pictures to the sounds. The film's excellent soundtrack is now available on Daryl's label Flawedcore Records, also featuring works by Morris Murdoch and Nick Harpley.

The film's tag line is An interwoven seaside hymn to gift-wrapped promises and unwanted presence, and makes for a neat précis of this atmospheric Christmas ramble. The film's unhurried pace makes it more akin to French cinema. No surprise then that it went down well at its premiere at the Dinard Film Festival in Brittany. However, it won't be everyone's cup of tea. Last year's hometown premiere at the Savoy sparked a severely polar response. But this, Mark assures me, is a trusted sign of effective creative output. 

Mark is also proud to tell us that Happy Christmas is a zero budget film, made using friends and family as actors, and with minimum crew and equipment. The decision to take this lo-fi approach was a purposeful one; the freedom of autonomous directorial control gave him the creative fulfillment he was looking for at the time. Bigger budget films, or those where funding is drawn from other sources, make for a complicated and cumbersome filmmaking process. Happy Christmas had no such shackles. In fact, the shooting schedule, and even some of the scenes, were as spontaneous as the script. It was an organic process, with no time restrictions or marketing plan to pander to. Lack of cash imposed its own restrictions, but its just this that Mark thrives on; in his mind, such limitations inspire invention.

This philosophy is one that Mark is keen to instil in the students he lectures in Film at University College Falmouth. Teaching is not only a source of income for Mark, but at 36, it is also a way for him to hang onto the youthful spark of inspiration. 

His own introduction to the medium was haphazard. While studying biology A-level at St. Austell college or, rather, not studying biology A-level at St. Austell college, he would hang around in the photography lab while his friend processed film and made prints. Eventually, the tutor suggested he might as well take the course as he already spent so much time there. And thus, the door opened onto the world of image making and story telling that Mark fell in love with. His first films were made using an old Super-8 camera, and, since then, a passion for traditional film techniques has stayed with him. Now he's a hoarder of vintage film equipment, and plans to take a space at Newlyn School of Art to create an analogue film processing studio. With this in mind, it's probably quite interesting to learn that Mark turned up to our meeting on a 40-year-old Vespa. Unfortunately it broke down on the way, making him late, but anyone with a love of outmoded technology will recognise that such unpredictability is exactly the imperfection that he's drawn to.

It's in this spirit, then, that Mark has decided to consolidate his ideas on filmmaking; he has drawn up a film manifesto entitled SLDG13, and subtitled Innovation through Imperfection, in which thirteen strict points lay down the law on how films should not be made – inspiring the filmmaker to limit themselves to the most basic techniques, to force creativity. So you see, we're dealing with a someone with true conviction – the next Robert Bresson? You never know.

So why isn't Mark living in London, or moving to LA for that matter? Half an hour spent on his website, watching the affectionate portrayal of our people and places, will reveal his devotion to this area. Part of Mark's mission is to raise the profile of the film industry in the South West, and together with five other filmmakers, including Denzil Monk and Brett Harvey, Mark has founded film production and distribution company Western Light Pictures. As well as Happy Christmas, their roster includes Mark's earlier film, The Midnight Drives and Brett's award-winning black comedy thriller, Weekend Retreat, both set in Cornwall. One of their future projects will be Mark's film about the plight of local fishermen – an important and underexposed story in Mark's mind. So important, in fact, that he's spent 11 years writing the screenplay. 

So now, of course, you want to see Happy Christmas. There will be a free screening at the Lost and Found Café in Trevelyan House on Chapel Street on Thursday 20th December at 7pm. But if you can't get to that, you can watch the entire film online, again for free. Doing either will open your eyes to the signs of a Cornish film scene that's shining brightly, right here in our midst.

Watch the film:

Words © Dee and Gerard Ivall. Images © Nik Strangelove

Saturday 1 December 2012

A hand-carved masterpiece in our landscape

It's not everyday that a genuinely awe-inspiring public treasure just crops up in your local area. Well, it's just happened 'round here with the birth of Tremenheere Sculpture Gardens, and it's hard to overstate the brilliance and benefit it brings.

