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  1. #1
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    Lochailort no more - comments please

    Bogs, rain, ticks and pain – welcome to the first instalment of reflections from the 2016 TGO Challenge coast-to-coast crossing of Scotland that are not short on drama but are short on slumber.

    Day 1. May 13. Bog trot

    SLEEPER trains to Bonnie Scotland are a concept of contrasts. The evening’s journey starts at 9.15pm on May 12 in Euston, London, where would-be travellers are accosted outside the station by Glaswegian drunks.
    The journey ends the next morning after crossing beautiful Scottish scenery, such as Rannoch Moor, and being greeted by friendly Scots in Fort William.
    In between Euston and Fort William the journey is like sleeping in a tumble drier. A small tumble drier, rocking and rolling along the clickety clack of Britain’s railway tracks.

    First order of the day at Fort William is breakfast. On the sleeper the night before was fellow Great Outdoors challenger Simon “Marcher” Conrad, from Salisbury, and we share a table for breakfast at The Crofter pub. Piping hot and tasty it is too.
    Fort William is very chilly and after breakfast ladies’ tights are bought (£4.99 – “they’re not for me, they’re for a friend”) as a back-up in case the cold extends into the hills and punishes my forgetfulness in leaving warm Helly Hansen tights at home in the soft south of England.
    Morrison’s is raided for food and Fort William is explored before a 20-minute wait at the station for the Mallaig train – the so-called Harry Potter line. A cold wind sweeps across the platform as more and more people cram on. There is a nervous, excited anticipation – this is from the fans of the teenage wizard not thechallengers.They and other walkers are looking at wrist watches, adjusting hip belts and fussing over equipment and food. After months of planning, chopping and changing equipment and adjusting the route, it is not unfair to suggest that most challengers, like me, have reached the point at which they are itching to just get on with it.

    Aboard the train an English ticket conductress is as friendly and as helpful as the Scottish staff in the Crofter had been – Scotland’s friendliness and helpfulness are to become a theme over the course of the challenge.
    Loch Eil then Loch Eilt look beautiful from the train, triggering “oohs” and a few “aaarghs” and one grunt from travellers. A Canadian woman, with a booming voice, tells anybody who will listen that her family were from these parts at the time of the Highland clearances. She now lives in Scotland. She seems to think she is Scottish. With an accent like hers she is Canadian. If she is Scottish, I’m a Dutchman, Jan. Best to move away from loud people, preferably into the solitude of the hills.
    The Harry Potter viaduct at Glen Finnan triggers a rush of passengers from one side of the carriage to the other, all eager for a glimpse of the structure, which they are about to cross. Had the train been a boat, or maybe a tumble drier, it would have rolled over. At Glen Finnan station hordes of tourists depart. Next stop is Lochailort, which means that the first steps on the challenge are edging nearer.
    The helpful conductor lady advises anybody looking to “alight” (what a beaut of a word) at Lochailort to head for the middle coaches, because those are the only carriages on the train that will fit alongside the platform.
    Rucksacks litter the carriage floor as the engine closes in on the little station. After waving furiously to attract my attention Simon wanders up the carriage. We exchange “good lucks”. It has been 10 years since he made a backpacking trip of more than a week in duration, he confides. He is apprehensive, but he has the look of a chap who has planned well and will make it across with flying colours.
    What was not mentioned to Simon was that I had not set out on such a long backpack, in terms of days, for 30 years or more and that this trip was being fuelled by memories of youthful exuberance, reckless self-belief and opaque recollections of past glories.
    The train departs for Mallaig. Those who have “alighted” on the platform at Lochailort station are me and four more challengers: Alan Hardy, Bernard Forrester, Colin Harvey and David Hardy. A five-man snake wends its way to the sign-out point, Lochailort Inn.
    On opening an entrance door, an unappetising smell of cooked fish wafts past and thoughts of a pot of tea with shortbread dunkers go out of the window. The smell is unsettling to the stomach. Time to go.* The four, ABCD, are staying for a bite to eat. But for me the fish smell is nauseating. Got to go, got to go. The Great Outdoors register signed, the challenge card collected and farewells exchanged, it is time to get some fresh air and crack on.
    On the road to Arienskill, a couple of miles east* of Lochailort,* a chap in a four by four pulls out of a long driveway and offers a lift.* A kind offer, a Scottish offer, and an offer that has to be refused. Maybe in Angus next week? The challenge walk rules are explained to the driver and he is thanked for his kind offer. What is worrying is that he might have thought that a lift was needed after a mile and a half.
    “Good luck,” he says. Under his breath he was probably thinking: “You’ll need it!”
    At Arienskill – a couple of houses and a path under the railway –* the first steps made on grass, vegetation, signal that the challenge is finally really beginning after all* this time. Ten minutes later, with both feet baptised in bog water, the challenge is really beginning in earnest. Ahead lies unkempt terrain and a path that bears little or no resemblance to its outline on the map. Up, up and up. Sun shining. It feels great to at last be on the trail.



