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First Page: Shameful inheritance

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“She’ll have to be told, the poor wee lassie.”

The man who spoke stood with his back to the room, as if surveying the leaden waters of the Clyde. The river was barely visible in the late-afternoon gloom, although a creamy wake on the murky surface revealed traffic on the water.

“Her father’s death was a misfortune, to be sure. Timely or untimely, we all face our end. As the Good Book says, the soul that sinneth, it shall die.” He exhaled heavily. “But this…”
Euan Sinclair strained to hear, for the speaker continued to address the river. Words surfaced at intervals, words laden with regret and pronounced in a manner that contrasted with the measured, matter-of-fact exposition of the terms of James Carrick’s last will and testament. Deplorable…legally binding…regrettable… as if their interjection absolved the speaker of any personal responsibility in the matter. His muffled voice and bowed head echoed his distaste for the subject-matter.

He stopped speaking, rounded on Euan, and glared at him under bushy grey eyebrows.
“ I leave it in your hands. Better to tell her at the house.”

“But, Mr Murchison, sir—” Euan stifled his instinctive protest. As the newest and youngest member of staff, he was in no position to challenge his employer’s authority.

“What, laddie? Do you no want to do it? Are you telling me yon fine training in Edinburgh was a waste of time? The law is a messy business at times, your tutors must have told you that. Messy indeed. We cannae wash our hands of its less pleasant aspects.”

Yet the look he gave Euan was not unkind. “You and she are of an age. She’ll take it better from you.”

Euan’s alarm got the better of him. “Has Miss Carrick no female relations? Should we not use some older lady as an intermediary?” Although he had been told Meredith Carrick was 26, and it was the custom to consider that any female still unmarried by the age of 25 had attained her independence, the news he had to carry was shocking indeed. Miss Carrick led a sheltered life as her father’s housekeeper. What if she fainted, or fell into hysterics? He shuddered at the thought. He had no sisters and no idea how he would cope.

The older man waved a hand in a gesture of dismissal. “Away with you. Away and explain her father’s will to her. Explain how your fancy, Frenchified, Edinburgh ideas infected James Carrick.” Having delegated the distasteful task, Murchison was eager to be rid of Euan. He strode to the door to open it. “A sorry business indeed, when a sound man loses his reason.”

Euan however stood his ground. “If you refer to my politics, sir, I have given you no cause for complaint. My work here has never suffered.”

“Edinburgh flim-flam! Radicalism! Striplings playing at revolution with fine rhetoric and empty words.” The older man seemed to have forgotten that he had completed his law degree at Edinburgh University, as had all Scots lawyers. “Words are no protection against swords, laddie. The meanest labourer in Glasgow knows that, even if your fine Edinburgh society does not.” Civic pride infused his voice with power and resonance. “Here in Glasgow, we have our feet on the ground. It was our city and our trade that laid the foundations for Scotland’s wealth.”

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

12 Comments

  1. SAO
    Oct 20, 2013 @ 05:36:01

    I thought too much of this page was about withholding information from the reader that the narrator knows. I find this annoying. Who is the wee lassie who is essentially the subject of the page? We don’t know until halfway down the page. It doesn’t help me that I hear “wee lassie” and think five year old so my assumptions about what’s going on substantially change.

    It takes several paras for the narrator and circumstances to be clear. In time, we’re told the will is deplorable and going to cause consternation, but exactly what it says is withheld from the reader.

    All in all, I felt jerked around, that this was manipulation, a trick to increase suspense and get me to turn the page as opposed to compelling story-telling. Maybe the feeling of being tricked is a personal feeling on the part of this reader, but if you weren’t deliberately trying to manipulate me, then you need to look at the order with which you deliver information.

    What you don’t have on this page is the plot or a sense of the characters of Euan and Meredith (whom I take to be the MCs). What you do have of Euan and Mere makes them look like wimps. Euan protests, his alarm gets the better of him and his opinions are called flim-flam. Meredith is assumed to be so sheltered at age 26 that she can’t hear some unpleasant facts without an older woman there to help her bear it.

    This could be an interesting book. But what you have on this page is not very interesting to me. I strongly suggest you start with Mere being told the contents of the will, which would have to show her char, Euan, and the plot.

    On a very personal note, I detest grown women being called “wee lassie.” Maybe Murchison is a sexist jerk, maybe this is set when literally belittling descriptions of women were common, but starting off the book this way, you’ve annoyed me. And if Meredith turns out to be anything other than petite, it will be doubly annoying.

