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“Lockdown at Kernewek Lighthouse” was my first fictional publication. A short story of just under 2400 words. I wrote it after what had been for so many a gruelling period, months of watching the tragedy of the Covid pandemic unfold, observing the world from behind closed doors. So I was delighted it should appear in the Chasing Driftwood Writing Group’s anthology “Stay Home”, a volume exploring a year of writing through lockdown: people’s lockdown diaries, their relationships with home and pets and more.

I tell the story of an architect, his wife and their two adorable children in a Cornish lighthouse in lockdown. What could possibly go wrong? Ahhhh … but it also entailed a cast of talking seagulls, grumpy knockers, mischievous piskies and a fractious mermaid. A long way from my former world of law writing. Readers may wonder why?

Cornwall is a mystical land where behind the everyday lurks a story. It is the home of Dozmary Pool, standing stones, Holy Wells, it is the door to the Lost Land of Lyonesse. St Piran is said to have miraculously floated from Ireland to Cornwall to lead its inhabitants to faith, despite a millstone attached to his neck. John Wesley preached in Gwennap Pit, a conical enclave that resembles the gateway to another world.

Gwennap Pit © The author

My weekend playground in my youth of Cawsand village led me to an endless array of special coves and rock pools; who maintained them was never seen; I’d peer out to sea from what we called the hermit grotto at Penlee Point; wonder at the meaning of the nooks and crannies at Rame Church, a building that felt impossibly old; drink water on a hot day from an old slate by the corner of some fields.

Queen Adelaide’s Grotto (aka to use the Hermit’s Grotto) © The author

I’d listen to the eerie cries of the seagulls, easy to believe they were the souls of departed sailors. I’d pace the deserted landscape around Rame Head early in the morning hunting for fresh mushrooms and play football with the puff balls the piskies had left behind. Never came across a knocker though … we were far from the mines and perhaps a little too close to Devon … And maybe the mermaids were too busy enjoying all that attention they get down in Zennor!

A mermaid in flowing blue dress? Or simply a jelly-fish? © The author

In lockdown we began to see again the little things we had missed in our busy lives, a harvest mouse or well camouflaged toad at the bottom of the garden, a scary tree in the woods that looked like a petrified wizard … we reconnected to what was local, we saw things that had been invisible to us.

Trees don’t get much scarier than this Dorset monster © The author

“Lockdown at Kernewek Lighthouse” reflected my belief that even in the all too real darkness, loss and grief of the pandemic there could be light, love and hope … and fun too! There are so many who predict a gloomy future, that we will have to live with the Covid virus, that climate change will destroy the earth, that it’s selfish to bring children into such a dreadful place. Such gloominess is not new, for example, towards the end of the 18th century the Reverend Malthus, an early economist, predicted dire consequences from over-population. The lockdowns gave us all the chance to look again at how beautiful Creation is. Cut out modern transport, cars, planes and shipping, and the world took on a spring-like hue, the sea water looked clearer, a more beautiful shade of blue, animals became curious and started to visit our towns and cities again, in harmony with us, not our enemies. This became the germ of an idea for the story. What if? What if we aren’t the problem but instead are destined to learn from the pandemic, to reach ever new heights in our glorious adventure on planet earth? What if when we’re in trouble, the animals are rooting for us to overcome it and come to help … And what if, in Cornwall, that means seagulls, piskies, knockers and a rather cross mermaid too???

I hope you read “Lockdown at Kernewek Lighthouse”, enjoy it and find yourselves smiling, then laughing out loud at the antics of some of Cornwall’s oldest inhabitants. And afterwards perhaps share a tear for those we have lost and remember them. Later, as you pass through Cornwall on your way to a fun-filled holiday, don’t forget to pause and enjoy a quiet moment, listen carefully to what the seagulls are saying about you and look out for a mermaid waiting for visitors to leave so she can sunbathe in peace …

Stephen F Copp

1st December 2021

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