Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Where travel writing fails

Don't let my lack of any recent blog posts fool you, once more my creative side is deep in the final stages of nutting out what will be the next chapter in my rather inglorious writing career so far. The problem is, this project is almost impossible to limit to just one new book for 2017. The scope for where I can take this is almost endless. TV spin-offs, travel (hopefully for once it can bloody-well be paid for!) and even merchandise.

After coming up empty handed when seeking assistance to continue my Train Tripping series of books, I've spent the past 12 months concentrating on the small business I run with my wife Denise, and generally planning to do all the things we've always talked about doing together. In 2016, we visited Shoal Bay, Newcastle, the Hunter Valley and saw in the New Year in Port Douglas in far north Queensland. And 2017 doesn't look like slowing down. Next week we head off to Sydney and the Blue Mountains, then Melbourne for the Anzac Day weekend, before finishing the year in Perth and seeing in the New Year at Margaret River in Western Australia. Sounds like I'm a rich travel writer being pandered to by luxury resorts and airlines right? Wrong. In fact, it couldn't be further from the truth.

The truth is, I run a small Mum and Dad cleaning business on the Sunshine Coast with my wife of 24 years Denise. Despite spending the past 10 years throwing everything I had into trying to 'make it' as a writer, for some reason or other, it didn't work out. Somehow, in the space of the past 18 months, our cleaning business did. So with our children both studying full-time at University while also holding down decent part-time jobs of their own, suddenly Mum and Dad have the time, and the money, to travel.

Now you'd think that, (as a writer), I'd take this next opportunity in life to try my hand at travel writing. But again, you'd be wrong. While I've shared some Travel Tales of my own on this blog in the past, and written several small pieces on travel sites, magazines and web e-zines, (all without being paid, or expecting to be paid), the truth is that this is our time, and I'm not about to give it away for the benefit of any website or magazine that wants to offer me the chance of 'furthering my career', under the guise of simply selling advertising space. Don't believe me? Take a good look at the advertising that springs up on most travel related websites. It's all click-generated income built around keywords in the freely submitted travel articles. Honestly, with the over-saturation of travel bloggers on social media these days, resorts, airlines and travel agents have never had it so good.

At the end of the day, professional travel writers get told where to go, where to stay and ultimately what to write. But they do expect to get paid or reimbursed for their work, (even if it's not as much as some people might imagine). In business, time is money. With writing, time is still time. If you're good enough, or maybe just plain lucky enough, someone will talk to you about the money later.

So why would someone like myself, who's had to work hard for 11 months and 2 weeks of the year to afford a 2 week getaway with his wife, feel compelled to compete with the hundreds of thousands of aspiring writers talking-up their accommodation, attractions or airline, all for the opportunity to 'further their career?' It just doesn't interest me anymore. I'd much rather leave a tip and tell our waitress that we had a wonderful meal, thank the reception staff for a wonderful stay and pray to God that our flight home isn't cancelled again as it was coming home from Port Douglas, (thanks a lot Tiger Air!) without the compelling duty to find nice things to say about bad service.

As for the social media 'travel experts' who desperately want to show you how you can make a living traveling the world and blogging about it? Keep buying their books. They desperately need your money.

Me? I plan to keep writing. Why? Maybe because its like my sister, and fellow writer, Tanya Bird says; "we do it Phill because its like a disease. It's just in you so we have to get it out." I do know I'm glad I have someone like my wife Denise to talk ideas over with. Each great book idea I've had pop into my head over the past year, we've had to dismiss due to either the time or money it would take away from our business. Believe me when I say there are plenty of great ideas lying dead in the water! The truth is.... I like to write, and somehow through all that frustrating thought process, we've both landed on an idea for a new book project that is going to work. How do I know? Because the photos I've already taken, the memories I'm already passionate about and the stories are already in me. I just have to get them out.

Steve Jobs once said; "people with passion can change the world." I don't know if my next project will change the world, but I do know it has already changed the way I look at it. So watch this space, because I'm about to venture further off the beaten track than I ever have before!

P.S. no travel writers were harmed during the writing of this post. Nor was Tiger Air, who did give me a full refund and have no doubt since cancelled other flights.
P.S.S. Tiger Air did not pay me to write this article.

Monday, 9 January 2017

Calling all Railway Poets

2017 sees me taking on a project of a different kind. After years of sharing stories and advice with other aspiring writers, I wanted to oversee a project that in turn could provide readers with something more than just a few words of encouragement. That project is The Railway Poets Collective, an open invitation not just to readers of my blog, but to poets around the world who would like to submit an original poem of their own work, with the theme of trains or train travel.

