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First Page: Jannah-Thriller

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‘Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar.’

The words consumed the stale air around the balcony. Hypnotic vibrations produced by the megaphones shivered down my spine before a delicate smell of honey and cinnamon rose around me.

‘Whiskey, Mr Flint.’

I turned to see a slender woman dressed in a full white niqab holding a gold tray with a tumbler containing a double measure of whiskey with ice. Her blue eyes as clear as the sky above looked deep into mine.

‘No thank you.’

Sweat flowed from my brow, bringing the sun tan lotion I had applied to the top of my head down with it. The white cotton shirt, even if it was half sleeve, had been a poor choice. As I pinched the shirt to lift it off my sticky skin, I saw roughly three football pitches away, Britain’s finest engineering feat of the last century. Upon the runaway the supersonic bird sat glistening in the midday sun.

I wouldn’t have minded being summoned if that had been my taxi. What did he want from me? Payment hadn’t been transferred until the building be complete but he couldn’t change terms now. We had a contract. He’d bankrupt me if he did. Remember, he is your client and we need his money. These are the new men of finance and have the means to make your dreams come true. Just do what he wants. Don’t interrupt him for making you miss the reunion 4 months in the planning. Smile, and be happy you’re here despite the inconvenience.

‘The Caliph will arrive shortly.’

‘Okay. Can I ask you what these words mean?’

Hers eyes shifted left then right.

‘Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar.’ The megaphone recited.

‘The Muezzin is calling prayer. He sings God is great.’

‘Ash-had an-la il?ha illa llah.’

‘Witness there is only one god.’

‘Ash-hadu anna Mu’ammadan-Rasululla.’

‘Muhammad is the prophet of Allah.’

‘The voice. It’s incredibly soothing.’ I said.

Her pupils widened. Her eyes glared with the same fear I had seen on the TV pictures of those Argentinian soldiers who had survived the sinking. I imagined her lips were poised to say something.

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. Lynne Connolly
    Feb 16, 2014 @ 07:32:06

    Some clumsy passages, but not bad. I see this one isn’t labelled “romance.”
    I would have thought that everybody these days knows what those words mean. If you’re muslim, of course, but if you watch “Homeland,” or even the news, you can’t get away from them. Especially if you’re British, with its large muslum population.
    Nice to have this from a male point of view, too.
    so, what’s he doing with whiskey in a muslim country, where alcohol is banned? If it’s not an important part of the story, ie a corrupt caliph, then make it strong coffee.
    “until the building be complete” is simply horrible, and should be “was” in any case.
    Most of all, this is a prep scene. It’s a set-up. There’s no hook here to make me read on. Your first page has to be hooky, whatever genre you write in. It has to have something to make the reader continue, and so far, apart from the whiskey, there’s nothing.

  2. Kate Sherwood
    Feb 16, 2014 @ 07:38:21

    I’m not sure what to make of this. It feels a bit all over the place, but I can’t really put my finger on why.

    Part of it’s the little errors. I think there should be a question mark when the woman offers the man whiskey, there’s a missing comma in ” I saw roughly three football pitches away”, “Runaway” should be “Runway”, etc.

    And it’s a bit weird to hear about the woman’s niqab but not the rest of her outfit. The niqab’s important, sure (especially contrasted with the tumbler of liquor) but I’d have a much more vivid picture if I knew whether the rest of her outfit was western dress or traditional to the country she’s in. The blue eyes make me wish I’d heard a clue about her accent, as well.

    Mostly though I think I was caught by that long paragraph in the middle, the one that starts with “I wouldn’t have minded being summoned if that had been my taxi.” I wasn’t quite clear who was speak-thinking, or to whom, so the whole thing was a bit of a muddle.

    And then the last paragraph was confusing because I don’t think I’m aware of Argentinian soldiers who survived “the sinking”. So I got that she was afraid, but I don’t understand why people would be afraid of something they’d survived… the reference was lost.

    I’m intrigued by the setting and hoping you know enough about it to write authentically, but I think this page could use some tightening in order to create the maximum impact for your story.

