View Full Version : The first chapter of my novel (Nearly 5,00 words)

Jack Penarron
January 11th, 2011, 12:42 AM
Okay, time for my first toe to be dipped in the wtaer. What follows is the first chapter of my first novel, which is titled "Seaspray". There are fifteen more (and more being written), so I'd appreciate your feedback. The novel centres around the aftermath of an accident on board a small pleasure boat off the coast of Wales in which all but one of the people on board die. The novel focuses on the identity of Wales, the metaphysics of being and the process of dealing with extreme trauma.



If a watcher were to stand at the end of the headland, he would be able to see the wide sweep of the bay as the shore slowly worked its’ way in an anticlockwise direction, around in a great arc, first to the East, then North, and finally ending in an outthrust salute to the Western horizon. To the Southwest the watcher would see more slate-grey sea, laced with the white scars that dragged behind the ferries that ploughed towards Ireland, and beyond that the hills that were given their names by visiting Vikings centuries ago as they surveyed them from the hovels of their remote fishing outpost. The wind on his face would feel cold and ancient, as if it had raced around the Earth for millennia before driving itself deep into his nostrils and eye sockets, perhaps eliciting an unexpected tear. If he was possessed of a lively imagination, perhaps he would fancy he could smell the shore of Leinster and breathe air that last graced the lungs of his long-removed cousins from that far kingdom. If practicality took precedence over romance, he would smell only salt, or perhaps the rain that would inevitably impose itself on the already sodden fields as the wind pushed the sea air over the land. Smaller pockmarks bitten from the arc of the main bay dotted the shore; inlets, river mouths, beaches, coves, cliffs, tiny islands, huge boulders.

Turning inland and facing just to the East of South, the watcher would be granted a vista of low, menacing hills. Not high mountains, like one would see far to the North, these hills would just hunker under the clouds, as if embarrassed by their seeming misplacement. Yet the peoples of millennia ago had seen fit to quarry huge granite pillars from the few outcrops that graced the pre-pubescent hilltops and drag them by sheer brute determination and slave labour to the water and ship the megaliths via a circuitous route far to the South, and then, vomiting the crude boats upon that shore, beat the slaves until a further journey had ended upon Salisbury plain. There these fragments of the easily overlooked scarps had become a mighty henge that experts, tourists and the self-taught would argue over for centuries. An aerial view would reveal ancient fields, made up of feudal strips still visible to the naked eye. This privileged position would show these fields becoming smaller and more intimate as they creep inland.

A narrow valley, at times barely more than a wooded ditch, connects the two small beaches at the base of the headland like a rustic collar. A single rainlashed farm graces the headland, an Easter Island in a small green Pacific. Sheep and cows are relegated to the vertiginous clifftop fields that fall to the surf, as crops, hay and silage are nurtured in the larger central fields. A colony of seabirds cling to a huge upthrust finger of rock that leaps from the white water in a small cove, proving that, here at least, ancestry carries more weight than practicality.

The headland, like the entire coast hereabouts is edged by the Coast Path. The boots that tread it belong to tourist families in search of adventure, lovers in search of seclusion, loners in search of enlightenment, and retired folk in khaki shorts and inappropriately bright waterproof jackets. The path has been here forever, but became the Path in the early 1970’s, and traces the coastline of the national park. In places it would take only a misplaced footstep to fling the watcher to his death on the rocks below; at other points it leads one onto gentle beaches where seals bask on the cold rocks.

The watcher would, if he were from another place, not feel surprised if he met on the Path a raiding-party of Ordovicci or Silures, forging West to loot the hamlets of their neighbours, the Demetae. Looking out to sea, it would be easy to imagine the ranked ships of the Irish chiefs, studded with warriors intent on forging new kingdoms in Britain slicing the grey waves as they bore down upon their Celtic brethren. Neither would the appearance around the headland of one of Sweyn Forkbeard’s longships, striking for Scandinavia from a Southern peninsular laden with plunder, slaves and grain. Perhaps the watcher would see the ferries returning, and imagine them to be the French fleet of 1797 mounting the last invasion of British soil.
If the watcher was a local man, of course, not much of this would bear on his thoughts. More likely would be the weather of the coming season – whether it would bring sun, tourists and wealth, or rain, floods and ruin. Or maybe he would attempt to determine the weather conditions and interpret the likelihood of a full harvest from the land or the sea. The weather was much closer to the hearts of, and much further forward in the minds of those who lived in the shadow of the headland, in the hamlets, villages and small towns of this harsh coast. History weighed heavy on the people as a whole, but as individuals the populace were interested only in tomorrow, and whether it would be harder than today. Grants had were made by government bodies to ensure that their heritage was secure, that the iron-age forts were preserved, that the burial chambers of the ancients went unmolested, that the old ports could attract smaller, newer vessels and their wealthy fair-weather sailors. Yet still, tomorrow’s tourist’s wallet was of more immediate concern than the schooners their great-grandfathers had piloted across their ever-shrinking globe and returned safely to their moorings here.

