Sunday, March 19, 2017

1st 5 Pages Workshop- Murphy Rev 2

Name: Caroline Murphy

Genre: Middle Grade, contemporary, magic realism

Title: The Journey


Magical soccer shoes go on a global journey, changing the lives of the children they meet. Their episodic adventure is the thread that weaves together the diverse experiences of childhood.

From the careless hands of a lonely Chinese factory girl, via a young Somali pirate desperate to impress his father, the shoes end up as rejects in a discount warehouse in the US. From there, they give hope to a disabled boy, before being stolen by his jealous stepbrother and taken to Hong Kong.

Scuffed and worn-out, the shoes fear being thrown away. Reprieve is granted when they travel to the Philippines; a gift from an estranged mother to her daughter. But if they can’t find a child to love them unconditionally, they’ll end up buried forever in a garbage dump outside Manila.

This is a book about the journeys, physical and emotional, of a special pair of shoes and a chain of interconnected children. It explores themes of love and friendship, luck and destiny, and what happiness looks like in a multicultural context.

THE JOURNEY combines the heartstring tug of Kate DiCamillo’s MIRACULOUS JOURNEY OF EDWARD TULANE with the grittiness of Andy Mulligan’s TRASH.


Mei Lin’s blistered fingers hesitated before passing her identity card to the young security guard at the entrance of the Lucky Foot Shoe Factory. This guy was new. She hoped he was no better at spotting fake IDs than the other couldn’t-care-less guards, who waved the stream of factory girls through with barely a glance at their faces and photos.

A flicker caused her to look past the guard. On the grey-painted concrete wall, the factory name glowed neon red. The lights blinked again, and with an embarrassed pop, extinguished. Only the two characters for “Lucky” continued to shine.

“Wu Li Juan?” the guard read aloud, causing her to re-focus and her stomach to lurch with fear. He peered more closely at the photo. Mei Lin’s head dipped in response and wings of black hair folded around her cheeks. She peeped up through her lashes.

The guard squinted behind his glasses, as though to x-ray through her shield of hair. He looked again at the face on the card, then laughed. Not unkindly.

“Go!” he gestured, as he swiped the ID. “Have a nice day, Miss Wu.”

Mei Lin scuttled past him, fumbling to put the card in her pocket as she pushed through the turnstile. She hurried towards the throng of nameless workers ahead of her. Among them, she would be anonymous. Just another young girl far from home. Alone.

Her feet slowed down with each step closer to entering the factory.

“Go on, Mei Lin. Hurry up!” hissed a voice, and Mei Lin spun to see her bunk-mate Qing Ling angling towards her from another turnstile. The older girl nudged Mei Lin towards the doors. Mei Lin risked a swift look over her shoulder at the guard, whose eyes were searching the crowd.

“Shhhh! He’ll hear you,” begged Mei Lin. “Don’t call me that!”

She wished Qing Ling would be more careful about using her real name; that loudmouth would get her fired sooner than the borrowed ID card which claimed she was sixteen – nearly three years older than her actual age.

She’d lose this job if the bosses knew she was underage. And she really couldn’t afford to. This was her chance to help her family. Her first month’s salary was due next week and Mei Lin was hungrily counting down the days. Yesterday, Qing Ling had laughed and said she’d be lucky if the boss gave her a quarter of the money. “He’ll keep it all till you’ve been here a year. In any case, the agent will take most of it to pay your debt.”

But whatever money she received, her parents would be thankful. Hundreds of miles away in Hebei Province, they laboured hard on their small plot of land, growing crops of peanuts. Qing Ling’s carelessness could put her on the next train home.

“Oh, come on!” said Qing Ling. “We grew up in the same village; you’ll always be Mei Lin to me. And you’re fooling no one with that stupid ID. Why did you go in his line? I keep telling you to go to the old guy who always forgets his specs. Now stop dawdling…”

Just as the pair reached the doors leading into the factory, a voice called out:

“Ms Wu! Wait!”

The guard! With panicked eyes, Mei Lin turned to Qing Ling. The older girl grabbed the younger girl’s clammy hand and squeezed, popping a blister. Mei Lin didn’t notice the pain.

In ten swift, tile-clicking steps, the guard reached the two girls, hidden amongst the swarm of workers. Curious eyes turned to them. At the far desk, the shift supervisor stood up, but a casual wave of the young guard’s hand assured him there was no problem. Loudly, “You dropped your ID, young lady!” The supervisor sat back down. Workers pushed past.

Mei Lin tentatively reached out her free hand and took the card. “Lucky I caught you in time, eh?” Again, in a voice that carried: “You don’t want to be losing that!”

Then, he leaned closer, breathing out the warm aroma of peanuts. It felt like a blessing on Mei Lin’s face. In a whisper that only the two girls could hear: “That card will get you kicked out if the Super sees it. Try to get one that looks more like you.”

