Tag Archives: Writing

The delight of a Sixties steam train at Rhyl Station

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If you liked the previous post, you’ll love this one.

It is a summer’s day in the early 1960s, there is an engine simmering in the engine shed yard and the silence is broken by the metallic sound of the Tannoy voice.

‘The next train to arrive at Platform 1 will be the 11.17 train for Manchester Victoria, calling at Prestatyn, Mostyn, Flint, Chester (change for Liverpool Crewe and London Euston, Helsby, Frodsham, Warrington Bank Quay, Earlestown, Newton le Willows, Patricroft, Eccles and Manchester Victoria. First class accommodation is at the front of the train. Platform 1 for Manchester Victoria.’

Such romantic names, Newton le Willows I thought of as a chocolate box pastoral idyll of a village with tea shoppes selling scones with cream and breakfast teas and Camp coffee. I was quickly dispelled of this image when I used this train regularly to travel onwards to university. By then it was a rattling corporate blue, anonymous diesel multiple unit. Newton le Willows was no rural idyll and would warrant prosecution under the Trades Description Act!

We’d stay on Platform 2 and stare through the heat haze beyond the H bridge to see the shimmering mirage of an engine becoming clearer . The signal gantry at the H bridge would be activated to show an engine on either the slow up line, or the fast up line taking the line for the platform. The signal arm at the signal box shown here would be pulled off to confirm the route.

By now we would be racing over the passenger bridge to race down Platform 1 to where the engine would stop just beyond the bridge and before the next signal gantry. If the signal had not yet been pulled it would indicate that the train was on or ahead of time and that might make the driver more affable to a request to join him on the footplate. If the signal was already off then he’d be impatient to be away and his fireman would be working hard to fill the firebox and adjust the injectors.

Sometimes the train would stop short so that it sat under the Vale Road Bridge. On these occasions we stood under the bridge with it, drinking in the magnificent aroma of live steam and hot oil and sulphurous coal. It made you giddy with excitement.

At the guard’s whistle, the driver would open the engine up and, if the rails were greasy from rail and the oil of previous trains the engine would slip and the wheels would spin, producing a cacophony of roaring slipping wheels and escaping volcanoes of steam which would envelop us. The driver would ease off to enable the engine to get a surer footing on the rails and move off to a succession of short sharp beats which gradually increased as the engine gained some traction.

The engine would move off at a quickly accelerating pace, the maroon carriages would then pass us by. The lucky people on the train were distractedly reading or lost in conversation or sandwich eating, not appreciating the wonder of their position on the train, a position we would have killed to occupy.

‘Look!’ we’d say, ‘at the mechanical wonder, of the scenery and sites, the other engines and the stations, the speed and the purpose, the adventures unfolding!’

But they’d simply give us urchins a glance and disappear behind their newspapers or relax into the sumptuous seating for a nap.

Train travel would look so much better with us on board!

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Memories of steam engines in Rhyl

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It is foolish to wish oneself older, but there was a time when I would quite happily have wished myself a decade older to have enjoyed for longer the marvel of steam engines on Rhyl station. As it was I caught the tail end of steam – it was all gone before my twelve birthday in 1968.

What I did witness, often with friends, was magnificent and endlessly exciting.

One of my favourite venues was Rhyl Railway Station, where for 2d  (2 old pence) in the red and cream platform ticket machine, you could while away the whole day. It was even cheaper if ‘uncle’ Harry Hughes was inspecting tickets – he would simply wave you through with a wink.

These pictures cannot do justice to this magnificent and long gone age. You had to smell the sulphurous oil and the hissing of the beast to really appreciate it. For those of us who were there, the sight of a steam engine is a transport of delights to simpler and more exciting times.

David Goodall took these pictures in 1957 and they show a Royal Scot and Jubilee   engines which were usually entrusted to the Euston Holyhead service and a Black Five which usually hauled the lesser services. Photos 1 and 3 are taken at the east end of Platform 1 where the trains to London, calling at Prestatyn, Flint, Chester, Stafford, Nuneaton, Rugby, Watford Junction and London Euston. Or Prestatyn, Flint, Chester, Helsby, Frodsham, Warrington Bank Quay, Earlestown, Newton le Willows, Eccles and Manchester Victoria (other routes were available!)