Somehow, though, the pull of the sea on the people was as strong here, for whatever reason, as it was on Melville’s Nantucket whalers. Here Queequeg’s place would be taken by the seasonal workers, students mainly, back for the summer from universities across borders and further up mountain-chains. Captain Ahab would be replaced by the hardwashed old men who would perhaps be the last generation to lure the gulping fish from the waters of the bay before falling stocks and rising costs drove them onto the land, to retire to immaculately-kept cells in their villages. The young would still dream of careers on the sea, of somehow stepping off their great naval vessels onto the rotting slipways of their ports to the applause of the locals and the admiring glances of their daughters. The middle-aged would still stare at the horizons with crowsfeet-shrouded eyes and delude themselves that there was still time for them to abandon their responsibilities and work the paint-caked trawlers that crawled up and down the bay. And lastly, the elderly would stare through their cataracts and double-glazing and embrace the thought of a moonlit night when they could slip past the staff, leave their sheltered accommodation and run on youth’s legs down to the foaming water’s edge and let the incoming spring tides take them from their marooned existence.

Many people would settle here, blown in on the winds of childhood holidays in a bygone halcyon era, to live the simpler life, away from the grind of the towns and cities, away from the careers that they’d been co-opted into. Others would seek inspiration in the light that poured over the mountains in the morning and drowned in the West in the evenings, or build the eco-homes that they’d been promising to build for years, much to the bemusement of those born in the fields that were sold off, one by one, to make room for them. Still more would come, carrying instruments and recording systems, drums and microphones and immerse themselves in the rich vein of imported folk music that their predecessors had brought here. Some would be folklorists, archaeologists, treasure hunters, dancers, invalids, recluses, or the heartbroken. Usually, they would be searching for something, and just as inevitable was their disappointment. The sea held no answers.
Some would come just for the sake of coming to such a place, a place that just was. It was these people who would walk from the village out onto the headland and drink in the harsh panoramas it offered. They would come, usually singly, sometimes on a bus, down the A487, and as strong hands wring water from a wet towel, the narrow streets of the small town at the Eastern edge of the headland would cause them to be disgorged, whereupon most would stay a few days before moving on, but a few would settle, find whatever work was available, and allow the town between the mountains and the sea to nurture them.

And nurture them it did; the people of the town knew enough about these blown-in strangers to respect their privacy, to leave the questions unasked. This was a waiting game, they knew, and before long, the social osmosis would start. One small detail would erupt from the lips of such a blow-in, unguarded perhaps, during an innocent conversation with a shopkeeper or barman. From these lips it would be passed across ears and other lips, slowly but surely insinuating itself through the hive consciousness of the townsfolk. In time, it would prove to be the beginning of a great unravelling; the blow-in would reveal more about himself, tit-bit of information by tiny tit-bit, until, possibly after years of living in the small town, the whole jar of beans would have been spilt, often with little prompting from the town’s ever-eager inhabitants. Once his story became known, the blow-in would find himself becoming part of the town by some kind of diffusion. When he’d arrived, nobody knew anything about him, not even his name. Somehow, without his knowledge (and possibly without his consent) he would become drawn into the entropy of the little community and everyone would know his business. No Guantanamo interrogator could have broken a man’s defences and extracted what he was hiding more effectively. Before long, he would have been part of the place forever, and the next blow-in would arrive, part of an unbroken cycle as old and inexorable as time itself.

Far back in this inevitable flow, the newcomers would have arrived along the Golden Road, a five thousand-year old highway, which Neolithic traders would travel in order to conduct the irresistible trickle of gold, mined in the Wicklow Mountains, from over the Irish Sea all the way to what would become known in Saxon times as Wessex. The Road, at its’ birth here below the cairns on the hills, is flanked by henges and standing stones, replete with fanciful and anachronistic legends of Arthur that Norman nobles devised at the beginning of the second millennium; fact will never be allowed to impede a great falsehood. Arthur, perhaps about who the most inconsistent and inaccurate writings have been made, more than any other. King, knight, Christian, Grail-hunter, Welshman; Arthur was none of these, yet people would rather hear tales of a fine king who dwelt in the marble halls of Camelot, than of the bastard son of the last Pendragon who made his name as a warrior in an attempt to be legitimised, for what is royal is sacred, and what is common and vulgar is quietly sidelined, the details forgotten as a twisted vision is transmogrified into history.

