6K Post Crit.... (1.5k words)

Phyrebrat

www.beanwriting.com
Supporter
Joined
Feb 13, 2011
Messages
6,086
Location
In your bedroom wardrobe...
Hi all,

In the tradition of 1k crit-postings, here's the opening to my new novel. I would be interested in any readers having a go at guessing when it's set. i'm not keen to put the date in the text as it seems contrived. The actual scene is 2k but this is the first 1.5

It was approaching evening in remote Sussuri, hidden as if behind closed doors in the Valli Di Commachio. The sun splintered through the distant Dolomites and illuminated seasonal mists that magically manifested higher and higher on the water till they spilled over the banks of il Fiume Doloroso.
It was evening before Luca got his first bite of the day. His eel nets had been set in the Doloroso since morning and wouldn’t be visited by his quarry until the cool but clammy dusk fell. In the meantime, he’d decided to see what else was in the river feeding the marshes.
The hit had been more of a run than a bite, and it was big. He suspected a predator but couldn’t imagine a pike interested in his small bread-dough bait — certainly not this time of year; they’d be spent and tired from late winter breeding. But his heavy weight had taken the bait to the riverbed and it might be any manner of fish. He hoped for something better than just a big eel.

He was still fighting the Leviathan as the stars appeared, manifesting with as much reticence as the serpentine mists did, and he was so focused on the fight to land the beast, he didn’t notice the boy approach at first.

‘What is it?’ a piping voice with the northern Emilia-Romagna accent said from behind.
He flicked a quick glance in the direction of the voice. The boy was a dark-skinned country grub; brown eyes, dark hair; a perfectly formed little male, but not even a teenager yet.
‘I don’t know.’
‘Is it a shark?’
‘In a river?’ Luca puffed as the rod bent — nearly in a loop. He praised God he’d chosen this rod instead of his cane pole.
‘Is it an eel?’ the child said, and for a moment Luca couldn’t see him against the boskiness of dusk.
‘This size? I doubt it. I get enough eels in my traps, anyway,’ he said, hauling the rod back, trying to take up the few inches of line this won him.
Across the yellow waters of the river, a swirling boil erupted from the lazy slap of a mottled grey and brown tail fin. It was the size of a small principality. The towering marginal grasses wobbled like calligraphy pens scratching the sky then stilled as the water resettled.
The next breach came fifty feet across the river — halfway; the same brown and grey, a long muscular body rolled but there were no fins, and he saw no head.

As the fight progressed, he no longer sensed the boy near. He snatched a look over his right shoulder. The kid had retreated a good few steps.
‘There’s nothing to be scared of,’ he said. The boy didn’t return to his side, so he called out for his name.
‘Lidio,’ the kid said.
Against the sandy backdrop of the distant hills above the floodplain, Lidio looked like even more a dark smudge — almost a shade — rather than a human boy.
He smiled, pleased for the boy’s company. ‘I’m Luca.’
Lidio’s bright eyes flicked between him and the point where the zig-zagging line sliced into the water.
‘Lidio, there’s nothing to be scared of. It’s just a fish.’
‘It didn’t have any flippers. Did you seen any? Or a head?’
The fear in Lidio’s face made him lie. ‘It’s an eel. Eels aren’t like normal fish.’
Lidio wasn’t having it. ‘No, signore, eels have fins.’
‘Yes.’
‘You think I don’t know what an eel is, signore?’
Luca laughed and shook his head. ‘No, son, I don’t. But who was it who thought it might be a shark?’
The rod tip, thumping down to the water’s surface, stole his attention. He gave out line, and lifted the rod.
‘So, you know a lot about eels?’ he said indulgently when the beast had slowed.
‘This is Sussuri, signore.’
He didn’t know if that meant the village was weird or that everyone was an eel expert. He guessed the latter. The ferocious eel trade here was the reason he’d come to Sussuri after the…mishap. Besides, the idea of such an isolated town community being ‘weird’ settled in him an uncharacteristic anxiety.
‘Everything in this town comes from the eels,’ Lidio said.
‘Not the Piadina Romagna, I hope!’
Lidio screwed up his nose and shook his head.’You can’t make bread from eel.’

