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Like An Express Train Travelling Through A Long Dark Tunnel

By: Sergio Burns

Preview and purchase Sergio's excellent short story collection Dark Ghosts Rising. Thank you for supporting the authors of WordShack Publishing.

And, here I am. Signing my book for a friend who has just purchased it and raced round to have me put my signature on it. And, best wishes… Sergio. Isn't this a little surreal?

It also seems surreal just holding the book. It's like it really isn't mine, that I haven't really written the book at all, but that it is the creation of some other hand. Now, that really is surreal.

I find it interesting, however, when people look for meaning in my work or try and guess where my inspiration has came from. "I read that first story in your book, Late One Night On A Very, Very Dark and Lonely Road, and I bet I know where you got that story from," one person said to me. "It was that horrible murder in the newspapers a couple of years back." Well, no, actually that wasn't the inspiration for Late One Night On A Very, Very Dark and Lonely Road… it came instead from my love of the northwest of Scotland, my familiarity with that wonderful part of the Scottish wilderness, having travelled that road on foot, by bicycle and by car on many occasions. I just wanted to write something about this part of the world, had some semblance of a story that needed to be worked on and decided to use that area from Ullapool to Durness as the backdrop.

In fact, many of the stories have a tale of their own. Blue Vanishing Monday, for example, was initially written at a kitchen table in a house in Glasgow. We were babysitting at the home of our friends Pete and Gerda, when the idea for the story came to me. I sat down and wrote the story. Eventually my wife convinced me to enter a short story competiton with the story, and I am glad she did because it won a prize. On hearing of my success Gerda renamed her kitchen table "The Karma Table," and after moving south from Glasgow, "The Karma Table," now resides in Radlett, Hertfordshire.

On another occasion one friend who phoned to ask if I would sign her copy of the book was surprised when I remarked to her that she had inspired one of the stories: The Secret Life Of Cities. I could not, of course, see her face, but the silence told me a great deal. An excited voice eventually replied that she wanted to know more. "What story?" she asked, the sound of rippling pages being turned rapidly, "Where in the book is it? I don't understand what you mean…me?" Yes, you. It was simply something she had said that laid the seeds for that story. So, thank you Alison Rodger for your part, however small, in my literary career.

That's the thing about Dark Ghosts Rising , it's my book, but there were other people involved in the final production. Essentially, my publisher/editor, Lynda Blankenship, publisher Ben Bernstein and my wife Christine all contributed, in their own way, to the finished product. And, in this sense it was very much a team effort.

I also want to mention the fifth element in this "team." Unfortunately, he cannot be with us today, but I know he is still around. He was the man who once took me aside and told me, "Look you have what it takes to become a writer." Ten simple words which have stuck in my mind since, and kept me going when times were tough. Through all those times when the tunnel was darkest I sought refuge in those words. His name was Martin Booth and without his encouragement, his excellent advice and belief, I really don't think I would have come this far. Martin was a writer of biographies and a novelist whose book Industry of Souls was shortlisted for the Booker prize.

He has also been described as having the ability to "Write like an angel." He was, latterly, a dogged and determined battler against the cancer which so cruelly cut him down prematurely. I can remember him once telling me "I can't die, I have a contract to write three books," or words to that effect, in that ironic and understated way of his. He succumbed tragically, only weeks before the publication of Dark Ghosts Rising. I always had a love for writing, but Martin strengthened that love, made me believe in my work, installed in me a sense of professionalism and pride in every word I write. Writing is something I've always wanted to do, he gave me that much needed confidence to pursue the dream.

Ever since I can remember I have been fascinated by the written word, the devices, tricks and nuances of literature. More precisely I can remember my earliest scribblings as if it were one hour ago. My most juvenile efforts which took place at my paternal grandmother's home in West Lothian. I can recall climbing the creaking, wooden stairs to my bed with a pen and red Silvine exercise book clutched tightly in my hands. I must have been nine years old and couldn't wait to get to my bed to write. Throughout my formative years it was something done in secret. We stayed in a tough neighbourhood and your hands were not used for lame poetry or magic realist schmaltz, they were what you used to protect yourself.

The ideas, of course, have always flowed thick and fast and I genuinely fear that I will run out of road before I can get all the stories I have in my head and which flood into my mind down on paper - life is, indeed, too short!

I would also describe myself as a "Martini" writer - anytime, anywhere, anyplace. While many writers prefer to have a set place to write, a big oak desk or a particular room, I have written some of my best ideas and stories in very varied locations. Across time I have written on trains, in cafes, on aeroplanes, in the departure lounge of airports and train stations and in hotel rooms—I love the rarified and alien atmosphere of those boxes for hire.

That dark, dark tunnel entered by that determined express train now seems so long, and yet here I am close to the other side. Close to the light that every writer craves. I write this as I travel through Glencoe. In fact, this is being written on the road, to borrow from Jack Kerouac, in a cafe called "Crafts and Things," just outside Glencoe Village. A wonderful little refuelling station with an impressive selection of books, in the Highlands of Scotland.

Outside the day cools and the sky begins to close in as we prepare to set off once more. I have so many places to see and so many things to write, I hope that you will come with me on that journey and share the adventure…

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