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  1. #1

    Fifty - 50

    Hello Everyone

    I have been attempting to implement all the sound advice given. As a novice I have edited approximately 50% of my initial draft concentrating removing adverbs, cliché, metaphors and filler words etc

    One of my main criticisms from most everyone is that I am 'over writing and too verbose.'

    At this stage of edit I am a bit blind or afraid to cut further. In case I inhibit the telling my story.
    For those that have the time or are willing I would appreciate any and all critique, guidance etc. If possible?

    Introduction


    I am fortunate to have lived two separate lives: one as an able-bodied young man, care-free and immature. Another with my body disabled in a car accident which left me paralyzed from the neck down and a permanent wheelchair user.

    Many people may be surprised I am appreciative for my second life as a quadriplegic. In managing the many challenges, both personal daily ones and those caused by the outside world is a difficult one. In accepting these difficulties one day at a time, I have learned to appreciate the little things in life. Which is one reason writing this book is so important.

    My life has been colourful. I experienced what it is like to grow up in many different cultures. I left the north of Scotland where there were no Black kids in school and moved to Lusaka, Zambia, where I was the sole white kid in class. Later, I moved to apartheid South Africa, where I was forbidden to make any black friends.

    These issues of discrimination over the years I never understood until I became a minority myself after my permanent disablement. Also, my religious beliefs and my philosophical points of view were challenged along with this new life.

    In grappling with indoctrinated racism and being raised as a child of co-dependent alcoholics, my life-altering accident made me open my eyes, changing me. I cannot claim I am perfect; I suffer the same imperfections as most humans. In the following work, I will provide a personal account of the issues that affected me over my life and how I dealt with them. The most important factor was how the changes have made me a better person, someone who enjoys life to its fullest.

    In retelling these stories, I do not have any dairies, letters or journals to guide me in my rendition of the details. Indeed, many of the stories might sound fictional or fanciful. All the details are truthful, unadulterated reflections from my memory, and I could not say the conversations are verbatim. To protect many of the characters, I have changed names out of respect.

    Chapter One

    Friday, January 7, 1994 the day my life changed.

    I sat in a pub inside at the Ridgeway Motel with my brother-in-law, Devans. Long shadows yawned and stretched as the sun sunk below the parade of malt whisky bottles. We had gone through the full selection over a several hours drinking session. His attempts in educating me on the subtle differences in taste failed.

    'Devans, you need to shower,' the voice of my sister Laura broke our comradeship. She stood at the doorway her index finger showing the route 'We are supposed to meet Julie and Fred in an hour.'

    He squat on a stool his paunch propped against the counter. He squinted at his gold Rolex his reluctance to leave obvious.

    We travelled from his hometown of Kitwe in a family convoy of two vehicles to the outskirts of Lusaka. We carried a truckload of equipment needed for my youngest nephew, Andrew, to compete in the national motocross championship. Trying to dodge the pot holes on The Great North road was like playing space invaders and was thirsty work.

    'Ok, I will.... let me finish-- '

    'No, no, no.... now.' She jabbed him hard in the ribs.

    I flinched surprised by her agility and harshness.

    He sighed and shrugged. He turned to me and laid both hands uponmy shoulders, 'Gerald, please promise me you will not drive if you go out tonight.... this is not Kitwe.'

    'Of course, Dev, I promise.'

    The barkeeper approached as I swirled a glass of ice cubes and asked, 'Would you like a another, sir?'

    I yawned and shook my head, 'bring the tab please.'

    My gritty eyes and throbbing ligaments in my knee came from the arduosdrive. A sleep would be nice.

    The attendant replaced the old stale ash-tray with the bill.

    I shifted to leave my other nephew, Darren, entered with his friend Jason. These seventeen years old and excited to experience the capital city's nightlife. An opportunity to meet a pretty girl, something scarce in Kitwe, made them euphoric.

    'Come on, Uncle Gerald,' said Darren.

    Darren insisted on calling me uncle though the ten-year age difference between us did not call for this. This came as a sign of respect for the time spent supporting him playing rugby. Also my influence over the last few years of his life entertaining him over the long weekends away from boarding school. I treated him as an equal and gave him advice he never received from his father.

    'Leave the old man alone, we don't him,' mocked Jason.

    'Are you not coming with us?' Darren's frown and slouched shoulders showed his disappointment.

    I assessed these teenagers with polished skins and perfect gelled hair; the fragrance of Aramis washed over both of them like they shared a bottle.

    'Don't I look like am ready?'

    Darren assesed my demeanor thoughtfuly and yelled to the bartender, 'Three Sambuca's.'

    The grey-haired barkeep looked towards me for permission to serve this disrespectful boy. I nodded. If the person had the cash the booze would flow unimpeded and unquestioned.

    'T.I.A,' Darren whooped, thrusting his hand over the flaming Sambuca shot and downing in one gulp.

    'T.I.A,' Jason shrieked, doing the same.

    After a brief consideration of why what I ran away from, I said, 'This Is Africa.' I drank.

    My face must have been comical. The boys laughed bent over their eye sparkling.

    Hook, line, and sinker. I sighed.

    'Three Tequila's,' Jason shouted to the barman.