Even though he’d not long arrived here, the trade of the place was unavoidable. Whether the stench of the things being prepared (what were those hamlets of fluted huts with the chimneys even doing to the fish?), the countless roadside stalls of fruit-crates turned upside down, displaying a bounty of eel skin trinkets, or even the dried ones waggling atop pennons in the arid fields like medieval banners; it was all about the eels in Sussuri. He’d been somewhere between throwing up and hysteria when he’d seen the fake reliquary souvenirs of various Holy men’s circumcised foreskin; how gullible could the villagers be? When he’d seen a table with over twenty reliquaries of the Messiah’s foreskin (all made from eel skin), He’d asked the roadside vendor if Jesus had twenty yards of the stuff when he was born. The man — a slight thing with more hair than flesh — had remained silent, but offered a surly scowl, clearly offended.

That had been his first introduction to the mindset of Sussuri. A warmth that cooled quickly, an instant trust, yet it carried a flavour of suspicion underneath, most unlike what he was used to. Maybe in Rome, but not the hinterlands. He supposed with the constant exodus of the young from here, the absence of work, entertainment — and all the other things the legacy of the last unwanted tourists brought twenty years ago — would make any community closed.

But Lidio didn’t seem as disinterested in him. ‘Maybe you could tell me what I’ve hooked, Lidio,’ he said, smiling even though the child still stood agog.
‘Unh-uh,’ Lidio said. ‘Just know about fabric.’
As he hauled on the rod, he twisted to face the little grub. ‘You know magic?’
Lidio rolled his eyes. ‘Fabrics.’

The monster pulled the rod down as it went off on another run (unseen since its earlier roll). He forgot himself, and stopped pumping the rod to say, ‘You mean like textiles?’ It seemed such an odd word for the boy to say; incongruous. Coming from his little mouth it miswired Luca for a moment. The earlier uncanniness of the place reasserted itself a little.

The monster fish went deep. And stilled.

He shrugged his shoulders and flexed his right forearm which were numb from the fight. Grateful for the reprieve, he relaxed a little, the boy lost in his own thoughts next to him.
Ever since he’d relocated to Sussuri, he’d felt alternately (or more accurately: at the same time), that he was meant to be here, and that he absolutely should not.
But he wasn’t susceptible to the off-hand brand of campagna superstition and values common in the countryside. Even the ones left over from the shameful past. And, the pros far outweighed the cons: the quiet rectitude of Sussuri suited his love of the bucolic. The blue shield of distant mountains, the clear air — so much nicer than the choking piazzas of Roma. With the new popularity in travel and the so-called ‘package holiday’, huckster pizzaioli had appeared on every block, on every corner, every market in Rome. And, there were none of those new wasps zipping around here, either. (His own Vespa had looked more like a much-used agricultural item from the Fifties; as dull and sandy a yellow as the hard-pack ground of Sussuri. He’d been glad to give the Black family that buzzing clockwork bike. They’d moved to Rome to escape the Congo Crisis in the weeks just before he was due to leave.

When the Congolese family had moved into the small Piazza della Madonna di Agonie, Luca had witnessed the warm welcome cool off into superstition and prejudice, but gradually back to warmth. It had seemed to him at the time that he was always apologising for the treatment the Black family had received, as if he were the spokesperson for all of Roma. But, Romans are an adaptable, smart — and diverse — lot, and it didn’t take long for the general populace of the piazza to realise they might be echoing the erstwhile il Duce’s vile ideology. Embarrassment of such recent fascism came quickly to the Roman mind nowadays. But, it was obvious the Old Country had a little way to go, yet.
The rod jerked into life, pulled forward by the reinvigorated beast, and the reel caught in the dull spokes of his push bike — slower but much more his taste than the Vespa.
‘Cazzo,’ he mumbled and then turned to Lidio. ‘You didn’t hear that.’
‘Stronzo!’ The boy screamed at the river and dissolved into the kind of breathless giggles God reserved for eleven year olds.
 