  2. #2
    Rogue Mutt
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    Put an extra space between paragraphs.

    What you're doing is recording the words you would use in telling the story were you with the reader. But that's a performance. And since you're alone on the stage, and can't really take all the roles, you talk about the story, and add the emotional part of the story through your performance. You'd use tone, intensity, little hesitations and breathless rushes to add emotion. A nod of the head, a change of expression, hand gestures and body language would all contribute. But on the page neither sound nor vision can be reproduced, so a very different set of skills are necessary.

    On the page, instead of telling the story, we make the reader live it, as the protagonist in order to supply the emotional experience that will entertain.

    So it's not a matter of improving the story, because you're using writing techniques incompatible with the medium. A scene on the page is a very different thing from one on the screen, and that, along with a hundred other issues is the reason for learning the craft of the fiction writer.

    Not good news, I know, and certainly not what you were hoping to hear. But on the other hand, what I'm talking about has nothing to do with talent or potential as a writer. And craft is something that you can learn, just as you learned the nonfiction writing skills we all are given in our school days. And with a few professional skills... So check out the local library system's fiction writing section. It can be a huge resource.

  3. #3
    Senior Member John Oberon's Avatar
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    What...you're beating Jay to the punch? lol.

  4. #4
    Senior Member
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    I'm a bit lost. There seems to be no story, just a monologue on a train journey, with a bit about four people getting off at the end.

    Assuming it's intended as a story opening, it's too much like a chronicle of events. Why does a reader care that someone they know nothing about makes stops and does non plot-related things over several days? Why tell someone who has breakfast every day that the protagonist of the stort starts the day with breakfast? Story is supposed to be entertaining, not a detailed report on the mundane events in the life of a fictional character.

    Another thing to look at is that you're generalizing. For example, when you say, "London, where would-be travelers are accosted outside the station by Glaswegian drunks." You're telling the reader that every traveler, at any time of the day or night, is accosted by a specific type of drunk. I know that wasn't your intent, but it was what you said. Be careful about attribiting behavior to groups of people.

    On entering any scene, a reader wants to know, quickly, who we are as a personality, where we are in time and space, and what's going on. In this excerpt, after nearly 1000 words (meaning we're in the fifth standard manuscript page), we know only where we are (though not the century). Yes, we know that they are entering a contest of some sort, but since we don't know what it entails it's meaningless to the reader. So while you're oriented, the reader has context for nothing. You might say to read on andf you'll find out, but since the reader has no idea if the writer will clarify, and since that explination can't retroactively remove the confusion felt while reading it, readers will bail at the first confusing line, when deciding if they want to read a given story.

    The story would be just as meaningful to a reader, had you begun with, "As the train slowed for Lochailort station I gathered my small bag, took a deep breath, and moved toward the car-end, and the first step of the Great Outdoors Challenge: registration." Done that way we begin where the actual story begins, oriented and ready for something meaningful to happen. As a rule of thumb, each line in the story should set the scene, meaningfully, develop character, or move the plot. In this, though I hate to be the bearer of bad tidings, none of that happened.

    I suggest you look into the craft of the profession, because writing fiction is very unlike the report style writing we're taught in our school days. As an example, you might check this article on what a scene on the page is, and this one on placing the reader into the scene with the protagonist as their avatar.

    Sorry my news wasn't better. Hang in there, though. With a few tricks of the trade it gets easier.

    Jay Greenstein

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