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First Page: Second Hand Jane

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Chapter One
“Oi nice slippers love!” A broad Dublin twang shouted down from the heavens.

A lack of privacy was the downside of apartment living, Jess thought as her gaze shot upwards to scan the myriad of windows overlooking the courtyard. She was rewarded by the sight of a lad with a crew cut who looked far too young to be the proud owner of such a bulbous drinker’s nose. His purpose judging by the plume of smoke he had just exhaled through his nostrils, for hanging out the window on a Saturday morning was not to spy on other residents but to have a sly smoke.

Having been there and done that Jess shrugged. Each to their own was her motto because she, better than most knew what it felt like to always have someone else sticking their ten cents worth in. As her mother’s face floated before her she gave Puff the Magic Dragon a little curtsey and got an excited wolf-whistle in return before opening the door to her block and disappearing inside.

It was true she mused as she waited for the lift, that along with a sagging bottom and boobs, age almost as though it were compensation bought confidence. There was a time when she would have blushed a shade of beetroot upon being whistled at like that. That was back in the days when men were still allowed to down tools on building sites in order to harass the young women hurrying past. Funny too how when you were a nubile, barely post teen strutting your stuff around Auckland’s CBD, you took those whistles for granted – almost as your due and then when you reached a certain age you became pathetically grateful for them.

Jess knew that before the morning was out she’d be texting her best pals with the exciting news that she had received a wolf whistle and…wait for it… she was wearing her elephant suit as her friends liked to refer to her Penney’s tracksuit ensemble.

Her apartment was housed on the second floor of the Sandbank Wing of the Riverside complex. Although she often joked that by the state of the Liffey when the tide were out perhaps the ‘Smelly Mud Flat Apartments’ or ‘Abandoned Shopping Trolleys Apartments’ might have been more apt names. Being on the second floor was something that made her feel happier when she spied the diehard smokers like ole randy, big nose boy – her reasoning being that if there was a fire at least she had the option of jumping.

This cheery trail of thought was interrupted as the lift door opened and disgorged Gemma from across the hall. She looked to be a woman on a mission judging by the water bottle in hand and the amount of skin-tight black spandex on display.

“Morning Jess!” Chirruped the svelte red-head with the bouncy pony-tail and perky everything else. “Glad to see you’re up and at it.” She gave Jess’s track pants and slippers the once over. “Well kind of anyway.”

“We can’t all be gym bunnies like you Gem. Besides you’ll do yourself an injury on that cross-trainer one of these days. Just you mark my words.” Pushing past her, she stepped inside the lift, “Besides my old bones have a good ten years on yours.”

Gemma laughed, “Listen to you – you sound like my Gran and she at least does Aqua-Aerobics twice a week! You really should come with me you know.” She winked conspiratorially, “There’s lots of hotties there.”

“Yeah-yeah I’ll think about it.” Jess muttered hitting number two. She had no intention of breaking the golden rule by which she lived her life. No man would ever see her in spandex nor would she get hot and sweaty in front of the opposite sex unless there was something fun in it for her!

“You’ve been saying that since Easter and we’re into September already so why don’t you put your money where…” Gemma’s voice trailed off as the doors slid shut in her face.
Gemma was right she supposed. She did sound like a Granny even though she had only just turned thirty-four which in this day and age of forty being the new thirty meant that technically she was twenty-four. Cheering up at that thought, Jess let herself into her apartment.

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. Kate Sherwood
    Jan 26, 2014 @ 07:45:33

    I can usually get past the grammatical issues and read the story beneath them all, but the punctuation issues in this one were all I could really see.

    The first sentence is hard to read because of the punctuation. I think I’d go with:

    “Oi! nice slippers, love!”

    But I don’t think I would have minded if you’d gone a bit more understated and had:

    “Oi, nice slippers love!”

    But SOMETHING has to set off that “Oi”.

    Through the rest, you’re missing a LOT of commas. There are some commas in the world that are discretionary, and modern editing seems to lean towards leaving some out that I think would have been put in a while ago. But the parenthetical commas (the ones that set off a separate thought in the middle of a sentence) are mandatory.

