Interview with Liz Fenwick – author of The Cornish House

Published by Emma Lee-Potter in on Tuesday 29th May 2012

Liz Fenwick’s path to publication sounds like a dream come true. She sent her debut novel out on a grey February day, not knowing what to expect, and by the end of the week it has been snapped up by Carole Blake, one of the top agents in the business. But as Liz explained to me, writing The Cornish House, her captivating tale of a rambling manor house and the family secrets it holds, took grit, determination and years of hard work.

The Cornish House is your debut novel. Can you tell me a little about the road to publication and how you got a publishing deal?

Liz: To make a long story short – in 2004 I promised myself I would begin to write fiction again. After writing seven books (not counting rewrites) and receiving encouraging rejections I finally felt that I had brought The Cornish House up to a level where I felt that it was as good as I could make it. So on a Monday in February, I sent it to four agents who had been encouraging me in my journey. By noon I had my first request for the full manuscript. I nearly fell over. On Saturday Carole Blake got in touch and said she loved it and would love to represent me. I was over the moon. Things moved swiftly from there. The first sale was to Holland, then the two-book deal with Orion in the UK and it went to auction in Germany. That was so exciting. Recently the book sold to Portugal. It’s all so unreal in a way – you dream about something all your life and finally you put the work in to make it happen and then it does…

How did you come up with the idea for The Cornish House?

Liz: This is the third novel I’d written (currently working on my eighth) and from the book before (August Rock) there was this rather dishy love interest named Mark and he kept pestering me for a story of his own. How could I refuse? That was part of it, but one day a few years ago several roads were closed and we detoured down a lane I hadn’t been on in ages and I saw The Cornish House. This is a house that I had always loved and been intrigued by. Then I had a discussion with a teenager going through that awful stage when they can only see their own point of view… Suddenly the story began to take shape….

Trevenen, the house at the heart of The Cornish House, sounds gorgeous. Does it actually exist?

Liz: Yes and no. The real house is different from Trevenen. In the writing of the book it grew and developed. I spent hours on the layout, which required a lot of internet searching of properties and floor plans…such a hard task. So Trevenen is my idea of the ideal house, but based on the house that captured my heart from the moment I saw it nestled into a fold in the land off a remote lane. That house is truly The Cornish House, and as such is rather special and its location is a secret…

The relationship between Maddie, the heroine of the novel, and her step-daughter Hannah, is incredibly tricky. How did you go about making it so convincing?

Liz: Probably because I’m a mother of teenagers…thankfully mine aren’t as spiky as Hannah. But I loved both these broken characters and I think that helps keep it “real” on the page because they were and are still very “real” in my head.

You divide your time between Dubai, Cornwall and London. How do you manage to write novels when you travel so much?

Liz: I can work on a plane or anywhere. Because I began writing fiction again when the kids were still fairly small, I can tune out the world and tune into my writing.

What are the best things about living in Cornwall?

Liz: The people, the scenery, the fresh fish, and my house…

Do you have any tips for writers working on their debut novels right now?

Liz: Be professional, be persistent and write the book of your heart.  It’s so tempting when you want your words to be read to follow the latest trend, but trends change as soon as you are aware of them. Write the book of your heart and with luck it will hit the right trend and you will have been true to yourself.

What is your own favourite novel? And are there any particular novelists who have inspired you?

Liz: This is such a tough question…there are so many favourites. I love Regency Buck by Georgette Heyer. It was the first one of hers that I read and her books were where I escaped to during my teenage years. A more recent favourite was Leo the African by Amin Maalouf. This showed me the history of an area through a very personal story and has the best opening line ever. In a way all writers who have completed a book inspire me. That is the toughest thing – to complete a book and then accept that you will have to rewrite it in some way at least once or in my case many many more times. But during my “apprenticeship” in the RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme I was lucky enough to watch Katie Fforde in action. She is my inspiration. She is such a professional in how she goes about all aspects of her work as a writer. She makes it look easy and I’m now learning how hard it all is…

Can you tell us a little bit about your second novel – August Rock? And when will it be published?

Liz: August Rock existed before The Cornish House. I’m now on my 27th rewrite and it’s a story I still love. It’s about Jude, who suddenly wakes up to the fact that she is following life by other people’s design and not her own. She flees her wedding and ends up taking a position as a research assistant to a garden historian on a Cornish estate. When the historian dies and his son arrives to sell the estate, she finds out that she has fallen in love for the first time – not with a person but a place. She has to save Pengarrock and find out who she really is and what she really wants. And oh, there’s a wonderful thirteen year old Victorian boy called Toby. I can’t seem to keep away from teenagers… It will be out in the spring of 2013.

The Cornish House by Liz Fenwick (Orion, £12.99)

16 comments so far

  • Very inspiring interview! I am looking forward to reading ‘The Cornish House’, (on order) and now ‘August Rock’. It is v encouraging to read how many re-writes and novels you have been through – makes me feel I am not mad for continuing. And, like you,I am very inspired by Katie Fforde, who, with Judy Astley, was a tutor on an Arvon course I went on. They were both so professional in their approach and encouraging to all their students, and following them on twitter it’s lovely to read them mentioning that they are starting or working on a novel, and then reading their finished books. I remember reading an extract from ‘The Cornish House’ on your blog – it will be great to read the published book.

  • Thanks Bex!

    Yes, book two…the reason I’m biting my nails at the moment BucksWriter…

    Thank Anne. How lucky you were to have both Katie and Judy as tutors…that would be my idea of bliss. Good luck with your writing and just keep going!

    Emma – thanks for having interviewing me!


  • Thanks so much for your comment, Anne. How lucky to be tutored by Katie Fforde and Judy Astley – writers at the top of their game and lovely people too!

  • It’s great to have a glimpse of book two, I agree, Bucks Writer (Claire)! And Liz’s brilliant story will inspire loads of writers to keep going…

  • Lovely interview, Liz and Emma. I’ve followed Liz’s progress in person and online ever since you joined the RNA, and remember reading the beginning of both books some years ago. I’m so impressed with your hard work and how professional you’ve been. It’s a gorgeous book, and it was a wonderful launch party! x

  • Hello:

    Oh it is so wonderful to read of people’s stories and how they get there. You have been writing for such a long time, that is wonderful.

    I am AMerican and it is very cool to peak into the mum bloggers of the UK. You are all so bright and witty at the same time.

    Thank you for sharing your unique journey.

    If I see your book, I am going to read it and give it to my sister to read too. If you have time to read any blogs, when you are not fiction noveling, you could take a look at

    Thank you.


  • I really enjoyed reading your interview with Liz, Emma. Liz and I have followed a similar path, over a similar number of years, and I’ve enjoyed comparing notes with her – and hope to continue to do so.

    Liz X

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