This is one of a series of posts exploring how different people might approach the same source in different ways, so we can better understand each other and work together more easily. There’s an introduction to this, and the associated posts like this one, here.
Having struggled in Lockdown 2 and with the announcement of a further lockdown in early 2021 I decided I needed to give my days more structure. In my working life I had written many reports, bid applications etc but never prose and I decided this was the ideal opportunity to start and have something to show at the end of the lockdown period. I made sure I wrote everyday for one hour.
I have always been interested in railways and after clearing out mam’s loft came across some signal box train registers my brother and I had been given in the late 1960s. The registers were from the Carlton North Signal Box just south of Royston and Notton Station on the old ex MR mainline between Sheffield and Leeds. The box controlled the movement of trains in and out off the extensive sidings that were situated there and the Royston MPD. I decided that I would try and write a story about the events that had resulted in some of the register entries being made. I ended up writing five short stories that have formed the content of a self -published book entitled Railway Tales.
Looking through the train registers I came across an entry which indicated a loco had run away and caused damage to the lines in the yard at Royston. I used the internet to try and find any details of an incident on that date in that area and came across the ‘Railway Work, Life & Death’ project. Having read through the introduction I was sufficiently interested to download the database and although it did not show anything related to the Royston accident there were a number listed nearby which caught my attention. I came across an entry that was based in the area I had been writing about and provided the stimulus to write a story around it.
A friend who was being kind enough to read through and helping me write the stories mentioned I had not written anything as if in the first person. Reading through some of the accident reports I thought they would be a good basis for a ghost story, a genre I had not written before. I now had examples of incidents and the type of story, what I needed was the context in which the story might be told. I have a wife and three daughters who do not share my interest in railways but over the years they have been dragged along to events and locations. As a family we travelled up and down the motorways on holidays and visiting relatives and did find ourselves stuck in traffic jams. At a time of pre-computer games and mobile phones amusing three young daughters you had to resort to whatever was on hand to keep the peace and pass the time whilst queuing.
I now had all I needed to start and writing the story. I had an incident, location, timeframe, a situation where a family would be out on the road and a need to keep people amused whilst in a queue and finally an opportunity to write a story in the first person. My grandfather was a goods guard based at Wath and would have travelled to Cudworth and my dad did tell my brother and I about some of his trips. That helped sort out the first part of the story as to why the father knew about the tale in the first place. The rest of the story came through the writing process of using the factual information from the database entry weaving it into a credible narrative.
I have made a closer examination of the database and it provides many opportunities to create stories about the people and the incidents that lead to their inclusion into the database. Death and injury are not things to make light of but entries such as a fireman recorded as back muscle injury or an inspector at Cannon Street slipping on a mat provide enough of a stimulus to want to create a story. How did the injuries may have occurred? Who were the people named and what was the effect of the incident on their lives? Who knows, they might appear in a second book of Railway Tales!
I am a retired teacher and member of senior management team of a secondary school. I started my career as Rural Science teacher but ended teaching Art with overall responsibility for managing the Creative Arts and Community offer at the school. Married with three grown up daughters and granddad to two grandchildren, I have had a life-long interest in railways and made models since a teenager. I am the Exhibition Manager for the local model railway club and since retiring a Travelling Ticket Inspector on the North York Moors Railway.
You can download the story here as a PDF. Our particular thanks to Stephen for writing this and for allowing us to share it.