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.
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.