16th January 2019 at 3:36 pm #79744
I would appreciate a bit of feedback on my novel, which has been submitted and rejected numerous times, rehashed and redrafted and still no further on with it… Wondering if the opening is just too dull and if I should bring forward my third chapter where Juliet meets the interesting learner driver who throws her life into disarray. But this would mean a lot of rethinking and scrapping. Anyway, see what you think…
When did comfortable become dull? Juliet Marriott imagined a parallel world in which a tall, handsome, muscular young man would whisk her off her lazy Sunday evening feet. Instead, the reality was getting to grips with her appointments for the coming week as she watched her partner Martin painstakingly dab glue onto his model battleship.
As she put down her diary and rose tall from the table, he winked at her from his stool. It was a companionable, trusty, collaborative wink rather than a sexy, flirty, come-to-bed wink.
‘I’ll be up in a minute,’ he said, and he was – just as soon as he had finished fixing the mast together on his latest model.
Juliet felt rather like a sack of potatoes as Martin thrusted. Had he noticed? Did he care? She felt guilty for feeling this way – she wished she could recapture that first-flush-of-love passion again, but it remained elusive. She suspected she was not the first to feel like this, and would not be the last. She was not in the mood for sex. She rarely was these days; it had become too habitual, too samey. After thirteen long years together – five of them actively trying for a baby – and a lot of stress and disappointment, sex had become a necessity rather than a pleasure. It was a means to an end. But to what end?
The sight of Martin’s manky old pants lying in a miserable heap on top of the washing basket didn’t help. Juliet averted her eyes from them, but instead found herself staring up at the recurrent damp patch on the ceiling. We must paint over that, she thought vaguely as she lay beneath Martin. Or even better, get it fixed properly; they’d been masking the blackened paintwork with white emulsion for years.
She was quite relieved when Martin reached his climax quickly, without waiting for her to come first. Well, truth be told, he would have been in for a long wait tonight, and for once she was thankful he wasn’t being more attentive. He swiftly rolled off her, looking satisfied and uttering a common line, ‘You never know, Ju, that could be the one.’ At least the agonising truth of it all didn’t seem to have dampened his libido yet anyway.
‘Mmm,’ she murmured in response, remaining unconvinced but not wanting to spoil his post-coital boost with negativity. Closing her eyes momentarily as she remained motionless on the pillow whilst Martin got up, she sighed to herself. Her becoming a mother seemed less and less likely as each day passed, until her heart was barely in it anymore. At least, she had started trying to convince herself it didn’t really matter, but of course that wasn’t true; the longing would never go away. She wasn’t one for screaming and shouting – what good would that do? – but in her heart she was far from calm.
It wasn’t that she wasn’t grateful for what she had; she was. It was just that she had an inexplicable ball of frustration inside her where something more important should be. She wasn’t greedy, far from it, but there was one thing missing that would take away from dull and comfortable. The tall, handsome, muscly young man wasn’t important either, that was just her imagination, wanting to liven things up while she waited for the missing thing to fill that gap to be filled.
Still, there was always a slither of hope… they may at least have answers soon, if nothing else.
Martin disappeared to have a shower, humming to himself. Juliet pulled on her well-worn pyjamas and cosy dressing gown and went back downstairs to turn the television on. There had been a new drama she’d wanted to catch, and thanks to Martin’s speedy performance she hadn’t even missed the starting credits. She swallowed the dregs she’d inadvertently left in her glass of wine at teatime, eking out the last bit of weekend pleasure.
With one eye still on the telly, Juliet endeavoured to push conception-related thoughts to one side and focus on work as she picked her diary back up. Another week, another batch of learners. She surveyed the week’s entries, as she did every Sunday evening. She looked with interest at the names on the page. She’d be totally lost without her trusty diary. In fact she had been known to dream about losing her diary and wake up in a cold sweat as though she had experienced the most dreadful of nightmares. The diary was essential, as every week was different for Juliet and her loyal Ford Fiesta which made up J.A.M School of Motoring.
‘Busy week ahead?’ Martin asked, appearing in the doorway, rubbing his thinning hair with a faded green bath towel. Another thing we need to replace, Juliet reflected. Everything’s going to rack and ruin, including us.
‘Yes,’ she responded. ‘It is still new year’s resolution season, after all.’
‘When everyone resolves to make positive changes to their lives – such as learning to drive once and for all?’
‘Exactly.’ The first couple of weeks of January had been quiet, but now everyone was starting to crank up their motivation again after their Christmas wind-down. ‘I’m glad of it though, now dear old Mrs Clayton is off the books.’
Martin chuckled. ‘Ah, the infamous Mrs C – how many tests was it she took?’
‘Seven – and goodness knows how many lessons! She provided a good income, I’ll give her that.’
