I feel a little bit sad. Not, sobbing in a corner, bathing in a vat of gin sad; more ho-hum sad. The kind of sad when your best friend goes home after visiting for a few days and you wish you saw her more often.
Why, you ask? (Work with me, people.) Because my novel, Glitter Red Shoes and Sky Blue Gingham has finally come to the end of its journey. I may have just swallowed back a little cry when I wrote that.
This afternoon, I got the last rejection from the last agent who called in the full. That’s it. There’s nobody else I can send it to. All those I was interested to work with said no. And it’s been good to me, this book, it got me short listed for a talent award, it got me shortlisted to be published. It got me a bursary for a manuscript assessment, it got me a furrowed brow and skin as thick as hide.
It got me agent feedback like:
You have a great commercial voice.
This is really good – you’re really good.
We were impressed with its heart-breaking opening chapter, warmth, charm and distinctive voice.
You have a lovely writing style
I’m LOVING what I’m reading
And I share these more for my benefit than yours. Because obviously, they were all then followed with “buts” that ultimately resulted in “This isn’t for us” but still, I’m going to focus on the good stuff. All five of those agents are people I admire and would welcome the chance to work with so, when the new one is done, I’ll try again. At least I have an “in” now.
I guess the sadness comes from the fact that I invested heart and soul into the characters and the story. I make no apologies for this sentimental post; I have lived and breathed their every move for almost 18 months. I re-wrote the book completely in January, and agents aside, not one person has read this version. It was as good as I could make it but ultimately, it just wasn’t good enough. And that isn’t agents with subjective viewpoints telling me that. That’s me, telling me that. Because actually, ultimately, that is what I feel. But like all things we love that are flawed, it doesn’t dampen our feelings. If nothing else, this process gave me total belief in myself. I can do this and my time will come. Let’s hope that’s before my “him in doors” gets fed up of this mid-life crisis he’s supporting!
So, look. Here is the first chapter, because I’ve talked so much about it, here is an insight in to what I was up to. It’s not perfect, but I am proud of it all the same. Thanks Glitter Red Shoes, you were great while you lasted. Farewell and onwards…
PART ONE / CHAPTER ONE – Ed
I remember the very strict instructions my wife gave me in the event of her untimely death: no crying, no drinking, no sympathy sex with an ex.
Her final, crushed-velvet curtain should fall before a congregation wearing ‘Glitter red shoes and sky blue gingham, make that bit obvious on the invites, Ed.‘ We didn’t establish the protocol regarding funeral invites as such. She wanted the original version of Ding Dong the Witch is Dead played loud for a cast of perma-tanned small people to dance down a specially installed, yellow-bricked aisle. As four pitch-black suited men, lower her walnut casket six-foot underground, I’m hit by the sight of pale and solemn faces. No Gingham. No Glitter Red Shoes. I’ve got this wrong.
My heart splinters with the distant memory of aching cheeks and contentment. Because contrary to that drunken conversation with friends, we were going to die old. Me first, ‘You’d be terrible without me, Ed.’ Then Ellie would try her best to enjoy solitary, twilight years; play bridge with widow friends, dote on grandchildren – two boys, one girl… the usual. Then a few years after me, let’s say three, she’d pass away peacefully in her sleep and we’d be re-united. Happily Ever After.
So this. Standing here, doing this, this wasn’t in “the plan”. I hope that, in light of such blistering evidence, I could be forgiven for making a few bad decisions, funeral included.
I think back to that night with friends, the end of lengthy renovations to our home. Our kitchen: like something from an expensive, glossy interiors mag. All sheen-white cupboards, polished granite work tops. Gloss-grey tiles and integral everything. Ellie knocked back the last drops of wine, turned to me and pendulum-waved an empty bottle in my direction. ‘Open another, Ed!’ she said, then continued planning a party she’d never go to.
‘Perhaps I should dress as the Tin Man,’ I had joked.
She flirted with the idea. We laughed. That night, we conceived Oli.
I’m not the Tin Man, which is disappointing on many levels, not least because heartless would be handy on a day like today. The growing memory of our drunken conversation – ‘Multi-coloured ponies could pull me to the Crem’,’ – gives me greater certainty that should she find a way, I will definitely pay for this one. She’ll haunt me. Make me know she’s there. For the rest of my days she’ll prove she disapproves of something. Anything. Everything, probably. It would serve me right. The Elvira to my Charles; a ghostly, green goddess judging my future life.
She loved that film. Blithe Spirit.
‘We offer Prayers of thanksgiving, penitence and readiness for death.’
I’m not thankful. Nor would she be. Penitence? Not likely. Readiness? No. Who’d be ready for death at thirty-four? Did they run me through this part of the service? When the vicar came round? He complimented our home. His tone was sympathy and support as he ran me through the order, a photo of Ellie held tightly in his hand. He’d glance at it, like he was trying to forge a bond with her with this unknown woman. And he smelt odd, though maybe that was comforting. I remember, in a bid to keep control I tried to place his aroma: biscuits. Custard Cream to be exact. Also, fusty – like my Grandma’s wardrobe. It was a smell I always liked, it nurtured. And what else? Kindliness. Because that has a smell too, it’s warm.
It was all a distraction, leading to this: a funeral service I don’t understand. Or want. The penitence stuff, the thankfulness. If he told me about it, I don’t remember, and it’s not right. It’s too grand… Forgiveness though? Maybe that’s it. THIS is where forgiveness is required. Not for bad choices she might have made in life, choices inhibiting her smooth passage through pearly gates – assuming there are any, it’s impossible to believe under the circumstances – but this one here. This massively bad choice I’ve just made in her death. What was I thinking?
The thin smell of ice-cold air fills my lungs. Mourners gather around me; faces I know, a few that I don’t. They huddle together, their breath collides, as mine does with Oli’s. Ten day old Oli. Snuffling like a truffle pig in his sling. Part of me questions my decision to bring him; strapped to my chest on a day I can barely breathe as it is. Perhaps I shouldn’t use him as a tiny, human shield, protecting my heart from well-meaning touch. Touch that so far, few have offered anyway. Mum and Dad’s embrace was awkward, and fumbled. Then Ellie arrived, the Pall-bearers sliding her out of the car, walking towards us just as Lisa caught my eye, guiding a broken and bruised Simon through the crowd. Mum and Dad hovered between us both, their allegiance torn, before taking a step closer toward him.
He gets the award for Sibling Rivalry.
With bible in one hand, the Vicar offers his other out, palm up, inviting me to make my move. My breath catches, my eyes sting. A stifled cry behind me makes me pause, and another moment of clarity presents: muddy wet, layers of newly dug soil surround her. Ellie hated burials. If anything happens to her Versace dress she’ll be furious.
I see the shadow of my reflection in her polished copper plate:
ELEANOR JANE MORAN-FITZGERALD (Ellie)
16th December 1976 – 14th February 2005.
Wife. Mother. Daughter. Friend.
She was right right about the glitter red shoes, they might just have lifted the mood.