    His purpose judging by the plume of smoke he had just exhaled through his nostrils, for hanging out the window on a Saturday morning was not to spy on other residents but to have a sly smoke.

    has a parenthetical in “judging by the plume of smoke he had just inhaled through his nostrils”. If you lifted that phrase right out of the sentence, the sentence would just smush together to cover the gap and would still make sense. You could have put the phrase in brackets (parenthesis!) to set it off further from the rest, but you can’t just leave it there without ANY punctuation to separate it. You put in the final comma, but missed the first one.

    You did this a lot. It really highlighted how many parenthetical phrases you were using, and I think you’re using a lot. So maybe that’s why you took the commas out – you thought there were too many of them? But really they were all necessary, you just have (maybe) too many parenthetical phrases. I’m not sure.

    Like I said, it was hard for me to get past the punctuation to look at the rest of the piece. I THINK there’s some good characterization in there. But I also think nothing’s happened, yet. I don’t completely agree with the “main conflict must begin on the first page” rule, but I do think SOMETHING should happen pretty fast. Right now, we’ve got a woman coming home from an unremarkable walk and declining to go to the gym with her neighbour. Lots of characterization, but, as we ask so often… Is this where your story really starts?

  2. Marianne McA
    Jan 26, 2014 @ 08:04:15

    The setting was confusing – the page starts with a clear reference to Dublin, which is useful, but then she recalls Auckland, and that left me wondering if there was another Dublin in New Zealand. The Liffey set me right, but I’m not sure if everyone would get that reference.

    Also, I have doubts about your punctation. (I’m terrible about punctuation myself – I think Pratchett’s quip about ‘wanton cruelty to commas’ describes my writing style perfectly – but I think it’d be worth double checking you’ve got it right.)

    Mostly the page left me wondering who you’re selling the book to. I’m guessing not many people want to imagine themselves a saggy-bottomed 34 year old in a not very nice flat. It can work – see Bridget Jones – but if you’re going for that market I think your observational writing could be sharper. (Though humour is, of course, subjective.) On the other hand, if it’s straight romance, I think you need a hook on the page – I mostly read romance for story, and there’s no story here. Nothing happens at all.

    I think a blurb would help with this page.

    Good luck.

  3. MJones
    Jan 26, 2014 @ 09:12:32

    This was hard to read. Aside from punctuation issues I won’t rehash, there’s also… nothing here. If this was page 1 of a book I picked up at the bookstore, I’d put it back after the first sentence. It reads like the internal thoughts if a young girl from Ireland (??? ) not a 34 yr old.

  4. Carol McKenzie
    Jan 26, 2014 @ 09:42:24

    Hi author and thanks for sharing.

    I don’t know what this is; a blurb might help me ground myself. As it is though, nothing happens. At all. There’s nothing about Jess that compels me to read any further. She’s 34, she’s anti-exercise…and I’m not sure where, exactly, she lives. I do like her voice, her humor, self-deprecating that it is. Too much of that though and she may start to grate on my nerves. But I don’t want to just read about her daily activities; I want something to happen to her.

    As above, your work would benefit greatly from a thorough going over for missing commas. It would make all the difference in readability.

    Along with that, if you’re using dialog tags, there’s a comma after the last quote mark, then the next word is not capitalized. You only have a handful of instances, but I suspect this runs through your entire manuscript.

    “Yeah-yeah I’ll think about it.” Jess muttered hitting number two.

    “Yeah, yeah. I’ll think about it,” Jess muttered, hitting number two. (also with additional commas and a period.)

    Jess, obviously, is her name, so it’s capped. The “chirruped” above would be capped. But I’d avoid tags other than said. I know you’re trying to convey how the woman spoke, but overly descriptive tags become more distracting than helpful. You have enough description (maybe a little much) of the perky everything the red-haired woman has.

    Thanks for sharing!

  5. Carol McKenzie
    Jan 26, 2014 @ 09:43:09

    @Carol McKenzie:

    I misspoke: the “chirruped” would NOT be capped…

  6. hapax
    Jan 26, 2014 @ 10:01:40

    I also am not of the camp that everything has to happen on the first page. The only thing that MUST happen (for me) is to be introduced to an interesting person with whom I’d like to spend several hours, and you’ve got that in spades here; I like Jess, “saggy bottom” and all.

