There is a kind of writer who is able to go on research trips to provide a better background for their writing. On their return, they will write a foreword to their new novel where they describe their research trip in somewhat Colonial terms. “For this novel, I undertook a research trip to Margate on the Isle of Thanet. I was lucky enough to be able to spend some time with the locals, who informed me that ‘Thanet’ means ‘Death’, and I think you will find…”, and so on, and so on.

The rest of us just go on holiday, and if we manage to see something that’s useful in our writing then that’s great – bonus!

A while back (as you will have seen from my last post) the holiday destination was Sorrento. It’s a great place to visit, sitting at one end of the Bay of Naples, meaning you have easy access to Pompeii, Vesuvius, and more tourist destinations than you can shake a stick at.

The way that you get from place to place is by the Circumvesuviana train. This isn’t part of the Italian national rail network, but a privately run narrow-gauge railway. It was built in 1884, and through various changes of ownership, expansion and modernisation evolved into the railway it is today. Now it serves the Bay of Naples, providing public transport throughout the area.

It may surprise you, considering that I wrote “Runaway’s Railway”, but I am not a railway geek. Still,  there are some aspects of railways that delight me. For example, as a railway passes through a town, you get a series of snapshots into the lives of ordinary people. Back gardens, apartment balconies, a view into someone’s office. Combine this with some incomparable views across the Bay of Naples, and passing through heavily scented lemon groves…

Later, I mentioned to an Italian friend that I had holidayed in Sorrento, knowing that he came from Naples. “Did you use the Circumvesuviana? I had to use that train every day for five years. I hated it.”

And there you have the other side of the Circumvesuviana.

The Circumvesuviana train at Ercolano Scavi station

It’s an uncomfortable old boneshaker, and the seats! You remember those stacking plastic chairs they have in schools, to teach children what life has in store for them? Imagine those screwed onto the floor of a train, and you’ve got the idea. Reliability? Well, no. It doesn’t have that. Timetables? In theory, yes. At least, they have a timetable nailed to the wall in the main stations. It doesn’t bear any relation to the times of the trains, but they seem to turn up often enough.

Ercolano Scavi station – not pretty, but effective

It might serve a tourist area, but the Circumvesuviana is not a tourist train. It’s a hard working commuter train that offers the best option for transport in a heavily populated area. It might not be pretty, but despite all its problems, it does work, and I will confess a fondness for it (which my Italian friend definitely does not share).

Unfortunately, I didn’t visit Sorrento until after I had finished “Runaway’s Railway”,  but that’s not the point. It did cause me to do something so rare that it’s worth noting on a calendar. I actually wrote a poem about the experience.


Hard plastic seats and

Graffitied windows

Narrow gauge tracks through

Lemon tree’d cuttings

Blank-faced commuters

Tourists with children

But when it stops it’s

Not Pompei Scavi

“È rotto”. *

(* “It’s broken”)

On writing blogs

Everyone has been most insistent that I write a blog.

Because “everyone” is something of a weasel word (“Oh, everyone knows that!”) I should, perhaps, qualify its use. I do not mean just immediate family, or close friends, or some bloke I met down the pub. Although considering we’re in lockdown at the moment, rather than referring to “some bloke I met down the pub”, perhaps I should say, “someone I saw from at least two metres away while taking my daily exercise”.

By “everyone”, I mean everyone who expresses an opinion regarding what authors should do. This means (in addition to people I have met at a safe social distance) a variety of media pundits, both in printed media and television, not to mention various websites for authors. In fact, anyone who is given the opportunity to express an opinion.

So I am writing a blog.

However, no one tells you what to write about, although you are advised to “find your niche” (whatever that means).

There are vast quantities of statistics about the correct length for a blog. Apparently, a blog entry should be between 150 and 2500 words long (a variation of about 1300%). To refine that a little more, it is necessary to decide who you are targeting.

For example, are you interested in SEO? If you don’t know what that means, then you’re probably not, but to save your curiosity I’ll tell you that it means Search Engine Optimisation – in other words, how likely is Google to find you? If you’re interested in SEO, then you need to be writing between 2000 and 2500 words. 

If you want something that people are more likely to share on platforms like Facebook, then you need to write about 1500 to 2000 words, but if you want to write something that people will read (perish the thought!) then 1600 words is your target.

But 300 to 600 words is considered to be a  practical size to write, especially as if you’re an author, shouldn’t you be writing books, not blogs?

It does seem to be generally agreed that pictures are a good thing to have, so here’s a picture:

Fishing boats at Marina di Puolo, Sorrento, Italy

This does have some relevance. When I write, I take a lot of photos. It drives my family nuts, but it helps me visualise what I am writing about. This photo is one that I took while I was writing “Runway’s River”. It was taken at Marina di Puolo, near Sorrento, Italy.

But there is no advice on what to write about. So I guess this will be a learning experience, and I hope you’ll join me on the journey.