The All Consuming Task of Writing A Novel

Writing a novel is like being devoured by some enveloping disease. It requires you to forget that you have family, a job and a life. It would like you to starve, live in squalor and forget to pick the kids up from school.

I’ve had a few months away from the novel, waiting for an editor to give me her critique. And now I’m back to it, re-invigorated and ready to dive in. My whole life has now been taken over by plot, paring back and sorting out some of my characters.

And, of course, the daily fight is on; how much time can I give it? How much else can I ignore?

It’s a matter of negotiating with myself, using a bit of diplomacy with the husband, bargaining with the children and usually forgetting to feed the dog.

And then there’s this blog. There’s so much I’d like to tell you: my latest, must have book for every food nerd, the incredible brunch we had over the holidays and how much the walking of that under-fed dog helps me with my writing.

So I haven’t forgotten you. Writing this is a tonic, more straightforward, less agonising than writing a novel. I won’t be abandoning you. Here is when I come when I’m in need of refreshment, when I need to clear my head of difficulties and address something delicious…

Highgate Cemetery -The Story Behind the Headstone

higgledy graves small

I have an insatiable curiosity for cemeteries. Maybe it’s because my grandmother used to live next to a church with a large graveyard, but more likely it’s the stories behind the words, a fascination with other people’s lives, especially when they don’t appear to have gone to plan, don’t seem ordinary.

Crosses small
You could accuse me of having some kind of Hello magazine fascination with death, wanting to know more than I should about somebody else’s life. I don’t think so; I can’t gauge that much from a gravestone. No, it’s the possibility that the headstone presents, the idea of a story that starts my imagination running.

James Henry Young small

As I am in the midst of writing a novel set in the late 1800s, I have more than a passing interest in the Victorian’s obsession with death. Now they really took death seriously, revelling in the trappings of bereavement, especially in the 1890s when funerals became important social status symbols. And the memorials they built (think of the Albert Memorial in Kensington, London) became all the more splendid, noble in the creation of landscaped cemeteries, mausolea, monuments and memorial gardens.

Douglas Adams small
Finding myself at a loose end in London last spring, I suggested to my 12 year old that we visit Highgate Cemetery. You can imagine his reaction – eyes rolling and, well, couldn’t we go to somewhere more interesting? Bribing him with a good lunch (Kalandar Café, 15 Swains Lane, Highgate) we set off with my camera. It was the first sunny day we’d had in months; an inkling of the spring to come after months of a miserably wet winter.

Jim Horn small

Cemeteries, although not invented by the Victorians, were cultivated by them to a degree difficult to comprehend now, with our 21st century stilted attitude towards death. During Queen Victoria’s reign the growing population scrambled to live in the cities and by the end of the 19th century 77% lived in urban areas. As you can imagine this brought huge hygiene problems and the disposal of the dead became something of a headache. Urban churchyards were full and, frankly, disgusting.

Crooked grave small

So London set about building beautiful garden cemeteries, away from the churches, of which Highgate is only one of many. Having fallen into disrepair in the 1960s it was rescued by The Friends of Highgate Cemetery who are conserving this magnificent area with its monuments and buildings for the benefit of the public. It’s a work in progress and there are still many graves hidden amongst the overgrowth and rampant ivy. But it’s this  slight timeworn disorder that gives the visitor a feeling of mystery and a desire to scratch beneath the surface.

Henrietta Elizabeth samll

Buried here are luminaries such as Karl Marx, George Elliot, Douglas Adams, Christina Rossetti and Malcolm Maclaren, to name but a few. But it was the ordinary person who we found more interesting, the eccentric and the serious, the tragic and even the hilarious. And I’m delighted to report that my 12 year old found himself captivated (and surprised) by the boundless stories that could be found in this place.

Thomas Putnam small

Wouldn’t you want to know what happened to Thomas Putnam of London and Madras?

Lucien Stryh small