Monday, April 15, 2019

1st 5 Pages April Workshop - Feltham Rev 1

Name: Abi Feltham
Genre: Young Adult Science Fiction
Title: The Spring Years  
Chapter One
The day before I left my Year Zone had been somewhat unconventional. Sitting in the back of a police shuttle, I counted how many times I’d been here. Five this year, six the last and three the year before. I was well on the way to breaking my personal record and I couldn’t help but congratulate myself. Mum wouldn’t be happy, I knew that, but perhaps she’d recognise my achievement. A medal maybe? At least a cookie.
Officer Aldana climbed out of the shuttle and hovered round to my side, his balance boots making that annoying whirrr sound. I checked the time—we’d arrived at my house before I could think of an excuse why, once again, I’d been so lucky to deserve a police escort. He swung the door open and stood there silently, waiting for me to move. I caught my reflection in his helmet visor as he lifted it and gave me one of those I’m-not-mad-just-disappointed looks. Smiling sweetly, I sunk into the backseat. Perhaps he’d let me off this time.
“Out you get,” he said, not at all impressed. “I need to talk to your mum.”
“I’ve got a better idea, Martin,” I said, my index finger pointed in the air. “How about thi—”
“Officer Aldana,” he corrected me. “Spending so much time in my vehicle doesn’t make us friends, you know.”
“Sorry, Officer Aldana. What if—and this is just a suggestion—you give me a free pass? I’m springing tomorrow… there’s zero chance of me doing it again.”
“You know that’s not how it works, Billie. Let’s go.”
He signalled me out of the shuttle as if he were my chauffeur, then led me up the garden path to certain doom, hovering next to me. It’s not like I’d skipped school deliberately. It was more of a coincidental thing. Like, somehow I turned left at the end of my street instead of right, and before I knew it, I’d spent all afternoon in the VR arcade shooting zombie beauty queens with a giant pink machine gun. Totally not my fault.
I scanned my holowatch and the front door slid open, whereupon I found my mother sat on the stairs, shoulders hunched, tapping her foot. She’d been in the exact same position the day I returned from running away. I’d been missing for an entire week before she called Jodie’s parents to check I was there. I got in a lot of trouble that day, but at least it was Mum who caved first.
“What’s she done now?” asked Mum. She was talking to Aldana but looking at me.
“Good afternoon, Mrs. Embers,” he said, holding out a hand to shake hers.
She ignored it. “Miss.”
“Sorry, Miss Embers. Can we have a chat?”
“Look Officer, we’ve been through this. I’ll speak to her but there’s not much else I can do. She’s a lost cause.”
Mum spoke as if I wasn’t standing directly in front of her. How rude! I barged past and headed upstairs, stomping heavily to make my presence known. “You shouldn’t talk about someone in the third person when they are present,” I said, my face burning up, lip quivering. “You should refer to them by their name. It’s basic good manners.”
She didn’t hesitate before loudly telling me to go to my room, but by then I was already outside my door. I flung it open and without turning round, asked her—at a similarly deafening volume—where else she thought I was going. I didn’t wait for a reply. I just slammed the door and kicked the pile of dirty clothes that perpetually lived on my bedroom floor.
My temper was rising by the second. Soon I’d burst open like one of those shaken cans of soda I hand to my sister when she needs her ego reduced. Who was Mum to call me a lost cause? Yeah, I was a little careless now and again, but least I have my whole life ahead of me. She’s so old, she probably remembers the energy crisis. In an attempt to calm down, I held the pendant of my necklace, a silver lightning bolt, between my thumb and forefinger, and rubbed it. The smooth metal, the straight edges, the pointy corners—they all lent a hand in cooling me off.
Earlier that morning, when I found myself entering a VR booth instead of the school gates, I’d questioned my actions. I couldn’t decide whether I was skipping school because I was extraordinarily keen to play Undead Pageant III, or whether I was, in typical Billie fashion, putting off the most important thing I had to do that week—travel through the depths of time and space. Abandoning my family for four years wasn’t so bad; it was my friends I couldn’t bear to leave. If I stayed away from school, away from home, reality would never hit and I wouldn’t have to go on my Spring Years.
No one came to get me that evening, not even for dinner. Mum was, presumably, still mad at me, and my big sister, Saskia, would’ve been too busy either (a) studying like a maniac for her spacetime engineering degree, (b) “volunteering” at the animal hospital but really just chatting up recently bereaved pet owners, or (c) kissing Mum’s behind with her perfectly lined lips. Sometimes I wonder if we’re even related. Were it not for our freckles, above average height and gangly limbs that are more akin to tentacles, you’d never guess.
Instead of enjoying my final night of freedom, hanging out with friends or sitting round a silent dinner table with my moody family, I turned off my light and crawled into bed—fully clothed, make-up intact. Sadly, this ritual was all too familiar. I couldn’t sleep, too anxious about leaving the next day. Dragging two fingers through the air, I booted up my holowatch’s display screen, then with stressful thoughts of springing the next day, spent the next few hours watching twentieth century sitcoms, until eventually, I fell asleep.
The next morning, my routine played out as usual. I woke up late, spilt coffee down my front, and instead of eating a well balanced meal, ended up shovelling cereal into my mouth as I raced toward the car. The only deviation from the norm was the nagging thought in the back of my mind that knew my entire existence was about to change. Thoughts like these—vague and unsettling—made my heart beat dangerously fast.


  1. So much better. Really great edits. I am so much more grounded in what's happening and in the world building. That was nicely done. I am actually having a hard time coming up with much because I think this is a strong start a good place to start. My biggest complaint is about the very first paragraph. I don't think you need to use the word Zone Year. That paragraph really needs to grab the reader, but I was too busy figuring out what she was talking about. she was in the police car six times last year, and only 5 this year. how is that breaking her record? It's such a good hook, I think you can keep it simple.

