Thursday, 17 June 2010

It's not the destination, but the journey...

On Tuesday* I went on the Orient Express with my mother. For her it’s been a bit of an ambition for a long time, although I think that she probably originally envisaged the train sliding through exotic-sounding stations in the warm dusk as it sped on its way to Venice, rather than past smoke-blackened northern mill towns between Crewe and York. But anyway, she’d been looking forward to it hugely; me, if I'm honest, not so much, due to the fact that my current book is calling to me in increasingly desperate tones. When she told me that the journey was going to take 3 1/2 hours each way my first thought was ‘but I could drive it in 2 1/2!’ and my second was ‘Can I take my laptop?’ I didn’t actually get around to saying either to her as that was the moment she dropped the bombshell that we had to be at the station by 7.15 am.

But it was fabulous. I mean, really fabulous. I shall never be able to stagger onto an overcrowded, grimy Virgin Pendolino to Euston again without remembering getting on board the Northern Belle, sitting down at a table laid with damask and crystal and being handed a bellini. Here’s a few pictures of our beautiful carriage (which we had to ourselves, so could giggle like schoolgirls without being overheard)

Stepped off the train at York, buoyed up by champagne and smoked salmon and slightly disorientated - it was like a kind of top notch restaurant you might find in a Harry Potter novel, where you enter from one place and find yourself in entirely another when you come out. My brother lives in York and we spent the day shopping and hanging out with him, so actually the destination was pretty cool, (specially as I got to pick up my delicious niece and nephew from school and have an hour with them before we had to head back to the Train of Indulgence) but that's beside the point. Having spent a lovely couple of hours in the company of a group of interesting, wise and wonderful women at the National Trust writing workshop I did on Sunday, and talking about the road to publication, the idea of enjoying the journey in its own right was definitely uppermost in my mind.

One of the several squillion differences between the Orient Express and the 17.09 Virgin Express service from Euston to Crewe (aside from the slightly sticky seats and the commuter with his thigh pressed right up against yours in the tightly packed carriage) is the much slower speed at which it travels, and the way that allows you to notice so much more - like the lupins growing wild at the side of the track, and the shadows of clouds moving across the big green fields of unripe wheat. All of which is a roundabout way of saying that getting somewhere quickly (ie to publication, for the purposes of this clumsy analogy, which is directed at the ladies I met who are waiting for editor feedback / trying to muster the strength and energy to start again and submit / facing the prospect of beginning a new writing project in a new genre) is not necessarily the best way. Travel slowly, indulgently, and notice stuff on the way. And don't just save the champagne for when you get there either. Celebrate the journey.

* I would have put this post up yesterday, but spent most of the day (without exaggeration) trying to work out how to get the photos I took on my phone onto my computer. Only when my husband had spent the entire evening trying to do the same did we conclude that the installation disk that came with my phone is faulty. 'Dear Samsung, you owe me 9 hours of my life back and a stress-reducing hot stones massage in a technology-free spa in the Himalayas. Could you also explain to my editor that another writing day lost was your fault, not mine. Thank you. Yours in extreme frustration and techno-loathing, India Grey.'


Marilyn Shoemaker said...

Looks wonderful!

Abby Green said...

You are a literary blogging marvel Ms Grey - wish I could have been there with you and am going to take my time in everything today...!
x Abby

Rachel said...

Dear, lovely, India,

Riding The Orient Express is one of my greatest ambitions, you lucky devil! I was going to say I plan on doing the Paris to Venice run:
a. When I can get someone to have the children for more than eight hours and
b.With my first (or more realistically tenth!) royalty cheque.

Which may never happen of course, so I'm taking your wise words to heart about the journey and packing Some Completely Different Books into my holiday case. Two are by men--can you believe it?!

Good luck with writing the new book (and hurry up--I'll need an India Grey to read when I get back!)

Lots of love,


Ellie Swoop said...

Dear India, you are so right and when something comes along that stops us in our tracks, it's knowing that it's alright to take the time to savour it or let the moment just have it's way with you. We have a marvellous example of that here in Worcestershire, a shimmering field of poppies has appeared alongside a by-pass and picnic spot. The glory of those flowers has caused people to stop and look, to gather the energy and joy of the flowers, as they travel to work or home. They have featured on our local news and people are now travelling from all over the Midlands. I went down myself last night and stood amongst them. There were famillies, young couples, people on their own and some having a real spiritual moment as they contemplated the free-flowing expanse of flowers. Wonderful. As far as the writing goes, it's true too and I find the best words flow right in that moment of inspiration, when carried away on the breeze of waving poppies. Thank you, with love from a writer giving herself permission to enjoy the journey xx

Kaz19 said...

