Sunday, June 16, 2019

1st 5 Pages June Workshop - Mitchell Rev 2

Name: Prentis Mitchell
Genre: Young Adult, Magical realism
Title: The Hidden


Jess Emem’s normal teenage life is turned upside down with the opening of her front door.  Chased from her home by a supernatural monster, she is forced to put her trust in an improbable companion- a talking cat.  Pursued by a remorseless Golem, Jess escapes with Max the cat, into the hidden realm of the Occultum: a parallel world where the creatures of fairy tales and legends live unseen by human eyes.

Taking her under his wing, Jess’ unlikely saviour works to rid her of the relentless Golem.  His desperate plan is to enlist the help of Theopoli Stiltskin, a devious, magical wish granter, who will help anyone- for a price.  That price is the completion of a task which drives Jess and Max into the wicked clutches of Mama Sladka – the owner of a chocolate factory whose kind, elderly exterior hides sinister secrets and an insatiable taste for children’s flesh. 

As the unlikely pair descend further into the dark world of the Occultum, Jess faces terrors she thought were simply childhood tales.  Hot on their tracks is the famed hero Phillip Charmain.  Hailing from a long ancestry of monster hunters, he craves to make his name fighting the forces of darkness, but Philip has his own demons to fight.

Surrounded by manipulation and destruction, Jess must be strong and learn to trust in herself if she is ever going to return to the human world and see her mother again.

Chapter 1: The Opening Move

Jess Emem.  1.

Finally- the school day was over. 

Jess trudged down the steps, her school bag digging into her shoulder. She followed the last few pupils trailing out of the school, counting the seconds until she would be sat on that bus home. 

The day had been a battle of endurance.  It had started with double French and continued to slide downhill.  On the playing field, Jess and her friend, Paula, had skilfully avoided any meaningful involvement in the football match but that had not been enough when the ball smashed straight into her face.  The pain seared through her nose, stinging her eyes and drowning out the raucous laughter of the class.  The teacher had raced over at the sight of blood, fishing an old tissue from out of her sleeve which Jess pinched to her nose as she trudged off to medical.

Up ahead around the school gates, a glow of phones hovered like fireflies in the growing twilight.  A group of year 8s gathered giggling, clearly not as eager as Jess to get home.  She danced around them as she fished out her own buzzing phone.  It was Paula.  Her fingers danced over the screen as she replied to her, glancing up just in time to see the bus home pulling away.  She had run as fast as she could, arms waving frantically to catch the driver’s attention, but the bus disappeared with the sight of Mandy and her gang sneering and pointing from the back window.  

Bloody Mandy Chambers. 

The burning rage Jess had felt at lunch erupted straight back to the surface at the sight of her leering grin.  Lunchtime had been today’s ultimate humiliation.  From the moment Jess squeezed herself through the lunch line snaking out of the door, Mandy had been on her.  Surrounded by her sniggering cronies and using the canteen as her stage, Mandy began her attack on Jess.  After all these years together, Mandy never tired of preying on others.  Like seagulls to a picnic, the mob had flocked around them in anticipation of the approaching drama.  Jess had turned away from her, shrugging off the laughter and trying her hardest to ignore the rush of blood flooding to her cheeks as she desperately hunted for Paula’s support.  Eventually the taunts and laughter had become too much for Jess.  Tears pricking her eyes, she had run from the canteen with the sound of Mandy’s taunts stabbing at her.

The bus lumbered around the corner and out of view.  Jess looked at her phone.  Her mum would probably still be at work and wouldn’t appreciate her calling her for a lift.  Rather than face an hour’s wait in the cold for the next bus, she slung her heavy bag back onto her shoulder and began the long walk home alone.  Even hours later, Jess still felt the sting of humiliation of running away from Mandy.  Being one of the few faces of colour in a sea of white, she already carried the scars of names but running away was letting her win.  She wished she could wipe away the shame of running from Mandy as easily as she had the tears.  Tomorrow, she would give as good as she got, she promised herself.

