Thursday, 16 August 2012

The real Halfway

In my book, Halfway is a small desert down in Arizona with a population of 336 (and falling).

In my real life, Halfway is a small suburb in the sprawl of the Greater Glasgow area. From the ever-reliable Wikipedia:

Halfway is a largely suburban area in the town of Cambuslang, Scotland located within the local authority area of South Lanarkshire. Halfway borders the smaller areas of Lightburn, Flemington and Hallside. It was named when passengers, in the days of the Glasgow to Hamilton stagecoach would stop halfway to change the horses, and have a rest. The district also has the older name of Gilbertfield, the castle of which name still stands. There is a long history of coal-mining in the area (especially around Flemington), but no colliery is still in operation.

The above named 'castle', as it's known locally, is in fact a stately home. It was owned by Hamilton of Gilbertfield. He was a friend of Robert Burns and wrote a poem about William Wallace called Blind Harry's Wallace, a rendering into contemporary English of a medieval Scots poem, which was eventually used as the basis for the screenplay that became the Mel Gibson blockbuster Braveheart.

The area sits near Dechmont Hill, an extinct volcanic rock, 300 feet above sea level. There is evidence, written by the Welsh chroniclers, that King Arthur's 12th battle, the battle of Calaan, took place there against the two sons of his rival Caw, (or Cawn), king of Strathclyde.

From outward appearances, it's really nothing like the Halfway of my book: rather than a tiny, isolated outpost of civilisation in the middle of the desert, it's an unremarkable suburb with nothing to distinguish it from its surrounding suburbs but lines on a map. You can drive from the city centre of Glasgow to Halfway without encountering a single break in the built-up area. The climate? Yep, that's a little different too.

But the name of the town always struck me as kind of cool. The opening paragraphs of the book address this, partially as an inside joke. The Glaswegian narrator, Johnny Park, notes that where he comes from, place names are "generally obscure, antique, hard to pronounce, but usually interesting." He's thinking about places like Cambuslang and Pollokshields and Hyndland; and a little further afield, Lesmahagow, Ecclefechan, Lochgilphead. The names in Scotland are generally eyecatching, and sometimes pretty esoteric.

In that context, I always thought a town that was halfway between two more important places, a town that was literally called 'Halfway', stuck out like a severed thumb in a fruit salad. I thought it would make a cool name for a town in a western, or a dusty desert noir tale.

And that thought is the genesis of the book.

I grew up a couple of miles from Halfway. I thought it would be interesting to take some pictures of the real life counterpart to my fictional town. Most of these were taken on a sunny evening in late Spring. As I snapped pictures of the deserted main street, the closed-up shops, the down-at-heel anonymity of the place, the dim echoes of a mining town, I started to realise that maybe this Halfway and that Halfway weren't so different after all...

I liked this banner. No, I wasn't aware of it when I named the book. 

Halfway's main street is a major A-road running out of one of the United Kingdom's biggest cities, and yet somehow it still has a real ghost-town feel after hours...

Instead of the Halfway Hotel, you can drop into the Sun Inn for a drink. The life expectancy of the clients is better, but maybe not by much...

I couldn't not take a picture of the naughty step.

And to end my little tour, the Halfway Library. It's the smallest library I've ever seen, but it still manages to have a pretty decent thriller section.

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