Capturing history – the book sending its character down Levant Mine

By Kira Taylor |

Between the rough waves of the Atlantic and the rugged moorland of west Cornwall, lies Levant Mine. Old stone buildings rise against the skyline, marking a history that has enveloped this landscape for centuries.

Cornish author, Natasha Carthew, is attempting to delve into that history and the rich culture surrounding the Tin Coast with a new book following a teenage girl who tumbles into the mine and experiences the lives of those who worked it.

When she falls down a mine shaft, she meets the spirit of a miner who teaches her how to survive and escape the mine.

Natasha was commissioned by Falmouth University to work with students to publish the book, “Song for the Forgotten”. The book will be accompanied by illustrations from Falmouth-based artist, Steven Buckler.

Natasha Carthew is a Cornish-born author whose working class roots inspire her work

Talking about why she accepted the commission, she said: “The history of mining opened up a lot of stories for me and I just thought it would be really great to experience a whole story underground, but with flashbacks, so you get a great sense of place above ground and below ground.”


They worked beneath the sea, in scorching heat, with only a tallow candle to light their path up rickety ladders and plummeting mine shafts.

Tin and copper mining is a staple of Cornish culture, even featuring on the flag. Levant Mine is built on one of the oldest hard-rock tin and copper mining areas in the county.

Generations of men, women and children have worked the mine. Miners worked underground, carried up and down by the beam engine that would take half an hour to reach daylight. They worked beneath the sea, in scorching heat, with only a tallow candle to light their path up rickety ladders and plummeting mine shafts.

The job was extremely dangerous. In 1919, the beam engine broke, killing 31 men.

Natasha wants to capture the gruelling, dangerous, but intrinsically Cornish history of mining in her book.

Levant Mine was closed in 1930

She said: “I’m a working-class writer and I talk about that a lot at festivals, so I want to come from the working class perspective as well. We’re hard working and we don’t rest on our laurels.”

“Song of the Forgotten” will follow the journey of an apathetic teenage girl, who’s grown up in rural Cornwall. When she falls down a mine shaft, she meets the spirit of a miner who teaches her how to survive and escape the mine.

Natasha added: “I want that character to be female because … we know about the bal maidens*, but sometimes women had to work the mines, especially if their husbands had been injured.”

The story will also feature flashbacks, both of the character’s childhood and of the miner’s life working mine under the sea. Natasha hopes this will create a sense of Cornish lives both now and then.

The rugged coastline that the site of the mine overlooks

She said: “This girl realises that she’s kind of got it good and that brings her forward into the present day. She knows that she can change and she can achieve whatever she wants in the future.”


First opening in 1748 and reaching over a mile out into the seabed, Levant Mine is a reminder of generations of Cornish culture – of working with and against the elements to provide for their families.

The book is strongly influenced by her working-class roots. It changes how she views the beauty of the county she was raised in.

“I’m looking out at the pouring rain today and it’s windy and I see the beauty there – where a lot of people may not because it’s not the usual sunshine sitting on a beach type of thing.

“I want to show Cornwall in all its beauty and in all weathers and relay my sense of pride as a Cornish writer through the characters, so then the main character will have pride and we can her pride develop.”

Raining seems to be a common theme in my interview with her. She is a wild writer – that is, she writes outside in her three sided cabin – hail, rain or sunshine.

First opening in 1748 and reaching over a mile out into the seabed, Levant Mine is a reminder of generations of Cornish culture – of working with and against the elements to provide for their families.

Illustration of Levan Mine for the book by Steven Buckler

The mine closed in 1930 and is now a World Heritage Site in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Natasha said: “We wanted a story that would have an environmental impact as well, so people could leave the story and have maybe learnt something or stealthily learnt about the environment in a way that would not be preachy.

“But then we’ve also got the environmental aspect because it’s raining and there’s flooding, so we want to touch on that as well, especially in a working environment which a mine is.”

Raining seems to be a common theme in my interview with her. She is a wild writer – that is, she writes outside in her three sided cabin – hail, rain or sunshine.

She said: “That’s where my writing comes from is connecting with wild places. I’m Cornish as well, so for me it’s about tapping into my own family history and talking to people as well.”

As we talk on the phone, rain lashes against my window, but Natasha doesn’t sound hugely bothered, simply saying “as long as I don’t get the driving rain, I’m not too bad”.

She is writing the book as part of a project with Falmouth University students, who are working with the National Trust to publish the book.

Natasha said: “It’s good to be in touch with people on many different levels, especially because they’re learning the trade as it was. I think for me because I didn’t go to university I think I can give them another aspect, which is not just a lecturer student situation. I’m coming a bit left field if you know what I mean.”

James, one of the students working on the project, said: “I find this project important as a resident of Cornwall, I want to celebrate the place that I live in and the National Trust who are helping to protect and preserve important places within Cornwall.”

Juliet, another student working on the project, added: “The spirit of Levant Mine for me, would involve a close community of people who care deeply about its preservation and people who have historically relied on the mine for the work and opportunities it provided.”

“Song for the Forgotten” is due to be published in the summer and will be accompanied by illustrations by Steven Buckler, a Falmouth-based artist.

*Bal maidens were the women and girls who worked the mines. They worked above ground in the cold, rain and fog, breaking the stones and dressing the tin and copper ore.

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