  2. Kate Sherwood
    Oct 20, 2013 @ 06:13:54

    Second day in a row I agree with SAO! I didn’t find the secrecy as annoying as she did, but it dragged on longer than I wanted, and this scene is essentially backstory (I think) to the real start of the book. Is the relationship between the senior lawyer and the junior lawyer an key aspect of the story? If so, maybe keep the scene here but talk about the relationship more. If not… I’d cut this scene and start with the young lawyer talking to the daughter. And if he’s trying to find ways to break the bad news to her gently, you have a better excuse for withholding a bit of information!

    I also wasn’t sure about the occasional dialect intrusions. It sometimes felt like the older lawyer was a caricature of Scottish speech, (the “wee lassie,” the ““What, laddie? Do you no want to do it? Are you telling me yon fine training in Edinburgh…” bit) and other places he seemed to be speaking ‘regular’ English.

    I’m intrigued by the setting, but I feel like this first page isn’t where the story really starts.

  3. Lynne Connolly
    Oct 20, 2013 @ 07:21:26

    If I was in a bookstore, the book would go back once I’d read the first sentence. I really dislike “dinnacanna” books and whether it’s fair or not, all that cod brogue would have me setting the book back on the shelf very, very gently.
    Second sentence – if he’s in a room, how can he see the Clyde? Maybe introduce a mention of a window here?
    If the speaker is educated, he wouldn’t have spoken with a brogue. Scots did everything they could to rid themselves of it until recent times. If they were educated, the teachers taught “proper” English as part of the curriculum, even after Victoria and Albert turned Scotland into a cult.
    The extract – it’s not an opening scene because nothing happens. As a guide, it’s a good idea to start the book where the protagonist’s world changes. Presumably Euan (if this is pre second world war and with aspects of gentility, he’d have spelled his name Ian) is the hero, but he’s just doing his job. His world isn’t changing, or he isn’t aware of it. Start when he talks to the puir wee lassie.

  4. Marianne McA
    Oct 20, 2013 @ 09:01:25

    I liked this.

    I know it’s a matter of taste, but I could use a helpful date at the beginning of the page. The wealthy Glasgow made me think late Victorian, but the swords and Frenchified ideas sound earlier – and I’m distracted from the story by trying to work out a time period.

    I don’t like numbers in text: I’d rather 25 and 26 were written out.

    Also, I don’t get a sense of where Euan is in all of this – what he feels about the will. When I first read it, I took it that he’d written the will for Carrick in that Murchison seems to be blaming him for its contents – but reading it over, maybe they were just political allies. But I’d be drawn in more by knowing where he stood on the matter – he’s horrified at having to tell Miss Carrick, but is he horrified also by the terms of the will, or does he think the cause (whatever it is) is more important? He’s not ashamed of his politics, but is he ashamed that Miss Carrick may suffer through this will? How Radical are we talking?

    But yes, I’d read on. The ‘wee lassie’ didn’t even register with me – it’s an expression that’s still in daily use where I live, among people from an Ulster Scots background – it’s exactly what you would hear someone say in that circumstance.
    (I know nothing about the Scots dialect of the time, but as far as today’s speech goes everything in N. Ireland is ‘wee’ – ‘yon wee wimmin’, ‘that wee oul man’, ‘I went for a wee dander’, ‘wee buns’ (meaning ‘easy’) – in this context, ‘wee’ is not a belittling word – it just describes anything and everything.)

  5. Stuart Aken
    Oct 20, 2013 @ 09:17:40

    Whilst this is clearly the introduction to a romance and, as a bloke, I’m not supposed to be interested, I found the characters very interesting. Euan is clearly going to be the male protagonist. The time period is clearly some distant from the present and will no doubt become clearer as the story unfolds. I don’t expect, or want, an author to reveal everything about any character in the first page. I like to get to know the characters in books as I do in real life: bit by bit.
    I noticed one commenter was confused by the mention of the river without reference to a window. However, with his back to the room, what else would he be doing other than looking out of a window, I wonder.
    The language of the piece and the dialogue places it in Scotland and suggests we’re dealing with natives of that country. I find the whole piece really quite intriguing and would be curious enough to read on from this sample.

  6. theo
    Oct 20, 2013 @ 10:20:11

    I have no sense of time to ground me. This could be last week or 200 years ago though that long ago, women could and did inherit but it was definitely not common and wouldn’t surprise the daughter. In this case, with the ‘wee lassie’ working as her father’s housekeeper, I’m again confused. A ‘housekeeper’ definition changes over time so again, it tells me nothing.

