People I Meet on Trains – R. G. McKay Ireland

Today’s guest post is by R G McKay Ireland. A poet and fiction writer, R G has contributed three stories to our Lit Bits series of short reads – ‘Remnants’, ‘Drive’ and ‘One-Way traffic.’


“It begins with a character, usually, and once he stands up on his feet and begins to move, all I can do is trot along behind him with a paper and pencil trying to keep up long enough to put down what he says and does.” – William Faulkner.

That’s how my stories tend to start. I place a person, somewhere, in a predicament – and watch what he does. Before that I stare at something – like a blank page on my computer screen or at the back of the city on the train journey from London to south Wales – and I wait for someone to come to life: sweating, fearful, angry, or maybe brave, fearless, hopelessly optimistic.

I like the train from Paddington to Bridgend – you get to see much of how people live. Firstly you get to see the arse-end of west London through the window: countless Tox graffiti tags, Trellick Tower, sleeping bags in tunnels, factories and junk yards. I like to see the other passengers doing the same, their faint reflections like ghosts of themselves looking back into the carriage.

Then I get out into wealthy towns and villages beyond London that I’m not familiar with. I don’t know the places by name, but I see mansions on the river with yachts. There’s one house I look out for, it’s as equally impressive as the others and a picture-perfect river cuts through the immaculate lawn. I’ve wondered if the people who live there own the water and the fish for the short moments they pass through their property.

It’s not long before the houses become sparse and I’m in the countryside, and my laptop has turned itself off because I haven’t touched it. But it’s then, usually, when somebody desperate and imagined introduces themselves to me. It’s then that I turn my laptop on and follow what they do.

By the time I start writing I’ve got less than two hours until I get to Bridgend. I’m a slow writer. I’d like to say that I start and finish a short story neatly in the time it takes to get home – that’s not the case. But after a little while of writing I’ve passed through the Severn Tunnel and into Wales, through the coastal cities of Newport and then Cardiff, where the places and people are different to London but I assume not so different in the problems they face – and sometimes, I begin to like the person who introduced themselves to me. I feel guilty for putting him in such a predicament, while I sit comfortably and sip a warm Stella from the buffet car.

When the train leaves Cardiff (the next stop is Bridgend) I get distracted and my writing slows and the quality drops, and I flatten the screen of my laptop and look out of the window again. If I’m lucky, I feel for the character, and I think of him. I think of how I owe it to him to finish his story, and in the coming days he’ll tap on the inside of my head until I do.

Remnants, Drive, and One-Way Traffic – my first published short stories – were born on these train journeys. These are stories of desperate people in fierce predicaments, who I couldn’t help but like and do my best to keep up with on my keyboard.


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