Finally, Jess turned onto her road.  The last dying rays of sun faded behind the row of houses leaving only the thin sliver of moon grinning down on her.  Curtains were drawing the eyes of the buildings shut.  She dug her hands into her pockets, pulling her coat around her, as the chill wind swept down the street rustling the last few remaining leaves on the trees.  The only thing keeping Jess going was the thought that her mum may be home by now. Perhaps they could snuggle down with a duvet and binge watch something on TV.  The faded brickwork of her apartment block came into view, peeking over all the row of neat houses lining the rest of the street.  As she got nearer, her stomach rumbled at the lingering smell of bread from the bakery tucked away in the basement of her building.  Through the window, Jess watched the last of the staff clear the chairs onto the tables as they swept the remains of the day away. She wished they could eat out tonight or even better order in some pizza.  While lost in her own thoughts, she did not notice the car until it tore past her, sending a torrent of water splashing from the puddle.  She dodged aside but it was too late to avoid the spray.  

‘How can this bloody day get any worse?’ she cursed under her breath, looking down at her drenched socks and shoes.

She had no idea just how much worse the day would become.

From across the street, a figure stood hidden in the alleyway- a dark shape looming in the shadows.  The stranger eagerly watched the doorway of the apartment block.  When he saw the young girl approaching the building an opportunity opened.  The girl climbed the steps.  From the darkness, his eyes watched as her fingers stabbed the door code into the keypad, memorising the position of each digit she pressed.  The door buzzed and the girl slipped into the warm glow of the building.  One of his huge, heavy fists slipped inside his jacket, feeling the reassuring weight of the object tucked inside.  It was still there.  As the door closed behind the girl, he moved out from the darkness and onto the street.

Warm inside and in desperate need to put this day behind her, Jess wiped her shoes on the threadbare old rug then took the stairs two at a time.  Higher and higher she ran, passing by rich smells drifting from number 23’s dinner and angry yells from the couple at number 25.  As she reached the third floor, a fluffy, white cat curled up on a forgotten shopping bag barely managed to force an eye open as she passed by.

She finally reached the fourth floor.  At the door of her apartment, lay a parcel. The sight of the small brown box brought the first tingle of excitement in her whole day.  She picked it up, hoping it was for her.  The excitement slipped away as quickly as it had appeared when she saw the name ‘Mr Maughan’ printed on the label; they had left her neighbour’s parcel at the wrong address again.  She dropped it back to the floor, slipped her key into the lock and pushed open the door

Jess abandoned her school bag on the floor, followed closely by her coat and wet socks.  It only took a couple of shouts to figure out that the flat was empty.  She went to the kitchen.  The light flickered to life illuminating a plate of food wrapped in cling film and a scribbled note left on the kitchen worktop.  Jess scanned the note.

‘So much for still being at work,’ she spat.

She tossed the note aside where it landed on the cold leftovers.  Her mum had gone out with her friend. 


All the anger and frustrations of the day twisted and gnawed in her stomach. The phone was in her hand before she even knew what she was going to say.  It rang and rang until eventually she heard her mum’s voice.

‘Hi.  I can’t take your call right now.  Please leave me a message.  Bye.’

The answer phone beep pierced Jess’ ears.  The ball of anger in her tummy erupted - a raging storm of frustration which she threw at her mum.  

‘I can’t actually believe you’ve gone out again.  Where even are you? I’ve been at school all day you know.’  

The rant continued: all the hurt, the humiliation, the anger poured out of her and onto her mum’s answer phone.  For the most of it, Jess could not even remember what she said but it felt good to get it out.  She threw the phone down onto the table.  The initial flood of anger was receding and now guilt was slipping inside.  She shouldn’t have said all those things to her mum.  It was too late to do anything about that now, Jess thought as she shoved the plate of food aside.  And anyway, if her mum had gone out partying with her friend again, then why should she feel guilty or eat cold leftovers from yesterday? Jess thundered out of the kitchen in search of the takeaway menus.

Outside on the street, the sound of heavy feet pounded towards the door.  