The second picture shows a Royal Scot in Platform 2 heading west. The picture was taken from near where the Bee Hotel stands. across the lines that led to a landing stage and from where the ‘Red Dragon’ set out to Llandudno. This train will be calling at Abergele, Colwyn Bay, Llandudno Junction (change for Llandudno and Blaenau Ffestiniog) Conwy, Llanfairfechan, Penmaenmawr, Bangor, (change for Caernarfon, Afonwen, Nantlle and Bethesda) Menai Bridge, Llanfair PG, Gaerwen (change for Amlwch) Valley and Holyhead.

The signal is not yet off for the Black Five 44696 so I’ve time to give my best pleading look to the driver and ask him if I can cab him (get up on the footplate). Back in a mo!

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The Reso: A place in time

 

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Copyright: Rhyl Town Council

 

It started as a homage to childhood really, my childhood, growing up on the Reso council estate in the seaside town of Rhyl in the nineteen sixties.

It was a time when my most serious concerns were, in seasonal order, would it snow when forty of my family made their way to the Fun Fair on Easter Monday, would the temperature in Rhyl outdoor baths ever top 55F, would I be picked for the annual Gwynfryn Avenue 150 a side football match against Rhydwen Drive and where was I going to find the two shillings a day needed to feed my autumnal firework habit.

 

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It quickly turned into something else.

In a feat of memory that seems to rival the Rain Man, I seem to have stored forensic detail of my childhood which others have forgotten……

… the starched feel of the antimacassars in our Welsh chapel-going neighbours’ front room where I sat playing with the snow dome bought on a Sunday school visit to Llandudno

… the metallic clunk of the stamping machine in the railway station on which you could print out rude messages of sixteen letter lengths, on which, I, at the age of eight, managed “Bum. titty bum bu” because I miscalculated the spaces and the punctuation

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Not my copyright – Unknown Photo

…the intensely warm glow of a family Christmas tea at my Nain’s when twenty of my cousins would gather around the extended table to savour meats and pickles of cosmic variety and Corona lime and dandelion and burdock pop which was as flat as a witches’ tit, all the time sweating from the ship’s boiler room fire that my Nain had stoked up in the grate, inches behind me. 

…the wisdom of my mother, who reassured me that the reason we didn’t have chocolate biscuits in our house was because “I’d only eat them…”  an explanation that kept me happy until I was thirteen, and began wondering what else you’d do with biscuits!

…the twenty minute rule of my dad, which he reassured us, was more than enough time to have the immersion heater on for our weekly bath (whether we needed it or not!) in advance of watching the Beatles appearing on Sunday Night at the London Palladium

It seemed that my childhood was in fact everyone else’s childhood. Deeply rooted in that sixties decade when, despite the threat of world mutually assured destruction and random violence from the likes of Steve Caroli on the estate, everything seemed possible.

Many lived the same dream, and many today wished they had.

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Americymru… one great organisation!

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The Welsh expatriate community in the United States and Canada is large and has a great interest in all things Welsh. In some cases, this is because they have emigrated from one culture to another, in other cases, it is an abiding cultural link spanning several generations.

Either way, Ceri Shaw of both Americymru and Eto Welsh Literary magazine is the go to guy for curating and promoting all things Welsh.

It is almost a decade since we first met online and we have been corresponding off and on since. Few people have been more supportive of my writing. He has been a great gateway into promoting my writing in North America. It is always good to speak with him.

You can find his work here:

Americymru

Eto

He published my ramblings on writing and getting published today:

Potential Welsh Writers

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The trials and tribulations of a Welsh writer

I have often been exasperated by the way booksellers classify my books. They tend to work to set parameters and the Reso can easily fit into several categories, so in some book listings it appears as fiction: young adult, in others as general fiction. I’ve even seen it in a section on social issues: young people!