    Holus-bolus, I swallowed and shook my head I am so weak.

    xxxx


    The impact caused me lose consciousness. When I woke up, a high-pitched whistle blew in both my ears. Shoes walked past my eyes disorientating me. I was experiencing a series of dizzy spells and saw a topsy-turvy face inches from my face.

    'Are you all right?' he yelled.

    I tried answering but breathing was difficult.

    The last thing I could remember was singing along to Ace of Base, 'All That She Wants.' Out of the corner of my eye I noticed a large grey shape bearing down on us directly, way too fast. I didn't even flinch. Then darkness.

    We must be overturned. Shit. I attempted to wipe the blood that was seeping into my eyes. My arms wouldn't move. I tried kicking my legs out to move away from the mangled position. Nothing, I couldn't move. Panic and adrenaline flooded through me. I struggled to shout, causing a mouthful of blood dribbled down over my face.

    I overheard somebody shout, 'Call an ambulance.'

    'Ha, you are joking, right? This is Zambia. There are no ambulances.'

    This is true. The aromas of hot engine oil and petrol were potent in the air. The horror of dying trapped in a fire entered my mind. I tried to screaming again.

    Nothing.

    Burning hot agony seared my crumpled neck.

    I experimented blinking away the blood and saw a shiny pair of boots stood next to my window. A calmer, more authoritative voice rose above the others, taking control.

    'Quick guys, let's get them out. In case this thing goes up.'

    I heard the grunts of effort from those helping

    Hands reached in to drag me from the vehicle. They pulled and I passed out.

    I revived with my head in someone's lap. The palid face of a stranger looking down at me showed fright.

    'It's OK, we're close to the hospital, try to breathe.'

    I cried out as the Bakkie hit a pothole.

    He banged on the vehicle's roof with his fist. 'Slow down!'

    'I think he's dead.'

    'I am not.'

    'We're here,'

    The odour of faeces and urine wafted from me. All around the Bakkie, people talked and shouted in confusion, the mixture of languages chaotic. The big UTH logo swam into view wobbled and span in circles.

    The University Teaching Hospital was the only hospital in Lusaka. Expatriates feared it because of its high mortality statistic. Years of underfunding and relying on many new graduates and a few consultants to care for a population of over a million people. These doctors were dedicated but only rudimentary equipment and supplies to work with. I had grown up with the gossip that if you visited the UTH with a cut finger, you would come out in 'Boot Hill,' the local cemetery.

    I awoke to the screams of agony. They adjusted Jason's broken jaw without anesthesia. The whiplash of my head caused his injury. In return, his hard head shattered my C4, 5 and 6 vertebrae bones.

    A young British doctor attempted to question me over the howls of agony coming from the surgery next door. The place stank of bleach and I could sense fear everywhere. My answers came out in difficult whispers, like somebody was standing on my chest. The doctor's bad garlic breath hit me each time he leaned in close to hear me.

    I was next for treatment. I managed to get the threat of a lawsuit across. if they touched me I would sue. The attending doctor frustrated with my stubbornness in refusing his medical assistance pushed me into a quiet room.

    In my mind, surgery here promised me certain death. I was covered by a medical aid in South Africa which would send an air ambulance under the circumstances. My thought was I would have a better chance of survival if I waited.

    I must have dozed, exhaustion succumbing me. When I woke, the door had been closed and the room was black. My attempted yells for help was pointless. A constant ache throbbed in my neck. the terror and confusion of being paralyzed mention feeling of paralysis for first time.

    I don't know how long I remained left alone in the darkess. If not for the background noise and the blinding sting in my neck, I would have thought I myself dead. My helplessness of being unable to call out for help terrifying me. Time extended into the unknown and I began to pray as wave after wave of icy hot pain.

    Laura's hysterical voice jarred me alert outside. 'No, Nooo...nobody is touching my son.... Where is my brother.... Where is Gerald?'

    The door opened and bright sunlight illuminated the room and relief flooded through me.

    Laura looked at me with blame in her eyes. 'What happened?'

    When it became apparent that I could not answer, she stormed off to find somebody else to yell at.

    Then my brother-in-law's face appeared. 'The p-p-people are c-c-coming from Joburg, G-G-Gerald.' His puffy face and eyes were red but not from tears. I could whiff the whisky.

    I slipped in and out of consciousness, begging for something to kill the pain. It seemed my threats of a lawsuit had been passed along. I was persona non-grata and not to be touched, my tearful pleas ignored.

    The accent of an Afrikaans-spoken English man asking my name, a welcome sound. Soon a clean-shaven man smelling of Paco Rabanne looked at me with kind brown eyes.

    'Why have you not been put in a collar?' He shouted angrily.

    I didn't know what he suggested. I wasn't a dog.

    Then his colleague helped him, and they pushed me to one side. They applied a soft collar brace around my neck and held it in place. I cried out, begging again for something to relieve the suffering. He smiled and joked about giving me a shot of the good stuff.

    I don't know what he gave me, but that moment remains one of the most wonderful things in the world. After a few minutes, a warmth went through me and washed away the pain. I wanted to thank him, but I had started to slide into a bathtub full of warm marshmallow fluff.

    I was entering another life.

