Sunday, November 3, 2019

1st 5 Pages Nov Workshop - Telford

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

1 - Orphans


I think my sniffer is broken. It's not that I can't smell anything, it's that the smells are stripped of emotion, and don't seem to register anywhere in the range from offensive to delightful. I'm more like our dog, Disco, than a proper human. We would both sniff a dead badger, a fallen slate roof shingle basking in summer sunshine, or the blooms of a lavender bush with enthusiasm, but without any real reaction. She might even get more emotional about a smell than I do. I guess you smell with your mind, not your nose, so maybe it's just another sign that whoever put my brain in my cranium gave it a quarter turn before insertion.

But the springtime when my sister Higgs unmasked the Knights of the Drowned Cabal, I wasn't really worrying about my broken sniffing powers. She was only 16, so I had to keep an eye on her. But I was also striving to figure out what the sky lanterns had to do with the explosion at the Ryder mansion, and why everyone was craving Fish and ‘Snips, all while trying to stop obsessing about what happened to our parents. I didn't think I could do all of that and prevent myself from breaking completely. Maybe I ended up both stronger and more broken, but you will have to judge that for yourself, because it’s hard for me to distinguish between broken and working.

In Middle Ides, a town hurled like a damp towel at the base of the hills and then forgotten by the main roads and rail lines of northern England, my older brother Newton, my younger sister Higgs, and I were accepted but always treated as a little odd. Up until their deaths last year, a few months apart, my parents kept us connected to the fabric of the town; Middle Ides was big enough that they weren’t part of the public consciousness, but they had a wide circle of friends and were woven into events ranging from the polo club to the fundraisers for the upkeep of the Ides Giant – a looming limestone outline of a primitive figure cut by some inspired but unknown ancients into the rising hills overlooking the town. It was undoubtedly the social connections of our parents that brought a thousand little kindnesses as we worked through the chaos, forced first into a single-parent family, and then to a home with only us nearly-children, aged 16, 18, and 22.

The three of us started out oddly, so maybe it makes sense that we continued a little oddly. Newton came crying into the darkened and nearly silent maternity ward during the big power failure of 1995. Higgs was born three weeks early, and made her entrance in the staff room at the Feynman Nanotechnology Centre, where our mother was chief scientist but snowed in like everyone else on the campus that day. And I arrived battered and bruised; I apparently seemed like I wanted to be born but then changed my mind and required considerable coaxing, a few incisions, and some use of forceps that my mother said more closely resembled fishing than medicine. I looked as alarmed and gangly at the moment of my birth as I do most of the time now, and I was so silent for the first few months that my parents worried something was seriously wrong with me.

Naming us after famous scientists didn’t help us blend in while growing up, either. Newton is maybe forgivable – it sounds like a proper first name, and he often just gets called Newt. But Higgs? And Faraday? That I am named after the pioneer of electromagnetism didn’t really strike my teenaged classmates as a good reason to stop making fun of me. My father told me that a name is just something that lets people refer to something or someone, but the real person behind the name is what matters. My name does not tell anyone what I truly am. He told me that 174 times. I counted. But I guess that’s one thing I can stop counting now.

When I tell you everything that happened, you will probably see that it’s the combination of our quirks and the way our parents prepared us that let us dig, and join, and chase our way into figuring out how the strange events around Middle Ides were like vines choking an ancient oak.


Humans are such idiots sometimes. Yes, I know you aren’t going to place much value in an insulting opinion from a scrawny whippet. Especially one with snaggly teeth. And one unregulated eyeball that tends to get bored with what the other eye is observing and rove off to find its own superior view. I’m not even the smartest dog in the neighbourhood. There’s a French bulldog that lives just around the corner. She has a comical underbite and only one ear pointing up. She looks dumber than a sheep, but she somehow outsmarts me every time. But dogs are rarely wrong about the basics. We don’t overthink things. We never let analysis get in the way of instinct.

