Writing for pleasure is new to Selwyn since in the past he has written only to convey information, often of a technical nature.
In 2014 he joined the Somewhere Else Writers’ Group. He finds it so much fun to let a story ride out in his head and for it to take him to places he hasn’t been before. He says he hasn’t given up on the “nerd” in him as he always has to check that his facts are right, and searching for the truth amongst the fiction is almost as much fun as making up the story in the first place.
Selwyn has included a short piece of his writing that affirms his intention to keep on doing this “proper” writing stuff.
You can hear Selwyn reading some of his work below.
You can also read an additional extract from the novel here.
Going Up Camborne Hill
‘What in God’s name..,’ shouted Edward Sugrue as he leapt to one side bowling over two children and a grandmother before crashing on top of them.
‘Sorry Mrs. Harvey,’ he spluttered as he helped her up.
The two grimy urchins were already on their feet chasing after the monster, for it had gained a grip on the cobbles and had lurched forward.
Trevithick had cracked open the valve that allowed steam to expand into one of the two steam cylinders that transmitted vertical movement, via piston rods, to the cross beam above their heads. Almond, on the foot-plate, was mesmerised as he watched the beam rock on a central pivot. At each end of the beam, connecting rods transmitted motion to the wheels that were either side of the engine chassis. As valves were actuated by the moving beam, steam was allowed into the opposite cylinder. The second piston was forced upwards, and the beam rocked back to its original position, whilst the first cylinder exhausted its steam.
‘It’s like a milkmaid jiggling her yolk up and down,’ said an urchin, who could not have described it better.
‘Yes, it’s a milkmaid with no legs, jiggling her buckets,’ joked another, ‘though I’ve never seen a milkmaid that puffed black smoke, nor one that had iron wheels.’
One full rotation of the wheels was achieved and the engine started to move. The process was repeated and the forward motion continued. At first, contact with the cobbled road surface was maintained, but, as more steam was applied to the pistons, friction was lost and the wheels spun. It was then that Edward Sugrue had been showered with sparks.
A passenger, Gilbert Butler, who was caught by surprise at the black beast’s sudden move forward, lost his hold on the trailer.
‘Watch out behind!’ he shouted but he couldn’t stop himself rolling over backwards, after head butting the now decelerating back plate.
Once again, having just caught up, the two children were caught by the tumbling mass of an adult out of control. They got up, but they had been bashed by Gilbert’s elbows, his knees, and his ‘Sunday best’ hobnail boots. They began to cry, but no-one cared, apart from Gran.
‘You thundering great oaf,’ she shouted.
Everyone else, including Gilbert, ran after the contraption. Some stopped to cough and spit out the nostril-clogging smuts and lung-infesting black smoke that had been trailed by the boiler’s chimney. Most kept up, no matter what.
In uneven bursts of speed, Trevithick’s invention screeched and chuffed its way towards Camborne Hill. Trevithick laughed a wild laugh – an uproar of a laugh. Almond watched him from the fire plate, and was amazed at the passion of the man as he waved his top hat at the crowd. And that laugh! Almond thought he had never heard such a laugh. Not even the laughter that echoed through the village when Evan was caught providing ‘a helping hand’ to Mollie the barmaid. That didn’t come close. He shouted yet more commands.
‘Move aside, we have no time to stop.’ And to himself he said, ‘Gradual steam now… Keep the acceleration constant… Not too fast. Not yet.’ Triumphantly he pronounced, ‘It works, it works. Glory be, it works!’.
As Christiana and her daughters arrived in the village square, the strange machine was puffing and steaming towards them with crowds in its wake. As it passed they could see that Almond was being carried along by it. The two sisters were startled and frightened by the sight and sound of the rolling, mechanical cart; and why should Almond be upon it? The girls waved and jumped up and down. They shouted as hard as they could, ‘Almond! Almond! What are you doing on that dreadful machine?’ and although he shouted back they couldn’t hear what he said. He was away in an instant.
‘What a start to the fair,’ said mother, as she hugged her daughters to her. She saw they were unsettled by the noise, and the swell of the crowd, but Mary gained courage and was having none of it. She wriggled free and weaved her way through the mass of people who were going in the other direction up the hill after the black carriage. She determined that more fun was to be had at the fair. She had time to turn and shout at that beast of a cart, ‘You stupid puffing devil! You frightened me, you did.’
She was not to know that ‘The Puffing Devil’ was the name that was to be given to Trevithick’s engine by those who had seen it that day; and Mary had been the first to call it that.
