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First Page: Unpublished manuscript Historical romance with paranormal elements

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[Editorial note from Jane: sorry this is a little long as I wasn’t sure the best place to cut it off.]

The village of Brockway, Derbyshire, England

Early October, 1838.

As she sat on a bench in the graveyard of St. Michael’s church, her eyes closed, her temples pounding and her toes thoroughly frozen, Catharine Avery swiftly concluded a person could experience far worse things in life apart from being both fatherless and motherless, almost penniless and fluent in conversing with dead people. Making a herb oil that ought to be smeared all over a wealthy lady’s face somehow managed to outdo every other misfortune present in her life. Fancy that.

“It simply boggles the mind you managed to lose a position after just three days!” a voice in her head screeched and Catharine suddenly yearned to find a brick so that she might put herself out for an hour or two. Fainting held an alluring promise of uninterrupted silence. Even an hour seemed like such a gift given her current predicament.

“Don’t even think about it! I haven’t finished yet. And why do you always come here to reminisce?This lot is not the most cheerful company. Present dearly departed excluded, of course,” the voice kept yammering.

Catharine lifted her head and aimed her eyes piously toward the blue sky.

“Might you be so kind and tell me what have I ever done to be thus plagued? Has it ever crossed Your mind to send some sunshine and daisies my way instead just showering me with pestilence, boils and lice?”

“Are you calling me a boil? Or am I pestilence?”

“You, my dear Bertha, are a hundred and fifty year old croaking frog I cannot shoo away, ” Catharine muttered, looking around to make sure she indeed sat alone in the quiet graveyard. The last thing she needed was for the village folk to add barmy to other charming adjectives already attached to her person. Or come after her armed with pitchforks and holy water. Though she sort of expected “The Brockway Poisoner” would be pinned to her round derrière come tomorrow.

“You irk me, Catharine. And I’m not hundred and fifty. I’m hundred and forty-nine and a wee bit more, but certainly not hundred and fifty!” an irritated voice hissed in her mind and Catharine rolled her eyes.

“If I irk you, off you go. Amuse yourself somewhere else.”

“Hump!”echoed in Catharine’s mind after which some blessed silence followed.

“How can a person be so reason-impaired to drink a bottle of oil clearly marked “face oil, external use!? I wrote it in capital letters… ” Catharine whispered as she slowly got up, her thoughts returning to a problem at hand.

“Easy, silly dolt doesn’t know what “external” means! You should have written “put on your face and don’t pour it down your throat”. Instead you had to go and be your clever, literate self. Only you are to blame here, Miss Avery. The very reason you haven’t a husband yet. Nobody likes an intelligent women, why can’t I make you understand that? You’ll die an old maid! For shame, girl, for shame.”

Catharine gnashed her teeth. “Bertha, go away! I’ve got more problems then years and you’re bored silly. I have neither strength nor will to entertain you today. You, Miss Flemming, have all the time in the world and no need to put any food in your mouth or clothes on back.”

This provoked an immediate reaction and Catharine had to wonder if she had some strange masochistic streak in her. She could have kept her inner tongue well, tied, really.

“You could have had all of that if you listened to me! What was wrong with Thomas Quinn, eh? Two arms, two legs, a head, and enough pretty pennies to keep you clothed and fed for the next hundred years. So he’s not the brightest lad but one needn’t listen to his prattling. You certainly wouldn’t be sitting here, all sour and frozen. Dear Lord the state of you! I shan’t even mention that horrid Blackwood woman will make your life hell the moment she stops vomiting. You’ll never be accepted into another decent house in this village again!” 

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

31 Comments

  1. Kate Sherwood
    Mar 08, 2014 @ 05:55:23

    I’m having trouble explaining my reaction, but… I don’t really have much of a critique, but I still don’t think I would read on. (What a lovely combination of useless AND discouraging I am this morning! I’ll try to do better….)