Check out that human that kept coming around with Higgs after school. He was always chatting and getting a bit closer than she seemed to like. I don’t know his name. Just like I don’t know pretty much everyone else’s name. He smelled like raspberry leaves, talcum powder, and faintly of frying bacon. That guy. I knew he was hiding 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 properly investigate.


It’s only because of my father that I joined the police as a detective. During the day, I’m officially Detective Constable Newton Redferne, but I still feel like I should be working at a coffee shop or a grocery store. When he arranged for me to get the job, he probably thought that it was a safe place for me to start – how much detective work could a place like Middle Ides really need? And the first few months were indeed pretty quiet – I spent a lot of time in over-warm rooms sitting on uncomfortable plastic chairs, in training sessions and learning police operational procedures.


  1. Hey there! So I first have to say I adore your descriptions! They're so unique and I can really sense your voice coming through.
    The only thing that hung me up was early on you provide so much different information I'm left a little disoriented. Is this a sci-fi world? Earth? Fantasy? City? and then what time/decade is it? Also I feel like maybe sticking to one POV for the first chapter would help, say just Faraday and then add Newton and Disco as their own chapters?
    I'm also confused if these are people or dogs?
    I think this story has a ton of potential though!

  2. Hi Pat! I'm a super new author, so I don't have a lot of technical advice, but I've always loved reading YA novels so I'd love to give my thoughts as a reader!
    Even though I was a bit confused at the beginning, the unusual talk about a "broken sniffer" really drew me in and made me curious about where this story is heading. The beginning of the next paragraph threw me off a bit, and I found myself rereading it several times. Of course I'm sure it will be revealed further into the book what the Knights of the Drowned Cabal, sky lanterns, and the Ryder mansion are, but maybe introduce this in a softer way.
    I LOVE your description of Middle Ides as "a town hurled like a damp towel." I instantly had a picture of it in my mind. Love it!
    I like the introduction of the siblings and getting some background information, but it seems like a big break in the opening scene where not much is happening, we're just looking the past to understand what will happen. But, like I said, I did enjoy getting some information on characters.
    I really enjoyed the paragraph about the kids being named after scientists! I was a bit confused about the ending of Faraday's POV, but maybe once the story continues it will make more sense.
    The voice of the dog is wonderful and shines through so well, I already love Disco!

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  4. Hi! I really like your voice, and I was drawn in straight away. However, what was jarring for me was the point of view changes. I understand that there is a desire to see through the eyes of these various orphans, but for me it was too rapid. And I think the quick shifts doesn't do them justice and might be better suited to stand alone introductory chapters for each of them. But I do find them intriguing and love the voice and tone!

  5. Wow, Pat! What a very strange opening to a book – I love it! It feels like a story I’d have to concentrate really hard on so as not to miss all the clever word-plays and witticisms tossed into every sentence. It’s wonderfully quirky, and so engaging. I particularly love that line “a town hurled like a damp towel at the base of the hills”, and all that stuff about them being named after scientists. It rather reminds me of the Mysterious Benedict Society.

    Having said all that, I think you need to look closely at your opening paragraphs as I don’t think you’ve started in the right place: 1st para – a random discussion about sniffing and the dog, 2nd para – a spoiler about his sister unmasking some Knights of a strange order (which is presumably the climax of the whole story), 3rd para: the intro to the who/what/where/why/when. I’m not a fan of the “This is what’s going to happen by the end of the book, and I’m going to tell you the story of how it happened”-type narrative, not least because it feels quite old-fashioned (Agatha Christie era) and very middle-grade, and this is supposed to be a cool Young Adult book. Also, the words only start to flow in that third paragraph, so I think you should look again at where you begin. Of course, the first two paras have value so don’t delete them entirely, but perhaps put them in a different place.

