The Ten Commandments of Graveyard Research

Graveyards are an excellent resource for writers. What better place to gain inspiration? They’re great for picking up character names, cause of death or just soaking up some sepulchral atmosphere to get you in the mood for writing. But before you pick up your notepad and hotfoot it to the nearest cemetery, here’s a list of handy Shalts and Shalt Nots.

1.Thou shalt wear a peaked cap

This will be useful for respectful doffing or peak-touching when funeral corteges pass you by (and they will). Also, cemeteries are full of trees, which means they are also full of squirrels, jackdaws, crows and magpies. You really don’t want an eyeful (trust one who knows the hard way).

2.Thou shalt plan cheerful activities for afterwards

You will feel sombre, so have some hot, nourishing soup (lentil is good) while watching a cheery sitcom (Frasier is good).

3.Thou shalt know when to keep thine own counsel

When the priest calls you a ghoul, cast down your eyes and look suitably penitent. It’s seldom helpful to retort, ‘Bit rich, coming from a bloke who’s just finished devouring the remains of a man dead some two-thousand years.’

4.Thou shalt go before thou goest

If you’ve given birth more than once, or you’re a man over a certain age, then take special heed of this advice. Because you really can’t go once you’re in there. No, you can’t. And don’t drink from that little tap either. That’s not for you.

5.Thou shalt tell someone where thou goest

Tales of the undead are much exaggerated. But you never know.

6.Thou shalt not be intrusive while hanging around churchyards

New brides can be surprisingly tetchy if they think for one second you’re taking photos of them. And if you think newlyweds are tetchy, you really don’t want to get on the wrong side of the newly bereaved.

7.Thou shalt not wear that hi-viz pink floral raincoat

It may be useful when hillwalking so search and rescue teams have an easier task when you fall down a ravine. But you will stand out horribly in a place where you really don’t want to stand out. You don’t need to go for the full goth mourning regalia, but a muted navy blue wouldn’t kill you.

8.Thou shalt not take the dog (no, not even that small one with the ginger ears)

Many cemeteries permit dog walking, but man’s best friend can make it hard to take notes and photos in equal measure. Also, dogs like bones and digging. Enough said.

9.Thou shalt not trespass

Some property owners are not prepared to forgive us our trespasses, so choose your graveyard carefully. When someone has gone to the effort of buying a church and converting it into a house, they can get a bit territorial when they find you wandering around the graveyard. Or, as they insist on calling it, ‘my back garden’.

10.Thou shalt not visit the newer part of the cemetery

By and large, this is where most funerals are taking place; likewise, most visits from the newly bereaved. You really don’t want to get in the way. Grief trumps research. Always.

I hope this is helpful. Happy researching (and I really meant it about the soup and Frasier)!

Helen xxx

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