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First Page: Burning Bright

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CHAPTER 1

KIRSTY

The Pride of the Kerrigans. That’s what Dad calls me. Or sometimes, for a laugh, The Revenge of the Kerrigans. You see we live in Balfathery which is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it country town full of petty-minded snobs. All they want is for their children to be solicitors, doctors and vets. I have no intention of being a small town solicitor or a doctor, or a vet, no way. For me the sky’s the limit.

Of course since the whole Celtic Tiger thing started all the snobs are building big houses for themselves. Big, ugly houses, with lawns and patios and plastic tables and chairs out of Woody’s. None of them have a house like ours. We don’t live in the town, our house is too big for that. And it’s not in that string of show-off houses on the Athlone road that Dad calls “snoburbia central”, our house is five miles outside, in its own grounds. Dad was thinking more Beverly Hills when he built it. To quote himself, “Hollywood in Balfathery’s face!”

And you know the best bit? Dad was born in Barrack Street, you know, where the poor people live. The place all the Balfathery snobs look down on. Now he’s one of the wealthiest, most successful developers in Ireland! You see my Dad thinks big and I take after him. So put that in your pipe and smoke it.

JAKE.

I watch Mum from the door of the kitchen. She lifts the red-enamel casserole out of the all-singing, all-dancing, eye-level, self-cleaning oven and puts it on the matching, seven-ring, electronically lit, shiny, gas hob. Take note… electronically lit.

So why has Mum has a lighter in her hand?

She reaches into the cupboard and takes out something small. The something is wrapped in foil. She opens the foil to reveal an irregular-shaped lump, dark brown, about the size of a conker. She flicks the lighter, holds the flame under the lump and crumbles a generous half of it into the garlic and herb butter that she’s making for the garlic bread. It’s for the adults. Me and Kirsty don’t like garlic. She mixes it well, puts it to one side and starts to slice the French stick.

“Hi Mum.” I say and I smile my angelic smile.

“Oh Jake, hi. Are you ready?”

“I’m wearing a shirt!”

“Good lad.”

“What was that herb was that you were adding?” I ask.

She knows I’m interested in cooking – sort of.

“Just a bit of stock cube. It gives it a bit of pizzazz.”

My own mother! Even she forgets that I’m fifteen years old. I know perfectly well, that you don’t put stock cubes in garlic bread and you certainly don’t need a lighter to soften it!

That’s the worst about being a boy. Girls grow sort of evenly. Look at the first years up in St. Mary’s… they’re all a bit straight up and down. Second years… shaping up. Third years…. melon city!!!! But boys are different. In my class, average age 15 and a bit, Mick Wall and Gerry Stanford shot up and got hairy last summer, they could pass for eighteen. Most of the others were shaving by Christmas and getting taller as well. Then there’s the titches. I’m one of the titches.

I still look like I’m only eleven. Mum says not to worry, that I look like a spiky-haired angel. Thanks Mum – all I need now is a white frock and wings! Mrs. Lawless in “The Gem” gives me a lollipop when I go in to pay for the papers! Joe Martin in the Bank asks if I’m still into dinosaurs! Dinosaurs! For crying out loud, that was when I was in High Babies. Then I look in the mirror and I cannot believe that my body still hasn’t caught up.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She 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

9 Comments

  1. Kate Sherwood
    Aug 18, 2013 @ 06:52:04

    I’d be tempted to leave out the first part – the girl’s snobbery (while calling other people snobs!) put me right off. But maybe you intend for her to be an unreliable narrator or otherwise use her nonsense to good effect, in which case you don’t want to CHANGE her voice. So it might be good to leave her for later, after readers have already read a more likeable character and are hooked on the book.

    So, skipping the first part… I think the second is pretty solid. I’m not really sure on the accuracy of the “girls all go through puberty at the same time” bit, but… maybe? I’m not sure on genre on this one – I guess some sort of YA? Are the kids going to lose their ritzy home b/c the parents are drug dealers? I think I’d judge this one on the blurb rather than the first page, because you do a good job of setting the scene and establishing the characters, but I’m really not getting a clear idea of the plot or genre.

    Nitpicks: Typo on “why has Mom has”; extra comma after “I know perfectly well”; A lot of exclamation points in that last paragraph, but maybe that was a stylistic choice, if the kid’s kind of over-dramatic; “my angelic smile” is either a POV shift or the kid’s trying to manipulate or… I wasn’t clear; I also wasn’t sure about the meaning of “I’m wearing a shirt” – does he normally not? could she not see that he was? It struck me as odd.

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  2. Darlynne
    Aug 18, 2013 @ 10:02:21

    I love your voice and the POV of your narrators fits well with their ages and personalities. Kirsty is her clearly father’s daughter and embodies his own braggadocio and world view. Jake at 15 is still trying to sort himself out. Both characters are appealing and believable.

    Exclamation marks are on my annoyance list and I believe writers are given an annual allotment and no more. “Judicious” would be my recommendation in that regard: use only where really necessary. There are other places that commas or semi-colons would help the flow of your words in general, but overall, I would definitely be interested in reading more.

    I do have to ask, however: What is Mum putting in the garlic bread? My first thought was heroin and that’s the extent of anything I know about flames and lumps of brown material (marijuana wouldn’t need to be heated). Does this make them users or dealers? Either way, their lives are going to implode, but why is she doing this very alarming thing? She answered Jake’s question in a matter-of-fact manner, didn’t flinch or jerk guiltily when he asked. Now that is most interesting.

    Thank you for sharing your work with us.

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  3. Carol McKenziec
    Aug 18, 2013 @ 10:12:49

    I don’t know what this is, so I don’t know if I’d read further. I am interested in what Mum put in the garlic bread…but I’m not sure, without a blurb, if that’s enough to keep me reading.