    Also, in these first five pages, you give voices to both the 18 and 22 year old brothers, and to the dog, but you don’t give a voice to the girl who actually does the unmasking of the Knights, the sibling who is also the only actual young adult in the story and who is the only girl!. Perhaps you rectify that and she gets to speak on page 6, but for this 5-page exercise designed to attract an agent to want to read the rest, it feels like you aren’t giving the true YA protagonist her own voice. Therefore, you might want to consider bumping Higgs’s voice up a lot higher, perhaps even to making her the opening voice, but either way, please put her voice up higher than the dog’s!

    And talking of the dog, giving him the sort of human-like intellect and self-awareness is one thing, but be careful of having him describe his physical self the way you do. The humans don’t describe what they look like, so why does the dog? And would any dog, even the most intelligent, really waste time staring at itself in a mirror so it can describe itself in such detail? That bit felt ‘authorly’ to me because it pulled me out of the dog’s head and put me into your author-head instead which is never a good thing (and I’d lay odds that you have known that snaggle-toothed whippet personally!). If you want to use that description of the dog, put it into the boy’s voice instead.

    I really look forward to reading your pages again, and hopefully to meeting Higgs next time, because I think it is so clever and intriguing, I’d certainly want to read on.

    1. This is just the kind of feedback I am looking for. Rewriting and rearranging now. But I have a sneaky side question - one thing I thought readers might see is not enough action to hook them. If I take out some of that foreshadowing, should I replace it with something more action-oriented? I'm thinking of opening from Higgs' point of view with a teaser to some action that will arrive shortly and in more detail from her brothers' POV. Does that sound notionally workable?

    2. Absolutely yes to adding in action, especially in Higgs' POV. You've got a whole book to do the fun and fascinating backstory for these kids (though don't forget that two of them are technically not kids anymore, remember, they're adults) but only five pages in this exercise to hook the agent. So make these five pages count!

  6. Oh Pat, your Prose is stunning! I really feel Faraday’s personality shining through particularly. My particular favourite parts were the first paragraph about the sniffer, and the explanation of each of their births, particularly the line about fishing. It is so evocative. I can see this growing into a beautiful literary YA Mystery that will appeal to lots of people.

    I think a couple of things I’d suggest you think about. One is sentence length. Lots of your sentences are quite long, and so having some of them short and snappy with add a nice variety in feel to your beautiful words.

    Secondly, I agree with others that the change in POV so quickly is a little jarring. Particularly because Faraday has such a whimsical voice, I think you want to get the reader used to that for a while before you change.

    Third, I didn’t get much of a sense of plot in the story, or where it is headed. I know Faraday’s intro is a bit of a looking back, about to tell you a story stream of consciousness thing, but I think if you are going to do that, you probably need to keep it much shorter. I think, do a little intro, getting the best bits together into a paragraph or two on the family, then set up the mystery from Faraday’s point of view. Then Disco and Newton can come in a little later. I think in a mystery there needs to be a real sense at the start of grounding, in characters and surrounds. You don’t have to spell it all out, but I found the second paragraph confusing, it didn’t make me go, “oh, I wonder what that means?” but instead, “I don’t know what is going on?” There were lots of details about lanterns, emplosions, knights and cabals, and I didn’t really know how the fish and chips fit in! If you just mentioned one of the knights, or the explosion, or the fact that no one seemed to care about their parents deaths, then that is enough of a mystery to draw me in, without confusing me.

    You have a beautiful turn of phrase, and fascinating characters and cool ideas and I can’t wait to see it come together during this workshop

  7. Hi Pat,

    Wow, I absolutely loved your writing! So much so that even when I was a bit confused, I wanted to keep reading. But of course we don’t want to confuse readers so soon in the book. I do think the information about what Higgs did makes it harder to get grounded in the scene or what kind of world we are in. It sort of teeters between a contemporary and fantasy feel, so I would work on making it more clear what kind of story this is going to be. As others have mentioned, the POV shifts are quick. But to me, the only one I didn’t feel invested in was Disco’s. Is having the dog’s POV critical to the story? There is so much emphasis on the siblings and their lives up front that I wonder if it can be kept in just their POVs.

    Looking forward to your revision,