The Lost Heir

Tehidy, Cornwall

Cornwall, 2020

At the beginning of lockdown, teacher Carla Burgess needs to make some changes to her life. She no longer loves her job, and it’s certainly time to kick her on-off boyfriend into touch. But then, while walking on the cliffs, she meets Mani Dolcoath, a gorgeous American with the darkest of auras.

Mani is researching his family history, and slowly their lives and their heritage begin to entwine. The discovery of a locked Georgian tea caddy in the barn on her parents’ farm intrigues Carla, but then she starts to see orbs, something that hasn’t happened since her grandmother died. They terrify her and she’ll do anything to outrun them, but will she lose Mani’s friendship in the process?

Cornwall, 1810

Harriet Lemon’s position as companion to Lady Frances Basset (Franny) perfectly conceals the fact they are lovers. But when Franny is raped and falls pregnant their lives are destined to change forever.

The one person who may be able to help them is Franny’s childhood friend, William Burgess, a notorious smuggler. But he has secrets of his own he needs to protect. Will his loyalties be divided, or will he come through?

The story behind the story

The idea of the Cornish Echoes romantic adventures is to weave a story around one of the county’s great Regency houses, and the family who lived there. Very often there is a crossover with characters in the Poldark books, and this time is no exception, as Ross and Demelza visit the Bassets at Tehidy on more than one occasion.

Sadly Tehidy House no longer exists as most of it was burnt down in 1919, when it had just opened as a sanatorium. The pavilions which flanked it, the conservatory, the walled garden and the stables remain, but have now been converted into dwellings on a private estate where there is no public access. I discovered it because of the country park which surrounds it, one of my favourite places to walk.

Tehidy is a mile or so back from the clifftop just south of the former mining port of Portreath, a characterful and real village to this day. I don’t know and love it as well as I do ‘Porthnevek’, which is just along the coast and home to Anna in The Forgotten Maid.

One aspect of Tehidy’s history fascinated me. Francis Basset, Baron de Dunstanville, had only one child, a daughter, but she never married. He even went as far as to persuade friends in high places to given him a second title, Baron Stratton, which could pass through the female line, but still Frances remained resolutely single. Given the title and her family’s wealth this was highly unusual and I wanted to know why.

History does not reveal the reason. There are no portraits of her as an adult, and guests who recorded their visits to the house have implied she lacked her mother’s looks and social graces, but still that should not have put off every suitor. But there was a history of mental health issues on both sides of her family, which perhaps could have done. Or maybe she herself did not wish to marry, and her parents were unusually indulgent for the time.

We cannot know the reason, and so I made it up. There is no evidence at all that Franny and Harriet Lemon (who was a fixture in the Basset household as their mothers were close friends) had a lesbian relationship, but there are historical precedents. Neither is there evidence that Sir Christopher Hawkins was a rapist, although he and Baron de Dunstanville were bitter political rivals and fought a duel at about the same time as the one in the book.

So history was definitely on my side, but I felt the story needed a smuggler! Imagine my absolute delight when I discovered a successful and famous one who lived locally at the right time… and then that he was most likely de Dunstanville’s illegitimate son. Pure author gold, if ever there was such a thing.

But what of my contemporary story, and why set it during lockdown? It was a terrible time for many people, but here in Cornwall there was a strange sort of peacefulness and calm. Space to stop, breath and think. I wanted to create that for Carla – and contrast it with the hell that Mani and Kitto, both living alone, go through.

And the lost heir themselves? Where does that fit into it? Let me tell you, I drew a large number of family trees before reaching a conclusion, but you’ll have to read the book to find out.