Later, gold became the preserve of those who had the means and the workforces to capture it, who built ships with the sweat of the pit-sawyers, carpenters, smiths and wrights who held tenancies in their enclosed villages. Those same ships would leave port and sail for foreign climes, returning with nitre from Chile, tea from China, sugar from the Caribbean and the stories and scrimshaws that their sailors had wrought. More blow-ins, too, would leap from the ships, with many hues of skin. Some were running and others had already run far enough to stop. Men had come here from all over; Santiago, Accra, Singapore, Boston and Montevideo. Before too long, they had found wives and whelped children. Even their names became entwined in local history.

The roads from Cardigan, Narberth, Haverfordwest and Carmarthen had also brought people. Footsore travellers from all over the region had trudged through here, walking the turnpikes, flowing in from far around. Times had been hard, and the populace was mobile as never before. Hunger is as great a transporter as it is a leveller. More recently the other great leveller, war, had touched here between 1939 and 1945, when one could not count the ships lost in the bay, mainly to the great iron birds of the Luftwaffe or the silent-running sharks of the Kriegsmarine, on the fingers of the whole family’s hands. Many nights one could stand on the headland and watch the poor ships die in flames that lit the low clouds, their sailors beyond help and their cargoes beyond recovery. Even now, many years after the war had been relegated to the cobwebbed minds of the few who came back, hardened and terrified by their experiences, tales were sometimes told of salvage from these ships -and others, stretching back to Spanish conquistador ships - that still occasionally washed up. Everybody new the stories, of course, and everybody knew of somebody that somebody else knew who’d chanced a Spanish doubloon or wartime sailors’ keepsakes whilst walking on a secluded beach. Sometimes people would ask the old men of the town to show them where ships had sunk, rumour of sunken riches would abound for a while and then be quashed by local historians and divers from the many sub-aqua clubs active along this coast.

The sea had given this place its’ identity, its’ history, its’ people, for the most part, large proportions of its’ food. It had also taken, though. Churches had been washed into it during huge storms; sons, fathers, uncles, grandfathers had all failed to come home from the sea. Many hopes had been set adrift here, and few had returned fulfilled, the majority were either missing, presumed lost, or still drifting on the pulse of the tide, without conclusion.

The watcher could, on his return from walking the Path out on the headland, pass through the streets of the town, and, as a watcher, note the trichotomy between the affluence apparent at certain places (such as the seafood restaurants and the yacht club), the careful, upper-working class residential streets where neatness of lawn and accuracy of parking were of paramount importance, and the forlorn desperation of the run-down boatyards and the tatty shops that peddled the usual seaside gaudiness to the usual seaside suspects. A town with many identities, all intermingled and incestuous, yet still separately identifiable. It was home to farmers, fishermen, shopkeepers, chandlers, boat-builders, hauliers, schoolteachers, restaurateurs and jacks-of-all-trades. It was not home to the financiers, marketing agents, barristers, property magnates and media-types one would find in large towns or cities. The hands here were rough-skinned and, as often as not, worked to the bone. Front doors were seldom given cause to open but tools were worn down over generations.

If he continued following the path to the Northeast as he left the headland, the watcher would walk past the slipway at the old lifeboat station, a smooth concrete ramp that ran down into the water in all but the lowest tides. It was situated on the mouth of the small river that, when the tide rose, formed the pool behind the marina, thick with bass and sewin at times. At low tide the river was no more than a large brook that hugged the land until the very last possible moment before gathering its’ courage and sliding over the bar into the waiting sea. The tide would soon rise, pushing the fresh water a mile back to the rear of the pool and drowning the sand beneath it. The lifeboat station was now just a boathouse, wedged in a miniature valley where a clear spring rose, flowed and fell onto the pebbled beach all in a matter of a few short yards. Passing this, the watcher would arrive at the Flagstaff, the truncated ships’ mast that was used to run the signal flags used when dingy races and regattas were held. Directly across the river lay the North Beach, where in the summer the tourists would gather in throng and the locals would avoid. Out of season, kite-flyers and windswept walkers were the only people the watcher would see there, battling the elements as the air buffeted them, shrieking and howling, flinging sand up from the beach and dashing it in their faces.
The path would stay on top of the storm-wall that edged the sea (or river, depending upon the tide), passing bungalows advertising bed and breakfast and small shacks selling ice cream and crab bait. Soon, the watcher would arrive at the yacht club, and thence be taken from the edge of the sea and either through fields beside the estuary or leave the path and walk up into the town through wandering streets that have grown slowly and to no apparent plan. As he followed the street up the incline that led into the town, he would find himself at a road junction. This was where he may have alighted from the bus, if that was how he arrived, as this was the single stop in the town that the bus would make as it wended its’ way down the coast, after having started the route in Aberystwyth two and a quarter hours previously. The route would pass through hidden valleys, lush farmland, sea moors and other ancient towns and villages. Always, the sea would be to the right as the route headed South, blue, green, grey and white, sometimes as calm and still as an watercolour, and at others destructive and vindictive as Hopkins’ jesuitic “rash smart sloggering brine”. In the early morning, with the weak light of the sun glinting over the cliffs the bay would appear as if on a mass-produced postcard; bright, light-licked and wholesome. Later that same day the sun would become the hammer that smashed down upon the sheet of beaten copper that stretched from St. David’s to Llyn, before the darkness came, turning the copper to base lead at the death. Of course, that was assuming that from the grubby windows of the bus that one could see the sea. It might be there, but whether or not it would be in view could be quite another matter, for fog and cloud, driven by the wind could descend in an instant, blocking the light and hiding the sea from view. Rain, too, could become so heavy that beyond the wild streakings it made on the glass it would allow one to see nothing. Other passengers would betray by their reactions to the weather their experience of the coast; older veterans would concentrate on gossip, current affairs and the ever-worsening conditions of their health, whereas those who had no contempt bred by familiarity would pile onto the right-hand side of the bus in order to spend the journey with faces pressed against the glass, remote from the diesel-rumbles and chatterings. They would be insulated from their fellow travellers by a desire to discover, to spot seals and seabirds, to find beauty. The veterans would raise eyebrows at the newcomers’ sharp intakes of breath and return to their discourses and monologues.