Its location meant it slipped under our radar, but since the opening of Tremenheere's own café, The Lime Tree, the ensuing local buzz drew us in. The gardens and cafe are both post-worthy in their own right, yet being intrinsically linked, it was impossible to separate them. We spoke to café manger Miki Ashton who, it turns out, is just as involved in the gardens. She was able to give us an equally thorough insight into both compelling ventures.

Tremenheere Sculpture Gardens

Back a while, when the land at Tremenheere was still being put to agricultural use, it had already been earmarked by some high-profile gardening types as having the potential to be one of the best gardens in the country. It's because the spot possesses a unique combination in it's geography, microclimate and soil properties. But this has been known for centuries; the monks living on St. Michael's Mount had a vineyard here in the 13th Century (who says British wine is a new phenomenon?). The man who saw it's true potential most recently was Neil Armstrong, a local doctor, who's passion of gardening lead him to purchase the land when it came up for sale in 1999. So, unlike most other local public gardens, Tremenheere is privately owned. There's no national charitable organisation at work here, no, far from it; we were astounded to learn that most of the work has been carried out by Dr Armstrong himself, with the occasional help of one gardener, more recently. This kind of gargantuan solo effort puts us in mind of Rowena Cade's Minnack Theatre, in fact the similarities between these two sites don't stop there. Both embrace natural coastal views and both celebrate art. Tremenheere's unspoilt vistas of the Mount are just one of its joys. The bounty of exotic flora, including tree ferns, cacti, bamboos and giant, prehistoric-looking succulents, make you feel as if you're walking through an Eden biodome. We admit to knowing very little about gardening, but apparently there are species of plants growing here that simply do not grow outdoors in any other part of the country. Its sub-tropical bias also means that the gardens will remain green, and open, for most of the year; both the gardens and café will only be closed for the month of January. Fair enough.

But what about the sculpture? This aspect of things began a few years ago, when American experiential artist James Turrell was looking for a permanent home for his work, Skyspace. That home was found in Tremenheere, with Neil offering his garden as a blank canvas for the artist, who now has two works on site. Since then, David Nash, Kishio Suga and Billy Wynter have all made the gardens their perpetual gallery for large-scale sculptures and installations. The pieces are all linked, in that they worship the natural world. It's a fitting theme.

The move to open up to public visits was not part of the original vision; it was not begun as a moneymaking enterprise. But when upkeep became too costly, the gates were opened, and West Cornwall gained a magical asset. As you burrow through woody undergrowth, emerge into open desert-like terrain, wander across green hillsides, gaze at world-beating views, navigate shrub-fringed paths, in and out of mind-altering artistic experiences, all in the space of a few acres, you can hardly believe you're ten minutes from Penzance. Despite our wealth of naturally occurring rural treasures, this man-manipulated version replies to our need for stimulation through creativity, and does it on a breathtaking scale.

But that's not the end of the story, there's more garden to come, as Neil has recently purchased a further three acres of land at the very top of the site. And there's even a rumour of another artist collaboration. As in all gardens, change will be a constant joy.

The Lime Tree café

Once Neil allowed all comers to roam and ramble around his garden, it seemed a reasonable idea to feed and water them. Plans for an ambitious café were drawn up by Penzance architects Barrie Briscoe (to who the building is now dedicated) and Neil Wall of Arcos Studios, and some of the funding for the scheme came from a Rural Development Programme grant. Seeking advise on the design of the kitchen, Neil called upon old friends and experienced restauranteurs and caterers Miki and Justin Ashton. This pair were already past masters of the Penzance dining scene, having run their restaurant, The Lime Tree, first at the Penzance Arts Club and then at Trevelyan House on Chapel Street. They had built a loyal client base, fanatical about their outstanding food focused around the produce of a few key local suppliers. Happy to oblige Neil's request, Justin went about creating his dream kitchen at Tremenheere, not knowing that Neil would soon be asking them to run it. When he did, its out-of-the-way location instinctively made them nervous, but Neil's own Herculean work on the gardens and the prospect of a purpose-built space, inspired them.

Using their original training as a product designer and furniture designer respectively, Miki and Justin created the interiors of the cafe, which saw Justin producing a bespoke design for the café tables, which are made from pleasing slabs of polished sycamore. The light and gallery-like space begged to house artworks, and continue the theme of the gardens indoors, and we can't not mention the two enormous Trevor Bell paintings that hit you when you walk in. These, like the beautiful oversized pots by Tony Lattimer, are on loan by the artists, who clearly saw the place as a fitting setting for their work.

