The Girl in the Blue Shoes

The FIRST CHAPTER of my literary mystery/thriller novel The Girl in the Blue Shoes … 

The mottled scent of salt and vinegar crisps and lightly peppered tomato swirled around the sun slapped train carriage.

The ruffling air rushed its way into the compartment like rowdy school kids racing in to beat each other out of the best seat by the window or somewhere ever else about the pews. A flame haired baby waved me past, in a back garden by the tracks, the little one held aloft by grandpa, as I flew by with the rest aboard our packed metal caterpillar, at one hundred miles an hour.

I had decided to spend the day in Oxford, my familiar and favourite city. If indeed it could be called that at all, its feel and appearance so much more like that of a petrified country village, or some mythical capital, its medieval tones wonderfully rich and flowing, seeping off seemingly every surface like dripping honeycomb paint. And after all, where else is it more pleasant to spend a mid-spring day than the City of Dreaming Spires? Although, setting off the day felt much more like the middle of summer, a wafting heat lathered onto the day like thick warm syrup.

The city had once been my home. But there had been an accident. I’d fallen off my bike while I had been cycling to Christ Church, my college, one morning and ended up with a stint in the hospital. I was lucky, or so they told me. A bump on the head, a few stitches and that was that, back on my feet in no time. But it had been much more than a near miss. It had shaken me, and it was enough of a rattling of my cadge to change my thoughts, realign my priorities, and track my compass onto what more there might be for me out there beyond college life. It was my wakeup call. My second chance.

Life had been a typical mix of turmoil and intrepidity (I hoped) up until then, as with anyone I suppose. A combination of relationships, one producing a child, stints here and there but never too far afield. Never too far from my comforting corner office and side street flat. The comfy couch, the nearby pub, the illustrations framed upon the walls, catching just the right amount of dust to make a gentle perusal feel like a window into a simple life.

But after the accident I pushed out the boat. After so many years of pleasant regularity I hitched up my pack upon my shoulders and flew into the opposite of my rounded and delightful world. I moved to London.

At first it was a scary dream, a swilling bowl of ingredients which all took their own individual times to digest. After that it became home, and I celebrated the gifts it gave me of which Oxford could not. The light, the rush, the feeling of enveloping oneself within a fold so thick and running with colours that it didn’t matter if you failed, again and again. It didn’t matter who you are or were or could possibly be. Everyone in London was on a reset, or so it seemed to me. They had all been drawn there, like dirty fridge magnets slipping down the fridge door.

Soon though, contemplations of wist aside, I was alighting at the station of my destination. The ever hungry ticket machine gobbling up my pass, I then set out into the street and a familiar comfortability swept over me that I was both expecting and hoping for. I took it in with open arms, the town a dear old friend, and had been an instant love of mine the first moment I had set foot among its ancient midst and rumbling cobbled streets, what now amounts to many years ago.

I made my way as if on autopilot along the same track as I had worn down many times before, taking me towards Christ Church Meadow, and then along the paths that follow the edge of the Meadow itself. I cut through a few other parks and streets and cemeteries before sidling up Parks Road and past the Museum of Natural History.

I looked down at my dusty shoes, a long dry spell in the Shire responsible for this untidy possibility. I shook them around a little under my eyes to no avail. I cast my own pupils back onto my path when I saw her.

That girl … the girl in the blue shoes.

Thin and sharp she walked along, taking no heed of me at all. She was a woman to be more accurate, long legs in navy tights and a cardigan to match her footwear in style and colour too.

I took no hesitation to mind and instantly crossed the street and walked along behind her. She was pretty, no doubt, but all girls are. She was walking but not talking, not waving nor in discussion with anyone. But she looked like she was. She didn’t look right. I don’t mean that she was unhinged or strange or anything of that nature, by far she was a comely example of a girl of the times. But she didn’t look right. Like each town and city street, each park and house is a painting, and she had just walked into the wrong one. No hoe in hand to tend the crop, no scythe of steel to harvest the wheat. What’s more, I didn’t see her approach from any direction. But then again I didn’t notice her until she walked across my eye line, like a swan gliding across a pond, more than likely already there long before you had first lay gaze upon them, even though no splash of arrival had before met your sight.

I dropped my pace and watched her walk a different way than the one my own compass had as heading, and that was that, she was gone. Lost to the winds, and the rest of my day was laid ahead of me.

