A writer’s experience – this will go in a book

New York is amazing place, filled with a multitude of experiences that often you have to go looking for, or, as in the case of the Brooklyn Diner, stumble over when out for a walk around the block, a very large block I might add.

This is one of those surprise discoveries.

On an early morning walk, I discovered the Brooklyn Diner, a small restaurant tucked away in a street not far from Columbus Circle, perhaps a piece of history from the American past.

After all, if you’re going to take in the sights, sounds, and food of a country what better way to do it than visiting what was once a tradition.

This one was called the Brooklyn Diner.  It had a combination of booths and counter sit down, though the latter was not a very big space, so we opted for a booth.

The object of going to a Diner is the fact they serve traditional American food, which when you get past the hot dogs and hamburgers and fries, takes the form of turkey and chicken pot pies among a variety of other choices.

Still looking for a perfectly cooked turkey, something I’ve never been able to do myself, I opted for the Traditional Turkey Lunch, which the menu invitingly said was cooked especially at the diner and was succulent.  I couldn’t wait.

We also ordered a hamburger, yes, yet another, and a chicken pot pie, on the basis the last one I had in Toronto was absolutely delicious (and cooked the same way since the mid-1930s)

While waiting we got to look at a slice of history belonging to another great American tradition, Baseball, a painting on the wall of the Brooklyn Dodgers at Ebbets field, long since gone from their home.

The Turnkey lunch looked like this

which didn’t seem to be much, and had this odd pasta slice on the plate, but the turkey was amazing and lived up to the menu description.

The Chicken Pot Pie looked like this

And looked a lot larger in reality than the photo shows.

But, sadly while it was not bad, it was a little dry, and could possibly do with using the more succulent thigh part of the chicken.

All of this was washed down by Long Island Ice Teas and Brooklyn Lager.

AS for the Diner experience, it’s definitely a 10 out of 10 for me.

Being Inspired – the book

Over the past year or so I have been selecting photographs I’ve taken on many travels, and put a story to them.

When I reached a milestone of 50 stories, I decided to make them into a book, and, in doing so, I have gone through each and revised them, making some longer and into short stories.

50 photographs, 50 stories.  I’ve called it, “Inspiration, Maybe”

It will be available soon.


“The Kingston Flyer” – Researching can be fun

These days it’s getting harder and harder to find ghosts of the past.

It’s surprising when you read how many steam locomotives existed in the days of steam, and how few remain, and even then, if those that remain, how many actually still work.

It makes writing historical fiction all that much harder.

Some years ago I had an idea I might write a story that involved a steam train, and, since we travelled to New Zealand almost once a year, decided it was time to pay the train a visit.  That year, the train was still running, and it was an experience.

Try drinking a cup of team, on the train, without spilling it.  We couldn’t but it was not the train that was the problem, it was the tracks it ran on.

Now, although I read somewhere it might make a comeback, the last visit we made, the trains were firmly ensconced in their shed, and not looking remotely like moving.

These photos are from the last time we visited.

The Kingston Flyer was a vintage train that ran about 14km to Fairlight from Kingston, at the southern end of Lake Wakatipu, and back.

This tourist service was suspended in December 2012 because of locomotive issues.

However, before that, we managed to go on one of the tours, and it was a memorable trip.  Trying to drink a cup of tea from the restaurant car was very difficult, given how much the carriages moved around on the tracks.

The original Kingston Flyer ran between Kingston, Gore, Invercargill, and sometimes Dunedin, from the 1890s through to 1957.

There are two steam locomotives used for the Kingston Flyer service, the AB778 starting service in 1925, and the AB795 which started service in 1927.

The AB class locomotive was a 4-6-2 Pacific steam locomotive with a Vanderbilt tender, of which 141 were built between 1915 and 1927 some of which by New Zealand Railways Addington Workshops.

No 235 is the builder’s number for the AB778

There were seven wooden bodied passenger carriages, three passenger coaches, one passenger/refreshments carriage and two car/vans.  The is also a Birdcage gallery coach.  Each of the rolling stock was built between 1900 and 1923.  They were built at either of Addington, Petone, or Hillside.

I suspect the 2 on the side means second class

The passenger coach we traveled in was very comfortable.

This is one of the guard’s vans, and for transporting cargo.

The Kingston Railway Station

and cafe.

New York, New York, it’s a wonderful town…

I’ve been to New York a few times now, and each time it feels like I’m coming home.  The first visit was one of awe at the size and scope, and in all of the things, a visitor could do.

The Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, Central Park, and so much more.  Each time it has been in the dead of winter, and usually after very heavy snowfalls that have shut off a lot of the city.

I’m a strange sort of person because I like snow, especially when it falls in cities.  I know it causes havoc, but what’s a little havoc for the week I’m there.  I’m sure New Yorkers, of course, hate it with a passion because they have to endure it for a lot longer.

This time, at the end of last year, there was no snow, and I would not exactly call it cold.  Days had sunshine, the walks in Central Park were invigorating, the squirrels were out in force, and the skaters of the rink were no less in number.

Every morning I went for a walk, either uptown, or downtown, soaking up the early morning of people going to and from work, visitors emerging from their hotels, unsure of what to expect, or purposefully as if they knew where they were going.  On the way back I’d call into a coffee shop, a cafe, or a deli, I could never really tell the difference between them, and order a coffee in a language that none of the baristas seemed to understand.

Double shot decaf skinny latte.

OK, decaf I think they understood, and the latte, but skinny.  Apparently, they have a different name for their milk.

Also, their coffee seems to come from a push-button behemoth, and there’s no human interaction in putting the coffee into a shot and running water through it.  Strength is always determined by how hard the tamp is pressed down on the grinds.  I doubt a machine could ever determine that.

