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First Page: Fear Week

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The girl drifted just above him, her arms flailing as she struggled to reach for a handhold.

Through the forward view-ports, as Adrian’s ship soared east in its orbit across the Atlantic, the immense circle of the horizon glowed against the blackness of space. Far below, he could see most of Britain, its shape so familiar that it just meant, ‘home’. Across the North Sea, Scandinavia’s green lay dusted with snow, its splintered coastline of fjords disappearing beyond the curve of the northern horizon.

The girl’s hand darted in front of Adrian’s eyes, momentarily covering the praying-woman shape of the Baltic Sea, which was just sliding into view. Beyond the Baltic lay the Soviet Union, a dark zone, laden with nuclear missiles and bombers.

Adrian reached out, grabbed one of the girl’s legs and pulled her towards him. His arms slid up to her waist and her slender body in its silver spacesuit pressed against him. Her forehead bumped against his.

“Oops!” the girl murmured, her face close. Her glowing brown hair swayed out around her head as if she were under water. She felt warm, soft, against him. Her eyes were beautiful. Adrian tried not to tremble with excitement. He felt his willy twitching as her mouth–

A piece of chalk struck him on the head. He heard a ruler bang against a bench top.

“Adrian Thorby, can you tell the class who first described acid-base reactions?”

He was back in 1962. Beyond the classroom windows, across Maybury Road, terraced houses ran eastwards towards the docks, the lines of roofs broken only by a single bombsite, like a ripped out stitch. Adrian, adept at letting his mind wander while listening for occasional fragments of the teacher’s words, turned towards the front. The room was a sickly pale green, the paint faded and frothy with age. Across its battered benches, ancient grey floor and pimply young boys, Mr Greatacre’s stony face gazed at him.

“Lavoisier, Sir,” Adrian replied, pronouncing the French name cautiously in his northern accent: Lav-war-zayer. He added another bit of information he had picked up: “He got his head chopped off, Sir. In the French revolution, Sir.”

“Very good, Thorby,” Mr Greatacre said, with a glint of humour in his cold eyes. “Perhaps you can tell us what you were day-dreaming about while I’ve been talking?”

Adrian considered his answer.

“Spaceships, Sir,” he replied. “I was thinking about John Glenn orbiting the earth in his Mercury capsule, Sir.”

The Mercury capsule had disappointed Adrian: a primitive spacecraft barely worthy of the name. It was not his vision of the future.

“Well, Thorby, I understand how exciting spaceships might be to you, but today you need to focus on a couple of acids and some other interesting substances I’ve prepared.”

Mr Greatacre leant forward and rapped his knuckles on his desk. “But if I’m going to let you near dangerous chemicals in my laboratory, I want you paying full attention! Is that clear, lad?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“And you are particularly not to fantasise about girls!”

The class howled with laughter.

The science teacher always seemed to know their thoughts. Mr Greatacre was the most formidable teacher in the school, though he never caned or struck any of the boys.

Turning to the blackboard, Mr Greatacre continued, “Now, I’m going to describe some examples of acid-base reactions. We’ll start with nitric acid and copper oxide.”

Sitting next to Adrian, his friend Tim Hebblebeck muttered, “I bet I know what you were really thinking about, Adrian.”

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

14 Comments

  1. Marianne McA
    Aug 10, 2013 @ 08:24:01

    I came unstuck at the first sentence. I can imagine someone drifting, or someone flailing – but I can’t imagine someone doing both. And my first reading was to put her in the water, which put him underwater and then I had to reread the whole thing when I understood that he was in space. And then it turned out he wasn’t.

    Once we get back to school, I started to enjoy the page, though Mr Greatacre didn’t convince me. I’m not entirely sure why: I think it’s because it just seems like bad practice to ask a pupil what they’re day-dreaming about (they might tell you) and the most formidable teacher in school shouldn’t make that mistake. (If he asked it in a rhetorical manner, relying on his scary reputation to ensure that Adrian wouldn’t dare answer, that’d seem more plausible to me.)

    As it is, if I was browsing, there’s nothing in this page that directly sells me the book, but I’d read on further, because I’d be intrigued to read something set in that time and place and I like your descriptions – it’s a book I’d be open to buying, if that makes sense.

    Good luck.

