Coming Home to Brightwater Bay by Holly Hepburn
A book of glorious scenery, life in a community and romantic entanglements abound in this book of a writer struggling to embark on her latest novel. When Merina or Merry arrives on Orkney, she wonders how she will ever be able to recapture her drive to construct the romantic novels she has become well known for, or even face opening her laptop. This novel realistically shows coming to terms with a community that “treats writers like rock stars” and is eager to welcome her, but also means she must cope with new challenges. This is a beautifully written book which has much to say about some of the islands, the scenery and places which Merry comes to know and love. I greatly enjoyed seeing both the well known and less famous sites through Merry’s eyes, as well as how she tries to cope with the various challenges. There is a lot of humour in the dialogue and in the situations Merry finds herself in, not least when local alcohol is freely consumed. Having visited Orkney on several occasions I recognised some of the places which are so well described in this book, and the inspiration that they represent. The story of Merry’s time on the Writer’s Retreat is really well written, and I was so pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this book.
The book opens with Alex, Merry’s long time partner, breaking up with her in a restaurant. She has had problems writing for some time, but Alex seems reluctant to wait until she regains her inspiration. She is deeply traumatised by his desertion, as they have been together for many years. Supported by her best friend Jess, who is also a novelist, she manages to get a six month’s Writer’s residency on Orkney, which includes a small cottage in Brightwater Bay. She is welcome by the librarian from the island, Niall, who makes her welcome. Greatly impressed by the setting, she feels inspired to write for the first time in months, which is useful as she has to speak at various events throughout her stay. She encounters others who inspire more complex stories, including Helen at the Italian Chapel, who reveals the story of her grandparents who met during the Second World War on the islands. She meets an older neighbour who insists that she takes up running, as well as a hungry goat. A flat tyre means that she encounters Magnus, a boat builder who originates from Iceland, and who is eager to show her more places.
This is a humorous and very readable book which I enjoyed. Merry is a memorable character, with a great sense of humour and a realistic approach to life. She is deeply wounded by Alex’s desertion, and this book deals well with her recovery which proves to be complex. It offers real insight into some of the things that can inspire a writer, as well as charting Merry’s progress on a very friendly island. This being a romantic novel there is an element of confusion in Merry’s mind as she finds that she is confronted with new attractions. I also liked the variety of characters that Hepburn has created, including Jess whose writing is a little more earthy and Sheila who gives Merry a new perspective on her abilities. This is a very enjoyable book which I thoroughly recommend, not least for its appreciation of the wonderful Orkney Islands.