    Chapter two

    On Wednesday morning, February 23, 1966. I managed a Kung Fu kick hard enough to break my mother's water. This disturbed her morning routine which meant selecting appropriate colour of lipstick to match her high heel shoes. I know this to be true because my mother still think she is a princess. If you happen to catch her putting the washing out barefoot I can guarantee you that she will have a perfect lipsticked mouth and will be walking on her tiptoes.

    The heaviest of all her seven children, at eight pounds ten ounces. Her ordeal in releasing me into the world took ten hours and I was born with a full head of hair that gave the appearance I must have been on the planet for three months. The story varies in elaboration to six or nine months depending on how drunk she is when retelling this tale.

    My family and I were all born in a small town called Wick. A once thriving herring port located in the most northern part of Scotland, in Caithness. By the time of birth the town and the fishing industry were in jeopardy. A victim to the rapid rise of huge, profit-seeking commercial fleets who were aggressive, scouring the world's oceans and developing ever more sophisticated methods and technologies for finding, extracting, and processing their target species.

    When I say, my family were born there I am not only to buy siblings but my forefathers going back centuries. There are landmarks throughout Caithness with my surname attached to them. According to my mother the only thing Wick is famous for is an entry in the Guinness book of records for having the world's shortest Street. Ebenezer Place is just 2.06 m in length. The street is one end of the Mackay's Hotel, a place where my forefathers would drink and fight for fun on the weekends.

    My mother detested the place, for her it was full of common folk and she yearned for escape. My father, who was the town chamberlain in Wick, received an offer for a similar position in the coastal port village of St Monans, Fife. On the direction of my mother, who sought the chance to escape her surroundings in search for a more glamorous life. The appeal of living near St Andrews gave her this opportunity.

    The one overriding memory of St Monans is that it was the first time I had a life-threatening experience. I stood watching the fishing boats leaving the small harbour and then a trailing rope pull me into the harbour water. A fisherman saved my life and returned me to my father's office crying, soaked and traumatized by the experience. Instead of receiving a comforting hug, I got several smacks on my backside. I guess this his way of explaining how much he loved me, but as a four-year-old child, I got punished twice.

    I guess the shock of living in a village whose population was under a thousand people soon hit my mother because not two years passed and we were moving again. I began to learn the words 'Mum says....' became an easy and powerful weapon to use against my father. Our next move took us back to Caithness but this time to a town called Thurso, another fishing town but larger than all before because it housed the employees of Dounreay nuclear power plant.

    Thurso I remember it was where I went to my first school and met my first friend: a boy named Johnny Wears. He stayed three houses down and he had a speech impediment and was treated by the community as an outcast. We occupied a three-bedroomed house which our family packed. It bordered the neighborhood park which was divided by a grassy area where the older kids played football kicking lumps out of each other and a concrete playground area where the younger kids copied their elders below them.

    It was here that I met kids that were pure evil for the first time One time I defended Johnny from an older boy who had been bullying him. I knocked him down, embarrassing him. I lost a shiny ten-pence piece as result of the scuffle, and it had rolled beneath the roundabout. This was sufficient money to buy enough curly wurlies until my teeth dropped out. So, I stuck my leg under to retrieve it. I can still picture that boy's mean face. He spun the roundabout, crushing my leg. The enormous scar is Thurso's legacy.

    Not long after that, my mother asked everyone to gather around the dining room table. I noticed the head shaking and sour expressions on the elder members of my siblings who knew from experience what this meant.

    'Your Dad's been offered a job in Lusaka,' said my mother.

    'That is in Zambia,' my Dad shouted like that explained everything.

    'What?' most of my siblings yelled out in unison.

    'Where is Zambia?' I asked what we were thinking.

    'It's in Africa,' my Dad explained laying a brochure on the dining table. It had a slogan 'Zambia in the Sun' blazoned over the front page with pictures of wild animals.

    Another opportunity had come for my father to work for the Overseas Development Institute. This organization provided developing countries and governments guidance in local governing. An area my father excelled with his work around Scotland.

    'It will be an adventure, you will see and it is only a three years' contract,' said my Mum.

    My brother Andrew had returned with an atlas globe spinning and searching for the location.

    'There is no Zambia,' he said holding out his most valued memento.

    'Here,' my Dad stabbing a shaky finger. 'Northern Rhodesia, this is now Zambia.'

    We craned to see a small fetus shaped outline near the great continent of Africa.

    'It will be like summer every day,' my mum trying to paint an optimistic picture for us.

    'Mum, but what about my apprenticeship?' said Tommy the eldest of us all.

    Both my parents looked downwards.

    The silence was broken by my eldest sister, Susan. She threw the brochure towards my Mum, 'Well, I'm not going to no darkie country, that's for sure.'

    With that, everyone started speaking at once. Questions shouted and mayhem ensued. Kim, just five years old, was confused and traumatized by the chaotic noise started sobbing. This caused a chain reaction and soon we were all crying.

    Way too young to recognize it, but the move to Zambia and the time spent moving around Scotland from town to village to town again indicated we never had an average family life. This restlessness came from my mother. In her mind, moving to Lusaka was exciting and offered a chance for glamorous life she craved. Something she could never have living in Scotland. She has told me often over my life that the move to Africa was to benefit the children and to offer us a better life. However, in truth we were heading into another place with no knowledge of what to expect.