He turned and marched back to his post. Mei Lin stood, slack-jawed; the smell of peanuts had stunned her as much as his advice. She sighed at the memory of her grandmother boiling the nuts in a salty braise. Oh, how she missed their aroma mingled with cloves and cinnamon and star anise – the comfort of home.

Her mouth watered with longing. Her stomach grumbled. She’d had her usual breakfast of congee in the dormitory canteen. The portions were miserly; the congee runny. Not like Grandma’s.

A yank on her hand broke her reverie. “Lucky escape!” said Qing Ling. She pulled her in the direction of the changing room, already buzzing with workers. Mei Lin was caught in the music: squeals and low humming and wild chatter.  Words and emotions were spilling out before hours of silence descended on the factory floor.

Like her, they donned pink overcoats and yellow aprons, and tugged yellow paper booties onto their feet, until the room resembled a vast cage of chirping lovebirds. She tumbled her long hair into a net, perched the yellow cap on her head, scrubbed her hands, checked her nails… Hmmm, a little longer than regulations allowed. And one was broken. She’d have to trim them tonight If she had the energy. After a twelve-hour shift, she had no stamina to gossip with the other girls in the dormitory before lights out at 9pm. Perhaps that was why she had yet to make any friends?

Five minutes later, she was seated, one of thousands of yellow-hatted, black-haired heads bowing to their workstations. For the first hour or two there would be banter and a little stifled laughter, as long as the floor supervisor was in a different section. After that, the voices dried up, and really, what was there to talk about?

From her stool, Mei Lin could see Qing Ling a few workers away. Occasionally, they would half-smile at each other, feeling a camaraderie that came from long hours, aching backs, sore fingers. They weren’t exactly friends. She wasn’t even sure they liked each other, though their shared village childhood counted for something in this foreign place.

Around her, Shu, Yueyue and Xiao Dan buckled down to their task of threading laces through eyelets. Like her, they were young and had small and nimble fingers.

“At least you still have all your fingers,” whispered Yueyue, as Mei Lin cried herself to sleep during the first two weeks in the dormitory of Lucky Foot Shoe Factory. “My friend in the cutting room isn’t so fortunate.” With a flair for drama, she mimed slicing off a digit. “Now she’s good for nothing. Got sent back home in disgrace. Be grateful for pain in ten fingers instead of nine,” she comforted.

Perhaps the memory made her fingers flinch, though Mei Lin swore it was an electric buzz that ran through the soccer shoe she was holding. She yelped and threw it upwards. Her fingers scrabbled to catch the shoe and, at that moment, her jagged, broken nail scraped across the polished leather. A scratch appeared on the design of silver stars. She froze in horror. This careless mistake could get her sent back home.


  1. Hi Caroline!

    I was pleasantly surprised to learn this is a story revolving around a pair of magical shoes. I love the idea of a pair of soccer shoes traveling around the world and connecting different children with a similar thread. It's a creative and inspiring idea, and I'd love to follow this journey.

    What's interesting is that from the query, it feels like the shoes are a personified narrator ("fear being thrown away"), which is not what I got from the first few pages. I think it needs to be clear whether the focus of your story is on the shoes or the children (I actually recommend the latter). If the shoes are an actual narrator, then you'd probably have to frame it as such from the very beginning. Otherwise, it can feel jarring if it suddenly shifts to the POV of an inanimate object. If the shoes aren't the narrator, then I'd certainly revise the query so it reflects the children's POVs better.

    I didn't have too many comments on the pages, since it's much tighter and polished than before. My only suggestion was the backstory, which I think can be handled more smoothly. From the paragraph that goes, "She wished Qing Ling would be more careful about using her real name; that loudmouth would get her fired sooner than the borrowed ID card which claimed she was sixteen – nearly three years older than her actual age" to the moment the guard interrupts them, I thought this section would flow better as dialogue. It feels strange to have Qing Ling respond to Mei Lin ("Oh, come on!") as if Mei Lin was saying all her thoughts aloud.

    Otherwise, this is an impressive improvement over the past few weeks! Amazing job and I wish you all the best,

    1. Hi Silvia

      Yes, the shoes are actually sentient. I introduced them as such in my original first chapter, but then changed to this chapter as my opening. I'm considering reverting again, as I don't want it to be a surprise that this is a suspend-disbelief, talking-shoe kind of story!

      I think I need to juggle / cut some paragraphs to make the flow smoother between internal and external dialogue. Thanks for that feedback.

      In fact, thank you for all your constructive critique. It's been a pleasure to be on this workshop with you. You have really pushed me to improve.

      kind regards

  2. Hi Caroline,
    So maybe this is like The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants? If you don't know those books (YA), they might give you some ideas.

    I agree with Silvia. Now, knowing your plan and reading your first pages, I think the kid-perspective is more appealing to me than a shoe narrator would be.

    So you are beginning with the birth of the shoes! I love that.

    So we won't have much time with Mei Lin? I'm guessing that each episode will have a mini-arc and you won't weave back to the story of a kid you mention in the beginning if we're following the shoes. Now I'm really curious what will happen with her!

