Sunday, June 2, 2019

1st 5 Pages June Workshop - Kells

Name: KD Kells
Genre: Young Adult fantasy/gothic fantasy
Title: The Witch Maid

The first time you meet a demon is never memorable. You’ve probably met a dozen in your lifetime and never noticed. It’s how they survive, hiding in plain sight while they drain the life of the humans around them. But when a demon interferes with your life? That’s a different story. 

It was too early to be up. Mama always said a lady shouldn’t rise before nine and the sun hadn’t yet pierced the coal smog hanging over town, but I sucked in a deep breath and knocked on the door. My raps on the heavy wood were the final nails in my coffin, sealing my fate in this miserable house.  

It had been a long time since I’d believed in anything as childish as magic or flying broomsticks — I was practically sixteen after all — but the cobweb-encrusted eaves and crumbling turrets of Black Manor seemed designed to power the rumours that echoed in my head. The ones that whispered old Lady Black was a witch. Poppycock, Papa would have said. Jealous lies spread by people without proper breeding. Would he have been so dismissive if he could see me running to Lady Black for help? Something twitched in the bushes to the side of the door as I leaned to peer in the window, sending my heart racing. 

“I heard she grinds up the bones of babies to use in spells.” Patty had insisted one lunchtime. The teachers were at the other side of the dining room, but she’d kept her voice low. “That’s how she’s still alive. They say she’s over 200 years old!” 

“I heard she captures the souls of any young men that wander too close to her estate. That’s why there’s no eligible bachelors in town.” Melody agreed. 

“I heard she’ll make you a love potion for five pence, but they only work on the boys you don’t like.” 

“I heard her daughter ran off with a demon.” 

“I heard she has a black cat.” Jacinta had said as she drowned her roast beef with gravy. When her opinion was met with silence, she looked up. “What?” 

“Oh Cinny, owning a cat doesn’t make you a witch.” 

“A black one does. They’re bad luck you know.” 

We’d all burst into peals of laughter, and Miss Bloom had scolded us for being so unladylike. But that had been before, when I’d had friends and a future... 

No, I couldn’t let my mind go down that path. I had a job to do and there was no use moping around. This was life now, suck it up as my sister, Liliana, would say. I took a steadying breath and tried the bell, pulling hard on the rusted chain. The sound echoed through the house, far longer than it should have. It made me shiver just thinking about how many forgotten rooms must be inside. 

Without warning, the door swung open. A woman stood there wearing a flour-spattered apron and wielding a wooden spoon. I hadn’t heard any footsteps, how had she got there so quietly? 

She was shorter than me, though that wasn’t hard, with arms muscled from a lifetime of hard work, and grey hair tucked in a braid under a colourful kerchief. This was not what I had expected of Lady Black. She should have been someone refined and elegant, someone befitting the largest estate in Sinwillow, even if it was a run-down old wreck. 

“Yes? What is it you want? I am in middle of making vatrushka!” The woman demanded. 

Not Lady Black then. Her voice was thick with an accent I couldn’t place and I’d certainly never heard of...what had she said again? Vatrushka? In all the rumours, there’d never been one about Lady Black having foreigners in her house. That would have been intriguing in itself, Sinwillow wasn’t exactly known for being a hive of immigrants. 

“I’m Evie... um, Evelyn. Wilkins.” Drats. Mama would be so disappointed if she’d heard that. It was uncouth to introduce oneself with a nickname. Well, I supposed it wasn’t like it mattered anymore, we’d lost our claim to being genteel along with everything else. When the woman shot me a blank look, I had to add, “the new maid?” 

“Oh yes, yes, Adeline said new girl comes today.” 

The woman’s dark eyes bored into me down that hooked nose, taking in every detail of my appearance. My last good dress, the one that brought out the green in my muddy eyes, felt like a rag under the  scrutiny. At least my hair was behaving today. I’d tamed the thick brown mess into two braids at the base of my neck. Liliana had even lent me a hat for the occasion, and all in all, I’d thought I was rather presentable under the circumstances until the woman tsked loudly. 

“No, no good. You are too skinny. We will have to fatten you up.” 

