14th October 2018 at 12:19 pm #59936
Chapter 1 – CF
It’s two thirty-six a.m. and I am on my way to hospital again. It’s the fourth time this year and it’s only the beginning of June. This time I had no warning. Yesterday I felt fine, or as fine as I ever feel and I went to bed just like normal. But at one fifty-seven I woke up and I couldn’t breathe. I reached over to press the bell beside my bed and heard it ringing in my parents’ room. I could already hear footsteps on the landing as I grabbed my inhaler and tried to clear my lungs. The door flew open and the main light flicked on. I blinked my eyes at the sudden light and looked over at my mum’s worried expression. It probably sounds like I wasn’t scared; believe me, that isn’t true.
“Are you ok honey?” Mum asked, rushing to my side.
I shook my head, taking another puff on the inhaler but failing to get much air. I coughed violently, my lungs trying to clear themselves.
“Paul, can you get the car ready?” Mum shouted to dad. “Becky’s going to have to go to hospital. And can you get Freddie up too?”
“I’m already awake,” my little brother called sleepily.
“Sorry Fred but you’ll have to come too,” dad told him.
“I’m already getting dressed,” he replied.
Mum helped me get out of bed and pull on some warmer clothes. It might be June but it was still the middle of the night. Dad came in to help me down to the car while mum threw on some clothes and hurried to join us. Freddie was already waiting in the front seat when I got in and he took my hand, giving it a quick squeeze of reassurance. His honey blonde curls, just like mine but shorter, were all messy from being in bed. We have matching green eyes too and a scattering of freckles across our cheeks. If we were the same age, people would think we’re twins. Sometimes I think my brother must be an angel sent to look after me. He’s only nine and he just got dragged out of bed at crazy o’clock but he doesn’t complain once.
The roads are almost empty and dad drives quickly without being dangerous. Freddie is in the front and mum is in the back with me, helping me manage my inhaler and phoning ahead to the hospital. I cough again, my ribs beginning to hurt and end gasping weakly. Mum holds my hand and rubs my back. I know she feels helpless watching me struggle and wish there is something I can say to make her feel better but I have no breath to speak. Even if I did, what would I say?
The good thing about it being the middle of the night is there’s no traffic so fifteen minutes later we pull up in the car park of the hospital. After my diagnosis, my parents moved house to be closer to the hospital. Before that they had lived in a small village in the Berkshire countryside. I wish I could have grown up there, surrounded by trees, fields and animals. West London isn’t too bad but it doesn’t offer the same sort of freedom. However this hospital has one of the biggest and best Cystic Fibrosis units in the country and my parents decided it would be the best option for me.
Yes, that’s the reason for all my hospital trips and why I’m heading there in the middle of the night, barely able to breathe. Cystic Fibrosis is a condition which causes thick mucus to build up in my lungs and digestive system. I was born with it and have had symptoms for as long as I can remember. I am luckier than some. My symptoms aren’t as severe as some people with CF. My parents were very surprised when the tests showed that I had it. They had never known that they were both carriers. Because they both have the faulty gene but not the illness itself there was a twenty-five percent chance that I would have CF. I was unlucky. My brother got a better end of the deal. He was in the majority, the fifty percent that carry the gene but don’t get the illness. Of course the very luckiest quarter don’t carry the gene at all and never have to worry that their own children might inherit it. I would have settled for being a carrier.
Mum helps me out of the car and into the foldable wheelchair we keep in the boot. When I have an attack like this I find it very difficult to walk because I cough so hard and I can get dizzy from oxygen deprivation. Mum wheels me towards the hospital entrance and dad steers a sleepy Freddie after us. A short time later I’m being admitted to a room on the dedicated children’s ward. I know the ward very well, having spent months of my life here and I’m a familiar face to the staff.
I get put on a machine called a nebuliser which helps me to breathe more easily. It has a mask which goes over my face and delivers medication to help clear my lungs. The doctor comes to see me after a little while and listens to my chest.
“Well Miss. Franklin, looks like you’ve got a bit of an infection. We’ll get you on some antibiotics,” he says with a smile. “You’ll be right as rain in no time.”
I always like the way the doctors and nurses here speak to me, rather than just to my parents. Chest infections are a constant danger for me. This is the second one this year even though I come to the hospital for regular antibiotic treatment to prevent them.
“I’ll take Freddie home and come back in the morning with some of your things,” mum says. “Your dad will stay here with you.”
I nod and give a thumbs up because I can’t really talk through the mask. Mum gives me a quick kiss on the forehead and leaves with Freddie in tow.
A nurse comes in and hooks me up with the antibiotics. I look away and squeeze my dad’s hand hard as she pushes the needle into the back of my hand and tapes it down. I’ve had it done a million times but I still don’t like it. Once it’s in the pain goes away quickly and I relax again.
