Return to the End of the Line
Just because I’ve said that I’ve given up on the ambition of being an acclaimed and profitable writer and photographer doesn’t mean that I don’t have any projects in hand. What it does mean, though, is that those projects that I do have are either highly speculative or are being done for the love of the thing and are not expected to make me any money at all.
So it is that I actually have one book in pre-publication right now and a brief from a publisher for another one. But the publisher in both cases is the Austrian Railway Group (ARG), a body I think I’ve mentioned in these blogs before and of which (for new readers) I have the peculiar honour of being the Secretary. (About once a year, I get a speculative e-mail from some manufacturer or other of rails and other railway infrastructure materials, asking if they could introduce their product range and perhaps their representative could call at our offices? I reply to tell them that we are not a railway industry undertaking but an international group of railway enthusiasts who have a particular interest in the railways of Austria. I rarely get a second approach from the same manufacturer.)
A few years ago, I compiled a bibliography of Austrian railway literature. It was the first one in any language for a hundred years, and although it was never going to be a best-seller, I took the view – and the Group agreed – that it was a necessary work and if the ARG didn’t publish it, who would? To bear that out, sales have been, if not spectacular, at least occasional, and a specialist bookshop in Vienna regularly shifts a few copies. It’s not perfect, and there are doubtless gaps in it; but it has the benefit of actually existing. It lists just under 1000 books, reflecting the limited subject range (the UK equivalent, known as ‘Ottley’, currently runs to three volumes each listing well over 10,000 titles). I am currently collecting titles for the next edition and volume, but it could be a good five years or more before I have enough to make it worth doing the job of updating the current work and creating Volume 2.
The ARG has a range of books, unique for being books in English on Austrian railways. This rather surprised Austrians when we took the range to the Vienna show last October. Most of them are regional guides to Austrian railways and railway-related attractions; but what we have often found is that these only sell to people who already know Austria and are going to a particular region. People who don’t know the country or are only thinking of going don’t really know what is there to see; so we often get asked at shows whether we have a guide to the whole country. And we have had to say “Sorry, no”. So when we were at the big model railway exhibition at the NEC last November, after about my third conversation along those lines, I said, a bit too loudly, that we ought to do a guide to heritage and narrow gauge lines in Austria – and our Editor, who was standing behind me, said “You’ve got the job.”
The text is done, but I’m stalled because just when I needed to do the revisions and proof-reading, I got hit by the Inland Revenue for silly money because they received the tax return I sent in a month early something like three months late. And they have also re-assessed my tax liability for the past year. So that took up time sorting out an appeal against £550 of fines, quite apart from finding an extra £315 back tax on top of that. And then my other half went into hospital and needed support when she came out. Life’s like that. Finishing off the heritage guide remains near the top of my action list.
I have a second book project lined up for the ARG, though. Over the past couple of years, we’ve been inheriting various archive photographs as people’s photographic collections start needing new homes. 2017 is the 25th anniversary of the Group, and it’s been suggested to me that I could put together a large-format photo album, along the lines of my self-published photo-book The Soul of the Machine which I produced in 2012. That will hopefully appear during our anniversary year, but we shall have to see.
Having said all that, I still get ideas for books that I might produce for myself, and possibly try to get published by a proper publisher again. The Lost Railway was not a stunning success, though it did get me an invitation to give a talk in Shrewsbury a couple of weeks ago, and you can still find copies on sale here and there – the last couple I saw was in the shop at the Great Central Railway in Loughborough a few weeks ago. First come, first served! I’m still thinking of looking for another publisher to pick the series up, though I would have to buy the title back from Ian Allan if I wanted to include a reprint or second edition of the first book in the new proposal. But other projects are possible.
One such is a book which I think of as Return to the End of the Line. And that title isn’t just a suitably railway-themed random choice. For a while now, I’ve been an admirer of a book from the 1950s called The End of the Line, written by an author called Bryan Morgan. It was a personal travelogue of minor railways of Western Europe, just at the point where many of them, particularly in France, began their decline as Western Europe recovered from war and began to find prosperity again. Morgan was an enthusiast, but he didn’t revel in technical detail; rather, he would talk about the countryside, the passengers, the decor of the coach interiors and, as one reviewer said, “the shape of the conductor’s moustache”. He was also an accomplished writer, with a few, now mainly forgotten, novels to his credit as well as a number of books on railways and engineering. The End of the Line is a charming book, if a little redolent of days long past, and we could do with a few more like it to encourage people to take a pride in their hobby. After all, railways are suddenly fashionable again…
About half the book is taken up with France; it then continues to deal with Germany, Austria, Switzerland, the Benelux countries and Italy. The preface suggests that Morgan had material on Scandinavia and possibly the Iberian peninsula, but none of that made it into the final publication.
But it’s not just about nostalgia. When I read Morgan’s book, I realised that, whilst the lines he described in France were almost all gone, many of those in Germany, Switzerland and Austria survived in some form or another, and I had visited quite a few of them. Moreover, Morgan had been unable to access the railways of eastern Europe, and the best he could manage was making some allusions to rumours of wonderful things just across the internal German border in the Harz. What I’d seen in the former East Germany, in the Czech Republic and Poland had a lot of the flavour of the sort of railways Morgan was seeing in the West in the 1950s. With that material, plus what I had on some of the lines he’d seen, I could probably make a reasonable story about “The End of the Line – sixty years on”; and if I could raise some money, I might even be able to get around a few more of the survivors and make quite a production of it. But persuading a publisher of the viability of the project might be a bit harder – some specialist publishers I spoke to, even those who shared my enthusiasm for the original, could see little mileage in a sequel to a sixty-year-old book that very few people today would had heard of. And then there’s the matter of rights.
A project like this would need to make quite considerable use of quotes from the original. That would require some degree of co-operation from the original author or his representatives. Research showed me that Bryan Morgan hadn’t had anything published since the middle 1970s, although one of his books did have a reprint as late as 1988. The original publishers of The End of the Line, Cleaver-Hume Press, was absorbed by Macmillan in 1967; and their current owners, who acquired the company in 2007, have no records remaining relating to heritage imprints. I could find no record of Mr. Morgan’s agents; nothing indicating where he could be contacted or who represents his literary estate now; and if he is still alive (I did find a date of birth for him), by now he would be 93. Which means that The End of the Line is not out of copyright and won’t be for some time to come.
So this project may well be in limbo for quite some time; but I shall not give up. It gives me something to think about and work towards. And who knows? A lead may emerge at any time…
(The photographs, both by me, are of Poland in 2011 and the Dresden area in 1996.)