Spotlight Profile 2017
The Station Master: Kate Swindlehurst
When the migrant crisis overwhelms Bulgaria’s Central Station, Nikolay Georgiev quits his job and retreats to the small border town where he grew up—only for his quest for a quiet life to be disrupted by the discovery of a young Syrian refugee hiding out beside the now defunct railway line. As local raptors begin their autumn migration, an audacious plan begins to take shape.
Originally an English teacher, Kate Swindlehurst completed a Creative Writing MA (with distinction) at Anglia Ruskin University. In 2010 she was granted an Arts Council Escalator award and was Writer in Residence at Cambridge University Botanic Garden (2013-2015). Publications include Home (www.therealstory.org 2017), Inside (www.litro.co.uk 2016) and a memoir, The Tango Effect. (Unbound 2020) She lives and works in Cambridge.
Read Kate’s first page
The Station Master has the makings of a bold and original literary novel. It opens in a train station in Bulgaria and sets out to tackle the migrant crisis head on. There is a sense of collision between two worlds, one long established, the other shattered into fragments and seeking a coherent whole. A good literary novel draws upon the past masters within the field: all the literary threads and allusions are here—the sense of a timeless European novel, the setting of a former Communist country, the themes of journeys and trains, the references to the Silk Road and the migration of birds. The title has resonance and the opening page atmospheric.
This is an ambitious undertaking with many inherent challenges: the job of a mentor is to set out a sense of context (what the writer is aiming for) and to have a look at how the ideas behind the novel might most effectively be realized within the unfolding narrative. Writing a novel is a process of articulation, of getting to the core of the material and pulling out all the essential elements.
Kate Swindlehurst’s mentor was Marion Urch.
“Marion was my mentor and I was surprised by the thoroughness of her reading of The Station Master, as well as the range, rigour and insight of her comments. I had reached the stage where I couldn’t quite see a way forward with the manuscript. It felt finished and unfinished at the same time and I’d become distracted by side issues. Marion’s responses in the first face-to-face feedback session pushed me to focus on the basics of the main narrative: character, plot and setting. This session also helped me to stand back and to clarify questions of genre. I came away somewhat deflated – there were a number of criticisms to take on board – but also encouraged and keen to get on with the parallel activities she suggested.
The biggest challenge turned out to be the premise. Who would have thought that a couple of sentences could prove so elusive?! I found, though, the process of trying to distil the essence of the novel in this way immensely useful. Marion is a tough task-master but a patient one and I learnt some lessons about narrative technique which will stay with me. The final appraisal left me ready to tackle a rewrite with optimism and confidence. I am enormously grateful for her thoughtful feedback – and her persistence!”