View Full Version : I almost wrote a novel :)

March 20th, 2014, 03:01 PM
While I have no intention of writing any new material in this forum like my "Welsh Night Out" short, I am, on a whim, putting this piece out :)The reason being it was the first passage I came up with, many years ago, to start a fantasy novel and become famous :) As I say, this is the first serious bit of writing I ever attempted. The train station setting satisfies the preoccupation I have with change. Travel and reaching destinations in life being analogous with travelling by train, only sometimes the destination you reach is going to be your last, whether you know it or not.


It’s late November and as the flight from Palma comes to a standstill outside the Terminal Building it begins to snow. Clearing customs I get a taxi to the nearest train station, and by the time I reach Cardiff Central it is already late evening. I'm the last passenger and once embarked the empty train pulls away, disappearing from view, swallowed and consumed by the snowstorm. Worryingly the snow is settling; being driven by gusts of wind, fat snowflakes are whipping wildly about under the glare of a parade of sodium lamps perfectly regimented along the platform. As I feel my hands turning numb with the cold I look about urgently for advice, from some Porter or fellow traveller, but the entire station seems deserted and I feel the isolation curiously oppressive.

It doesn't take me long to decide there will be no more trains tonight in this weather and I make my way to exit hoping for a taxi rank full of warm welcoming cabs lined up outside the station. Instead I discover the steps leading down to the concourse barred by a security gate, drawn and locked, at the top of the stairwell. A small ball of nervous panic settles in the pit of my stomach as I turn back and begin to examine the platform buildings more closely, looking for shelter; I resign myself to the possibility of spending the night here. As I walk back and forth, the wind is blowing the signage secured from the platform roof wildly back and forth making it almost impossible to read until, in a rare lull, I manage come upon a sign saying "Waiting Room". Not only that, there is a comforting glow of light emanating from within the room.

When I push open the door a warm blast of air caresses my face and I inhale a smokey smell of pine-wood. Closing the door behind me I have to do a double take; the room is lit by gaslight, the mantles glowing on antique brass wall mountings fixed to burred walnut walls. At the far end of the room an old pot bellied stove crackles and spits as flames dance upon burning logs. The smell of linoleum, impregnated with generations of lavender polish, is almost overwhelming as I walk across the floor and sit on a stiff backed bench, made for those hardier souls of generations past. I am beginning to feel more optimistic about things already and, as uncomfortable as the bench is, I begin to drift off in a fitful approximation of sleep.

After a while of drifting along in this netherworld I am suddenly brought to my senses by an icy blast of air as the door opens and a young girl comes into view, maybe eight or nine years old, crosses the floor, and takes up the bench opposite me. In those few moments before politeness makes way for intrusion I notice she is wearing just an old faded cardigan buttoned up over a gingham dress and some worn plastic sandals; her mousey hair is centre parted and plaited and her face well freckled. She looks, for all the world, the subject of some box brownie photograph you could find in the depths of any old, neglected family album. As I turn away two things are taxing me. She shows no sign of the cold, barely looking at the fire and, more intriguingly, I think I know her.

March 23rd, 2014, 05:20 PM
I'm surprised you posted it in the public forum instead of the passwords only one since you want to publish this.
To the writing.
You write well and have a good eye for descriptions. Unfortunately this seems to slow down the story to a crawl. Reading this entire section without too many grammatical errors was nice, but I was wondering when the story would start.
Way too much attention to the lighting. For all the talk about the lamps I was ready for someone to bump one into a curtain and set a fire. This did not happen, and I was left feeling that I had read about the oh so fascinating life of lamps in a train station.

This part here needs to be reworked for grammar's sake. ...""manage come upon a sign saying "Waiting Room". "

Some of your sentences are long winded and may perhaps benefit from putting periods in places. "of air as the door opens and a young girl comes into view, maybe eight or nine years old, crosses the floor, and takes up the bench op"
I shouldn't be one to talk about long-winded sentences, though... take a look at my prologue in the closed forum to catch my meaning.

March 24th, 2014, 12:30 AM
Hi Iron,

Nah! I have no intention of publishing anything associated with this opening passage. I did take the story further and it is languishing on my hard drive right now out of pure sentimentality. The girl is, obviously an ethereal messenger, tied through friendship to his childhood self, but dying in the innocence of her youth. She is there to tell him his own time has come, the railway station analogous to his 'final destination', and it is time to move on. It transpires that terrible nightmares he suffered in his childhood were not nightmares at all, but projections into our space from that 'other world' that perseveres, always just out of our line of sight. The drama, of course is the old chestnut of the nightmare world taking over from the world in which we exist, and our hero and heroine are out to stop it. As I said it was all born out of an idea that came into my head one morning, the first idea I ever had for a book.

