So much for the Glory Days

by Clare Langley-Hawthorne

Just a short blog today as I’m on the road – the railroad that is. My family and I are riding the California Zephyr from Emeryville to Denver for Spring Break (who knew preschools had Spring Break?!) While jostling along enjoying the magnificent scenery I couldn’t help but reflect that the glory days of the American railroad are well and truly gone. Though I could just about pretend at night in the sleeper (when I closed my eyes) what it must have been like in the 19th century to travel this way (in much more luxurious surroundings – sigh!) the pathetic ‘amenities’ and airline quality food soon dispelled any imaginings I may have had. So this got me wondering – how does a writer successfully evoke the past when so much today has abandoned any notion of respect for it? This then led (as my muse often does) to more immediate issues at hand as I write the third Ursula Marlow book – how does an author balance action and atmosphere when the book must get people turning the pages as well as evoking the past?

It’s a tough balance to achieve – especially when I want to utilize all the senses to help modern readers get a whiff of how Edwardian London must have smelled, sounded and felt. It’s easy when I’m in London where the past shadows every footfall down the streets and alleyways – but here in America? – in some of the towns I passed on the train? – how to make the past accessible to them? How to recreate life as it then was while also telling a thumping good story?

Who do you think achieves this balance successfully?

I can tell you one thing – I won’t be using Amtrak as my guide…