    I didn't see what the big deal was. My whole short life were memories of moving from house to house but never having a home. What difference could one more be? The ten-year difference between my brother Tommy and I meant we had lived very different lives with no common interests. The separation of family didn't mean that much to me. I was excited. The move to Zambia was an adventure, like 'Tarzan' on television.

    The chance of living a life like the TV series 'The Waltons,' were never realistic. However, whatever happy family life got buried that evening. My sister Susan packed her bags and went to live with a friend and Tommy too a few weeks later. I sensed they both felt punished by the separation of our family. I never did say goodbye.

    The excitement of this adventure made the tears and sadness of that night disappear except on the day we left for Lusaka. A stranger who my dad called a 'good man' came to take away our black and white Labrador dog, Guinness.

    When he had left the home and the door closed, my Father turned around and tears slid down his cheeks. This was the first time I ever saw my Dad weep. This dog had been with us through all the changes in our lives. Happy memories of the family, packed with cat and dog into my Dad's Wolseley as we set off in search of somewhere to pitch a tent, came to mind. With Guinness being given away came a realization of what was happening. It was also a catalyst to grieve the separation of our family. Everyone cried, whether they thought the move to Zambia as a punishment or an adventure.

    xxxx


    Last edited by gerdun; May 16th, 2017 at 07:52 PM.
    G.

  2. #2
    gedun,

    Proof read, again. There's some "kitchen business" (clean up) of spelling, etc.

    Who is your target reader? Family, friends, general public, publisher? It makes a difference in my response.

    If the latter two, although a poignant story, it will not hold attention. Much of that is due to the fact that it's a "tell." In your introduction, you even say, "In case I inhibit the telling of my story."

    Consider your opening line: Friday, January 7, 1994, the day my life changed.
    Yes, most will think it's a grabber. But, it shows the hand too soon. Let the story show your life changed. Don't "tell" it. Just give the date. Let the reader wonder why it's important.

    For the most part, you wrote it like an observer. A tell. It improved when you inserted the dialogue, as if taking place right then, for the reader. Write it like you're writing a novel.

    Hope helpful. I've no idea why those in WF who write prose are not jumping in here. Hmmmm

    You had a response, on another post, from one of the prose writers here, Jay Greenstein. He gave you link to his personal blog (I do not see it on WF Blog tab). I read it all. Now that guy knows what you need to learn. Stick to him like glue. Send him invitation to link up. Find him here. Learn. He might tell you I'm full of shit. If he does, then assume he's right.

    Sas
    Last edited by sas; May 19th, 2017 at 08:33 PM.

  3. #3
    Hi gerdun and welcome. Wow, you have had an extraordinary life in so many ways and you have a story a tell, for sure. The advice you may read about show don't tell is generally pretty sound and does help to make a novel engaging. However, when you are writing non-fiction it becomes essential to include a fair bit of telling if the story is to ring true. Of course, it's still necessary to write in a way that will hold the readers' attention and, for me, you're already succeeding quite well on that front.There are tricks and devices that can help, though, and I'll try to suggest what I can.

    You are already keeping the story pretty tight - as you've said, too much rambling can be wearisome for a reader. The next thing to think about is to attempt to keep information blocks as short as possible - without losing the sense of them - and disperse them through the more gripping (action) parts of the story. So, for instance, consider moving what you have as your second chapter into the accident scene, almost like a flashback...

    I overheard somebody shout, 'Call an ambulance.'

    'Ha, you are joking, right? This is Zambia. There are no ambulances.'

    This is true. The aromas of hot engine oil and petrol were potent in the air. The horror of dying trapped in a fire entered my mind. I tried to screaming again.

    Nothing.


    Think about inserting what you have as chapter two here, after a double space. Then put another double space below it and continue with the accident scene.



    Burning hot agony seared my crumpled neck.


    I experimented blinking away the blood and saw a shiny pair of boots stood next to my window. A calmer, more authoritative voice rose above the others, taking control.

    'Quick guys, let's get them out. In case this thing goes up.'


    By breaking things up this way you not only get the information out there while the reader is involved in the drama and likely to hang on to see what happens, but you also heighten the drama by making them wait. I don't think you need a second chapter yet; save that new beginning for something gripping and pepper in the background info as you go.

    I wouldn't worry too much about editing yet. Get the story written first because, if you keep going back over it, you will either lose interest in writing it or never get it finished at all. There will be time to tidy up the spelling and punctuation later.


    I hope this has helped a bit. Keep at it - you have a story that needs to be told.

    jen

    New to poetry? Try The Purple Pip Challenge.

    My Poems

    Always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much. Oscar Wilde

  4. #4
    Wow thanks guys, seriosly,thanks.
    It really is great just receiving others POV's and ideas.
    Jen I like your idea of one chapter, mixing it up as a flashbacks.
    Sas,you are spot on, I reread and saw it sounded clumsy and amateurish.
    Give me a day to whittle and shape and I will post my changes
    Gerald
    G.

  5. #5
    Ok, changed and chiseled. I hope this reads better or have I overdone things?


    Chapter One


    Friday, January 7, 1994.

    I was in a pub at the Ridgeway Motel on the outskirts of Lusaka. I sat next to my brother-in-law. Long shadows yawned and stretched as the sun sunk below the parade of malt whisky bottles.

