Finding Characters (Cecilia Peartree)

 I've probably posted here before about trains, a topic close to my heart as well as yet another reason to be annoyed with 2020, as this must be the first year I can remember when I haven't travelled by train at least once.

To make up for the train shortfall in real life, I've watched more or less every railway documentary I can find on television during the year. My absolute favourite is actually not about real trains at all. It's the Great Model Railway Challenge, which sadly doesn't seem to have taken place recently, probably because it's a team event and more or less impossible to do while you're applying social distancing rules. But who could resist railway layouts that included the Glenfinnan Viaduct, or a multi-level structure in which trains had to drive into various futuristic elevators in order to access the next level?

However, as I realised while watching grown men panicking because their model freight train had derailed again, not entirely unexpectedly because the track appeared to be held together with string and anyone could see the curve was too tight, causing an embarrassing delay to the model royal train coming along behind, what I really find fascinating about this and other railway programmes are the people who take part. This includes the presenters, in this case mainly journalists on model railway magazines - yes, there is a whole industry built around this kind of thing. I admire the enthusiasm and effort they bring to an activity that many people regard as playing with children's toys, and the fact that they don't really care how other people see them. We could all learn something from this.

Similarly, although on a slightly larger scale, I think it was last year that I watched a mini-series whose name escapes me, about a group of people who built a model railway line through the Great Glen in Scotland, and managed to get a working model of a steam train along the whole length of it as far as Inverness. There were a lot of hills and water features along the way, and the most exciting moments were when the engineering team decided to build a double helix to get the steam engine up a particularly steep incline, and at another point where they built a long and rather tall and spindly bridge modelled on something that might have been constructed over a ravine in the American west so that it could be crossed by one of these engines with a cow-catcher on the front. There were interactions amongst the peoples taking part that were similar to those that happened during the Great Model Railway Challenge. I always enjoy seeing people challenging the leaders in that kind of event - sometimes they're right and sometimes wrong. Very few people ever seem to walk out on the whole thing though. I think their shared enthusiasm keeps them going.

Of course on a larger scale still there are people who run the 'heritage railways', which feature in documentaries fairly often. Sometimes the age of the engine drivers on these trains worries me slightly, as I wonder who will take over from them when they have to give up doing it. There can't be many people left around the UK who have ever actually driven a steam train for a living. Not that I should really be too concerned, having only recently given up my day job at a fairly advanced age.

Even once you exhaust the possibilities of train documentaries - 'Walking Britain's Lost Railways', 'Extreme Railway Journeys' etc etc - there are also, I have recently found, canal documentaries to be viewed, and recently there has been an outbreak of Roman Britain programmes in which presenters, usually historians, walk along the routes of Roman roads or rediscover the Antonine Wall (in Scotland). Although there must be teams of people behind these programmes, sometimes the presenter strides along, apparently alone, through the deserted landscape. Perhaps it's only deserted because we are in 2020!

As a writer I often think of these real-life - sometimes larger than life - characters when starting a new book. It isn't that I take them wholesale from life, but there is often some aspect of their appearance or personality that would fit into the eclectic group that inhabits my mystery series in particular. I have sometimes used the idea of a project carried out by enthusiasts, such as a craft fair, an art exhibition or even a knitting club, as the basis for one of the novels in the series.. Some of the presenters of the above documentaries are just asking to have their luxuriant moustaches or rambling tattoos included in the next one.

When not resorting to television to source new characters, I have continued to write, and have just completed my 14th (or possibly 15th) National Novel Writing Month. During November I wrote 50,000+ words of a historical novel, and because the NaNoWriMo website has been keeping a running total of the words I've written during their events, I can proudly announce that I have written a million words during the various NaNoWriMos and Camp NaNos I've participated in.


Griselda Heppel said…
I had no idea you were a train enthusiast. I like travelling by train and have evocative childhood memories of crossing Europe by sleeper. The soothing kerthud kerthud kerthud as you drift off to sleep... When our daughter was at Edinburgh university it would be a great treat to take the Virgin train up there, with that glorious last stretch of coastline - Lindisfarne, Berwick etc. The only drawback being you could only go by train if time wasn't an issue. It's meant to be 5 hours from Oxford but we used to make bets on how far we'd get before being turfed out to find another line. Once we didn't even make Peterborough. All part of the fun, no doubt.

And wow, a million words! Congratulations on your huge NaNoWriMo achievements!
Eden Baylee said…
Hi Cecilia, congrats on completing Nano 2020, and for doing it multiple years. 1 million words - so impressive!

I tried Nano one time and flopped about 14 days into the month. I felt like I was vomiting words on a page for the sake of word count and couldn't get through it.

I love trains as well and used to ride Toronto - Montreal - Toronto regularly, a really nice way to travel especially in business class with bar service.


I grew up in a house that overlooked the Tay Bridge, and the main railway line from London to Aberdeen passed the window on its way on to the bridge. We used to see fampus old steam engines such as the Flying Scotsman and the Mallard.
By a weird coincidence I now live in a house built on the site of a former station, and we can walk to the end of our street and straight on to a former railway line that is now a foot and cycle path.
I vastly prefer rail travel to any other transport option. First class on the East Coast main line is just bliss on a good day (but Griselda, I too have had some bad experiences trying to go across coubtry!).

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