Writer on a Train

This article first appeared on Behind the Headlines on May 16, 2012.

As a full time writer working from the home I share with three men, I can find plenty to distract me from my daily 2000 words. Before you get excited about this in a 50 Shades sort of way, the three men I live with are one husband and two sons (the daughter is largely away at Uni), and the distractions are of the domestic kind – exciting things like washing crispy sheets, scraping crud off floors and searching for all the forks which have mysteriously disappeared.

So, quite a lot of the time, I go elsewhere to write. I love coffee bars, so long as they’re not too noisy or crowded. Hotel lobbies are good, too. I even rented a small cottage for a week so that I could really just crack on alone. But the place I like writing best of all, if the conditions are right, is on a train.

I often sneak in a bit of work on my usual once or twice a week Brighton to London Victoria journey. But it can often be a bit crowded, with people reading over my shoulder, which is most off-putting.

However, I once had to do a day trip from the Edinburgh Festival to London and back again, and East Coast had a deal on first class tickets. ‘Why not?’ I thought. I had a deadline on some editing, so I thought I’d treat myself. Besides, first class includes all the food and drink you can put inside yourself, so I figured if I ate and drank all the way down and up, I had a bargain on my hands.

I did the best work of my life on that train (I also put on about seven pounds, but that’s another story). The spacious seats! The power sockets! The free wi-fi! The inspiring view!

I happened to mention this to my publicist, Sam Eades, and, as is so often her way, she Had An Idea.

‘Why not be writer in residence on a train?’ she said.

I liked that Idea.

The next thing I knew I was sipping green tea (complimentary, of course) in the psychedelically carpeted first class lounge at the fabulous new Kings Cross Station, waiting to board the late afternoon direct train to Harrogate, guest of East Coast Rail and Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival (or ‘Harrogate’ as it’s known in crime writing circles). I had my special, crime-writer’s red scarf on, and the brief to write a short story on my journey.

The trip didn’t disappoint. It was as comfortable and spacious as the Edinburgh jaunt and on my journey up and down (broken by an overnight stay in Harrogate and bolstered by a box of Betty’s baked treats from the Festival ladies), I managed to complete five thousand words of a short story. It’s called ‘Strangeness on a Train’, and it’s shortly to be published as an e-story and a real world sampler which will be available at ‘Harrogate’. And all the while I was fed, wined and watered by the charmingly attentive stewards.

I didn’t just write though. A train is an ideal environment for the essential nosey part of a writer’s work as well. I struck up a conversation with the man opposite me who COMMUTES EVERY DAY between London and Harrogate because he hates the South. The man across the aisle filled sheet after sheet with mind maps of extraordinary beauty and from the window I saw an abandoned basket sitting in the middle of a vast field, a lone teenage boy crying on a bike in a concrete underpass and a house that I think must be the setting for my next novel.

To cap it all, on the way back, lovely Paul, East Coast Rail PR, jumped on the train at Leeds with a photographer and I was papped until Wakefield. As a bit of a showoff and ex-thesp I secretly love all that. Now I know how Angelina Jolie must feel.

My one complaint is that this First Class travel has completely spoiled Standard for me. So please buy my books. I have a newly expensive lifestyle to maintain.

8 thoughts on “Writer on a Train

  1. Hi Julia – great post. I love writing on trains too and am extremely jealous that you got this gig (and that you have a publicist who has ideas rather than just dismissing them). Most of my half of The Antidote was written on the train during my daily commute and my productivity has dropped dramatically since I started working from home.

    Very much looking forward to picking up a copy of the story at Harrogate.

  2. Yes – it was truly a great gig. Sometimes I think about booking a cheap advance 1st class ticket to, say, Aberdeen. At the moment you can get them for

  3. Blimey, Fred. You’ve shown me up as a southern softie there. I meant Wakefield, of course. I’m going and editing now, sir!

  4. Can’t understand why those crispy sheets are a distraction. If I had the time and a pensioner’s ticket on the Circle line, there’d be a couple of novels there.

  5. Someone has to wash them, Col, that’s the distraction. Is the Hotham Park little train still running? Perhaps you could give that a go…

  6. Loved your writer on a train, I like total silence, that’s of course when I am reading one of your books lol not much of a writer but avid reader with library of over 2,000 books.

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