First, you write very well. The piece had a Hemingway-esque quality to me. The pace was mostly spot on: the alternation of his thoughts with him fighting the fish was well done though I marked out a part below where it was too much exposition.

For this excerpt it is superb, but it depends a bit on what _kind_ of piece this is. This being a science fiction/fantasy forum I expected this to be fantasy, so I was waiting for the other shoe to drop: maybe the fish is a monster, or otherwise magical, maybe the boy is magical.

However, even if this turned out not to be a fantasy piece I would not be disappointed, since you create a tense atmosphere with the suggestion of the supernatural and do it very well. (I'm a sucker for Gothic). The trick of course is what comes after this and how the tale is sustained.

Even though he’d not long arrived here, the trade of the place was unavoidable.
I felt this particular digress was too long, at this point. I felt at this point the action was a bit more crucial.


the boy lost in his own thoughts next to him.
I thought the boy was further away.

and the reel caught in the dull spokes of his push bike
This part I did not get.
 
What lovely words, @msstice and thanks for the tips. Agree with your quoted comments and will change accordingly.

It’s a horror — the scene ends with the catfish (wels catfish grow to ridiculous lengths in Italy and Spain) escaping and them witnessing it take an entire heron down in the margins. This sets up a later scene when fish is finally caught but an adult human hand is regurgitated due to the trauma it suffers when it’s being unhooked.

Thanks for the considerate response. It’s really appreciated
 
Well I can't flaw the writing: it's really good and flows very well indeed. There are a lot of good comparisons and it gives a sense of being in that location very well.

I wonder about breaking up the fight with the catfish with flashbacks: there were a couple of bits where I wondered what had happened to the catfish and whether the characters had abandoned the battle, because the narrative goes elsewhere. But I think that's a choice of the author and might depend on how exciting you want the fight with the catfish to be.

But overall it's really good, and there is definitely a sense of something sinister going on: mainly in the oddities about the catfish, but also in some of the side references to skin and oppression.
 
I wonder about breaking up the fight with the catfish with flashbacks: there were a couple of bits where I wondered what had happened to the catfish and whether the characters had abandoned the battle, because the narrative goes elsewhere. But I think that's a choice of the author and might depend on how exciting you want the fight with the catfish to
Thanks for the read Toby. Appreciated.

This (quoted) is what I was worried about. I worried (as a ridiculous fish-o-phile) that the fight was boring and needed breaking up. As battles with big fish can last hours I thought I could get away with it but I wonder if having a fish and Lidio as a distraction means his internal thoughts are a bit over-long.

When I start a new project I think I might panic and try to front load the opening with too much detail.

Has anyone had a sense of decade?
 
I concur with the previous posts about the prose--both vivid and concise. I had a good feel for the setting, characters, and present action, which (in my experience) is hard to balance. While there are some places where the dialogue could be condensed, I personally think it's good as-is as a way to ratchet up the suspense--if I'm guessing correctly, the goal here isn't to make the scene punchy, but full of dread.

The only place where the writing lost me a bit was the last two paragraphs, focusing on city life and prejudices in Rome. The digressions about the odd village of Sussuri seemed more immediate and urgent to the situation, versus the more distant memories of the city. But these paragraphs are admittedly at a disadvantage due to being the cutoff point for your excerpt (and thus likely have a payoff that we the forum-readers don't get to see). On a second readthrough, they also do a lot of the contextualizing of the timeframe (e.g. Vespas, Mussolini), and in a way that's subtle. So as long as there's a payoff for the Rome background, I don't think it's too much of a problem.

The push bike sentence also initially tripped me up--maybe mentioning the bike in the first few paragraphs could help to both clarify that sentence and also place the timeframe a little earlier on?

Just saw your question about decade--my impression is fairly soon after WWII. As someone with admittedly very little knowledge of Italian or Congolese history, and without an internet search, I would guess the 50s, maybe the 60s. (And a quick google of the Congo Crisis gave me a solid answer!)