And now, the watcher would be faced with a decision. To reboard the bus and allow it to blow him out of the town, perhaps to seek whatever it was in a town further to the South-west, or to stay, maybe for one night, maybe until another reason to move made itself evident, that was the question. Places such as Fishguard and St. David’s held more diversions, such as cathedrals and ferries, but this place, perhaps, would provide the hook upon which a watcher could hang his heart and adopt it as his home. Maybe he would decide to stay for another few days and head for other distractions later – after all, the road out may not be the same road that one arrives on. Some people, faced with this decision would follow the crude signposts that led to one of the campsites that offered an unparalleled view of the harbour, cliffs and the sea. They would sling their rucksacks back onto tired shoulders and stumble to an unoccupied patch of the field and pitch their mostly one- and two-man tents before harrying the gas stove into life and brewing tea which they’d drink silently, staring out over this new horizon. Others would knock on the doors of the white-painted cottages that would have a room for a few nights, provided one kept to the strict rules about breakfast times and cleaning out the bath after use. They would comment on the view and try to fathom the depths of the landlady’s accent, confused but comfortable, before heading back out to sit in one of the stone-built pubs that would shake as the lorries negotiated the narrow streets outside, and drink alone.

If staying became an option, houses could be rented, whether new or old and tumbledown, within a matter of a few weeks, and work could be found, sometimes here, sometimes in the nearby towns, or on the farms that locked the town against the sea. If one was made of stern stuff, perhaps employment could be found working one of the boats that worked the bay, either providing the wide-eyed tourists with glimpses of sealife or netting and hooking that same sealife for sale in the busy faraway fishmarkets.

The town was small, and seemed to regulate its’ size by itself. Some would arrive, some would leave. Some would be born, some would die. Some would come and go with the seasons. The teenagers would leave for university or college, threatening never to return to this town, their metaphorical cradle, ever to live again, and the return more worldly-wise and humble the following Christmas, perhaps allowing that the place wasn’t as bad as they remembered. Even the ones who did move away were likely to come back, years later, often with their newlywed partners and talking of a better place to bring up the children that would come in time. Some, of course, only returned for quick visits, and rarely at that, always with a distracted look in the eye and a frustration to return to the hives of the cities they’d fled to; but in the main, very few left and stayed away forever, as the magnetism in their metaphysical compasses grew stronger with age. Many felt the hiraeth, and few could resist it permanently.

Those blow-ins who did stay would develop an affinity with the town that the majority of those who were born there did not have. All too often, said the aging sons and daughters of the town, committees for this and of that would be full of people from other places who’d moved here purely from a selfish drive to elevate the status of their town; decisions would be made that didn’t reflect what their grandparents may have wanted. And some would commit the cardinal sin, to learn the language and unleash it upon the unsuspecting townsfolk, speaking it unfettered by colloquialisms and Anglicisations. Even more vile was when they would correct the dialectic Welsh in use, failing to realise that in some areas, every valley, every hamlet even, would have its’ own microdialect, with words, phrasings and metres that, whist appearing in no dictionary or school textbook, were weighted with centuries of use. These forms of language had been used day in, day out since far before the oldest members of the community had been born, and therefore, whilst perhaps not correct enough to appear in the formality of learned books, were certainly used in pubs, markets and chapels. Such Non-Conformist usage lent a gravity to the language that mere printing never would, and the users of the language defended it proudly, taking umbrage with those who thought they knew better.

