Sunday, April 21, 2019

1st Five Pages April Workshop - Feltham Rev 2

Name: Abi Feltham
Genre: Young Adult Science Fiction
Title: The Spring Years


After the world recovers from a widespread energy crisis, humanity relies solely on chronologium. Sixteen-year-old Billie Embers is preparing to embark on her “Spring Years”—a compulsory fuel harvesting programme that requires every teenager to travel back in time and live for four years, creating the temporal paradox from which chronologium is farmed.

When Billie travels back to 1993 and meets Luke Bell, a simple but irresistible mechanic, she breaks the cardinal rule—never fall in love. After unsuccessfully resisting their forbidden romance, they are tracked down by the programme’s relentless policing unit—The Invigilators—and must evade them or face execution.

Armed only with a time travel device and her love for Luke, Billie is thrown into a cat and mouse game that spans not only the complexities of her adolescence, but the entirety of time and space. From the comfort of her futuristic year zone to the grungy 1990s, the roaring parties of the 1920s to the dangers of medieval England, Billie and Luke must keep both themselves and their relationship alive.

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. Six this year, five the last and three the year before. I’d managed to break 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, I forget. 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. Who was she to call me a lost cause? At least I have my whole life ahead of me. She’s so old, she probably remembers the energy crisis. 
“You shouldn’t talk about someone in the third person when they are present,” I said, glancing over my shoulder to shoot Mum a sardonic look. “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.
Almost immediately, I felt a stab of regret. Did I really want to spend my final evening at home angry at Mum? I should make an effort to get along with her, after all, we weren’t going to see each other for four whole years. Before I’d had a chance to even think about an apology, my holowatch’s display screen sprung to life, emanating from the device on my wrist. Mum had sent me a ping.
Uh oh. Caps. That’s when I knew she was serious. I slumped behind my desk, tears threatening to well up. There was no use in arguing with Mum. She knew where to hit me where it hurt. My last night with my friends.
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.
If I stayed away from school, away from home, reality would never hit and I wouldn’t have to go on my Spring Years. Abandoning my family wasn’t so bad; it was my friends I couldn’t bear to leave. But now, I’d made it even worse. I wouldn’t even get to enjoy those last few moments with them before they entered different Year Zones too. My heart sank.
Accepting defeat, I swiped through my social feeds and shot Jodie a ping.
Me: Tonight’s a no-go. Bust up with Mum.
Her: Noooooo! Because of skipping?
Me: Because of her unflinching dedication to ruining my life. And also, yes. Skipping.
Her: Disappointment levelsky high.
Me: I messed up. So, so sorry. I wanted to see you guys.
Her: It’s okay, chicken. We still have tomorrow.
I knew I could count on Jodie to understand.
No one came to get me that evening, not even for dinner. Mum was, presumably, still mad at me, and my 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.


  1. Hi Abi. Love the pitch. I think it's super cool to see how it's going to be a time travel. Your pitch made me excited to read more, which is great. Your pitch did make me wonder a little if you needed the texting with her friend in the first chapter. It seemed to hold us up from getting to the important thing--the springing. Esp since it seems like she isn't going to be seeing that friend again? I think the premise and the time travel thing is really creative. I think it's nice how you set up that she has trouble with the police and that's going to be a big part of the story. Best of luck with this. I'm looking forward to seeing it on the shelf.

  2. Your pitch is well crafted and has me eager to on. I love the time-travel elements and am attracted to the destinations mentioned. Luke seems like an interesting partner for Billie. I would suggest you consider an alternate word for "simple." My thought was that perhaps Luke is a down-to-earth person with simple tastes--not pretentious. I'd like to know a bit more about him to explain what you meant.

    Breaking up the second paragraph of the chapter was a good idea. It moved the story along and held my attention better. The added paragraph later where Billie shows regret about the argument with her mother, softened her and gave her added dimension. I, also, liked Billie expressing her regrets in the texts to her friend.

    "Springing" is a great name for the time-travel Billie will do. You have created a great start for an engaging story. I wish you all the best.

  3. Comments on pitch:
    -It sounds like you're saying that these kids are allowed to travel back in time and do pretty much anything except fall in love, and if they do, they will be killed. If this isn't what you mean, I think you need to clarify. If it is what you mean, I think you need to explain it more. Why would the police care about falling in love and why would they kill someone if they did? I'm not sure I buy this.
    -Calling Luke a mechanic makes him sound like an adult which is not very YA. If he's a teen, call him an aspiring mechanic or something to clarify his age. Otherwise, you might turn off agents/editors who can't sell a romance between a teen and an adult.

    Comments on 5 pages (these are more tiny nitpicks):
    -I'm still confused about when this is taking place. You start right off by saying "had been" which makes it sounds like this is all backstory (and you don't want this!) but then the rest is just a past tense which is odd. Maybe you're trying to do that thing where people use the first sentence as a flashback. If so, I wouldn't suggest you keep it as it seems more like a grammatical error than a device.
    -In this line, "shoulders hunched, tapping her foot," it should be "shoulders hunched, foot tapping."
    -I like that you have made her rethink her attitude toward Mum, but would still suggest you change/remove this line, "She’s so old, she probably remembers the energy crisis." It's mean and honestly, quite insulting to many of your potential readers/agents/editors.
    -I would suggest using "Jodi" instead of "Her" to identify the texts. As is, it makes it seem like there's another Her here.

    Good luck!