“You should try and get a bit of sleep if you can,” dad tells me, switching the light off.
My breathing has eased a little and I’m very tired so I lie back and close my eyes. The hospital room is as familiar to me as my own bedroom and with my dad on the chair beside me, there’s nothing to be afraid of as I drift away.
15th October 2018 at 3:34 pm #60028
Sorry elikott but I don’t understand why you’ve posted your opening in my thread. I was looking for feedback on my opening chapter. Any chance you could move it to your own thread? If you’re looking for feedback, I would be happy to help.
15th October 2018 at 5:09 pm #60039
What age group is middle grade?
What age is your protagonist?
You have what should be an exciting beginning, full of jeopardy, but it feels a bit flat, possibly because we are not close enough in the head of your protagonist. The writing is very good, but it feels reserved, and at times it feels like an explanation of CF for the benefit of the reader. Would the child really be thinking about the genetics of CF – especially when she’s not at the stage of planning a family of her own?
Alternatively are you trying to get across the disconnect between what a person with no experience would find terrifying (being hospitalised, unable to breathe) and which is just a regular occurrence for a CF person? With all of the exact clock times I feel that may be what you are aiming for. But that in itself is probably not a good enough hook, especially for a younger reader.
Is this a first draft? Quite often when writing we end up setting the scene and writing a load of stuff that we need to know but which is essentially background. That’s fine (and usually necessary) n a first draft but often you need to go back and cut out a load of the “scaffolding” once you have hung the story on it.
I think you have much to build on – good luck with this. I have a couple of friends who have CF children so I know what a challenge it is, from many points of view.
15th October 2018 at 5:11 pm #60040
@elikott – you need to post your own thread in the critiques forum with your opening chapter. Then all replies in that thread will only be about your work and it will be much easier for everyone to follow.
I suspect you were following what has happened in the elevator pitch thread, where everyone has pitched in with their own elevator pitches. It’s easier to keep tabs on what’s what in that thread because elevator pitches are short, but still isn’t ideal in my humble opinion.
15th October 2018 at 6:00 pm #60041
Thanks for the advice, that’s very helpful. It is a first draft and I think you’re right that I was almost explaining to myself what cystic fibrosis is like. I’ll work on that. The main character is 12 and the book is aimed at 10-13 years old.
16th October 2018 at 4:39 pm #60155
I’m terribly sorry kdunnett1987. I did not know how this works. I would like to delete it, but I don’t know how. I thought this was the topic “Opening Chapter”. Please forgive me.
17th October 2018 at 11:18 am #60256
Please accept my apologies once more. I asked Stephanie, and she has deleted my contents.
What I would like to say about your chapter is that I like it very much. I’m new here and my English is probably not so fancy as the others, but especially your English I like very much, as it is clear and easy to understand and as I have been hospitalized 16 times myself, I can feel with the protagonist. Although I do find, that there is too much backstory in a really dangerous situation. Maybe one could give this information, at a point where there isn’t dire emergency. Here I agree with Bella.
17th October 2018 at 5:01 pm #60296
Thanks, I’m working on making it more in the moment and focusing on the emotions and situation of the protagonist.
19th October 2018 at 1:57 pm #61884
I agree a lot with what Bella has said.
In principal a book just about a sick kid is unlikely to be enough to find a publisher. If it’s a book about the imaginative internal life, the secret romance, the parallel existence of your main character, it could be a very interesting element to a story, but you definitely need to bring those other parts in at the beginning.
At the moment this feels like a mid-book chapter by which point you’ve won your reader’s attention and are invested in the characters. Although every chapter should be as valuable as any other, in reality, and from a marketing point of view, the first is massively important, especially when you’re aiming at a young readership.
The same chapter, rewritten in a more dramatic way, – not knowing how serious the scare is or the implications of it – could perhaps be enough to hook a reader but at the moment it’s too calm and everyday. Writing present tense can be very trick too over the course of a whole book and you have to make sure you don’t slip into a past tense voice, which is more common in storytelling. I’m not sure how popular it is at the moment and can be controversial – some people really hate it but it was quite popular around the time Twilight was released.
As you invest more time writing and reading about writing, you’ll come to understand the accepted structures of kids’ books. 10-13 is not a common age bracket – I know it can be really hard to identify and fit yourself into market expectations, but agents and publishers insist on it – 8-12 is a more common MG age bracket, though, to me this opening feels more like 12+ which would be considered Young Adult. Most books for kids have protagonists who are a few years older than the people reading so you’d probably have to age your narrator up a bit to fit into that category or simplify the style and language somewhat to make it MG.
You clearly now how to write but I’d recommend reading similar published titles and seeing how they deal with similar themes. Good luck.
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