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This Is Where I Write

Where do you write?

Coach B is the Quiet Coach. It is a good place to think, to reflect and from which to draw inspiration. It is a silent movie and my mind writes the title cards.

I always travel in Coach B, though it is always at the far end of the platform. For four and a half hours, it is my high-speed cocoon in which complete anonymity is mine for the taking. I smile as I board; I like this place.

Though I travel alone, I book a table seat—those fold-up trays will never do—by the window. I pretend it’s for the scenery, but it protects my words from prying eyes. If I’m lucky, I won’t have a neighbour. I’m rarely lucky.

Half a dozen people squeeze by as I decide what I need. My bag is bulging with occupation enough for three or four such journeys. I take my pen—a standard biro—and a notepad. Plain paper, not lined. That will do, for now. Bag and jacket stowed, I settle in.

Still ten minutes until departure, my phone tells me. It takes its place next to my ticket, ready for inspection in about forty-five minutes. I steal a glance at the reservation stuck in the back of my aisle equivalent—Newcastle to York; York to London. Space for a while at least.

As the departure time nears, the voice of the train guard comes through. “Welcome aboard this 1430 East Coast service from Edinburgh Waverley to London King’s Cross...” I know it verbatim. Still I listen, letting my pen rest for the moment atop the pad. The places we’ll see are rhymed off; safety notices; don’t smoke; quiet in B and K (I’m Standard, not First). We know. He knows we know. It goes on—get off the train if you’re not intending to travel. Who are these people?

A jerk and we’re off. The station shrinks away. A couple sit across from me. They kissed on the platform. They could be strangers now; she reads her book while he plays on a tablet. They are a story I could write, a plot I could invent.

Rounding a bend, the station disappears. The coach is half full of people settling in to silently read their book or magazine, or watch a movie, or sleep. I open my notepad at a fresh, white page, a work of art waiting to be created.

This time a notepad, the last time a laptop. Once I wrote half a story on an app on my phone. Technology is such these days that our only excuse for not writing is a lack of ideas. A good writer, though, when short of ideas, knows where to find them, and that is where he should write. Life itself is the greatest novel of inexplicably interwoven tales. How could one not be inspired by our shared humanity?

I begin to write, funneling my thoughts through my pen onto the page. My handwriting is like my mother’s, but tighter and with a more distinctive fluidity. I am right-handed and my lines slant upwards from left to right.

As the train tumbles on, a dark cloud of words form, obscuring the white sheet. What I am writing is far less important than the fact that I am writing it. There is no creative art, I believe, more gratifying to the artist than that which uses language as its essential element. A painting says a thousand words, they say, but a thousand words feels like a thousand words. It is one of the most fundamental ways in which to communicate, and the greatest joy.

Hours pass and the Scottish east coast becomes that of England, the scenery only slightly less remarkable. The couple leave in silence and two young women join my table, one to my left and the other opposite her. My neighbour immediately takes out her laptop and engrosses herself in whatever—maybe writing— but the girl across from us just sits for a while, seemingly in a state of thoughtful reflection. Oh, that I could read minds; what a tale I am certain she would tell me.

She catches me looking and smiles, then glances at my notepad. I carry on writing and she watches, intrigued. She cannot read it from there, though she tries. Anything could be written on that page, it’s up to her. The only limit is that on her imagination. All of the words I have written become hers. I wonder what story I have written for her.

Our eyes meet again but I daren’t say a word. What a fine excuse the quiet coach is for not talking to an attractive woman. In her look I see the shortcomings of writing, the true story I escape from every time I lift my biro. Writer’s cowardice, I call it—hiding behind a pen, or a screen, the only evidence of you what you have dared to leave on the page. She could be my future wife in another reality, and I would never know.

This is where I write, immersed in humanity yet little more than an observer, a pundit. I write here because it is calm but not dull. I write here because my environment is simultaneously constant and ever-changing. I write here because this is where I write.

A clumsy man trundles through the coach with his trolley, leaving in his wake a lingering odour and me with an over-priced coffee. London is about an hour away now. My admirer sleeps, mouth ungracefully agape. Closing my notepad, I lean back and rest my eyes as I am carried towards the city. When I arrive I will have many things to do, but writing will not be one of them.

Tomorrow I will write again. A different train, but the same place, the same me. Tomorrow is a different story wanting to be written, a different couple, a different girl, a different trolley man. The place where I write is never twice the same, yet somehow never changes. The place where I write is me; I am the place where I write.
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