  4. Very nice revision! You keep improving every time.
    Comments on the pitch: Can you explain what chronologium is/does? The second sentence of the first paragraph is great! Very nicely done. This is the kind of awesome world-building I need to start seeing in these first pages. :)
    Is Luke also a teen? It's a little unclear.
    Why is she forbidden from falling in love? What are the stakes of that? Why would it make the government execute people who fall in love?
    "Billie and Luke must keep both themselves and their relationship alive." Or else what? What is at stake? I really need to know that in a pitch.
    You have really great ideas here, and I'd love to know for certain in the pitch what will happen if she can't keep her relationship alive.

    Comments on pages:
    I feel like I get a better idea of her character, and that's nice. I am still missing the cool elements in setting description, though. :) I still think some of that could be added in to flavor your story world here.

    "before they entered different Year Zones too" This could be a good place to add more detail about what this means.

    Very nice revision! Good luck!

  5. Time travel is one of my favorite sub-genres, so this pitch hooked me right away. I love that you’re using sci-fi to go in that direction. I agree with other comments about the pitch and explaining what chronologium is. Give us just a few words about that and see if you can maybe combine it with the last line in that first paragraph. I dig the forbidden love story set all across time. Give us the stakes behind that. Maybe it violates very strict paradox rules. It would make so much sense for Billie to break those because she is a punk rock rebel badass, so just highlight that more in the pitch.

    The pages are great and you’ve done so much to make them shine! I actually like the texting with the friend part because it sets up a world where Billie does have someone to care about her. If she didn’t, then she wouldn’t have a reason to fight for herself on her journey. I also like the small ways you hint at her feelings about her family. She’s still hilarious. The voice is great here.

    You’ve done a fantastic job with this! Please feel free to reach out if you’d ever like to swap pages or need a beta reader (paigewyatt55 at gmail dot com). Keep writing!

  6. From our agent mentor Karly Caserza:

    First, thank you for being brave and sharing your work. It's a scary thing to open a piece of your heart for critique. Second, remember that this industry is completely subjective. Opinions will clash, advice will contradict. Do what's best for your story and stay true to your art and heart.

    You introduce your main character and the primary story arc clearly and the idea of creating a temporal paradox to allow the future to farm chronologium is interesting. I have to wonder though, why is falling inlove deserving of execution? Giving this bit of detail may help heighten the stakes.

    Also, do these teenagers have to do anything while they live the four years in the past? Are they tasked with anything while there? Or do they just have to remain there so a temporal paradox can be created allowing chronologium to be farmed?

    Sample Pages:
    Immediately, your main character’s personality is clear—sarcastic, rebellious troublemaker with a bit of heart. You also establish Billie’s relationship with the law and her mother well.

    Now to the nitty gritty. These sample pages need a little more oomph. By the end of page five, she’s going to sleep and we’ve yet to visualize/understand/know Billie’s world. And even though we get a feel for her personality, we have yet to connect with her as a character. Remember, an agent only has the first 10 pages to decide whether to request more or not. We’re looking for that “something”—a strong voice, amazing world-building, unique story arcs, etc.

    And while the inciting incident seems like it’ll happen within the first chapter (since the Springing happens the following day), these pages lack tension for me. Make the agent eager to read on, to request more pages.

    How important is it to show us the conversation with Jodie? Will she play a prominent role during Billie’s Springing? And how about Billie’s sister? Do these characteristics that we’re told somehow affect the story later on (in terms of relationships in the story, plot progression, etc). Everything we’re given here should push the story along. If it’s fluff, it should be reevaluated whether to include it or not.

  7. Comments by L. E. Sterling:

    Wow, Abi, what a brilliant premise for a novel! I absolutely love the concept of chronologium and how Billie and her lover will weave through time.

    One of the most important parts of setting up a dystopian world in crisis (like your original world is) is to show where the cracks are, right from page one. It heightens the stakes of Billie’s trip, and gives a real motive behind leaving (and returning -- your character will need a reason to come back and this essentially needs to be detailed in the opening for the reader to connect to).

    Do things cost astronomical prices in this world because of Chronologium and the energy crisis? Is there widespread poverty? Are people’s relationships tainted by the Spring Years experience? One way into this is to ground this in Billie and her friend circle as they move off into their Year Zone: (I like the concept -- I still think you can flesh it out a little with an extra line or two right from paragraph one, since it’s so fundamental to the novel). Does she know what her assignment will be yet? (or, when is she told?) Is she already thinking about the hard work of learning another culture? Are they well-prepared at school?

    Finally, there is a cultural dimension to this that will help breath the novel -- and the characters -- to life: Does everyone in Billie’s world try to avoid attachments until after? Part of the youth culture would be built up around this experience -- how can you show this (and that Billie is not unique in her feelings -- or is? Why IS she unique in this scenario?) in the opening pages?

    A truly awesome beginning! Congratulations!

  8. Pitch: I love the concept of harvesting chronologium from the paradox created by time travel. Very intriguing pitch. I do agree that the "why love is forbidden" is important to mention within the pitch, especially as everything rides on it, because otherwise the stakes fall flat.

    Pages: The voice is fabulous and I'd keep reading a little further for that alone, but nothing technically happens in these first five pages other than character intros (which are wonderful, distinct, and easy to envision, but it doesn't push the story forward). Does Billie have a goal here? Did she expect to be caught ditching school? I almost wonder if maybe this starts too early, first chapters are so hard.

    Good luck with this, I look forward to seeing it in print one day :)