In Loving Memory
January to May 2003
In a rather grim block of flats called Ericksson Court, strange things are happening. People are disappearing, and odd things are being seen and heard. Sophie lives in the flats, looking after her friend Natalie, who is mourning the death of her lover. As the unusual occurrences start to become intolerable, Sophie asks her old friend Alice Flack, a woman with a passion for the unexplained, to investigate. At the flats, Alice meets a aloof and obnoxious man named Jardine – who claims to be a ghost hunter. Together, they delve into the mystery of the building and those who live there.
“What can you see?”
Natalie was dimly aware, somewhere, that there was somebody in the room who had asked her that question, but she didn’t consider it important enough to respond. She didn’t consider anything much important enough to respond to these days.
She was busy looking – watching, waiting, hoping to catch a glimpse of him again. She looked hard, through the glass of the window gently stained with the grime of the city, past the gathering spatter of raindrops covering and confusing the view, down onto the grey streets below. Unimportant people meandered along the pavements, some clutching at brightly-coloured umbrellas which served only to highlight the dull tones of the street around them.
Spots of colour in the dark. Just as her sightings of him were spots of colour in her life.
It had been three days since she had last seen him, at the very extremity of her vantage point from the window, standing by the bus stop at the end of the road outside of the newsagent. It had been wet that day too, and he had had the long grey coat he wore – always the same coat – pulled tightly around him. Part of the collar obscured his face, but she knew it was him.
He was always around, somewhere, hovering just out of view. Occasionally he allowed her to see him, just so she wouldn’t forget he was there perhaps. As if she ever could.
But not today. Today was not special, it was just like so many of other days. Bleak and depressing and full of nothing.
She began to cry.
I was in my first year at university, living in the Waveney Terrace halls of residence at the UEA, when I wrote In Loving Memory. I don’t remember anything in particular that prompted the interest, but I wrote quite a few ghost stories around this time – short stories, I mean. Many of them involved the character of Jardine, a terse and taciturn, miserable sod of a ghost hunter who was heavily influenced by the character of Steel from the old ITV sci-fi series Sapphire & Steel, which I had recently seen for the first time on DVD.
I don’t recall where the idea for the storyline of In Loving Memory came from, but I do remember very consciously deciding to set it in an urban area. This was after talking to a chap called Tim Davies, who lived on my corridor and with whom I later shared a house in the second year, about an earlier possible novel idea I had, which took place in the distant, isolated countryside. It was also a ghost story, and Tim made the point that these stories often seem to be set in out-of-the-way places where nobody ever knows what’s going on. I thought this was a good point, and changed things accordingly.
I was still on a steep learning curve with In Loving Memory – I’m still on the learning curve now, of course – but I think I had slightly more of a grasp of how to go about writing a novel with this one. Just browsing back through it, the writing’s not nearly as poor as I would have expected from the 19-year-old me, and I think it may be the first effort where I had a decent grasp of structure and pacing.
I read some of the chapters out at feedback meetings of the UEA Creative Writing Society, and I remember some of them getting a fairly decent response. It also has the positive point about it that, much like Fatescape, it’s not a novel where I’m trying to be at all literary, and am simply trying to tell an entertaining story, which is always safer ground for me.
I still quite like Jardine. Maybe I should go back and do something with him someday.
I had sent off novel submissions before, but looking for references to In Loving Memory in my diary for 2003, I find that in June I wrote:
“I submitted In Loving Memory to eleven publishers yesterday, the first time I have ever properly submitted a novel to anybody. Of course it won’t get published, but just to have the experience of having gone through the rigmarole of preparing and submitting a novel will be a good experience for me. And I enclosed SAEs with all of them so they’ve got no bloody excuse not to at least write back and say ‘fuck off you talentless hack’ or whatever it is they say. I originally had a list of thirteen I was going to send it to, but upon buying a more recent copy of The Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook narrowed it down to eleven for the very good reason that two of the companies I had on my provisional list either no longer existed or had been swallowed up.”
Shows how stupid I was about these things at the time – dashing off submissions of the first draft rather than taking the time to work through the novel and actually try and knock it into decent shape. Not surprisingly then, a couple of weeks later we have:
“Speaking of sending things off, the rejections for In Loving Memory have already started rolling in – I got three on Friday, one of those via e-mail rather than post, and all strangely from publishers whose names begin with ‘S’ – Simon & Schuster, Severn House and Souvenir. On the bright side none of them rejected it for artistic reasons, Simon & Schuster because they only accept agent-submitted work and the other two because they had no space for it on their lists, and there are still eight more to hear back from… But I’m far more interested in the new project now in any case!”
Said “new project” was a novel I had already started writing in June, with In Loving Memory not even getting a redrafting. This was possibly the first case – but by no means the last! – of me suffering from “next novel syndrome.” This has been an all-too-frequent occurrence for me, where I get towards the end of one project and then suddenly find I am far more interested in the story idea I have had for the next one.
I suppose it’s because the unwritten novel always holds more potential and promise than the one you’ve struggled through and found to be not nearly as good as the conception of it you had in your head!