Overall, this seems like an excellent start to a horror/spec fic novel! I do fear giant catfish in my very soul (River Monsters episode, anyone?) so your comment about the heron and the hand got a good shudder from me.
 
This is all very good. I'll point out two niggles that might be useful in other spots of the larger piece:

It was approaching evening in remote Sussuri, hidden as if behind closed doors in the Valli Di Commachio. The sun splintered through the distant Dolomites and illuminated seasonal mists that magically manifested higher and higher on the water till they spilled over the banks of il Fiume Doloroso.
It was evening before Luca got his first bite of the day.
Approaching evening, then it was evening. It doesn't read like a passage of time between the two, but that the paragraph is unsure what time it is.

Across the yellow waters of the river, a swirling boil erupted from the lazy slap of a mottled grey and brown tail fin. It was the size of a small principality. The towering marginal grasses wobbled like calligraphy pens scratching the sky then stilled as the water resettled.
The humorous exaggeration of the "principality" metaphor seems at odd with the more evocative "pens scratching" simile in the next. It feels like the paragraph should stick to one sort of allusion or another, which took me out of the passage for a moment.



1960 Congo Crisis?
 
Congrats on reaching your 6k! And for abiding by Ancient Tradition and putting up a piece to celebrate, a tradition more breached than honoured nowadays!

This is a good scene, well-written and to my mind it's more assured than your other pieces here in Critiques, perhaps because the fishing aspect is closer to you and your experience. Whatever the reason, well done you! Me being me, I was beginning to get a bit antsy, wanting something more to happen, but then I've not the patience to be an angler! Even allowing for my impatience, though, I think it wouldn't hurt to prune this down a bit -- in particular the flashbacks about the eel-fixation of the area and the situation in Rome don't fully earn their place here in my view -- and I'd encourage you to have something important/exciting take place fairly quickly.

I liked Luca, but I couldn't make up my mind about the boy, and what he was meant to be/represent -- I imagine he's going to be important as the horror progresses, but it might perhaps be an idea to give some indication of why you've put him here. As to which, his introduction really made me pause when you refer to him as a perfectly formed little male -- would anyone really think that about a 11 yr old boy? Or is there meant to be a sub-text here??!

I also got confused about Sussuri itself. You refer to it variously -- the village was weird ... an isolated town community ... the villagers ... Everything in this town -- and not only does this jar, since it can't be both a village and a town, but the way you speak about those hamlets of fluted huts as being part of the trade of the place it's as if Sussuri is actually a small region. I think it would help if you cleared this up.

Pedant that I am, I've done a very quick nit-pick of grammar-ish and other issues:
  • the Valli Di Commachio -- should be lower case "di" and if you're referring to the real place, it's spelled "Comacchio"
  • il Fiume Doloroso -- as you've used "the" for the "Valli" there's no reason to use "il" here, but I'm not convinced you need "Fiume" anyway -- if you were writing about Tuscany, you'd refer to "the River Arno" not give it in the Italian. As for the name "Doloroso" is that perhaps a little too heavy a hint about what's to come? (I'd also question whether it would be "sorrowful" or "of sorrows" which would translate differently)
  • the Leviathan -- lower case "l" as he's not talking about the actual Biblical monster
  • the boskiness of dusk -- "bosky" relates to thickets and woods, ie boscage, and I'm not convinced dusk itself can be thickety/woody
  • how gullible could the villagers be? -- is it the villagers who are gullible, or they're hoping the people who buy from the stalls would be?
  • He’d asked the roadside vendor -- lower case "h"
  • disinterested -- properly this means impartial, without bias, and I think what you really mean is lack of interest, which is uninterested
  • He shrugged his shoulders and flexed his right forearm which were numb from the fight -- if you mean his shoulders are also numb, then the "were" is technically correct but it reads badly, so I'd suggest inverting the sentence so it's "He flexed ... and shrugged...". If it's only his forearm which is numb, then obviously it's "was"
  • the quiet rectitude -- "rectitude" relates to a moral uprightness, but I'm not sure if this is actually what you're trying to say about the town
  • the hard-pack ground -- "hard-packed" I think
  • the Black family -- I know it's the done thing now to capitalise this, in the US anyway, but if the piece is set in the C20th then it's anachronistic and jarring. (I'd also question whether the Congolese family would be accepted quite as happily as you suggest c1965.)
  • for all of Roma -- elsewhere it's Rome, so best be consistent

