The start of something new

Jo Zebedee

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#1
Hi, this is the first chapter of something very new, and shiny, and only a baby. Mostly, I'm just wondering about the character, how well they work, and the level of information popped in. It is, most likely, going to be a YA for around the 16yr old market (around the same as Inish Carraig - and the Will character will have chapters in it, so it might be bang on that same crossover market)
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Chapter one: Harry. The guard-tower



They pass, in their ones and twos and threes and fours, straggled along the horizon. They pass near enough to see our barn and houses beyond the double rows of fencing seperating me from them. Perhaps even close enough to make out the neat rows of beans, of lettuces, of tomatoes that we no longer need to grow under glass.

As they pass the guard-tower, they glare up at me. I’m the lucky one. Inside the fences, where it’s safe. Sweating and too hot, but safe. I’m at Home. I have food and a bed.

Jealousy has a flavour, I’ve realised. A taint in the air that comes in waves. And with it comes hatred, warning me to stand tall - well, as tall as I’m able – and plant my feet. I hold my rifle not-quite-at-ready and stare downwards. It’s all about attitude, Bryan – who used to be known as my father – tells me. Harry, he says, if they believe you won’t hesitate to use that rifle, they won’t take the chance. He doesn’t take the chance, either – my guard-tower is equipped with a bell and in clear sight of two others. If I don’t do my job and guard Home, someone else will do it for me.

The group of migrants take in the fences. There are two, the outer one smaller, a trap that says ‘climb me and you might make it into all this food’, the inner one tall, electrified, and broken by Guard-towers. They won’t make it over that one. Only the strongest even try and this group are as bedraggled and small as any I’ve seen recently. Their clothes are as thin as they are, their skin is stretched. Before they reached Ireland, it was probably desiccated, too – but the one thing we have plenty of is water. Even those with nothing more than a bucket don’t lack for water to drink.

They come to the same conclusion and move on, disappearing over the brow of the hill in their ones and twos, and threes and fours. I know what they’re thinking. That I’m lucky. That I have everything a body could need.

Before they vanish, one stops and looks back. A girl, I reckon. About my age, maybe a little less – fifteen, sixteen? it’s hard to tell. She stares at me, her skin a warm caramel that I bet doesn’t burn, and she holds my eyes, and I understand that she gets it. She gets the truth. None of us is lucky anymore. We’re all just surviving.

The sun begins to dip, and I’m glad. Home works to a timetable. Nothing changes. Every day: up at 5, breakfast, out to stand at this damned fence and warn off anyone who comes too close. In the morning, when the heat hasn’t built, there’s a steady flow of people, more every day, it seems. On a wet day, that keeps up, all day, people sludging through fields churned up by people before them. But on sunny days, like today, by mid-day there’s barely a trickle and I retreat under the limited shelter of the guard tower, my hat pulled down. I’m Celtic, see. It doesn’t matter how many times I frazzle my skin; it just peels off and starts right back to burning as soon as it can. I can tell the time of day by how darned itchy I get. Sooner or later, it’ll kill me, I reckon, but I don’t lose sleep. I don’t reckon I’ll be around long enough to give a sh*t. I’m doubting anyone will be.

On time, as ever, Will appears from the direction of Home’s Heart, ready for the night shift. He’s tall, and rangy, with shoulders twice as broad as mine, and I know that jealousy has a taste, as well as a feel. It’s like bitter iron. I want to be Will. To be respected and have a proper place at Home, not a hanger-on who can’t be kicked out because my mother is Bobby’s daughter, a first generation Home-Hearter.

“Hey, Harry!” says Will. He raises his hand in a wave. “Any trouble?”

“None.” Outside the fences, all is quiet, no one passing. Nearby, small fires are starting, smoky from the wet, unseasoned wood that’s all the Influx will have. Later, the braver, and stronger, will begin to hunt for night-prey and for scavenging. They’re the bold ones, who take proper guarding against, and every night there are more just like the collection of fires grow, encircling us.

“You’d have dealt with it, if it had come,” Will says, and pride swells in me: Will has that way of raising people up. I wonder what he’d have been, if he wasn’t in here. I do that with everyone. If life was normal and we got to go to work, what would we be?

Will would have been a teacher, I reckon, maybe of art. He’s good with his hands: when I arrive in the morning, he’ll have left a tracing in the wet-soft wood, and it’s always something I can recognise and that makes me smile.