    Well, I guess the first issue is that this is all characterization and backstory. I think it’s solid characterization and fairly interesting backstory, but it did get to be a bit too much of both. Sort of an “As you know, Bob…” scenario. Having Bob be a long-dead woman adds an interesting twist, but do you need to waste the impact of that twist on THIS scene?

    I also wonder whether you’re wasting the impact of revealing her supernatural gift by just blurting it out in the first paragraph. This whole scene might be pepped up a little if you made it seem as if the conversation was with someone alive, and then made the reveal at the end (a la Sixth Sense?).

    And the first paragraph, on re-read, seems a bit strained. The character has no parents and no money, but the worst thing that has ever happened to her is doing something that got her fired from her job? If she had money, she wouldn’t NEED the job…

    I think I’m also a bit worried that this is going to set up as a rich-man-rescues-clever-but-mysteriously-incompetent-woman book, which isn’t to my taste. I may be wrong about that, but as I don’t have any other real hints, I’m stuck guessing.

    I’m also not sure about the dialogue. “Boggles the mind” comes up in ngram as having originated (at least in print) in the late 1950s, and “dearly departed” in the 1920s. Not a completely authoritative source, but something to consider. And watch for little errors like “an intelligent women”.

    So, maybe that’s enough to explain my lack of enthusiasm. I think the writing is solid, and it’s possible that my reaction was just because I’m not in the mood for this sort of piece right now… it’ll be interesting to see what other commenters say!

  2. Suz_Glo
    Mar 08, 2014 @ 08:25:06

    I don’t have enough coffee in my system yet to be coherent but my initial reaction was very positive. I really liked this excerpt and would definitely keep reading. (And that is incredibly rare for these First Page excerpts)

  3. QC
    Mar 08, 2014 @ 09:07:42

    I found the second to last sentence in the first paragraph confusing and re-read the first paragraph a couple of times because of it. Perhaps something along the lines of “Having a customer who refused to read labels managed to…” or “Accidentally poisoning a rich lady managed to…” (I’m certain that customer is not the correct word given the time period, but you get my drift.)

    Other than that, I love it. I enjoy the conversation she’s having with Bertha and I don’t mind a little “As you know, Bob,” because I have older female relatives who repeat things we all know just to make the point that I screwed up. :) It read as perfectly natural to me.

    Thanks for sharing!

  4. Lisa J
    Mar 08, 2014 @ 09:26:59

    It held my interest and I would have read on if there were more to he story. Good luck with this. I hope to be able to read the whole thing.

  5. SAO
    Mar 08, 2014 @ 09:36:58

    This is “As you know, Frog.” I found it rather tedious to read through because it’s all backstory and not delivered in a clear, concise manner.

    You’ve got a lot of story here. But instead of showing it, you’ve got a sit-n-think. Imagine it as a scene:

    Cath heard the unmistakable swish of Boss Witch’s acres of silk petticoat heading her way.
    “Ha! Told you so,” she hissed at the ugly green frog hiding under the rough garden bench. She smoothed her skirts and adopted a demure expression. It wouldn’t do to look too smug.

    “There you are!” Boss Witch sounded as crabby as ever. “Go to your room and start packing. You have (how much time to get your things and get out of here.”

    “What??” (suitable expression of astonishment from Cath).

    From under the bench she heard a croak of froggy laughter.

    You get the idea. It’s a real scene. Regardless of how badly I’ve written it, it’s conveyed all the same info, with something actually happening.
    et pack your bags. You have (how much time) to

  6. theo
    Mar 08, 2014 @ 09:46:36

    Historical paranormal is my book of choice, but I’m a bit ambivalent about this and I’m not sure why. The writing is smooth, the conversation interesting, but I sat here wondering why she was in a graveyard waiting, like a lamb to slaughter rather than doing something about her situation. She comes across as overly passive and that’s not the type of Hn I could spend a book with.

    Can she only hear the dead when she’s in the cemetery? If her ghost is so annoying and irksome, and she’s going to be accused of poisoning someone, why would she sit there and add to her problems? There is no indication that she’ll find a solution to her problem there. Is that where she finds comfort? Among the irritating?

