Woody Guthrie and his acoustic guitar went riding across the US on a train “bound for glory” and changed the face of the American folk tradition. On Saturday morning, cruising on the kind sponsorship of Translink NI, we three ACES writers, (Nathaniel Joseph McAuley, picture above looking particularly poet-like, myself, and Anthony Quinn, ably assisted by three young Quinns with notebooks), jumped a train in Great Victoria Street Station, bound for inspiration, for glory and if all else failed, Derry/Londonderry. The plan was simple; ride a train, become inspired, write some short pieces of journey-themed literature. The excuse, if such a thing was needed, was the now annual One City One Book programme which is jointly run by Arts Council NI and Belfast City Council.
We met at 8:45 and instantly realised that the tranquil writing retreat we’d imagined was going to be more than a little compromised by the hordes of motorbike fans off to the NorthWest 200, clutching their early morning cans of Harp and, as we approached Ballymena, blasting pipe band hits on their mobile phones. Nevertheless, we were coffee’d up and expectant. It had been over three weeks since I’d last had the opportunity to write creatively and I was craving the excuse to work on a story. Nathaniel and I found a seat at a table, got out our various writing implements and prepared to become inspired. Inspiration was halted somewhere shy of Ahoghill by a lovely couple from Ahoghill who offered us caramel Rocky’s and proceeded to tell us all about their continental holidays and aspirations for an anniversary weekend in Derry. A quick glance out the window revealed a grim grey seascape and the realisation that the Kelly’s were much more inspiring than anything flying past us at 40-60 miles per hour. Much like Fight Club’s Tyler Durden I have always enjoyed the company of “Single Serving” friends whilst traveling across the world and these were particularly lovely and interesting “Single Serving” chums. (It was also a little bit flattering to discover that Mrs Kelly recognised me from last weekend’s appearance in the Belfast Telegraph– this, I imagine, is exactly how JK Rowling must feel every time she rides public transport).
Arriving in Derry we holed up for three hours in the library of the Verbal Arts Centre and, to my great surprise and greater delight a whole short story slipped out fully formed. What a treat! Unfortunately the story had nothing to do with trains but it provoked a landslide of new ideas and images. I’m going to be tweaking away at my Derry notes for at least another few days before I have anything worth sharing but I’m looking forward to working on the journey theme. I often think that travel carves out an uncluttered space where I experience my best and neatest thoughts. Finding myself neither here nor there I feel as if I have momentarily slipped free of the concerns and responsibilities which can make me feel creatively constipated. I am also realising that I respond well to deadlines and the pressure which comes from choosing to place myself in a closed space and persevere with a piece of writing. I thoroughly appreciated my writing adventures today and want to thank all those who made it possible for me to make a little breathing space in the middle of the madness and be reminded that no matter how noisy things get this month, I am still, above all other things, a writer of stories.