    'So, can you distinguish the apricots and honey?' Devans asked sniffing deeply then sipping the golden liquid.

    'Nope.'

    His attempts in educating me on the subtle differences of the different blends was wasted on me.

    'Devans, you need to shower,' the shrill voice of my sister, Laura, broke our comradeship. She stood at the doorway, 'We are supposed to meet Julie and Fred in an hour.'

    He was squat on a barstool his paunch propped up against the counter. He squinted at his gold Rolex.

    'Ok, I will.... let me finish-- '

    'No, no, no.... now.' She jabbed him hard in the ribs.

    I flinched. Surprised by her agility and ruthlessness.

    He sighed and shrugged. He turned to me and laid both hands upon my shoulders, 'Gerald, please promise me you will not drive if you go out tonight.... this is not Kitwe.'

    'Of course, Dev, I promise.'

    I swirled ice cubes, 'Would you like another, sir?' asked the bartender.

    I yawned, rubbing my gritty eyes, 'Nah, just the tab please.' A sleep would be nice.

    I shifted to leave when my eldest nephew, Darren, entered with his sidekick Jason. These seventeen-year-old boys were eager to experience the capital city's nightlife. I could see they were euphoric with opportunity to meet a pretty girl, something of a scarcity in Kitwe.

    'Come on, Uncle Gerald,' said Darren. ‘Get ready.’

    He insisted on calling me uncle. It was a sign of respect for the time I spent with his him during his years at boarding school. I was his support when playing rugby and it was my influence and advice he listened too when growing up.

    'Leave the old man alone,’ mocked Jason, rolling his eyes. ‘We don't need him.’

    'Are you not coming with us?' Darren's frowned.

    I assessed these teenagers with polished skins and perfect gelled hair; the fragrance of Aramis washed over both like they had shared a bottle.

    'Don't I look like am ready?'

    Darren contemplated my attire. Then yelled to the bartender, 'Three Sambuca's.'

    The grey-haired barkeep looked towards me for permission to serve this disrespectful boy. I nodded. If a person had cash the booze would flow unimpeded and unquestioned.

    'T.I.A,' Darren whooped, downing it in one gulp.

    'T.I.A,' Jason shrieked, doing the same.

    After a brief consideration of the potential consequences, 'This Is Africa.' I said and drank.

    My face must have been comical. The boys were laughed bent over their eye sparkling.

    Hook, line, and sinker. I sighed.

    'Three Tequila's,’ Jason shouted.

    Holus-bolus, I swallowed and shook my head. I am so weak.

    xxxx

    The impact had caused me to lose consciousness. When I woke up, a high-pitched whistle blew in my ears. Shoes walked past my eyes disorientating me. I experienced a series of dizzy spells as a topsy-turvy face swam inches from my face.

    'Are you all right?'

    I tried answering but breathing was difficult.

    The last thing I could remember before the impact was singing to Ace of Base, 'All That She Wants.' From the corner of my eye I noticed a large grey vehicle bearing down on us, too fast. I didn't even flinch. Then darkness.

    We must have flipped. Shit. I tried wiping blood that was seeping into my eyes. My arms wouldn't move. I tried kicking my legs out to move away from the mangled position. I couldn't move. Panic flooded through me. I attemtped to shout and a mouthful of hot blood dribbled down over my face.

    I overheard shouting.

    ‘Call an ambulance.'

    'Ha, you are joking, right?’

    ‘This is Zambia.’

    ‘There are no ambulances.'

    The aromas of engine oil mixed with petrol was potent. The horror of dying trapped in a fire entered my mind. I tried to scream for help.

    Nothing.
    xxxx

    On a Wednesday morning, February 23, 1966. I managed a kick hard enough to break my mother's water. This disturbed her morning routine which meant selecting appropriate colour of lipstick to match her high heel shoes. I know this to be true because my mother still think she is a princess. If you happen to catch her putting the washing out barefoot I can guarantee you that she will have a perfect lipsticked mouth and will be walking on her tiptoes.

    My family and forefathers all hailed from the same small town called Wick. A thriving herring port located in the most northern part of Scotland, in Caithness. Famous for an entry in the Guinness book of records for having the world's shortest Street. Ebenezer Place is just 2.06 m in length. The street is one end of the Mackay's Hotel, a place where my ancestors would drink and fight for fun.

    My mother detested the place, for her it was full of common folk and she yearned for more glamorous lifestyle. My father, who was the town chamberlain in Wick, received an offer for a similar position in the coastal port village of St Monans, Fife. The appeal of living near St Andrews sounded to my Mum like the perfect opportunity to escape and find what she so desperately sought. The house was boxed up and we journeyed south.

    Memories of St Monans are vague but this was the place I first experienced near death. I was watching the busy fishing boats leave the small harbour when a trailing rope snagged my ankle pulling me in and under. The freezing water shocked me into taking in an agonizing breath of water. Then nothing. A fisherman gave me mouth to mouth saving my life.

    The shock of living in a community whose population was under a thousand people soon hit my mother because within two years and we started packing again. The words 'Mum says....' were an easy weapon to use against my father.


    xxxx

    Burning hot agony seared my crumpled neck.

