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First Page: Belong With Me

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“So, he bought Hampton Manor.”

Vivian put down her tea. She looked over to her brother, James, to see whether he would choose to elaborate on his pronouncement. He didn’t, and Vivian knew that it would be useless asking him for more information until he had completed reading the letter. James, Viscount Hastings, could only ever concentrate on one task at a time, and always completed a task once he had begun it.

Instead, Vivian looked over at her sister-in-law, and caught the look of affectionate exasperation she was throwing towards her husband. Vivian smiled, but felt the familiar twinge of envy.

Vivian nibbled on her toast as Emily looked across the table at her.

“Is Hampton Manor the one next door? The derelict one?” Emily asked.

“Yes, that’s the one. It has pretty grounds, but they are overrun now, of course. The house itself was once very grand, but it has fallen in to complete disrepair. I wonder if whoever the new owner is will try to restore it, or tear it all down and begin anew?” Vivian was quite familiar with the property, perhaps even more so than her brother and sister-in-law realised. She had spent many an afternoon exploring the area after slipping away from her governess, never fearing she would be discovered. Even then, the house had been abandoned.

“I’m surprised James has never taken you there. It has a lovely prospect, if you ignore the neglected house,” Vivian continued.

“You mean, go on another person’s property? Without invitation?” Emily was the most proper and polite person Vivian had ever met. The suggestion seemed to horrify her.

“Well, there is no one there to discover you. It would hardly matter to the owner, I’m sure,” Vivian told her. Emily didn’t look convinced.

“I couldn’t.” She seemed scandalised at the very thought.

“Well, too late now, I suppose. If there is a new owner, they’ll likely be in the area supervising repairs and such.” Vivian almost shrugged, before remembering that it wasn’t considered ladylike. She didn’t want Emily to think her attempted influence had been for nothing.

“That’s right,” said James. Vivian started as her brother unexpectedly joined the conversation.

“Who has taken the house? Someone you know, presumably.” Vivian asked.

“Yes, an old school friend of mine. William Halkett. Though, I think he said he was a a Major, now. No, a Lieutenant Colonel.” James frowned, as if trying to remember his friend’s entire military career.

“What is he like?” Emily asked, shooting a quick glance to Vivian. Ah, so she had been thinking along the same lines. “Is he…” She cleared her throat delicately. “…married?”

James glanced between Vivian and Emily, clearly unaware of the subtext of the conversation.

“Uh, no. Not that I am aware. Though we haven’t spoken in a while,” James replied.

“Actually,” Vivian answered, “I think I can tell you something of him. He came here once during the summer holidays. Isn’t that right, James?”

James nodded. “Yes, and I haven’t seen him much since then. Though, we have exchanged some letters during his time at war.”

“I was only 10 or 11 at the time but, I remember him being rather reserved. Very kind, though. I believe he helped a groom patch up a wounded horse.”

James smiled fondly. “That would be right. He always did love animals.”

“When is he to take up residence?” Emily asked.

James took up the letter again. “He says that he will be here soon.” He turned over the letter to check the franking date. “A few days, I should say.”

Emily slid a sly glance to Vivian, who pointedly ignored her. “And is he moving in to that ramshackle old building right away?”

“William doesn’t say. But I don’t imagine the place is habitable as it stands.”

“Well, how about we invite him here?” Emily suggested in a rush, blushing quite plainly.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com


  1. SAO
    Dec 01, 2013 @ 04:59:54

    You write smoothly, but this is back story and not very exciting backstory at that. You’ve got an unmarried sister, a matchmaking sister-in-law and an about-to-arrive brother’s friend. You’ve given me no reason to think that the romance between Viv and Major Whatsit isn’t going to progress smoothly with not one bit of drama to keep the reader interested.

    Start where your story starts. This is not it.

    On a personal note, I hate starting a book with unattributed dialogue. And I must say, I found the “it would be useless {to expect} more information” annoying. I get to read about people taking bites of toast while waiting for the story to start. I empathized completely with the exasperated wife. It was halfway down the page, before we got to find out who the “he” referenced in the first sentence was.

