Sunday, April 9, 2017

1st 5 Pages April Workshop - Riley Rev 1

Name: Lorna Riley
Title: Locusts
Genre: YA Sci-Fi Thriller

Revision 1:

A sudden burst of laughter makes me look up into the blazing white of the stage lights. Blinking away the black dots, I see Lucinda sat sideways on her chair, hanging off Leo’s every word. They’re all smiles and teeth. Ready to take a chunk out of each other to make sure they win.

Hope. Desperation. Murderous determination, even. It’s burning in their eyes.

They need it.

The Harvard scholarship. The prestige of being The International Young Scientist of the Year.
All of it.

But all I feel is my ribcage closing in around me.

I throw a quick glance over towards the wings. Mom told me to turn my palm pad off, but I switched it to manual instead. As subtly as I can, I rest my hand on my lap, palm up, and swipe through to my second skin controls, adjusting the temperature. A cool wave covers my body, and I start to breathe a little easier.

“May the best man win.” Leo leans over and grins at me, flashing his sparkling white teeth. As perfect as the rest of him. Not even a single blond hair out of place.

It makes me want vomit on his polished brown brogues.

“So that’ll be Qiu, then?”


I don’t say anything, refusing to rise to his feigned ignorance.

“Oh, you mean head-brace boy?” He looks over his shoulder at Qiu, who’s sat at the end, doing his best to pretend he hasn’t heard every word. But I can see the red heat surging up his neck. Leo clutches his chest, with a pained expression. “I’m hurt. So hurt, right now.”

“Don’t. Tempt. Me.”

“Nila!” Mom calls from the wings and hurries over. Then, lowering her voice, though not quite enough, she says, “Ignore him. He’s not worth it!”

“Yes, Mom.”

She raises her eyebrows at my tone, but before she can jump down my throat, Professor Albright claps his hands. “Right ladies and gentlemen, shall we get started?”

Mom turns to leave, but then she hesitates, looking down at my hands. “Stop that.”


“That thing you do, twiddling your fingers like that.” I sit on my hands and start chewing the inside of my cheek instead. Mom shakes her head. “Honestly, you’ve nothing to worry about. You aced the presentation. Everyone was completely blown away. Including the competition.”

The corner of my mouth twitches. If only she knew where I was and what I was doing to make that possible. But she’s not let me out of her sight all day. Why can’t she leave me alone?

The professor clears his throat. Everyone’s waiting.


I nod at the professor, and she turns around all smiles. “So sorry.”

As Mom leaves, Professor Albright steps up to the podium. The curtains go up, and a burst of polite applause breaks the silence. “Good afternoon, and welcome to the 2069 International Young Scientist of the Year Awards.

“I trust you have all enjoyed perusing the displays provided by our four finalists. Some impressive work, I’m sure you agree. They’ve certainly made the judges’ work particularly difficult this year. Indeed, all of us here at the university feel truly honored to have hosted some of the world’s brightest minds here today, from as far afield as Asia, Europe, and South America.”

I resist the urge to bury my head in my hands. I know he’s trying to make a point, but seriously? Mom and I moved from Lima five years ago. Qiu’s from Houston. But I’ll give him Lucinda. She’s from London. Though, from the look on her face, she’s not so happy about being called European. They always said the fencing along the English Channel was just to keep the locusts out, but everyone knows it’s for the people trying to escape them too.

The audience applauds, even though they must suspect he’s bending the truth. We’ve all seen the global news reports. The food camps. The gaunt faces staring blankly through the fences.

Scientific research isn’t exactly the most pressing concern for most.

But here, we just carry on. Like nothing’s changed. And, for the most part, it hasn’t. Food’s a bit expensive. The job market’s what the government likes to call ‘competitive’. That’s about it.

“However, I’m pleased to say, a winner has been chosen! And so, without further ado, I will hand you over to our sponsor! Lara Simmonds of DVL Corp!”

Sitting up straight, I glance at the others and mimic their smile. Eager. Enthusiastic. Pleased.

Whoops and cheers explode from the crowd as Ms Simmonds joins us on stage. I overheard Leo calling her Annie the other day. I didn’t get it at first. Now it makes perfect sense. The way she walks, even the movement of her head, it’s rigid. Synthesized. The Annie HumAndriod™ 6 that cleans our apartment block is more believably human than her.

Even when it broke down in our living room.

A shudder travels the full length of my body, and I turn my air conditioning down a notch.

As she leans towards the microphone, the clapping stops. “Thank you, Peter. Everyone.”

Holding her hands out, she turns to make eye contact with each one of the finalists. “As Peter has already pointed out, we have some fantastic talent on the stage with us today.”

When her eyes rest on me, I sit up even straighter. Smile a little wider. Eager. Enthusiastic.

Please don’t let it be me.

“Each one is a winner in their own category. Facing tough competition in each of their respective fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, all their projects blew the judges away with their insight and originality. And, yet, the judges’ final decision was utterly unanimous.”

She pauses for what feels like an eternity.

I can’t breathe.

Please, please, I beg the universe. Let it be someone else.

“And the winner is…”

Shaking my head, I try to remember what Brooke would say. What would she tell me to do?

Breathe in through your nose, and out through your mouth. That’s all you need to do.

Forget everything else.

But I can’t.

I can’t do this anymore.