The armour was not without chinks, though. The majority of the children born between 1950 and 1975 had Welsh-speaking parents, but were taught not to use the language at home and heartily discouraged from speaking it at school. Indeed the law of the English which had decreed in 1535 that English was to be the only language to be used in any form of law, legislative document or any aspect of public administration was still in force. When, in 1967 the Welsh Language Act stated that "it is proper that the Welsh language should be freely used by those who so desire in the hearing of legal proceedings in Wales", it was seen by some as a blanket to muffle the angry Welsh mutterings, perhaps in the belief that this would placate the natives in their mountainous Cambrian reservation. Wrong. Welsh culture and language began to flourish, slowly at first, and then with gathering momentum under the grey face of 1970’s Welsh Socialism. Road signs began to display place names in their native forms, following a concerted campaign of crypto-vandalism by members of a group called Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg. The tongues of the populace began to taste again the mercurial, rolling syllables and rocky consonants not heard in English, youngsters were taught Welsh as a second, and then first language in schools. As the language revived itself, so did the Welsh nation, demanding an Assembly, blowing the dust off the old cultures and forging new ones. Money began to cross the border, traded for hard to answer questions in Parliament, questions that eventually led to another Act, the 1993 Welsh Language Act, which allowed that Welsh be promoted, and that there was an obligation that it be thrust to the forefront of public life in its’ native land. In 1997 the Cymry voted for devolution, as close to independence as they could get. The following year, a great hullaballoo preceded the opening of the Welsh Assembly, with only a few dissenters asking why a Parliament, such as the Scots had been granted had not been on offer. The chinks in the armour plates were being slowly repaired, welded shut and forged anew. The armour itself looked different; sleeker, more comfortable and more modern. In the granite streets of the town, one heard Welsh not as a dribble from the mouths of the elderly but spat forth from the lips of the teenagers who milled and argued outside the small shops. The language was no longer worn as a hairshirt but as smartly as the sharpest Savile Row suit. There was no place now for second-language iconoclasts and their superiority. The town was comfortable in its’ language, in its’ dialect and its’ verbal heritage. English and Welsh were both used in public and private, for every purpose. It was only occasionally that there was a flare-up of Nationalism, with graffiti declaring “Sais Allan”, or “Nid Yw Cymru Ar Werth” sprayed hopefully on bus shelters. This was not a case of the mad-eyed, far-right nationalism, that was for foreigners and nutters. The Nationalism the watcher may find here would be of a more earnest, radical sort, conducted by youngsters, full of ideologies that would seem noble at the time, and with in a few years callow and unfulfilling. Most of the ire would be taken from their hearts when the discovered that it’s simple enough to love one’s country and people without the denigration of others. There had been self-styled paramilitaries in Wales, but they’d never been given much credit, seen by most, both in Wales and across the border, as rather a lunatic fringe of Walter Mitty revolutionaries. Oh yes, a few holiday homes had been torched, mainly in Llyn (although two in Llanrhian, it must be said, were also laid as burnt offerings upon the altar of independence), by persons unknown, popularly though discreetly supported at the time. The protagonists were never caught, the blazes were over twenty-five years ago and the world and Wales had changed; sleeping dogs were ever best left lying. The sais were obviously not going anywhere, and were less of a threat and more of a blessing than perhaps some had thought. Nobody was ashamed to take their money, at any rate. The sais were still here, but so what? The sun still shone, sometimes, the rain still fell, and the sea was constant in its’ state of continual flux. The fishing boats still sailed in the morning and the tides were as regular as an old watch – comfortable, predictable, familiar and accurate.

January 11th, 2011, 01:23 AM
Although getting in to it i can tell it's not my type of story, id recommend putting spaces between paragraphs. that way its less of a burden to try to find them. :)

January 11th, 2011, 01:27 PM

-Stares at the wall of text-

Do I dare?

(Try to make it more presentable. 5K words is a lot first. It would be better to post this is increments. Try to add some white lining,)

January 11th, 2011, 10:00 PM
yep i would agree with whats written above, just scrolled down and couldnt persuade myself to read it cas it looks so scary! white space is a good idea! sorry x

Jack Penarron
January 12th, 2011, 01:15 AM
I'm not sure what happened regarding the spacing - will edit accordingly, I think. I copied and pasted the text from an MS Word file and had some trouble getting it working.

Thanks for the advice, everyone.


January 12th, 2011, 07:08 AM
Hey, I am going to make a few points that I hope you consider.