It explained why over the course of a week, it was a different interpretation of what I wanted and seven completely different cups of coffee.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining.  It’s part and parcel with what I expect as the New York vibe.  Along with the variety of food you can get at a deli.  Those places are amazing, and you can buy a complete meal, which is very handy if you don’t want expensive hotel food, and you want to sample the local cuisine.

It was a week filling the mental notebooks with sights, sounds, and atmosphere in a city that never stops.  We visited more restaurants, went over the Hudson to New Jersey and went to a hockey game, and pre-dinner at an establishment that was filled with expectant hockey fans of both sides.

We were there to see the Toronto Maple Leafs, and it didn’t matter.

This is the material I want, to fill pages with locational atmosphere, to breathe life into my chartacters, to feel it the way I had.

This time we stayed in the middle of everything.  One way is Broadway, and down the road, Times Square.  Go the other way, and we’re in Fifth Avenue, looking in shops that I can’t possibly afford to buy anything.

Yet it feels good to think one day I might.

And to magnify the stress level through the roof, we hired a car from Avis whose office was in West 54th Street and then went ‘joy riding’ through the streets of New York on our way to the Lincoln Tunnel and further south to Philadelphia.

There’s something about being out in the minus 1 temperatures, dodging the rain, looking at the low mist, or clouds, hiding the high rise buildings.

It took us two days to find the Empire State Building.

We haven’t been to any museums yet, nor have I found a good bookshop, which is practically sacrilegious for me, but it’s now very high on the list of things to do.  There was a Barnes and Noble in 5th Avenue, which is not far away, but in all of the excitement, I didn’t get there in the end.

But we dined at Ruby Tuesday where I had the best hamburger, simplicity in itself, and Cassidy’s Irish pub where I had some strange meat burger thing and vegetables which was delicious, and a slice of apple pie that would take three people to finish off.

And a bucket of beer.

I can’t wait to come back.

In a word: Saw or Sore or Soar

In the first or is the second instance of the word Sore, we all know this malady can sometimes fester into something a lot worse.

Or that a person could be a sore loser

Or after spending an hour on the obstacle course, they come off very sore and sorry.  I never quite understood why they should be sorry because no one ever apologises to inanimate object.  Or do they?

Or perhaps he was sore at his friend for not telling him the truth.

Then, there’s another meaning, saw, which can mean the past tense of seeing, that is, I saw them down by the pool.

I could also use a saw, you know, that thing that custs through wood, steel, plastic, almost anything.  And yes, it’s possible someone might actually saw through a loaf of bread.

There are hand saws, electric saws, band saws, coping saws, even a bread knife, all of these have one thing in common, a serrated edge with teeth of different sizes, designed to cut, smoothly or roughly depending on the size.

Add it to bones, and you have Captain Kirk’s description of his medical officer on the Enterprise.  I’m not sure any doctor would like to be addressed as saw-bones.

But then, confusingly in the way only English can do, there’s another word that sounds exactly the same, soar

This, of course, means hovering up there in the heavens, with or without propulsion or oxygen.

Yes, it’s difficult to soar with eagles when you work with turkeys.  I’ve always liked this expression though most of the time people don’t quite understand what it means.


Being Inspired – the book

Over the past year or so I have been selecting photographs I’ve taken on many travels, and put a story to them.

When I reached a milestone of 50 stories, I decided to make them into a book, and, in doing so, I have gone through each and revised them, making some longer and into short stories.

50 photographs, 50 stories.  I’ve called it, “Inspiration, Maybe”

It will be available soon.


The story behind the story – Echoes from the Past

The novel ‘Echoes from the past’ started out as a short story I wrote about 30 years ago, titled ‘The birthday’.

My idea was to take a normal person out of their comfort zone and led on a short but very frightening journey to a place where a surprise birthday party had been arranged.

Thus the very large man with a scar and a red tie was created.

So was the friend with the limousine who worked as a pilot.

So were the two women, Wendy and Angelina, who were Flight Attendants that the pilot friend asked to join the conspiracy.

I was going to rework the short story, then about ten pages long, into something a little more.

And like all re-writes, especially those I have anything to do with, it turned into a novel.

There was motivation.  I had told some colleagues at the place where I worked at the time that I liked writing, and they wanted a sample.  I was going to give them the re-worked short story.  Instead I gave them ‘Echoes from the past’

Originally it was not set anywhere in particular.

But when considering a location, I had, at the time, recently been to New York in December, and and visited Brooklyn and Queens, as well as a lot of New York itself.  We were there for New Years, and it was an experience I’ll never forget.

One evening we were out late, and finished up in Brooklyn Heights, near the waterfront, and there was rain and snow, it was cold and wet, and their were apartment building, and I thought, this is the place where my main character will live.

It had a very spooky atmosphere, the sort where ghosts would not be unexpected.  I felt more than one shiver go up and down my spine in the few minutes I was there.

I had taken notes, as I always do, of everywhere we went so I had a ready supply of locations I could use, changing the names in some cases.

Fifth Avenue near the Rockefeller center is amazing at first light, and late at night with the Seasonal decorations and lights.

The original main character was a shy and man of few friends, hence not expecting the surprise party.  I enhanced that shyness into purposely lonely because of an issue from his past that leaves him always looking over his shoulder and ready to move on at the slightest hint of trouble.  No friends, no relationships, just a very low profile.

Then I thought, what if he breaks the cardinal rule, and begins a relationship?

But it is also as much an exploration of a damaged soul, as it is the search for a normal life, without having any idea what normal was, and how the understanding of one person can sometimes make all the difference in what we may think or feel.

And, of course, I wanted a happy ending.

Except for the bad guys.