    I like the voice in Jake’s section; a tad less enchanted with Kristy. Also, as mentioned above, a few typos that cause me to read a sentence more than once. And nix the exclamation points. A well constructed articulate sentence should convey the excitement intended; an exclamation point only jars me at the end of that sentence.

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  4. Viridian
    Aug 18, 2013 @ 11:19:07

    The first section made me cringe. If you intention was to make Kristy sound snobbish herself, then you have done an excellent job.

    I’m going to assume this is a case of strong characterization and not a failed attempt at trying to make us sympathize with her. That being said, perhaps you should find a way to move it elsewhere in the book. While it’s well-done and effective, it put me off from reading the book, and the book might be more tempting if Jake’s lighthearted POV came first.

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  5. Kathleen
    Aug 18, 2013 @ 11:45:30

    This is sufficiently well-written that would be interested in reading on. I agree with some of the other comments that Kirsty seems a bit unreliable. The starting rant about other people’s big houses and new-money materialism sets me up to think she is contrasting herself to them: either that she has some kind of artistic or intellectual aspirations, or is proudly old money (or no money). So it’s a bit of a surprise, what follows.

    Jake seems like he might be more likeable, but I am also perplexed by the brown cube. Hashish, maybe? If so, this could be leading in an interesting direction. It would be nice to understand how J & K are connected: K. part puts us clearly in a setting, J. not so much. Does he also live in Balfathery, I can’t determine. At first I was thinking they were in the same family, but I realize there is no reason to think this.

    As a general rule, I would say that switching first-person narrators is a tricky business: there is a tendency for the reader to get invested in one point of view and feel wrenched away when taken out and put into another. And for the writer it can be hard to make the narrative voices sound different enough. If this were actually a book instead of a first-page exercise I would want to read more than this before jumping into the second person’s head, and not keep going back and forth. Presumably they are going to cross paths in some way, if they don’t already know each other — it would be amusing for K. to see and comment on J. before we are in his head and seeing what he thinks about her. It usually seems more effective to have an entire section in one point of view before permanently switching to someone else’s. Two books where this is done to interesting effect are The Posionwood Bible and Let the Great World Spin.

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  6. Deljah
    Aug 18, 2013 @ 12:20:40

    The girl was very off-putting. I’d only keep reading if the balance of POV tilted toward the other voice. I liked the boy’s voice and was interested in what he’d become. Since the girl seemed just like her father, I felt like I knew what she’d become, unless this is all a setup for some “big change”.

    I wondered briefly what the mystery ingredient in the bread was, but it seemed obviously inserted to get me to wonder about it. I wouldn’t keep reading just to find out. Overall, I was a bit confused by this page, but maybe having a blurb would’ve been helpful.

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  7. Marianne McA
    Aug 18, 2013 @ 13:28:58

    Kirsty just comes across as a horrible person – but still, she sounds young.

    What I take from this section is that she’s still living in the boom years, will have to live through the economic downturn and her dad becoming bankrupt – I don’t like the girl, but neither would I wish that on anyone.

    Jake is more nearly interesting, but the not-a-stock-cube incident just throws me.
    Say it is drugs – at 15, if his mum is doing drugs that openly, he knows what’s going on. He might then ask ‘What was that?’ to point out he’s noticed she’s using, or to be obnoxious – but he has an agenda in asking. But even though we’re in his head, there’s no hint of an agenda.
    OTOH, if it’s drugs and he is really that innocent, then he’s just going to accept it when she tells him it’s a stock cube. The alternative, I suppose, is that he’s on the cusp of finding out, but then I’d imagine he’d either feel sick and terrified that his suspicions might be true, or elated that his parent is that cool and privately determined to raid the cupboard later.
    Doesn’t ring true that he doesn’t believe her, but then dismisses the incident from his mind for a prolonged musing about the vagaries of puberty. (Though adolescents: pretty self-obsessed.)
    If she’s genuinely just adding some exotic spice, then the incident wrong-footed me.

    Without a blurb, I can’t tell if I’d read this. It could be going anywhere. There’s nothing to hook me into the story yet. The character who I’m most interested in at this point isn’t even on the page: I want to read about the dad, both because his life so far sounds interesting, and because of all extraordinary real-life stories about Irish property developers.

    Good luck.

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  8. Angela Booth
    Aug 19, 2013 @ 00:19:40

    I liked both your characters, well done. And I’m assuming that Kirsty is a bit snarky, when she out-snobs the snobs.

    As others have suggested, I agree that having two points of view on your first page is off-putting. I like to settle down with a book, and get into its world. That’s difficult when you’re trying to get to know two characters.

    Perhaps you could alternate chapters, rather than doing quick changes?

    Nevertheless, great stuff. Kudos to you. I’ll read it, as long as it’s not New Adult. (Don’t like NA, at all, but that’s me, there are MANY readers for NA, so if that’s what you’re writing, go for it.) :-)

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  9. Nemo
    Aug 19, 2013 @ 13:05:03

    The first part sounds like what a teenager thinks a snob sounds like. I don’t get that authentic feel that this is a real girl. Are her feelings defensive? Is this just another girl trying to get a leg up on the competition? And who the heck is she talking to? I normally like first person, but this is pure expository with no catalyst. What reason could she have for giving us all this back story right up front? If it started with her encountering the “snobs” then this could ease into the telling portion. But it would be better if all of these thoughts were cut up and dispersed throughout the first chapter. That way we could see her as a whole person and understand why she feels like she does.

    Otherwise, Kristy is my favorite kind of character. All people are snobs about something and I like that she uses the opposite of what most characters use to be snobby. The tired old rich-girl snob is grating nowadays. If she was more rounded with vulnerabilities and interests and passions in this first page I’d buy it.

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