    I sat in the back of the police shuttle. My five arrest this year.
    Mum wouldn’t be happy.
    But perhaps she'd see through to the truth.
    I was scared of tomorrow.

    I don't know, just an idea of how to hook the reader with just the essentials before starting the scene on the next paragraph.

  2. oops. obviously I meant to write fifth, not five

  3. This is definite improvement on the world building. I do still think you need to work on your main character's attitude. She's not very likable or empathetic here and people won't want to stay in the head of someone they don't either like or want to be.

    There are a few small places where you're telling: "and my big sister, Saskia", "My temper was rising by the second" and "I couldn’t sleep, too anxious...". Let your reader figure these things out by the clues and actions.

    Finally, you should break up paragraphs where the action is changing characters. For example:

    "Officer Aldana climbed out of the shuttle and hovered round to my side, his balance boots making that annoying whirrr sound. I checked the time—we’d arrived at my house before I could think of an excuse why, once again, I’d been so lucky to deserve a police escort. He swung the door open and stood there silently, waiting for me to move. I caught my reflection in his helmet visor as he lifted it and gave me one of those I’m-not-mad-just-disappointed looks. Smiling sweetly, I sunk into the backseat. Perhaps he’d let me off this time."

    You are going from him to her to him to her. These need to be separate paragraphs.

    Good luck!

  4. This revisions you made give a much clearer understanding of Billie's world to the reader. The added paragraph explaining her thoughts about why she had skipped school that day and how apprehensive she was about going away for her "Spring Years" also helped explain Billie's anger and made me sympathetic toward her.

    One minor suggestion I have is concerning the paragraph where the mom orders Billie to her room. Since Billie just yelled at her mother about having bad manners, I think it would be more effective to use dialogue when the mom answers back. Maybe even have the mom follow up the order to the bedroom with another rude remark. This would also break up the long paragraph and show the tension between Billie and her mom in a more overt way.

    I enjoyed reading this revision. It makes me eager to read on!

  5. I love Billie instantly. The rebelliousness appeals to me. I laughed out loud at this line: "Soon I’d burst open like one of those shaken cans of soda I hand to my sister when she needs her ego reduced." Hilarious and effective. I like that you gave us a bit of a reason for Billie's resistance and a glimpse into her worries. It definitely makes her more complex. I wonder if you could show this a bit more.

    You say she's anxious about Springing (which is a super cool concept and I love that you explained it here), but I wonder how you could show it more. Maybe she texts a friend while in bed and thinks about how much she will miss that friend. I kind of got the feeling she was a loner so when you mentioned that she would miss her friends the most, I was a little surprised. A text or call or something from one of her friends would really go a long way to show her connection to that friend. If she doesn't get along with her family, I'm sure her friends are even MORE important to her because they are her chosen family.

    Really loving your MC and your world building here! I can't wait to read the pitch and find out more. Good luck!

  6. Comments by L.E. Sterling:

    Abi: I love the extra information you give your readers here. I think the hints you give add depth and complexity to Billie -- great job. I really enjoyed the hints at what the Spring Years are -- for this narrator, leaving all her friends and family behind. Can you go further in your explanation (or is there a good reason for you to hold back?)? It seems like the novel will be an exploration of Billie’s adventures during that year -- am I right? If so, what more can you give the reader that will prepare her for the adventure? Is this an adventure all people in this society experience from her age bracket? Is it a gendered thing? What do we need to know about the culture/life she’s leaving behind?

    Maybe you need to give a few more defining strokes to this world before the spring years really make sense. Is there something in the opening scene that will later contrast with her experience in the Spring Year? I’m also wondering still what “Year Zone” in the first sentence refers to. Any chance you can tip your reader off?

    A fabulous revision -- much, much more clear! Great job and I can’t wait to read more!

  7. Abi, nice job on the revision! I am still really wanting to see a lot more about this sci-fi world. There's an arcade and holoscreen and boots, but I want a feel for the world in general. Is it future and nostalgic tech? Near future? I just really want to see more through the things she's interacting with. See if you can give readers a piece of your world in a big way. :)

    I'm actually also wondering if we could get a beat of Billie interacting with someone in a way that isn't sarcastic or hot-tempered. Since she's the main character, something to show the reader that she has another side--maybe slip in a scene with Jodie?--could really boost readers connecting to her character.

    Good luck!

  8. Great work on revising, I felt better grounded in the world and while I obviously don't know what Year Zone and Spring Years means, it didn't stick out in a way that I felt like I already should have. I'm okay with waiting for that information. Mostly I had questions as I read that pulled me out and made me pause:

    If there's no chance of her doing it again, then is she really on her way to breaking her record for the number of times she's been escorted home by police? (Also, not sure how much of a rebel she really is if it is always tame enough to only require a police escort home vs actually being arrested.) Or was she referring to this specific incident and she totally intends to find other ways to get herself in trouble? If the officer has spoken to her mother before, shouldn't he know it is Miss, not Mrs? How does her mother feel about being called the wrong title? She doesn't really seem to react to it, which makes me wonder why she bothered to correct him. The MC's escalation to her outburst of anger is missing. She seems very calm in the car and is fine until her mother calls her a lost cause and then she suddenly explodes. It seems mellow-dramatic without any kind of build-up. Did the MC not expect that kind of response from her mother about being driven home by a cop? And if the MC skipped school to avoid reality (seeing friends she'd have to leave), then would she really have wanted to hang out with them on her last night before leaving?

    Still love the voice, it is very strong and demands to be heard. I'd keep reading. I'm excited to see the next revision and the pitch!