Sunday, November 10, 2019

1st 5 Pages Nov Workshop - Telford Rev 1

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

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 pointed 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 about the deaths of our mother then father, 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. They were politely turned away by my parents, but in town for the next few weeks Faraday walked quickly and anxiously. It was visibly awkward for him to accept the praise and earnest interest expressed by the people he might encounter. His bedroom became more of a haven than usual. I dread to think what he would have been like if the spotlight of attention shone on him *after*. I still feel the space where my parents should exist, and I know he does too.

He seems to suck in so much information and comes to conclusions so quickly that he often figures things out before anyone else has a chance to get their thinking caps out of their back pockets, let alone put them on. His incessant counting, obsession with detail, and his failure to understand how to speak to people he hasn't known for at least several years are infuriating. But at 17 years old, even though he's a year and a half older than I am, he will always have an inner child that needs guidance.

Because everyone else in the house was snarled up in the aftermath of the helicopter crash in some way, I never found a good chance to talk to my parents about what happened to me that same night. The next morning, I opened my mouth and started to tell my mother a half dozen times, but then cut myself off mid-word. I didn't want to be the baby sister distracting my brother's protectors.

That night, the nightmarish black smoke glowing orange underneath from the still burning helicopter had been visible from my bedroom window. It was cool, but the breeze on my face and hands was not unpleasant. But in the moment immediately 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!" she whispered dreamily. "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 could walk all the way down here, especially not at night.

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

There was no direct answer, but her distinctive musical voice spoke one more time, this time at full volume. "A tree."

It wasn't a dream that her voice said nothing more and my hairs settled down. It wasn't a dream that my palms started to itch, and when I turned them over and looked down, tiny shoots of vegetation had started to spring out from them. It wasn't a dream that the shoots turned to 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, my bed was sprinkled with fallen autumn leaves. It was springtime.

I was in denial, like a polar explorer looking at blackened, frozen toes and figuring they'll feel better after a nice soak in some warm water. Something unseen was forming in the dark recesses of my brain, but I refused to acknowledge it. I decided not to tell anyone, and now my parents will never know.

I had known Dot Pendlethwaite since we were toddling unsteadily around at mothers' group meet-ups. Although we shared the same outlook on life, onlookers would likely only pick out our differences. Dot seemed insubstantial, with her almost reflective dark hair often half-drawn curtains across her pale face. And I was a midget compared to her, with the tufty peaks of my blonde crop barely reaching her chin when we stood close in conspiring conversation.

There was also a newcomer to our circle - Lars Janssen. He arrived at West Ides School only last year and gained admission on a scholarship because he was as clever as anyone at the school. He lived in a small, cluttered apartment in the town centre with his mother who ran the Trove of Wonders consignment shop at the canal end of the high street. His English still had a Swedish lilt to it, and he sprinted his lightweight frame from home to shop to school without much care for the state of his shoes. Friendly and unpretentious, he somehow found Dot and I in his first week and has been a fixture ever since.

I thought of Faraday often when I was at school with my own friends. His general existence was like the world's most pathetic Instagram account. He followed just one person-our brother Newton, who took advantage of that fierce analytical mind, making him an informal helper in his police detective activities. And Faraday had just one follower-our dog Disco. Faraday was ten years old on the afternoon that he and my grandmother found her as a stray, up by the canal tunnel, and they have since been inseparable. She came to us with a little rip in one silky-soft ear and an unregulated eyeball that tends to get bored with what the other eye is observing and rove off to find its own superior view. Maybe Disco, a scrawny whippet with snaggly teeth sees Faraday as a fellow misfit.


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 get in the way of instinct. We protect the pack.

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. I could protect the pack.


  1. Hi Pat!
    I enjoyed getting to read from this new POV! It certainly starts the story with a clearer protagonist, and I got a great feel for her friends/family/background.
    I still love your descriptions. "A prize for straightest-looking strand" and describing her hair as "half-drawn curtains" good!!
    My only tip here would be to add a little action in the beginning. I got a lot of information as the reader, but a bit of current action could really draw the reader in even more. We look a lot into the past of these characters' lives, maybe give some hint as to where they are right now? I know Higgs has experienced strange things and I know some things about her brothers before their parents' deaths, but I don't know where any of them are now. Of course that will come later in the book, just as a reader I'm curious to know as soon as possible!
    Overall great job, I really enjoyed getting to know a new character.

