Sunday, November 17, 2019

1st 5 Pages Nov Workshop - Telford Rev 2

Name: Pat Telford
Genre: Young Adult mystery
Title: Sky Lanterns Over Nether Ides : A Redferne Family Mystery

The three Redferne children are barely adults when their parents die. While grieving, strange events occur around them in the town of Middle Ides. But can they tie together the fragments and figure out what's hiding under the surface? Can their dog, Disco, help investigate? And why the heck would members of the Polo Club eat so many parsnip muffins?

In the contemporary YA epic conspiracy Sky Lanterns Over Nether Ides, each child and Disco discover elements of the hidden conflict between science and magic. They realize they are unwittingly involved-on both sides. With alternating narrators, you will see the pieces of the puzzle arranging, maybe even before they can. Nanotechnology is deployed by a secretive government agency to track students at the local school, Lord Pendlethwaite's daughter is being used as part of a spell that settles over the townspeople, Granny Redferne apparently descends from witches hanged at Pendle Hill in the 1600s, and submerged in a pond above town lies The Undertoad.

As the secrets are uncovered, there are attempts to silence the children, escalating to a confrontation with the hidden forces. Can they cope?

Chapter 1 - Orphans


Last year my brother Faraday instantly figured out why that helicopter crashed into the fringe of Nicholson's Woods. He stood there, a little too close to the blazing wreckage and used his photographic memory and obsessive attention to detail to point out to Newton and the other police officers what had happened.

If only it was that easy to arrive at some conclusions when examining the more recent wreckage of our family. When I get trapped in the maze of thoughts surrounding the deaths of our mother then father, later in 2018, I don't even try to find the way out. That's the best way to survive.

As a result of the crash investigation, Faraday was briefly a minor local celebrity. His hair wafted traces of smoke and he still smelled of aviation fuel when the first reporters and prying neighbours appeared at our house. My parents politely turned them away, but in town for the next few weeks Faraday walked briskly and anxiously. It was visibly awkward for him to accept the praise and earnest interest expressed by the people that might accost him. His bedroom became more of a haven than usual. If this happened a year later, when it was just us three kids, I'm not sure Newton and I would know how to offer the same kind of support. A hollowness exists that our parents should occupy.

I had my own strange experience that same night. With everyone else in the house snarled up in the aftermath of the helicopter crash, I managed only a fleeting chat with my father about it. I cut the conversation short because I didn't want to be the girl-pest distracting my brother's protectors. At 15, I'm marginally his baby sister, but he will always have an inner child that needs guidance.

Here's what happened. That evening, the nightmarish black smoke glowing orange underneath from the still burning helicopter had been visible from my bedroom window. In the cooling air, the breeze on my face and hands was not unpleasant. But in the moment right before I heard my grandmother's voice whispering from the back yard, every little hair on my body stood on end, as if there was a prize for the straightest-looking strand.

"Higgs!" The voice was dreamy. "Higgs! You are a tree." I could hear her clearly, but she wasn't visible in the yard, even though nobody had bothered to turn off the string of bulbs that ran suspended over its length. And it couldn't be her out there, could it? She was in a medical care home up by the hills, and there was no way she would meander her way here, especially not at night.

I dared to call out to her tentatively, although I did not believe she was there. "Granny?"

No direct answer came, but her distinctive musical voice spoke once more, this time at full volume. "A tree."

It wasn't a dream that she said nothing more and my hairs settled. It wasn't a dream that my palms started to itch, and when I turned them over for inspection, tiny shoots of vegetation had started to spring out from them. It wasn't a dream that the shoots erupted into leaves, green at first and then crinkling into autumn reds and oranges. I know it wasn't a dream-although my palms had returned to a normal girlish state in the morning, fallen autumn leaves littered my bed. It was springtime.

I was in denial, like a polar explorer looking at blackened, frozen toes and figuring they'll recover after a nice soak in warm water. Something unseen had formed in the untapped recesses of my brain, but I refused to acknowledge it. I resolved not to tell anyone the whole story, and now my parents will never know. It would take the unmasking the Knights of the Drowned Cabal a year later to make me understand what happened to me that night, even though I puzzled over it often.

