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First Page: Victorian era historical

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Trumbull left his brothers house without a backward glance. The past month had sent his life into a spiral and he was not able to right himself. In the space of a season his brother had gone from recluse to fiancé, and he'd gone from rake to guardian of three girls. He leaned back into the seat of his barouche as it rolled away from the seat of the Roxleigh dukedom.

He lifted his feet and placed them on the opposite seat, his long legs stretching across the carriage easily. He crossed his arms over his chest, and lowered his chin, letting his heavy lids close. The rocking of the carriage lulled him and he slumbered heavily, determined to sleep the majority of the trip back to London.

When he felt the gentle sweep at his ankle his foot twitched and he snorted, pressing his face further into the plush interior. When it skimmed the fabric over his knee, he kicked and moved his boot to the floor, pulling at his trousers to stop the tingling sensation that spread through his leg. Half asleep, he stomped his foot on the floor to rouse his sleeping limb and arrest the incessant tingling. That was when he felt it against his shoulder and his eyes opened slightly, searching the depths of the shadowy carriage from below the safety of his eyelashes for the person it was attached to.

He reached up quickly, grasping the hand in his own, and pulled it across his body dragging the figure with it.

The girl slipped to the floor by his knee with a tiny squeak and a sound thud as he sat up and pulled his other foot to the floor. His eyes adjusted slowly to the thickness of dark as he stared intently to where the sound had come. Without taking his eyes from where the intruder should be he banged a closed fist against the roof.

"Gardner," he belted. The carriage ground to a halt. He heard the coachman jump down and the door opened swiftly as he backed out of the carriage.

"Light," he commanded. Gardner took the lantern from the forward bracket and handed it to him. Trumbull reached through the open door casting the flickering yellow light throughout the cabin, bathing a small huddled bundle on the floor.

"Please Milord, I beg yer pardon," the tiny mouse-like voice came up to him as he held her wrist, her arm stretched out above her head. He held the lantern lower trying to see who was piled on the floor of his carriage, but she ducked and turned her head away.

"Please Milord," she repeated quietly.


"Turn your face to me or I will drag you from this carriage and leave you at the side of the road," he said cleanly.

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. erastes
    Mar 19, 2011 @ 06:29:54

    It’ interesting, and I’d certainly read on: however…

    I’d advise a hard beta reading to even out the typos and put in the missing commas

    it’s a little confusing in parts, the “he” pronouns are not clear at the beginning, and I wasn’t sure which he was which – who had gone into a spiral and who was guardian, suggest reworking that bit to makeit a bit clearer. there are a couple of other instances too:

    He heard the coachman jump down and the door opened swiftly as he backed out of the carriage.

    I assume it’s the protag backing out, but it’s not clear.

    a barouche was an open carriage, with a convertible hood – it didn’t have a roof, or a plush interior.

  2. Danielle D
    Mar 19, 2011 @ 06:31:58

    Ok, I’m hooked…..I liked it.

  3. dick
    Mar 19, 2011 @ 08:31:49

    The hook is pretty good, but IMO too much attention given to the protagonist’s actions in the beginning. The text could as easily have started with his being determined to sleep followed immediately by the discovery, which is, after all, where the story really begins.

  4. Samantha Grace
    Mar 19, 2011 @ 10:40:57

    Nice start. I wish it hadn’t ended so soon, but that’s a good sign. :)

  5. jayhjay
    Mar 19, 2011 @ 11:15:59

    I also liked it but i too was confused by the pronouns at the beginning. Is the brother the one who is the guardian, or is it the narrator?

    Also, I was confused why the narrator’s life was in a spiral b/c of his brother’s engagement. I ended up reading that paragraph a few times and still not understanding what was happening.

  6. PatF
    Mar 19, 2011 @ 11:23:41

    Good start. I agree about the pronoun confusion. Would read more.

  7. SAO
    Mar 19, 2011 @ 12:31:15

    This didn’t really work for me because:

    A typo in the first sentence (should be brother’s) struck me as a very bad sign.

    IMHO, a touch or brush of a sleeve feels nothing like a limb that’s gone to sleep and doesn’t tingle. If he thought it was a moth or mouse, I might buy it. Also, I wasn’t sure why the stowaway was moving around.