It's always better to post a title with your works, if you don't have a title, then a listing of what genre/or category this falls under. The reason why is because without that there is no way for me to judge on how this accurately ties into that.

-For example, using a analogy, (Music) you could be the best rap producer in the world and have just finished a incredible song, but as a fan of classical music, to me, I won't recognize it as that. It just wont sound very good to me, because everyone is different and everyone listens/reads different literature. I can only analyze the basics of proper song structure in reference towards my analogy. In this case, I can only analyze the basics of writing to my knowledge of what I know.

That being the case, your writing style is good, your elements flow well, and your pacing is on point. I believe you are at a high level. Higher then my own. How high I am not sure, because I can only grade you vs my own current ability. However, this is simply a critique on your writing, if that's all you wanted to know then that is my opinion.

As a introduction to a story, I have no clue, is this a thriller/mystery/fantasy/heck, to be honest, as it reads it could even pass as a non-fiction. Reason why I ask, as a reader of fantasy works, I can tell you this introduction needs trimming and needs more of a drama/suspense added to it. However, I think this is a historical fiction, and I do not read this genre, nor follow it, unless it ties into a fantasy.

Furthermore, just a note, you probably already know this. When you submit your novel to a publisher/editor, they will request a synopsis and usually a chapter or (s) to read. This is see how your plot ties into your story. In this case, I would need a summary,(Synopsis without the pitch of selling)to give a honest opinion about your plot. Just pointing this out in case you want people to actually critique on your actual story itself. From what you posted, as a basic writing literature piece, it is fine to me in regards to the fundamentals: Pacing, descriptiveness, exc.

-Unable to judge the introduction of your story without a genre, or title that ties into the book. (To illustrate this, if I were to read the title of Harry Potter: the sorcerer stone with the reading the first chapter I can get a basic idea of what the book is about. Title tells me is something to do with wizard and magic stuff. The first chapter tells me it is based around real life and a fantasy concept is tied into it something to do with wizardry. I still wouldn't understand the plot without reading the synopsis, but I would still have a general idea of what the book is about.)

Jack Penarron
January 12th, 2011, 06:51 PM
Okay, thanks Jonathan. Will make the necessary adjustments. Your advice has been very helpful. I know literally nothing about writing (beyond actually constructing a narrative) at this point.

January 15th, 2011, 08:29 PM

Jack, Although I am big on instructing and teaching, I am not a handholder and as much as I hate receiving harsh critiques myself, I recognize and respect the need in order to improve. That being said, I have to say that, although you have a really nice writing style, very fluid and picturesque, as a novel, this is total suckage. (sorry)

I did a cut-and-paste of your excerpt so as to re-format to make it easier to read. It didn't help. I found myself wanting to nap several times throughout and had to force myself to keep reading. Your writing here rambles helplessly. Were you writing a non-fiction work on the history of Great Britain and the British Isles, you might have some incredibly seductive and alluring here but, as a novel, it falls flat on its face. (Note the absence of an apostrophe with "its". - As a side note, "it's" is a contraction for "it is" and "its" (no apostrophe) is the possessive form of "it".)

In introducing your novel, you want to grab your reader right from the first page. It is an old axiom, and not far from the truth, that agents will make a decision on whether to see more/represent a writer based solely on the first page ... in some cases that is abreviated to the first paragraph. If your story has no punch in that first page, you are not going to grab an agent's attention with a possibly stellar story further into the pages because he or she won't bother to go there.

In your introductory comments, you say,

"The novel centres around the aftermath of an accident on board a small pleasure boat off the coast of Wales in which all but one of the people on board die."

There is, however, no indication of that in the subsequent excerpt. You've obviously done a great deal of research into the subject matter and you have great passion about your subject, but you cannot do an info dump in the first five pages and expect to keep your reading audience. Possibly this information could be strewn throughout the story but it is not where your story really begins. You have to be very careful about setting the opening stage too much and leaving the characters in the dust.

Which brings me to my next point/question. Where, exactly, in all of this ARE the characters? There is nobody here! While there is a hypothectical "watcher" there is not one actual person in this entire first chapter. There's not even a dog or a cat or an alien or any living, breathing thing. The whole chap is a theoretical tour of Great Britain's past. YAWN! Had I wanted to read a history book, I would be reading it! (which, as an avid researcher, myself, I do quite frequently.)

My suggestion would be to set this chapter aside and figure out where exactly in those other 15 chapters the action begins. THAT is your first chapter.

