Sunday, November 10, 2019

1st 5 Pages Nov Workshop - Grant Rev 1

Name: Belinda Grant
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Title: The Librex

Climbing down a slippery cliff in the dark was not one of my talents.

My sister Sunny was made for the task. While my stubby fingers gripped for dear life, she’d scampered down like a lizard, barely touching the grooves in the stone. She dropped down to the hard, slick rock as if it was spongy grass, dumped the contents of her bag and began to make a fire, occasionally looking up as if surprised I hadn’t joined her.

I wished I’d stayed in bed. The night’s little moonlight had vanished. All that guided my hands was the slight glow of the clouds, and the white waves that lapped against the rocks below. Those same clouds also gifted a misty rain, adding to the unpleasantness of my descent. Secret, mysterious caves, it turned out, weren’t so appealing in the rain.

I inched my way down further, dropping the toe of my boot into a lower groove. Now I stretched out as far as I could reach. I let go with one hand to grab a rock jutting out near my elbow, but the pressure on my other hand was too much. With a cry I fell. I landed on my feet but lost my footing and crashed onto my rear.

“Why’d you let go, Annie?” Sunny called out.

I lay flat on the rock, glaring at the grey sky as if it was to blame. “It wasn’t exactly on purpose.” I groaned and pushed myself up gingerly onto first one, then both of my feet. My ankles survived, though my rear started to throb. Why couldn’t my body behave for once?

Sunny had finished her fire and was now preparing a torch to light our way. Even she wasn’t dextrous enough to descend a cliff holding a lantern. “Well, hurry up. We don’t have much time.”

She was right. I’d spent many sleepless nights observing the tides, and the platform where we stood was only safe from the waves for an hour at a time.

Research. That was a talent of mine.

For years we’d been fascinated by the cave, situated in the cliff just north of our house. Visible during the low tide, we pondered if anything hid behind its jagged mouth. We couldn’t risk swimming in, where the waves did their regular battle with the rocks. We assumed the smooth cliff was too difficult to climb. But a few weeks before I’d noticed the strange grooves in the rock, making it safe to descend to the platform at its mouth.

Safe for Sunny at least.

The grey Morgandy Sea reflected the night’s cloudy sky. The biggest waves would break against the platform, close to reaching Sunny’s spitting fire. I ducked down, holding my aching hands up towards the flames. The cave was darker than I’d pictured, and I rubbed my prickling arm.

Sunny twisted an oiled cloth around a green branch. She rocked from one foot to the other and her night-dress, half tucked into her drawers, billowed in the wind against her tall, lean frame. Her blonde curls danced across her face as she worked. She kept blowing them out of the way with frustration, but little success.

“What do you think’ll be in there?” Sunny asked, using her body as a shield from the wind as she lit the torch.


“Treasure?” Sunny’s laugh had a patronising undertone, as if I wasn’t already thirteen, and barely two-year years her junior.

“Well, what do you think it is, oh wise and great Sunnilyn Demar?”

“A pirate skeleton, maybe? Not coins or jewellery.”

I hadn’t meant coins or jewellery. I hadn’t lost sleep marking tides for coins or jewellery. I hadn’t risked my ankles or the wrath of our protective parents for coins or jewellery.

I had a greater treasure in mind. Magic. I licked my lips and moved forward.

Sunny stepped into the mouth. The slimy walls and loose rocks at my feet were perfect locations for things to hide. Slimy, dark things. I pushed up close to Sunny. What might have made their homes in the caves depths?

I could almost taste the salty water that clung to the walls. The light from Sunny’s torch bounced off the stone as she hurried along. She came to an upward ledge standing just above the high tide line. With a jump she was up, light in hand, and she reached down to help me lumber my way to the top.

The cave walls narrowed in around us, the roof brushing Sunny’s head. Damp from my cloak seeped through to my nightdress. Sunny raced ahead, but I slowed down, surprised at the length of the tunnel. Who’d last braved this spot?

Someone had been here. Waves couldn’t forge this. Someone cut those groves in the rocks.

The tunnel went dark as Sunny turned a corner. She gasped, and I quickened my steps. There were still no hints of the whispers I always heard when a magical item was close by.

Sunny stood at the end of the cave. If there’d been any doubt that people had made this, it was quelled by the sight of a symbol, the size of my head, chiselled into the wall. Four triangles connected at their tips and fanning out like a flower. Below was a stone pillar, carved out of the back of the cave.