As to the time this is set, I'd have been a tad discombobulated if you hadn't raised it as an issue, which made me conscious it might be not what I was thinking. Just taking the first 950 words this could have been set anywhere from the 1300s to the present day, and indeed I'd have veered towards the earlier period but the use of the word "tourist" pushed it to no earlier than the late C18th so I was then thinking mid-C19th, then the talk of the Congo Crisis points to the mid 1960s. Unless you intend there to be a time-travel element to the horror, or you're deliberately keeping it vague until then, it might perhaps be worth making it clear earlier -- there's no need to give the date, but just bring in the clues in the opening paras, eg as to what they're wearing, so readers aren't forced to adjust their preconceptions as to the era. (On a re-read just now I caught "calligraphy pens" which suggests a later period before the "tourist" cropped up, but evidently that alone wasn't enough to alert me as to its time!)

Anyhow, well done, and I look forward to seeing more! (And I noticed the pike reference!)
 
Late to the party but thought I'd share a few thoughts on what is a really nice piece overall! The voice and tone is distinct and unique, and does give a classic or traditional feel - like it could have been written mid-last century, if you know what I mean. This is a long ways from my own style, so I am mindful of that in approaching this for critique and hopefully I don't encroah on that too much..

It was approaching evening in remote Sussuri, hidden as if behind closed doors in the Valli Di Commachio. The sun splintered through the distant Dolomites and illuminated seasonal mists that magically manifested higher and higher on the water till they spilled over the banks of il Fiume Doloroso.

I would cut this paragraph entirely and start at the next, on the action. The repetition of 'evening' jars a little for me, and the hook is buried beneath scene-setting. You could weave this in later but I think there's enough indicators dotted throughout for an attentive reader to figure out the general location - and it's not super paramount first thing.

It was evening before Luca got his first bite of the day. His eel nets had been set in the Doloroso since morning and wouldn’t be visited by his quarry until the cool but clammy dusk fell. In the meantime, he’d decided to see what else was in the river feeding the marshes.
The hit had been more of a run than a bite, and it was big. He suspected a predator but couldn’t imagine a pike interested in his small bread-dough bait — certainly not this time of year; they’d be spent and tired from late winter breeding. But his heavy weight had taken the bait to the riverbed and it might be any manner of fish. He hoped for something better than just a big eel.

I'm confused by the 'his' in this sentence - is it the fish's heavy weight? This may be my lack of angling knowledge coming out...

He was still fighting the Leviathan as the stars appeared, manifesting with as much reticence as the serpentine mists did, and he was so focused on the fight to land the beast, he didn’t notice the boy approach at first.

If you did cut the first paragraph, this would make less sense....

‘What is it?’ a piping voice with the northern Emilia-Romagna accent said from behind.

This feels like too much telling to me, at least in this format. Maybe something like:

‘What is it?’ The piping voice carried the distinct lilting* northern Emilia-Romagna accent.


(*or another descriptive term - I'm not that familiar with the accent!)

He flicked a quick glance in the direction of the voice. The boy was a dark-skinned country grub; brown eyes, dark hair; a perfectly formed little male, but not even a teenager yet.
‘I don’t know.’

Repetition of 'voice' - to avoid perhaps change to something like, He flicked a quick glance over his shoulder.

‘Is it a shark?’
‘In a river?’ Luca puffed as the rod bent — nearly in a loop. He praised God he’d chosen this rod instead of his cane pole.
‘Is it an eel?’ the child said, and for a moment Luca couldn’t see him against the boskiness of dusk.