Liliana would have laughed herself silly at that suggestion, I’d never been accused of being too skinny in my life, not next to the slender willow of my sister. I was more like our father – tall, solid, and prone to freckles over my nose. Yet another reason to be grateful for this job, it was far enough away from home that Mama wouldn’t have to look at me every day and see him. 

“Come then, Adeline want to see you.” The woman strode off down the hallway. 

I took one last look down the hill, at the town below and my old life. I could still turn and run, go back to school and... and then what? No, this was the only way if I wanted to protect my family. The door thudded behind me with a thunderous finality. 

“My name is Ludmila, you call me Mila. I am the cook,” the woman said as she led me through a labyrinth of rooms. Everything was covered with a thick film of dust, even the gas light fittings. There was no way one old woman and her cook had use for such an impossible number of rooms. What a waste of space, especially when Mama and Liliana were crammed into a tiny single room back in town. 

“You not bring much with you.” Ludmila gestured at the small case in my hand. 

“Oh. I guess I didn’t think I would need to.” That much was true. My uniform, bedding, shoes, all that would be provided by Lady Black. I didn’t want to tell this woman that pretty much everything else I owned was in the case. There hadn’t been much left to pack after the move, and so many things had been sold off. 

“Smart girl. Not good to form unnecessary attachments. Ah, here we are.” 

Ludmila stopped so suddenly I almost crashed into her. The black door at the end of the hall was just like every other one we’d passed – the only difference was the doorknob looked like it had actually been polished in the last fifty years. I had absolutely no idea where we were, the house was like a rabbit warren. 

“You go talk to Adeline. When finished, I will show you bedroom, then we have breakfast.” 

“Oh, I’ve already had breakfast,” I tried to say, but Ludmila wasn’t interested in my protests. 

“Not Mila’s breakfast you haven’t. Very important meal you know. Cannot be skimping when you will be working so hard.”


  1. I really enjoyed the opening paragraph- great to get the reader thinking and pondering over how the demon will be involved in the narrative.

    I got a bit confused that she had gone from her bed to Black Manor, I clearer up later on, but for a moment thought that it was her home. Perhaps there could be more transition between the two scenes or more grand arrival at Black Manor?

    The different points about Lady Black were effective in building up the mystery of the character and the sense of impending suspense. Some lovely descriptions from the characters too and I likes the way it was interspersed throughout the dialogue so it built a picture but kept the pace up too.

    Would like to read more and see how the demon comes into the story...

  2. This is a good opening chapter, although I would probably lose the first paragraph where you speak to the reader as 'you'. It's foreshadowing, and I don't think it's necessary here because there is enough creepy detail in what follows to create a sense of foreboding and unease. Telling us upfront that there are going to be demons almost undercuts this atmosphere.

    I like the way you segued in and out of the past with the conversation with her friends at school, and how easily you wove in details about Evie's life, even while driving her journey forward. Even after this short section I feel like I know her and am on my way to wanting to follow her through her journey.

    I like that we don't meet Lady Black too quickly. Building up the suspense draws readers in and keeps them turning pages. I certainly would keep going...

    1. Thanks Kate :)
      There's no other mention of demons until about 5000 words in and I worry it will come out of left field if I don't weave it in early - maybe it needs a more subtle touch though

  3. I agree with Kate about the opening paragraph. It seems like this is too far removed from the rest of the chapter. I didn't get the bit about a lady not being up before 9. For a minute with the demons and the coffin reference, I was thinking vampires. I enjoyed the gossiping between the kids about the Lady Black. Definitely builds the mystery.

    1. Haha definitely not vampires!!

      In Victorian times, well-bred ladies didn't get out of bed before like 11 o'clock ;)

  4. Hi KD! I’m super jazzed to be working with you!

    The buzz about Lady Black leaves me intrigued. I appreciate the slow burn of her arrival. So many fantasy books want to whip out the elusive characters right away, so kudos to you for holding back! I appreciate the rumors, but I think they’re too mild for teenagers. Sixteen-year-olds would be more gruesome in their rumors: “She’ll make you a love potion, but to get it, she cuts off your ring fingers and dumps them into a stew for you to eat.”