Almond had seen Christiana, Maggie’s Mum, amongst the crowd, with her two youngest daughters in tow. He looked hard but couldn’t see Maggie.
‘Hello, Christiana, where’s Maggie?’ he shouted.
But his words were lost in the commotion surrounding them. Christiana looked surprised and alarmed to see him aboard such a contraption. The girls anxiously waved back, but they were soon lost from sight.
The ‘Devil’ began to climb the hill and most of those following fell behind. A few stout men and some skipping children still had the energy, and interest, to follow. Camborne Hill was the main road leading up from the village and the road was fronted on either side by various small businesses. The blacksmith at the base of the hill with his stables behind, and behind that a knacker’s yard. As the hill ascended, Ely’s the baker, Protheroe’s the butcher, and an ironmonger came in quick succession. The road narrowed and each shop seemed to tumble one on top of the other. Ordinarily, the smells alternated and intermingled. The aroma of freshly baked bread competed with the whiff of sulphurous smoke from the blacksmith’s forge and the ever present ammonia from rivulets and puddles of horse urine. Now all the usual smells were lost to the acrid stench of the smoke from the Devil’s stack.
The mass of horse droppings, softened by urine and winter rain, spread out as a thin, slippery, coating to the road.
‘I can’t see that thing getting to the top of the hill with all that horse shit plastered on the cobbles. Can’t get up it myself without falling on my arse,’ said the blacksmith as the engine rolled past.
The slimy horse droppings and the hill would be the greatest test of the ability of the engine to continue its journey. In the event, it coped well and continued its climb uninterrupted. The cast iron wheels bit through to the cobbles and scoured an abrasive contact, occasionally slipping, but soon regaining a purchase on the road. The engine proved to have more than enough power to climb even the steepest part of the hill. The hill rose until it reached the fields above the town, where the road flattened out and wound across the windswept countryside. It followed the stunted hedgerows and low stone walls that offered some protection to the livestock that were kept on the land. The cheering crowds had been left behind and two and a half miles ahead, lay the next village of Beacon. Beacon was Maggie’s village, and Trevithick’s destination. Thoughts of the previous night with Maggie were roused in Almond’s mind even as he marvelled at the carriage that was propelled without horses, just using the power of steam.
Ahead of them, shepherd Thompson was in the process of moving his flock of a dozen sheep to an adjacent field where there were fresh pastures. He could hear a commotion ahead of him. There were sounds that he could not put an image to, not a cart, too loud, and not a carriage, at least no carriage he knew of, too clangy. Above the hedgerows he saw snorts of black smoke and steam. He didn’t know what to make of that. All he knew was that it was coming his way, straight at his sheep. There was nothing he could do about it; the sheep would have to look after themselves. They were already uneasy, what with the strange sounds of the steam engine and, as it turned the corner into their path, their otherwise obstinate nature was replaced with a group panic to get away. They turned and fled back along the road, knocking Cedric Thompson over and, continuing past the now closed gate to their grass shorn field. They jumped walls, where they were able to, and squeezed through hedgerows, where they shouldn’t have been able to. Two just kept going until they reached Beacon where they were gathered into the community pen; the villagers knowing they were Cedric’s sheep and he would soon be following behind.
Cedric had got to his feet in time to jump aside and cursed after the machine and its passengers.
‘What the devil? Bloody stupid thing to be riding on this road!’ He shook his fist at the top- hatted gentleman, pretending not to care whether he was gentry.
Waiting until he was sure he would not be heard, he shouted with mock bravado, ‘Come back here and I will beat you to within an inch of your life, you black hearted bastard!’
Trevithick scoffed as he looked back at the damage he may have caused and saw Cedric waving his fist.
‘He looked a mite upset. Is it something we did?’ He roared with laughter once again.
Thirty minutes later the engine steamed to the outskirts of Beacon Village where Trevithick called for the engine to stop. The nearby inn would be a good place to take on water and re-steam. He would leave the process to his labourers. By way of celebration, he invited the rest of his passengers to join him in a glass or two of ale. The engine worked, and after all it was Christmas Eve and for Trevithick to show his generosity.
‘It will be an hour at least before we can get back, so we have time.’
Everyone, except the labourers, and Almond, made for the inn’s guest room where they knew drink would be provided.
More of Selwyn’s writing can be found in the Cirencester Scene page and Cirencester Scene Archives.