Brendan Colley: What inspired me to write The Signal Line

Today Tasmanian author Brendan Colley joins us to discuss what inspired him to write his debut novel, The Signal Line and his journey to publication. And, thanks to Transit Lounge Publishing, one lucky reader in Australia will win a paperback copy.

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Brendan Colley: What Inspired Me To Write The Signal Line

In 2013 I read an article about ghost trains in Europe. The records around these unidentified rail objects (URO) so captivated me, that I set aside my work-in-progress for a couple of sessions, and formulated a story arc about a steam train making appearances on the old tramway lines around Hobart. I didn’t know who the story belonged to; and it wasn’t important. I like to collect bits and pieces – characters; events; scene ideas; titles; peculiar occurrences – and when the timing’s right, I’ll try different things on.

A year later I read through my notes. I’d locked onto a feeling I wanted to explore, and thought the URO phenomena might be a good fit for it. 

The novel I’d recently finished was roundly rejected. Nineteen years of writing, and not a word published. For the first time I was questioning my dream. Did I want to write, or be published? If another twenty years passed, and I was still unpublished, would that be okay?

I thought my dream was as solid and certain as a train on a track; and here, in the form of a ghost train, was a vehicle with the capacity to disobey the command of direction. Something in the visual of a train pulling into a station, and disappearing in front of the passengers waiting to board it, reflected my feelings of a goal vanishing before my eyes. 

It took six months to find the characters for the story. Geo, the protagonist, was the first to arrive. A violist on the audition circuit in Europe, striving to win a place in a philharmonic orchestra. Thirty years old: good enough to justify his dream; but perhaps not talented enough to realise it. Why does he return to Hobart? To sell the family home that is his and his brother’s inheritance. He needs the money to sustain his pursuit.

When the Swedish ghost train hunter announced himself on the page, I knew I’d be sticking with the novel for the full course. Sten Svensson, 60 years old, tracking his train for 40 years. The perfect counter-balance to Geo’s angst: wholly at peace in the chase of something unattainable.

Throw in the image of Geo on an abandoned platform on a stretch of decommissioned railway line, viola to chin, weaving a tune as he and Sten stake out the ghost train, and the story was activated. 

All that remained was to channel down the antagonistic forces that would generate tension in the narrative. Those resolutions were found on a stage that features prominently in my writing: the home; the broken family. 

I was on my way.        

From that point it took 4 years to complete the manuscript; and another 2.5 to find a publisher.

It gladdens my heart that after 25 years of chasing it down, my debut work is the one in which the protagonist questions their dream.

The Signal Line Synopsis

The Signal Line - Brendan Colley - Book Cover

Winner of the Unpublished Manuscript Prize, Tasmanian Premier’s Literary Awards

Brothers Geo and Wes are testing their relationship now that their parents have passed away. Geo and Wes rarely agree on anything, especially not the sale of the Hobart family home. Geo needs the money to finance his musical career in Italy.  For Wes the house represents the memory of their father, and what it means to live an honest, working life. 

But then a ghost train appears in Hobart, often on the tram tracks that once existed, along with the Swedish man who has been pursuing it for 40 years. 

Everyone it seems is chasing their dreams.  Or are they running from the truth? 

The Signal Line is a warm-hearted, unforgettable novel about what we are all searching for, even when our personal dreams and aspirations have collapsed: love and acceptance.  

 ‘My favourite kind of book – one that lets you see the world differently. It relocates the line between reality and fantasy, letting through an exhilarating strangeness. I felt the unbelievable become entirely natural. I loved every minute of it.’ – Rohan Wilson, author of To Name Those Lost and Daughter of Bad Times

(Transit Lounge, May 2022)

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About the Author, Brendan Colley

Brendan Colley was born in South Africa. After graduating with a degree in education, he taught in the U.K. and Japan for eleven years before settling down in Australia in 2007. Winner of the University of Tasmania Prize for best new unpublished work in the 2019 Premier’s Literary Prizes, The Signal Line is his first novel. He lives in Hobart with his wife. Connect with him on Twitter.

Paperback Giveaway of The Signal Line

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Here is a chance for one lucky reader to win a paperback copy of The Signal Line thanks to Transit Lounge Publishing. Entry restricted to Australian mailing addresses only, closes midnight 21 May 2022.

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