    I’ve seen carriages in museums and at English ducal mansions, admittedly, I don’t remember what a barouche is, but none of them were big enough to get lost in.
    The seats tended to face each other and a big one had enough room for everyone’s knees. So the only way Trumbull could not find the stowaway in the ‘shadowy depths’ is if he kept his eyes closed.

    You even show him not really opening his eyes. Why? An eye infection or a horrendous hangover are the only reasons I can think of. Who reacts to an unknown living being unexpectedly in close quarters with them by keeping their eyes half closed? How does he know it’s not a mugger? (other than there’s no space for a mugger)

    I don’t think any carriages (other than short distance station wagons to go to the train station) were large because big means heavy and that means another horse or two to pull it.

    Go back and look at footage of Princess Diana’s wedding. There were a lot of top end carriages on display, none of them very big. Like cars, the seats took up a lot of space. If you have a backseat, and your stowaway hiding in it, she’s not touching Trumbull.

    None of this means you have a bad story, just a first page that didn’t seem real to this reader.

  8. Bibliotrek
    Mar 19, 2011 @ 12:31:30

    I agree with the pronoun and comma issues, but I was also frustrated when I got to the end and couldn’t read on to find out how on earth this girl got into his carriage and why she was touching him. I’m hoping her mouse-like demeanor masks a bold and cunning heart! Which is to say: I’d read on.

  9. Lori S.
    Mar 19, 2011 @ 12:35:16

    I guess I’m in the minority because this didn’t do much for me. Get rid of the infodump intro paragraph, and the next paragraph with Trumbull trying to get to sleep, and start where the story actually starts – Trumbull being woken by the girl.

    Also, watch the overuse of adverbs: Easily, heavily, quickly, quietly, cleanly, slightly, slowly, swiftly.

  10. Jaclyn
    Mar 19, 2011 @ 15:46:45

    I’m interested in where this story will go–why is a girl stowing-away, is she one of his wards, why’d she chose this carriage to stow-away.

    This is over-written; there’s too much description of the physical actions; and, I agree with Lori S. about too many adverbs. I hope the writer of this excerpt keeps working at this; with some careful re-working, this will probably turn into a story I’d want to read.

  11. jmc
    Mar 19, 2011 @ 16:11:53

    The first sentence killed my interest, since there’s either a typo (missing apostrophe) or a complete lack of understanding the difference between plural and possessive.

  12. Lynne Connolly
    Mar 19, 2011 @ 17:56:00

    Others have dealt with the problem of using a barouche. They’re small, open and essentially town carriages. Old fashioned, too. Pick another, or just call it a travelling carriage. Also, is this early Victorian? Because I’d expect him to use a train for a journey to London. Private carriages or even first class were pretty plush, and most people preferred them for comfort and speed.
    Carriages are pretty small, so I don’t understand where she’d be hiding.
    I don’t get the characters here. You tell us in the first para, but there’s no indication of character, he just gets in and goes to sleep. I’d cut the first part, and go straight to where he finds her.
    I think it needs reworking, but I like the style, despite the typos, and I’d say you have the beginnings of something interesting here.

  13. loreen
    Mar 20, 2011 @ 02:39:21

    I am also not buying the idea that someone could hide in a carriage, even at night. They did have street lamps in the Victorian Era in London. If someone was sitting less than 2 feet away from you, I think you would notice when you got into the carriage.
    Also, it seems like you are setting this up for a prequel by introducing the brother and his fiancee and wards in the first paragraph. If this is a stand-alone novel (and it should be, even if you’d like to sell more) then you should focus on the protagonists. I suspect that the brother will be a secondary character. The set-up here puts all the focus on the brother and his story. I want to know how the brother went from rake to engaged and took on 3 wards. I don’t really care about Trumbull yet because I don’t know what his conflict is. You could solve this by starting in the POV of the heroine, who I assume is the stow-away. Perhaps if we were in her POV, we could understand how she thought it would be possible to hide in an enclosed space less than two feet away from a man.
    I am curious about the story, which is a good thing. I want to know what the girl is doing – frisking him? Is she blind?
    I would read on if you could start with a more engaging first paragraph and explain the carriage problem. Good luck!

