Hocktide ceremony - 261 words

Phyrebrat

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#1
Something's not working here. I've read it, re-edited, added and subtracted but I feel like something's missing. I was hoping it might a chrons-objective eye to point out.

The premise is this: Henry has returned to his home town from working on a watermill project for a priory in Cranbowen. He's lashed loosely beneath a tripod of coloured staves by his wrists and neck. It's part of a yearly spring ceremony set in 1348 in Dorset, UK. His role in the ceremony is to represent that of 'Black Peter' - an archetype symbol of fertility or some such. It's meant to introduce the call and response between the villagers and the Hocktide steward.

It's written from Henry's POV; this happens every year, Henry's been Black Peter in the past, so he's familiar with the ceremony and so doesn't remark on it much (he's more concerned about things he's just done elsewhere, his missing wife, and he's dog-tired), and I think that might the problem.

Any comments? Thank you.

*****

Henry could no longer feel his arms, but despite the pain - perhaps because of it - he found he was slipping in and out of something like sleep. The smell of hot tar drifting across the common snapped him out of his latest doze and he tried to focus his swimming eyes on the singing mass that approached.

The township danced towards him with their banners and pennants. When he was at Cranbowen, he had occasion to work with Brother Lawrence who would notate his instructions and plans in the scriptorium. One cold morn as he waited for the monks to finish terce prayers, he looked through what Lawrence had later called a bestiary. The mob ahead of him looked like the glorious illustrations in that tome, a bestiary made from every colour of the rainbow: dog-faced boys, fantastical animals with human features, walking fish and horned things called out in song as they pranced and spun their way to him.

‘Cry the wrist, risk the neck, we have him, we have him, we have him!’ the steward sang.
‘What ‘ave ‘ee, what ave ‘ee, what ave ‘ee?’ the crowd responded.

‘I bring you Black Peter, affixed by the feet, Black Peter, Black Peter, Black Peter!’
‘Black Peter! Hurrah! Hurrah, for the feet!’ the town chanted back.
Henry joined in, mumbling the final call, and together the entire town sang:

‘I’m Death, I come in water and flame, to draw the flesh from Black Peter’s frame, let the worms renounce their claim, for hanged he’ll be, oh, hanged he’ll be.’
 

The Judge

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#2
I agree that it perhaps loses something by Henry not being fully there, as it were. There's not enough of him and his senses perhaps. It all reads as at a little remove when it should be more exciting.

For me, the first sentences of the middle paragraph are part of the problem. I don't mind Henry making a connection between a bestiary and the mob, but if you want to keep it, I think you need to remove the explanation of why he knows what one is -- it's too long, not terribly interesting, and it interrupts the action just when you need to keep us intrigued about what's going on. Just something like "like images from Brother Lawrence's bestiaries" is surely enough, but frankly I'm not sure you need even that. Why can't he simply report what he's seeing without trying to link it to the priory? Removing the other stuff allows you to give more detail of the villagers -- even if he's seen them before, we've not, so more description would help bring this to life.

The stuff they chant isn't holding me, either to be honest. I like the call and response, which is very church-like, but I think it could usefully be cut down to avoid repetition. That last line, to my mind, needs to be broken down into call and response, too, rather than have them all sing it, so they only come together for the final two clauses which then achieves greater emphasis and strength. Why don't we get to hear what Henry says, by the way?

On a nit-picking level, nothing leapt out of me, save I think "pitch" rather than "tar" perhaps -- the latter is perfectly in period, but somehow sounds too modern.
 

Phyrebrat

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#3
Thanks! Funnily enough the bestiary reference is in there entirely because of you! :D When I wrote it in Costa the other week all I could hear was you querying how a simple miller would know of such a book. I'm happy to cut it <woo hoo>.

I feel the same as you about tar and pitch. I have to use it so much that sometimes I just see the word 'pitch' crawling on every page, so I change it around with tar, tar-pitch, pitch-tar and pitch, depending on mood and who's talking.

Do you think I should try to give more description? I'm so wary of word count I'm trying to Hemingway everything :D

The chant is a reworking of the Cornwall's 'Crying the Neck' festival (see below) and I'll probably cut it down. I felt it was too long but that maybe it gave some of the ceremoni-ness that seemed missing in the narrative.