Muted family conversations continued downstairs late into that night, a soothing background as I eventually dozed off, and in the morning only my father and I were awake as I got ready to leave for school. It was often hard to tell if he had brushed his antenna-field of hair, bristling grey with the odd remnant of red. Today, it appeared he was trying to absorb maximum signal from the world through his hysterical lid.

"Dad? Last night I was looking across the back yard and I swear I heard Granny whispering and then speaking to me. Could I be going crazy or something?"

He raised an eyebrow that was as unkempt as the hair above. "I'm pretty sure you aren't crazy. What did she say?"

"Not much. Something about me being a tree."

"Huh." He paused in visible thought. "Sometimes I hear her voice too, but probably everyone hears their own mother's voice from time to time. Usually instructing you to pull up your pants or keep your shoulders back and down. But the tree thing does sound like something she would say-you should ask her about it when you can catch her in a moment of clarity. And in a way, you do remind me of a tree."

"Why? Because my skin looks like bark and if you cut me open you'd count 15 rings?"

He laughed at that, just as I intended. "Well, yeah, those things... but mostly because you are tough. You bend but almost nothing can break you. And you have powerful roots."

I shrugged off the sentiment, secretly pleased. I shouldered my backpack and placed a tented post-it-note at my brother's habitual position at the breakfast table.
Dad looked at it. "I'm guessing Faraday will crack this in two seconds flat, but you'd better decipher it for me or else I'll waste the next 30 minutes on it."

I had jotted CHASED SALARY FAVORS. "That anagram unscrambles to FARADAY SOLVED CRASH. And yeah, he'll make quick work of it."

"Nice one! Anyway, do you want a ride to school?"

I nodded. "Jag or Jeep?"


Humans are such idiots sometimes. I'm no steak surgeon, but sheesh. I'm not even the smartest dog in the neighbourhood. There's a French bulldog that lives just around the corner. She looks dumber than a sheep, with her comical underbite. Still, she somehow outsmarts me every time. But dogs are rarely wrong about the basics. We don't overthink things. We never let analysis defeat instinct. We protect the pack.

Check out that human that kept coming around with Higgs after school. He was always chatting and getting closer than she seemed to like. I don't know his name. Just like I don't know almost everyone else's name. He smelled like raspberry leaves, talcum powder, and faintly of frying bacon. That guy. I knew he was concealing something, from Higgs and from everyone else. I didn't have any reason to think that, but I knew it. It was my mission to find out what he was hiding. If only I could get the kids to take me to the right spots to investigate. I could protect the pack.


  1. Pat, excellent revision. I really fell into your Chapter 1 this time. Whereas before, the "it wasn't a dream.." threw me out, this time, the repetition worked well. I also loved this line: "Why? Because my skin looks like bark and if you cut me open you'd count 15 rings?"

    Your pitch is intriguing. It kind of has a bit of A Series of Unfortunate Events vibe and sounds like something my 10yo might like. I do wonder if the jump from nano tech to witches reveals too much?

    1. I was figuring that revealing stuff is fine in the pitch, but you would leave out anything you wanted to be a surprise if it was a back cover or summary blurb. But maybe I'm wrong about that. :-)

  2. Pat,
    I like your pitch! I agree with Judith, definite Series of Unfortunate Events vibes. I'm intrigued by all of the different elements presented in the pitch, maybe a bit confused, but I guess I'll just have to read the book to figure it all out! :)
    Also, I really enjoyed getting some dialogue and interaction with her dad in this revision. Great job, I've enjoyed reading your submissions every week!

  3. Every iteration of this story I liked more and more. I'm glad you got us to see Higgs relating to her Dad, it makes the tragedy of their loss all the more real. Again, voice is wonderful and I definitely felt more in the moment so well done. Oh, and the anagram set up such a great sense of the family dynamic!
    I enjoyed the pitch very much, it is quite voicey which is nice but it seems to be such a different voice to the pages? The pitch is humourous but the pages seem quite literary and serious, until we get to Disco of course. Which makes sense given the serious topic? But if it is supposed to be a humourous story,I wonder if you need the tone set earlier.
    A few other little things: Can they cope? Seems like a strange way to end the pitch, it doesn't quite sit for me. I'm not sure lists work in Pitches, unless you show how the unrelated cool stuff connects in plot. And it is worth thinking about the genre, obviously you cross a whole heap of them, and mystery might be the main one, but make sure your certain. I'm probably bias because I love Sci-Fi fantasy, but the moment I saw those elements I was immediately more intrigued.
    Oh, and the Undertoad is such an awesome name for a water beast 😂 Love it!