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  2. theo
    Aug 10, 2013 @ 10:21:53

    I am ambivalent about this page and that’s not what you want. I too thought at first that your MC was underwater which would explain someone floating around and trying to grasp at a handhold. I also thought from the first section that this was an adult novel until I got to the word ‘willy’ which threw me. It was jarring with the rest of the section.

    Once into the classroom, it flowed better and grabbed my attention more, but there’s nothing there to really hold me. I’m taking a guess that this is young adult or younger in which case, though it might hold a younger person’s attention, it does not hold mine long enough to want to read on.

    Your writing is good, the year intrigues me, but I think you’re starting your story in the wrong place. Without any information on this though, I have no real idea where you’re going with it. Will he be a writer? Will he build a spaceship in his pasture, is this a flashback and now he’s in the space race? There’s just nothing to tell me here, and your MC is not very strong in this, thus the ambivalence.

    Oh, and we all had to go to the library in my grade school and watch on a teeny tiny screen any coverage that was going on about the Mercury space flight because it was such a huge deal. But it comes across here as just another every day thing. I would expect the teacher to comment on the propulsion at least since he’s teaching chemistry. But he’s as detached from the story as I am.

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  3. Lucy Woodhull
    Aug 10, 2013 @ 11:08:17

    John Glenn went up in early 1962, so if this is Fall 1963, it’s not exactly fresh news — just something the MC is obsessed with, so the lack of direct discussion about it didn’t bother me.

    Yes, I, too, thought your MC was underwater. The part about the Atlantic only makes it the more confusing. I like this opening, but you must rework it so that it’s 100% clear from the first that he’s in space. The first sentence by itself and then cutting to the spaceship almost makes it seem like he’s about to mow her down. Is he inside or outside? And if there’s a girl floating — why? Is it a mistake? Is he rescuing her? Give the fantasy a purpose, not just to squish up on her. Although leave that in — it’s hilarious, and indicative of his age.

    I’d read on, although I’m not clear at all what genre we’re in. I enjoyed this, it’s just that your beginning is muddy, and that’s a bad thing in the first two paragraphs. Good luck!

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  4. Carol McKenzie
    Aug 10, 2013 @ 11:09:49

    I don’t know where this is or what it’s supposed to be. I don’t think there’s enough on this page to keep me reading, unless I had an idea of what the genre might be. If I picked this up in a bookstore, I might read for a few more pages, but as a first page, it leaves me shaking my head and putting it back on the shelf.

    The writing is nice, although the imagery in the beginning is a bit confusing. Again, I had underwater as my visual, but then we were in space…for a moment I had steampunk propelled vehicles.

    “Ship” is vague enough that it could be anything, and I’m creating my own imagery based on the last thing I read (steampunk), and I’m probably way off base. But I’m not getting enough description to give me what you want me to see. Granted it’s his daydream, but I suspect his daydreams are an integral part of the story. I’d like to feel more connected with the MC rather than have to reconstruct my own visuals over and over.

    I was also confused by her floating hair. If she’s in a space suit, does she not have a helmet and wouldn’t her hair be in the helmet?

    As far as his willy twitching…that threw me out of the story and not just for the word usage. I have no indication of the age of this MC and now his willy is twitching. So I think he’s old enough to have his twitching willy written about, but then we’re in some version of a school room in 1962, and I’m now picturing him in short pants and an Eton-collared shirt, along with the rest of the pimply faced boys. And again, I was confused.

    I do suspect this takes place in England, hence the lack of interest in the Mercury launch by the teacher. I don’t know for fact, but I would think they wouldn’t have been quite as interested in the US space program to take everyone to the library to watch.

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  5. theo
    Aug 10, 2013 @ 11:42:05

    @Lucy Woodhull: Sorry, but I didn’t get Fall of 1963 from this: He was back in 1962.

    I wanted to say the piece of chalk was funny and the teacher has a good aim.

    One other niggling thing, I believe you only capitalize the word ‘sir’ when using it in front of a title, but I could be very wrong on that. It didn’t look right on the page though so I’d check that.

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  6. Lucy Woodhull
    Aug 10, 2013 @ 11:54:51

    @theo: Whoops, I misread and I’m a dummy. Got distracted by looking up the Mercury program. Carry on!

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  7. Jules
    Aug 10, 2013 @ 11:56:17

    I agree with most of the thoughts in the comments. I too thought water but then corrected to space. I was also thrown at the word willy. But as soon as I was in the classroom I wanted to read more. I loved the chalk throwing thing (I had one that threw those and erasures when we were not paying attention). I would most likely read on. Thanks for sharing this!

