Login   Sign Up 


Fiction YA -chapter 1 of a novel: The Follower.

by Steerpike`s sister 

Posted: 03 February 2006
Word Count: 2656
Summary: I hope this works! I'm not sure how to make the italics for her thoughts come through, I'm afraid.

Font Size

Printable Version
Print Double spaced

The Follower (chapter1)


It was the hand on her shoulder that woke her. It grasped her shoulder, not violently, but calmly and firmly restraining her, as if she had been about to step into someone‘s way. But when she opened her eyes she was lying in clean white sheets in a narrow bed. The first thing she saw was the edge of the metal bed frame, ridiculously enlarged by its closeness, as if she had shrunk to the size of an eye. It was painted pale green, or perhaps, she thought, blue. The paint was peeling, and there was older, dark grey paint underneath. Next to the bed was a small white table.
She lay quietly, thinking about the hand on her shoulder. No one could have held her like that. There was no one there. But the pressure of the five fingers on her skin was still so clear and precise that she sat up in bed and pulled aside the collar of her pyjama jacket, looking for the marks they had left. She expected to see five red, fading lozenges. But there were no marks. There was just brown skin, and beneath it, the shape of the bone, moving back and forth as she wriggled her shoulder under the pressure of the hand that was not there.
The pyjamas were white cotton with pink and blue stripes. They looked as if they had been washed often.
Her mouth was dust-dry. There was a glass of water, half-full, by the side of her bed. She reached out and drank, it, thinking: someone will soon come. Minutes passed and no one came. Under the bed there were white slippers. They fitted her. Next to the bed there was a chair, and on the chair was a white cotton dressing gown. That fitted her too.
She put on the slippers and the gown, and went out hesitantly into the aisle between the beds. It was a long, white, still room. The only sound was the infinite whirr of the electric clock on the wall. There were sixteen beds: all narrow, all painted pale green, or perhaps blue, all with small white tables next to them. There were cut flowers in glass vases on some of the tables. Not on hers. All the beds were empty: pale and clean and made. The hands of the clock pointed to 11.30.
She thought: this is a hospital. She was glad she had worked that out. It explained why she felt as if she had recovered. The pressure of the fingers was still firm on her shoulder. She worried at the feeling like a loose tooth or a scab. It had to have been someone tall, because they could easily place their hand on her shoulder without stretching, and it felt like the touch of someone familiar, someone used to touching her. It might, she thought, have been my mother. She felt nothing when she thought mother. I don’t remember, she thought. I don’t think I have a mother.
“Hello?” she said.
Nobody answered.
At the far end of the ward was a glass door. She began to walk towards it. Tall windows looked out onto a flat grey roof where pools of rainwater lay like mirrors. Beyond the roof was a wall: yellow brick, and another window, behind which a staircase showed like a spine behind transparent skin.
She pressed her face against the glass door. Behind it was a small office. There was a desk, a computer chair and a filing cabinet, but there was no-one inside. The wall within was lined with shelves, crammed with yellow folders. A computer, its screen dark, stood on the desk. There were papers scattered around; a woman’s pink, comfortable cardigan hung over the back of the chair.
She pushed open the door and went in. There was a half-full coffee mug on the desk, next to the computer. World’s Best Mum! it read. She touched it. It was tepid. The files all had words on their spines: two words: collections of letters she had never seen together before. Names, she thought. And realised: I don’t know my name.
She stood quite still, feeling like a cartoon character that has run off the edge of a cliff, and looks down too late, legs pummelling bare space. In the computer’s dark screen she was reflected, a small girl with eyes wide and frightened, black curly hair sticking out like a stop sign. Is that me? She looked down at her hands: thin brown fingers, each nail the colour and shape of a peeled almond or a small candle flame. She had a dark freckle on the knuckle of her right thumb. The hands seemed to fit the reflection. She lifted her hands to her hair and felt it and pulled it in front of her face. It looked like the hair she saw in the reflection. She reached up and took down a file from the shelf at random. Her reflection in the glass door was as transparent as she felt. I don’t know who I am. I’ve got no name. I don’t know where I come from. She opened the file. Inside, she recognised the letters but not the language. She closed the file again and put it back on the shelf.
She turned round and went quickly out of the office, away from the ward, out onto the landing. There was a big lift, wide enough to take trolleys and stretchers, but she already felt as if she was falling. She took the stairs.
Six flights down, she stood in an empty lobby. A revolving door opened onto the pavement. Outside, cars were parked along the kerb, pigeons scratched and ruffled in the gutter. She was glad to see the birds, they were the first living things she had seen since she had woken up.
She pushed through the doors and went out onto the street, blinking in the sudden natural light. The pigeons took fright and burst into the air in a scatter of wings. It was a long grey street of concrete buildings. The window ledges were splashed with bird droppings, and the windows were dirty. The tarmac was patched where old potholes had been filled. It was not too cold, it could have been a northern city in summer, or a southern city in winter. There was rain in the gutter but the sky was blue and fresh. She thought: this place doesn’t look like home.
Distantly she could hear the noise of busy people. Absently rubbing at her shoulder, she set off in the direction of the noise.

