However, we hit a quiet patch at work and
with time to spare I started making notes of all the stand-out moments,
experiences and turning points of the first 25 years of my career. (The
marauding undead were notably absent). As the list grew I organised everything
under subject headings and quickly realised I had a fully-formed outline for a
book staring back at me.
But would the book-buying public be interested?
‘Don’t Drop The Coffin’ by London funeral director Barry Albin-Dyer inspired a
television series, but it was wholly characterised by its larger-than-life
London setting, whereas my potential book would be set in the West Country.
Because of that I saw an opportunity for a whole new perspective on the
subject, telling the story of funeral directors in the anything-but sleepy
The biggest challenge was whether I could write
a book with enough substance that readers would feel they’d got value for money.
The best novels take the reader on an adventure into a world far removed from
their own, with vividly portrayed locations, interesting characters and a
transformative journey for the story’s lead character. Meanwhile, the best
non-fiction gives the reader genuine insight into a world or subject they’d
never otherwise gain access to. So as I saw it I needed to produce an
informative non-fiction work that still gave the reader all the entertainment
value of a fictional work too: the funeral directing equivalent of a James
Herriott book perhaps.
Hmm, no pressure then…!
around for inspiration before realising the answer was right outside the
window. Like James Herriott was, I’m a product of my locality; in my case the
town of Stroud, tucked below the western escarpment of the Cotswold Hills. It sounds idyllic, but Stroud doesn’t
fit the Cotswold stereotype. Yes, it’s set within picturesque rolling
countryside, but it’s a dowdy, workaday place and well known for its arty contingent.
Stroud has been described as both “The Covent Garden
of the Cotswolds,” and “Notting Hill with wellies.”
However, ‘the Cotswolds’ is a good label
for attracting readers seeking some escapism, so I thought putting this
beautiful part of the world against a combination of my loopy, un-stereotypical
town and the funeral profession – itself a parallel universe, would offer something
unique to potential readers.
Having by then committed myself to writing
a book I decided from the outset to answer, clearly and honestly, all the
questions people have about the funeral profession. I was determined to avoid
the usual tired anecdotes about funerals and the kind of stories you hear down
the pub: ‘My mate works at the crematorium and he says…’ Likewise there would
be nothing overly-sentimental or exploitative either. Above all I wanted to
convey my experiences in a very personal way so readers could understand for
themselves what it’s like to do my job.
Quite apart from discovering the pure joy
of writing, focusing on the human element made me realise just how rich with
experience and learning my working life has been so far. Committing those first
twenty five years to paper was unexpectedly cathartic and affirming.
I submitted my manuscript to various
publishers but none felt my book was commercial enough. So instead I diverted
down the self-publishing route, launching myself into another adventure as
enjoyable as actually writing the book.
being the nation’s leading Luddite I completely underestimated the popularity
of e-books and instead concentrated on having a paperback produced, with the
Kindle edition almost a grudging afterthought. My only ambition had been to
sell enough copies to cover my costs, but I quickly found my Kindle sales alone
would’ve put me in profit within weeks if I hadn’t also produced a costly
That’s not to say I’m writing this from the
deck of my yacht in Monaco, but I have
been truly amazed by the success my book has achieved. Meanwhile the royalties
have meant I can afford Marmite on my toast…on high days and holidays at least.
So if you’ve always had a burning urge to write,
whether fiction or real-life, then there’s never been a better time to share
your story. Go online and research e-book self-publishing or make use of Amazon’s
own service – Kindle Direct, allowing you to publish direct to a worldwide
‘Carpe diem’ - seize the day!
James Baker owns and runs Fred Stevens Funeral Directors of Nailsworth, Glos.
He is the author of “A Life In Death – Memoirs Of A Cotswold Funeral Director”