  1. I like this, but I want to get to the magic sooner. The opening pages don't give much of a glimpse into the magical part of the story. I'm also not totally sold on the italicized descriptions of the stranger. I think it would be more exciting if she encountered him sooner. Maybe even on the way home. She could still think about her mother and getting take out in retrospect. The pitch sounds fun.I would read this.

    1. Hi,

      Thank you for your comments. The magic kicks off in the very next chapter but as being part of this, that's something I need to reflect on and if there is a way of having some hints earlier. Due to the rest of the story, I want to keep Jess in the dark as far as the magic goes until the next chapter.

      Thanks for taking the time for giving suggestions.

    2. One more thing I wanted to mention is that I really wanted to know what a Golem is exactly. Maybe you could add in a short description in the pitch like Jess is chased by a Golem, a remorseless monster from a parallel world. Something along those lines but written better.

    3. Yes, I think that would help. Due to later developments there's bits I don't want to mention but think from this, there needs to be a bit more. Thank you.

  2. Comments on pitch:

    This sounds more like a plot summary than a pitch. The point of the pitch is to tell us about the main character's journey. What is her original need? What happens to incite her goal and what is her goal? What are the stakes and obstacles to the goal? How does she meet the need by pursuing the goal?

    Also, watch the number of times you use this sentence structure (it should be rare, not the norm):

    [Chased from../Pursued by../Taking her../Hailing from../Surrounded by...], she/Jess/he...

    1. Hi,

      I didn't mean it to be but it is the first time I have written a pitch. I tried to just strip the story to its basic elements: genre, setting, character, conflict, and stakes but helpful to have those pointers to think about.

      Good advice about the sentence structure though I can see how it is repetitive.

      Thank you.

  3. Comments on the pages:

    I think you've improved the beginning by getting to the action faster. I do still find it a little heavy on backstory, but it's better than before.

    I don't find the italics are helping with your POV hopping. If anything, they are just emphasizing it which is almost worse. I have no suggestions as to how to improve it. It honestly just does not work for me. Maybe others will feel differently.

    Good luck!

    1. Sorry it doesn't work for you but thank you anyway for taking the time in reading it and sharing your ideas. Its been interesting to hear your perspective on things.

      All the best,

  4. I think you're starting your story in the right place now. You can probably lose some of the detail about how bad her day's been and just keep the key moments of humiliation in there. The italicized parts from the POV of the demon really don't work for me. It pulls me out of Jess's world completely and feels irrelevant to the action on the page. If you want to foreshadow the appearance of the demon, better to have Jess feeling uneasy and watched, maybe hearing footsteps behind her or seeing impossible shadows on the walls as she walks. Create a sense of dread and foreboding without actually telling us what (or who) it is.

    Your pitch doesn't sell me on the book at all. It's too long and too detailed, feeling more like a plot summary than a pitch. A pitch should only tell us the beginning of the story, who the character is, what they want, why they can't have it, and the consequences or stakes for them not having it or trying to get it. You're probably only going to mention things that happen in the first quarter or third of your book in your pitch. Enough to tantalize the reader into wanting to find out more.

    1. Hi Kate

      Thank you. Yes, it feel like it is in a better place. The whole shift of POV has been a point of constant discussion- one which I will continue to ponder over. I may move that whole bit into the next chapter from Mr Trick's POV and see what that is like.

      Thanks also for the pitch. First time for me so a step learning curve. To be honest, what is mentioned is really only the first third of the story but I clearly need to maybe be clearer on those points such as why the Golem is following but without giving too much of the plot away!

      Anyway, thanks for all your advice over the weeks. Good luck in the future.

  5. Hi Prentis!

    I'm not great at pitches to be honest, but I think you need to address why the Golem is chasing her. What are the stakes for her - besides being reunited with her mother?

    As for the pages, they are SO much stronger! I'd suggest dropping the first lines and starting with:

    The day had been a battle of endurance. It had started with double French and continued to slide downhill. On the playing field, Jess and her friend, Paula, had skilfully avoided any meaningful involvement in the football match but that had not been enough when the ball smashed straight into her face. The pain seared through her nose, stinging her eyes and drowning out the raucous laughter of the class.