    Also, and I imagine this is just me, I had to read the first few sections twice because I wasn’t sure who was speaking. Was it Euan or someone else?

    I also had trouble with the spelling of your H’s name. Euan is pretty archaic and though I think your trying to shove as much Scot into this story as you can with the dialect, etc., Euan is more obscure than even Eoghan is. Ewan or Ewen would be more the norm.

    That said, nothing at all happens on this page. It’s a conversation and frankly, boring. I have no reason to read on because I just don’t care. It could be any story. This isn’t where your story starts. It starts where someone’s life is changed permanently. That’s not always the case, but this time, I think it is. Start it with dad arguing over his will with Euan because things change there. Start it with dad’s death. Things definitely change there! Start it with Euan telling the ‘wee lassie’ which frankly, my family never used on any female member past the age of 9 or ten! But please start it somewhere else or it’s going back on the shelf for me too.

    Kudos for putting this out there. I know how hard it is. Good luck.

  7. Lynne Connolly
    Oct 20, 2013 @ 10:28:03

    What I was objecting to was the “cod Scottish” in the piece. It sounds very general, as though all Scots speak the same way. A bit deeper thought and research could result in a much more interesting version of the dialect. Glaswegians, especially have a specific dialect, and there are at least two distinct Edinburgh ones. The “dinnacanna book” tag isn’t mine, by the way, but the words of a prominent editor who spoke to me at a conference, voicing her dislike of the genre.

  8. Madeleine McDonald
    Oct 20, 2013 @ 10:52:03

    Thanks to everyone for their helpful comments. Guilty as charged to introducing the setting before the characters, and I will rethink the first chapter. In this first version, the lead characters meet 700 words in, and the shocking contents of the will are not revealed until 1200 words in. Good point about mentioning the date earlier: the story is set in the early 1800s, when women had no independence. I think when readers pick up a historical romance they expect the hero and heroine to be constricted by the conventions of the time. I was also surprised the words “wee lassie” raised hackles, I find the expression normal in contemporary speech.
    Thanks again.
    Madeleine McDonald (author, The Rescued Heart and Enchantment in Morocco)

  9. theo
    Oct 20, 2013 @ 11:47:54

    I was also surprised the words “wee lassie” raised hackles, I find the expression normal in contemporary speech.

    And yet, this story is set in the early 1800′s so why would you use something you find normal in ‘contemporary speech?’ Either you need to remain in your era or you stay out of it completely, but historical readers are a very picky lot and they will call you out on things that don’t fit.

    When I mentioned that my family wouldn’t use the phrase ‘wee lassie’ on a female past nine or ten, my grandparents were born in 1880 and weren’t that far removed from your story’s timeline.

    And again, some women did inherit in the early 1800′s. It wasn’t the norm certainly, but it did happen so don’t discount that. A brief example, but there are several:

    http://wordwenches.typepad.com/word_wenches/2011/08/forbidden-inspiration.html

  10. Karen Wolfe
    Oct 20, 2013 @ 11:53:08

    Thought this beautifully-written, and very intriguing. As it’s plainly a novel and not flash-fiction, why would I want the whole plot spoon-fed to me on page 1?
    The language and in particular the vernacular tell of days gone by, so surely nobody could think this contemporary? In patriarchal Scotland ALL women were ‘wee lasses!’
    The will, and therefore the associated death, will obviously affect Meredith’s future: and is there a promise of a someday relationship between her and Euan, who are ‘of an age’? I for one would wish to read on!

  11. Anonymous
    Oct 20, 2013 @ 12:40:22

    Euan’s name isn’t the only one with some issues; I was actually more bothered by Meredith’s. Meredith is a Welsh name, not a Scots name, and it wasn’t really used for women until the early twentieth century. If this story is set in the early nineteenth century, and the character is Scottish, the name is very anachronistic.

  12. SAO
    Oct 20, 2013 @ 13:14:25

    @Madelaine
    You’re never going to please anyone. In many parts of New England, no self-respecting James would be called “Jimmy” past age 10, yet in the south, where Jimmy Carter was from, obviously Jimmy was a normal name for an adult man.

    I do think that avoiding the controversial on page one is a good idea. But then, I doubt Murchison is really worthy of being on page one. I would be far happier with even the hero calling the heroine “wee lassie” if she were there to show me a strong woman.

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