    And I agree that losing one’s parents has to rate right up there with having horrible things happen to you and yet, she skims it. And if she’s so literate, where did that education come from? There’s a wealth of information that you’re trying to give us in a few sentences of backstory but it’s presented in such a way that I don’t care if I find out or not. There are other problematic things like this as well. She lost a position? You first make her sound like she’s a cosmetics chemist but ‘position’ infers a lady’s maid. She’s obviously known around the area but if there are other ‘charming adjectives’ already attached to her, how did she manage to get the position?

    I understand what you’re trying to do, but as Kate pointed out, no matter how it’s packaged, it’s still an ‘as you know, Bob’ opening.

    I have no problem with the ‘rescue the fair maiden’ stories, but if she hears the dead even when she’s not in a cemetery, perhaps having this conversation while she’s sitting in a jail cell or being interrogated by a constable would be much more interesting. And active. Right now, I don’t know whether I’d read on or not. When I feel that way about a first page, the book usually ends up going back on the shelf.

  7. Gina Black
    Mar 08, 2014 @ 10:08:28

    I really enjoyed this–yet I do feel there is room for improvement. First off–a first line of 53 words? And why not just start out with her name…

    Catharine Avery sat on a bench in the graveyard of St. Michael’s church. Her eyes closed, her temples pounding, and her toes thoroughly frozen, she reflected on how a person could experience far worse things in life apart than being both fatherless and motherless, almost penniless, and fluent in conversing with dead people.

    That makes it more manageable. (Yes I made a few other changes in wording.)

    I had trouble following the voice(s?) There’s Bertha, and the one in her head. Are they the same? Or…?

    I agree with the other commenters that it is character and backstory, yet for me that is not a problem. Still, it might be more fun to read the actual scene that is being referred to. What we are being presented with is–in fact–a sequel and not as dynamic a place to start a story. Still, I enjoyed the voice and went with it. :)

  8. Carol McKenzie
    Mar 08, 2014 @ 10:09:51

    I think I like this. I’d probably read more to find out just how bad the repercussions are from the face oil debacle, and hopefully discover how Catharine got her special powers.

    It is a bit of back story, an “As you know, Bob” feel to it, but I’m not overly bothered by that. I think it’s interesting enough to get me to keep reading.

    You have some grammar and punctuation issues, something a careful read through would have caught. “An intelligent women”, “…food in your mouth or clothes on [your] back.”

    Your first paragraph though is a doosey. I’ve read it several times, and finally (I think) have it figured out. I think…still not sure. There’s a whole lot of information crammed into those 53 words. And almost buried at the end is the thing that makes Catharine the most interesting.

    I feel that sentence could have been rewritten so that her ability is set apart, made distinct, not muddled in with being penniless. As it is, it’s lost at the end of all those words. I know there’s a general “rule” with writing to have the most impactful thing at the end of the sentence, but there’s so much going on that by the time I make it to the end, I’m thoroughly confused and any impact is lost.

    “As she sat on a bench in the graveyard of St. Michael’s church, her eyes closed, her temples pounding and her toes thoroughly frozen, Catharine Avery swiftly concluded a person could experience far worse things in life apart from being both fatherless and motherless, and almost penniless. Even being fluent in conversing with dead people fell down the list when compared recent events.”

    Although I agree with Kate that everything else listed seems far more daunting than making a woman vomit, unless she’s going to be accused of attempted murder. In my dark little world, I’m afraid my character would have found it more amusing than not.

    A few nits: I think you’d want to capitalize church in this sentence, since you’re referring to an actual church, not just the building. Although, since she’s in the cemetery…but I still think it needs a capital C. I seem to also want another comma between penniless and fluent…since being penniless and being fluent are two separate things.

    Reminisce usually means recall pleasant memories. She hasn’t recalled anything pleasant, so that may not be the right word.