    I really liked the first paragraph, but I don’t think you need it. I have a feeling the reader’s going to learn that information, so there’s no need to ruin the surprise. :)

    The second and third paragraphs are good set up; however, I didn’t realize until Evie looks down the hill that the girls were outside. When Evie knocks on the door, I thought she was knocking on a door in the kitchen inside. Perhaps you could add a quick sentence about her taking in the early morning air, smelling the grass, trees or other forms of nature around.

    The words “unladylike” and “proper breeding” perplexed me. I’m left wondering if there’s a certain reason why you use them (maybe it becomes evident in later chapters) or if it’s just another way of saying her parents are stuck up. If it’s the latter, I’d suggest using different terms/wording. If it’s the former, feel free to disregard this comment.

    Overall, great first few pages. We get a good sense of Evie. Looking forward to seeing how she shapes up!

    1. Hi Kim, you got it in one when you said Evie's family seems stuck up. It doesn't really come through in this bit, but the story is set in a Victorian era type land and Evie comes from a high society family that has fallen from grace.

      I did have a lot more description of the outside of the house originally, I wonder if that would help clarify where she is. I sacrificed it to get to the action faster.

  5. For me, the opening paragraph is what hooked me in. I found that it made it stand out. I suppose it links with individual reader's interests but for me enjoying more dark, magical fantasty, it drew me in.

    1. Hi Prentis, so interesting to see people's different opinions on the opening para! It is more a dark, magical fantasy as you say, I'm glad to hear it's giving off the right vibes with that paragraph

    2. It definitely did. A writer friend also read it and she really enjoyed the hook of the first paragraph.

      I suppose it may be interesting to come back to perhaps another reference to the demon so the two pieces are not so removed as some of the others felt. I'm sure that this is referenced to after the first 5 pages.

  6. Hi KD,

    This opening is intriguing and caught my attention. I really like what you have here and am hooked. I have few thoughts though.

    I'm in the "don't think you need that first paragraph" crowd. Just mentioning "I heard her daughter ran off with a demon." plants the thought of demons in the reader's head. Here we think it's just a rumor, but when it comes into play, the reader will have an "aha" moment and think back to this conversation.

    I do think your opening needs atmosphere. Bring in a few more details to ground your reader in the setting and time. At first, as read words like uncouth, drats, ladylike mixed with suck it up, I wasn't sure what time we were in. I did think she was inside at first too. You could show us the cold morning breeze, the dew under her feet, maybe a early morning delivery wagon pulled by a horse that passes by. It took me a bit to figure out the time we were in. Also, by showing the darkness around her and the chill running over her body it will give us more of a creepy feel. You mention that Mila is covered in flour. Are there any smells coming from the kitchen? Give us some other senses to bring the setting alive--smells, touch, noises ... Sprinkling in unpleasant senses and adding more creepy details about the setting would up the creepiness to the scene.

    When she shivers at the thought of how many forgotten rooms were inside, I was confused why she'd think that until we find out why she's there. Does this need to be a mystery? Can you say "how many forgotten rooms to clean" instead? Could just be me and you can ignore this, but the only mysteries you should want the reader to think about is about Lady Black.

    Do know that this is great as it is and I enjoyed reading it. Keep up the wonderful work and good luck with revisions. Can't wait to see the next round!

    1. Thanks Brenda. I'd actually cut a whole bunch of description from the first page about the house, so clearly I went a bit overboard! Working it back in for the next submission.

  7. KD,

    Thank you so much for submitting! I loved most of this. It has great voice and I like how the setting is woven in.

    In the first read through I immediately wanted to suggest cutting the first two paragraphs. I liked the way the third one started and thought that would be a better opening. I still definitely think the first paragraph should go, but maybe the second one can stay - it just felt on first read that each of the three paragraphs didn't go together. I think going from "demons" to "coffin" made me feel like Evie was a vampire and then paragraph three had witches!

    I'm curious about protecting her family ... I definitely get the sense she's taking the job because she needs to, not wants to.

    All in all good work!

    1. Thanks Nikki. I'm really struggling to get the right opening tone without the first paragraph, but if everyone is saying it has to go, then it has to go.