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First Page: Teaching Donkeys to Dance – A romance with a...

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Dear Martin,

As from today, I would like to hand in my notice at AMS. I understand that I have a three-month notice period, and will therefore finish my employment on 04.04.00.

Thank you,

Katie Harmer.

“It’s a bit bald, isn’t it?” Martin Blackburn looked up from the letter.

“Yes, I know,” Katie replied, “But what else is there to say?”

“You’ve enjoyed working here? You’ve had a great set of colleagues? You’ll miss us all?”

“Well, that’s all true, but it doesn’t seem to fit in a letter of resignation that’s going to go to HR. I’ll say all that at my leaving do.”

Martin tossed the letter onto his desk.

“Leaving do? You think we’re going to fork out for a leaving do when you’re abandoning us. Traitor!” His smile took the sting out of his words. “I can only assume that this means that you’ve actually found it then?”

“Oh yes, we have. And it is absolutely perfect. It’s not at all what we imagined we’d be buying but yes, we’ve found it…” Katie smiled, as a red head popped up from the next cubicle.

“Sorry, Katie, Martin – I couldn’t help overhearing-“

“Couldn’t help listening in, more like.”

“Yes, OK, but open plan offices don’t make for privacy. If you’re going to complain, you need to tell the upper echelons of power that you need a private office to stop your minions from listening in.” Beth Swann, Katie’s best friend and work colleague at Asset Management Solutions, grinned and turned to her.

“Come on then, spit it out. I was desperate to phone you last night to hear your news but I knew that the flight was quite late and that you’d probably rather catch up on sleep than talk to me.”

“Well, yes – and no,” Katie said. “ I did want to speak to you, but thought that my shrieks of excitement might wake the kids.”

“Shrieks of excitement, hey? Handing in your notice, hey? This can only mean that the French dream is becoming a reality. You’ve found the perfect house?”

Another huge grin split Katie’s face. She nodded, her eyes shining.

“We saw the house on 30th, put in an offer on 31st, waited desperately to hear if it had been accepted and hours before the flight yesterday we heard it had been accepted! As long as everything goes according to plan we should be ready to move out there at the beginning of May. I can’t believe it!”

“So your New Millennium really is going to be brand new and sparkly! I will miss you so much but I am thrilled for you and Rob. Look, it’s just gone twelve – Martin, please can we take an early and slightly elongated lunch break. We’ve got loads of gossip to do. And I’ll stay later this afternoon – honest!” Beth’s disarming grin somehow helped Martin to forget the fact that she needed to leave at five o’clock on the dot every evening in order to collect her children from their After School Club“

“Go on then. Have a drink for me – I’ve got a meeting with David Gambol that I can’t get out of. Some of us need to work even if you don’t.”

The two women grabbed their handbags and headed for the coat rack. As Beth wound her chenille scarf round her neck she suddenly paused and looked at her friend.

“You are sure, aren’t you? It’s not a spur of the moment, mad people off the TV kind of act, is it?”

Katie faltered for only a moment.

“Oh come on, Beth. You know we’ve wanted to do this for years.”

Thinking back to the hours Katie had spent surfing the Internet looking at French estate agents’ sites, to the investment of time and money in language lessons with a chic French woman, whose ferocity over correct pronunciation had even caused her friend to have nightmares, Beth could only agree.

“OK, then. Sorry. Not mad people from off the TV. You have prepared for this, you have actually visited France –“

“Once or twice,” agreed Katie, mentally reviewing the twenty or so holidays across the channel with and without her fiancé Rob, learning to love the French way of life, the lack of stress, the joie de vivre; weeks spent sizing up different regions, wondering whether that old ruin would be their dream home, or whether this boulangerie would become their local baker.

“I just worry that, oh, I don’t know, that it’ll all go wrong, that you’ll come back in a couple of years, disillusioned and hating yourself for getting it wrong.”

“I won’t. I promise. I am so committed to this. I love France and I really want to live there.”
Beth wasn’t oblivious to the fact that Katie had neglected to mention Rob’s enthusiasm for the project, but didn’t say anything at that moment.

“ Come on, Beth,” Katie continued, “be happy for me; I can’t celebrate if you’re sitting there with a glum face, worrying that it’s going to be a miserable failure. Consider the up side – you won’t ever have to pay for holiday accommodation again!”

“Well, if you put it that way, it’s worth celebrating! Let’s get going, the first drink’s on me!”

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. Carol McKenzie
    Apr 20, 2014 @ 05:04:08

    I’m not sure if the title is supposed to be truncated or if that’s something that happened with the site…so I don’t know what the “…A romance with a…” refers to.

    (Ah, I do see in the feed on the side of this page, it’s a romance with mystery. That helps…but it also makes me really want this to start somewhere else.)

    I think I’d like this to start in France. This feels like backstory and an info dump…you’re setting the stage for something to happen, but nothing really has. She’s quitting her job and going to lunch. There’s nothing else going on. It’s not a surprise she’s leaving, there’s no tension over her leaving. She’s just…leaving.

    Something about the dialog doesn’t ring true…it reads, to me, like a caricature of dialog, overdone and not realistic sounding. There’s a lot of stuff said that, if they were such close friends, wouldn’t be said, which reinforces the info dump feel.

