Murder on the 7.54 train to Harrogate and other mysteries…

“The man on the train cannot quite remember when he began to feel like this. He looks across the flat fields bumping by the window, but their uneventful passing doesn’t help. Maybe it was that afternoon in the office a few weeks ago. The Friday that saw the end of everything…”

A YEAR ago I murdered a man on the 7.54am train from York to Harrogate. He was a newspaper executive reading a report entitled How To Bury Journalists. I couldn’t help myself. It was a tender topic at the time.

I brooded as the flat fields went by the window, giving way to that stunning view from the viaduct in Knaresborough (a man could push another man over there for sure, I thought).

Well, I say murdered but I chickened out in the end. I left the train at Harrogate and the faceless man continued on his way to deliver bad news to journalists somewhere or other.

That imaginary scenario formed the basis for a blog I wrote a year ago in time for the crime festival in Harrogate. Now the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival is back and I will be sitting on the 7.54 train again this morning. Perhaps I should keep my head down this time.

At first Man on Ledge was a post-redundancy blog. I shuffled out here to peer at the view, a scary panorama with nothing on the horizon. A year on and I can make out a few more landmarks, but the vista is still misty some days.

Being a freelance isn’t easy. Too many people either no longer employ freelances, as in pay them actual folding money. Or they simply turn their noses up at you.

My ‘favourite’ response so far has been from the Radio Times. After pitching an idea by email, and getting nowhere, I somehow managed to pierce the triple barbed-wire defences of their switchboard and spoke to a real person. A real snooty person who said: “Oh we don’t use freelances unless we commission them ourselves. Goodbye and please remove yourself from the bottom of my shoe” (or something like that).

The lack of a regular wage is unsettling, although not knowing what you are doing from day to day is interesting. A few weeks ago I had a busy spell that involved travelling to Darlington for three days in a row for a spot of journalism mentoring; proof-reading in the evening; and then writing two features for the Yorkshire Post.

After that the work dropped off, so I gave another final polish to one of the two novels I have written in the past year or so. Nearly there now, although whether they will be published is as yet a story without a denouement.

As well as those books, more than 200,000 words have been produced on this windy ledge now. So no one can fault me for lack of wordy effort. Too few of those words have generated any income, it is true, but that small freelance pot contains more coins than it did. And now this latest quiet spell has ended as two good features have rolled up for next week.

I started this unstable life when my solid perch was knocked from beneath me. That old life was mostly good but did not involve enough writing; the new one involves lots of writing but not enough money. I guess you can’t have everything.

And I do love the writing, especially when you get out and meet people.

My old job went for reasons that are no longer interesting. In short: part of what I did was transferred to Bradford and some of it went to Newport in Wales, of all the unlikely places.

The other night I learned that the work being done in Bradford was coming back to York, but with some of it being done by people travelling from Bradford. And that York no longer uses Newport. It’s a complicated way to run a newspaper business, but there you go.

What was all that upheaval last year for exactly? Who can say, certainly not me. Life would be easier if nothing had happened a year ago, but I wouldn’t be writing all those features. And writing is still the best part of journalism, the sometimes forgotten soul of what it’s all about. So I’ll stick to that for as long as possible.

And with that I am off to the Old Swan Hotel to overhear the murderous mutter of a crime festival.

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