A Lovely Little Interview with Emma Mansfield, founder of Lovely Little Books
As someone who’s been lucky enough to visit many a city, town and village in her relatively short life, I know that citizens everywhere are capable of developing an often inexplicable pride in their turf. What’s most interesting to me about Devon and Cornwall is that transplants to the area develop the same sense of devotion to their new digs as natives generations-deep. This love for the southwest is hard to explain; it’s like getting shot with Cupid’s arrow.
People who love Devon often feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information about it, from current events to historical figures. Moreover, they want badly to share such information with friends sure to fall in love with the County too. For this reason many organizations, Westward and the AppforDevon included, dedicate so much time sharing information with Devonians. It’s also the reason that the former “Essex girl,” Emma Mansfield, authored the second book in her series, Lovely Little Books. The Little Book of Devon captures the fascination and pride Devonians have in their area and history. When I interviewed Emma I came to realize that she, like myself and the Westward team, was just another citizen bit with the Devon bug.
Me: Thank you so much for taking time to talk with me today! You must be so busy. I imagine you just run around the country researching information for your Lovely Little Books all day?
Emma: Actually, right now I’m getting ready to take a much-needed yoga retreat in India. I don’t actually spend all of my time writing and researching for the books. I’m lucky to have a mind that retains information. It helps that so much of my research is conducted online and by reading books. Honestly, I spend more time thinking about what how I want them to be written than actually writing.
Me: Was that why you started to write the books? Because you wanted someplace to put all of these little facts that were becoming memories?
Emma: Lovely Little Books are a celebration. They are meant to bring places to life. I hope that they bring otherwise boring, inaccessible, statistical and historical information to life in an easy-to-read way. The books aren’t meant to be comprehensive. Rather, I call them an ‘interpretation kit.’ The point is that people are prompted to learn more from history books, if they’re interested.
Me: What kinds of stories most captivate you?
Emma: I have such an interest in people, especially the older generation and their stories. I am fascinated by the events that change the people here. People have a story and the landscape has a story. It was really hard to learn about foot-and-mouth disease. I met a cameraman who filmed it; he told me about the farmers who took their own lives. I imagine the Exeter or Plymouth Blitz during the Second World War would have felt the same way. There was so much despair.
Me: Do you find the Devon landscape very different from the Cornwall landscape?
Emma: Devon is just so big; the Moor in the middle has a lot to do with it. Many people that live in North Devon rarely visit South Devon and vice versa. You can be in Plymouth and take a day-trip just bimbling around the South Hams. North Devon is more rural whereas South Devon has more administrative centres and big businesses, what with places like Exeter and Plymouth. Still, the public transport system in Devon makes a big difference. People can actually get around here.
Me: One of the first social cues I picked up on when I moved to Plymouth was that there is a certain love/ hate relationship between Devon and Cornwall. How did you bridge this gap?
Emma: I am not sure I did bridge the gap. I didn’t really feel like I had a right to wade into that argument. Some of the disagreements are over things like the origination of cream tea. From my research, it looks like cream tea came from Devon and the Tavistock Abbey [covered on pages 8 and 9 of her Little Book]. On the other hand, I found that the Cornish pasty recipe belongs to Cornwall, although you can argue the French were doing the same thing at the same time…Really, I was careful not to be too contentious. I wanted the books to be just a little provocative.
Me: I saw the Little Book of Devon at Mount Edgcumbe recently. I also know that you can buy them on your site and Amazon. How are sales? Where can people buy?
Emma: Well, I’ve sold 55,000 copies of the Little Book of Cornwall, Little Book of Devon, and Little Book of Surfing. I really haven’t been interested in promoting, selling, or marketing the books because that’s not my strong suit and I don’t want a desk or office. Luckily I work with Tormark [a Cornwall-based distributor] who has gotten it into Waterstones, WHSmith, National Trust Shops and more. I am very grateful to Tormark for how they’ve helped Lovely Little Books. We also sell at boutique shops like Penelopetom [a boutique interior design shop in Devon].
