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Guest blogger: Michelle Prak

8 December 2019

Hello, stranger

Have you ever introduced yourself to a stranger on the street?

I’ve certainly helped many strangers—helped a shorter woman reach a higher shelf in the supermarket, helped another to read the label on a can. I’ve given directions to lost tourists and taken photographs for them on their offered phones.

But I don’t think I’ve ever approached a stranger (outside of networking events) to say: Hi, I’m Michelle.

In The Train Guy, Charli is infatuated with a stranger who catches the same train every morning. For those of you familiar with Monday–Friday public transport, you’ll know that you can be thrown into a regular group of people who follow the same timetable as you.

In real life, I caught a train into the city centre for many years and I was always fascinated with the clutch of familiar faces I saw every morning.

This was prior to the era of fascination with digital screens but still, there wasn’t much chatter—not beyond a polite ‘good morning’ or some grumbling about late trains—and for the most part, we didn’t make eye contact.

Yet I knew who would arrive, roughly when, and where they’d wait on the station platform. The ‘lady with short hair who smelt of smoke’, the ‘plump man who used a cane’, the ‘short woman with a massive backpack who always wears coats’ were all unnamed but known to me.

Why didn’t we introduce ourselves to each other and pass the time in conversation? Probably because the outcome would be too unpredictable. What if we didn’t like the person we said hello to, yet were stuck in polite conversation with them each day ever after? What if they asked too many questions about where we lived, where we worked, and so on, prodding us to divulge more than we would prefer? What if—up close—we couldn’t stand the smell of smoke?

So, it’s easier, and feels perhaps safer, to remain in our private bubbles, particularly in this age of mobile phones and e-reading devices, which can act as our entertainment and our shields.

Oddly enough though, those mobile devices and social media can be the means to meet ‘strangers’.

I’m a long-time Twitter user and over the past decade, I’ve made many friends via the platform. It’s an excellent way to chat with people about common interests, and to vet their personalities and sense of humour. I still remember the first time I agreed to meet someone I was connected to on Twitter. He had reached out for advice for an upcoming job interview, and we met at a pub near my workplace. I told friends (including my husband) and colleagues beforehand, and a few were aghast at the apparent risk I was taking.

That Twitter connection is still a pal—one of dozens and dozens I’ve made through Twitter. They’re all bubbly, warm and witty people, now part of my online and offline community.

It was so much easier to initiate conversation through cyberspace, with the ability to retreat, to end the conversation, to never speak again, than to say ‘Hi’ to someone inhabiting my world in real life. (In fact, I’m sure that anyone who cheerily introduced themselves to a stranger on the train platform would be regarded with suspicion).

In The Train Guy, Charli finds safety in her private bubble too—but it’s not an entirely welcome bubble, because she’s lonely and feeling less than worthy. She’d like to find love and she thinks she’s found it in a stranger at her suburban train station. She tells herself it’s silly, that she hasn’t even spoken to him, but she’s drawn to him and thinks about him all the time.

The man Charli is obsessed with rarely lifts his head from the novels that he reads while commuting every day. Charli ponders new methods of approaching him and dismisses many of those ideas, out of fear and sometimes circumstance. In the meantime, as she subtly monitors The Train Guy, she builds up his imaginary character in her mind. And I think that’s something a lot of readers can relate to.

If you have been brave enough to introduce yourself to a stranger (especially unaided by alcohol and a nearby dancefloor), I’d love to hear about it.

Michelle Prak taught herself to touch-type when she was twelve years old and personal computers weren’t available in homes, much less laptops. It’s one of her most valuable skills because it allows her to quickly bash out the stories flowing through her brain. She’s a South Australian-based writer with her own PR consultancy, and lives in Adelaide with her husband and two sons.

You can find Michelle here: Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

The Train Guy

Charli is obsessed with The Train Guy.

She sees him every weekday waiting for the 8.05am from Roselea Station. She’s convinced he’s the man for her, but Charli is too terrified to introduce herself – look what happened, when she acted bravely with Eddie. Now she’s newly single and needs to take in tenants to help pay the mortgage.

The Train Guy would never hurt her like that. He’s too chivalrous and handsome. He’s perfect.

Isn’t he?

Part rom-com, part chase, The Train Guy is the metropolitan love story you’ve been waiting for.

Available here: Amazon | Kobo | Apple | Book Depository

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