Tuesday 28 August 2012
Famously nothing ever happens on publication day. You wake up with the excitement of Christmas morning, look out of the window and stare at the world in disbelief as it goes about its business. 'How can that be?' you wonder, head against the pane. Don’t they know the number of invitations you turned down to get your novel finished? Did they not witness the journey you made all the way to the British Library just to check a comma? Don’t they realise that every author narrowly misses being despatched to their local asylum at some point during the process, and now that their sanity is restored it needs saluting?
Fortunately, two people recognised that The Pigeon Pie Mystery was now available to all and sundry. My American editor very kindly sent me a bouquet of bright red carnations to match the Union Flag as the world’s eyes were on Britain hosting the Olympics. Mine, meanwhile, were fixed on the athletes’ toned buttocks whenever they entered my Tube carriage. (Please can you lot come back? We so enjoyed having you here.)
My agent also marked the occasion by sending me a splendid bottle of wine. I suspect it might have come from a case she sent to my local asylum keeper as a bribe to keep me out before the deadline for delivering my manuscript expired.
So, with nothing more urgent to do, I headed out to attend to the grave of Emmeline Pankhurst. The leader of the British suffragette movement, which helped women win the right to vote, had featured in the Olympics opening ceremony. But, shortly afterwards, a letter appeared in The Times pointing out that her grave lay under a forgotten monument which was “so eroded and weed strewn” you’d need a map to find it. I decided that if no one else was going to give that woman the dignity she deserved, I would.
Armed with a pair of secateurs, as I entered London’s Brompton Cemetery I immediately realised why it is regarded as one of the finest in the country. Opened in 1840, it is dotted with handsome listed monuments set within a formal landscape, parts of which are now so overgrown they resemble romantic meadows.
The readers of The Times are a determined bunch, and I arrived three days after the letter was published hoping that someone had already addressed the matter. I’m delighted to say that the branches of the tree next to Emmeline’s grave had been trimmed, and someone – presumably the gardener as no woman can fit a lawn mower into her handbag, however voluminous – had cut the tiny patch of grass in front of it.
I left some purple chrysanthemums - one of the colours of the suffragette movement - the blooms of which a squirrel promptly started devouring. There were numerous of these creatures scampering around, and I wondered whether any of their forbears had been the inspiration for the world’s most famous literary squirrel. For, wandering around the tranquil paths, I came across a headstone marking the grave of the Nutkins family. It is believed that Beatrice Potter, who lived nearby before decamping to the Lake District, found the names for some of her characters on the tombstones. Apparently, there are several McGregors buried there, as well as a Jeremiah Fisher, a Brock, a Tod, and a Peter Rabbett.
Beautiful Brompton is still a working cemetery, and when my time is up, I would be quite happy to make it my eternal resting place, preferably amongst the Victorians as I think they would make interesting company. Even if my headstone didn’t inspire a children’s author, at the very least I would finally be a resident of the Borough of Kensington and Chelsea…