But let's not forget the kitchen, the heart of everything, and where the story started. Initially limiting his service to weekday lunchtimes, a Saturday brunch and Sunday lunch, Justin is putting out a small but action-packed menu, where Char Sui pork with fish chilli broth sits merrily alongside roast beef with bubble and squeak. Dishes are teamed up with a carefully considered list of wines, beers and fruity drinks, and for mid-morning visitors, coffee, tea and cake comes in many delicious flavours and formats.

It quickly became apparent that the project was so much more than the 'straightforward' running of a café. Rather, it was to play a fundamental role in the running of the entire public operation. But they can see the potential; they know that there are two factors that are key to the site's appeal as a commercial proposition. Firstly, it's Tremenheere's dual focus; this is what makes it a 'destination', ensuring people get in their cars and come. We ought to mention the free parking at this point, in fact, it's so unheard of it's almost worthy of capital letters. The second factor is the seemingly limitless space available, making it an ideal base for all kinds of events and creative happenings. Weddings are an obvious market to tap, and the gardens now have the necessary license for marriage ceremonies – it doesn't take much imagination to see what a stunning venue they'd make. An outdoor Farmers Market is held on the second Sunday of the monthan idea that's expected to grow over time. Music events are in the offing too. We notice that the café even has a state of the art projector fitted, and we're told that plans for regular film nights are afoot as well. As Miki muses about her dream of live acoustic gigs in James Turrell's Skyspace, we get hooked by her sense that anything is possible here.

Such boundless potential flies in the face of today's prevalent reined-in mentality. The Minnack, Eden and, now, Tremenheere, they all stand as our county's own proof that bloody-minded vision can make wonders still.

Words © Dee and Gerard Ivall. Images © Nik Strangelove

Sunday 18 November 2012

Crowning glory

Is it every man's dream to own a brewery? Maybe. But as nice as it may sound, the reality is a task and a half, and few men could muster the necessary patience and commitment. In fact, few would would want to get to work at 4 am to start the brew process, and few would have the audacity to bore a hole 45 metres into the earth in the hopes that they might find a good source of spring water, but with no guarantees that they would. Josh Dunkley is one of those few, and Cornish Crown is his brewery dream come true. 

Now, as we meet Josh a year into the life of Cornish Crown, the operation looks well organised, the beer is selling and the business is bubbling along nicely. But it's been a long journey to get here. Josh's brewery plan had been in the pipeline for years; having successfully run The Crown on Bread Street with wife Michelle, he regarded starting up his own micro-brewery as a natural progression. But it was a long-term vision; starting any new business takes time, but to learn a completely new skill to be able to start that business, takes a while longer. Simply loving beer is a good starting point, but there's a science to be learnt and mastered before that first pint can be poured. First off, Josh took a basic course in brewing skills at Brewlab (yes, there is such a thing as beer college), and then he blagged an unofficial apprenticeship with his friends the Otter Brewery in Devon. He also received a lot of help and advice from other local brewers. Josh explains that in the last few years a seriously competitive micro-brewery scene has developed in the area; the rise in popularity in real ales is seeing a general boom in the industry.

Once up to speed, Josh looked for premises. Uncannily, the site Josh found, over at Badger's Cross, already had planning permission for a brewery. The landlord himself had once had that same dream, but never saw it though. The premises were ideal, and offered plenty of room for expansion. Then came the question of water. Because the brewing process involves so few ingredients, each one must be of the highest quality. Water is one of those key ingredients. Josh was dubious about using mains water; not being able to rely on its source and quality meant, ultimately, that he had less control over his pint. While most brewers see this as an acceptable risk, Josh had other ideas: he wondered whether he could tap his own spring. After a bit of asking around there seemed to be evidence of 'potable' water in the area. But this was no guarantee; the whole project was a gamble. To access the water, he'd have to drill down, how far was impossible to say, and even once water was struck, it's quality could vary wildly. Even a bore hole specialist warned Josh off the idea. Nevertheless, bore he did, and at 45 metres he struck water. Putting it through just a simple sediment tank, a micron filter and UV, he has an unlimited supply of pure spring water for his beer. The system will pay for itself in a year and a half, and after that it's free. Brilliant.

