In February of this year, one of Cornwall’s most iconic writers Rosamunde Pilcher, who put our humble county on an international map for tourism and the media, passed away at the age of 94.
A couple of years ago, we ran a feature in our summer issue that looked at how Rosamunde Pilcher turned Cornwall into a German sensation, as her Cornwall set books were transformed into films and TV series by German film production companies.
Born in Lelant, Pilcher spent much of her early life exploring the coves and beaches around her local area. Her school days were spent in Penzance and despite moving away when she married Pilcher never lost her love of Cornwall and descriptions of the places of her childhood filled the pages of her books. She would go on to write 28 romantic novels and dozens of short stories before retiring in 2000. From these stories, many of which were set in Cornwall and their German TV adaptations attract 7 million viewers in Germany, seeing Rosamunde Pilcher become a household name.
A quarter of a million German tourists visit Cornwall each year, making up 40% of our overseas visitors, many of whom are seeking out notable scenes from Pilcher’s books and TV adaptations.
During her later years, Pilcher kept away from the public eye to enjoy the peace and quiet of retirement, however her son Robin, an author himself, spoke to MyCornwall at the time of our summer feature about the popularity of his mother’s work.
“It was always said that Germany and England were very close at the beginning of the 19th century because the same royal family oversaw them, so there was an enormous amount in common with the culture and their values,” Robin explains, “There’s a sense of nostalgia as far as the German tourists are concerned. They see this visually beautiful place with lovely, ethereal plots and they would like to associate with it.”
Like Daphne Du Maurier and Winston Graham, Rosamunde Pilcher’s name has become part of Cornwall’s written culture and each year German tourists are flocking to find the wild and iconic sights that they recognise from her stories. Although her books are considered romantic, they are filled with relatable characters that appeal to a wide audience. Like all great authors, Rosamunde’s gift lay in capturing the nuances of everyday life and the simple joys found between families and relationships.
“I never class them as romantic novels because I think it is slightly degrading of what they are,” says Robin, “which is actually a remarkable insight into family life and relationships. These are not just relationships between men and women but grandmothers and grandsons, uncles and aunts. She builds extremely good.”
Her most famous novels, the bestselling family saga The Shell Seekers, the saga moves from the second world war into the 1980s and is the story of an artist’s elderly daughter, Penelope Keeling, who discovers that her father’s painting is worth a small fortune. Pilcher’s 14th novel, written when she was 63 and published in 1987, spent 49 weeks in the New York Times bestseller lists and sold more than 10 million copies and was voted one of Britain’s favourite novels in the BBC’s Big Read in 2003.
Hailed as an author who changed the public’s perception of family novels as well as building cultural connections between German and British people, Rosamunde filled her stories with secrets, mysteries, gripping plots and stunning sceneries. The Shell Seekers is regarded as a series that changed the face of romantic fiction on a national and international scale. Her final novel, Winter Solstice, published at the age of 80, topped the charts on both sides of the Atlantic.
Today, Rosamunde Pilcher tours take place across Cornwall and more that 60 million copies of her books have been sold worldwide and will be remembered and admired for generations to come.