'Station To Station' winner announced! Train expert author Michael Williams tunes in to judge the entries...
28th July 2015
WHAT a hugely imaginative and creative interpretation of the title of this competition in the authors’ choice of subjects around “Station to Station”! The range was so wide, I was spoilt for choice as a judge. We weren’t just offered railway themes, but stations in life, stations on the radio, stations in a gym exercise class, space stations and even stations on the Monopoly board.
I found it very difficult to choose between my two favourites, since both were very different in both their tone and content. But each drove their subject matter powerfully towards a satisfying ending for the reader – always difficult to get right in a short story.
“King’s Cross, Marylebone, Fenchurch Street, Liverpool Street” (Entry 1075) was not especially about railways – taking its cue from the familiar names of the London termini on a Monopoly board. Rather, its slow-build structure was based around a family board game, cleverly unfolding the individual characters of the players, until the dramatic and devastating revelation at the end.
There is some evocative descriptive writing here:
At moments like this Rona felt wrapped in warm, comforting love.
And here before her was the embodiment of that love, all her family sitting around a family heirloom, a Monopoly board passed down the generations, complete with fading silver-coloured metal pieces, and ‘weathered’ green wooden houses and red hotels, all without their brilliance, now long-lost, all instead with a slightly dirty, or as Rona liked to put it, ‘loved’ hue, due to the passage of time.
But the story scores overall because it is sustained throughout by a psychological plausibility, which every reader will identify with.
For me it wins by just a short carriage length over “The Improving Life of Jack Freeman, Engine Driver” (Entry 1076), which is a clever parable based on the traditional names of the steam locomotives of old. Why were they so often named after public schools or members of the aristocracy? A son going though the effects of his deceased father learns a lesson in life about the true meaning of social status. Railway enthusiasts will love this story since it also offers an insight into their own hobby, which they might never have thought about.
“Hell Does Freeze Over” (Entry 1072), my third choice, is a delightfully romantic tale, base on the classic theme of a journey that turns into a voyage of personal discovery with an upbeat ending. Readers will appreciate the clever the play on words in the title of the story.
I would have loved to have selected a poem for my shortlist. I didn’t – not because the entries weren’t good enough, but because the prose entries were so outstanding. In particular, I’d like to single out ‘Underground’ (Entry 1064), where the London Tube becomes a metaphor for an unravelling relationship:
Yawning tunnels haunted
by trains’ alien screams,
angry, beeping doors shut
you in there,
me out here.
I doubt I'll find you waiting
at the next station.
Michael Williams is the bestselling author of On The Slow Train, On the Slow Train Again and Steaming to Victory. His latest book, The Trains Now Departed: Sixteen Excursions into the Lost Delights of Britain’s Railways has just been published by Preface, price £20. More about Michael’s books and writing can be found on his website: michaelwennwilliams.co.uk