Welcome to episode 7. Apologies first, if you can hear my heater in the background. If I switched it off, you’d hear my teeth rattling instead. Still, I will try to have the office suitably warmed before I record the next episode. And apologies if my voice is less clear than usual. I’m not ill, but my sinuses are behaving even worse than they generally do – which I’m putting down to the cold weather.
Thanks to everyone who cheered me on or joined me for The Night of Rhyming Dangerously on Saturday. It was a lot of fun, and I made my goal of 72 poems in 24 hours. I’ll be doing more livestreams and stuff in the coming weeks. I’ll put details up on my Twitter @inkandsage and on my website www.sgdwrites.com, so keep an eye out there if you’re interested.
And if you have an opening paragraph, a first page, or even just a first sentence – please do send it in. I can’t keep the show going without submissions.
As lockdown continues in South Africa, and around the world, please remember that it is okay to not be okay at this time. This is a trauma on a global scale, and if you are feeling less productive or just less ‘you’ than normal, that’s perfectly fine. Please, stay at home if you’re able to, and stay safe.
And now, on with the show!
As ever, I’m not an expert, my intention is to be positive and helpful, and my opinions do not reflect the authors’ worth as people or as writers. Please ensure adequate sodium intake with this podcast.
by H D Coulter
A fragment of light broke through the rockface, like sun beams through clouds, teasing her with a forbidden life outside. Bea stretched her arm out, it was dappled with tiny bite marks and patches of raw skin, the old wounds were healing but last night he had created more. She watched the shadows form across the floor and remembered how she used to play shadow puppets for the girls. And then she heard it, the drumming sound becoming louder against the stone, dimming out the light, casting her back into darkness. She pulled herself up clinging to the crumbling sandstone and shuffled sideways until she felt the large licked out groves and waited. A few drops of water trickled over her fingertips, her parched mouth began to salivate as she leant forward, stickling out her tongue. There was a thickness to the water as the tiny shards of stone ground against her teeth with a bitter taste of salt. Lowering herself down, her eyes started to shut, giving way to exhaustion, as she began to slip out of consciousness again.
This is quite a long paragraph and, boy, is there a lot packed into it. The author has done a really good job of describing Bea’s meagre and, one might say, horrific existence to us. If you were able to listen to that passage and didn’t feel a twinge of something, dread or sorrow, you may be in need of psychological treatment.
That said, I do have a couple of suggestions.
I am wary of overly long paragraphs, and I think there are very few readers who would disagree. The eye sees a wall of text and the brain says ‘no, thanks, we don’t want any’. That’s not something you want to be experiencing right out of the gate. So, I would break this paragraph up into at least two, or possibly three, shorter paragraphs.
I think there are also some sentences that could be pared down a little. There’s some overwriting going on. So ‘Lowering herself down, her eyes started to shut, giving way to exhaustion, as she began to slip out of consciousness again.’ We’ve got started to shut and began to slip almost right next to each other, which is a bit clunky.
This could easily be rewritten as ‘Lowering herself down, her eyes started to shut as she slipped out of consciousness again.’ Although, lowering herself down and shutting her eyes implies both that she’s giving way to exhaustion and that she’s slipping out of consciousness. And, for that matter, it isn’t necessary to say down in this sentence either, because she can hardly lower herself up.
It’s okay to trust the reader, they’ll get your meaning and they’ll appreciate not being bashed over the head with it.
There are a couple of spelling mistakes as well, and I’m putting them down to typos, but it is worth mentioning that if you’re submitting to an industry professional whether they’re an agent or an editor or someone else, it is worth going through and checking for finger-trouble before you send it off.
Thanks for your submission, H D. I hope my feedback wasn’t too discouraging, because the bones of this are really good.
by Jackie Kirkham
The memorial in the heart of the climbing tree is new since we were last here. Firkin Point, on the western shore of Loch Lomond – starting point of our first Scottish date, 13 years ago, and somewhere we return regularly, to walk, pick blackberries, and more recently now we’re three, to picnic and kayak in this sheltered, not too wild part of the loch. I always sit underneath this same tree now, with the same view of the wooded hills opposite, looking north to the narrowing of the loch and the looming mountains beyond, taking pictures or reading and pretending I’m not worrying as the two people who are my world explore the loch in the flimsy kayak. Despite my anxieties, it’s a peaceful place for us (as long as there are no midges), a place of old, new, and future memories. The simple memorial plaque reminds me it’s not just us who love this spot and associate it with our dearest loves. Sher, Malcolm and Isabella – unknown by me, known and loved by unknown others, now inextricably part of my ongoing memories of this place.
We’ve got our first bit of non-fiction this week. I’ll admit, I’ve never been much of a non-fiction reader, so I’m a little out of my depth with this, but I hope you’ll enjoy the segment anyway.
I have to say this is really beautifully written. And I’m terribly sad that I don’t have a beautiful Scottish accent to read it with.
I could readily believe that this was the opening of a contemporary women’s fiction by someone like Kristin Hannah or Marian Keyes.
The sentences are quite long. We’ve already established that I have a personal preference for shorter sentences, in part because they’re easier to record, but I think these work on the whole.
What I really like about this is the way that Jackie has tied the close of the paragraph back into the opening. ‘The memorial in the heart of the climbing tree is new since we were last here.’ echoes in ‘The simple memorial plaque reminds me it’s not just us who love this spot and associate it with our dearest loves. Sher, Malcolm and Isabella – unknown by me, known and loved by unknown others, now inextricably part of my ongoing memories of this place.’ So even though you’ve got the bit in between about the blackberries and the kayak etc., the paragraph feels anchored. You don’t end up in this floaty kind of nether realm of waffle (like I just did).
Well done, Jackie. Thanks for sending that in, and please keep me posted on how this project turns out!
Music: Continue Life by Kevin MacLeod
Sound effects from freeSFX [https://www.freesfx.co.uk/]