Station Stories + A Plea

I’ve not participated in a project since, I think, Bugged. Which was back at the start of the summer. Ages and ages ago, although – so I hear – the book is still selling very briskly thanks to Jo’s efforts in planning and performing in events up and down the country.

Still, for me it is time to take on something new to run alongside the endless typing of The First Draft and the terrifying approach to Cold Light’s arrival in the world.

The something new is Station Stories – a writing project run by David Gaffney and The Hamilton Project. The other writers involved, me, Tom Fletcher, Peter Wild, Nicholas Royle and Tom Jenks will all be writing stories set in and around Manchester Picadilly train station. Once we’ve written, edited and practiced our stories we will be performing them in the station across three days in late May. And the performace will be something very special.

We’ve already met up to be given a tour of all the station’s nooks and crannies in the hope that it would get our juices flowing. Brain storming has been happening via email. This isn’t a writing collaboration – we’re all responsible for our own words, but the performance needs to work as a whole and that means working together during the planning stages to ensure there isn’t too much overlap of story or tone, that we manage to cover, somehow, the life of the train station. 

Sadly, I am stumped. I normally like a commission and don’t have any problem with coming up with new ideas. But this week and the one before – nothing. I will pull it out of the bag in the end, promise. Most of my commissions are written in a bolt of white hot panic, against a deadline.

But in the mean time. tell me your train station stories and I may steal them and recycle them. Don’t worry if your train station isn’t Picadilly. Alk donations are welcome. Sorry for the imposition but it’s hard times for all of us.

Think of it as your donation to the Big Society. 

11 responses to “Station Stories + A Plea”

  1. Rob Cutforth says:

    When I was a kid (probably 10) I had taken the train to see my father (my parents were divorced).

    When I arrived at the station, my father wasn’t there so I just hung out for a bit waiting (these were in the days before mobile phones). While I did, a reporter from the local paper found me and asked me what I was doing, who I was waiting for and if I’d taken the train by myself. I told him that I’d taken the train on my own (four hour journey) and was waiting for my father to pick me up. He asked if I was scared etc and I said No, I liked taking the train on my own and my Dad would be there soon (he arrived 10 minutes later and was simply held up by traffic).

    When I wasn’t looking, the reporter had taken a photo of me dragging my monster suitcase around and later published the photo in the paper under the headline “The lonely traveller” with a blurb on what monsters my parents were for leaving me at the station alone. My Dad got in some pretty serious shit.

    It was my first experience of tabloid journalism, I’ve never trusted them since. (Although, I bloody wish I kept the photo!)

  2. Paul Lamb says:

    I took the train from Kansas City to New Mexico last summer. Overall, it was an uphill trip. Somewhere in western Kansas we had reached sufficient altitude that the toilets on the train would not flush. About every hour the conductor would have the flush all of the toilets on the train simultaneously by a manual switch. I’d never known altitude could affect flushing on trains. So many things I don’t know.

  3. Peter Enn says:

    During a short jobless period in my mid-twenties (I’m in my fifties now) I became something of a drifter, or more specifically a walker – I walked everywhere! The shoestring budget I was on at the time afforded me no other choice but to hoof-it to any intended destination, though most of the time however my walks were aimless, but it would be easy for any acquaintance seeing me during one of these perambulations (I would have thought) to imagine I had some important engagement to keep, because I would stroll briskly, if not purposefully. Unbeknowns to them of course, I invariably had nowhere to go, spending my days idly wandering and wondering. An accidental existentialist.
    Anyway, during one of my pedestrian excursions I got caught in a sudden heavy downpour of rain and took shelter in a suburban railway station that I just happened to be passing. In the warmth of the waiting room I sat among the rail-users steaming complacently, until two transport police officers entered and began questioning those present.
    Evidently there had been a bomb threat and they had traced the anonymous tip off to a phone box at the station.
    They seemed quickly satisfied when others presented tickets and assorted railcards for their inspection, that is, until they came to me – young, wet, bedraggled, vaporous, and devoid of ticket or destination.
    My father had once told me when I was a kid that policemen were trained to spot criminals, and I suspected these two were putting this knowledge into practice as they hovered over me, envisioning the brownie points they would jointly earn after their apprehension of ‘the bomber’.
    I had to think fast, but more importantly look them straight in the eye and lie through my teeth – “I got caught in the rain coming to greet Andrew, he’s arriving on the 4.45 – yes, he’s my friend, an art teacher, we’re very close – the trains a bit late. We’re going for a drink at the Orwell. He’s been dumped by his girlfriend and I think he wants me to move in with him, you know ..” They look disappointed and contemptuous as they shuffle out of the waiting room, and I’m free to amble my way home without having to explain myself – a difficult thing for me to do.

