Loch Awe in spring - Photo courtesy of Neil Donald Photography

Friday, 4 March 2016

A Birthday - and How Nothing Is Wasted by Lesley Cookman

On Thursday, it was my birthday. It wasn’t a “special” birthday, but out of the blue, my eldest daughter, Louise, sent me a text saying “Would you like to go to tea at The Dorchester on your birthday?” Now, there’s a silly question.

 So, we went. We also went to a wonderful Victorian pub in Mayfair called The Audley, where we had a bottle of fizz courtesy of eldest son Miles, who had provided Lou with the money, then strolled back through Mayfair counting the blue plaques on the wall. The Dorchester greeted us with due deference and service par excellence, the waiter flirted with Louise and the head waiter presented me with an entirely unexpected birthday cake, while the pianist played Happy Birthday.

We came home in time for me to join Miles for a drink at our local, where a friend was singing. I had more fizz, and a birthday drink from the landlord, Roly, who discussed elements of the current work in progress. Research opportunities everywhere.

Now all of this is grist to the mill of a working novelist. People watching in an environment that I haven’t been in for some years is a great inspiration, and enables me to create different atmospheres for my characters – although I can’t actually imagine my Libby and her friends having tea at The Dorchester, though I could shoehorn an occasion into one of the stories, I suppose. But the best – or worst – thing about the whole day for me was the train journey home.

It was very crowded – we live on one of the busiest commuter lines in South East England, known as the worst in the country – and it lived up to its reputation. Just before we pulled into the station before our own, the driver announced: “There has been a signal failure somewhere, and we might be delayed. We will give you more information when we have it.” A few minutes later: “Please will you disembark. This train terminates here.”

It transpired that there was a train stationary at each of the seven further stations down the line, and they had been there for a minimum of forty minutes. So South Eastern Railways had had plenty of time to warn our driver and lay on buses. Had they? Had they heck! We were lucky, Louise’s partner was able to drive and pick us up, but what about the rest of the passengers? Those who had to travel on to those other seven stations? Cab? Yes, if you take out a mortgage. Compensation? Don’t make me laugh.

So, of course, the novelist starts weaving a story around some of these unfortunates. How did they get home? What happened to them? Has anybody disappeared? And where would the worried relatives inquire? Certainly not the rail company. Hugely rich and diverse field, and I’m definitely going to try and find out what happened to the real passengers – about which there is no information available so far. Poor souls – destined for the depths of a crime writer’s murky mind. Nothing is wasted.


  1. Apart from being completely jealous of the birthday treat, the thing that intrigued me most was how you could use the railway delay in a murder mystery. It's all about the timing. She couldn't know the train would be delayed so how did she manage to plan this? The perfect crime ...

  2. What a wonderful birthday treat, Lesley and I agree that being away from routine helps artistic tendencies flourish. Although I doubt I would have been in creative mood when faced with a lengthy train delay - bravo for embracing opportunity! Perhaps the fizz helped? :-)

  3. After fabulous family birthday treats, only a writer could say a lousy journey was the 'best/worst' part of their celebration. I hope your story is a roaring success when it comes out :-) Oh- and a belated 'happy birthday.'

  4. Yes, happy birthday Lesley. I envy you your treat but not your disrupted train journey. Or do I...? Hmmm. Hand to chin. It is those moments of adversity, which we all experience at some point in our lives, which can turn out to be precious when it comes to creating a story. As you say, nothing need ever be ever be wasted....

  5. It was annoying, but Lou and I were only one stop from home and had a lift on hand - also remember I had more fizz to look forward to! - but the other passengers... As someone on Facebook said, they could still be there! Trying to work out how I can use it.

  6. Fab blog and love it that you take inspiration from every opportunity even the mundane.

  7. Swings and roundabouts, eh, Lesley? And nothing is wasted - the bad and the good - to a novelist, as you say. Now then.... shall I start dropping hints about my July birthday treat - well, the one I would like - now? Hmmm.

  8. I envy you. Of all the places to peoplewatch, the Dorchester has to be one of the best!