    But you’ve got maybe two, three, pages tops to give me a clue as to why I’m being introduced to this character: What does she want? What will she do to get it? What’s stopping her? I can enjoy “slice of life” literature in small doses, but it has to give me something truly special in return (like a peek at a fascinating foreign culture or unusual period of history).

    In addition, the characterization of Gemma is bordering on the stereotype (and an annoying one at that) and the punctuation is driving me bonkers.

    Still, you’ve got an actual character to start your story with, and that puts you far ahead of most of the pack. Good luck with this!

    P.S. I really do like your title. I’d pick up this book to check out the blurb on the strength of the title alone.

  7. Jamie Beck
    Jan 26, 2014 @ 10:19:40

    Thanks for sharing.

    I won’t duplicate the punctuation remarks except to agree. You might have an interesting voice and story, but if the sentences get gummed up because of improper punctuation, the reader is confused and frustrated…and gone.

    As to story, this does have a Bridget Jones/chick lit vibe. However, when Jess first mentions sagging bottoms, etc., I pictured her to be much older (maybe 50s). When I learned she was only 34 (granted, I’m in my late 40s, so that seems YOUNG), I was surprised.

    I don’t need the story to go off like a gun shot in the opening pages if I’m intrigued by meeting a character. I think Jess, however, needs a bit more “something” to make her really interesting…to make her stand out. She’s a self-deprecating, mildly amusing, lazy, single woman who lives in an apartment. That’s really all we know at this point, and that isn’t really enough to grab me and make me need to know what is going to happen to her.

    I don’t know if this is really where the story should start, but if it is, then give us something a little more original and distinct about Jess so we can get invested in her life story. Does that make sense?

    Best of luck!

  8. theo
    Jan 26, 2014 @ 10:47:58

    This seems like a ‘stream of conscious’ piece. Written while thinking about the story but completely unedited. I tried twice to read this but the punctuation issues drove me away. The comma is your friend. Learn how to use it properly. Please. Because this is almost unreadable the way it’s formatted. Bravo to those who managed to get through it all. I couldn’t. And unfortunately, the little I was able to push through did not show me a Hn that was interesting enough to continue. That coupled with a lack of place (I don’t know Ireland well enough to know if your references to sandbanks and such are trying to tell me where she is located) left me lost and confused.

    I’m sorry this sounds harsh, but these are problems easily corrected that will help your story to make sense and flow better.

  9. Giulia Torre
    Jan 26, 2014 @ 18:22:20

    I had to read it through two or three times. It’s purely sentence-level stuff that had me a bit confused. Longer sentences conveying more than one thought or action could be broken down to ease comprehension. But I think the scene is lovely, introduces the character and setting clearly. It’s the first pages, so conflict will come. It feels Victorian steampunk, but then references are contemporary.

  10. txvoodoo
    Jan 26, 2014 @ 18:28:17

    I had to read this line three times:

    “It was true she mused as she waited for the lift, that along with a sagging bottom and boobs, age almost as though it were compensation bought confidence. ”

    It made no sense! Especially “…age almost as though it were compensation bought confidence. ”

    And that’s because, besides being awkward, it lacks commas. Find a GOOD beta-reader, author.

    I’ll agree with others that “sagging bottom” isn’t a good start for your main character. Yes, we all have them after adolescence. Such is gravity. But unless hers is sagging to her knees, it needs no mentioning.

    A good beta would rework this: “His purpose judging by the plume of smoke he had just exhaled through his nostrils, for hanging out the window on a Saturday morning was not to spy on other residents but to have a sly smoke.”

    Maybe to this: “His purpose for hanging out the window on a Saturday morning, judging by the plume of smoke he had just exhaled through his nostrils, was not to spy on other residents, but to have a sly smoke.”

    I wouldn’t buy this based on a read of the first page. No matter how good the characters might be (and right now, there’s nothing that draws me in), the writing is far too much of a puzzle to make it worth reading.

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