Having published four collections of my own poetry in between working on various other novels and non-fiction titles over the past decade, I know how hard it is to promote your own work, and how frustrating it can be when no-one seems to care about it. Especially when it comes to poetry. I've heard it said many times, that everyone has at least one novel inside them. When it comes to poetry however, I believe that everyone has a lifetime of poems just lurking in the back of their mind. Try publishing a book of poetry however, and unless you can find a way to excel at performing stand-up poetry or win a national award, no-one is ever going to hear of your work, and it will be left to family and friends to buy nothing more than a couple of dozen copies.

Originally I had planned to release a collection of my own railway poetry in 2017, but then I thought of how much even I would rather enjoy sitting down to read a compilation of railway poems penned by different poets offering different views of trains from around the world. The problem was, there isn't any such book that I am aware of. So I am going to compile my own, and you Dear Reader have the opportunity to have your name included on the front cover.

In submitting your poem for consideration, there are a number of points I would like to clarify. So please read the following points first, as submitting you poem for consideration will be a form of acknowledging that you agree to the terms.

  1. I can only accept works which are both 100% original and your own. The rights to the poem will remain 100% your property at all times, even after being published in this book, meaning that you are free to include them in any of your own published poetry books in the future.
  2. The poem must be to the best understanding of the reader, railway related and communicate the common theme of trains or train travel. Please keep the line length to between 24 to no more than 84 lines to help with book formatting.
  3. The submitted poem must be written in English. Australian poems will be kept in Australian English just as American poems will be kept in American English to preserve the theme of each individual work.
  4. The submitted poem cannot be one which has been previously published by a commercially or legally recognized publishing label, both small or otherwise. Previous independently published poems that have been released solely under your own name by means of Smashwords or any other self-publishing method, will however be considered. Please make mention of this in your submission and I can even give a free plug to where your other work is available within the book. It is after all, your poem.
  5. The submitted poem cannot be one which has already appeared in another poetry or writing anthology or magazine. If someone else has already been kind enough to publish your work, then please show them the respect by not submitting the same poem to another publication.
  6. The submitted poem cannot be one which has been the recipient of a major or commercially sponsored prize or award. Although the legal rights to the work in question may still legally be yours, my including it in this compilation aren't. If you are that talented and still would like to be included in this compilation, then please send me something fresh.
  7. Absolutely, positively no crude, suggestive, vulgar language or innuendo. You may use whatever language you'd like as an artist in your other work, but I'm looking for a collection of railway poems that will be enjoyed by readers of all ages.
  8. The finished book will be compiled and produced by myself before being published in printed form and distributed through Blurb, with each book being printed and shipped from either Melbourne Australia, San Francisco U.S.A., or The Netherlands. An eBook version will also be produced through Smashwords for upload through their premium distribution channel to the likes of Kobo, Apple's iTunes Store, Barnes & Noble and in France. Unfortunately there is no guarantee which, or if any, of these channels choose to make the book available for sale. The author's name on this book will appear as Compiled by Phillip Overton, without this the book cannot be legally distributed through any sales channels. The names of each poet will appear on the front cover (shown above) in lieu of the words Your Name. For those unsure of the finished quality, please browse the Books page on this blog to sample the other eBooks and full colour print books that have been produced by myself.
  9. Unfortunately, no payment will be provided for any entry which is included in this compilation. A free code to download the eBook from Smashwords will be forwarded to each person whose work is included, and printed copies will be available for purchase online through Blurb. Submitting your poem also waives any right or claim to any commission generated from the future sales of this book. I'm envisioning sales of between 100 and 200 copies from this compilation with a projected retail price of between $5 and $6 AUD for, (at maximum), a 64 page 13 x 24 cm trade quality paperback book. (Believe me, I'm not going to get rich for the amount of time that this project will consume!). Any subsequent future compilations of The Railway Poets Collective may include a free printed copy mailed as a form of payment, pending solely on the success of this compilation.
  10. Email your poem for consideration to using the words Poetry Submission - (followed by) Your Name in the heading. Please attach your poem in word.doc format making sure the title and your name are at the top of the page. Using 12 point font will help greatly.

So, seasoned poets and first-time poets alike, I hope that the coming months see a flow of great railway poems arrive in my inbox. Please remember that this is not a contest. There is no First Prize, just the opportunity for 20 poets to be selected in The Railway Poets Collective. Those unsuccessful may be notified and kept on file in the chance that there is a second Railway Poets Collective published in the future. I'm sure that this book will become a highly collectible book by poets and railway enthusiasts alike. So best of luck, and get to it!

Kindest Regards,
Phillip Overton

Friday, 28 October 2016

Neath: one final railway reminisce

Everything has a use-by date, and when it comes to trains, it doesn't matter if its a locomotive, a railway line or even a railway blogger. When I took a break from writing novels in 2014 to indulge in some blogging about one of my favourite pastimes, I didn't know that my love of trains would take me from Kuranda to Warrnambool. Factor in my previous trips to see the sugar cane railways of far north Queensland, the inland railways along the Newell Highway and a tiny bush tramway at Ida Bay in the far south of Tasmania, I can honestly say that I've seen a lot of railway lines in this country. Including one former railway station that up until this year I didn't know existed, at a little place called Neath in the New South Wales Hunter Valley.