  2. Pat,

    As I said last week, your writing is excellent! And it should also be commended that you are able to write from multiple POVs and have each sound distinct. And I love the part about the tree. My comment on these pages would be that it is essentially entirely flashback and backstory but we are not being dropped into any kind of action. All of what you’ve presented here is intriguing, but I think it could all be dispersed as the actual action of the story progresses. The reader doesn’t need to know all of these things up front. We want to see Higgs interacting with people and seeing things. The things she’s experiencing in the moment can then cause her to reflect on these details that have happened in the past. I don’t think there was a line of dialogue in these first pages. When you go back, I would consider just trying to make these first pages more active and not so loaded with backstory.

    Happy writing,


  3. Disco is a dog! I don't know if I just didn't pay enough attention but that is such a fun POV. I liked the new start, the Higgs perspective worked well, you really do a terrific voice. Your prose is lovely! And the scene with the leaves was awesome. Really sucked me in to wanting more, and knowing she never got the chance to tell her parents makes me care. I liked the scene about the friends, but again it feels quite stream of consciousy- it seems out of place with everything else. Could you save that excellent prose for a scene where she is actually relating to her friends, so we meet them and then get the backstory. Because it seems to be like a very long way to explain that even when with her friends at school, she is still worrying about Faraday.

    It would be good to have some grounding in the now too. Everything is background of musings. Where is she thinking these thoughts? What time period are we now in? I find going five pages without knowing that, leaving me feeling a little confused and unsure where I am going.

    Voice is great, and I think you've made some great improvements. Look forward to seeing your next iteration.

  4. This is definitely a clearer opening. I agree with the other comments in that it feels like a lot of background/introspection. Perhaps you could add a bit more action and/or dialogue earlier and I feel like a helicopter crash is a BIG deal AND would make an excellent opening scene. Perhaps you could just throw the reader right in and play it out in real time?
    I love that Disco is a dog and bravo on the dual POV voices.
    Overall, excellent improvement!

  5. I think this opening is much more engaging. I did feel like I was reading a completely different story (and I mean that in a positive way.). I did feel that the "it wasn't a dream" went on a bit too long," but I really liked the emotion tied into the Faraday reflection. Perhaps as a refection as his own life as well.

  6. Great job, Pat – Wow, a complete reworking! But well done, you’ve got me hooked! Higgs really is the protagonist here, and the observer of the older boys, especially Faraday and his unique behavioral issues. Moving the description of the dog into her voice makes so much more sense now, and it makes me warm to the next section in the dog’s very particular voice much much more.

    The opening paragraph – what did happen to the helicopter? In saying that Faraday worked out immediately what went wrong, I think you need to tell us something about that so that we understand him better. Did the engine noise change so he worked out that the something in the engine was misaligned with the something else? Or did he spot an area of air turbulence because of the topography of the land mixed with humidity and wind direction? Do you see what I mean? How does his super intelligence manifest – is he a tech wiz, a logic wiz or a nature wiz? Or is he telepathic? Just a few words will help us understand.

    Can you then break the next sentence, “If only it was…” into a new paragraph since it’s a change in thought?

    Can you make clearer what “*after*” refers to?

    Woah!!!! She grows trees from her hands? That is wild and totally unexpected! I love it. But can you give us a sense of whether it’s ever happened again since? Has she deliberately tried to make it happen but failed? Does she feel it’s sure to happen again? Why? Does that make her excited or worried?

    I like the introduction to Dot and Lars, but there’s no transition between the two sections. How about you include them in that last line of the previous section: “I decided not to tell anyone, not even my friends Dot and Lars, or my parents. And now my parents will never know.” That way, we expect you now to tell us who they are.

    Please can you avoid using the word ‘midget’? It’s an ableist word that is now unlikely to be welcomed into a book for teens or kids, and in this context is easily replaced by tiny or petite or minute – size words, not medical words – so as not to cause offence.

    I’m not sure the Instagram analogy works. These kids don’t feel like ‘modern kids’ to me. So far the setting feels rather timeless and the family very non-conformist, and therefore the use of Instagram clunks. Is there a way of describing his one-man focus on his brother, and the dog’s one-man focus on Faraday in a different way?
    Before the next posting, can you please read all this out loud a couple of times so you can see where it gets overly complicated, or where the sentences are too long. Your text is like an exhilarating roller coaster ride, which requires deep concentration not miss things, so now is the time to read it aloud to someone else to see if they can still follow the sense of it without asking you to repeat things. You might not find someone to do this with a full manuscript, but for five pages, it might help you find breathing spaces in your text.

    But well done, I love the revisions – see you next week!

    1. Gold mine! I had already pushed some of that background further along in the story and brought some dialogue in to replace it, which I think breaks the complexity up and improves the flow. It'll look a bit different again for the final revision but I'm a lot happier with the beginning now. Thanks again for the insightful pointers.