Work from PJ MacMillan

 


Chapter 1

‘How dare they!’

“How dare they!” the girls voice repeated under her breath, her voice lost, blown out to sea in the swirling wind that danced around her.

The outline of the island only came into view as the ferry prepared to dock. The thick fog that shrouded the island lifting only as the ferry master positioned the boat alongside the old and rickety jetty that stuck out into the bay.

As the ferry drifted closer to the jetty, she saw it fully for the first time. The Island of Hirta, her new home. A hundred kilometres out to sea off the Scottish west coast, Hirta was the land of her father’s childhood. Isla had never been to Hirta before and when her father announced the family moving to this remote location a few months ago, it was not the news any teenage girl wanted to hear.

She did not know anyone on the island, except for her grandparents, and all her friends were now so far away. There was no even mobile phone coverage on the island and the internet practically was unheard of.  She was trying to be positive about the move, but a month of self-loathing attitude to scorn her parents had felt a far more appealing option.

Through the remnants of the fog Isla could see the strip of brightly painted buildings that sat at the edge of a wide sandy bay, adding a vibrant contrast to the otherwise damp and misty island. The town did look pretty, not that she would admit that to anyone, but it did not lift her spirits or desire to be here.

As quickly the clasping fog released the last grip on the island it was immediately replaced by drizzling rain and a cold wind. The depressing weather reflected perfectly how Isla felt. Through the rain she could see the land behind the town rose steeply to reveal sparse buildings and tracks leading to a woodland that overlooked the town. The remaining fog clung tightly to the higher ground making it impossible to see passed the woods.

The thud of the ferry hitting the jetty shook her from her thoughts as the gangway was lowered from the ferry onto the jetty it was her family that stepped off first. This was not hard since they were the only passengers.  It seemed nobody else wanted to come to Hirta either.

Stepping foot onto the jetty she looked down, out of habit, to make sure her wee dog, Lexi, was not getting under her feet.  Many a time she had nearly tripped over Lexi who always wanted to be so close to her they would often get tangled up.

But Lexi was nowhere to be seen and the large sign edged with rust in front of the gangway cruelly reminded her why and read “Hirta Wildlife Sanctuary. Strictly No dogs or cats”.

Lexi had always been best friend, her faithful little companion who never left her side ever since she rescued her several years ago. Lexi was left with her aunt who would take good care of her, but she missed her so much.

Her dads work car was waiting, parked on the jetty with its ‘Marine Scotland’ stickers pasted on the side doors. He had always said that if a job ever came up back on Hirta he would quit his job at the university as a Marine Biology researcher and move back to Hirta. No one ever expected it to happen, but it did and here they are. Great!

Thanks Dad.

Chatting gleefully in the front of the car, obviously excited to be here her dad was pointing out places of interest as they drove towards their new home.

‘It won’t take long to point out the interesting places,’ she thought to herself as she sat in silence staring blankly out the window, ‘there’s nothing interesting here.’

 The only thing she paid any attention to   the ruins of an old building with a caved in and partially collapsed wall.  A flimsy metal fence had been placed around it with several ‘Danger’ signs, however most fence lay fallen on to the muddy ground.

“That’s the old school,” her dad called out, turning around to look at her in the backseat as they drove past. “It was crushed by a fallen tree in a big storm a few years ago.”

Her dad said something else, but Isla did not notice as her attention had been caught by the shimmering shape of a person standing next to the ruins of the school. The shape seemed to be watching her as they drove by, but as she turned to get a better look, the figure disappeared.

Dismissing the sight as an odd shape in the rain she returned to staring blankly out the window until the brakes of the car squeaked and bought the car to a halt front of a house. Their house. Their horrid looking old house.

The stone walls and slate roof were worn and run down.  The few shrubs that sat in the small garden behind the waist high wall were either overgrown and messy or dead. Through the window she spied tatty old curtains that hung loosely and barely fitted. She was sure they were only being held together by the years of dust and mould that had attached themselves to the 1970’s design of large orange and brown circles on a yellow background.

‘What a dump!’ she thought to herself, feeling her heart sink lower.

Stepping eagerly from the car her dad located the front door key hidden under a rock.  After turning the key in the lock and with a bit of a push with his shoulder against the warped door it burst open. Walking in first, her Dad had a quick look around seeing it was filled with their packing boxes and piled up furniture from their previous home.

“It’s not too bad,” her dad declared, looking rather pleased with himself. Isla’s dad had made a last-minute decision not to rent the nice house they had arranged, but instead to buy a house without seeing it off the internet. He said he had always wanted to renovate a run-down house from scratch, so this dump was their new home.

As she stepped inside her eyes were instantly offended by the ghastly floral wallpaper and the smell of damp, mould and mothballs assaulted her nose. She gagged a little, trying to repress the vomit that had started to climb into the back of her throat, as she walked into the living room. She hoped to find a hole in the middle of the house so the world would just swallow her up.

Climbing the creaky stairs up to the bedroom and bathroom level, things did not get any better. As she peered inside the bathroom, she spied more mould in the bottom of the bathtub caked thick and she dared not to think what that brown sludge at the bottom of toilet was, but it had been there some time. At least the sight of these things distracted her to the even more ghastly swirly blue and black wallpaper that was plastered over most of the walls.