  14. galwiththehoe
    Mar 20, 2011 @ 04:39:31

    From the details i get, I assume the stowaway girl to be a small child (tiny, squeaky, mouse-like, not easy to find in the carriage). Possibly one of the girls he (or his brother) is supposed to take care of.

    I assume the main character to be young-ish (putting up his feet), a little pissed off at the recent changes in the brothers’ lives and a bit jerkish for threatening to throw a small child out into the dark but I don’t dislike him. I’d happily read on.

    If this is not what you intended to write, I think it can be easily modified by changing a few details. (If the girl is actually the heroine as loreen suggested, I would be really creeped out to be honest and stop immediately. She reads like she is 6 and really, really scared.)

    Good luck and thanks for sharing.

  15. job
    Mar 20, 2011 @ 10:00:36

    Trying to think of how you could maybe do this . . .
    Depending on the coach, somebody might stow away — somebody really small and limber — under a seat compartment. Maybe in the luggage area at the back. I don’t know how large that back luggage area is. Somebody might conceal herself among bags strapped on the roof of a coach if there were a tarp covering everything. She might be in a very large hamper or trunk tied on top. If, for some reason, our hero had to carry just huge and inordinate amounts of baggage around the countryside and didn’t want to send it in a separate carriage — irreplaceable and valuable? — he might have a large hamper inside the coach on the opposite seat and hear somebody moving around inside that. Our stowaway might be disguised as a young groom or postillion and might be there with the coachman’s collusion.
    The interior of a very large coach is about the size of a Honda Geo. Not much wriggle room.

  16. evie byrne
    Mar 20, 2011 @ 12:18:54

    I think you chose a good place to begin your story, and often that’s the hardest thing of all.

    I agree with most of the technical criticism above, but thought I’d chime in myself because no one has specifically mentioned the 3rd paragraph, and this is where I became lost as a reader.

    You’ve got a tricky writing problem there–you’re trying to describe sensations that are mysterious to your character, because he’s half asleep and doesn’t know their source. But that doesn’t mean the reader has to be confused. Don’t be afraid to be simple and direct.

    These are my thoughts as I read:

    When he felt the gentle sweep (what gentle sweep? sweep of what? using “the” makes it seem like we should be familiar with this gentle sweep already) at his ankle his foot twitched and he snorted, pressing his face further into the plush interior (interior of what? you mean the seat back–or the squabs, as they say in the historical trade?). When it (it? what it? is there a monster in the coach?) skimmed the fabric (how does he know this sensation is fabric? what is doing the skimming and why? And why doesn’t this worry him?) over his knee, he kicked and moved his boot to the floor, pulling at his trousers to stop the tingling sensation (That’s more like it. All he’s feeling is tingling, and identifying it as such. Very good.) that spread through his leg. Half asleep, he stomped his foot on the floor to rouse his sleeping limb and arrest the incessant tingling. (Now I’m confused whether he believes all these sensations are due to his leg being asleep, or if he suspects something else is going on, because of the previous mention of “fabric”. Only he could identify the sensation as “fabric” over his knee, but if so, he’d open his eyes immediately and take a look around, because face it, that would be a weird and creepy thing to feel. Therefore I’m thinking we have pov problem in this paragraph, ie. things are being described that he cannot know.) That was when he felt it (Is “it” a person or the fabric or a sensation?) against his shoulder and his eyes opened slightly, searching the depths (Carriages aren’t so deep–he’s either looking at the floor or the opposite seat, where his feet are resting) of the shadowy carriage from below the safety of his eyelashes for the person it was attached to. (The person “it” was attached to? So the “it” is fabric, and he’s identified it as such, and decided a person is attached to it? When did this happen? Just now? )

    At this point I’m very confused because I’ve figured out, provisionally, that there is someone in the carriage sweeping fabric all over this man’s body–knee, shoulder, ankle –or unclear reasons. Is she performing the dance of the seven veils? And how could she do this in a small, lurching carriage and not fall in his lap? Where is she, exactly, if not in the opposite seat?

    The next line is:

    He reached up quickly, grasping the hand in his own, and pulled it across his body dragging the figure with it.

    So, he reaches *up* to grab her. You’ve still not told me where she is. Left to consult my own overwrought imagination, I’m imagining she’s plastered to the ceiling of the carriage like a ninja assassin. (Which would be so friggin’ cool!) But that sort of thing doesn’t happen in Victorian romance, leaving me lost. Where is she?