    And finally, is it really that cold in England in early October? Would her toes be frozen sitting in the graveyard?

    Thanks for sharing. Stop by with a blurb and a bit more information, if you can. I’m curious where this story actually goes. (and a curious reader is a good thing).

  9. Lynne Connolly
    Mar 08, 2014 @ 11:08:31

    Starting the story with “As” invites the “as you know, Bob,” comments. I agree, this is the wrong place to start. And we have no clear motivation, either for her sitting in the cemetery or making the oil.
    Your language is too modern, as well. “Mind-boggling” dates from 1964. “Herb oil” sounds wrong, somehow. Maybe because they’d specify the herb.
    “aimed her eyes” sounds as if she’s shooting them off into space.
    Then you put “Might you be so kind and tell me what have I ever done to be thus plagued? ” which is self-conscious olde-worlde speak.
    I don’t want to think of the heroine with boils and lice. “Barmy” is from the late nineteenth century, in the sense you use it. ” she sort of expected” is a very modern construct.
    Is there a reason she’s a Catharine instead of a Catherine?
    Do you mean “humph” instead of “Hump”? Don’t use more than one punctuation mark at a time.
    So basically, it needs at least one more revision, and while this scene is amusing, there is nothing making me want to read on. You do have a lively style, and I’d be more interested if you started with a scene where something actually happens.

  10. Lynne Connolly
    Mar 08, 2014 @ 11:13:14

    Oh, and “masochistic”? You absolutely cannot use Freudian/Jungian language in anything set pre-twentieth century. The thought-patterns were entirely different, and even if the concept was explained to them, it wouldn’t mean a lot. Sader-Masoch was two years old in 1838. You shouldn’t even use “ego,” which in those days was merely Latin for “I am.”

  11. Carol McKenzie
    Mar 08, 2014 @ 11:18:05

    @Lynne Connolly: Lynne, what do you use for dating word sources? I’m always amazed at your knowledge and learn so much from your comments.

  12. Lynne Connolly
    Mar 08, 2014 @ 11:54:12

    @Carol McKenzie: There’s a great source online: http://www.etymonline.com/ – it’s not perfect, but it’s pretty bloody good, and a lot of editors use this as their source. I have a copy of Chambers Etymological Dictionary as well, which is dead-on, as far as I can tell.
    But it’s also reading, reading, reading in the period in question. “My” period is the mid-eighteenth century, so I read everything I can get my hands on. I love their way with words. After a while, you get a feel for the words and phrases, and if they sound modern, it’s worth checking. I don’t pick up everything, nobody does, so having great editors is also amazing. When I find a good historical editor, I cling on to her!
    You have to read widely. When I did “Tom Jones” last year, I became aware that Fielding avoids “Frenchified” phrases, because he hated the French, as many Tories did, but read another author, Smollett, for example, or Chesterfield, and they enjoyed using a touch of French phrasing.

  13. Carol McKenzie
    Mar 08, 2014 @ 12:31:18

    @Lynne Connolly: Thanks for the links; Chambers would be something I’d dip into as a bedside book.

    I don’t read any specific period but I love words and their history, and it’s always good to have another reference book or two.

  14. Randy Brown
    Mar 08, 2014 @ 15:29:35

    Thoroughly enjoyed this. this had the flavor, the ‘snuggley closeness’ of Neil Gaiman in the GraveYard book. i want the whole story and its sequel.
    you have established the problem–she is plagued by the invisible dead–we immediately know our surroundings–an 19th century graveyard–we know she is intelligent, unmarried, orphaned, penniless, a herbalist, she may have lost her source of income as well as being on her way to prison (or worse, Australia) and yet she is not wailing and gnashing her teeth.
    And what is wrong with long sentences, anyway; they pull the reader past that period that will pull them out of the story so that they put the book back on the shelf and wander off without realizing that they just past up the next Nora Roberts? right?
    This writer has found her ‘voice’. the next question should be; ‘where’s the next page?’