The only redeeming feature of the house she could find so far was the Pizza shop at the end of the street.

She wandered into the city of packing boxes that filled her room wondering where on earth all this stuff was going to go. Quickly she decided this was not going to be a problem as she did not want any of her things to touch any surfaces in this disgusting room. She would simply leave everything in the boxes.

A knock at the front door.

The door opens as she heads down the stairs with a genuine smile on her face for the first time since she arrived, as she hears her Granny and Grandpa’s voices. She was always pleased to see them.

“Hello mae wee girl!” her Granny calls as they embrace at the bottom of the stairs. “How was the ferry? I’ve bought you your school uniform for tomorrow and some other things to help you settle in.”

Her Granny hands her a large shopping bag filled with school clothes then steps aside to reveal a plethora of mops, dust pans, cloths, cleaning products and buckets by the front door.

Granny always did have a funny sense of humour, but this time she was spot on.  For the first time that she could remember she wanted to clean her room.  She wanted to scrub it from top to bottom and not let anything of hers touch any of its surfaces until she had cleaned it at least three times.

Instructor Response

Chapter 1

 

JP MacMillan:

Hello. Excellent work. Everything you’ve done is more than satisfactory. I’ve done no line-editing. My comments are suggestions re storytelling and revision.

 

‘How dare they!’ Who said this? This is an opening line. It should be clear what it’s about and who’s talking. Or no dialogue. Oreint the reader: who, what, where, when.

“How dare they!” the girls voice repeated under her breath, her voice lost, blown out to sea in the swirling wind that danced around her. Good prose.

The outline of the island only came into view as the ferry prepared to dock.  The thick fog that shrouded the island lifting only as the ferry master positioned the boat alongside the old and rickety jetty that stuck out into the bay. Good.

As the ferry drifted closer to the jetty, she saw it fully for the first time.  The Island of Hirta, her new home. A hundred kilometres out to sea off the Scottish west coast, Hirta was the land of her father’s childhood. Isla had never been to Hirta before and when her father announced the family moving to this remote location a few months ago, it was not the news any teenage girl wanted to hear. This is mostly backstory. It’s okay but don’t you want to draw the reader into what’s happening or going to happen in the story this early in your novel? As an opinion, this is static writing and low priority for information needed. I know it’s stylistic but try to learn how to engage the reader thoroughly at this stage.

She did not know anyone on the island, except for her grandparents, and all her friends were now so far away. There was no even mobile phone coverage on the island and the internet practically was unheard of.  She was trying to be positive about the move, but a month of self-loathing attitude to scorn her parents had felt a far more appealing option. Same.

Through the remnants of the fog Isla could see the strip of brightly painted buildings that sat at the edge of a wide sandy bay, adding a vibrant contrast to the otherwise damp and misty island. The town did look pretty, not that she would admit that to anyone, but it did not lift her spirits or desire to be here. Give the name Isla earlier. Otherwise, this is good. pronouns shuld not be used unless the antecedent is establioshed.

As quickly the clasping fog released the last grip on the island it was immediately replaced by drizzling rain and a cold wind. The depressing weather reflected perfectly how Isla felt. Through the rain she could see the land behind the town rose steeply to reveal sparse buildings and tracks leading to a woodland that overlooked the town. The remaining fog clung tightly to the higher ground making it impossible to see passed the woods.

The thud of the ferry hitting the jetty shook her from her thoughts as the gangway was lowered from the ferry onto the jetty it was her family that stepped off first. This was not hard since they were the only passengers.  It seemed nobody else wanted to come to Hirta either. This is fine but consider improvement. It has to do with ideas in paragraphs that are non sequiturs. You’ve got setting, images, action, opinion, and then authorial humor (not really the narrator); it lacks smooth interaction of ideas which will break the readers engagement, even if only slightly.

Stepping foot onto the jetty she looked down, out of habit, to make sure her wee dog, Lexi, was not getting under her feet.  Many a time she had nearly tripped over Lexi who always wanted to be so close to her they would often get tangled up. Again, backstory. Try to keep the momentum, especially at this stage, for the story going forward. You’re very good at keeping the reader in the story present. At this stage in this section, keep the reader engaged. You can put backstory in later. You can scatter it in attributions or internalization. Maybe a flash memory. Most backstory that is essential is often best placed at the beginning of the timeline, rather than interrupting story present momentum.

But Lexi was nowhere to be seen and the large sign edged with rust in front of the gangway cruelly reminded her why and read “Hirta Wildlife Sanctuary. Strictly No dogs or cats”.

Lexi had always been best friend, her faithful little companion who never left her side ever since she rescued her several years ago. Lexi was left with her aunt who would take good care of her, but she missed her so much.

Her dads work car was waiting, parked on the jetty with its ‘Marine Scotland’ stickers pasted on the side doors. (narrator speaking) He had always said that if a job ever came up back on Hirta he would quit his job at the university as a Marine Biology researcher and move back to Hirta. (probably character) No one ever expected it to happen, but it did and here they are. Great! (narrator speaking)

Thanks Dad.  This is the narrator using the character’s POV on and off. The ideas should be better developed and anchored in a POV.