Which brings me to thinking. If Will was an artist, cos he’s good at it, what would I be? I’m not good at anything. Not guarding. Not working with the animals – the old cow hates me, and she’s like butter to everyone else’s hands. Not spelling or maths – I’m so bad at them, that’s why I ended up on duty. It’s like the letters don’t settle down long enough for me to read, but dance and torment me.

Worst of all, I can’t grow things. Can’t get a seed up, or force life from the Earth. I can’t animal-keep, or grow. I don’t butcher well. I ain’t even a good cook. Which means I’m a mouth to feed who doesn’t feed anyone back.

Knowing that makes my back itch. Father or not, Bryan doesn’t like those who don’t contribute. Around me, he’s like a lion that isn’t sure the cub is his own, watching and waiting. I don’t look at him when he does because, to be honest, I can’t see how I can be his child, either. And if I ain’t his, I’m no more belonging to Home than any of those people who pass us on the other side of the fence. If Bryan had any proof I’d be joining them before sunrise, left to bake in the heat, to try to find land, to try to grow. It doesn’t bear thinking about, and so I don’t. Mostly.

“That’s a new camp,” Will says, pointing to a fire close by. “Any idea who?”

“Group passed an hour or so ago,” I call back. “Didn’t look like ones to worry about.”

And yet, the girl comes to mind. She hadn’t been quiet, in the way she’d watched me. She hadn’t been frightened, or cowed, or scared to be seen. But she hadn’t been any trouble, either.

“Give me the rifle,” said Will, his tone formal. “Your duty is over, Harry, and mine is to begin.”

The words of a guard-changeover. I unsling the rifle, and hand it over. Will takes it, just like I’ll take it back off him in the morning, and checks it over, making sure the barrels are loaded but that the safety is on.

He nods. “Good work, little Harry. Go, get food.” He grins, but it’s not mean like Mike or Dolfer’s would be. “You need it to grow.” His eyes narrow. “But, be careful. Your man. He’s in quare form.”

My man, not his. My stomach knots, tightening under my rips. Pa in a temper never bodes well. I climb down, picking each support with care, and start walking towards Home’s Heart, following the familiar beaten-out track and I wish I could stay with Will, curled up for the night in the corner of the guard-tower and safe.

“Harry.” Will’s quiet voice saying my name stops me, and I turn back. He’s always had a soft spot for me, who is a mismatch in this world where everything is supposed to be just-so, not odd and undecided. “Be careful, won’t you?”

“With Da?” I ask. “I will be. You know that.”

He gives me a smile that I think might be the saddest I’ve ever seen.

“Aye, with your dad. And here. At Home. Be careful.”

And then he turns away, staring over the encampments that surround us, and I don’t know what to say because his words are serious and seem to have a message I don’t know how to read, and I think I’m going to be sorry I didn’t.
 
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#2
I enjoyed reading this piece. The amount of information you added was balanced with the action and I can't wait to read more. However, I would consider lessening your use of the word 'reckon'. I'm not sure if you use the word 'cos' because of teenage slang but if so, I would like to tell you that most teenagers don't speak like that. As someone who is part of your target audience, I can say that this story has a lot of potential and I would love to see where it goes :)
 

Brian G Turner

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#3
One thing I would have liked to have seen - and perhaps is there but didn't notice - is a sense that the gun feels too big for her, yet makes her feel grown-up. I want to see a tad more of a girl forced to become an adult before her time, and how imperfectly through little details she fits into that. However, perhaps she's old enough for that to no longer be an issue - but perhaps a very brief reflection to give it that little extra edge. Perhaps. :)

Aside from that: strong YA tone, strong setting, good tension. If I were Len I'd give you a 10 - you keep this up you'll have a corker of a book. :)
 
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Jo Zebedee

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#4
I enjoyed reading this piece. The amount of information you added was balanced with the action and I can't wait to read more. However, I would consider lessening your use of the word 'reckon'. I'm not sure if you use the word 'cos' because of teenage slang but if so, I would like to tell you that most teenagers don't speak like that. As someone who is part of your target audience, I can say that this story has a lot of potential and I would love to see where it goes :)
Thank you - that’s really helpful and I’ll lookat the ‘reckon’. The character is supposed to be slightly formal as a POV character, so I’ll have to muse on that and decide if it’s a problem or what I want!

