Britain’s Steam Locomotives by Julian Holland | Magazine | General Interest | Interviews | Non-Fiction
Britain’s Steam Locomotives

By Julian Holland

How Julian Holland transformed his passionate hobby into a full-time career as a writer.

I was born in Gloucester, UK, and as a small lad I was surrounded by railways – across the road was the mainline to Bristol with steam-hauled trains day and night, and behind our Victorian house was the branch line to Gloucester Docks and the Gloucester Railway Carriage & Wagon Company. The latter built rolling stock for London Underground, British Railways and railways in the former British colonies. My father built me (or was it for him?) an extensive ‘0’ gauge model railway in out attic. It was not surprising that I was entranced by railways from an early age. From the age of 11 I attended a boys’ grammar school where many of my classmates were engaged in a hobby called trainspotting. I soon joined them and over the years I travelled by train far and wide across Britain, visiting busy junctions, dirty steam engine sheds and railway works. I still have my old trainspotting notebooks that are a unique insight into this historical period in British railway history that covered the end of steam haulage, the onset of diesels and the closure of thousands of miles of railway following the publication of the ‘Beeching Report’. My trainspotting days ended in 1967 when I went to art college in London but my love of railways continued for the rest of my life.

At Hornsey Art College in North London I studied graphic design which led to my first job as book designer working for the Readers Digest in Mayfair. For the next 8 years I continued in this role, working for several major publishers in London until 1977. By this time I was living in Hampshire, commuting to Waterloo every weekday with a total return journey time of nearly three hours each day. Also by then I was working on freelance work in the evenings and weekend. One day while on the morning commuter train passing through Surbiton I had a flash of inspiration (like Paul did on the road to Damascus). I there and then decided to work for myself full-time from home as a designer and, on arriving at my place of work, I immediately gave in my notice to quit. The management were shocked and tried to persuade me to change my mind, citing many examples of the pitfalls and distractions of working for myself at home. I was adamant because I believed in myself and when I got home announced my decision to my wife. She took it very well considering that she had recently given birth to our first child. Working for myself at home was an enormous success and through very hard work I tripled my income in my first year.

By 2004 I was operating both as a book designer and book packager and life was getting more and more stressful with tight deadlines and budgetary responsibilities. In September of that year I contracted the very rare Weil’s Disease (Leptospirosis) while on a trip to Scotland to photograph disused railways. I was rushed to Aberdeen Royal Infirmary where I was placed in intensive care and put on life support for several weeks. Apparently I nearly died twice and I suffered frightening out of body experiences. I was later diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder because of my experiences. While recovering I vowed to change my stressful career as a book designer and book packager and return to my love of railways as a writer. A friend who was a commissioning editor at David & Charles and who knew of my passion for railways was brave enough to send me my first contract. This first book sold very well, and I haven’t looked back since.

Since that first book I have been a highly successful author of many bestselling railway books in the UK. I have been published by HarperCollins since 2010. The near fatal illness in 2004 was the catalyst for a change in career at the ripe old age of 58.

Some advice to budding authors. Firstly you have to believe in yourself. I was fortunate to have a lifelong passion that I could turn into a business as a writer. You also need luck and you must be prepared to go out there and sell yourself. I have never had an agent and have made myself known to publishers in the past at the London Book Fair and the Frankfurt Book Fair. Turn your idea into a written proposal with details about yourself and do your homework about possible publishers. ‘The Writers & Artists Year Book’ is an indispensable tool for any budding author. Be prepared to be rejected by publishers but never give up. Many famous authors (eg J K Rowling) were initially rejected by many publishers before they secured their first contract. Follow your gut feelings and never give up! If you want to translate your passion into a business you must do your homework first. Find out if there is a gap in the market that you can fill and come up with a plan. Research likely competition and why your particular passion will make a viable business. Many people will keep their day job for a while, pursuing their fledgling business in their spare time. You will know when the time is right to make your move. Good luck!

I am proud that I successfully changed my career at the age of 58 and then went on to have more than 30 books published, some of which have been bestsellers. I suppose the downside sometimes is continually having to come up with new ideas – they often unexpectedly come to me in the strangest places! I know I’ve said it before but you have to believe in yourself.

(c) Julian Holland

Julian’s Amazon author page:

Julian’s Instagram account: @julianhollandrailways

About Britain’s Steam Locomotives: 100 of the best, from Penydarren to Tornado
Britain’s Steam Locomotives

It is more than 200 years since the world’s first steam railway locomotive hauled its initial load of iron ore and passengers on a short, slow journey. From that time onwards, the evolution of the steam locomotive continued unabated through the 19th century and on into the 20th.

Steam haulage on Britain’s nationalised railways ended in 1968, yet the British public’s love affair with these magnificent machines endures. In this volume you’ll find:

  • Features on 100 of the most impressive British steam locomotives
  • Stories of the fascinating engineers who designed them
  • Beautiful imagery from the country’s leading railway photographers

Written by best-selling railway author Julian Holland, Britain’s Steam Locomotives is the perfect addition to any railway enthusiast’s collection.

Order your copy online here.

About the author

From a very young age, Julian Holland has had a fascination with railways. He is the writer and photographer of many bestselling railway books, including the award-winning Mapping the Railways (2011), History of Britain’s Railways (2015) and Golden Years of Rail Travel (2019). As well as being passionate about train travel, Julian is a leading commentator on railways – he travels around Britain giving illustrated lectures and regularly appears as a guest expert on radio and television.

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