I had to look up 'boskiness'. It seems to mean shady due to shrubs and bushes? I'm not sure it fits here.

‘This size? I doubt it. I get enough eels in my traps, anyway,’ he said, hauling the rod back, trying to take up the few inches of line this won him.
Across the yellow waters of the river, a swirling boil erupted from the lazy slap of a mottled grey and brown tail fin. It was the size of a small principality. The towering marginal grasses wobbled like calligraphy pens scratching the sky then stilled as the water resettled.
The next breach came fifty feet across the river — halfway; the same brown and grey, a long muscular body rolled but there were no fins, and he saw no head.

As the fight progressed, he no longer sensed the boy near. He snatched a look over his right shoulder. The kid had retreated a good few steps.
‘There’s nothing to be scared of,’ he said. The boy didn’t return to his side, so he called out for his name.
‘Lidio,’ the kid said.

Switching between 'boy' and 'kid' - I'd go for consistency here, although it creates some repetition. Maybe a little restructuring:

As the fight progressed, he no longer sensed his unexpected companion near. He snatched a look over his right shoulder. The boy had retreated a good few steps.
‘There’s nothing to be scared of,’ he said. The boy didn’t return to his side, so he called out for his name.
‘Lidio.'



Against the sandy backdrop of the distant hills above the floodplain, Lidio looked like even more a dark smudge — almost a shade — rather than a human boy.
He smiled, pleased for the boy’s company. ‘I’m Luca.’
Lidio’s bright eyes flicked between him and the point where the zig-zagging line sliced into the water.
‘Lidio, there’s nothing to be scared of. It’s just a fish.’

I'd go for: ‘There’s nothing to be scared of, Lidio. It’s just a fish.’

‘It didn’t have any flippers. Did you seen any? Or a head?’

The fear in Lidio’s face made him lie. ‘It’s an eel. Eels aren’t like normal fish.’
Lidio wasn’t having it. ‘No, signore, eels have fins.’
‘Yes.’

Feels like a slightly awkward response. I'd suggest Luca say nothing, something along the lines of: Luca couldn't argue that point.

‘You think I don’t know what an eel is, signore?’

Luca laughed and shook his head. ‘No, son, I don’t. But who was it who thought it might be a shark?’

This isn't clear to me. He doesn't think the boy knows what an eel is? Or he doesn't not think the boy knows what an eel is. It could just be: Luca laughed and shook his head. ‘Who was it who thought it might be a shark?’

The rod tip, thumping down to the water’s surface, stole his attention. He gave out line, and lifted the rod.
‘So, you know a lot about eels?’ he said indulgently when the beast had slowed.
‘This is Sussuri, signore.’
He didn’t know if that meant the village was weird or that everyone was an eel expert. He guessed the latter. The ferocious eel trade here was the reason he’d come to Sussuri after the…mishap. Besides, the idea of such an isolated town community being ‘weird’ settled in him an uncharacteristic anxiety.

I don't know what this means, but I will accept that I might not need to know at this point.

‘Everything in this town comes from the eels,’ Lidio said.
‘Not the Piadina Romagna, I hope!’
Lidio screwed up his nose and shook his head. ’You can’t make bread from eel.’

Even though he’d not long arrived here, the trade of the place was unavoidable. Whether the stench of the things being prepared (what were those hamlets of fluted huts with the chimneys even doing to the fish?), the countless roadside stalls of fruit-crates turned upside down, displaying a bounty of eel skin trinkets, or even the dried ones waggling atop pennons in the arid fields like medieval banners; it was all about the eels in Sussuri. He’d been somewhere between throwing up and hysteria when he’d seen the fake reliquary souvenirs of various Holy men’s circumcised foreskin; how gullible could the villagers be? When he’d seen a table with over twenty reliquaries of the Messiah’s foreskin (all made from eel skin), He’d asked the roadside vendor if Jesus had twenty yards of the stuff when he was born. The man — a slight thing with more hair than flesh — had remained silent, but offered a surly scowl, clearly offended.

I LOLed. No notes.