  15. txvoodoo
    Mar 08, 2014 @ 16:21:38

    @Lynne Connolly: Nifty link, thanks for sharing!

    You were spot-on with your anachronistic language critique. That’ll take me out of a historical faster than anything else.

  16. Maria
    Mar 08, 2014 @ 16:21:52

    @Lynne Connolly:

    Thank you for this link. I’ve earned the nickname Google George because I’m slightly addicted to looking things * up and word etymology always interests me.

    Things = random factoids, statistics, word origins, the name of that thing from the thing, etc.

  17. Marianne McA
    Mar 08, 2014 @ 17:12:09

    I found (and this seems to be just me) ‘far worse things in life apart from’ confusing. As I read it, I wasn’t sure if she was saying ‘could experience far worse things in life than being both fatherless and motherless…’ or ‘this was the worst experience she’d ever had apart from being both fatherless and motherless…’

    I warmed to Catherine considerably when she planned to knock herself out with a brick to get a bit of peace (though you do have to wonder why someone who is being driven bananas by talkative dead people seeks refuge in a graveyard.)

    However, I found Bertha a bit hard to take. I’m not eager to read a book where a fractious and querulous character takes up so much page space. If she could be leavened in some way – for example by making her unpalatable opinions insightful (or alternatively ridiculous à la Lady Catherine de Bourgh) – that would help. I can see the hints that Catherine sometimes enjoys Bertha’s company, but there’s not enough of that warmer relationship on the page to draw me in.
    I also think I placed Bertha wrongly at first. Because Catherine uses the familiar ‘Bertha’ I assumed that Bertha was of lower status than Catherine, or a younger person. If she’s meant to be of higher status, as her vocabulary and opinions seem to indicate, perhaps if Catherine called her ‘Miss Flemming’ initially, that might clue the reader in better.

    Having said all that, I did feel the page had promise. If it was tweaked a little, I think it could be something I would enjoy reading.

    Good luck.

  18. MsJones
    Mar 08, 2014 @ 22:04:05

    Dialog heavy without any balance of exposition or introspection…. I’m reading a lot of books lately where authors gives so much backstory via dialogue. It really takes me out of the story. I started skimming around para three and I don’t think I would continue reading if I picked this up at the bookstore.

  19. Patty H.
    Mar 09, 2014 @ 09:46:24

    Thanks for submitting this. I enjoyed it, even with typos (‘humph’ not ‘hump, heehee!’) and punctuation and modern phrases. However, I needed to know her goal in this scene. You’ve stated her problems: orphaned, needs money, just lost a job and if the former client ends up dead from poisoning then Catharine (Catherine?) might be responsible for her murder and if the client lives she will make Catharine’s life hell. Am I right? If so, WHY is she in the graveyard? Give me her motivation. I kept trying to connect dots while reading: she wanted to be in the fresh air (even though she’s freezing)? She wanted to be away from (living) people? She had no where else to go? She lives in the house next door and this is her usual hangout?

    I get that hearing dead people is a blessing/curse. I also get that readers don’t always need everything spelled out, but in this first page (or asap) try to give us goal, motivation and conflict. Good luck!

  20. SAO
    Mar 10, 2014 @ 00:57:49

    Advice from David Mamet, a very successful screen writer:

    “QUESTION:WHAT IS DRAMA? DRAMA, AGAIN, IS THE QUEST OF THE HERO TO OVERCOME THOSE THINGS WHICH PREVENT HIM FROM ACHIEVING A SPECIFIC, *ACUTE* GOAL.

    SO: WE, THE WRITERS, MUST ASK OURSELVES *OF EVERY SCENE* THESE THREE QUESTIONS.

    1) WHO WANTS WHAT?
    2) WHAT HAPPENS IF HER DON’T GET IT?
    3) WHY NOW?”

    Your scene is not about what Cath (or Bertha) wants. It’s about the information you, the author want to deliver to the reader.

