By Katy Collins, author of How To Say Goodbye
The often quoted rule of ‘write what you know’ is something many authors (myself included) adhere to. I wrote the Lonely Hearts Travel Club series as a way to process what I’d been through after being jilted at the altar and finding my happy-ever-after after selling up and travelling the world.
Last year I was 80k words in to a new novel, set in Bali, loosely following on from the Lonely Hearts story when my life changed dramatically again. This time I used scrapped what I had and started completely afresh as I was overcome with a sort of yearning to tell a completely different story; one that was once again inspired by my real life experiences. One that I never imagined I’d write.
My dad, Colin, had taken our six-month-old daughter Everleigh to the park so I could wrestle my latest book into shape. I gave him an extra big hug as I left telling him I’d see them both later and thanking him for his help; I don’t know what I would do without him.
Fast-forward a couple of hours and everything had changed.
A policewoman with ugly boots and sad eyes arrived with my husband, John, and uttered those immortal words: ‘Katy, we need you to sit down.’
I flicked my eyes between her and John, whose pale nodding face told me all I needed to know but couldn’t believe. My dad had died.
He’d had a massive heart attack just yards from his front door. Despite kind strangers rushing to his aid and picking my baby up off the floor where she’d fallen out of the pram, no-one could save him.
He was gone.
Suddenly, I found myself thrust into a world I had no previous knowledge of. A world where, within days of losing someone you loved so much, you’re staring disbelievingly into the kind eyes of a funeral arranger as they guide you through a process you can’t get your heartbroken head around.
Going to a funeral home felt like stepping cautiously into a warm hug; one of calming voices, cups of tea and muted soft furnishings. No-one prepares you for the moment you are sat in a pale lavender-coloured room being asked if you want oak or cherry wood for the box that would hold your loved one; but fate sometimes has other plans.
And it is this bizarre, disbelieving episode that inspired me to write ‘How To Say Goodbye’ – a book a million miles from the Lonely Hearts Travel Club, but I, too, was a million miles from living vicariously through Georgia Green.
Dad’s funeral became the one thing to focus our disbelieving minds on. We spent hours discussing the best songs to play, the exact style of the order of service, even the colour of ties the pallbearers would wear.
We found a strange sort of comfort in the minutiae; it was all that we could take in. We were desperate to give him a good send off as you only get one chance at the perfect goodbye.
My brother, James, and I had a wonderful funeral arranger called Nikki, who had a calmness and kindness reserved for people who work with death on a daily basis.
She had seen it all. Hysterical tears, aggressive rants and stifled sniffles. Nothing could shock her. I suppose it takes a special sort of individual to work in the funeral industry and it really is the last best thing you can do for someone.
In ‘How To Say Goodbye’, (out June 2019) Grace Salmon is a funeral arranger desperate to make sure her clients receive the best personal care; no matter what it takes.
I wanted to set the novel in a funeral home and open the door to a place that’s nowhere near as terrifying as you might fear.
I met with funeral directors, read countless books on the process of grief and spoke with bereavement counsellors, as well as relive my own personal experiences.
I quickly learnt that how we get to say goodbye to someone can truly have a lasting impact.
I still can’t envisage life without my lovely, kind, generous and funny dad in it – but I think back to when I was stuck on a tricky plot hole in my books and how he would just tell me to take it one step at a time.
That’s exactly what I plan to do.
Thanks so much to Katy for that beautiful post.
You can find Katy on Instagram @notwedordead and her blog at www.notwedordead.com
Katy’s new book How To Say Goodbye is out now