Welcome to episode 10.
In today’s show, I’ll be reacting to the first paragraph of All the King’s Traitors by Keylin Rivers. If that sounds familiar, that’s because it’s been out since August 2019.
I’ve been asked before whether I would accept submissions from work that is or has been published already. The short answer is “maybe”. The long answer is “yes, as long as both the author and the publisher sign off on it”. In this case, Keylin is both and has given me permission to use her work in the podcast.
I’m just a small-time podcaster. I’m not looking to bring down the wrath of the industry upon myself. I don’t have the time, the money, or, quite frankly, the energy to go toe-to-toe with a publisher over copyright infringement. Yes, I could potentially argue fair use, but I’d rather not have to.
To celebrate the podcast hitting double digits, there’s something different happening in the second half of the show. I’ve reacted to more than a dozen of your opening paragraphs so far, dear listener, and I think it’s only fair that we turn the tables. I’ll read one of my short stories and I want you to critique it.
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.
ALL THE KING’S TRAITORS
by Keylin Rivers
The cold wind prickled Vallich’s face as he trotted through the village on horseback. With each step forward, ice shattered beneath the hoofs of his grey steed. He had nearly fulfilled his mission.
I said earlier that All the King’s Traitors is already published. I can confidently say that it has been through numerous edits, both developmental and line, and I don’t think there’s anything I can add of value there. So instead, I’m going to talk about my overall impression of the opening.
I like it. I think it’s a good opening.
I like the sense of the cold wind prickling his face and the ice shattering under the horse’s hoofs. It might just be because it snowed on the mountains last night and so there’s ice on the air here today, but I could almost feel it.
I also like that the opening paragraph ends on the line “He had nearly fulfilled his mission.” – it leaves the space open for us to ask “What is his mission?”
If I have to be nitpicky, I’d say that this paragraph alone doesn’t place me solidly in a world of fantasy. Of course, that’s not really a “must have” for an opening paragraph, it’s more of a “bonus feature”. The important thing is that it still fits. It doesn’t read as something else entirely, which could put a reader off.
Yes, it could be historical fiction, western, cowboy romance. Heck, it could even be a horror or a crime thriller with an equestrian twist. But there’s nothing that says that it’s not fantasy.
I’m currently reading and really enjoying the book, so thanks to Keylin for letting me use that.
THE LOST HOUR
by Sage Gordon-Davis
Madeline awoke in a cold sweat for the fourth night in a row. There was a smell of lavender in the room, tainted with a faint trace of used matches. Her chest heaved as she struggled to calm her breathing. Her pulse raced. She ached from her scalp to her soles.
It was lighter than she expected and she realised she’d fallen asleep with her bedside lamp still lit. There would be a row with her flatmate over that later.
She’d flung off her blanket in the course of whatever had happened. It lay in a rumpled heap at the foot of the bed. The sheet, wet and musty, had snapped off at the corner to expose the rose-patterned mattress beneath.
On the side table, the clock blinked 01:17 in unsettling red digits. She’d been gone for an hour. It was always an hour. The lost hour.
Madeline moved herself slowly out of the bed, wincing as her feet hit the floor. She knew the soles were cracked and dirty, and her feet burned with every step she took.
In the bathroom, she splashed cold water on her face. The bruises on her arms continued their progress from wine red to unhappy blue, en route to the sickly green that would mean they were healing. New bruises had appeared around her neck, leaving her looking like an overactive teenager.
She looked at the tub at the far end of the bathroom and considered drawing herself a bath. She pictured herself in the water, the warmth on her skin, the pleasant buoyancy – the liquid filling her lungs as she slipped under, drowning in her exhaustion. It was too risky, and she was too tired anyway.
She slunk back to her bed and turned off the light.
For the fourth night in a row, Madeline lay awake, alone in the dark trying to remember what had happened to her. The shape of the thing was there but it disappeared when she looked at it. She tried to sidle up to it, to take it by surprise, but it always seemed to be a step ahead of her, just out of reach.
At dawn, she gave up. She dressed for work, draping a scarf around her neck to hide the bruises, and stumbled into the kitchen to make a cup of coffee. The sound of the kettle boiling roused her flatmate who recoiled at the sight of her pale face and bloodshot eyes.
“Good grief,” said Sydney. “You look like you’ve been to hell and back.”
Madeline shuddered, and said nothing.
I wrote that story in 2018 as part of the Australian Writers’ Centre Furious Fiction competition (which I’ll link in the show notes). I did give it a bit of a tweak before I put it into the script for this week’s podcast, but it is otherwise unedited. So let me have it, dear listener!
Email me, tweet your thoughts, or leave your feedback in the comments if you’re watching on YouTube. I look forward to hearing what you think.
Music: Continue Life by Kevin MacLeod
Sound effects from freeSFX [https://www.freesfx.co.uk/]