'Crying the Neck', ‘Crying the Nack’ or ‘Crying the Mare’, is a harvest festival tradition practiced in the West Country of England, in particular Cornwall, Devon, and parts of West Dorset.

In The Story of Cornwall, by Kenneth Hamilton Jenkin, the following explanation is given on the practice:
"In those days the whole of the reaping had to be done either with the hook or scythe. The harvest, in consequence, often lasted for many weeks. When the time came to cut the last handful of standing corn, one of the reapers would lift up the bunch high above his head and call out in a loud voice.....,

"We have it! We have it! We have it!" The rest would then shout,

"What 'ave 'ee? What 'ave 'ee? What 'ave 'ee?"

and the reply would be:

"A neck! A neck! A neck!"

Everyone then joined in shouting:

"Hurrah! Hurrah for the neck! Hurrah for Mr. So-and-So"

(calling the farmer by name.)" 1


1 Crying the Neck, C. (2018). Crying the Neck, Corn Dollies and Fairy Folk: Customs and Traditions of Lammas. [online] Darkdorset.blogspot.co.uk. Available at: DARK DORSET - Dorset's premier website devoted to local folklore and the unexplained: Crying the Neck, Corn Dollies and Fairy Folk: Customs and Traditions of Lammas [Accessed 26 Mar. 2018].
 

The Judge

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#4
Ha! When I read it I thought you'd shoved the explanation in so as to avoid anyone asking how he knew what a bestiary was! Trouble is, it can't go there, so my advice is either have him actually see the bestiary in an earlier scene or lose the detail -- a reference to Brother Lawrence is all we need.

I meant to say the repetition read as authentic (actually, I thought I had said that, but obviously only in my imagination :rolleyes:) and in the field, it would undoubtedly work. On the page, though, it's not so compelling.

And yes, a little less Hemingway, and a little more Hardy here. Not too much, just a bit more flavour to give colour and life to the scene.
 

Brian G Turner

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#5
There are an awful lot of verbs in the second sentence - that cries out to be broken up into individual sentences, and perhaps even simplified.

I'm not sure about the description either - something about putting smell first strange to me. I might suggest hearing singing, then seeing dancing figures, then the smell wafting from the common only after. That might be more logical.

You could also simplify the description of the bestiary -

The mob ahead of him looked like the glorious illustrations in a bestiary - a tome Brother Lawrence had notated at Cranbowen with every colour of the rainbow: (etc)

We're probably missing an emotional reaction from Henry about this spectacle to keep us in POV - how does he feel when he sees them all approach? What do the words mean to him, and why does he join in? No long description required for any of those things - I suspect they'll all tie together.

Just initial thoughts, but it's difficult to give feedback when a piece is out of context, as you might have covered some of this already.
 

ctg

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#6
Henry could no longer feel his arms, but despite the pain - perhaps because of it - he found he was slipping in and out of his consciousness. The smell of hot tar snapped him back into it. Not completely, tough as Henry tried to focus his swinging gaze on the approaching singing mass.


I wrote it from little closer pov and sped up your pacing. There's also the case of eyes, which I think should gaze as you're describing it from his POV. I think you should leave it at that and let the narrator continue from here as you do :)

The township danced towards him with their banners and pennants. When he was at Cranbowen, he had occasion to work with Brother Lawrence who would notate his instructions and plans in the scriptorium. One cold morn as he waited for the monks to finish terce prayers, he looked through what Lawrence had later called a bestiary. The mob ahead of him looked like the glorious illustrations in that tome, a bestiary made from every colour of the rainbow: dog-faced boys, fantastical animals with human features, walking fish and horned things called out in song as they pranced and spun their way to him.
Instead of the internal POV you have a choice. You could use external omni POV in here and let that narrative carry the readers to the sing while your MC is tormented by the festivities.
 

dannymcg

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#8
Couple of minor things,
One: why was there suddenly a smell of tar/pitch that woke him? (Unless you covered that in an earlier section) were they carrying it towards him to maybe tar and feather him?

Two: you mentioned the dog-faces boys and walking fish amongst the costumes. Also horned things, this intrigued me. Like devils? Or just goats and cows etc?

