Friday, 15 January 2010

How trains can help your writing

I love trains. And here's why:

They're great for brainstorming. I travel to uni with friends most days which means I don't get much time to just think. Don't get me wrong - they're great! - but sometimes you like to just sit and think for a while. And trains are great for that. Cos what else are you going to do? "Read those 36 books you're studying this semester!" I hear you cry. Yeah, whatever!

The other day I was on the train at 8:45am, which is a great time for people-spotting. It's not so early that folk are sitting there like zombies, but it's not so late that they're engrossed in a good book. Trust me, 8:45 is the perfect time!

So I'm sitting there with a pad and pen, all ready to brainstorm story ideas (with silent headphones in case someone decides to talk to me - don't you hate that?!). The train is semi-busy so there's about a 70% chance someone will decide to sit next to me.

A man with a briefcase (you know the type - the Metro readers) - makes his way down the carriage towards me. He passes a few available seats, looking suspiciously at their neighbours. Then he spots me. Our eyes meet for a moment and I know - he's coming to sit next to me!

"Oh no you don't!" I think. He speeds up slightly, confident in his choice of seat. I grow more and more nervous. He's almost upon me!

"It's worth a shot," I think. I look him directly in the eyes and with the subtlest of finger movements (so as not to appear like a freak) I think "This is not the seat you're looking for."

And you know what? It fecking works! Thank you, George Lucas - you may have inflicted 'The Phantom Menace' on us, but you also gave us Jedi mind tricks, and for that, I am eternally grateful! It's possible, however, that the briefcase guy got a closer look at me and thought better of it. But we'll go with option numero uno, ok?

So, having used my awesome Star Wars powers to evade sitting next to someone, I get to work brainstorming.

But I find it hard to concentrate. You see, the woman across the aisle is engaged in a very interesting phone conversation. From what I could make out, her son had been bunking off school for the past week and blaming it on the weather. But today she'd put her foot down and forced him out of the house. Only he'd come back to find Daddy entertaining a bunch of friends on the Nintendo Wii. So now, this woman is having a conversation with her immature husband while her truanting son pretends to drive a small kart around a crazy track! Needless to say, the call is rather heated and I'm not the only one listening!

But I get over it. Yet again, I start brainstorming. But wait.....

A man talking to himself! I shit you not! "There's no way I'm getting there on time," he mumbles. " by nine-fifteen......" I glance at my watch: 8:56 - you'll be lucky! ".....finished with Dan by half-past......." Sure, mate! "......back in the car....beat the traffic....." Ha!!! ".....hotel by ten..." Wait! Hotel? "......should be done by twelve......" Ooooh slow worker! "......lunch, and back at the office by twelve-thirty....." Yet you only allow half an hour for lunch. Interesting. ".....god, I'm going to be knackered!" No shit!!!

After a minute's silence, I resumed my brainstorm (by this time, I've written the words "short film" in the centre of the page and drawn a big ring around it. Doing well).

"All tickets please!" screeches the way-too-happy voice of the conductor. I take out my pass and wait impatiently. She arrives, looks at it and says "Have you got your photocard, flower?" Flower? "It's just a day one," I reply. "Oh, right you are," she beams. "Sorry petal." Petal?! What am I, some sort of human-plant-thing? A bloody triffid?! I consider performing a Force-choke on her, but decide to let it go.

Back to the brainstorm. I draw a line from the centre of the page and write "10 minutes long."

"We will shortly be arriving at Meadowhall," comes the robotic spasm from above. People start to get up (everyone loves to be first off the train) and make their way to the doors.

"Which side will it be on?" an old lady asks her half-dead husband. He grunts to show he's still breathing but we all know he doesn't even know he's on a train, never mind on which side the platform will appear. "Useless," mumbles the old woman. I can't help but agree. Anyway, the train stops and the platform is on the right side. People shuffle off and more folk get on. Time to put those Jedi powers to work once again.

I make eye contact with most who get on (people don't like eye contact - the person who initiates and maintains contact takes power from the other, y'see). People generally avoid me, filling up the free rows or sitting next to half-asleep folk. As the train pulls off, I'm still sitting alone - success! Or, if we go with option 2, I'm incredibly psycho-looking intimidating!

So after a short while, we stop at Sheffield and I venture out into the cold, making my way through the ice to my seminar. It was an interesting journey and part of me can't help wondering:
  • If that woman's son ever stopped playing Mario Kart and dragged his sorry ass to school.
  • If that Black Suit man ever made his rendezvous at the hotel and if it really took him 2 hours.
  • If Miss. Screeches-Alot Conductor ever manages to distinguish between humans and plants.
  • If the old man ever correctly guesses which side of the train the platform will be on.
  • Whether you can make the robotic train woman who announces each stop say absolutely anything at all. Like....say......"We will shortly be arriving at.....Uranus." What? Don't look so disgusted. Rule of thumb - one arse joke per blog post.
So that was my train journey to uni. Not bad. Now, coming back.......well, that's a different story, but let me just say - someone sat next to me and I have come up with a new short film idea. Set on a train.


Jessica said...

I can really relate to this - I would be doing my uni reading on the train and then someone would sit next to me and have the loudest phone conversation, ever!

Jo Smedley said...

With this kind of observation - you have story already mapped out!

Who needs brainstorming when you have a train full of REAL people to base something on.