    Unless Mandy is an important character, I'd condense much of what follows. A line or two that she was teased and humiliated is all you need to convey she's picked on at school and can't wait to get home.

    Also - this needs reworking as it is a jump from staff to She - you need to connect it and make it clear who the they are:
    Through the window, Jess watched the last of the staff clear the chairs onto the tables as they swept the remains of the day away. She wished they could eat out tonight or even better order in some pizza. While lost in her own thoughts, she did not notice the car until it tore past her, sending a torrent of water splashing from the puddle. She dodged aside but it was too late to avoid the spray.

    Holly is right about the italics. It's jarring. I know you want to amp up the tension, but this sudden shift in POV isn't working. Try to rework that. I'd suggest reading a book with a close third and seeing how this is introduced. At the very least, cut "she had no idea just how much worse the day would become."

    Overall, this is much improved! Good luck with your story!
    Erin - 1st 5 Pages Mentor

    1. Hi Erin,

      Thank you so much for all your ideas. I feel much happier with the start and so the whole workshop has been more than worthwhile. Its a pity it cant carry on for more weeks!

      I feel I naturally add too much detail so will definitely look at cutting bits back.

      The whole shift of POV bit has been a constant discussion over the weeks. I really don't want Jess to know about anything at that point and so I need to keep thinking that bit over. At the moment, I thinking of putting that little section into the second chapter and seeing how that goes.

      Pitches are brand new to me and so its lovely to have those pointers. Its going to be good to read the others to see how they have tackled it.

      Once again, that's you so much for all your time. Your comments have been really positive, constructive and helpful. You have gone out of your way to help and offer suggestions which has been really helpful.

  6. Hi Prentis,

    It has been my pleasure to read your pages! POV is very difficult to nail. I looked online and came across this Writers Digest article that might help - One Stop for Writers has a lot of free resources as well, including these sheets that might help with backstory and POV -

    If you don't have a writing group or critique partner, I'd strongly recommend it. Maybe even reach out to people in the workshop - many writing groups have been formed here.

    I am so happy I was able to offer some helpful suggestions! Thank you for telling me that, you've made my day!

    Good luck!


    1. You have been amazing and the fact you have gone out of your way and found that link shows that. Thank you so much for all your help.

      This is my first venture into this world and so it has been invaluable in sharing my writing and getting all these ideas to help. Hopefully its the first of many writing workshops and collaboration.

    2. I'm so happy the workshop has been helpful! Finding the right place to start is SO hard - workshops really can help with that. I wish you the best of luck with your story and your writing!!!

  7. Hi Prentis, I think there's a lot of great material here but now I'm a little confused on the timing. She's starting out at the end of the day and reflecting, but the lunch scene felt out of place as it was the only flashback sequence.

    I like the introduction of the stranger earlier, but if his scenes aren't always going to be in italics I don't know if it makes sense this way?

    The pitch feels a little piecey as well. Is the supernatural monster the golem or something else? You also refer to him as remoreless and then relentless.

    I think you could combine the second and third paragraphs and leave out some of the details. Mama Sladka started to feel like it was going to be Hansel and Gretel and then suddenly it was back on a different track.

    Best of luck!

    1. Hi Nikki,

      Thanks for the help. The flashbacks were a new structure and so I think you right in checking that they are not out of place and flow better.

      Thanks as well for the pitch. I found it tricky just including a few bits and as usually tried to put too much in!

      Thank you so much for all your help over the weeks. You have been a great mentor and really given some great pointers.

  8. Hi Prentis,

    Huzzah for talking cats! Looks like we're drawing on similar themes in our stories.

    Pitches are super hard, I think you've done well for a first attempt. If you haven't read Query Shark yet I highly recommend checking it out - once you've read 200 odd pitches and how she tears them apart, you get a good idea of what people are looking for. I don't think you need to explain what a golem is, people who read fantasy (your target agents) will know. Is Phillip Charmain a take on Prince Charming? (My brain kept wanting to read it that way)

    I think your pages are coming along really well. You probably don't need quite as much backstory of her day straight up - like maybe condense it to a paragraph of angry looking back on everything that had gone wrong in the day. That will help you get to the magic faster.