The sun did me well from then on, and stayed around without obstacle. I spent a few pleasant hours catching up with old haunts and enjoying the company of familiar sites as I soaked up as much vitamin D as possible. As the golden orb crept closer towards its earthen bed I made moves to head back towards the train station.

I walked back along the same path on which I had come, making only a few minor detours, when suddenly there was something as if in a dream. Again The Girl in the Blue Shoes, passing as if she were told to do so, set on a course by another force. Was that a look in her eye? Did she have the exact same expression as she did on her pass of me hours before? This time going in the other direction, on the other side of the street? A mirror image?

Evidence of the forgery may be in the second occurrence itself. It does not exist because it does.

Something is happening, I can sense it, I can taste it in the air. And this isn’t any idle paranoia, it can’t be. Paranoia is never idle anyway. Something has been done, some switch has been flicked, and it’s up to me to find out why. I knew that there and then, not a jot of self doubt did I have in that lightning prophesy, so much so had it sliced, clean and sharp at me right then. The Girl in the Blue Shoes had been their undoing. She and her presence would lead me to it all.

I clocked her again, but with careful eye now gleaming from my sockets. I rested my blood and bones for a moment, taking a spot on a wall opposite the position she was approaching, the low slung stone structure bordering the outside line of the Natural History Museum.

She floated along, I fancied, with similarities within her movements this time that could never be dismissed as coincidence or commonality. They were not identical in technician, I didn’t think, but in feeling and flight. She carried on her way, but this occasion I watched her progress further along the street, the length she went until a building corner blocked my view. I thought at once about following her progress, but next moment dismissed it as folly, some grasp of realism, reality fetching me. For now at least.

9 Ways to Finish Writing Your Book

I suppose I should precursor this list by saying “my” book, as I’ve never written your book, or finished it, so how am I supposed to know? But what I was kind of hoping is that the point would be gotten, and that in general tools and techniques for finishing a book can be relatable to many people.

Saying all that, here you go …

1. Just do it. Google “Shia LaBeouf Motivation” and you can thank me later 😉

2. Repeat the previous tip, every day. I’m not actually joking about that one.

3. Set a day word target. Sounds simple, but by golly does it work! 100 or 1,000 words a day. Set it, and don’t let the day end until you’ve met that goal.

4. Put your book first. If you have a choice between going out and writing, chose writing. You can go out to all the fancy members clubs you want when you’re a bonafide author.

5. Get lost. I don’t mean rudely, I mean get lost in your world. Be thinking about it at work, on the bus, in the line at the bank – everywhere.

6. Did I mention Shia LaBeouf?

7. Tell people what you’re doing. Even if you’re nervous, do it. It holds you accountable, as they will keep asking until you’re done!

8. Have breaks. Sometimes writing it hard, and much harder for some than others. At these times reward yourself. Many a day I kept ice cream at the ready for just such occations. Or it could be anything, whatever you see as a reward, keep it there as your proverbial carrot.

9. Exercise. Every day. As important as it is to sit down and write, it’s just as important to stand up and move about. It feeds your body but also your mind.

So there you go – these are only some things to help you get stuff done, but in my opinion, they are a ruddy good start! S.H.

5 Things to do When Waiting for That Book Deal

Continuing on with the trend of lists this week, here’s another handful of tips to keep you going through those long, dark and stormy nights …

1. Work. Now, this is a two pronged tip really. I say work as in the creative work of writing, but I also say work in terms of gainful employment. This refers to the work you do to pay the bills, as if you’re not yet on a healthy contract with Penguin, odds are you need to do something else to make ends meet. For me it’s acting, but for you it could be anything you like (or don’t like, hence the writing). In essence, while you’re writing, you may as well be saving up as much coin as you can too, in order to keep you in pencils and computer keyboards …

2. Believe in yourself. Oh corny, oh how terribly corny this tip may seem. And that it is. However, the fundementals are often that for a reason. You HAVE to believe your writing is good and that your book is good. If you don’t, you’re doomed.

3. Spend less time on social media. Although it’s ever tempting, and in actuality quite necessary in order to put yourself out there, too much time on Twitter and the like can be a bit discouraging. Try to limit your time, or have an allocation for the day. When good things start to happen, you’ll get notifications, instead of wasting time looking for them.

4. Anyone heard of this guy Shia LaBeouf?

5. Get on with your life. Although writing may more than be just a part of your life, unless you’re Shakespeare, it won’t be all of it. And even that guy dedicated some serious “me time”. Make sure you concentrate as growing and learning as a person, and don’t just spend the majority of your Friday nights refreshing your email feed in hopes of that one golden-ticket-reply with the news you’ve been waiting for your whole life.

