Waiting for a train

It’s the second week of the MOOC I’m doing; MOOCs are free on-line courses run by universities and other educational institutions covering every subject imaginable. I’ve completed quite a few, and started but for various reasons not finished others. The courses I didn’t complete were sometimes because I just ran out of time, sometimes I ran out of interest, sometimes they were too difficult, and some weren’t what I had expected or hoped they would be.

Four I completed and enjoyed were Shakespeare and His World from the University of Warwick, Shipwrecks and Submerged Worlds: Maritime Archaeology from the University of Southampton, Hadrian’s Wall: Life on the Roman Frontier from Newcastle University, and Archaeology’s Dirty Little Secrets from Brown University in the USA. Other courses I want to go back to complete are more archaeology, forensic science and Frisian.

I have just completed a course on super-foods, and whether they are really super, and I’m in the last stages on a genealogy course from the University of Strathclyde. However the one, I’ve just started, and really getting my teeth into is about starting to write fiction… yes, I already write fiction, but I thought this would be a refresher for me, and stimulate my rather weary writing muscles.

So the writing fiction MOOC (massive open on-line course) had an exercise in observation and I wrote about some people I had seen:

Waiting for a train… standing waiting, watching others waiting… A man walked past me, a big man with two tiny dogs, and as he passed me, the dogs decided to swap places – confusion and difficulty! One nearly tripped the man over, the other didn’t want to change sides, there was a lot of snapping and bad temper as the man tried to calm them both down… I just stood and watched, and watched as they continued a more peaceful progress up and down the platform.
The train hissed in and the doors clicked and opened; I didn’t notice the dog-man, too busy getting into the carriage and finding a seat. Settled, note-book out and pen in hand I gazed out of the window as the station slipped past – except it was the train slipping away.
The ticket inspector came through; he had a curious gliding walk as if he was hovering a couple of inches above the ground; he had a most benign expression, and a clicker in his hand for marking the tickets as he inspected them. As he moved down the carriage he was accompanied by ‘clickety-click, clickety-click’… In the past it was the trains themselves which went clickety-click, clickety click… My mind wandered and I began to write

The next exercise was to review what we’d done and think about the characters:

I’ve been thinking again about what I wrote about characters; I have taken myself out of my description and invented a character. I have deliberately not described him physically, but have tried to give hints about him:

He stood, waiting for a train. He stood waiting, passive and tired, watching others waiting. My name is Jakov, my name is Jakov.
Jakov stepped back as a man walked past, a big, intimidating man with a tattooed face and two tiny dogs. The dogs decided to swap places, nearly tripping the tattooed man. There was snapping and bad temper from the dogs, unexpected patience from their owner.
Jakov just stood and watched, and watched as they continued a more peaceful progress up and down the platform.
The train hissed in and the doors clicked and opened and Jakov hefted his bag on his shoulder and stepped into the carriage. He looked for the dog-man, but there was no sign, nor sound of the yapping creatures as he found a seat. One piece of luck in all this, it was a seat by the window.
He sat, note-book on the table before him, pen in hand, but gazing unseeing as the station slipped past – except it was the train and Jakov slipping away.

I don’t feel sufficiently engaged with the mysterious Jakov to write more about him… but my characters have a habit of lurking and returning to me unexpectedly. I’m not saying goodbye to him, just au revoir for the moment.

Here’s a link to the course – we’re on the third out of eight weeks so it’s not too late to join!


… and here is a link to my books:





    1. Lois

      Ship names really are intriguing… I was once researching a ship an ancestor co-owned and found out lots about it – only to find it was another with the same name, owned by a different person, also with the same name as my ancestor!


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