Jack Penarron
January 16th, 2011, 10:37 PM

Jack, Although I am big on instructing and teaching, I am not a handholder and as much as I hate receiving harsh critiques myself, I recognize and respect the need in order to improve. That being said, I have to say that, although you have a really nice writing style, very fluid and picturesque, as a novel, this is total suckage. (sorry)

Okay, first of all, thanks for your honesty. I'm bound to disagree with you on some points, I suppose. Let me answer your criticisms. I'm not saying that you're wrong about any of the points you have made, rather that I have some answers to your points.

I did a cut-and-paste of your excerpt so as to re-format to make it easier to read. It didn't help. I found myself wanting to nap several times throughout and had to force myself to keep reading. Your writing here rambles helplessly. Were you writing a non-fiction work on the history of Great Britain and the British Isles, you might have some incredibly seductive and alluring here but, as a novel, it falls flat on its face.

I don't think I'm rambling here - this is the beginning of a long story and I'm loathe to (if you'll forgive the crudity) blow my load straight away. I'm not sure why as prose this falls flat, though would be fine in a historical work. Perhaps you could elaborate a little for me?

(Note the absence of an apostrophe with "its". - As a side note, "it's" is a contraction for "it is" and "its" (no apostrophe) is the possessive form of "it".)

Again, I'm on thin ice here... The apostrophe as used here is to show posession. I know that in some territories the norm has now become to discard the apostrophe in this case. I don't know where you are in the world but in the UK in current English it is used to show posession in the following way: Peter's ball, the dog's kennel, etc. I'm using it here to denote the progress of the shoreline of Cardigan Bay in an anticlockwise direction, as in "the bay's progress".

In introducing your novel, you want to grab your reader right from the first page.

Do I? Says who? Surely there is no point in telling the whole story in the first few pages. I think I could name several authors, both classic and contemporary, who subscribe to this method. Again, I'm not telling you that you're incorrect, rather justifying reasons for narrating in this way.

Where, exactly, in all of this ARE the characters? There is nobody here! While there is a hypothectical "watcher" there is not one actual person in this entire first chapter.

Well, it could be argued that the watcher is the main character in the story. He certainly features in every chapter and is a mechanism for revealing a good deal of plot and description. There is also another character at play in here, which is the geography of the area in which the story is set. Admittedly it is not a character in the conventional sense yet it has a large bearing on the story and affects all of the characters who interact with it. The other main characters begin to be introduced in the second chapter.

Had I wanted to read a history book, I would be reading it! (which, as an avid researcher, myself, I do quite frequently.)

Again, I could name several well-known authors (all of whom are better than I - I am not comparing myself to them at all!) who use detailed historical discourse as a literary tool - for example, des Bernieres uses it to great effect in his novel "Birds Without Wings", Follett in "Pillars Of The Earth" and Melville in "Moby-Dick"

My suggestion would be to set this chapter aside and figure out where exactly in those other 15 chapters the action begins. THAT is your first chapter.

Why would you want to go straight to the action? The story unwinds in a fairly logical and rational manner although I must admit that I have written the story chronologically but when the time comes to edit it that chapters may be moved around for dramatic effect.

Anyway, thankyou very much for your words - as I said, I'm very new to this and somewhat reticent with regard to placing my work in a public forum. I will bear your comments in mind when considering the story both as a whole and as individual parts.

I'm not sure how to ask this without sounding facile and bitter, so I'll just ask it bluntly and hope you take it in the spirit in which it is meant - what writing experience have you? By that I mean are you a creative writing tutor, a published author etc etc? I'm not trying to denigrate your right to critique my work - far from it. I would just like to know from what position your advice is being given.

Anyway, thankyou again for taking the time to read the chapter and for offering your advice.


January 22nd, 2011, 04:15 PM
Good work Jack.I wouldn't worry to much about layout and formatting at this point, the important thing is to keep your story moving.Format and edit your work after you write the material.

January 22nd, 2011, 05:55 PM
Hi Jack,
I agree with you that some excellent novels begin with detailed historical info, and others with descriptions of a place, both of which I really like (the opening to Sleepy Hollow for instance describes the history of the place, its physical setting and the demeanour of the people that live there). Where I think wordsmith might have a point is with getting published. Whether we like it or not, many people will buy books based on the blurb on the back or at best the first few lines.

Anyway, I like the style of the introductory chapter. My reason for posting is that as I read the first few paragraphs I was swept off to the place you describe, however, there were a couple of times that I was immersed in the description but the inclusion of a factoid or historical point of interest seemed to yank me back into reality. It felt somewhere between fiction from the point of view of the 'watcher', and non-fiction provided a narrator. Not necessarily wrong if that's what you're going for, but for me it didn't sit quite right.

To agree with the other posts: I would like to know a bit more about the character. You also switch from talking about 'a watcher' to 'the watcher' later on. Have you tried using the watcher from the start? It might help to make clear to the reader that you are talking about a specific character.