Event City

How to Eat, Drink and Educate Your Way Around London for Free

Tower Bridge

Know anything about JavaScript? Expert on financial planning? Well versed in coding? Me neither. But hey, why let that stop you from dining out and glugging one or two or three or four or more beverages for free in our fair London Town?

Truth is, your lack of tech or business or creative knowledge won’t stop you. There is a wealth of events and talks and meetups in this wide city of ours, and all you need to be good at is finding them.

But opportunities don’t just drop into your lap. It’s a craft, I’ve discovered, but not one that can’t be easily picked up by the dedicated of body and mind. In one particular week, used here for pure example, I was participant at evening events for seven days straight, where you were able to consume all the booze you could drink, all for no more than having your name ticked off on a list. Now, this isn’t to say I took part in a seven day drinking spree, far from it, but the point is that the opportunity is there. If you want to get a little tippled every day of the week, you can. And for nothing. Nix. Naught. Nada.

Food too, although in my brief experience not in as large quantities as alcohol, was still in plentiful enough supply that you could forget cooking for at least a couple of days a week, and fulfil your snacking needs at just about every place you enter.

What’s the secret? You have to own it … It’s not exactly the same as being dressed up in your best suit, ambling into a function room alongside Vince Vaughn in a scene from “Wedding Crashers”, but sometimes it feels pretty close. You have to walk enough walk so you can at least manage a little talk. Be genuine. Meet people and enjoy it. As long as you never forget to be open, you’ll never lose. Even a free glass of Tesco bought wine and a handful of Kettle crisps is still a win, in anyone’s books.

However, as much as the idea of free drink and munch has no doubt got you all in a thrifty frenzy, the true wealth on offer here is the enlightenment and education you have before your hopefully open eyes. Since I prised my own squinted eyelids open and embraced the positive experiences on offer, I’ve learned more about new ideas, inspirations, products, opportunity and endless other subjects of knowledge in the last month than I had done in the year previous. Once you cut away the brambles of habit and expose your spongy brain to what is out there, and how your access to it all is no more than a tube journey away, your mind opens innumerably.

So here I am, on a chilly Tuesday night, and on the menu today lays not fine wine, nibbles or craft beer, but access … Free access, into somewhere that you otherwise need to cough up towards the pointy side of eighteen pounds to gain entry into.

Sat comfortably so in the centre of St. Paul’s Cathedral, the bowels of London awash all around me, the ambling chatter gradually rises to its now rumbling murmur. What was upon my arrival a sea of empty brown seats, is now full of people. It indeed costs a pretty penny or two to get this close to the fine stone work and elaborately painted ceilings, on a normal day. However, all of us are in here for free. We’re awaiting a talk on Postcapitalisim by someone or some such who has written a rather long book about it all. I must admit I am intrigued, and enthusiastic to learn yet something more that a day before my knowledge was close to bankrupt in. But in truth, with total bleak honesty now spilling from my mind and off of your computer, table or iPhone screens, right now they could be in the revealing climax of a wet t-shirt contest, and my attention would still be locked to the immense nature of the innards of the grand structure I now sit in. This place is vast. And as they say about sensible cars and single share rooms on spareroom.com, it really does look a lot bigger from the inside that you would have first imagined. The far end of the ceiling ahead of me, in the ‘pointy top-of-the-cross bit’ of the cathedral has become my favourite feature within this great structure. It is the most colourful, and sparkles now like a Jeweller’s bazaar, in predominantly darker shades of green and crimson. With my vision all a flutter, small polite applause spurt into life, and the speaker begins to talk. The words sink into my head, but the echoes of his voice wash over me. In the distance a bell tower chimes. The place, the building, the setting steals the show.

Because that is what it’s all about. When you live in a city such as London, you must grab it firmly in both hands and turn that bugger upside down, like a freshly prised open piggy bank, shaking every last rattling penny out of the guts of it, until the spoils clatter onto the kitchen table in front of you. The opportunity is there. The opportunity for experience. And here I am telling you it’s there to be spent, right down to the last ten pence piece. Because after all that’s what London is, a city to be plundered, however you see fit, but plundered it must be. And as long as you do it in a nice way, you might even be able to do it for free. Sometimes at least … It is London after all. SH