“…Nila Montoya.”

The crowd bursts into ecstatic applause, but I feel as though I’ve been dumped in a vat of glycerol. The sound is just a muffled rumble as I try to stand, but my body feels so heavy.

Nothing responds the way it should.

The other finalists rush over to congratulate me, their lips telling a different story to their eyes. They help me up, and I make my way to the podium. Ms Simmonds hands me the glass trophy, and I clutch it to my chest, to mask the shaking of my hands.

“Nothing gives me greater pleasure than to hand this award to you, Nila. With your research into novel ways to bind DNA-modulating molecules to their target sites, I can’t tell you how much you remind me of your father.”

I take a step back. How could she have known him? It’s not possible. I’m clutching the award so tighter, I feel as though it’s becoming a part of me. Getting sucked inside the black hole that’s opened up in my gut.

Along with the rest of me.

She seems to read my surprise. “I visited your father not long before he died. He talked of you very fondly. I was so sorry when he decided not to join us at DVL Corp. He would have been such an asset.”


  1. I love the changes you've made. The setting is now much richer and you've only made the dialogue better. You also build the tension and it's making me crazy. I need to know why she doesn't want to win! There were a few places where I got a little bit confused about who was speaking (something I also tend to do in my writing :P).

    I nod at the professor, and she turns around all smiles. “So sorry.” The third time I read this, I figured out that "she" was her mom. I think some of the confusion might have been because I was tired when I first read it, so it might just be me!

    One of my favorite parts was the embarrassment Nila feels when the professor is trying to make their group sound diverse. Such a great section!

    There were a few places where the grammar seems weird to me where you said someone was "sat" when I thought it should have been "sitting", but I might be wrong there. It made me pause.

    Overall, I love it and am so curious about where the story will go! Want more!


    1. Thanks so much, Courtney! You're absolutely right - I just reread it & realised the "so sorry" was a bit ambiguous, & you've found the major glitch in my grammar goggles. In the UK, northerners are prone to getting sat / sitting mixed up. No matter how much I study grammar, I still find I struggle with that! They both sound right to me!

    2. I was wondering if it might be a UK thing. Think I've heard "sat" used that way before.

  2. This is a great revision! My only comment is that I was confused by the ending. Is Ms. Simmonds speaking to the entire audience or just to her quietly? Wouldn't the kids stay seated until the actual presentation of the award was done? It seems odd to have them sit if they're not going to stay that way.

    Other than that, it's great. And I don't have a problem with the use of "sat" but I'm Canadian. If your character is from the northern part of the UK, I think it's fine to be authentic (although most Americans will think it's a grammatical error).

    1. Great - that's easily fixable. Thanks so much, Holly!

  3. While I miss the mother's character a bit, cutting her back moves the scene much better and achieves the jumping off point.

    One way I think you can improve is to eliminate extraneous words. I'd say there are a dozen or so you can lose and you'll enrich the flow. A few exmaples:
    Breathe a little easier (don't need little)
    Leon leans over and grins at me (don't need at me since we know they are talking)
    Not even a single blonde hair... reads just as well as Not a single blonde hair...
    steps up to the podium (don't need "up")
    "As though" is another phrase in multiple places you can drop

    I had a few areas of confusion.
    At one point she notes the audience applauds even though they suspect he's bending the truth.
    --This feels like a bit of a stretch on the assumption and almost unnecessary.

    The flow on the short bit about the corners of her mouth twitching, then what she had to do, then mother not letting her out of sight felt disjointed. They feel like separate things, but they are pushed together. I think I knew what you meant, but I had to read it three or four times.

    only other item is the "refusing to rise to his feigned ignorance." Usually "rising" to something is a positive, so I would think I refused to acknowledge his childish feigned ignorance or she refused to lower herself to even acknowledging his feign ignorance might work better.

    Overall, this has a really cool scifi vibe. Low the Annie reference and HumAndroid. That's so clever.

  4. This starts right out of the gate now, I LOVE it. Straight into the story, keep cleaning up extraneous words, "That thing you do, twiddling your fingers like that" for example, could be a simple "You fingers, stop twiddling" or some such? In the above comment Tim mentioned not using the word 'rise' but I wanted to put a vote in for keeping that, it makes perfect sense to rise or not rise to someone's douchbaggery. Readers get it. I'm much clearer on the world we're in, and still very eager to keep reading. Well done!

  5. Thanks so much Jen & Tim! I always need a good nudge to get me to clean up my extraneous words - I get rather attached to them. Especially in speech. But as soon as I get rid of them, I don't notice they're gone. I shall give it a good clean through, thanks :)

  6. Hi Lorna,

    I'm loving the revisions you've made. I jump right into the story and can immediately see the story and some of the journey ahead. The part near the end where Nila is all smiles and yet inside desperately DOESN'T want to win just draws me in to her mystery even more.

    Really, the only comment I have is about the Professor 'bending the truth'. What exactly was he bending? If it's the fact that it's a "global" awards ceremony? Or that science isn't a major concern at the moment? It's the only portion of the story that made me pause for a bit.

    However, you've got a good yarn unraveling now, and I can't wait to see where it goes!

    1. Hi Kwame! Thanks so much for the feedback. I've had a go at clarifying that section, so thank you :)

  7. This is a strong revision! I echo the other comments here :)