She found it at the other end of a back street, lined with old sleeping bags and flattened cardboard. Unseen, she watched as, in front of her, people hurried along a crowded street lined with shops. The street was packed with noise and conversation in a language she could not understand. Under a café awning, two pale, dark-haired women sat drinking coffee, gesturing with cigarettes as they chatted, their handbags wedged between their ankles under the table. One put her hand on the other’s arm and whispered something that made the other squawk with laughter and spill her coffee. A tall, blond family seriously examined the window of an electronics shop. The son, who seemed about fourteen, tapped the glass, pointing to a digital camera. Opposite were shops selling heavily embroidered clothes in strange colours. A woman dressed in a head to toe black robe walked past pushing a red buggy in which a little boy lay, watching the world. His face was three circles: two dark eyes and a dummy.
The girl made to step out into the street, hesitated, then went forward. She kept close to the edge of the street, hurrying along with her head down. No one noticed her. A man just in front of her talked into mid-air, waving his hands as if signalling to someone far away. Closer up she saw the ear piece and the microphone clipped to his jacket. On the other side of the road, a busker carefully laid down his guitar, bent and scooped up the change in his hat.
She glanced sideways at the shops. She recognised none of the signs or the words on the signs, except for one. Mariposa, read the sign above a shop selling fancy goods and greetings cards.
“Mariposa,” she said aloud. It sounded like a name.
She went on down the street, with no particular direction in mind, no goal except the feeling that she wanted to know where she was, and the hope that if she went far enough she would find a sign she could understand, that would tell her the name of the city. At times she could smell the sea, but it seemed to come from different directions according to the wind, and she could not follow it, it lost itself in corners and dead ends. She thought of trying to talk to someone, and rehearsed what she would say: I’ve been ill. I don’t know my name. I don’t know who I am. I don’t think this is my home. But every time she nervously looked at someone, thinking of approaching them, their breezy security, their certainty of who they were, where they came from and where they were going, turned her aside like a strong gale. They were foreigners.
At the end of the street there was a wide, cobbled square, surrounded by large stone buildings. One was decorated with black and gilt pillars. Seven wide steps led up to large brass doors. She watched people going in and out: a woman with three small children all holding hands, hurrying down the steps, a sedate old man in a smart suit and a fur hat mounting the steps, taking them one by one, making sure he had both shiny black shoes on each step before continuing upwards. A couple of girls of her own age, one with dyed red hair, sat close together at the top of the steps, exercise books open on their laps, glancing over now and then at each others work. But when she went closer, she saw a discreet board with some numerals on it, and saw that the people who went in paused at a small booth to open their bags and purses and hand something over. Money, she thought. Almost as she thought it, the same man she had seen earlier, talking into mid-air with his mobile phone head-set, walked past her and stopped, engrossed in something he was saying to the person on the other end of the line. He folded his arms and nodded seriously, as if he were approving of the building with black and gilt pillars.
She looked down. She could see a corner of brown leather, sticking out of his trouser pocket. A careless movement would shake it loose, it would fall onto the floor and not be noticed, kicked into the gutter or down a drain. It would be easy to lean forward and just slide it out.
I might be a thief, she thought, surprising herself. I don’t know. I could be anything.
The thought made her feel dizzy with possibility. She looked at the wallet uncertainly, put her hand out, and hesitated. In the moment of hesitation, the man said something, exclaimed in agreement or disgust, and marched off, still talking to nobody.
She was left with her hand out as if she were going to shake hands with someone who had already left. She blushed, and dropped her hand to her side, wondering if anyone had seen her.
On the other side of the square was a tall, thin building, with a square tower. Above the door was a large window, made of many pieces of coloured glass. The people going in and out did not seem to be paying anything. She crossed the square, and hurried after them into the shelter of the building.
Inside, it was vast and dimly lit and hushed almost to stillness. She felt as if she had stepped out of a hot dusty battle into a cool bath. In front of her was a large square floor tiled with various beautiful polished stones in an abstract mosaic. Men and women were standing or kneeling on the floor, facing towards her. As she watched, some who were standing knelt down, and others, who were kneeling, stood up, or prostrated themselves flat upon the floor. What she had thought was silence was really an almost inaudible susurration, many lips moving in whispering. The room was full of breath like the body of an instrument.
All around the square floor was a colonnade. The inner wall, which bordered the square floor, was pillars and space. The outer wall had many doors and alcoves, interspersed with painted murals. From the dark alcoves the voices of unseen people could be heard, adding to the murmuring that filled the building. She began to walk along in the shadow of the colonnade.
Someone exclaimed angrily at her. She jumped and turned round. An old woman, thin as a winter tree, wearing a black dress and thick white tights, pointed crossly at her feet, and waved a needle finger in her face. The girl looked down at her feet, in their white slippers, at the old woman’s bare, nubbly toes, and finally across at the door where she had come in, where rows of shoes were placed neatly like a flotilla of small ships. She slid off her white hospital slippers, and bent to pick them up. The old woman nodded, pleased, and went back to the square floor, where the girl saw her beginning to fold herself to her knees, stiff as a rusty hinge.
She took her slippers over to the other shoes and left them there. The floor was cold on her feet, and very slightly uneven. The pressure on her shoulder had finally begun to fade. Perhaps it’s something to do with my illness, she thought.
She began walking around the colonnade again, looking at the murals. Animals, men with wings, a man falling, curled like a baby, through clean blue air. Other pictures showed simply pillars, black and gold pillars, sometimes with flames upon them.
For some time she had been aware of the light that shone from the end of the building where the tower was, where she had entered, and now she turned and faced it. The long stained glass window showed a winged man or a winged horse or a pillar. It seemed to be neither or all three at once. The man or horse or pillar was dark, a very dark red, but the glass around it was fiery blue as a gas jet. If it was a man, he was smiling.
She continued all the way around the colonnade, back to where she had started. Under the window was a little archway with spiral stairs heading upwards.
Maybe, she thought, if I get to the top of the tower, I’ll be able to see where I am. She imagined - briefly - a land spread beneath her familiar as an old tablecloth: a red desert, beyond that a plain of grass, perhaps mountains in the distance, something she could point to at once and say There’s so and so… or That’s home.
She began climbing the spiral stairs. They turned her round and round and round until her knees were aching, and she was sick of the chilly stone under her bare feet. At last she came to a small door. It looked as if it had been cobbled together from scrap wood and old crates.
I hope it’s not locked, she thought. She reached out and tried it. For a moment she thought it was, and disappointment made her mouth dry. But it was just stiff. It opened outwards, into darkness.

