Off The Rails
Having just finished the new Bryant & May (except for what I call ‘the gloss’, which is a final once-over to look at the language and make it a little more fluid and graceful) I was thinking about all the projects I have lined up, and wondering what was my favourite book to write. And actually, I came back to ‘Hell Train’, partly because it is so perversely bonkers, and partly because I got to write some dream scenes, including a climactic moment in which Peter Cushing and Christopher discuss the script.
I like stories about trains; ‘Dr Terror’s House of Horrors’, ‘The Ghost Train’, ‘The Signalman’ and Martin Edwards’ terrific compendium of classic train mysteries. Even ‘The Great St Trinian’s Train Robbery seemed great at age nine.
I thought the idea of ‘Hell Train’ would kill any chance of an overseas sale (a novel about a script Hammer never filmed!) but it was enthusiastically picked up in Germany. Anyway, here’s a moment in which the young writer is taken to meet Michael Carreras, the producer and director who was the son of Hammer’s founder. I’d been in their old offices (my mother was one of their legal secretaries) and it was so delightfully old-fashioned that it really felt from another time. Here’s the excerpt:
‘We’ve a decent library, and of course you could take the screening room if you’d like to reacquaint yourself with some of our past pictures,’ she offered. ‘There’s a spare office next door, and I’m sure we have an old Imperial lying around. That is, you do type?’
‘Because some of our writers prefer longhand and it makes things so much more difficult.’
Shane felt as though he had slipped through the looking glass into a land where films were made on nothing more than polite handshakes and good intentions. He turned to Carreras, who was glowing, thoroughly pleased with himself. ‘Is there any particular subject you had in mind?’ he asked.
Carreras thought for a moment. ‘Well, it should have all of the Hammer trademarks, I suppose,’ he said. ‘An exotic setting, young lovers, fearsome creatures, a dire warning, rituals and curses, and dreadful consequences. Supernatural apparitions are always good – they give the lighting boys a chance to show off. We like rules; don’t go up to the castle at night, that sort of thing. There’d have to be something for Christopher. He’s terribly tall and grave, doesn’t really handle comedy roles, but he has a wonderful presence. He’s a terribly good baritone, but we’ve never found the right singing role for him. The rest is mostly atmosphere, and we can supply that by the bucketful. You know the kind of stuff, swirling fog, upturned caskets, villagers lost in the woods, fainting ladies in low-cut corsetry. Plenty of blood of course, although you’ll have to run those parts by me. I have a pretty good idea of what will get through.’
‘Did you have any thoughts on the subject matter?’
‘Well, Peter and I were talking about that the other day, and we rather liked the idea of a train,’ said Carreras finally. ‘Think you can manage that?’
‘I’ll start today,’ said Shane.