Josh gave us a brief guide to the beer making process. It's actually quite complex, and the terminology had us foxed, but it was clear that his real passion lay in the creative bit: the balancing of ingredients and processes that makes one beer different from another. With so few ingredients to play with, these differentiating factors are pretty subtle. He explains that two of the key variations are 'hoppiness' and 'maltiness', and the degrees of these could make an 'IPA' at one end and a 'mild' at the other, with umpteen other beer varieties in between. For the record, Josh's personal taste dictate's that Cornish Crown beer's err on the side of 'hoppy'. There are currently five coming out of the brewery: Cornish Crown AleCornish Crown SPASt. Michael's BitterCauseway, and most recently, Merry Mild. Josh likes to involve his customers in the development of the beers and holds monthly Beer Club where new ales are sold for a £1 a pint, and are duly supped, considered and commented upon. Josh tries to bring out a new beer every month.

Response from customers has been positive, and Josh now supplies to total of 40 businesses, although, surprisingly, he actually sells more beer out of the county than he does within it. He tells us that this is because of the fierce (but friendly) competition down here, and because many pubs are tied-in to larger breweries. However, in London it appears they love anything Cornish, so Cornish Crown goes down a treat. In fact, Josh's decision to include the word 'Cornish' in the title was part of his cunning export strategy all along – Josh studied advertising, and it's clearly paying off now. Josh and Michelle lived in London until 14 years ago, and Josh once managed the renowned Landsdowne pub in Primrose Hill. His erstwhile contacts in the capital are now his lifeline, but there's nothing wrong with that; outside money coming in can only be a good thing. Josh once had plans to open a bottling plant next door, which would have increased his export potential massively. But the necessary investment in both cash and time was a step too far, and sensibly he reined in his ambitions before he endangered the whole business.

So, instead, he's taking it slow and keeping things manageable. He currently has a '6-barrel' plant, with plans to expand to no more than a 30-40 barrel operation within around five years. And apart from one employee, who helps with the brew one day a week, Josh does everything himself. This is indicative of his controlled approach; like a good beer, he knows that the making of a good brewery can't be hurried, it has to mature over time. But already, after just one year, his achievements are worthy of high praise – it's a local success story, and for that he deserves our loudest cheers.

Words © Dee and Gerard Ivall. Images © Nik Strangelove

Thursday 8 November 2012


In a determined effort to spread the good word about this blog, we have recently embarked on the first Penzance Post poster campaign. In the near future, when you're out and about, look around for these bright yellow beacons. As winter draws in, we believe that focussing our minds on the positive aspects of our local area is a valuable mission. The poster says it all.

To make the posters very special we enlisted the help of the girls from Pirrip Press, Georgina Hounsome and Alex Higlett, a pair of talented and industrious designers, illustrators and hand-printers. The images document the printing magic that was performed at Newlyn School of Art one day last week.

Title: Look On The Bright Side
Format: A3
Quantity: A limited-edition of 120
Print: One-colour hand-silkscreen
Ink: Black Acrylic
Material: Bright Yellow 160gsm smooth, matt finish, card

If you'd like to possess one of these limited-edition screen-printed posters, you can. From Saturday 10th November, a small number will be available from Bucca gallery in Newlyn and Daisy Laing in Chapel Street, just pop in and ask. They will cost you nothing, but in return all we ask is that you display your poster in a prominent place (window, car, workplace, etc.) for a few days at least.

Words © Dee and Gerard Ivall. Images © Nik Strangelove

Monday 8 October 2012

Fine Folk #8

Mr Goulden
Hairdressing salon owner
Penzance's finest feature: The cosmopolitan nature of the people who live here. 

Words © Dee and Gerard Ivall. Images © Nik Strangelove

Monday 1 October 2012

Interior decorum

Many of our small businesses are run as a labour of love, but few can be such a passionately personal creative project as Venton Vean bed & breakfast on Trewithen Road in Penzance.

These days, with advice and opinion from advertising and social media constantly fighting for our head space, it's a rare and pleasant moment when we stumble upon a great thing by chance. We found Venton Vean on a stroll. It caught our eye and made us think we'd discovered something out of the ordinary. Once home, a quick browse of the website confirmed our first instincts.  