What remains of Neath Station on the former South Maitland Line, as photographed in May 2016.

Neath Station first opened in 1908 on the privately owned South Maitland Railway system, built to link the region's coal mines to the port at Newcastle. Nearby Neath Colliery had opened 2 years earlier in 1906 by the Wickham & Bullock Island Coal Company, after the line had first been constructed through Neath to Cessnock in 1904. The line to Neath Colliery veered to the left in the above photo, at a point just beyond the signal box. A flurry of independently owned and operated coal mines soon sprung up close to the railway line,with each of them hauling their own 4 wheeled wooden hoppers to the nearest junction to be collected and taken to port. Eventually, this complicated labyrinth of privately owned railway lines became the South Maitland Railway, a railway which continued using steam engines to haul their trains to port, right up until 1983.

The station sign on Neath platform with The Neath Hotel in the background, May 2016.

At one time the line through Neath was double tracked as far as Aberdare Junction, hence the two platforms that can still be seen at Neath Station today. The South Maitland Railway operated a passenger railcar on the line between Cessnock and Maitland, where the line junctioned with both the NSW Main North Line and NSW North Coast Lines. Later in 1940, the NSW Government Railways introduced direct passenger services between Cessnock to Sydney and Cessnock to Newcastle, and my own copy of the 1956 Country Train Services timetable shows Neath marked only as a "stops if required" station. By 1967 the South Maitland Railway service had been withdrawn, and the NSW Government followed soon after in May 1972, the same year as it turns out that I was born.

The line through Neath has since reverted to single track to serve the one remaining coal loader at the end of the line at Pelton. Coal from the nearby Austar Colliery is fed by a conveyor belt through a long cutting and beneath Wollombi Road to the still intact surface loading facilities where the Pelton Colliery once operated, and from here, as always, the coal finds its way to the Port of Newcastle by train.

Neath Station still retains a little of that bygone charm today in 2016.

Turning the filter on my camera to sepia tone gives a glimpse of what this station must have looked like back in its day. Today, the tiny signal box dwarfs the the toilet block come waiting shelter that still stands on the platform alongside Cessnock Road. Ignoring the unimaginative graffiti that seems to always find its way into the corners of God-knows-where, there is a certain something about Neath that seems both foreign and all-too-familiar. Perhaps it is the quaint size and shape of the signal box. Or maybe it is the fact that a signal box with no apparent purpose is still standing in this day and age. One thing is for certain, having purchased a HO scale kit building of this signal box from Model Train Buildings, I will soon have a scale-sized reminder of this little place near nowhere.

The impressive 1914 Neath Hotel. What a place to end a railway adventure. May 2016.

Actually, I shouldn't say nowhere. That impressive 3 story brick building that you can see just down the road in the background of my photos turned out to be The Neath Hotel. Passing through Neath one more time during our visit to the Hunter Valley with my wife Denise, we noticed 2 tour buses pulled up outside. Taking this as a sign that it might actually be a really good hotel, we stopped the car just on twilight to check it out, and ended up staying for dinner. After the excitement of 2 bus loads full of Sydneysiders on their way home from a day day of visiting the local vineyards had pulled out of town, a blanket of silence fell over the place. Just as it does whenever the last train pulls away from the station. If you've ever stood on the platform to wave goodbye to someone, you'll now exactly what I'm talking about. You listen for the feint sound of a distant whistle, and hear only crickets.

Sauntering into the quiet ambiance of the dining room, we stopped dead in our tracks at the sight of this slice of Australiana. Built in 1914, the dining room looked as though little had changed since World War 2. Sitting in the quiet charm of such an unexpected find, we indulged in a traditional Aussie roast dinner while wondering about the history of this 100 year old pub. It turns out that the pub was a favourite with coal miners who would stop by for a drink after a day working the mines. One of those miners, a bloke by the name of Harry Littlefair, went off to war, but not before asking the publican of the time to mind his miner's lamp. Harry never made it home, and his lamp still remains behind the bar at The Neath Hotel.

It's stories like these that have inspired me as a writer, and its amazing to think of how many of them I have discovered from just stopping to see what remains of a former railway station. I wonder if Harry actually boarded a troop train at Neath station? Maybe, maybe not. But it doesn't hurt to stop and imagine what stories an old railway station such as Neath might be hiding. Maybe that's just the romantic in me, but whatever your thoughts are, I do thank you for reading the past 100 Railway Reminiscing articles that I have featured on this blog. Strangely I find myself ending a blog post without the phrase "but as usual, that's a story for another day." While still hopeful that there may be another book to follow somewhere in the future, I feel that this post is as good a place as any to call it a day. In the words of a somewhat half-decent writer; "everything has a use-by date.... even a railway blogger."

Till we meet somewhere down the line, take care and safe travels.