  4. Jessica says:

    Hi Jenn
    There is a blogger award over on my blog for you 🙂

    Jessica

  5. Tim Franklin says:

    I don’t have any peculiar station stories – but trains themselves have always produced peculiar conversations with strangers. The most tragic involved a man with a disabled left arm. He maintained that his father had disallowed him from taking over the family business on account of this. He was travelling to visit someone he referred to as his girlfriend at first – then admitted was the mother of his girlfriend, his girlfriend having killed herself following the death of her father. “She said the same night he dies, I’ll die,” the mother told him – and so it came to pass.

    It was uncanny. I think it was the transience of the space that brought the story out of him. Knowing or sensing that in a few hours, the train would resolve, and our worlds would forever part. There was a bit of the Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner to it as well. Well, I’ve passed the story on – admittedly, not in lengthy verse.

  6. Paul Lamb says:

    Saw your mini interview in The Guardian recently. Congratulations on the profile.

  7. Hi Jenn,

    Just wanted to say congrats on the guardian / culture show 12 best novelists, Thingmejig.

    Brill.
    Maria x

  8. Mel says:

    As a commuter, I practically live at train stations. I think the overheard conversations are the biggest entertainment, but you covered that ground in ‘Bugged’.
    I once had a very worrying conversation with a guy waiting for the train at the tiny Cam & Dursley rail station. No other human beings were in sight. We were talking about taking the train vs. driving, and he told me he had just passed his driving test.
    ‘Ah, I took three attempts,’ I said.
    ‘Yeah well I took five,’ he said. ‘But then I found out a way to pass. You start off with full marks but then they take marks off. The test only lasts a certain time, and if you just get stuck in a massive queue of traffic for that whole time, and hardly get to do any driving at all, you don’t lose many marks and you can pass.’
    ‘Right….’ (a little apprehensively.)
    ‘Yeah, so my mate agreed to ride his motorbike a few cars ahead of me when I was taking my test and crash it, and cause a big traffic jam.’
    You can probably imagine my shocked incredulity at this point. ‘Your mate agreed to crash his motorbike just so that you could pass your driving test?!’
    ‘Yeah, it took them ages to clear it up, we couldn’t go anywhere, so I passed,’ he beamed.
    He didn’t really seem to understand why I was horrified. I then tried to get away from him but there was no-one else to talk to and nowhere to go. The train, when it arrived, only had two carriages, but I got in the other one.
    Mel

  9. Rowan Dragonstorm says:

    I was waiting with my then husband at Sevenoaks train station once a few years ago, quite impatiently as the train was, of course, late. Every clank and shudder from the sidings or other tracks was greeted with cheers, which turned to boos as the train either went the other way or was discovered to be simply shunted to another siding.

    Then, the mostly illegible announcement over the tannoy came….. ‘Crackle mumble next train….. crackle crackle mumble all stations crackle hissssssssss crackle Swanley’

    Hooray thought I – the next train on the line I was waiting at was for my destination! All of a sudden the Intercity *screamed* through the station – it was the fast train! It whooshed through, leaving a trail of old newspapers and rattling tin cans on the line.

    Over the tannoy, in hushed but VERY audible (and apologetic) tones came the voice of the station announcer.

    ‘Please do NOT attempt to board this train.’

    A clunk, a hiss and then, in the background…..

    ‘I suppose that’s another written warning then?’

  10. Sibyl says:

    Return Journey

    You did not protect me.
    I was empty.

    The train passes over the valley of the Mersey
    It clatters across righteous tracks.

    I am not afraid
    although I was afraid.

    A few seats down, teenagers wearing jewellery
    are talking about dumb slags.

    Each day I had to sit at the table of my enemy.
    Yet I moved out of your house.

    Even the box they buried you in was ugly.

  11. Ray Morgan says:

    I also commute and have so much inspiration from it. It’s like a social study for 2hrs a day.

    A lot of my blog poems are about it; this is the most recent:

    http://raypoetry.blogspot.com/2011/01/january-early-morning.html

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