I’ve always considered train journeys to be useful things for writers.
Once, I sat opposite a guy and got chatting, only for me to learn he was a publisher. He later published my book!
Other times, the quiet of a train can be the perfect place to write or to people watch.
Train journeys are fundamentally inspiring.
On this particular five-hour journey my goal was to write.
But then I changed to a crowded train. More people stood than sat and so I perched on my bright yellow case in a doorway. I couldn’t write standing up. The view between Birmingham and Leicester was hardly captivating and so I was forced to ‘stand and stare’ once more. And listen to the sounds that surrounded me. And as I stood there, nursing my too-hot green tea, a scene began to unfold that was as good as fiction. It reminded me that ideas are everywhere; characters are everywhere and writers should not need a special place or a special pen in order to find inspiration.
I noticed that the man sitting closest to me still wore a hospital bracelet and had indigo bruises on his wrist from needles, recently removed. He had a large walking stick beside him and was dressed in the comfortable clothes of the traveller. He picked up his smartphone and made a call, loud, conveniently using the speakerphone so we could all hear.
“Hi love.” He looked at his watch. “I’m just out of surgery. You want to come to London?” he asked. “I’m seeing a publisher. He wants my book. I tell you, yeah, he’s snapping my hand off.”
The unintelligible female voice on the other end murmured quietly. It didn’t sound much like excitement. In fact, it sounded like she hadn’t a clue what he was on about.
“Yeah, yeah. I spoke to his secretary, eh, and told her to tell him to have the suitcase full of money ready for when I arrived. I asked her for a million.” He laughed. His hands fluttered as his arms twitched, rubbing his leg, smoothing the back of his grey hair, tapping his notebook, moving the phone this and way and that so that I would be surprised if the person he called could actually hear a word. “I’m calling him later. Ten minutes. I mean Alan Titchmarsh sells his for 14 quid. So that means 14 million quid. Pack your bags for Australia. We’re buying that boat. I tell you, I’m not leaving without the money in my hand. Promise.”
He tapped his notebook. Made another call. Looked at his watch. Told someone else he was just out of surgery that morning and that he had two holes in his thigh. Then he flipped open his blue notebook, checked a number carefully and called. I wondered whether to tell him about the massive commission bookshops take and the cost of printing a book.
The lady in the fuschia sweatshirt and pearly pink lipstick who sat opposite him stifled a smile. The pretty girl with shiny straight chestnut hair and a tattoo hid the fact that she too was captivated by the conversation by biting her nails. Two girls, who looked like they were on their way to their first music festival and sat on the floor, cross-legged, sharing a muffin, were apparently made bold by youth and just stared at him, open-mouthed. Even the smiley guy who pushed the snacks trolley up and down the train interrupted his work to listen. The recent patient didn’t notice but something about the way he used speakerphone, spoke loud and waved his phone around told me that he rather liked having an audience.
He dialled the number. Rats, it was engaged. The eavesdroppers squirmed in their seats. The suspense was killing us all. Well, maybe not all of us, the neat guy on the other side of me, dressed in black right from his Converse trainers to his leggings, his faux-leather jacket to his waxed eyebrows, was engrossed in a girlie gossip magazine and didn’t seem to care two hoots.
He called again. It was picked up. Thank you, God, again, for speakerphones. He gave his name, which I am not going to repeat here, and asked the secretary if she could put him through to [insert name of a publisher I actually have dealt with myself at some point and whom I’m pretty sure deals with business books]. “I just got out of surgery this morning, you see.”
“Mmm mmm,” said the publisher.
“I spoke to [insert name of really famous person here] at a comedy club and he suggested I contact you about [insert title of book about pets].”
This time, the voice on the other end was blissfully clear. “I’m sorry. What is this about?” The publisher sounded distracted, rushed, gruff and posh.
Our would-be author mentioned the famous name a few more times, tapped his notebook, in which I am pretty sure he was also collecting autographs and fuschia lady, nail-bity lady and open-mouthed festival goers held their breath. “My book,” he said.
“Just send me a one-pager, will you? Let me see if it is our kind of thing,” said the publisher patiently. He was probably looking at his watch by now.
“Sure, will do. Thank you for your time, sir,” said our author, his voice perky. He grinned and called his ladyfriend right away.
“I told him,” he said. “I’m sure he’ll snap my hand off when he sees it. I’ve spent four years on it after all.”
The wavery voice on the other end sounded as if she almost believed him.
“So, I told him. If he doesn’t want it, I’ll take it to Harper and Collins [sic]. They’ll grab it, I guarantee. If Stephen Fry can do it so can I, right? He’s just going to see if it’s his kind of thing. They all do that. I’ve got the whole lot anyway, so I’ll send that.”
“Oh, okay,” replied the muffled female voice on the other end. Then, somehow his phone seemed to lose signal.
Black-clothed bloke looked closer at an article about J-Lo and straightened in his seat. It seems he’d found a gripping story.
I am sorry to say that I got distracted by the fiction that took place before my very eyes in the carriage and that any idea of writing more than a blog went completely out of my head. Inspiration, is undoubtedly, all around us.
All the latest news, views, and writing tips from Jo Parfitt and the team at Summertime Publishing