That had been his first introduction to the mindset of Sussuri. A warmth that cooled quickly, an instant trust, yet it carried a flavour of suspicion underneath, most unlike what he was used to. Maybe in Rome, but not the hinterlands. He supposed with the constant exodus of the young from here, the absence of work, entertainment — and all the other things the legacy of the last unwanted tourists brought twenty years ago — would make any community closed.

But Lidio didn’t seem as disinterested in him. ‘Maybe you could tell me what I’ve hooked, Lidio,’ he said, smiling even though the child still stood agog.
‘Unh-uh,’ Lidio said. ‘Just know about fabric.’
As he hauled on the rod, he twisted to face the little grub. ‘You know magic?’
Lidio rolled his eyes. ‘Fabrics.’

The monster pulled the rod down as it went off on another run (unseen since its earlier roll). He forgot himself, and stopped pumping the rod to say, ‘You mean like textiles?’ It seemed such an odd word for the boy to say; incongruous. Coming from his little mouth it miswired Luca for a moment. The earlier uncanniness of the place reasserted itself a little.

The monster fish went deep. And stilled.

He shrugged his shoulders and flexed his right forearm which were numb from the fight. Grateful for the reprieve, he relaxed a little, the boy lost in his own thoughts next to him.

Both shoulders and forearm are numb, I assume, but this reads wrong to me - I wanted to put was in there, as I thought it was only the latter that was being referred to as numb. Could it be: He shrugged his shoulders and flexed his right forearm, all numb from the fight.

Ever since he’d relocated to Sussuri, he’d felt alternately (or more accurately: at the same time), that he was meant to be here, and that he absolutely should not.
But he wasn’t susceptible to the off-hand brand of campagna superstition and values common in the countryside. Even the ones left over from the shameful past. And, the pros far outweighed the cons: the quiet rectitude of Sussuri suited his love of the bucolic. The blue shield of distant mountains, the clear air — so much nicer than the choking piazzas of Roma. With the new popularity in travel and the so-called ‘package holiday’, huckster pizzaioli had appeared on every block, on every corner, every market in Rome. And, there were none of those new wasps zipping around here, either. (His own Vespa had looked more like a much-used agricultural item from the Fifties; as dull and sandy a yellow as the hard-pack ground of Sussuri. He’d been glad to give the Black family that buzzing clockwork bike. They’d moved to Rome to escape the Congo Crisis in the weeks just before he was due to leave.

When the Congolese family had moved into the small Piazza della Madonna di Agonie, Luca had witnessed the warm welcome cool off into superstition and prejudice, but gradually back to warmth. It had seemed to him at the time that he was always apologising for the treatment the Black family had received, as if he were the spokesperson for all of Roma. But, Romans are an adaptable, smart — and diverse — lot, and it didn’t take long for the general populace of the piazza to realise they might be echoing the erstwhile il Duce’s vile ideology. Embarrassment of such recent fascism came quickly to the Roman mind nowadays. But, it was obvious the Old Country had a little way to go, yet.

Black as in a surname, or skin colour?

The rod jerked into life, pulled forward by the reinvigorated beast, and the reel caught in the dull spokes of his push bike — slower but much more his taste than the Vespa.

I don't understand the mechanics of this - where is he, the rod, and the pushbike in relation to each other? I can't imagine a reel getting caught in the spokes of a bike, but I could be wrong...

‘Cazzo,’ he mumbled, and then turned to Lidio. ‘You didn’t hear that.’

I'd throw in a comma.

‘Stronzo!’ The boy screamed at the river and dissolved into the kind of breathless giggles God reserved for eleven year olds.

Nice touch, this rings true.

I'd echo some of the thoughts above about the back-and-forth nature of the piece, breaking up the fishing scene with scene-setting and backstory inserts. Not knowing what comes next, I'd be tempted to up-front all of the fishing stuff and the conversation with Lido, and then dive into the remainder in a less-actiony aftermath - a walk back to town or something. But I do understand what you're going for here, and I think with a little tightening it can still definitely work (and does for the most part!)