Anyhow, glad you liked the descriptive narrative. Yes, it is long winded in parts, but so am I :) The passage is just a scene setter, that's why nothing much happens to begin with......

March 24th, 2014, 10:59 AM
Tell me, when you exhumed this early work did you edit it? Is it in it's original form of, 'many years ago' or have you applied skills since learnt?

The following are, in my opinion, over-written.

swallowed and consumed ...one or the other

about under the glare of a parade of sodium lamps perfectly regimented along the platform ...consider cutting 'perfectly regimented' or rearrange the sentence to omit either 'parade' or 'regimented'

I manage come upon a sign saying "Waiting Room" (sic)...'managed'?

I have to do a double take...only in pantomimes.

the mantles glowing on antique brass wall mountings fixed to burred walnut walls.
...consider cutting fixed to burred walnut walls. It's a rhythm thing. If you think the walls are important give them a separate sentence.

However, the timing of the entrance of the girl shouldn't come any earlier. A minor incident or something similar is needed to compensate for trimming the narrative description.

These are really picky points. You are a storyteller and there is not greater praise than that.

If you are looking for beta-readers there is a 'group' on this forum especially formed for writers who don't want to post work they hope will be published.

March 25th, 2014, 02:11 AM
Hi Qwerty,

Thank you very much for the storyteller compliment :) The editing was minimal, maybe a word here or a line there. I defy anyone to tell me they put anything on here without giving it the once-over first! The Welsh Night Out submission I made since joining here, compared with this shows, in my opinion, no improvement due to the fact I have written next to nothing in between :) Though I abandoned the work that this passage introduces I did take the theme on in another never to be completed work that is also on this site somewhere, submitted by me but moved by PiP because it was not submitted for criticism Per Se. I enjoy reading other people's stuff and that is why I will remain active on the forum, but I don't possess the passion to write that I see and enjoy so much in others on here.

March 25th, 2014, 02:16 AM
The "worryingly" sentence seems a little too beefy. Can you compare the oppressiveness to anything? Might want to focus a bit more on the locked security gate. It's a bit hard to read because of the long sentences, but this might just be me. I'm used to short, Hemingway sentences, the kind that break dialogue. Understandably, however, this is exposition, and a good bit of it at that.

I love the atmosphere: being locked in a train station. It's very Miyazaki-esque. Like something supernatural is bound to happen, like a secret meeting of fairies in the woods. This is particularly apparent with the beginning of the third paragraph. "Those harder souls" seems a bit contrived, stuffed in there just to set some backstory. Maybe, to drift off to sleep, you can incorporate some background music, like one of the self-playing pianos. :p

With the little girl, I'm interested in how she walks. You say, "crosses," but this is my first impression of her. I get the impression that she knows what she's doing and is rather nonchalant. However, her description is spot-on. Well done and (presumably) researched. And, uhh, that last sentence makes me want to read the book. At first I thought, "Hmm, is he gonna time travel?" And now I'm not sure what to think.

Overall, I love the story. Remember pot-bellied stoves used coal, only wood as a starter. I would gladly read anything else you write.

March 25th, 2014, 05:50 AM
I liked reading this. There's a caught-breath kind of tension that grips me. The timing is good, it draws me in and calls me closer. It has the feeling of being told at night to a circle of friends.

I think that you use too many words and this confuses me. I get lost in words and lose the picture. Like here:
"Closing the door behind me I have to do a double take; the room is lit by gaslight, the mantles glowing on antique brass wall mountings fixed to burred walnut walls."
So many descriptions squashed altogether! The fire gets a lovely sentence of its own, though...

And here: "...swallowed and consumed by the snowstorm."
I think you can find one perfect word instead of using two...

I don't like that sentence that starts with "worryingly" either. It seems odd, almost ugly. So much of this story flows that something like that feels... I don't know. To me, it just isn't right somehow.

So yes. The main thing I'm saying is that I love the story, but I think you use too many words to tell it.

March 25th, 2014, 09:39 AM
Thank you Shadow and Ari for taking the time to read this. The worryingly sentence and the room description are an attempt by me to convey as efficiently as I can the instantaneous transfer of information into the senses of the observer. To break it up into more manageable sentences kills off the impact and strangeness of what he sees before him, makes the process more sedate and considered; less chaotic given his situation.