    “ANY SCENE, THUS, WHICH DOES NOT BOTH ADVANCE THE PLOT, AND STANDALONE (THAT IS, DRAMATICALLY, BY ITSELF, ON ITS OWN MERITS) IS EITHER SUPERFLUOUS, OR INCORRECTLY WRITTEN.

    YES BUT YES BUT YES BUT, YOU SAY: WHAT ABOUT THE NECESSITY OF WRITING IN ALL THAT “INFORMATION?”

    AND I RESPOND “*FIGURE IT OUT*”

    (Sorry about the caps, they were in the original) http://www.slashfilm.com/a-letter-from-david-mamet-to-the-writers-of-the-unit/

  21. Madeline Taylor
    Mar 10, 2014 @ 07:54:13

    Dear all,

    I’d like to thank you for taking time to leave your comments. I assure you all of them will aid me in my quest to get better at this game. I found most comments were to the point and I now have a much clearer picture of what I need to fix and what changes I must introduce to make my writing better. When one stares at one’s own writing for days on end it often happens one gets lost and misses so much stuff. But that could also be down to my own inexperiance too. Well, the road is long but I’m quite determined to keep at it so, hopefully, one day those who expressed their interest will be able to pick this book off the shelf and read it.
    In the meantime – thank you all, you have already made a difference. And for those who wanted to know a bit more here is the blurb.

    “Catharine Avery chats to ghosts. And she kills African violets if you put her in a stressful situation. She lets books rain on your head if you scare her too. She is motherless, recently fatherless and in deep muck after she lost yet another position. Enter Julia Dashwood, godmother non grata, who takes Catharine away to Ashby Manor, her nephew’s home.

    Alexander Dashwood, Earl of Ashby, spends his time writing about fertilizers and such. And when he’s angry he either invents new curses or hurls porcelain objects into walls. He is the last of his unlucky line which means he has to get married and start popping heirs.

    Alexander Dashwood wanted to serve Catharine Avery for dinner the first time they met. And it wasn’t because he found her yummy. The second time they bumped into each other in his beloved greenhouse she went on a plant killing spree and he rightfully called her a plague. The third time around she almost set the house on fire. And the fourth time he sneaked into her bedroom, got a verbal lashing after which she hid him in her bed. Which is where he felt rather comfy.

    The undeniable attraction between the two starts brewing but Alex is thick-headed and convinced he is in love with a married woman he cannot have. Catharine is afraid of getting hurt, and after spending her entire life trying to convince her strict father she is worthy of his love has no intention of going that way with Alex.

    Luckily, life rarely follows strict rules and they do end up saying „I do“ and loving it. Too bad that married woman from Alexander’s past has her own plans as do the restless spirits in Ashby Manor… ”

    Read, write &smile,

    Madeline

  22. Lynne Connolly
    Mar 10, 2014 @ 08:11:21

    I take it that’s the blurb you’re putting in your query letter, and not the blurb on the back of the book? Given that, you do have some anachronisms in your blurb, too. “yummy” for instance would have me giving an instant rejection. “Comfy” too. It is looking like one of those “historicals” that don’t have much history in them.
    Also, you seem to be having an awful lot going on there, but there’s not much substance to it. What is stopping your couple getting together? Or is it just a series of madcap episodes with what is beginning to sound like an intensely annoying heroine? What does she have going for her? Because it’s not obvious in the blurb.
    I think I’d concentrate on one theme and one storyline. Try to show the main motivations of each of the characters, and the black moment, because publishers want to see that. What’s at stake?
    You gave a wonderful response, though, and maybe it’s just that it’s not my kind of book. I prefer a historical where I can live and breathe the past, not a version of the present without cell phones. And heroes and heroines who behave like people from the period. For instance, an earl who potters around in a greenhouse, in the modern sense, isn’t likely, but an earl who takes an interest in the new plants being introduced by Joseph Banks would have an instant hook. And show that you’ve done some research.
    Oh, and an earl who wilfully destroys some of the stunning porcelain available in the country houses of the country loses my respect. Earls didn’t collect the cheap stuff, or decorate their homes with it, and porcelain was usually the expensive stuff that took hundreds of hours to produce and is exquisitely beautiful.
    Really appreciate your response, and that the crits were useful. Best of luck selling this in what is a glutted section of the market.

