Never Say Never

I don’t want to believe that my latest novel will never be published. Never is a strong word. But it’s a word that I might have to accept. This time last year, I was editing my novel after receiving feedback from two trusted readers and established writers. Both gave me constructive criticism and I spent another couple of months taking it on board and editing my novel, again and again.

By April, I was ready to submit my novel to literary agents and the few publishers who accept unsolicited manuscripts. I’ve been through this process before so I was aware of how difficult it was to secure a publishing deal, especially for a novel using Scots dialect which might only appeal to a niche market. I braced myself for rejections and sure enough I got several knockbacks, and most didn’t even bother to reply.

Some of the feedback softened the edge of the rejection, “I was very impressed by your writing…” Although there was always a BUT and ultimately, no matter how nicely worded, the emails ended in a rejection.

I’ve tried my very best to find a publisher as passionate about my novel as I am, but I’ve reached the point where my optimism has run out. Last week, I made a final attempt to attract interest by taking part in the #XpoNorth Twitter pitch event where writers tweet about their novel in the hope of hooking an agent or publisher. I got ‘likes’ from potential readers but not even a nibble from anyone in the industry. In some ways it gave me a sense of closure, at least for now.

The highlight of my research trip to St Petersburg.

Committing to writing a novel is a huge investment of time and effort. I spent two years reading, researching (including a trip to Russia!) and writing about characters and a story I wanted to share. The stakes were high, and I poured my heart and soul into this novel although on this bet the gamble hasn’t paid off.

What am I writing now? The answer is nothing. Writing a novel is a massive undertaking and you need to really want to tell the story so badly that you’re prepared to spend many months tapping away on your laptop with no guarantee of it ever being read.

Right now, I don’t have an idea for a novel that is strong enough for me to risk using up all that energy. I’ve only got so much to give on every level and time is precious. I still hope to be invited to deliver creative writing workshops and speak about my novel and my writing ‘journey’ but for now I’m a writer who isn’t writing.

Filling the void isn’t hard. I’ve always loved art and for the last couple of years I’ve been going to life drawing classes. I’m loving getting back into drawing. This creative outlet is my main focus at the moment and will maybe give me timeout to let writing ideas simmer in the background.

I’ve also got a grandson due to make his appearance in the world at the end of March and I want to have lots of time to spend getting to know him, rather than being bent over a keyboard.

Writing Research aka Behind the Scenes at the Crematorium

My excuse was that it was research for my WIP but it took a bit of persuasion before my hubby agreed to accompany me to the Open Doors Day (DOD) event at Craigton Crematorium in Glasgow.

The crematorium was one of over 100 buildings and over 50 walks, talks and events all completely free which were organised to celebrate Glasgow’s buildings, parks, streets, architecture,  history and people. Glasgow’s Built Heritage Festival is in its 23rd year and allows the public access to many of the city’s most exciting venues.

Craigton Crematorium on the south side of Glasgow

I’d read a ‘Lifelines’ article in the Herald profiling the job of Harry Tosh, the Crematorium Manager at Craigton and it mentioned that the crematorium was going to be open for a behind the scenes tour during the DOD programme. As the main character in my WIP is a celebrant for the Humanist Society and frequents a crematorium as part of his work, I thought that it would be an interesting experience.  And in true Glasgow patter, it was indeed a pure dead brilliant tour (sorry, but I couldn’t resist the pun).

What would you choose as your funeral song?

We had Ian as our tour guide and the place was packed so I wasn’t the only person who wanted to find out more about what goes on before and after a cremation. We were taken to the service room to learn about the music system and that relatives can even log on to watch the service from abroad thanks to the installation of a web cam.  The most popular songs played at Craigton are My Way by Frank Sinatra, Tina Turner’s Simply the Best (popular with Rangers fans) and Angels by Robbie Williams but Ian told us that last week, he’d had a request for Great Balls of Fire by Jerry Lee Lewis. It seems that these days, anything goes with photos, videos and it is more about a celebration of life and has moved away from the traditional two-hymn service.

The service room at Craigton-complete with webcam!