Favourite this work Favourite This Author

Comments by other Members

Terry Edge at 16:32 on 03 February 2006  Report this post
Hi Leila,

Welcome to the group and congratulations on finding an agent – a big step towards getting your work in print.

You don't say what you want us to look for in this piece, and I don't know what stage it's at, or if your agent is going to help you with it, etc. Does it work? Well, it's very atmospheric and intriguing, especially the start – girl wakes up in a deserted hospital, not knowing who she is. But I found my attention wandering as the piece went on – just a bit too much description for me and not enough engagement in the character's emotions and what the plot might hold in store for her.

Your writing style is very evocative, almost filmic – conveys clear images and moods. However, I feel that at times you include details for no particular reason (the peeling paint on the bedstead rail, the half-full cups, etc). Also, some of your imagery and language is a little loose or contradictory. Below, I've listed a few examples from the first part of the story:

* * *

First two sentences a little clumsy – repeating 'shoulder', and a little jagged, the contrast between 'on' and 'grasped'.

'as if she had shrunk to the size of an eye' – sounds good but doesn't really mean anything.

Similarly, 'the infinite whirr of the electric clock', i.e. how can she know it's infinite?

After so much detailed description her thought, 'this is a hospital', is somewhat stating the obvious.

'Yellow brick' – yellow is a bright, primary colour: is this what you mean, or do you mean shades and tones of yellow, brown, etc?

'staircase showed like a spine behind transparent skin' – again, sounds good but what does it mean? Who would think that a window looks like transparent skin – the author, the main character, and why?

We've had a 'half-full' glass of water, now a 'half-full' coffee mug – if you repeat specific details like this, the reader will think it's significant, but is it? And how does she/the author know it's a coffee mug; isn't is just a mug? Also, she touches the mug and finds it tepid, but 'tepid' refers to liquid.

You say 'she stood quite still' but then liken it to a cartoon character whose legs are 'pummelling bare space'. Also, this is a rather intrusive piece of imagery in what has so far been a careful, quiet scene.

Why are her eyes 'frightened' in the computer screen – we know she's mystified but you haven't really given her anything to be frightened about yet.

* * *

Hope some of this helps.

All the best with your book.