Opened in September last year, Venton Vean joins the traditional ranks of Alexandra Road guesthouses, but we believe the approach of the owners of this particular establishment sets it apart. David Hoyes and Philippa McKnight were both successful London lawyers, but after having had a truly fair crack of that whip, they felt that their true purpose in life lay elsewhere. If TV programmes like Celebrity Master Chef have demonstrated anything worthwhile at all, it's that people are capable of making a mark in more than one area of life. If you're a top London lawyer, can you be an outstanding interior designer too? Yes, it appears you can.
Design is what strikes you first at Venton Vean. The interior decoration of this proud 1870s villa is simply beautiful. It is the epitome of the prevailing taste in period home design. Painstakingly restored original features, balanced with carefully selected furniture and ornaments from more contemporary decades are blended together by a delicate palette of heritage paint shades. But this is no cliché. There is a strong personal stamp being made; the couple are avid collectors of fine art and design.

When in London they would spend weekends trawling the markets of the East End, but now they're down here they find they can satisfy their cravings for vintage pieces just as easily by taking a trip to Chapel Street. Their pang for contemporary fine art is comfortably fulfilled here too; the rooms features work by Cornish artists such as David Whittaker, Virginia Bounds, Daphne McClure, Jyll Bradley, Margaret Mitchell and the late David Holmes. It's at this point that we realise that these are not so much proprietors, as curators. It's an important part of the identity of the place; those guests who are drawn to the area because of the local art scene are excited to find works of the artists they love hanging in their room. 

While many visitors clearly share the couple's passion, it's not a necessary requirement for booking, most just see the place as a beautiful house to pass a few days. After spending a year and a half getting the house just as they wanted, the care of their guests is now the whole focus, and they normally restrict the number of bookings at any one time to be able to give their residents the attention they deserve. By picking up the special touches from boutique guest accommodation around the world, they've crafted their perfect B&B experience. As well as providing exquisitely appointed ensuite rooms, they do a great line in breakfasts. David is the keen cook and has taken the morning menu to unfamiliar territory by adding dishes with titillating Mexican and Spanish flavours. He also makes his own jams and usually has around five different kinds on the go. Evening meals are also on offer to to guests who require it. David has totally embraced the local providers of ingredients and raves about Ian Lentern the butchers and the Newlyn Fish Company down at Stable Hobba. 

Living their dream of becoming B&B owners is still a pretty new experience for David and Philippa, and while it's certainly hard work, they really weren't expecting to enjoy it quite so much. Getting to know their temporary housemates has been a particular pleasure; they're always keen to share their own love of the area by helping them make the most of their stay, providing guests with 'must see' lists of local highlights. They got genuinely excited when we chat about the local galleries, the gigs they've seen at the Acorn Theatre, the independent shops and swimming in the sea. It's good to see that our humble local habitat can hold the interest of people who are used to the creative chocolate box that is London.

They've been openly welcomed by neighbours and the wider local community, and fellow local B&B owners were a great ally in the early days. They all recognise what this couple have done, and that is furnish Penzance with a real asset. This area needs the financial investment, yes, but what it benefits from more is the investment of spirit.

Words © Dee and Gerard Ivall. Images © Nik Strangelove

Tuesday 4 September 2012

Who is Daisy Laing?

Daisy Laing is not a person, but rather the newly-born retail baby of Kate Jones, and a welcome addition to the Chapel Street family. Tucked in among the huddle of commercial units at the upper end of the street, Kate's tiny shop, the former home of Dishotay, is a carefully curated boutique of vintage furniture and objets d'art. The aroma of coffee and exotic teas is now supplanted by the equally beguiling perfume of wood and bee's wax.

Kate's passion, and the shop's product focus, is classic pieces from the 50s and 60s, which nicely complements other sellers on the street. In fact, this increasingly popular genre has been underrepresented in the area, with the bias being on Antiques (with a capital 'A'). Those with a penchant for the simple beauty of G-Plan, Ercol and decorated ceramics will be delighted that they have a new retail sanctum in which to browse, covet, fondle and procure. It's a style that divides, like Marmite, but nevertheless there does appear to be a strong market, and the business is ticking over nicely. Kate also stocks a good selection of vinyl, a niche area of her trade that is surprisingly buoyant, with the shop attracting record collectors of all ages.


