Gothic short story author R.J. Meldrum is one of the writers featured in the anthology The Haunted Train: Creepy Tales from the Railways. He joins us to talk about train journeys, reading, and writing.
What’s the weirdest experience you’ve ever had on a train?
The weirdest experience was having to share a sleeping compartment with one of my professors. I was an undergraduate at the time and was travelling to a job interview – completely unexpectedly and unplanned, he was my compartment buddy for the night – I’m not sure who was more surprised and embarrassed.
What are railway stations like in Canada? Are they different from Britain where you used to live?
The smaller stations on the commuter line to Toronto are strangely open – there are barriers, but people can easily walk round them, even when they are down. The platforms are also much lower and most of the smaller stations no longer have any staff. The bigger stations (like Union Station in Toronto) are massive places, with thousands of commuters coming and going every day. Easy places to get lost in.
In the UK, the city stations are Victorian –built from brick, stone and glass, usually with ornate ironwork – really beautiful architecture. Smaller stations may have nice stone or brick station houses, or they may be just hideously modern.
Have you ever had a paranormal experience?
No – I’m not sure I actually believe in ghosts, despite writing about them.
Who are your favourite short story authors, and why?
I do enjoy some of the stories of HP Lovecraft (even if some of his personal opinions were problematic) – Poe too. Edith Wharton. Basil Copper. MR James. Ramsay Campbell. Probably dozens more.
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
I remember the first ‘batch’ of stories I wrote in my early 20s (in the 1990s) – interestingly, while some were truly terrible, since 2015 (when I restarted my writing career) I’ve managed to have a few of those early stories published (albeit with significant edits and changes). Even re-reading the stories I wrote in 2015 sometimes causes me to twitch when I see how clunky and unrefined some of my own writing was. It’s true that the only way to improve your writing is to write and I hope my writing is better than it was, even just 6 years ago.
How do you go about research for the fiction you write?
I rarely research anything (mainly because my work is usually based purely on imagination), but once in a while I have to. For the story in this anthology, I had to get the details of the London Necropolis Railway correct (in terms of its operation and locations). I also wrote a novelette (Placid Point) that required me to investigate the scientific process known as eutrophication in lake waters. I enlisted the help of some lake ecologists who I know to make sure that the blend between science fact and science fiction was seamless. I also research geographical or cultural factors, when required. There is nothing worse than fiction having a flaw in the story – either due to a character acting irrationally for no good reason or something that is simply incorrect.
What’s the best thing you’ve ever written?
My personal favourite story is one called ‘Patience’ – it was written a few years ago and has appeared in two anthologies and will be adapted into a podcast next year. It’s about a lonely, abandoned military airfield and a missing dog. I won’t give any spoilers, but I think it’s one of the ‘sweetest’ and most wholesome stories I’ve ever written.
What are you currently working on?
I have a number of ongoing projects – some Gothic short stories and a couple of novellas. One of the novellas is folk horror, about standing stones in rural England, while the other is a more complex horror related to a supernatural house that draws four strangers to it, and then who have to undergo various trials in order to achieve redemption for their pasts. There is always something to, even if it’s just editing.
About R. J. Meldrum
J. Meldrum specializes in fiction that explores the world through a dark lens. His subject matter ranges from ghosts to serial killers and everything in-between. He has had over two hundred short stories and drabbles published in a variety of anthologies, e-zines, and websites. He has had work published by Midnight Street Press, Culture Cult Press, Horrified Press, Infernal Clock, Trembling with Fear, Black Hare Press, Smoking Pen Press, Darkhouse Books, Breaking Rules Press, Kevin J Kennedy and James Ward Kirk Fiction. His short stories have been published in The Sirens Call e-zine, the Horror Zine and Drabblez magazine. His novellas “The Plague” and “Placid Point” were published by Demain Press in 2019 and 2021. He is a contributor to the Pen of the Damned and an Affiliate Member of the Horror Writers Association.
About the Book
Come on board for a Gothic journey in a funicular railway in Victorian England, a freight train in the Carpathian mountains, a high-tech sky train in Bangkok, an underground railway in Tokyo. Visit stations that lure with the promise of safe shelter but harbour unexpected dangers. Meet the people who work on the tracks – stationmasters, porters, signal-men – and those who travel – commuters, tourists, dead bodies, murderers, and ghosts.
In this volume, editor Rayne Hall has collected twenty of the finest– and creepiest – railway tales. The book features the works of established writers, classic authors, and fresh voices. Some stories are spooky, some downright scary, while others pose a puzzling mystery.
Are you prepared to come on board this train? Already, the steam engine is huffing in impatience. Listen to the chuff-chuff-chuff from the locomotive and tarattata-tarattata of the giant wheels. Press your face against the dust-streaked window, inhale the smells of coal smoke and old textiles, watch the landscape whoosh past as you leave the familiar behind and journey into the unknown.
But be careful: you can’t know the train’s real destination, nor your fellow travellers’ intentions. Once you’ve closed that door behind you and the wheels start rolling, you may not be able to get out.
The ebook is available for pre-order from Amazon at the special offer price of 99 cents until 31 January 2023 (after that date, the price will go up.) The paperback edition will be available soon.