I asked Ian what the worst part of his job was and he replied that he loves his work and it’s the best job he’s had but is always upset when it is the body of a child. Of course for most people on the tour, it was to find out what happens after the service that was the reason for their visit.  The first myth we dispelled was that the oven was directly behind the wooden doors where the coffin disappeared after the curtains swish shut.  In fact, the area behind the doors is a ‘holding bay’ to create a buffer between the service room and the cremating room as the equipment involved in the cremation process is very noisy and would disrupt the next funeral service.

Thankfully, a ‘live’ demo was not part of the tour!

I’m sure that I could feel that there was a nervous tension rippling through the group as we were taken to the cremating room. Ian explained that within 10 to fifteen minutes of the cremation process the coffin has burned away and all that’s left is the body.  The bit that gave me the heebie- jeebies the most was the technician’s task of using the ‘peephole’ in the oven to check how things are progressing as it depends on how big the body is before the cremation is complete.On average is takes an hour and a half and all that remains is the bones. These are then placed in what Ian referred to as a ‘tumble dryer’ with large stone balls to crush the bones and create ashes. A giant magnet is used to collect any metal in the remains and replacement joints are sent to Holland to be recycled! The ashes are then placed in a final machine which ‘hoovers ‘them to remove dust.  I’m not sure if I could’ve been so emotionally detached during a tour of the crematorium where my dad’s service was held but the tour of Craigton was utterly fascinating and dispelled common myths  such as the funeral directors buy back the coffins or that remains could ever get mixed up. Highway to heaven or stairway to hell, if you get a chance, I’d highly recommend that you go along next year to find out where the journey starts!

What’s the weirdest place you’ve visited as part of your research? I think I’ll struggle to beat a venue like the cremating room!

All in the Name of Research

One of my fellow uni students and good pal, Ethyl, is writing a historical fiction novel set in the time of the Reformation in Scotland. I am in awe of this feat.To me, writing a novel which requires extensive research just makes the whole process more difficult and adds another layer of time and effort. But then again, others might argue that the facts are already there and ALL a writer has to do is bring them to life.  Does that mean historical fiction is far easier to write than making everything up such as in a genre like science fiction? Or is creating a believable planet Zog harder than just making sure factual details are accurate?

But even contemporary fiction is historical in the sense that by the time it gets published, then any cultural references are already dated. And even although my WIP is pure fiction, I’ve still got to research some facts or I’d be open to feedback that “there’s no way that would happen”, if the story sounded unbelievable and didn’t ring true. I know as a reader, I’m the first one to scream, “yeah, right, as if!” so I want to avoid the same criticism.

For most of my research, a quick google search tells me things like the Tattooing of Minors Act of 1969 means that it is an offence to tattoo a person under 18, even with parental permission and many other ‘interesting’ snippets that help make the story credible. I can’t imagine writing without the internet as a resource.

But I’ve also used the old-school approach and visited the library as one of the main characters in my WIP is a pet psychic and I don’t know any facts about the Other Side (who does?). It was here, where I found a book withdrawn from their stock (can’t think why!) about pets and the afterlife (the best 30p I’ve spent in ages) The book, ‘All Pets Go to Heaven’ by Sylvia Browne used to live in the reference section (yes, this book is honestly classed as non-fiction-133 Parapsychology & occultism) and has provided me with the best source of research and unintentional comedy evah!

I bet, like me, you didn’t know that lions and lambs can frolic together in heaven as there is no need to eat in the afterlife so therefore no animal is at risk of becoming dinner. Also, spirit guides talk in a high-pitched voice, “that sounds like Alvin and the Chipmunks or an opera singer after inhaling helium”.

I’d never heard of the author before but again my pal google spewed up her website and numerous YouTube clips. Click on the link below if you want to see Sylvia in action but don’t blame me if you come out in a nasty rash when you suffer a bad case of the heebie-jeebies after watching the most crass and cringe worthy ‘reading’ I’ve ever seen (all in the name of research).

I wonder if Ethyl’s research into the Reformation was as blood-curdling? Have you encountered any weird and wonderful facts during research?