Inspiration for the shop stems from Kate and husband Jamie's time spent living in New York's East Village, where the vintage scene is a fanatical one. On their return to the UK, and their flat in Liverpool, they pined for the pizzazz of the Big Apple and sought a fresh lifestyle challenge. Many folk feel a strong connection with Cornwall, stirred by rosy memories of childhood holidays, but few make the leap to set up home, and shop, here. Kate's love of past eras and a need for a more Bohemian existence turned her in this direction, and the final push came when Jamie was offered work in the county. They moved to Newlyn in 2008, along with Martha, who's seven.

Both of them had careers in television production, but Kate was already had a successful sideline buying and selling vintage items on Ebay. While this online business is set to continue, the progression to upgrade the enterprise into a physical shop format seemed to be part and parcel of their new life plan. After a few initial enquiries into spaces were thwarted, she was suddenly presented with the opportunity of the unit she now inhabits, and she took it, almost without thinking. 


The shop space is small, but Kate likes it that way. Resisting the temptation to cram, she makes considered selections from the stockroom downstairs and gives each piece room to be appreciated. This way the shop changes weekly; as items are sold they are replaced. For locals, this regular revitalisation is crucial to hold interest. And locals, it turns out, are her main buyers, which bodes well for her long-term livelihood.

When any empty shop space is taken, we cheer. But when the new enterprise dovetails so neatly with our other independent shops and generally enhances the town, we jump for joy.

We did ask Kate the origin of the shop's name. She told us, with reluctance, on the condition that we kept it to ourselves. Sorry.

Words © Dee and Gerard Ivall. Images © Nik Strangelove

Monday 3 September 2012

New kids on the block

We kept hearing about a new gallery project with the strange name of LETH, and when we probed we were pleased to discover that it's the enterprise of Penzance Post personality, Sam Bassett.

The project currently known as 'Leth' (Cornish for 'milk') is housed in two previously unused Newlyn premises: the rooms above the charity shop on Jack Lane, and the gallery space on Badcock's Block. The former acts as the office and is referred to as 'Leth Office', and latter is used as the main public gallery and is, as yet, untitled. 

Penzance and Newlyn are hardly short of art galleries, but this is special because it's independent, and because it's run by a working artist rather than a businessperson or committee. As Sam reveals his motives and plans, he convinces us that his mission to showcase new and unrepresented local contemporary artists is pure, but that it's also about having fun. It's this tangible irreverence that makes it feel like an underground project, but at the same time, because of the high-profile gallery space, it comes across as entirely professional in its outlook.

The gallery was launched to coincide with the Newlyn Fish Festival and the buzz surrounding it was audible. On the day, Leth Office was also opened up to let us watch Alex Higglet and Georgina Hounsome making festival-related screenprints and Mat McIvor muralising.

Newlyn needs this. The main Newlyn Gallery is an excellent focal point, but it's shows are few and long, and it's artists are normally well-established and rarely local. Sam's project feels fresh and relevant; the current summer show is a deliciously discordant but joyous chorus of artistic voices and, in the main, the artists are based in Newlyn and Penzance or are working in this county. One of Sam's goals is to exhibit the best work from the colleges, as a way of crystalising the ambition of local students to follow the call of fine art as a realistic career.

We were also interested to learn that Sam is collaborating with another one of our featured persons, Henry Garfit, the founder of the Newlyn School of Art. Sam's vision and boundless drive is unquestioned, but Henry has already set up two successful art institutions and his experience will undoubtedly bring much credibility to this new venture.

It transpires that the Stevenson empire is involved too, being the landlords of the premises. In fact, one room of the gallery will be home to their exhibition of Newlyn's fishing heritage, which Sam will help curate by making it more of a interactive affair, with artists using the archive materials as inspiration for new works.

Overall then, rather than an exciting flash in the pan, this project looks set to become part of the fabric of the community – intrinsically tied to Newlyn's past and future.

Words © Dee and Gerard Ivall. Images © Nik Strangelove

Friday 24 August 2012

Fifty shades of summer

Benefiting from a liberal dousing of rain, our urban hedgerows have been cheering us up of late with a display of brilliant colours: vivid pink and purple hues of Hydrangea, Buddleia and Valerian, fiery orange Montbretia and, of course, the mighty blue Agapanthus.

