I’m very pleased to welcome Brett Battles to my blog as a fellow writer and blogger. In this guest post, Brett discusses some of the background research for his book, Little Girl Gone.
rett was born and raised in southern California. His parents, avid readers, instilled the love of books in him early on.
Though he still makes California his home, he has traveled extensively to such destinations as Ho Chi Minh City, Berlin, Singapore, London, Paris, and Bangkok, all of which play parts in his current and upcoming Jonathan Quinn thrillers.
The train pulls out of the station just as dusk settles over Bangkok. I sit on my bench seat, gazing out the window, and watching the city roll by. As always when I travel, I’m fascinated with everything—the little roadside restaurants, no more than carts and some plastic chairs; the motorcycles used like pickup trucks, piled high with God knows what; and the kids playing in the clearing between the tracks and the city, barely even acknowledging us as we pass.
I’m told the trip will last between twelve and fourteen hours, an overnighter from the Thai capital in the south to Chiang Mai in the northwest, near the border with Burma. I had initially hoped to get a first class cabin, which would have meant a private room, but I was too late in purchasing my ticket, so I have settled for second class.
Now, I’m glad it has worked out that way.
The second class cars are set up with set after set of two high back benches facing each other. There are rows of these on either side of the cabin. They create an aisle down the middle that is probably four feet across at best. Though every bench can comfortably fit two people, no more than one traveler is assigned to each.
Night takes over for day as we finally leave the city for the countryside. The only things cutting through the darkness are the lights of homes and cars and motorbikes.
I am never bored when I travel. I can sit at a sidewalk café watching the world go by for hours and I never be happier. I have a deep wonder and excitement for places I’ve never lived and cultures that are not my own, so I’m always taking everything in—listening and observing and learning. Though I know I can never be a native, I love to try to figure out how those that are making their way through and relate to the world. I like to watch how they interact, and try to understand their motivations for doing this or that or the other thing.
I think even if I weren’t a writer, I’d be doing this. But I am a writer, so everything I see is story.
At some point I wander down to the café car. It’s more than serviceable, with tables and a waitress and a snack bar if someone just wants to grab a bite and go. After grabbing a beer, I’m invited to join a group of other travelers. Saoirse, Barry and Brian are from Ireland, and on a month long trip of exploration before moving permanently to Australia for work, and Bernard, a German, is traveling the countryside alone, splitting time between beaches and temples—of course the ocean is its own kind of temple, I guess. For the next few hours, we laugh as we drink Thai beer (Singha for Bernard and I, Chang for our Irish friends), and tell stories of our travels.
“You have to put us in one of your books,” Saoirse says at one point. We’ve already discussed professions an hour ago.
“Absolutely,” I tell her. I pulled out my back moleskin notebook. “Write your names in here so I don’t forget them.” She does.
In many ways, I feel like I am a character in a 1940s movie—maybe Cary Grant or Joseph Cotton, in a suspense story that takes place entirely on a train traveling across the county. This feeling is reinforced when I returned to my assigned seat to find that the porter has turned all the benches into upper and lower sleeping berths. My cabin now truly looks like something out of one of those movies. Each bed even has baby blue curtains that pull across the aisle side for privacy.
As I finally lay down in my upper berth, the thoughts of this fictional 1940s film begin to change into ideas for a decidedly 21st century story. That is, after all, the main reason I am here—to look for story, to search for locations to help tell the tale I know I will eventually write. And as I fall asleep, scenes start to come to me. Nothing complete, just flashes—the kitchen car, the all but abandoned platforms we stop at late at night, the aisles, the porters, where best to hide a body, how a chase would look. I know these flashes will continue to develop and sharpen in my mind. I am never so at peace as I am when this is going on.
Ka-kunk-tcuk-tcuk. Ka-kunk-tcuk-tcuk. Ka-kunk-tcuk-tcuk.. This is the rhythm of my sleep. It is reassuring, peaceful, and satisfying.
Then again, when I’m out in the world exploring new places and new stories, everything is satisfying.
Find out how the night train to Chiang Mai worked into my fictional world in my novel LITTLE GIRL GONE. Saoirse, Barry and Brian make an appearance or two, also. Bernard hasn’t yet, but his day is coming. He and I do still connect often on Facebook.