  23. Lynne Connolly
    Mar 10, 2014 @ 08:17:48

    Separate section for anachronisms, since you said you found them useful.
    “Chats,” African Violets weren’t introduced until 1860 at the earliest, “muck.” (personal note – I really dislike the “popping heirs” bit, as if it’s easy and a light consideration, when it could mean the loss of his estate and the death of his unfortunate wife), “yummy,” “spree,” “comfy.”
    The plot thickeners at the end seem rather out of the blue and unconnected with anything. Why would he think she was married? And this strict father – where did he come from? And then the married woman at the end? You have to build these elements into your story and your blurb to show where they come. Otherwise they’re just “McGuffins,” plot devices.

  24. Madeline Taylor
    Mar 10, 2014 @ 08:49:30

    @Lynne Connolly:

    ;) I asked for the comments because I know my manuscript needs a lot of work before it reaches the state where I can look at it and not want to scream in dispair. That is the reason I decided to do this first page critique. And you are right – this is the blurb from the query (which miraculously managed to appeal to a very fancy agent but the writing wasn’t good enough). The point is – I like my characters and I believe in the story but I also know I need to put in a lot more work and I’m not afraid to ask for advice (it comes from being a teacher- I hate preaching something I cannot do myself).
    That etymology dictionary is brilliant and much better than the one I have been using. And I do know that the African Violets came to England in the 1860s but I’ve decided to push that a bit because Alex travelled the world a lot before he came back to England and he brought them with him. I might change that but for now I have more important flaws to fix.
    Thank you for your suggestions – they are direct and to the point and you told me what you think. That is all I asked. And if you would be so kind to point out anything else that comes to your mind I’d be more that happy to listen and take that which I find useful. This is not an occupation for the faint-harted so I try to keep a cool head and not allow my feelings to get in the way. At the end of the day what is want is for my writing to get better and whining and moping is not going to do that.

    ;)

    Madeline

  25. Lynne Connolly
    Mar 10, 2014 @ 09:08:05

    Thanks! Since I’m back into historicals this year, but with a twist (angsty, more serious, and with a few extra twists) I thought you might like to know. I’ve been offered, and accepted, two sets of contracts with two major publishers this year, so maybe the market is moving towards “harder” history. That’s after two fallow (for me) years when the trend was more for the comedy, inaccurate, historical romance that was based on modern precepts, and even TV reality shows!
    We shall see!

  26. Madeline Taylor
    Mar 10, 2014 @ 09:27:38

    @Lynne Connolly:

    I have to admit I enjoy the historical romance with a lot of comedy (Julia Quinn is my absolute favourite) and since I am the sort of person that can find a funny side to just about anything my style reflects my character. It would be pointless to try and write something that doesn’t come naturally to me and most likely, it would be doomed to fail. That being said, I also want to make my writing as historically accurate as possible and the language I use so I will have to go back to my Jane Austin&Bronte sisters collection and re-read that again.
    Also, I must admit it’s great to hear from people like you who have managed to secure publishers and who are willing to share what they know. It’s noble and it will attract more positive things into your life in what ever form they might come. Of this I am absolutely certain.