    I experimented blinking away the blood and saw a shiny pair of boots stood next to my window. A calmer, more authoritative voice rose above the others, taking control.

    'Quick guys, let's get them out. In case this thing goes up.'


    I heard grunts of effort from those helping. Then hands reached in to move me as they pulled I fainted.

    I revived aware my head in someone's lap. The pallid face of a stranger looking down at me showed fright and I saw yellow street lights passing in blur.

    'It's OK, we're close to the hospital, try to breathe.'

    I moaned as the Bakkie hit a pothole.

    He banged on the roof, 'Slow down!'

    'I think he's dead.'

    'I am not.'

    'We're here.'

    The University Teaching Hospital was the one hospital in Lusaka. Expatriates feared it. I had grown up with the gossip that if you visited the UTH with a cut finger, you would come out in 'Boot Hill,' the local cemetery. Years of underfunding and relying on graduates and a few doctors to care for a population of over a million people was the reason for its high mortality statistic.

    The odour of feces and urine wafted from me. All around people talked and shouted in confusion, the mixture of languages chaotic. A big UTH logo wobbled and span in circles then darkness.

    xxxx

    Our next move took us back to Caithness but this time to a town called Thurso, another fishing town but larger than all before because it housed the employees of Dounreay nuclear power plant. Here was my first school and where I met my first friend: a boy named Johnny Wears. He stayed three houses down and had a speech impediment and treated by the community as an outcast.

    We occupied a three-bedroomed house which our family packed. It bordered the neighborhood park which was divided by a grassy part where the older teenagers played football kicking lumps out of each other. Above a concrete playground segment where the younger kids copied their elders below them.

    It was here that I met children who understood pure evil behavior. One time I defended Johnny from a boy who had been bullying him calling him a spastic. I knocked him down, embarrassing him. I lost a shiny ten-pence piece as result of the scuffle, and it had rolled beneath the roundabout. This could buy enough curly wurlies until my teeth dropped out. So, I stuck my leg under to retrieve it. I can still picture that boy's mean face. He spun the roundabout, crushing me. The enormous scar is Thurso's legacy.

    Not long after that, we were asked to gather around the dining room table. I saw the head shaking and sour expressions of the elder members of the family who knew from experience what this meant.

    'Your Dad's been given a job in Lusaka,' bubbled my mother.

    'That is in Zambia,' said my Dad like that related everything.

    'Where is Zambia?' I asked what we were all thinking.

    'It's in Africa,' my Dad disclosed laying the brochure down.

    It had a slogan 'Zambia in the Sun' blazoned over the front page with pictures of wild animals.

    Another opportunity had come for my father to join the Overseas Development Institute. This organization provided developing countries and governments guidance in local governing. An area my father excelled in with his work experience around the country.

    'It will be an adventure, you will have fun.... it is only…. a three years' contract,' articulated my Mother.

    My brother Andrew had returned with an atlas globe in his hands. He was spinning it and searching for the location of Zambia.

    'It is not here?' he passed his hand over his face looking puzzled.

    'Here,' my Dad pointing. 'Northern Rhodesia, this is now Zambia.'

    We craned our necks at the small fetus shape near the bottom of the continent of Africa.

    'It will be like summer every day,' said my Mother.

    'Dad, but what about my apprenticeship?' exclaimed Tommy the oldest of us all.

    Both my parent’s eyes went downwards toward their hands.

    The silence was broken by my eldest sister, 'Well, I'm not going to no darkie country,' exploded Susan, 'That's for sure.' She threw the brochure at my Mum.

    With that, everyone started speaking at once. Questions shouted and mayhem ensued. Kim, just five years old, and traumatized by the chaotic noise began sobbing. This caused us all to start crying.

    I didn't see the issue. My whole short life revolved around memories of moving from house to house but never having a home. What was one more? The age difference between my brother Tommy and I meant we had lived very different lives with no common interests. The break-up of my family didn't mean that much to me. I was excited. The move to Zambia was an adventure, like 'Tarzan' on television.

    The chance of living a life like the TV series 'The Waltons,' were never realistic. Whatever opportunity of a happy family life got buried that evening. Susan packed her bags and went to live with a friend. Tommy moved out a few weeks later. I don’t remember saying goodbye.

    The day of our departure to Lusaka was my worst. A stranger called to take away our pet dog, a black Labrador. My Dad put the lead over Guinness. His tail was wagging. He must have he was going walkies. At the gate, he refused to leave with the man, sensing something was wrong. My father was saying, ‘It’s Ok…. Go on…. It’s Ok Guinness, go now,’ his voice becoming more emotional as he tried to say goodbye.


    This Dog had been with us for as far back as I was a baby. When they got him in the car my Dad closed the door. Thick tears slid down his cheeks. This was the first time I saw my Dad weep.


    It was strange. I don’t think anyone except my Mum shed a tear for Tommy and Susan when they left. The reluctant and forceful departure of Guinness. The empty house was quiet. Reality of what was happening dawned on everyone. We cried perhaps for the first time recognizing the separation of our family and the enormity for what we were about to do.

    xxxx

    I awoke to the screams of agony. They were adjusting Jason's broken jaw without anesthesia. A young British doctor attempted to question me over the howls coming from the surgery. The place stank of bleach and I sensed fear everywhere.