On the pillar was a wooden box.

Tiny enough to fit in the palm of my hand, the wood was dark-brown, coated in thick resin. On the box, etched into the surface and burnt black was the same symbol that watched over us from the wall.

“By the River.” My voice echoed strangely through the cave. It was much too small to hide a staff or a book. A gem perhaps?

Sunny poked the wood with her finger, as if hearing my thoughts. “It might be an artefact. Do you hear anything?”

I moved closer, even held my hand over the box. I strained to hear something, anything. But it was no good. There was only the sound of distant waves and two sets of breath.

“No whispers.” My voice was low and someone more sensitive than Sunny would have picked up the hint of tears behind it. There was no reason to think there’d be an artefact just waiting in the cave by our house. But I’d day-dreamed the possibility too many times, it had become almost a certainty in my mind.

But there was nothing. No Magic. No answers as to why I could hear what I heard. And no magic I could use to protect Sunny and I from the Wizard Lords.

I turned the box in my hand. The resin which protected it from the elements sealed it shut. Sunny rustled through her pack and handed me a knife. She stood behind me and rested her chin on my shoulder, holding up her torch for light as I pried it open.

Inside was a quartz stone. It was a speckled, cloudy white, with a vein of metallic blond running through the centre. Shaped like a bent knuckle with a hole in the end.

“A rock?!” Sunny shook her head as I held it up to the light. “I could find five thousand of these on the walk to town. Why the shrine?”

It made no sense. Why would someone go to some much trouble for something so ordinary? I turned it in my hand, watching the glow from the little string of mental. It was rather pretty.


  1. I think you should elaborate and get more mileage out of this part. It's really the most intruiging part of the piece - "still no hints of the whispers I always heard when a magical item was close by". Whoa! How does Annie experience the whispers? Can only she hear them, not her sister? Has she aleways heard them? Lots of questions and you probably shouldn't answer them all here, but a bit more of a teaser would be a realy nice enhancement.
    AT the end, I wasn't sure what "watching the glow from the little string of mental." referred to. Is it the vein inside the stone? (And presumably it should say metal, not mental).
    A few little points:
    I noticed a missing apostrophe in "in the caves depths", and I wasn't sure what upward meant in "an upward ledge".
    You might want to reword "The cave walls narrowed in around us," - the walls are presumably very thick, so they aren't actually narrowing. Maybe show don't tell here and tell what they felt about the changing geometry of the cave.
    "fanning out like a flower" should be "fanned out like a flower".
    I really like this phrase "someone more sensitive than Sunny would have picked up the hint of tears behind it." It's a revelation of Sunny's character, the relationship between Annie and Sunny, and also tells us what's happening. Good stuff. The description "Shaped like a bent knuckle" is also powerfully concise.

  2. Hi Belinda!
    I still love this piece. It is even better now that you've sped up the climb, getting to the intriguing cave sooner. I also felt like you really improved the balance of the descriptions of Sunny and Annie. Whereas before only Sunny stood out to me, now I understand Annie just as well, along with her relationship with Sunny.
    The biggest improvement to me as a reader was the simple, quick explanation of why they're looking for magic. You only mention the Wizard Lords once, and you don't explain anything else about them, but it is just the right amount to hook your reader and make them curious to know...who are they? Why are they a threat to these two sisters? I guess we'll have to continue reading to find out! :)
    I really feel that this is a strong opening. If I bought this book, I would certainly continue to read on, curiosity would force me to! Great job!

  3. Hi Belinda!

    Wow - great, great job on this revision! I like that we see the treacherous climb into the cave, but then we're there - on our mission. If I was reading this book, I'd want to keep turning the pages! You also have a real way with descriptions - simple, yet powerful and evocative. 

    A few things could make this even better. The Morgandy Sea was a great way of letting us know this is a fantasy world - but a bit more of that would help ground us - to really immerse the reader in this world. How is it different than ours - other than that there are magical artefacts and Wizard Lords. Does it look the same, smell the same? Are there creatures down in that cave? 

    Also, a bit more stakes would really add to the urgency. Why is she about to cry at the lack of magic? Why is it so important to her? What will these Wizard Lords do to them?
    Overall, it is really working! Looking forward to reading your revision!



