Book Review: The Great Western Beach, Emma Smith

Emma Smith was born Elspeth Hallsmith in 1923 in Newquay, Cornwall. During WW2 she worked for the Record’s Department of The War Office, before leaving them to join the Grand Union Canal, where she gained material for her first novel, ‘Maidens Trip’. Published in 1948 this earned her the John Llewellyn Rhys Memorial Prize. After spending time in India with a documentary film unit her diaries provided the material for her second novel, ‘The Far Cry’, which she completed the following year during a long hot summer alone in Paris. Published in 1949 she was again critically recognised and achieved the James Tait Black Memorial Prize. After her husband’s death in 1957 Smith went to live with her two children in Wales where she wrote four children’s books, a selection of short stories, and novel ‘The Opportunity of a Lifetime’, which she completed in 1978. She now lives and writes in London.

‘The Great Western Beach’ is an intricate memoir of Emma Smith’s childhood in 1920s Cornwall. Writing in exquisite detail from the perspective of her nine-year-old self, Smith recounts everything from the pasties and the picnics, to the beaches and the bathing parties, and recalls clearly her eccentric neighbours and the intriguing holiday-makers. 

She paints a meticulous and glorious portrait of her family; her father, the discontented bank clerk dreaming of a life as a world-famous artist; her beautiful mother who could have achieved more, but has already buried three fiances; her defiant sister Pam; delicate brother Jim and, finally, baby brother Harvey.

With Smith’s customary ability to conjure up powerful and intricate images of character and place, ‘The Great Western Beach’ allows you to savour and luxuriate in the sights and smells of the period as if you were experiencing them for yourself!

‘The Great Western Beach’ is published in hardback on 2nd June 2008, priced £14.99