Steaming into the subconscious

Big ideas birthed through a small world

Serendipity so often provides the spark of creativity.  Wandering down to the harbour in Stockholm one vessel in particular hooked the senses. Being born half way through the twentieth century, the aroma of smoke and steam is a perfume with an irresistibly nostalgic allure.

IMG_4981The Steamship Mariefred is true to her classification. She does actually run on steam – generated by burning fossil fuel which is relentlessly shovelled by a grime-encrusted stoker sweating away in the depths of the hold.  Stokers have come and gone; the vessel trundles elegantly on, cutting the same course that she has plied for nearly 120 years.  She shuttles between the Swedish capital and the historic locality fifty kilometres to the west, with which she shares her name.

Despite only having a population of 4000 the Mariefred settlement is often referred to as a city for historic reasons.  The name means peace of Mary and stems from the old Carthusian monastery there. It is famed for the 16th century Royal Gripsholm Castle.  The steamship sails there and back during the summer season and has done so since she was launched in 1903. She still uses the original steam engine.

Parts of her have been rebuilt due to wear and tear and also as a consequence of two fires, but much of her is as originally constructed and it is hard not to be unaffected by that knowledge as she gently cradles you across Lake Mälaren from the point at which it flows into the Baltic Sea.

DSCN1898 (2)It was impossible not to wonder about individuals who had gripped those handrails, dined in the upper deck cabin or sipped coffee or something stronger from the tiny galley as islands small and not so small slid by.  Imaginary characters whose voyages were logged long ago called out silently.  Spray, steam, white-painted rails, nautical varnish and a time-stopped panorama insisted on romance. The journey had been started full-size but later the route would be in miniature.

Each creator carves their particular methods.  A childhood embroiled in assembling Airfix kits led to a love of model making that became a particular education.  As well as understanding the structure of aircraft and leaning words such as fuselage and nacelle (when assembly instructions were supplied in writing as well as in diagrams) the finished model also fed the imagination, and in ways beyond the obvious.  Yes, there were dogfights, but there was empathy too, after all, the aircrew had been stuck in along with the propellers and machine guns. Regardless which nationality they represented all the personnel were made from the same plastic.  Not for the last time, the assembler pondered why, and how strongly, they had been compelled to shoot at each other.

IMG_7798 (2)
Stern expression

Returning to the UK after the sojourn to Stockholm the hunt was on for kit of the SS Mariefred.  Great joy was felt when one was located.  Despite never having made a model in wood before, and the fact the kit was far from inexpensive, the desire to obtain one could not be resisted.

Only two suppliers could be found. Sadly, the one in Sweden did not respond to my enquiry and so the only option was San Lorenzo on the Pacific Coast of the USA.

Delivery took less than two weeks, construction took several shed-months. It’s impossible to fully explain how that process fed into the gestation of a story, but it did.  Constructing the hull, hold and superstructure somehow helped to formulate a narrative of two people who were both dovetailed together and forced apart.

IMAG0684In making there is meditation; and in the revelation of form and structure there is mystery. When a model is made thinking time cannot be dispensed with, and although the thoughts are pragmatic, there are philosophical offshoots.  Build a model bench and it is essential to consider the essence of those who sat upon the real equivalent.  Lay down tiny decks and there is a compulsion to contemplate gigantic thoughts of those who walked the full-size planks.

Part of the upper deck, the wheelhouse, and  crew steps down to the fore deck and hold hatch.

Model making is one of those activities that wobbles on a tightrope between contempt and admiration.  Ask any transport modeller the difference between a toy train and a model railway and expect a reply short in stature but abrasively sharp. It is contemplative crafting and a place where engineering meets jewellery-making to form minuscule verisimilitude.  There is a satisfaction in reflecting on the successful execution of small skills, but the imagination has been busy too.

For those who fail to see the creative potential of miniature manipulation, take a moment to reflect that every film that you fancy has been fashioned in just the same way except that, for most part, the components are more or less life-size.

img_7866.jpgSometimes the fictional scenery is factually real, sometimes standing for itself, and perhaps suggesting former times.  Similar stimulus can be summoned by a voyage on a vintage vessel; or even by manufacturing a very small one.

The finished model. This is the ship in her original configuration.


IMG_5074Sail on the SS Mariefred during the summer season leaving from the Stadshusbron departure pier in Stockholm. The trip lasts about three and half hours and you can get an inclusive ticket that will also allow you to take a further trip on the heritage narrow gauge rail line, and then race back to Stockholm via the modern rail link in less than half of half the time.



The SS Mariefred features in Untitled: my Cold War psychological puzzle about an anonymous artist and the model who refuses to sit still.


Untitled paperback


Untitled eBook


An exceptional mystery read.

5.0 out of 5 stars

4 November 2018 – Published on

I enjoyed reading this book a lot. The mystery within the whole story kept me reading and wondering what was behind everything The main character is a strong female character on a mission. First, it seemed to be the mission to find her fiancé that she lost contact with since almost at the end of the world war two. As events evolved and more mysteries appeared, the story seemed much more complicated and her mission has changed. The more I’ve read the more intrigued I became.

Leftovers from the war, secret objects inserted in people’s bodies that may become dangerous for many, influencing people from many nations, espionage, fake and real deaths, and disguises created the suspense effect of this book.

There was love too, sometimes only as an appearance, a fantasy, an imagination or simply a different kind of love.

All in all, this is a book I truly recommend.


Full of Twists and Turns

 5.0 out of 5 stars

14 December 2018 – Published on

This book grabbed me from the beginning. The writing is solid, maybe even exceptional. The plot was certainly exceptional. Just when I thought I had something figured out or nearly figured out, the author took me down a different path. The descriptions were good, the dialogue sharp, straight to the point, no wasting of words.

I read this in two days, hard to put down. I think this would be a good book club pick. There is so much to discuss. It’s set a decade after World War II. War in London changed lives. In this case it brought the main character who was doing work for the war effort into relationships with people she would not ever have met in times of peace. But what happens to these people after the war–especially love interests? That is the quest of the main character, female, nameless to find someone, also nameless, she fell in love with, a decade later.

Things begin to get strange. There are lies, deceit, well everything connected with the spy business. I would love to say a lot, here, but it would be spoilers.  I feel this book would be great for a book club. I plan on recommending it to my own book club.


Clever and well-worked out thriller

5.0 out of 5 stars

30 January 2019 – Published on

The reader is swept along by the mystery of an unnamed woman trying to trace her war time lover. But she knows virtually nothing about him. We learn of a rather sweet romance that could probably only have happened in war time, where fleeting moments were all important and couples rushed into engagements and marriage before the war would claim one of them. Gradually the plot turns more sinister as the woman now finds herself caught up in the dangerous world of cold war espionage.

The book is quite unusual both in its style and story line. The writer likes playing with various shades of grey and nothing is ever clear cut or seems as it appears. I enjoyed this and would recommend it to all lovers of spy thrillers, crime and something with a well thought out complex plot.



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