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  8. theo
    Aug 10, 2013 @ 13:14:16

    @Lucy Woodhull: NOT a dummy! :) I wondered if there was a correction after the excerpt had been posted that I didn’t see at first, that’s all.

    On a side note that is totally irrelevant to this first page but I have to mention it, DA’s comment system used to retain my name and email for the comment form whether I was signed in or not. It doesn’t do that anymore. At least not for me. Is this behavior for everyone or am I just lucky?

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  9. QC
    Aug 10, 2013 @ 13:24:03

    I liked it. The first sentence threw me, but I caught on soon enough. The use of the word willy drew me out of the story, but when I read on, I understood why the word was used and smiled at Adrian’s use of a very kid-like word in his fantasy.

    I don’t mind working a little to get the gist of what’s going on, so I’m good with this–although I’d tweak the first sentence. Floated above him in space, maybe? I’d definitely read more.

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  10. Kelly
    Aug 10, 2013 @ 14:29:50

    Given this story appears to be set in Britain, “his northern accent” is not a good descriptor. There’s a whole lot of north in Britain – is he Scottish (where an Edinburgher sounds different to a Weegie), or a Geordie, or Mancunian, or Liverpudlian…

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  11. Viridian Chick
    Aug 10, 2013 @ 15:43:35

    This feels like an opening I’ve read several times before. Prophetic dreams are a touch cliche. I kind of liked it, but I wouldn’t read on unless something (1) the blurb was interesting or (2) something caught my attention in the very next page.

    I did immediately catch on that they were in space, though I did had trouble figuring out where (the middle of nowhere? Above a planet? Above the Atlantic as in above the ocean, or was the Atlantic the name of an alien planet or something? Far away or close?) I had to re-read a couple times to get a better sense of place.

    EDIT: the “willy” thing threw me. It felt weird and uncomfortable. Your description of the girl and her actions already made it apparent she was having an effect on him; it was jarring to then have it pointed out in such a silly manner.

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  12. SAO
    Aug 10, 2013 @ 17:49:31

    I was confused by the daydream, much as others were. I spent too much time trying to make sense of the details. Then I was in the classroom and it seemed to me I had too much description. Space, the view out of the window, the classroom. All at the expense of anything happening.

    Nothing happened. I didn’t get to know Adrian that well, either. He daydreams, but he didn’t seem to have a take on the girl floating/flailing in space. Was he worried and set to rescue her? Was he eager to play hero? Was he thinking what an idiot for not being better tethered? How did he feel about having chalk thrown at him?

    Ditch the daydream and show Adrian and some conflict on the page.

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  13. Vanessa
    Aug 10, 2013 @ 18:26:34

    I admit, I was a bit confused when reading this. Was the opening part an actual daydream or was it a vision of some sort? Either way, the scenario isn’t intriguing enough to draw me in. First pages are generally supposed to grab the reader’s attention in some way, and there’s not enough mystery or action in this to attract me. Maybe it would be better to start somewhere else?

    Some points about the prose: it reads as very sophisticated but also kind of stuffy – I think you could inject a little more “feeling” into it, to make your character’s personality come through more. Also, the constant references to the heroine (I presume) as “the girl” seems kind of repetitive. Try varying the vocabulary, or if he knows her name (and if it isn’t a secret) just call her by that. And the “willy” part was kind of jarring to read, so maybe you could choose another word for that.

    I would say that the classroom scene made me smile, though. You have a good sense of humor. I’m not interested enough to read on, but maybe it’s subjective.

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  14. Marianne McA
    Aug 10, 2013 @ 18:57:33

    @Kelly – I actually googled it, because docks and the 1960s connected in my head to give me Liverpool, but that didn’t seem entirely right, because you’d normally describe a Liverpudlian accent as Liverpudlian rather than Northern.
    Anyway, turns out there’s a Maybury Road in Hull, which seems to be in the correct relationship to the docks, so perhaps the setting is Hull.
    (Pretty much the only thing I know about Hull is that Maureen Lipman comes from there, so I’m not sure if there is a specific descriptor for the local accent.)

    I don’t really need an exact place on the first page though. To be honest, I even found being given the exact year jarring – there were enough clues to give the reader a sense of the time period, and I’ve never – and I was a very day-dreamy child – come to myself with a start thinking ‘I’m back in 1976′.

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