  2. Kate Sherwood
    Dec 01, 2013 @ 06:14:40

    I agree that this isn’t the most gripping opening. It’s smooth enough, but why should I worry about these characters enough to keep reading? They seem like they all get along well, and there’s no huge need for the heroine to get married. If there IS some extraneous need for marriage, maybe you could start with that. If there isn’t, I assume she’ll just be falling in love and wanting to get married for the regular reasons – so maybe you could start with her meeting the hero?

    I’m also a bit concerned about your voice, especially in dialogue. Some of the dialogue seems quite period-authentic, but then it slips into something more modern. “Well, how about we invite him here,” for example, sounds casual by MODERN standards, so even more out of place for a period piece.

    You also might want to look at your commas.

  3. Lynne Connolly
    Dec 01, 2013 @ 06:32:09

    Before the twentieth century, Vivian was a boy’s name (Tennyson erroneously translated Ninian as Vivian in his poems, and that’s when it started as a girl’s name). Since there’s no clear indication of when this book is set, I don’t know if that’s relevant or not. I’m a big believer in just putting the date in italics at the start of the piece, so the reader can immediately place herself in time with the minimum of fuss.
    If we’re in her point of view, surely she knows her brother is a viscount, so mentioning it is an obvious infodump, especially since not being able to concentrate is nothing to do with his station in life.
    Going on another person’s property was something most people did, because of the ancient common laws that allowed right of way. So the horror is a little odd.
    The beginning is flat. That’s partly because of the telling-not-showing aspect. Like this sentence, “She seemed scandalised at the very thought.” So what does that look like and how does Vivian know?
    It’s smoothly written, but I see this as a start. Now it needs filling out. Some more vivid descriptions, and fewer punctuation action tags, like “she nibbled on her toast.” Because that tells the reader very little. I write this way in a first draft, then go back and delete a lot, and make other things more colorful. It’s like a painter in oils who layers his work up to make it more, to increase the intensity and the theme.
    Plus, this is a “coffee table scene,” a quiet, reflective scene and unless there’s a hook in it, the reader is likely to pass on to something else. A hook can be an established writer, in which case the reader trusts her to take her on a journey, or something on the page to make the reader want more. The new neighbor next door just isn’t enough, because it’s such a heavy cliche, it’s more likely to leave the reader groaning. From Pride and Prejudice to Jane Eyre and numerous more modern romance novels, it’s a favorite way to start a book. With good reason. But it needs to be more active. How about the neighbour breaking in to the cozy breakfast scene to ask a favour? Or perhaps his horse has bolted and they carry him in, unconscious. That kind of thing.

  4. theo
    Dec 01, 2013 @ 09:25:22

    Just in this example alone, you use Vivian’s name 16 times. When I started counting them by the end of the third para, you’d lost me. Trust your readers. If your writing is clear enough, they’ll know who is speaking and constant use of proper names can be avoided.

    I agree here as well that nothing’s happening. This is a conversation better left for later, not the opening of your story. I want to know if the buyer has seen the place, knows what kind of shape it’s in, did he come at some point to look at it? Did his solicitor send him facts on it? Does he know what to expect? Was he hurt in the war? Maybe a brief prologue. Just about anything but the standard “as you know, Bob” opening.

    Having said that, I’d read on a bit more since this is my type of read, but if the entire thing was written with nothing but proper names, I’d put it back for that alone.

  5. Carol McKenzie
    Dec 01, 2013 @ 09:48:20

    I don’t know where or when I am, so I can’t tell if what I’m reading is historically accurate. I’d like to know that. As suggested, a date at the top would help greatly in grounding me in time.

    Otherwise, this is not an opening that grabs my attention. And because I’m not really invested in the story, I’ve headed off to check on the history of franking, to try to calculate the age of the man moving in next door (he seems far older than Vivian…but I don’t have any age for her so that’s a guess), to check on property owner rights in what I think may be England at some time in the past, and to try to decide just how close of friends the Viscount and the new neighbor really are and how he got letters from the man only during the war…and what war was that?

    Point is, you lost my interest in the characters and now I’ve turned to fact checking and wandered away from your story.

    Thanks for sharing your work. Your writing is smooth and pretty much error free, other than the last line, which is jarringly modern.

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