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In truth, all of these are technically correct. Others would be equally appropriate such as  fiction: Wales, fiction: historical (it is disconcerting to realise that what appears to you as your short life to date, is now generally considered as an historical time span!) fiction: the sixties.

Unfortunately the way a book is classified can also have an impact on sales because readers tend to concentrate on the sections they know and will never find books in other sections, unless by recommendations. This is what makes recommendations so powerful and valuable. Thank you so much to all those people who took the trouble to write something on a website about how they enjoyed the books, it is biggest compliment you can pay to an author and keeps me positive and writing.

A back-handed compliment which really frustrates me is the reader who tells me that they enjoyed the book immensely, and that they have passed it round the family and everyone enjoyed it immensely as well! I’m not looking to make my fortune from writing, so few people do, but I would like some recompense for the hundreds of hours spent researching, writing, re-drafting and publishing the books. If you love a book, any book, try to encourage the author a little more by buying a couple of copies for birthday or Christmas presents.

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Regarding making my fortune from writing, a few statistics will soon disabuse that notion. If you take all the fiction books published in the UK in a single year it amounts to almost a million. The average number of copies sold per book is 18! That means from J K Rowling, who sells millions, down to me who sells a few less, 18 is the number of copies that the average book sells.

There are few fortunes to be made in publishing your writing – so it is best to write because you enjoy doing so or because you think you have something important to say about humanity. I am in the first camp.

The top-selling books tend to come from established writers with agents, big publishing houses and massive marketing budgets. There are also the best sellers from ‘celebrities’ ghost written for them to give them another income stream and promoted shamelessly on television chat shows. Not that I’m bitter!

For the rest of us, it is rather like the lottery… you have to be in it to win it, but the chance of making a living, let alone a fortune from writing, is very remote indeed. I console myself with the thought that when I die, something will live on beyond me and will consistently fail to provide an income stream for the beneficiaries of my Will. 

Having originally gone through a publisher to have a professional endorsement of my writing, I made the decision to self-publish through a company called Lightning Source, part of the Ingram Group. This allowed me to cut costs and to take out the publisher from the trough. Even so, I receive about 1.40 in pounds sterling for every book I sell, the rest is accounted for from set up and production costs.

There is a line of reasoning that suggests you should set the book cost level as low as possible so as to maximise sales.   5 pounds is often seen as a critical price point for fiction books, which is why so many retail at 4.99.  However, this assumes that you have a budget to promote your book so that it can compete in the crowded 4.99 market. I don’t have a marketing budget. I am in the Catch 22 situation of knowing that to maximise book sales I need to market the book but I can’t market the book until I have generated enough sales to justify a marketing budget, which I can’t do until… round and round it goes!

That leaves this blog and sites such as Linked In on which to promote the books. The secret here is to segment the market by exploiting the different categories a book will appear in. My books are time bound to the sixties, the seventies and the eighties respectively so I would do well to find niche markets for such writing. Similarly my books have a Welsh setting and there are active Welsh communities overseas to which my writing is recounting their youth, or making a wider cultural connection.

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In this context, no-one has been more helpful than Ceri Shaw and the team at Americymru  and Eto magazine for bringing my work to a large expatriate community in the United States and Canada. The Welsh appear to be great networkers so that the Americymru  connection has led to Australian, New Zealand and South African sales – just leaving the Patagonian  market to crack!

There is support for Welsh writers in the form of bursaries and writing camps under the auspices  of Literature Wales, but these, quite rightly, focus on writers writing in Wales and debut authors. I wish I had known that when starting out on my debut book!

For the most part this has been a dismal article of trials and tribulations, so I feel I muse end on a positive note. Nothing quite prepares you to have people share their memories with you and tell you that you brought back to life things half-remembered or forgotten.

My favourite reader comment was from a Principal of a Welsh primary school. He could not have pleased me more when he said, ‘I see a lot of young Dylan Thomas in your writing.’ I’m assuming he was referring to stylistic qualities and not plagiarism!

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