“Only a community has the ability to raise a first-time novelist,” says Ottawa author James K. Moran.
Moran was speaking at the Ottawa Writers Festival about his new horror novel Town & Train . During the event, hosted by Ottawa Citizen journalist Kate Heartfield, the author took the audience on the journey that culminated in his first literary work. Heartfield was a wonderful host. Watching her and Moran on stage was like witnessing a casual conversation between friends at a coffee shop. Heartfield mentioned that she had been “enjoying the novel immensely,” before giving the stage to Moran, who read a passage from his intricately crafted work.
Moran's novel centres on the romantic appeal of small-town Cornwall, Ontario, depicting the life of 17- year-old John Daniel who is dealing with the hardships of the recession. The novel begins with the teenager awakening on the railroad tracks with no knowledge of how he came to be there. The reader is then transported to the summer when police officer David Forester is given his first introduction to the area and has difficulty establishing connections. “The train clattered and clicked,” Moran read, “the train came around passing buildings and stopping at him. ‘Hell this is Henry's city’ David had said.”
The audience applauded loudly as Moran brought his reading to a close, and the people crowding the small room were clearly excited for this new work. I was transfixed, eager to hear the motivation behind Moran’s passion to write such a book. Heartfield took charge with the first question, which surely everyone was pondering: “What is it about trains?”
Moran talked about growing up in the small town of Cornwall, living next to the train tracks. I understood his words as he described the beauty of hearing the train sound through the woods on a summer night. His words connected with my experience living in a small town next to the train tracks. “I just loved that sound,” explained Moran. “I started with the idea of the sound and its mystery”.
The 1990 summer heat wave in Cornwall marked the beginning of then 17-year-old Moran’s writing journey, when he began writing his book on a typewriter. “I would go over during the summer months and spend my time writing short stories” before he started his novel. By University, he had 53 pages, but lacked the creative juices to continue. When a dear friend passed away, however, he regained the motivation to complete the novel.
I was enticed by the amazing story of Moran’s journey to complete his work, writing 10 drafts until he had a final copy. The author also recounted how Town & Train has brought many wonderful events and people into his life, including his wife, Anita, who was his editor and with whom he now has a seven-year-old son.
Town & Train will be the first novel horror novel to come from a Cornwall author. Heartfield likens Moran’s work to that of Ray Bradbury, and, in his acknowledgements, Moran professes his gratitude to Stephen King and Bradbury “for showing a new writer what is possible”.
The entire night was an inspiration— particularly hearing about Moran’s drive to complete his work, even though it took years. He admitted to re-writing his entire last version on the typewriter and the laborious hours it took to complete. Moran told the audience he would write during the day and spent his weekends working at the LCBO in Ottawa. And at that point, I realized why the author looked so familiar: I had been passing through his line at the liquor store for years, never realizing the passion and skill of this novelist ringing my order through.
“Would you do the whole process over again, James?” Hearfield asked.
James responded with a smile and a chuckle... “Would I do it, or would my wife let me?”