Not really of great importance, but it shows I'm starting to get into your story :)
 

The Big Peat

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#9
Belated, but The Judge hits the nail on the head with her points about the bestiary for me, and not just because it interrupts the flow - I was wondering how an out of it fellow was able to think that clearly. I think the scene would be stronger if he was out of it and processing things incompletely, or with it with a stronger sense of clarity.
 
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#10
You lost me after the word...scriptorium, I think some of the words are just new to me but I felt like that section was drifting from the action too much. When giving a backstory in the middle of the action, I think it needs to be punchier, but that might just be me. It seems like a great idea...very interesting!
 

Phyrebrat

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#11
Okay, V2 below... Got it down to 178 words.


We're probably missing an emotional reaction from Henry about this spectacle to keep us in POV - how does he feel when he sees them all approach? What do the words mean to him, and why does he join in? No long description required for any of those things - I suspect they'll all tie together.

Just initial thoughts, but it's difficult to give feedback when a piece is out of context, as you might have covered some of this already.
Yes, as you say it's awkward to give feedback on something that is from mid-story; a lot of what you bring up I'll change as per advice although the bestiary will have to go (Henry's used to the Hocktide festival but as it's the first time the reader sees the festival in action, I have to have some kind of reference to it in the narrative). I'm not clear entirely what you mean about his POV though as I'm in deep POV the whole time.

One: why was there suddenly a smell of tar/pitch that woke him? (Unless you covered that in an earlier section) were they carrying it towards him to maybe tar and feather him?
As above, yep it's already been referred to before and after this snippet; I try to keep my crit subs short so people doin't have to wade through +1k of my stuff :D. Glad you found it intriguing.

___________________

Henry could no longer feel his arms, but despite the pain - perhaps because of it - his alertness came and went in giddy waves. The stink of pitch drifting across the common brought him to his senses; the villagers approached.

They danced towards him singing the Hocktide chant, waving banners and pennants, in costume, all. A bestiary of dog-faced boys, fantastical animals with human features, walking fish, and feathered, furred and horned things cheered as they pranced and spun their way to him. The entire common thronged with a moving rainbow of folk, revelling in the spring sun, swigging ale and throwing flower heads before them.

‘Cry the wrist, risk the neck, we have him!’ the steward sang. ‘I bring you Black Peter, affixed by the feet!’
They recited the old song, call and respond, call and respond and finally even in his daze Henry joined with the entire town:

‘I’m Death, I come in water and flame, to draw the flesh from Black Peter’s frame, let the worms renounce their claim, for hanged I’ll be, eternally.’
 

The Judge

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#12
Yep, much better to my mind. Perhaps that second para could have a hint of hallucinogenic-ness just to top it off? You've got giddy waves in that first para, so even if his senses have returned, could he still be a bit dazed, so the villagers and their costumes appear more monstrous than ever before? Anyway, well done.
 

Brian G Turner

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#13
I do think the second works better. :)

I'm not clear entirely what you mean about his POV though
You cover Henry's physical experiences in this excerpt - but there's no emotional reaction to the approaching reverie and I would (personally) expect one. Does the sight, sound and smell of it all make him anxious, glad, fearful, joyous? That's what I mean. Maybe you covered it before or after - I just can't tell at this point.
 

ctg

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#14
Simply wonderful. I have personally been writing and rewriting the external parts in WIP, because the MC is mainly an observer, not a fighter. But in places when you reach the unconsciousness or the near the dream-state it easier to write from that external angle then stay in the internal POV. You get to use whole palette and not be restricted by the POV ... too much.
 

Phyrebrat

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#15
Thanks all.

Can we increase the Crit limit to 129K words, please? ;)

Does the sight, sound and smell of it all make him anxious, glad, fearful, joyous? That's what I mean. Maybe you covered it before or after - I just can't tell at this point
Ah, okay, gotcha. Thanks.


You get to use whole palette and not be restricted by the POV ... too much.
Funnily enough, I've recently been toying more and more with practicing Omni in other (short) stories as I notice a lot of my favourite novels are written that way, and it works so well for horror, thus not limiting it to the POVs experience. I'm not practiced enough yet in it but certainly I'm open to add skills to my toolbox!

Thanks.

pH
 
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