    Up next for treatment. I managed difficult whispers and threatened a lawsuit if they touched me. The doctor frustrated with my stubbornness in refusing his medical assistance pushed me into a quiet room.

    In my mind, surgery here promised certain death. I was covered by a medical aid scheme in South Africa which guaranteed an air ambulance under these circumstances. I bet on having a higher chance of survival if I waited.

    I must have dozed, exhaustion succumbing me. When I came to, the door had been closed and the room was black. My yells for help were pointless as it felt like somebody was standing on my chest. The terror and confusion of being unable to move or call for help was exasperating. I cried.

    I wasn’t sure how long I remained alone in the dark. If not for the background noise and wave after wave of icy hot pain in my neck, I would have thought myself dead. My helplessness terrified me. I lost touch with time. I began to pray.

    Laura's hysterical voice jarred me alert. 'No, Nooo...Nobody is touching my son.... Where is my brother.... Where is Gerald?'

    The door opened and bright sunlight illuminated the room. I tried to laugh and closed my eyes in relief.

    'What happened?' she asked with blame in her eyes.

    When it became apparent that I could not answer, she stormed off to find somebody else to yell at.

    Then my brother-in-law's face above. 'The p-p-people are c-c-coming from Joburg, G-G-Gerald.' His puffy face and eyes were red but not from tears. I could whiff the whisky.

    I begged for something to kill the pain. It seemed my threats had been passed along. I was persona non-grata and not to be touched, my tearful pleas ignored.

    The accent of an Afrikaans-spoken English man asking my name, a welcome sound. Soon a clean-shaven man smelling of Paco Rabanne looked at me with kind brown eyes.

    'Why have you not been put in a collar?'

    Then his colleague helped him. They rolled me to one side and applied a soft collar brace around my neck and held it in place.

    I cried, 'Please, give me something!'

    'Let’s get you out of here first, Ok?' He winked.

    We headed to the airport. Every pothole eliciting the sensation of an electric shock causing painful spasms my legs kicking involuntary.

    Once they had me aboard the small jet. One of the male nurses said, ‘Here is a shot of the good stuff.’

    I didn’t know what he gave me. That moment remains one of the most wonderful experiences ever. After a few minutes, a warmth went through me and washed away the pain. I wanted to thank him, but I had started to slide into what felt like a bathtub full of warm marshmallow fluff.

    xxxx
    G.

  6. #6
    Hey gerdun,

    You have the right materials to make this a really good story. I think your revisions are good but that you should keep editing. Further editing could make it even better. You might want to keep the intrigue moving along and try to avoid "telling" as much as possible. I wouldn't worry too much though, as I think that most of us as writers fall upon "telling" from time to time. I know I have.

    jenthepen is offering some great advice. I would heed it.

    Good luck!
    Carpe Diem.

  7. #7
    'Devans, you need to shower,' the voice of my sister Laura broke our comradeship.
    "the voice of my sister," is a passive construct and weakens the line.

    I also have a problem with the "broke our comradeship," She didn't. We assume they still feel like comrades after that. Using vivid, evocative language is always a good idea, but it shouldn't slow the narrative. And in this case, if you have her call it from the doorway, and drop the business of her index finger, you get: 'Devans, you need to shower,'my sister called, from the pub's doorway. 'We're supposed to meet Julie and Fred in an hour.'

    Do we really need to know she's standing? Isn't that implied by where she is? Do we need to know the gestures she used, given that we can't see them? And, wouldn't she use a contraction with her husband?
    He squat on a stool his paunch propped against the counter. He squinted at his gold Rolex his reluctance to leave obvious.
    The man is squatting atop a stool? This might be a colloquial language problem, but it summoned an odd picture for me. I also have to say that no bar I've ever sat in had a bar-top low enough to hit my belly. In fact, it's a kind of joke among bartenders, the number of times they've had to wipe around a woman's breasts because they're resting on the bar-top.

    But that aside, you're dwelling on visual details that you can see, but the reader can't. So just mentioning it does nothing so far as setting the scene. When you read it, the picture stored in your mind is summoned. But when I read it, the picture stored in your mind is summoned.
    We travelled from his hometown of Kitwe in a family convoy of two vehicles to the outskirts of Lusaka. We carried a truckload of equipment needed for my youngest nephew, Andrew, to compete in the national motocross championship. Trying to dodge the pot holes on The Great North road was like playing space invaders and was thirsty work.
    Biography or not, you're presenting this as a live scene. Look at the flow from a reader's viewpoint. You open the scene. They're sitting at the bar. The sister enters and says it's time to leave. The husband checks his watch. So, given that, what does the reader expect? a) to learn what he does in response. b) for you to stop the story dead, kill all momentum, freeze the action, and step on stage with, "So let me give you a little background."? See the problem? Once you start the scene clock you don't want to stop it for anything.

    But you do have to orient the reader. I agree there. But what matters to the plot? Do we care why you were there, given that you don't make it to the event? Does the equipment in the brother-in-law's truck matter? If it doesn't matter to you, at that moment in that bar, including it only slows the narrative.