‘Bless the poor motorists who will be forced to share the road with her more like!’ After that near miss with a white van on the way to the test centre, Juliet had serious misgivings about Mrs Clayton’s roads sense – but it had not been her decision to make! She couldn’t help but wonder if the examiner had been full of Christmas cheer and not thinking straight.
‘Talking of new years,’ Martin said, ‘Could this be the year we’ve been waiting for?’
‘Hmm?’ she looked up from her diary, wondering about the four new clients she would be meeting in the coming days. One name in particular was intriguing her.
‘Oh, you mean the tests? Well, barely two weeks to wait…’ It was an ongoing worry never far from Juliet’s mind. She could distract herself, but the excuse of it being Christmas was null and void now and it was time to face it. Time was not on her side, although the fact she had already turned forty may not be the only problem – it seemed she was in as good working order as could be expected for her age, but was Martin?
Flinging his wet towel over the back of a chair, Martin reached out to squeeze her hand. She looked at the chunky fingers circling her own, the distinctive scar near one of his knuckles from an accident he’d had as a teenager. She reckoned she would recognise his hand easier than her own, if tested.
‘I’ll go and put the kettle on,’ he said, drawing his hand away from hers.
In the advert break, Juliet tutted as she retrieved Martin’s wet towel from the chair he’d slung it over. She then went to the kitchen to see what had happened to her cup of tea, which still hadn’t materialised. Martin had picked up his model ship again; his tongue was practically hanging out of his mouth in concentration as he angled the nozzle of the glue tube to the required position. Cripes, was there anything less sexy than model making?
17th January 2019 at 10:32 am #79812
Hi Anna, thanks for posting this and asking our thoughts. As you’ve posed the question directly, I have to agree this is rather dull. Obviously I’ve only read this first chapter but your idea to start with chapter 3 and the interesting driver – what sounds like the novel’s inciting incident – does seem a good one. The background information you have in the current chapter 1 could be slipped in as back story here and there in the new chapter 1. I think the problem with the current opening is that it is pretty much only background on Juliet’s life rather than actual story and that’s what makes it dull. I sense you battling with the prose; there’s rather a lot of telling when more could be shown, and there are some clichés such as the ceiling stain. I wonder if that’s a result of you knowing this background isn’t especially important for the reader to know right at the start and you’re trying to get through it fairly quickly but you’re not sure how to address the problem. It comes across as writing that needs loosening up but is too stuck.
I hope this helps. I wouldn’t have thought you need to scrap what you have, just add it in in small amounts when the story needs some of Juliet’s back story to explain her actions and feelings. I think you’ve got a good set up here. It just needs narrative oomph.
17th January 2019 at 2:29 pm #79859
Hi Anna – there are some funny observations in here. I love the manky old underpants, and getting the angle on the glue just right, but overall, I have to agree with Libby. It is mostly just a woman telling us her backstory, and that lacks pizazz.
There’s quite a lot of mundane things going on. Watching the TV, checking her diary, talking about an old customer. From what you’ve said, there’s going to be someone on her customer list who will throw her ordinary life out the window, but in this extract all you’ve got is an interesting name in her diary. Not exactly tense stuff. If she’d already met him and couldn’t stop thinking about him, that would add some tension. You do finish on a funny line, but there’s no particular instability or tension to make me want to turn to the next page.
I’d suggest having your character in action, and feeding in the bits of information about her around that. Perhaps she could be helping Martin get his semen sample, while trying not to think about the sexy voice that had made an appointment with her. Put your character in the driver’s seat so to speak. Maybe literally in this case. Chapter 3 might be the place to start. Though I hope you can rescue those amusing observations.
Hope some of that helps and good luck with the editing.
17th January 2019 at 5:34 pm #79870
I like the voice and it is amusing. It feels as if you are trying a little too hard at times, but that might be because of the slight over-reliance on cliche – the grotty old clothing, the staring at the ceiling, the actual situation, even, of being not in the first flush of youth and trying for a baby. There’s nothing wrong with it, but it doesn’t feel fresh so having it all in the first chapter is a mistake, I think. I feel rather sorry to be saying that, because although I am not huge reader of chicklit I have read a few books recently published (traditional route, agent and everything) and honestly their starts are not a great deal more involving than this one.
You might possibly be able to milk more out of the sex scene if you really ramp up the comedy. Maybe have her with her eyes closed re-living a particularly hair-raising lesson with Mrs Clayton, culminating in her screaming as Mrs Clayton crashes into a hedge (which of course Martin interprets as enthusiasm for his performance). Or something. Just a thought.
It really does sound as if the way forward may be to start with the learner driver. At least, maybe give that a go and see what it looks like.
Don’t give up because I think you have the bones of something good here.
18th January 2019 at 9:51 am #79927
Thanks for taking the time to read this and comment – all much appreciated and I will definitely have a bash at bringing chapter three forward and feeding the background info in more gradually. I instinctively try to set the scene with new pieces of writing and build up to the action, but I realise I do need to get straight in with the action or people are never going to be interested enough to read on!
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