If you want to know my credentials: I have a number of non-fiction publications under my belt, a fictional work in progress, and a love of reading since I can remember :-)

Jack Penarron
January 24th, 2011, 10:57 PM
Richard and Crocky - thanks very much for your comments.

The story's coming along quite well I think now. All the advice I have been given has been really helpful. The main problem I'm having at present is that I work as a college tutor and farmer and am in the middle of a two-year part time college course as well, so there isn't much time left for writing. Lots of my time is taken up with planning etc for work and my course. That said, I've come a long way with the novel and want to get the story finished and begin the editing etc soon.

January 25th, 2011, 03:04 AM
'The headland, like the entire coast hereabouts is edged by the Coast Path. The boots that tread it belong to tourist families in search of adventure, lovers in search of seclusion, loners in search of enlightenment, and retired folk in khaki shorts and inappropriately bright waterproof jackets. The path has been here forever, but became the Path in the early 1970’s, and traces the coastline of the national park. In places it would take only a misplaced footstep to fling the watcher to his death on the rocks below; at other points it leads one onto gentle beaches where seals bask on the cold rocks.'

My favourite part so far.

February 6th, 2011, 08:02 PM
I'd offer a few comments, all relating to the first few lines, for an agent, the most critical.
1. Not a good idea to start with a hypothetical, especially a long one.
2. Slate gay sea is a bit of a cliche.
3. The metaphor that follows, "laced with white scars that dragged behind the ferries" is both strained and mixed, even with the "ploughed (I assume you mean "plowed") toward Ireland"
Keep at it.

February 6th, 2011, 08:05 PM
Nothing wrong with "ploughed". The American spelling is "plowed".

February 6th, 2011, 08:14 PM
Ah yes, I should have noticed the UK beside your name, Jack. Ignore that part of number whichever it was and accept my apologies.

Jack Penarron
February 7th, 2011, 10:04 PM
Ah yes, I should have noticed the UK beside your name, Jack. Ignore that part of number whichever it was and accept my apologies.

Haha! No worries, Ward. Thanks very much for your comments.

The Prodigy
February 17th, 2011, 06:17 AM
I've read the first two paragraphs so my critique, if judged by the amount of text read, is small in impact. Thus writing that point, is my attempt at forewarning a negative thought.

Those two paragraphs are like seeing a diver about to undertake some great feat of depth in a single breath; one knows it will be a long journey. Thackeray, Dickens, Doyle - all British I believe - wrote stories I would say were journeys. What captivates me, and what I believe is lacking here, is the ingenuity of description that wraps me in the letters be it historical or fiction or another genre. Things were intelligent, coherent, but bland. I am not a firm believer in the axiom of immediate reader gratification. I think it selfish to want my interest peaked in a simple sentence or two. Yet what I do prefer is for my mind to be intrigued, even in a minor degree, in your process of writing, or description, your passion which should be evident - in flourishes or in subtle lines - but sublime nonetheless. High literature is imposing on the senses. That is immediate.

That written; I admire the attempt. And perhaps, as I eventually complete this piece I will be impressed more so. Your writing makes me want to be a better writer. Thanks for that.

Jon Prosser
February 28th, 2011, 04:52 PM
hey, i have read some of your work and also the comments posted here. considering you have as you put it "no knowledge of writing at all" this piece is exceptionally good! the description is very detailed, and lays out the scene very well. i live just south of cardigan bay so i know the scene you're describing and have to say you have it spot on. the problem i have with it though is the lack of action. i know you have thought of all of this already and justified your reasons, but the entire chapter is describing the geographical location, the history, the town and so on, and i think for a first chapter, it is too long and too heavy a weight of information. it is true that the best way to get the readers attention is to have some action or character introduction, it doesn't even necessarily have to be related to the plot. perhaps you could open with this scene during a storm for example? my personal approach is to spread the information out in an order that coincides with the action of the plot and that makes it easier to take in. it's very good, it just needs spicing up to grab and hold the readers attention. keep at it!

Jack Penarron
February 28th, 2011, 10:27 PM
Prodigy and Jon Prosser -

Thanks very much for your comments. It's coming on well now I think.

Jon M
March 1st, 2011, 03:41 AM
I had no desire to read past the first paragraph. I wondered, "What's the point?" And a hypothetical watcher is not a character, and neither is the landscape that you painfully, and tediously describe.

I think the prose fails on a very basic level. There is no sentence variation in the first paragraph. I really wish there was. It makes reading more pleasurable. You may have heard the technique described as "allowing the reader to catch his breath." There is truth to that.

Jack Penarron
March 2nd, 2011, 10:10 PM
^ Well, I can't please everyone!