Stories to break your heart, from an English country churchyard

We went for a walk this afternoon, after lunch in the Giant’s Rest pub, and happened to pass through a churchyard. There a tombstone caught my eye, and I paused in the misty rain to run my hand over the metal, trace the words and read the story. It broke my heart. It does again now, writing this.

Elizabeth lived in these parts, around the mysterious Long Man figure in the Sussex countryside, in the 1700s. She and her husband Thomas had 11 children: four sons and seven daughters. Then, over a period of five years, she lost six of them.

The first was Jane, in 1725. She was three years old. The next was Stephen in 1726, also three years old. That same year, Elizabeth also lost Frances, who lived for only three months.

Three years passed, then Thomas died, age one. Richard was next, in 1730, when he was nine months old. That same year, her teenage daughter Mary died, aged 16.

A year later, Elizabeth lost her husband and their father, Thomas.

I don’t know why any of this happened. I don’t know who they were. I feel the need to mark their existence though, having met them like this. Here’s to them. Jane and Stephen and Frances and Thomas and Richard and Mary, and their Dad Thomas. They were here, long ago. They lived. I also want to honour Elizabeth, who somehow found the strength to go on living for 26 more years.

This is the kind of place where time stretches. The tomb is overlooked by a mighty, twisted yew tree whose weary arms are held up by posts and chains. It is said to be at least 1600 years old, which means there is a chance it was alive when the Romans were in Britain, before the legions withdrew.

Time stretches and time spins.

And in another corner of the churchyard there is a memorial to a pair of sisters, Pattie and Catherine, who died 97 years apart. That feels astonishing to me.

Ninety seven years. Pattie in 1894, aged 15 months. Catherine in 1991, having witnessed the First and Second World Wars, the Nuclear Age, the Space Race and the dawning of the age we live in now. She was 93 years old.

Their surname is Ade, which in Sussex is a contraction of Adam, a name that links us all. Walking away, one of us says they must have been related. I go back and check the tombstone and find that yes, it’s true of Elizabeth and Thomas, who lived and loved and raised and lost their children more than a century before the sisters were born. They were called Ade too.

“Beneath the sheets of paper lies my truth …”

Seven songs found or re-found in the last seven days, just for fun and the sake of it. This latest weekly list is a little more mellow than the last, or melancholy if you prefer. I do. The lonesome note. A wonderful song about Samson; the aching and longing of a tune you may have heard on Wallander; Luke Sital-Singh’s brand new cover of a Travis banger; Michael Stipe and 1 Giant Leap listening to the silence; Cornershop in a new light; Buddy Rich’s 12-year-old daughter stepping up to the mic for the first time and Sheila Chandra’s chilling take on a very old song. Love is a killing thing, indeed. (That’s Hedy Lamarr in Samson and Delilah by the way. She was also a brilliant inventor who helped create the technology behind mobile phones. Fact.)

Would you like to stay here?

My first novel The Light Keeper is a story of love and hope, grief, faith and longing.

A young woman called Sarah stands on the brink, arms open wide as if to let the wind carry her away. She’s come to the cliffs to be alone, to face the truth about her life and to work out what to do, Her lover Jack is searching, desperate to find her before it is too late. But Sarah doesn’t want to be found. Not yet. Not by him. And someone else is seeking answers up here where the seabirds soar – a man known only as the Keeper, living in an old lighthouse right on the edge of a four-hundred-foot drop. He is all too aware that sometimes love takes you to the edge …

The book comes out on August 15 but you can pre-order a copy here at a special discount or sign up to the mailing list and get the first three chapters to read immediately, for free.

Now the lovely people at the Belle Tout lighthouse are letting me give away a night’s luxury bed and breakfast there for two people, again for free. It’s a stunning location on a cliff in the beautiful landscape near Beachy Head in East Sussex, close to the Seven Sisters. You will never have stayed anywhere like it. And this is the setting for much of the book, so you will have a sense of being right inside the story.

I’ll be reading from the book, telling the true tales behind it and singing some of the songs written to go with the book, in an exclusive event at lunchtime on Friday 13 September. This is in the Lantern Room of the lighthouse, with spectacular 360 degree views of the sea and the Downs. It’s exclusively for members of the mailing list and there are only a dozen places available, so you have to sign up for a chance to win a pair. We’ll choose them at random (by number rather than name) on publication day, and also select the person who will be offered the chance to stay with a plus one that same night, in a lovely room with a spectacular view. If you win and you can’t come, I’ll give you a signed copy of the book and arrange a private reading at a date to suit you.

So if you want the chance to come, put your name down here. You’ll get those first three chapters immediately. And if you want to pre-order a copy (for four quid off) go here.

Thanks for reading, and hope to see you at the lighthouse.

Love and strength,

Cole

www.thelightkeeper.org

Why You Should Never Turn Your Back On Ode To Joy

I was in Krakow on the night Poland joined the European Union. I used that memory in writing a scene from The Light Keeper, which I’m reading here as a response to those new members of The Brexit Party who stood in the chamber and turned their backs on young musicians playing the EU anthem, Ode To Joy.

Are you afraid of heights? Better not watch this then…

Here’s what it’s like to step out of the Lantern Room at the Belle Tout lighthouse near Beachy Head in Sussex, in the South Downs National Park, and walk around the platform on the outside of the tower. Yes, the outside. A long way above the ground, and beside a four hundred foot drop. I’m afraid of heights – my children still laugh at the way I clung on to the inside wall of the Eiffel Tower for dear life, genuinely scared, so this was a challenge. The heavy breathing is because I was frightened! Worth it though, for the astonishing views. Enjoy! It’s the setting for The Light Keeper, my first novel, published this August. If you want to know more about the book or read the first three chapters for free, just let me have your email here. You’ll automatically get the chance to win a night in the lighthouse.