    Read, write&smile,

    Madeline

  27. Lynne Connolly
    Mar 10, 2014 @ 10:14:55

    Funny is fine – I love Jo Beverley’s “Uncommon Magic” and Laura Kinsale’s “Midsummer Moon.”
    Don’t ever do research solely from fiction. It’s a necessarily biased point of view. You have to get to the hard stuff, the non-fiction. On the Regency, you can’t beat Steven Watson’s “Reign of George III” which is old and prohibitively expensive new, but you can get second hand copies a lot cheaper. I love Donald Low’s “Regency Underworld,” but you’re not doing a gangland book. However it helps to understand how legal matters worked at the time. a lot more discretionary! Hibbert’s “London Encyclopaedia” for all things London, and Thompson’s “Europe After Napoleon” is still more or less the standard text for early nineteenth century Europe. Most of my research books centre on the mid-eighteenth century, almost a century before the period you’re writing about (just into Victoria) but I’m sure others can recommend wonderful books you can enjoy as well as learn from.
    While reading primary sources like Jane Austen (btw, almost 40 years before your period – you’d be better off with Gaskell and early Dickens) is essential to help you “get” the mindset, broaden it to include the newspapers, court reports and scandal sheets of the time, as well as essays, sermons and the plethora of information available written by the people themselves. And there are some great journals around, most of which are available online.
    Writing history is a bit more complicated than writing contemporary. That’s why it takes longer to do!
    I’m just “paying forward.” Jo Beverley helped me a huge amount at the beginning of my career, and asked nothing more than that I pass on what I learned in the hope that it helps.

  28. SAO
    Mar 11, 2014 @ 02:50:17

    Here are my problems with your blurb. Now you may have all the right stuff buried in your plot, if so, you just need to pull it out:

    1) Cath has no purpose. She got fired from her job, she doesn’t know what to do so she gets rescued by Godmother-ex-machina, and plopped in front of a guy who needs to get married. I don’t see that any action is her choice. She kills plants when she’s stressed, but what stresses her out? What does she want out of life? Who is she?

    2) Cath comes off as incompetent. She lost her job over stupid mistake (potion with no instructions, verbal or written), she destroys things, one presume inadvertently. Yet, no where do you suggest a goal, a plan, a new effort to control her emotions.

    3) There’s no reason for any action. Why do Cath and Alex marry? Love or convenience? It’s not clear to me.

    4) How much of the plot does getting married take up? Is it the main plot and an epilogue of ghostly adventures follows, or is it closer to the prologue, with the main plot to come?

    Here’s my (freely invented) example: “A witch with great powers she hasn’t mastered, Cath has spent a lifetime avoiding strong emotions. A marriage of convenience to Alex looks like a good way to keep passion out of her life for good. When a malevolent ghost takes up residence in his manor, they needs her passion, her power, and his knowledge to get rid of them. Once passion is in her life and their marriage, can she banish it as she banished the ghost?”

    I gave your MC a character arc and your book a plot. I assume you had both, but they were nowhere to be seen in your blurb. Depending on how far you’ve come in your craft, you may have to reach deep to find these elements, but highlighting them will go a long way to making a stronger story.

  29. Madeline Taylor
    Mar 11, 2014 @ 08:07:28

    @Lynne Connolly:
    Just in case you might want to add more info to your “history notes” I’ve come across this interesting article about Victorian society http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/victorians/pleasure_01.shtml which I found very interesting since it depicts a completely different image from the one we are used to seeing when it comes to Victorians.

  30. Madeline Taylor
    Mar 11, 2014 @ 08:09:20

    @SAO:

    Interesting perspective. Thank you! This might come useful once I start another round of endless edits. ;)
    But, we do love it and it is fun, right? Even if we bleed through our fingers.

    Thank you!!!!

    Madeline

  31. Lynne Connolly
    Mar 11, 2014 @ 10:06:38

    @Madeline Taylor: Gosh, isn’t that interesting? I don’t think the hoi polloi went to the music hall, but still…I do Georgian, not Victorian, so a lot of the Victorian stuff is new to me. But in the house where I used to live, we had a “Sunday drawer,” that was all the children were allowed on Sundays. Improving sermons, stories about children who misbehaved and went to hell, and a Noah’s Ark. The Ark was pretty cool.
    My friend Jean Fullerton who is full-on Victoriana, and a Cockney to boot, eats up that kind of detail for breakfast. I’ll send the link to her.

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