    Pitch: I like it a lot but I think if I were to request pages based on it, I would be confused by the lack of "shoe" in the first pages - you know what I mean? Tweak the way you're presenting perspective. That's what I'd do.

    Pages: What great revisions! From the first draft I wanted to follow Mei Lin. Her story seems important to me and the students I've had who have sacrificed everything to send paychecks to their families. I am wondering now what will happen to wrap up her time with the shoes.

    Best to you, Caroline. I hope these observations and questions help. I'm excited to see where your story goes.



    1. Hi Kathi
      Funny you should mention Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants - that was one of my comps that I was talking about with my critique group recently. It even solved my problem one of my CPs had with the shoes fitting several different ages of children throughout the book (like the pants, they magically mould themselves to any size).

      You are right. We lose Mei Lin and move on to the next child. Again, my critique group were kinda upset about this - they kept falling in love with characters and then not seeing them again. The end of the book will round up all these children in a look-up on their lives from the moment the shoes impacted them.

      I am considered reverting to my original first chapter which began with the 'voices' of the sentient shoes. I think that will make more sense for the reader.

      Thank you so much for your valuable feedback and for being on this 'journey' with me. Best wishes with your own story which I think is truly promising.

      best regards

  3. HI Caroline

    You now have a very smooth read for these first pages. I was interested in the story from the start but you have now polished many of the bumps that were there originally. Really great job.

    With the pages themselves, I have few new comments to make other than praise. I do feel that, although the writing is good, there is a point just past the mid-way of this section where I feel the scene starting to linger and I'm looking for something more to happen than the id card and identity issue. Perhaps this section could be further condensed to get to the shoe a little sooner.

    As for the Pitch:
    You will, and probably have, read and heard a dizzying number of different takes on what an agent/editor will be looking for here. I am neither. But I can say that the bulk of the pitch is really compelling and I can see this being a very interesting and interest provoking story. That being said, your very first sentence is like a "tag line." It would not be my preference to start that way. I would suggest less of a back of the book tag and more of a straight forward description. The topic is compelling enough to be eye-catching.

    Thank you for all your great feedback throughout.


    1. Thank you so much for (all) your feedback, Patrick. I will re-visit the 'tag line" in the pitch.

      Wishing you the best of luck with this novel. It's sounds really great.


  4. Hi Caroline,

    We made it! Last week! Let's get right into it.

    Pages: Much cleaner, reads very smoothly and I'm getting more invested with the character. You've come a long way. You have a unique and its a pretty bleak start to a story, which brings me to the pitch.

    Pitch: I actually had to pause and look back, read it again. I was very surprised. I know this is MG but I'm now curious to see how this plays out. If I had read that on the back of the book, then read this scene, I honestly would be confused, but curious enough to push on. However, if the shoes are a huge part of the story, I would try and bring up a hint or whiff of it in the first 5 pages, at least the ones that are magical.

    I wish you the best of luck with the story and publishing no matter which route you go! It was a pleasure working with you!

    1. Thank you, Cal (and many congratulations!)

      This was not the original first chapter and I may revert to the "talking shoes" chapter to make my 'main characters' clear.

      I really appreciate all your constructive feedback.
      best regards

  5. Dear Caroline,

    Thank you for the opportunity to read your work! This sounds like a beautiful tale of global connection, and I am impressed with the breadth of this undertaking. But just given how vividly you portray a Chinese sweatshop, and the mass of girl workers, I have a feeling that you will pull off each culture and character vividly, and responsibly.

    You have some beautiful moments in your writing. For example, when “wings of black hair folded around her cheeks” and the small details about the blisters on her hands. The scene where the peanuts create that shooting pain of homesickness was a great, poignant moment for the reader.

    From your pitch, though, I’m wondering if the shoes themselves are sentient, or if they just travel from person to person and paint a portrait of global interconnectivity. “Scuffed and worn-out, the shoes fear being thrown away.” — here, it sounds like the shoes have feelings themselves. And this line also feels a bit vague to me: “It explores themes of love and friendship, luck and destiny, and what happiness looks like in a multicultural context.” – you can definitely dive deeper here. How do the magical shoes create universality of these emotions? Especially for children? I’m thinking of that film THE RED VIOLIN, which, if you haven’t scene, might be a good film for you to watch for reference.

    Your writing here is clear, concise, and very kid-friendly. I look forward to reading more!


    1. Thank you so much, Wendy.

      Yes, the shoes are sentient. With personalities! As well as commenting on their own circumstances, desires and perils, they also add a touch of humorous narrative in between the chapters dealing with the often gritty realism of the children's lives.

      Originally, the shoes were Chapter 1 of my MS. My critique group really didn't like the "talking shoes", so I was filled with self-doubt and removed that chapter. However, given the comments above from my workshop buddies, I think my gut feeling that the soccer shoes - as 'main characters' - need to be introduced early on was probably correct. Gah!

      I really appreciate your comments. Thank you for taking the time to judge this workshop.

      best regards