One thing I would have liked to have seen - and perhaps is there but didn't notice - is a sense that the gun feels too big for her, yet makes her feel grown-up. I want to see a tad more of a girl forced to become an adult before her time, and how imperfectly through little details she fits into that. However, perhaps she's old enough for that to no longer be an issue - but perhaps a very brief reflection to give it that little extra edge. Perhaps. :)

Aside from that: strong YA tone, strong setting, good tension. If I were Len I'd give you a 10 - you keep this up you'll have a corker of a book. :)
:) thank you :) I’ll have a think about the gun thing - it sounds like a good idea. It’s interesting you picked the character as a girl since I didn’t specify (and hope not to at all) :)
 

CTRandall

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#5
Good start--I'd keep reading. My one concern were the paragraphs starting with "Which brings me to thinking. If Will were an artist..." through Harry describing what he/she isn't good at. For me, this drags a little. Does that need to be here? Or maybe just a touch of it here with more of it shown later? Other readers might like the reflection/information here but it feels a little intrusive to me.

There are a couple of sentences and phrases that read odd for me, as well, starting with "straggled along the horizon". You might be trying to avoid "scattered" but "straggled" feels a bit of a stretch for me. Also, "horizon" makes them sound very distant. Maybe "ridge" or "crest of the hill"?

"They pass near enough to see our barn and houses beyond the double rows of fencing..." Reads like the barn and houses are on the other side of the fence. Maybe "They pass just beyond the double rows of fencing, near enough to see our barn and houses..." The fact that Harry is inside the fence is quickly made clear, so I think you can leave it out of this sentence.

Sorry for nitpicking! Overall, you set the scene and the character well and draw the reader in nicely.
 

HareBrain

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#6
It’s interesting you picked the character as a girl since I didn’t specify (and hope not to at all) :)
Not through the whole book?

I'm afraid this particular opening doesn't work for me. It all feels like information, whether open or disguised. Nothing specific seems to be happening, or likely to happen immediately, and I'm missing a hook. It's often said that it's good to start with the MC doing their job, and that's generally true, but standing on guard is very passive. Might there be something else Harry can do that would involve activity but still allow some of the community set-up (which seems interesting) to come through?

(You might want to ignore this of course, given the feedback you've had already!)
 
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Jo Zebedee

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#7
Not through the whole book?

I'm afraid this particular opening doesn't work for me. It all feels like information, whether open or disguised. Nothing specific seems to be happening, or likely to happen immediately, and I'm missing a hook. It's often said that it's good to start with the MC doing their job, and that's generally true, but standing on guard is very passive. Might there be something else Harry can do that would involve activity but still allow some of the community set-up (which seems interesting) to come through?

(You might want to ignore this of course, given the feedback you've had already!)
Yep - not through the whole book. I think the understandings I’m presented can be affected by the reader’s knowledge of the POV character. I’m playing with removing that knowledge. Of course, it might not work or prove horribly contrived and I’m not going to lose sleep if it doesn’t happen.

I’ll muse on your thoughts. :) having said that, I think a quiet build is right for this one (it’s about climate change so I sort of like the slow dawning revelation since we all seem determined to ignore the truth around us) and I think the hooks are there around the girl and the world. But I might change my mind as I write on :)

@CTRandall - thank you! I suspect ‘straggled’ is one of my weird word usage that either work or are a disaster. I’ll see how many wince at its usage :D
 

HareBrain

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#8
I think a quiet build is right for this one (it’s about climate change so I sort of like the slow dawning revelation since we all seem determined to ignore the truth around us) and I think the hooks are there around the girl and the world.
Fair enough -- I'll just say that I'm not sure I would call this quiet, as it's quite busy. I might have gone with its lack of activity if there hadn't been quite so much information. It's almost as if the character feels backgrounded by the information they're telling us. But I'm sure you'll figure out exactly how you want to handle it. As I said (but not strongly enough) the set-up and community feels like a rich basis. And you can't go wrong with a character called Bryan. I hope he proves a wrong'un. ;)
 

Joshua Jones

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#9
I like the premise and the character for YA. If you were writing for an adult audience, your protagonist might be too insecure and feel a bit needy, but you connect in with the insecurities of your audience, so I think it works here to build audience empathy.

Interesting what you are doing with the gender of the protagonist. I processed Harry as a young, slight of build boy, but I could see how a girl is possible with what you have done here.

I do feel it gets a touch long winded at times, but I am confident this will be addressed in your editing as you go.

Overall, great work!
 

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