(And congrats for the 6K!)
 
I just, @Phyrebrat, wanted to say that I like the way you put things together in a way that is somewhat nonlinear manner - including the paragraphing/spacing. It is deeply organic, reflecting the way we experience reality between memory, reference, judgement and the moment. It is also wonderfully atmospheric - offering a menace that isn't on the page but plants itself in the reader's mind.
 
@Culhwch — This is so helpful. And the structure stuff is great! I’ve changed the piece in line with earlier recommendations but not reposted yet as I wanted to let it lie fallow a few days. (Boskiness was the right word but used confusingly so I’ve changed that as it’s not important to keep it and would mean restructuring the sentence and adding more word which would be inefficient just for an image I liked.)

@Swank thank you as always. Have you considered being my agent ?? ;)
 
First of all, well done on getting to 6000! Second, it's brilliant to see some new stuff from you - it's been a long time since you've treated us.

And this doesn't disappoint. It's wonderfully written and full of the Beany uncanniness that those of us who've read your earlier stuff know and love.

As for guessing when it's set, I'm guessing..... 23rd century Venus? 1930s Nevada during the Great Depression? OK, ok, 1970s Ferrara at a push. Strong Giallo vibes.

Others like TJ and Cul have picked up most of the niggles - only one that really jarred for me. The capitalisation of the Black family immediately made me think that was the family name ie the Bean family or the Jones family. I had to re-read it once I'd read the bits about the Congo. It's not a biggie, but just took me away from the flow for a second.

I'll DM you with some other points which might not be best suited to bring up here.

But honestly, it's great. More, please!
 
I really like this. Excellent work. (I don't think anyone's mentioned the use of parentheses, BTW, which are often frowned upon in fiction, but I thought they were fine here.) Not much to say except to echo a couple of previous comments.

I had to look up 'boskiness'. It seems to mean shady due to shrubs and bushes? I'm not sure it fits here.
I knew what it meant but it felt too English-dialect to fit in a piece set in Italy. I checked and it comes from Middle English, so I would definitely suggest swapping it out. (ETA: oops, missed your post saying you've already changed it.)

The only place where the writing lost me a bit was the last two paragraphs, focusing on city life and prejudices in Rome. The digressions about the odd village of Sussuri seemed more immediate and urgent to the situation, versus the more distant memories of the city.
I agree with this, especially since the digression about Sussuri does work its way smoothly back into the present, whereas the one about Rome just clunks to a stop. If you're keen to keep the one about Rome, I would work your way back from it just as you did with the Sussuri one, though you'll still have the possible issue that it feels more distant and less immediately relevant.
 
Hello all — I just wanted to pop into this thread and say I’ve not had chance to rewrite as per your (particularly HB and Cul’s) suggestions. I’m not ignoring the advice, just had lots on with the end of my course year and sister visiting etc.

Will get on to it asap. I’m grateful for the remarks you made and don’t want anyone to think I’m being ungracious etc
 
Congrats on 6k and well written as ever.

As per Judge, I was wanting something to happen. The pace was good, but for an opening I felt it needed to bring in clues of where you might be heading, which for the sample posted was lacking - But I do appreciate the final 500 words were not posted.

Placement and what when events were taking place was noticable as well, and I'm left guessing 1960/70s but I'm not sure as a reader. Not too much of an issue in the opening, but I think the setting needs to be clearer with the hook (see fishing!) of where you're heading stated as well.

Generally not much to worry about, it's a good opening and keep on plugging away.
 
Ugh… rewatching the movie last week and now see the painter I’m basing this on was painting in the 1920s-31!!

11k in and I’m going to have to restart in 1920s instead of the ‘60s.

Guess that takes care of the Congo Crisis bit!
Luckily, this isn't a movie where you'd have to spend a lot of money reshooting scenes with new period costumes or CGI the heck out of it. Just find and replace and you're done. Even for the Congo bit. Yeah, I'm sure you could find _some_ crisis in that period that will fit ... history always rhymes.
 

Similar threads


Back
Top