Ellie Swoop just made me cry reading her comments about that poppy field.
I'm feeling really down today, and her comment about the poppy field and people going to see it, just 'to gather the energy', made me want to just jump in my car and go and find that field.
Ellie, if your fabulous words are anything to go by as to the quality of your writing, I can't wait to read you.
Thanks so much for making me appreciate life and not get too bogged down by silly worries, life is definitely too short.
xx Karen

Francine said...


Yep,the long journey via Slow Boat Train to Publisher World has to be looked on as a tiresome sweat laden experience, the arrival probably a disappointment and, return journey to hell fast and furious! ;)

RE OE: Lovely, lovely, lovely pics!

The beautiful coachmanship, not to mention elegant damask covered table.

Did you see anyone, anyone remotely like (David Suchet) Poirot? I just loved AC's "Murder on the Orient Express".

Being on that train must have inspired a likely future novel, surely?

BTW. The Trans Siberian Express is up and running again. You could do that one next time and post pics. ;)


India said...

Marilyn, it was! And Abby, you would have loved it. Especially the young and rather gorgeous stewards flourishing bottles of champagne at every turn. (Those 3.5hours just flew by, believe me!)

I think Paris to Venice on the OE must be the ultimate travel fantasy Rach (although I've seen pics of where Abby Green is going on holiday in Turkey and that has to be right up there as a contender) (sour lemon face) However, my mother and I did feel that being on it for three days or whatever would inevitably result in a weight gain of several stone. I'd have to get out and run alongside the train for part of the way just to work off breakfast. Good luck with the adventurous reading. May I ask which male authors will be gracing your beach bag this summer?

Ellie - thanks so much for sharing that. What a beautifully evocative image and a perfect illustration of the point I was making so badly! The idea of commuters stopping on their way home from work to take some time to look at a field of beautiful, fragile flowers really does restore your faith in the world somehow, doesn't it?

Oh Karen, I'm so sorry that you're down. Wish I could jump in my car and come and find you. Thinking of you and sending a hug anyway. xxx (And I'm in full agreement with you on Ellie's writing. I can't wait to read it either.)

Francine, sadly no David/Poirot, but on the upside no murder either. I did have a sneaky look out for James D'Arcy as he was a in a lovely Agatha C adaptation of 'The Mystery of the Blue Train', but no joy there either.

As far as future novels go, I'm not sure... The one I'm writing now opens on an overcroweded East Coast Mainline service which would have been a lot cheaper to research! (Or maybe not that much actually, given the price I paid for my last ticket to London... Humph.)

Rachel said...

Dear India,

My bloke books are:

One Day by David Nicholls and Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby

Struggling with the urge to slip a nice little blue paperback in just in case though...

Lots of love,


India said...

Oh, 'One Day' is brilliant! There's a scene in it when the 2 main characters meet up at a wedding and the dialogue between them is just PERFECT. You'll love.

(And you can pass them both onto Him too. Or better still, make out you've brought them for him and make him carry them in his bag. Cunning eh?)

Rachel said...

Ah yes, India and in the blurb it says the two main characters meet on the night of their graduation...

And good idea about passing them on to Him--but does that mean I have to read the Chris Ryans and tomelike cyborg/dragon stuff in return?


Lots of love (and smelling of fake tan as panicking now)


Michelle Styles said...

Am envious of train journey. It looks marvellous.
Hooray that your workshop was a huge success!!

Morton S Gray said...

We are obviously on the same wavelength today - I drove to my writing class in Pershore this morning and decided to drive slower than normal to see what I could notice on the way. I had a lovely time seeing birds, wildflowers, lovely gardens and felt much less stressed on arrival. I then drove home in the same manner and was lucky enough to have a red traffic light right by the glorious poppy field referred to by my friend Ellie Swoop above. It is truly a spectacular sight.

I have written up my impressions of your workshop on my blog. Really enjoying the book you gave to me and when my husband looks at me, I say "Research!"

India said...

They do, Rach! That must have been why I picked it up in the first place - am glad I did. (Hope the fake tan dries evenly and the packing is all done now!)

Michelle, you'd love the Orient Express! If you get the chance to go you must definitely take it (research etc.)

Morton - great to hear from you!! And three cheers for you taking the time to go slow and enjoy the scenery. I must say, I'm feeling much less stressed this week. (Perhaps that means it's time to get my head down and put my foot on the accelerator again? Sniff.)
Right - am now rushing over to your blog to say hi!