Words © Dee and Gerard Ivall. Images © Nik Strangelove

Thursday 16 August 2012

For the love of books

Since the repeal of the Fixed Book Price Agreement in 1995, the fate of the independent bookseller was seemingly sealed. But why, then, did James and Rachael Howorth go out on a limb to open The Edge of the World Bookshop in Penzance? How could they hope to take on the mighty Amazon and the high-street giant WHSmith, a branch of which stands across the street as if to challenge them? 

Is it because, like art, literature is loved in our county? The romantic scenery and the history mixed with legend make a fitting backdrop for reading and writing alike, and Cornwall is certainly a haven for authors of both prose and poem. The numerous annual literary events must surely confirm the local love affair with books.

Partly thanks to this regional characteristic, Books Plus on Market Jew Street had been run successfully by David and Barbara Mainwaring, but after 20 years of hard work building a loyal and loving customer base, their career finally ran its natural course and the shop went on the market earlier this year.

With an art background, James Howorth has had a varied career, which latterly led him to work at the Tate Modern bookshop, and then to manage a secondhand and antique bookshop in the West Midlands. His wife Rachael had been a researcher for BBC Radio 4. Not uncommonly, it was the allure of the laid-back, seaside lifestyle that led them to look for a change of location, but it was their mutual passion for books that found them browsing Google for vacant bookshop premises. Just one option came up: Books Plus. They viewed it, and within weeks they were moving to Cornwall with children, Leila and Finna, in tow. We spoke to James about their decision and ambitions.

James is inspired by the bookselling culture in France and Germany where shops are regarded as special places, where the book selection is curated by passionate owners, where knowledgeable staff enthuse and guide, and where the environment is carefully designed to enhance the experience. As well as all this, James' personal vision features a more open, interactive experience; rather than a shrine, his dream bookshop is alive with literary happenings for all ages. And these have already begun with book signings and readings in the shop, and by taking a pop-up version of the shop to outside events. 

People love bookshops because they're inspiring places, and James knows this is his most powerful weapon against the Goliath-like web retailers. He explains: "The population of Penzance really embrace independent shops – we have customers who search for books online and then buy them from us, just because they want to keep an independent bookseller in town – and I can't ask for more than that". James's opinion of our independent shopping scene is insightful: he says, "Shop owners have taken a leap of faith to open in a place like this, and in this economic climate, and they're really go-getting because of that – they've really got to pull out all the stops – which might lead towards everything that is in Penzance being of a higher standard".

One of the joys of a bookshop is stumbling upon an obscure title that you could never otherwise find. So part of the trick is to hold onto the character of a true indie bookshop, while still offering breadth for a wide audience. The shop stocks bestsellers next to short-run books on niche topics, and literary greats next to self-published local authors – and there's a particularly good children's section. James has his own prized books, of course, and he proudly shows us a collection of exquisitely bound and illustrated classics.

Their vision to create a more engaging experience led them to change the name of shop. "We wanted a name that sounded like a book title, something that had a romantic charm and would capture the imagination of children too". The Edge of the World Bookshop is also their own tribute to the location and their perception that West Cornwall is a separate, magical place, a world apart from the rest of the country.

Along with the new name comes an eye-catching fascia and, to follow, a fresh interior fit-out, new window fittings and an old-style swinging shop sign. Plans on the distant horizon include conversion of the cavernous meat cellar (the shop was once a butchers) into an events space or reading room.

Loyalty is another key to being a local retailer, and past Books Plus fans will be glad to know that the loyalty card scheme is still in good working order.

The couple's genuine love for the area, enthusiasm and determination to create a good thing for Penzance has endeared them to the local community, and they've been overwhelmed by support and encouragement. They've even been given helpful advice from competitors, like Ron Johns who runs the Falmouth and St Ives Bookseller. All this points to a promising future for the shop and we wish them well.

So, if wet weather drives you off the beach and you're heading for the shelter of the town, here's one fine place to spend a happy time indulging or reigniting your love of books.

The Edge of the World Bookshop
23 Market Jew Street

Words © Dee and Gerard Ivall. Images © Nik Strangelove