The birth of a novel is a long and tortuous process, completely out of the hands of the poor sap who did all the hard work. The first stage is approval by one’s agent (a time of tension). The second is acceptance by an editor at a publisher (a time of joy). The third is the rewrites (a time of anguish). The fourth is publication day (a time of delight). The fifth is the realisation that the latest opus isn’t going to be a best-seller (a time of coming to one’s senses).
After all which comes the urge to start again, an urge every bit as strong as the desire – the one programmed by billions of years of evolution – to reproduce the species. One starts again, knowing that this next one will be brilliant, just as one knows that one’s children will be happy, intelligent, kind and successful.
Anyway, once again I’ve got through stage one of the labour that is publishing a novel. My agent liked it (although I wasn’t told until I asked), and she has passed it on to an editor at a publisher who (she tells me) expressed an interest in it. I’ve been too many years in this business to expect anything from this; only a few weeks ago, there was an expression of interest in the film/TV rights to something I wrote five years ago and, as usual, I heard nothing more.
So, it’s back to the day job, which could be worse, I suppose.
The Trust is way behind with planned surgical admissions because of the amount of emergency work that’s been passing through the hospital. Additional weekend and evening lists mean that the histology department is hit hard with specimens, especially on a Monday morning when there might have been 3 or 4 operating lists on the Saturday and Sunday.
That’s what normal pathologists do, you see. Oh, yes, we do the autopsies to discover why people die, but by far the most important part of what a pathologist does concerns making diagnoses from the biopsies and excisions of living people. If you’ve had cancer, it will have been a pathologist who determined the details of that cancer; and that’s important because it’s those details that determine precisely what further treatment the patient requires.
Anyway, we came in on Monday morning to discover a mountain of white plastic pots containing mastectomies, breast lump excisions, colectomies and that odd kidney. Add to those, the gallbladders and skin excisions, and endoscopic biopsies, and you have a lot of specimens.
But, there are still the post mortems to do, and thus kin to comfort.
A rash of railway deaths – three in a month – all with their stories. One went walking along the train line to show that he needed their diazepam prescription; the other two clearly wanted just to die, and to do so in the most expressive way they could. One even lay down on the tracks, as if he were a player in a silent movie. Head and feet sliced cleanly off…
There are always the natural deaths that no one expected. The blood clots on the lung, the ruptured aneurysms, the bowels that die because of lack of blood, the head injuries (some, in the elderly, so slight that they don’t even remember them), the unsuspected cancers, and those who just fade because they are old, and frail, and want to die.
Modern western society seems to have forgotten that death is not always unwelcome.
Still waiting on the publisher, but the secret is not to expect anything in this business. Just write because you want to write. Never forget that. That’s the only rule.
Keith McCarthy is a more than full time consultant cellular pathologist in the NHS. He diagnoses the diseases of approximately 3000 living patients per year as well as performing 200 autopsies for the Coroner of those who have died suddenly and without an obvious natural disease. He has published 9 forensic crime thrillers featuring John Eisenmenger (Constable and Robinson, and Severn House), 3 ‘cosies’ starring general practitioner Lance Elliot (Black Star Crime and Severn and House) and one stand alone novel, ‘Memento Mori’ (GWP publishers). There have been several short stories, too; the highlight was having one published in Woman’s Weekly, a pinnacle that seems a long way in the past now.
Find out more on Keith McCarthy’s CRA Profile.