March 26th, 2014, 09:06 AM
So you are saying, it's okay if I lose the thread of what's going on because your character is taking in all this information at once, and so I have to try and do the same?
I'm not sure if I understand you right. I mean, it seems an odd reason for letting a reader get lost in words.
For one thing, I can never take in the information as quickly as the character because he is seeing and I am reading. He can process ten thousand things in a second. I cannot glance at the page and take it all in. No matter how fast I try and read, I cannot!
There are many, many books are filled with dramatic chaos and are yet understandable. There are many books that have an impact like a fist in my chest without being wordy.

If that isn't what you meant at all, I am sorry.
I'm very new at this (:

March 26th, 2014, 09:50 AM
Hi Ari,

You have made an excellent point, and one that has made me think again about what I was trying to do. Remember, I wrote this a long time ago so my motives for putting together the prose in the way I did probably owed more to my emotional state while bashing away at the keyboard than how I evaluated the impact my words might have on the reader. I still stand by my now somewhat retrospective view of what comes across in the piece. The reason for this is because it would seem odd to me that the protagonist would experience confusion while the reader, being fed sensory information sequentially, would not. Should the reader just understand that confusion exists reading the text from the comfort of his chair, or should he get involved with the character and share his confusion? I guess both are valid points of view. But for me, anything that comes between him and the world I'm inviting him into is an unnecessary barrier to his participation. Anyhow..it made you think :) and you may well be right (made me too!)

March 27th, 2014, 07:52 AM
That was my first Like! Thankyou (:

Yes, I see, that makes sense. I can see your point too, and, come to think of it, there is an incredibly confusing book which gripped me from the start to the end, and when I closed it I was like, "....what was THAT about?" And yet it was brilliant. So I think both points of view can be true.
(That book, by the way, is The Homeward Bounders by Diana Wynne Jones.)

March 27th, 2014, 01:20 PM
I like the descriptiveness of your post, it is commendable to be able to flesh that much detail out of a story. A single complaint, only one which I believe has been voiced above. I find the word worryingly clashing with my sensibilities, mainly because you have made a point of explaining how bad the weather is outside. The normal reaction for bad weather, at least for myself is never "I am worried about this weather", it's usually a bit stronger. I always find myself a tad distressed when weather grows as out of control as this seems to read, I feel the character would benefit from that unease. You wrote above that the major point of this passage was a segue into a lesson about life and its eventual stopping point death, symbolized by a train. I feel you could build on that gloomy emotion with a different narrative reaction to the weather. That is simply my two cents. Cheers, and happy writing!

March 28th, 2014, 12:13 AM
It seems that a lot of the critiques of this piece recommend cutting something out, and I agree, but I love over-writing in a first draft because I think it's an easy problem to solve.

In some ways, this piece felt a bit like an exercise in description, but it did set the scene and it ends strongly by making the reader wonder how the narrator knows the girl.

I was a little confused at
"I'm the last passenger and once embarked the empty train pulls away, disappearing from view, swallowed and consumed by the snowstorm."
It seems like the narrator is getting off the train, but embark means to get on to a mode of transportation. Since the train pulls away empty, I assume no other passengers embarked. (I handled embark control for military operations, so that word never escapes my attention). I'd forget embark/debark and go with something like "I'm the last passenger off the train before it pulls away empty and disappears into the white throat of the storm."

I think you would come up with something stronger if you did a search for "ly" and excised almost all of the adverbs. It's one of the first things I do with any first draft. I like " In those few moments before politeness makes way for intrusion." I understand what you're talking about -- and I think you ought to cut it and start at "She is..." Sometimes, the turn of a phrase just sounds so right that you can't bear to kill it; that's why you trust your friends on the forum to draw their knives instead.

Finally, and this is really kind of peevish (in fact it's just a pet peeve of mine): Can we just get rid of the word "signage?" I know it's a real word, but I hate it almost as much as when someone uses "prone" when it's clear that the subject in question is not lying face-down. I don't have time for therapy, so I bare these idiosyncrasies on the forum.

March 28th, 2014, 01:02 AM
Hi 1109 and Trygve

Thanks for reading and commenting. Trygve, excellent spot on the word embark, you are right of course and I will amend to make clear he is exiting the train. The 'politeness' sentence is my experience at being caught 'people watching' by people I am watching :) Trying to avoid that sudden guilty lowering of the eyes after having your interest peaked by someone is something others can relate to I think. Anyway, I like it and I'll probs leave it in :) :)