    Forgive me if I’m being flip. I’m not trying to be mean. This is honestly what I was thinking as I tried to parse the paragraph.

    I’d try to reconstruct the paragraph for you, but I can’t because I’m not sure where the girl is, and why she’d brushing him with fabric. Is she crawling around–trying to go from where to where?

    Basically you need to stick with what he can know, which is only that something is tickling or irritating him. He feels that sensation, but does not attribute it to the actions of a mysterious “it” or identify it as anything as alarming as fabric. (Fabric=Another Person) Otherwise he must open his eyes and the game is up.

    I’d blame it on a fly. He thinks a fly is bothering him, and snorts and fidgets and swats without opening his eyes until some key clue reveals that someone is with him.

    That moment must be clear and strong–because it’s very exciting stuff for the reader. Make much of that moment of realization.

    Tell us how he *feels* when he realizes he’s not alone. Frightened? Excited?

    Describe how he carefully peeks under his lashes and exactly what he sees. He sees a girl. What does he think then? Is she a threat? Does he recognize her?

    How does he *feel* at that point, now that he has new information? Outraged? Amused? Aroused? Let us into his head.

    All in all, there are excellent plot elements here The stowaway. The girl in distress. Mouse vs. duke. All things readers love. Keep writing. Good luck.

  17. theo
    Mar 20, 2011 @ 17:21:00

    He leaned back in his seat, he lifted his legs, he crossed his arms, he lowered his chin…all this is fine and dandy, but right now, it reads like a list of instructions and I don’t think that’s what you’re going for. The writing is a choppy action list right now. It needs to be smoothed out because it reads like that the entire piece. The reader doesn’t need to know each and every micro-movement he makes. I’d like to see you give the reader the benefit and not feel like you have to spell each tiny movement out.

    That, the typo in the first sentence and the backward phrasing in the following makes for a piece screaming for a good edit.

    The rocking of the carriage lulled him and he slumbered heavily, determined to sleep the majority of the trip back to London.

    The rocking of the carriage lulled him and, determined to sleep the majority of the trip back to London, he fell into a heavy slumber.

    He can’t determine to sleep the majority of the trip if he’s already slumbering heavily. Well, not true. He can dream that he’s determined to do that, but that has to be made clear. That he’s dreaming.

    I’m intrigued at the small passenger though you have many logistics problems there as well, as others have already said. If you can’t picture the scene, have someone act it out with you, but in places where you have a list of actions we don’t need, you have an equally empty list in areas where we do.

    Good luck with this. I think beneath it all, you have an interesting story here.

  18. Tasha
    Mar 20, 2011 @ 18:31:26

    As others have said, you need to take more care with your language – I also got lost in the pronouns at the beginning of the excerpt.

    Also, “majority” can only be used with countable things. By definition, it’s 50% plus 1 unit (so 51 of 100 people). You can’t use “majority” with “the trip back to London.”

    The story itself is interesting, but the expression of it needs a bit of work.

  19. Las
    Mar 20, 2011 @ 20:16:34

    I like the bits of story and it would be enough to keep me reading, but I agree with others on all the various details, like the pronouns and commas, as well as how he didn’t notice someone with in the coach with him in the first place, the language, etc. If those issues continue throughout the book it would make it a DNF for me.

  20. Karen
    Mar 21, 2011 @ 07:56:15

    Also, is it just me or did men of those times not proudly proclaim that they were rakes? Wasn’t it some kind of a taboo to talk about it? Hmmm, might need to do some research on that.

  21. anonymous
    Mar 23, 2011 @ 09:58:29

    I just wanted to say thank you all. I appreciate the constructive criticism and look forward to perfecting my manuscript! You guys are awesome. :)

  22. Jenn LeBlanc
    Feb 28, 2012 @ 17:04:47

    I’m amazed at how much the opening of this story changed in the past year…I’m equally amazed at how much remained the same. This is actually now book five of The Rake And The Recluse : SUBMISSION. And all of these constructive criticisms were incredibly helpful. I was just googling, and I’m not sure how that title brought me back to this post (I had forgotten about it) but I am certainly glad that it did.

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