  4. I think this is a wonderful revision. It kept everything that was really working from the original and clarified a few things. Personally, I think it helps a ton to learn the girls ages and I think you do a very nice job at explaining with subtlety how the girls ended up in the cave and hinting at elements of the larger world.

    Love the relationship with the sisters and think this is the great beginning of the story!

    My only note is that the line of dialogue, “By the River," seems confusing. Is this a response to the earlier comment about the pirates and skeleton. Should it be a question? Am I just misreading?

    But lovely first few pages. Thanks for letting me read :)

  5. I really like that we learned a lot more about Annie this time. She has magical abilities of some sort! I think I would like to see some hint of that at the beginning. It might offset her sister's more physical abilities. It's a very nice contrast for sisters! Perhaps she could be scanning and distracted and that's why she slips or something like that. I do think they have a great pairing.

    I think some hint at the beginning that there was something she heard that drew her out would be nice as well. It doesn't have to be elaborate. I really do like this piece. It's setting up for an interesting tale!

  6. Hi Belinda! Well done, much of my confusion from the last time has been sorted out, though I’ll admit, you’ve added in some new confusion this time! This reads much more easily, but there are a few queries from me:

    That opening sentence feels like it’s the end of a paragraph, not a standalone. How about having something happen to her to which she responds with that wry comment. How about having her hear her nightgown tear under her boot, or have the skin on her hand tear on a jagged rock, or have her lose her balance, just for a moment, and think she’s going to plummet to her death before she grabs a rock to save herself? And then follow that heart-stopping action with: “Climbing down a slippery cliff in the dark was not one of my talents”. Pull us into the scene at speed.

    The phrase “why couldn’t my body behave for once?” threw me off. It sounds like her body has uncontrollable tics or movements, rather than just not being fit or balanced enough to climb a cliff like her lither/older sister.

    Thanks for sorting out the ages of the sisters. However, a 13-year old protagonist is not YA material. Editors generally think that no 17 year old reader will want to read a story told in a 13yr old’s POV. They’ll tell you this is middle-grade, so is there any way you can age up the sisters to say 16 and 18? Or at worst 15 and 17?

    So now we know she always hears whispers when there are magical items around. Wow, great idea. But can you give us an extra sentence there about it? Is that since birth or more recent? How many magical items has she experience of? What sort of magic are we talking about from what she’s done so far? Nice fairy-magic, or dark-wizard magic? We don’t need a long explanation, just a little more than what’s there. Tease us, don’t cheat us!

    Why does she suddenly say, “By the River”? Is she reading that in the symbol? How can she read that language/alphabet? Is the capital letter on River important? Why?

    Okay, you’ve now told us the magical world we’re in has Wizard Lords, but again, tease us, don’t cheat us. There’s been no sense that they are currently in danger from these guys, by visiting the cave, so why does she mention them now? I’m getting very little sense of danger, other than getting stuck in a cave or falling down the cliff, so if there’s more of a threat, tell us, in how she’s feeling and what she’s doing. And if she’s going into the cave looking for the magic that will protect them from the Wizard Lords, she needs to think about that earlier when she’s talking to Sunny about what sort of treasure they might find.

    I’m not sure if “little string of mental” is deliberate or a typo. I didn’t mention it last time because I assumed it was a typo for ‘metal’ that you’d pick up as you revised, but it’s still here, so I’m wondering if you do mean ‘mental’ and therefore what that means! Is the metallic seam in the stone a mental connector somehow? And why is she still feeling nothing if it is? Or maybe it’s just a typo!!

    That last sentence needs another beat. “It was rather pretty, but…” Give me something more – does it give her chills? Make her wonder? Make her happy? Pretty isn’t enough, especially since it’s the end of your 5-pages about to be read by a real-life agent! So please give this stone power of some sort, some sort of emotion weight to her, even if it’s not actual magical power. Intrigue us!

    See you next week!

    1. Thanks so much Caroline, this feedback is so helpful. Love the line "Tease us, don't cheat us."

      So you have commented on the age thing and I would love your advice! At present in the story, there is a time jump of three years at about the one third mark. Annie goes from 13 to 16 (but a very young, naive 16). So I was assuming it would work as a fairly young YA book. I know that is a tricky sell, but I'm reading more and more that there is a need for younger YA, and I'm hoping that the market might be on the verge of trying it. But I just don't know.
      The challenging thing is how do I communicate that in the query process too? Love your thoughts.

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