Deputy head's chilling tome-stone stories from local graveyards

Isabella Kaminski

Generations of writers have been inspired by Wales's graveyards and their lichen-covered tombstones. But for one English teacher, thereal-life stories of those laid to rest in them are just as fascinating.

Geoff Brookes, deputy head of Cefn Hengoed Community School in Swansea, is poised to publish his first collection of Welsh tales, based entirely on his research into tombstones.

Stories in Welsh Stone tells the tales of 15 people, mostly young women, who met untimely or interesting deaths. Mr Brookes, who has lived in Wales for 27 years but was born in Sheffield, believes there is a fascinating story behind each headstone he visits.

"I always wondered what lives these people had led," he said. "It's not necessarily about death. It's about life and the stories of dramatic lives that need to be preserved."

The first story begins with the "murder stone" of a young woman who died while pregnant in 1822. Her grave faces the place where her presumed killer once lived.

Mr Brookes is an established author, having written books on the special educational needs of dyspraxic pupils, the poet Seamus Heaney and a guide to being a successful deputy head.

He is careful to separate his writing and teaching careers, but said many of the stories were still relevant to young people today.

"What you discover is that people remain the same and have to deal with the same pressures and problems. Lots of the gravestones are for young women who were pregnant," he said. He encourages his pupils to write about their lives and family histories. "Everyone has an interesting story," he said.

Stories in Welsh Stone is published tomorrow by Welsh Country.

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Isabella Kaminski

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