    I did like the inclusion about her being the only coloured person in a sea of white. Up until then, I had assumed Jess was white (I know, I know, bad of me).

    I've really enjoyed seeing your work grow during the three weeks. Good luck with the next step!

    1. I know- I thought the same thing reading yours!

      Thanks for the recommendation, I shall go and read that. It's so hard as people seem to want different things. Not giving it away, the other characters such as Theopoli and Mama are far more important to the story than the Golem. Well spotted on Phillip!

      That's for the comments on the pages. Next steps is to keep trimming!

      Thanks for all your help over the weeks. I've really appreciated all your help and advice. Good luck with your writing, it sounds a really interesting book and I hope it goes well.

  9. Hi Prentis! Thank you so much for letting me read your work these past three weeks.

    The pitch feels heavy in terms of information. I'm not sure what's the driving plot: being chased by the Golem, the hidden realm, the conflict with Mama Sladka, the Occultum, etc. I'd suggest mentioning only a couple of these evens. Because I've only read the first couple pages, I don't know which ones are the most plot intensive.

    I've noticed in magical realism/fairy tale realms, monsters/beings are personifications of either real life problems or cautionary tales. (Ex: Werewolves symbolizing transition and puberty in teenagers) Is this Golem a representation of a real life problem she's having? If so, that's a good way to model that issue in a pitch. You could write the comparison and hook an audience that way.

    You've improved so much since the beginning. I wish you the best of luck moving forward!

    1. Hi Kim,

      Thanks for the thoughts on the pitch. It's difficult as each of the characters come together and are important to the story so tricky to not have them all. As this was my first draft, I need to go back and have a good trim and KD recommended a good book to read for pitches.

      Thank you so much for all you time in reading and your comments. I havfound them so helpful over the weeks and have given me lots to keep working on.

      Good luck with your book.

  10. Hi Prentis! This is a great start and a very interesting premise! While I really like the concept, the pitch here is a little confusing and would benefit from some simplification. Right now, there are lot of characters and action being introduced. I’d focus on Jess and her journey, as well as the central conflict and stakes. While it’s not always a perfect example, I do think the easiest way to get the feel for pitch writing is to read the jacket copy of books in your genre. This particular pitch is reading like a summary—and you really want to use your pitch to hook your reader! Not just provide a play by play. (And pitches ARE hard. Even editors sometimes struggle with jacket copy. The more you practice though, the easier it will become. I promise!). And one small note, I haven’t read the who project but this feels more like contemporary fantasy than magical realism to me?

    Throughout the pages, I enjoyed the voice (I especially loved the description, “Like seagulls to a picnic, the mob had flocked around them in anticipation of the approaching drama”). I do think that beginning is a tad disjointed—jumping from discussing the day, to being at the end of the day and waiting for the bus, and then jumping back to discuss lunch. And towards the end of the sample pages, there is a lot of focus on tiny actions. It can become tedious to go through step by step to get the character where they need to be, and often isn’t needed. It hurts the flow of the story. I’d also focus on varied sentence structure (and length) throughout which will also help with the overall flow and pacing. But these are just fine-tuning details and I think what you have is a very strong start!

    My only other suggestion would be to question if the second POV is needed? Could Jess feel someone watching her but not see it? Without reading the rest of the pages, it’s hard to know but if the second POV is needed if perhaps it would be clearer to have each chapter be a different POV rather than switching throughout?

    Overall, really great job!

    1. Hi Kristy,

      Thank you so much for the feedback. It is really lovely to have such clear, positive ideas and suggestions.

      For me, a pitch was brand new so I know there is lots to do. I think you're right, as the book has lots of characters, I have tried to cram the main ones in. Your right with sticking to Jess' POV.

      The day was a mixture, trying to break up the the events so that it is not all backstory. I feel I like where it has gone but completely agree with there is more to cut away and to smooth the transitions.

      As for the second POV, this has been a constant elements in the three weeks. Currently, my thinking is move it into the next chapter which is from the strangers POV.

      Once again, thank you for taking the time in giving such detailed feedback. Its really helpful.