  4. This definitely feels like your strongest revision. I think regarding your pitch, you could benefit from tightening it up. Make it sound more YA (right now it feels a little MG from the tone) so maybe try and emphasize their YA problems/angst? I think your pitch/query could really benefit from some YA comps as well to help define the target audience. Overall, I've really enjoyed reading your opening pages!

  5. Dear Pat,

    This is an interesting concept you have, by the query left me unsure what actually happens in the story. We need concrete details and the stakes for the characters, not just the basic idea of solving a mystery. This also says YA mystery, but then says YA contemporary in the query. Neither is technically true if it deals with magical elements. You may need to research your genre more. I also worry about the dog POV. This is YA and animal POVs rarely connect outside of younger children's books.

    For the pages, I'm not sure this is the strongest place to start. We're looking back on events, things that happened a while ago, instead of focusing on the now. We want to be in the present, to learn the situation, the characters we're following, and why we should care. Focusing on the past is more like backstory and slows your pacing right from the start with passive voice.

    Kaitlyn Johnson
    Associate Literary Agency
    Corvisiero Literary Agency

  6. Well done, Pat, you’ve worked so hard on this and really taken in all our comments. This story is so unique and quirky, I’m sure it will resonate with some unique and quirky agent or editor!

    The synopsis is just as fun as the text, but can I comment on it for the future? Right now, it reads like a middle-grade book, not a YA (I’m thinking Mysterious Benedict Society not Divergent or Hunger Games). And part of that is because you keep referring to the siblings as ‘children’. From their ages—22, 19 and 16, I think you said in an earlier version—two of them are legally adults and only one is a teenager. Okay, technically two are teenagers, but 19 and up are not really considered to be YA characters, and they’re definitely not children. Please don’t lose the quirkiness and humor of your pitch, but can you look closely at changing the language so it reads more YA? Use the word ‘siblings’ as a collective noun for the three perhaps, and refer to Higgs and Faraday as teenagers or teens, not ‘children’.

    Also, the stakes fall a bit flat. If all the book is asking is “Can they cope?” then I’m not all that gripped. If the stakes are that if they don’t solve this mystery and win this battle then they’re going to lose their beloved home/be separated by the authorities/die a horrible death/see Disco turned into a bear, then I’m engaged. Also, the attempts to silence them and the confronation, are they violent? Terrifying? You need to up the stakes in the query to make me want to read more. As it stands, those last few sentences don’t grab me enough.

    Well done too on the text, though your opening pages are changing each time, I know they’re getting closer to the heart of the story and have a greater hook. However, I’d advise against using 2018 as a date in there. Unless all the action is tied into a very particular real-life event, all you do is make your contemporary story immediately out of date for an agent/editor. If what you mean is ‘a year ago’ or ‘last year’ then say ‘last year’.
    Also, have you thought about any “comp titles”? Agents and editors love seeing “For readers who enjoyed XXXX and XXXX” or “MY BOOK is XXX meets XXXX.” Or you can also use authors’ names instead of titles if that makes more sense. It gives them an immediate sense of what readers you imagine your book will attract. If you don’t understand what I mean, go and look at Sarah Jane Pound’s query – she’s written the perfect comp sentence: “RIDER IN THE MIST is a Frozen meets Wintersong dark YA fantasy” See if you can do one too.

    Congratulations again, Pat, and keep going with this. It’s a fascinating story and engaging characters, and I’m sure it’ll do well once you start querying for real.

    1. Thanks again for the detailed comments through each revision. I'm much happier with it now and I have some more edits to go. I also went to a good session on crafting a good 'Book Description' that would have helped me make a proper pitch if only I had seen it a week earlier. Anyway, I can see from that and the other examples here how to make it better. And I don't know if it's just a broken link and the content still exists, but I did try to look at and it doesn't exist now. That might be helpful to future participants if it's still accessible somewhere. Regards, Pat.

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