Author and former model Sophie Dahl recalls idyllic childhood holidays spent at her grandmother’s house on the West Sussex coast. Words: Alex Reece

Sophie Dahl portrait: Matt Easton

I adore the openness of the Sussex coastline – something about it feels so wild and generous. My paternal grandmother lived on the seafront in Angmering-on-Sea in West Sussex, in an old Arts and Crafts house surrounded by gorse and rock thyme, so it was a part of my life from babyhood.

Some of my happiest childhood memories are wrapped up in that coast, hearing the sea crashing outside from my bedroom, the smell of salt mixed in with turps from my grandmother’s painting studio, swimming in the freezing sea, the electricity of it, buying fish from the fishermen on the beach, changing in the candy-coloured beach huts.

Down there we ate a lot of fish, and vegetables from her garden. I’m partial to nostalgic fish and chips, and boiled sweets – my grandmother was one of those grandmothers who had little china pots filled with sweets, all over her house, much to my delight.

We’d play in the garden, and in her wardrobe: she was miniature and let me dress up in all of her clothes. The games would normally involve me being the Queen to her indentured servant, and I always had a handbag and a lot of lipstick, and then we would swim. My grandmother was fearless; she’d swim in that sea from April on.

My best friend ended up living in Littlehampton, so I visit a lot, with my kids now in tow, which is lovely. I get to show them all the things I did when I was little. There are some great restaurants there now. We love The East Beach Café.

Having kids plunged me back into the world of books that I’d loved as a child, and it was incredibly inspiring. I’d loved books with fierce heroines, and writing a book for children felt like a natural progression after writing four books for adults and having a ready-made home audience!

The landscape of the Sussex coast is all over Madame Badobedah – the Regency houses, painted beach huts, and wild, rugged coastline. The main character is a sort of amalgam of both of my grandmothers, and my husband’s grandmothers. A clutch of potent women who were ahead of their time, and yet so much a part of it. It’s a love letter to them all, really.

Madame Badobedah by Sophie Dahl, illustrated by Lauren O’Hara, is out now in hardback (£12.99) from Walker Books. It is also available as a Bolinda audiobook, read by Sophie Dahl.

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