Me: Speaking of Cornwall, tell me what it was like writing the Little Book of Devon in comparison to the Little Book of Cornwall?
Emma: I was so much more nervous about writing on Devon. It’s such a big county compared to Cornwall, where I have lived and worked for years. I felt a lot more pressure to get it right in Devon. There was a certain sense that I needed to earn permission from the people of Devon. Like, “Who’s this girl from Cornwall writing about us?” But, I just loved researching Devon. The people are lovely and appreciate rural life the way people from Cornwall do. The same themes and issues come up.
Me: In your book’s introduction you ask readers to “get in touch and be part of the new edition.” What do you mean by that?
Emma: I know that there are things I don’t get quite right in the books; it’s impossible not to! I love it when readers call me to explain more because it helps them to have some ownership over content. Recently a chap from Wrigley’s got in touch and put me straight on a few things. Every couple years I update the books.
Me: I am also curious about big companies like Wrigley’s that headquarter in Devon. Why do you think organizations choose to come here?
Emma: People talk about the intellectual capital of Devon and Cornwall; I do believe in that. A lot of people in media and creative industries who are able to work from home move to Devon. Creative people need to be in an environment that inspires creativity, after all. It really started with the “children of the 60’s” who worked in advertising, records, and graphic design in London. It continued to twenty years ago when there were big bucks in media as there were only four television channels. A lot of those people worked up the corporate hiatus to open locations for companies like the BBC in Devon [there was a large BBC office in Plymouth in the 80s and 90s]. Many move here to open their own companies or buy existing ones; the Westcountry attracts creative and dynamic people who are willing to give it a go. The risk in starting something new is worthwhile because the quality of life is higher.
Me: Wow…I feel like you could talk about Devon for days! It must be hard to decide what information to include in the books. Looking back on the Little Book of Devon, is there any information you wish you had included more information on?
Emma: That’s such a hard question…I don’t know immediately! I’ve included a little bit about a lot. I guess I would have done more about food producers and pubs. Or music and festivals. Or artists and writers. Certainly more about the Dawlish rail line; it has completely changed the country.
Me: So if you have a free day to spend in Devon, what do you do?
Emma: Definitely start with breakfast at Goodbody’s for a full greasy-spoon fry-up. I’d take a lovely walk from there through the Drake Circus area to the Barbican, where I’d take the ferry to Royal William Yard for lunch at River Cottage. Then I’d drive to the South Hams for a walk along the Newton Ferrers Coast Path toward Bigbury. At the Oyster Shack in Bigbury I’d have a glass of white wine and two oysters, then head to dinner at Michael Caine’s Abode restaurant in Exeter. I’d find an open-fire pub in the middle of nowhere to spend my evening.
Me: That does sound ideal: lots of walking and eating!
Emma: [She laughs] I don’t shop much or really spend much money. But I love eating out. I think it’s a good thing to do to drop your money on food. It’s bloody hard to work in catering. I actually cut my teeth working with chefs who were in the kitchen 24/7. I couldn’t do that.
Me: So I guess its books, not cooking, for you then!
Emma: Yes, but as I mentioned, Lovely Little Books are a happy accident. I spend most of my time involved in Cornwalls’ community pursuing all the things I should have done when I was 25. I lead choirs in my Cornwall community, work with youth, and teach yoga. I started a singing group for widowers here. I may be an Essex girl originally but I love my Cornwall life!
At this point I let Emma get back to packing for her Indian yoga retreat. When she learns I’ve barely explored Cornwall she promises to take me to lunch upon her return. We also discussed the Spring 2015 Little Book of Devon marketing plan. She wants to raffle copies for Little Book of Devon on the App for Devon; stay tuned for details!
Access Emma’s website at http://www.thelittlebooksof.com/