Chatting gleefully in the front of the car, obviously excited to be here her dad was pointing out places of interest as they drove towards their new home. Good. Back in story present.

‘It won’t take long to point out the interesting places,’ she thought to herself as she sat in silence staring blankly out the window, ‘there’s nothing interesting here.’ Good. You’re inside the character.

The only thing she paid any attention to   the ruins of an old building with a caved in and partially collapsed wall.  A flimsy metal fence had been placed around it with several ‘Danger’ signs, however most fence lay fallen on to the muddy ground.

“That’s the old school,” her dad called out, turning around to look at her in the backseat as they drove past. “It was crushed by a fallen tree in a big storm a few years ago.”

Her dad said something else, but Isla did not notice as her attention had been caught by the shimmering shape of a person standing next to the ruins of the school. The shape seemed to be watching her as they drove by, but as she turned to get a better look, the figure disappeared. Great.

Dismissing the sight as an odd shape in the rain she returned to staring blankly out the window until the brakes of the car squeaked and bought the car to a halt front of a house. Their house. Their horrid looking old house.

The stone walls and slate roof were worn and run down.  The few shrubs that sat in the small garden behind the waist high wall were either overgrown and messy or dead. Through the window she spied tatty old curtains that hung loosely and barely fitted. She was sure they were only being held together by the years of dust and mould that had attached themselves to the 1970’s design of large orange and brown circles on a yellow background.

‘What a dump!’ she thought to herself, feeling her heart sink lower.

Stepping eagerly from the car her dad located the front door key hidden under a rock.  After turning the key in the lock and with a bit of a push with his shoulder against the warped door it burst open. Walking in first, her Dad had a quick look around seeing it was filled with their packing boxes and piled up furniture from their previous home. You switched POV here. Acceptable, as in there are no wrongs in writing fiction, but not prudent.

“It’s not too bad,” her dad declared, looking rather pleased with himself. Isla’s dad had made a last-minute decision not to rent the nice house they had arranged, but instead to buy a house without seeing it off the internet. He said he had always wanted to renovate a run-down house from scratch, so this dump was their new home. It’s not wrong, but use of backstory here does force me to leave the really well-done action you created in scene in the story present.

As she stepped inside her eyes were instantly offended by the ghastly floral wallpaper and the smell of damp, mould and mothballs assaulted her nose. She gagged a little, trying to repress the vomit that had started to climb into the back of her throat, as she walked into the living room. She hoped to find a hole in the middle of the house so the world would just swallow her up.

Climbing the creaky stairs up to the bedroom and bathroom level, things did not get any better. As she peered inside the bathroom, she spied more mould in the bottom of the bathtub caked thick and she dared not to think what that brown sludge at the bottom of toilet was, but it had been there some time. At least the sight of these things distracted her to the even more ghastly swirly blue and black wallpaper that was plastered over most of the walls.

The only redeeming feature of the house she could find so far was the Pizza shop at the end of the street.

She wandered into the city of packing boxes that filled her room wondering where on earth all this stuff was going to go. Quickly she decided this was not going to be a problem as she did not want any of her things to touch any surfaces in this disgusting room. She would simply leave everything in the boxes.

A knock at the front door.  Place this information in Isla’s perception.

The door opens as she heads down the stairs with a genuine smile on her face for the first time since she arrived, as she hears her Granny and Grandpa’s voices. She was always pleased to see them. In present tense this is backstory.You might use: “How pleased she is to hear Granny and Grandpa again.” I think that gives the ideas you want in story present.

“Hello mae wee girl!” her Granny calls as they embrace at the bottom of the stairs. “How was the ferry? I’ve bought you your school uniform for tomorrow and some other things to help you settle in.”

Her Granny hands her a large shopping bag filled with school clothes then steps aside to reveal a plethora of mops, dust pans, cloths, cleaning products and buckets by the front door.

Switching tenses seems amateurish here. I’d avoid it. It doesn’t add to the story, and it will probably distract most readers.

Granny always did have a funny sense of humour, but this time she was spot-on.  For the first time that she could remember she wanted to clean her room.  She wanted to scrub it from top to bottom and not let anything of hers touch any of its surfaces until she had cleaned it at least three times.

 

Summary: This is really a very engaging start to the story. I’m involved in the characters and feel as if I’m getting to know them. In revision, I’d suggest the frequent use of backstory in awkward positioning detracts from the good prose and story ideation. The information is essential, of course, it’s just delivered in the wrong places. It would take some thinking and practice to improve it. Think of story progressing on a story timeline with no interruptions and a logical progression of thoughts, ideas, and actions. I admire your imagery!

All the best, you’re doing great!

WHC

 

2 thoughts on “Work from PJ MacMillan”

    • PJ
      Have confidence! You’re a writer with many skills, imagination, and good ideas. Forge ahead and discover, and continue to do what you’re doing–learning. Being the best you can be in writing literary fiction stories is a rewarding, career-long learning process. You have the ability to enjoy!
      All the best,
      WHC

      Reply

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