20th September 2006: Some reflections on life validating experiences on trains

We own our apartment! Both sides of our apartment! And I actually got a proper night’s sleep last night, for the first time for absolutely ages. I wake up somewhere around six pretty much no matter what time I get to bed, which doesn’t mix well with late nights.

On Sunday morning, I had to come home in the early morning to collect a copy of The Return of the King for PNH to read from at the ten o’clock panel. As I was zipping across the city on the metro at 06h30 (sometimes it’s useful to be an early riser), I thought: “How wonderful this is! Who could have imagined at fifteen that adult life would be so terrific that I could actually have a genuine urgent need to briefly leave a party celebrating the launch of my fifth novel to run across town to collect a copy of The Return of the King!” I had a good choice of editions, but I picked my oldest one, the first one I owned, though not the first one I read, the Unwin three paperbacks edition bought in Harrods and got for my birthday in 1976 and read and read and read and read and… there’s a bookmark in it of the writing on the ring that I made in 1977.

Sarah Monette was saying a little while ago that you shouldn’t rely on external validation, because nothing is ever enough. I think there are ways in which that’s true, and certainly T.S. Eliot agrees, but even so, there are moments where it is external validation and it is too enough, and that was one of them.

It’s very peculiar, but most of mine seem to happen on trains.

On the way back from Ireland when I’d just found out that I’d sold The King’s Peace I was going to Lancaster on a train to collect Zorinth who had been staying with Ken, and I was talking to the people sitting by me about their best options for getting from Oxenholme (“The Lake District”) station to the actual bit of the Lake District where the lakes and mountains are, and one of them asked me the polite stranger-conversation question about career and I heard the words coming out of my mouth: “I’ve just sold my first novel.” There’s nothing like just selling your first novel unless it’s sitting on a train mentioning it casually to a stranger.

The other one that comes to mind is when Zorinth and I were going to Arizona on the train to the World Fantasy Con in Tempe. The train was due into Flagstaff at 21h00 (and it was there to the minute, the trains in the US are so prompt, so big, so comfortable) and as the evening was coming on and the sun was setting (US trains have these awesome observation cars) we were running through New Mexico and Arizona and there were mountains on each side of us and there were clouds streaming along the mountain ridges, and all the clouds were dragon-headed, and dragon-coloured in the reflections of the sunset. We were talking about the dragon clouds, and Zorinth said, smiling, but quite seriously: “They’re all going to Tempe to see if your dragon book wins the World Fantasy Award.” And as external validation goes I don’t think you can beat that one either, not just the honour of the nomination (and then winning) but the dragon-clouds and the Zorinth.

Cattle die, kinsmen die, the world itself will someday die, even well-achieved wordfame doesn’t last forever — but none of it needs to, even after I am dust and everything I ever wrote, after trains are forgotten, and dragon clouds, and the very concept of stories, those moments of happiness in the corners of railway carriages will have made it all worthwhile.

Posted in Life as it blossoms out in a jar or a face, Whimsy