    The trick is to be constructive about how it's presented. Some of it can be part of the intro, where you place yourself in the bar. A line like, "After a long, boring day of driving to Lusaka Zambia, spending time in the motel's bar trading stories and sampling their assortment of malt whisky with my brother-in-law Devans was a welcome relief." You don't have to tell the reader you traveled in two cars (actually, by the description, wasn't one a truck?).
    I flinched surprised by her agility and harshness.
    Does it really take great agility to poke someone? He's fat and not dodging. Again, you're visualizing the scene and telling the reader about what you react to, without making them know what happened to cause you to react that way. In short, you're telling, as a dispassionate outside observer, not making the reader live the events you did. Instead of focusing on what you see, focus on what mattered to you in the moment you called "now," in the bar. In order to become you, and develop an emotional connection to you, the reader needs to calibrate their own reactions to yours—as they were then, not in recollection.
    'Come on, Uncle Gerald,' said Darren.
    "Come with us, Uncle Gerald," is more clear.
    Darren insisted on calling me uncle though the ten-year age difference between us did not call for this.
    Irrelevant detail. If it mattered in that moment, you'd have mentioned it. And if it didn't bother you, why slow the narrative to mention it to the reader?

    Remember, if it takes longer to read about the conversation than it takes to have it, the story drags. So choose what matters to the one living the action, because what has a person's attention dictates what they will do. And anything that doesn't meaningfully set the scene (the way the row of bottles does), develop character, or move the story, probably bores the reader.
    'Don't I look like am ready?'
    so...they don't use contractions in that part of the country? Relax. At this point, and after all that drinking, precision of speech was probably beyond you, in any case.

    I'll admit, though, that I'm confused. They invite you along, you say yes, but then no one leaves leaves. Instead, they start drinking. I think you need to smooth that. Perhaps, for clarity, have them mention that they're going out in ten minutes or so, after a shot or two. Because any conversation you might have had with them at the time has things implied, that are meaningful only to you, it's okay to modify a conversation for clarity.

    Once you got to the action, things flowed far more smoothly. I would change the fourth paragraph, when the accident occurs, to the opening of that section, because first you wake up from the accident, then it happens. And I'm pretty sure that's not how it went. My point is that by presenting cause after effect, you lose impact because only a narrator can talk about things out of order. In life, it's always cause, then effect.

    In general, for the scenes where you're presenting life action as against reporting via synopsis, you might want to look at this article, and keep the technique in mind.

    Hope this helped.

    Jay Greenstein
    My articles on writing.
    The goal isn't to tell the reader that the protagonist is terrified, it's to terrorize our reader.

  8. #8
    Hi Gerald. Like others, I've found your story charming and fascinating, and the improvements you've already made are impressive.

    To be realistic, you probably know autobiographies by non-famous authors are a hard sell to agents. In the UK, hardly any are published. I'd hate for you to be unprepared for this.

    That said, a few do get through.

    I'd like to help with structure, if that's OK. It's something I enjoy; the hidden architecture in a long piece. And I'd imagine it's the first thing an agent will look for, if they get past the word 'autobiography'. It will show them, at a glance, you've understood your book needs to be as readable as a novel.

    What books are you reading? It might help to find one similar to yours, and go over it obsessively, until you see how it's done. If you find one that's very similar, just copy the structure. Nothing wrong with that.

    I read more fiction than non-fiction, so perhaps others can suggest books in a similar vein.

    Or, go with a novel which seems to include a lot of facts from the author's life. I'd highly recommend 'We Need New Names' by NoViolet Bulawayo. She was born in Zimbabwe, but moved to America. The book moves back and forth between the two places and times.

    A book like this can be your best friend, and teach you in a few pages things it might otherwise take years to grasp.

    I'm a bit tied-up right now, but I'll say more about structure later, if that's OK.

    Best wishes.

  9. #9
    Your revision has impressed me. I think it is beginning to read smoothly now and the parallel narratives are working pretty well. There is room for more editing and tweaking but it might be a good idea to keep moving forward with your writing at this point. As you get further into your story and get more confidence in your writing 'voice', you will begin to see the awkward phrases for yourself as you read this beginning over and ideas for change will seem obvious. In general, I think Jay hit on something important. Try to relax and write in your natural voice. It's the modern way and always comes across as more believable than 'literary phrasing.' If you need any advice, or would like me to do a bit of editing for you, just send me a pm.

    jen

    New to poetry? Try The Purple Pip Challenge.

    My Poems

    Always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much. Oscar Wilde

  10. #10
    I quite like the messiness of Chapter One. You've managed to get some exciting excerpts right up front.

    As you move into Chapter Two, I'd think about clarifying your strands, so you can move between them without confusing the reader.

    To me, the key elements are:

    1. The Far Past (Scotland / difficult childhood / dysfunctional family).

    2. The Recent Past (S. Africa / carefree young man).

    3. The Present (after the accident).

    I'd keep the family strand entirely in Scotland. The contrast in climate and culture really works. Also, it holds the strand in the Far Past, so it won't get tangled with the others. Also, I feel there's a lot of strong and emotional material in this part of your tale.

    Zambia plus South Africa feels like too much to me. I'd narrow it down to apartheid South Africa, a carefree young man, politically-unaware. Again, lots of contrasts with the present-day situation.

    Hope this helps.

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