    You can, IMO, also leave out a great many of the exclamation points…all of them, actually. You should be able to, with words alone, get across whatever emotion your character is trying to express. Using them too often kind of defeats the purpose…they lose meaning after awhile. All I get out of Beth’s conversation now is a lot of noise, and not so much excitement.

    There’s also POV breaks. If you’re telling this from Katie’s POV, we cannot know how Beth’s smile makes Martin forget she leaves at 5:oo on the dot everyday. We can’t know what Beth is thinking about Katie’s hours spent in preparation, that Beth wasn’t oblivious about Rob. Those things, if you’re in Katie’s POV, aren’t things Katie would know. She might assume, or deduce, but they can’t be told to us from Katie’s POV, especially what someone else is thinking.

    I’m also puzzled over what the romance aspect will be, if she has a fiance. Maybe a blurb will help? I have the feeling Rob stays in England and she finds true love in France…and I’m not sure how I feel about the possibility of a rebound romance.

    As it is, I’m not sure I’d read on…maybe a few more pages and a blurb, and I’d have a clearer sense of who Katie is (and the mysterious Rob is…and I’m pretty sure that’s not your mystery), or why I should care about her.

  2. Kate Sherwood
    Apr 20, 2014 @ 06:45:16

    I agree that this probably isn’t where your story really starts. Nothing remarkable happens. It feels like an infodump, and the info isn’t even that interesting.

    I’d recommend starting where the romance OR the mystery starts. Right now, there’s no romance potential. She’s engaged. And there’s no mystery. Absolutely NO mystery, really, considering all the infodumping.

    I feel like maybe you fell too far into the show-don’t-tell pit. In order for that rule to work, you need to have a really clear grasp of what’s important to your story. THAT’S the stuff you show. All the other stuff? You either tell it, or you skip it entirely.

    If Martin and Beth show up later in the story, then maybe you could just ‘tell’ us about them at some point (probably not your first page). If they never show up again, maybe you could skip them entirely. They’re not what your story is about.

    I agree with Carol McKenzie that you really need to look at your dialogue – maybe it’s just because you were focusing on using it to get a lot of information across, but it really doesn’t read as natural language. It’s a hard balance, because of course dialogue should only be in your book because it serves some purpose, but in this case the purpose seemed far too obvious, the puppet strings of the characters mouths leading far too clearly back to your hands.

    I like it that your heroine seems determined to take control of her own life and is doing interesting things rather than just sitting around waiting for her prince to come. I’d really like to see where the story takes her, once you’ve tightened things up a little!

  3. theo
    Apr 20, 2014 @ 09:08:18

    This reads like a first draft rather than a nicely polished page. Everyone grins, every few sentences, you’re head-hopping and the punctuation needs cleaned up.

    I agree with the others, your story doesn’t start here. Even a discussion (or argument) between Katie and her fiance about the move, maybe he’s backing out but it’s her money tied up in the purchase so she’s keeping a brave face. Maybe when she’s already in France at the house and her fiance hasn’t come with. But not here.

    And I also agree that nothing on this first page indicates the possibility for romance or a mystery. Find your first point of conflict and go from there. You can introduce Beth later on if your conflict is later. As it stands now, I have the impression we’re going to get a few more pages of backstory at the bar/restaurant they have lunch at. This can get very boring, very quickly. Boring isn’t necessarily bad if it’s one or two small paragraphs, but it can be a read killer if it goes on for pages.

  4. Elizabeth
    Apr 20, 2014 @ 13:23:07

    I like the idea of a heroine adventurous enough to quit her job to live in France. (I also like the idea of a heroine sensible enough to take language lessons first.) But I’m not especially engaged by the way this great idea is presented. For instance, the letter of resignation IS a bit bald, and it makes a dull opening. If you cut it out entirely, and opened with Martin’s reaction to it, you’d at least be opening with a bit of a puzzle and a bit of a conflict. Even so, though, Martin and Beth don’t seem like important characters (if Katie’s about to leave them behind) and they and their dialogue aren’t vivid scene-setters.

    I’m assuming that things with Rob are going to unravel over the next three months and that Katie will move to France alone, there to encounter both mystery and romance. If I’m right, you shouldn’t telegraph that so clearly on the first page if you want to maintain your readers’ interest through those three months/three chapters/three pages/whatever. If I’m wrong, well, you still might not want to telegraph the wrong plot. In either case, I’d rather start with something that is either more humorous or more exciting than Katie’s rather tame and friendly resignation. Perhaps you could begin with Katie’s arrival in France, alone but determined. Perhaps there’s something important to cover in London before she leaves, and you could rewrite the first scene to focus on it. Perhaps you want to set a tone of building excitement and impending adventure — fizzy! — in which case, the POV-jumping doesn’t let you create or maintain Katie’s excitement.

  5. SAO
    Apr 20, 2014 @ 13:33:37

    Your conversation is mostly As you know, Bob. That’s why it sounds weird.

    But, more importantly, there’s no conflict and there’s no goal. While you tell us that she’s quitting her job and moving to another country and her fiance is less keen on the project, none of that is actually happening on the page.

    Conflict is not only the source of story, but it defines character. So far, Katie seems like a nice woman whom many people like. That’s the vast majority of heroines, given that books are a hard sell if we don’t like the MC. What makes her unique and what makes her tick?

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