  3. Shaya Gilford
    Feb 16, 2014 @ 11:54:17

    The first impression I get when reading this page is that the author is not a native English speaker. There are a few oddities that are “off” just enough to seem like the author knows the language well, but as a second language, or possibly is attempting to write in a style significantly different from what the author is used to speaking and hearing. If second language, I strongly recommend finding a native English speaker to beta read the manuscript and catch the oddities. If because of style choice, find your own voice within the use of vocabulary and structure you are accustomed to in order to prevent the problems.

    There are too many contractions within the narrative. Also, the use of the number 4 instead of spelling out the word goes against the standard rules of writing. Always spell out numbers unless you are writing in the journalistic AP style.

    As Lynne pointed out, the service of the whiskey is troublesome. If the alcohol is indicative of corruption, that needs to be clarified. If it is not, a reason needs to be given why. Otherwise, you have just offended an entire religion, especially with the way the whiskey is being served against the backdrop of the call to prayer, and made your reader question your actual knowledge of your subject matter.

    If the muddled passage pointed out by Kate and the other errors are corrected, I might keep reading at least a couple of more pages to see where this story is going. There would have to be a big “hook” within the next page or two for me to read past that.

  4. SAo
    Feb 16, 2014 @ 12:00:58

    This looked like the start of something interesting but thought you tried too hard and sacrificed clarity.

    You first para was full of the 5 senses sound, smell, feeling at the expense of simple description. It took me too long to figure out where he was. I’m still not sure if it’s a bar or private house

    Equally elliptical was what was going on.

  5. theo
    Feb 16, 2014 @ 14:27:55

    @SAo: I thought he was sitting on a balcony or in the dressed stands of something for an outdoor presentation. I’m still not sure where he is.

    I don’t know what a football pitch is. Is this a field size? I’m guessing he must have had some hand in the supersonic plane on the runway, but then, he’d think in terms of runway length, not football fields or ‘pitches.’ The punctuation and such made this stilted to read as well. It didn’t really flow for me.

    And the last, at the risk of getting jumped on here, I live outside Dearborn, MI. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen any with a middle eastern ethnicity there with blue eyes. If this is a mistake, correct it. If she’s not of the ethnic persuasion of the region, then her eye color should be a wake-up slap for him. But he makes no real notice either way except that she looks into his eyes and then…nothing.

    Since I have no real sense of impending doom or danger or celebration or sex or anything else in this first page, there’s nothing to keep me reading. So though you might have a good story, this isn’t where it starts. At least not with this lack of information to reel us in.

  6. Carol McKenzie
    Feb 16, 2014 @ 15:10:25

    I’m lost in time here. As far as I know, there are no more supersonic flights…the last being the Concorde in 2003.

    Aside from that, as mentioned, her offer of whiskey throws me out of the story. I then question if a caliph still is the appropriate term for whomever Mr. Flint is meeting. I question the blue eyes of the woman, and wonder why Mr. Flint does not. I then question her apparent intense fear…and why Mr. Flint merely notices, but does not seem alarmed.

    And then I stopped caring to ask any more questions, even to find out who those poor Argentinians are.

    These aren’t questions I really care to know the answers to anymore. I’ve been taken so far out of whatever this story is that you’ve lost me as a reader. I have now put the book back on the shelf.

    As above, you have some incorrect words “runaway” for “runway” “Hers” for “her”…also, I’m not sure eyes “glare” with fear.

  7. SAo
    Feb 17, 2014 @ 10:43:43

    It said a balcony, but bringing the drink makes me think bar, the caliph has me thinking house.

    I’ve met people with African features and color with blue eyes and people with E. Asian features and blue eyes. In general greenish gray is more common than a purer blue but any light eyes are striking in faces where you don’t expect them.

    I assumed the blue eyed girl was a blonde of European ancestry rather than a blue eyed Arab.

  8. theo
    Feb 17, 2014 @ 12:07:59

    @SAo: I’ve met many different oddly combined (for lack of a better description) eye/skin color as well. I read this though as the servant/waitress/slave/what-have-you was the same ethnic background as the caliph in which case, that would be a really striking feature and worth more than a passing glance.

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