Steerpike`s sister at 15:12 on 04 February 2006  Report this post
Hi, thanks for taking time to comment! In answer to your questions, I've got the whole thing finished in a first draft form, it comes to around 40K words (I do want it to remain a short novel). I doubt that my agent will give much input.
I agree there is a lot of description and detail and that we don't see much of her emotions. I was aiming to convey her feeling of dream-like detachment from the world - not knowing who/ where she is, unable to understand the language, etc. and also the way that she's looking carefully at all the details around her, trying to work out where she is and what's going on. I've probably over-shot the mark a bit!

shepline at 18:17 on 04 February 2006  Report this post
Hi Leila,

Well I'm certainly engaged in this story and I want to know what happens - what she sees at the top of the tower. That said, I have a feeling that the door should open inwards into darkness rather than outwards (but who am I to say really), also I found the detail of a boy standing at a shop window pointing at 'digital cameras' a bit dating. In a few years time, when we refer to cameras they will probably all be digital and we will have to make a point of saying if they are film cameras. I only mention this particularly because otherwise what you've got there is so wonderfully timeless - and that is, I think, a very difficult thing to pull off.

Even before I read your introductory message, I had the sense that you were describing a southern european/mediterranean city but I sense that this is a British girl. And I want to know what happened to here and how she got there. Definitely something I want to continue reading...

Thanks for letting me read it, and good luck!


shepline at 22:16 on 04 February 2006  Report this post
I forgot to mention earlier, that the deftness of touch with which you write, reminds me of a David Almond novel. Did I mention that I like David Almond novels?

Issy at 00:40 on 05 February 2006  Report this post
Once I started reading I couldn't stop - even though long past my bedtime and I was otherwise browsing.

I like very much the strangeness of this, the weird emptiness of the hospital place and the odd out of joint way that the girl is trying to assess the place where she is. I too got a mediterranean feel about the place, and the religious building and also liked very much the way the reader is an outsider with the girl looking on and trying to interpret. The reader is saying "ahh mobile phone" "or "someone in a religious order" and the way it is written means we have to work hard (in a good way) to make the conclusions.

Totally intrigued. I thought this was also well written and I enjoyed the detail. To answer your question, yes it does work, the only (slight) criticism is that it moves rather abruptly between the two parts and wasn't prepared for a busy thoroughfare - maybe a few more hints as to what is coming.

Is it this book your agent is interested in or one that is at a more advanced stage?

Look forward to more.

Steerpike`s sister at 14:14 on 06 February 2006  Report this post
Hi, thanks for the comments!

This isn't the one my agent's interested in. I'm having HUGE problems with that one. She pointed out (and she's right) that there are about a million plot holes in it(I have been wrestling with it this morning - grr!:)).

The thing I'm worried about with this particular book is that I think it may be too morbid. I'm posting the synopsis below. I'd be really interested to know what you think: is it just too miserable? It is meant to be "life-affirming", and I am just trying to get the right balance between not being sentimental and not being horribly depressing, either.
(Generally I am quite a cheerful person, I don't know what came over me...)

Synopsis: The Follower.

A girl wakes up in a hospital, with no recollection of who she is, her name, or her past. Going outside, she discovers she is in a strange city whose language she does not understand. The only word she can read is a shop sign: Mariposa, and this she adopts as a name.

Going into a large, cathedral-like building, she finds herself in a different place, a country where it is never fully light, a country of dust and shadows. She discovers that she can hear the breath and heart-beat of an elusive person who seems to be following her, yet who is never there when she turns her head to look for him.

Mariposa begins a journey across this forbidding land, driven by the urge to regain her lost memory and discover who she is. The land is infested with devils, who can work their way inside one’s body like an infection. At first she heads for the City, where, she has been told, angels make sure that everything works. But the City is a place of fear and frustration, the “angels” are threatening creatures, half-human, half-bird. Throughout her journey, the breath and heart-beat follow her, and she finds strength in their companionship, imagining that she has a ghostly follower through whom she can be brave and strong.

All the people she meets are engaged in hopeless tasks; a girl tries to clean a house which remains dirty despite all her efforts, an old man tries to write poetry but comes out with nonsense, a woman looks for her most precious possession without being able to remember what it is. Some of these people help her, some hinder her. With two of them, a man and a woman, she feels strangely at home, as if she knew them once, long ago. She is enslaved by wild dogs and infected by a devil. She learns that people periodically disappear from this land: where they go, no-one knows, but they fear they simply turn into nothing and blow away like dust.

Fleeting memories of her home come back to her as she travels, and spur her on to reach, first the City, then the distant Castle by the Sea, where they say there is a man who has all the answers. But as she nears her goal, she begins to remember a frightening and terrible accident which took place back in her home. When she finally meets the elusive Follower, he tells her what this shadowy land is. It is the land before death, an ante-room to the world of the dead, a kind of purgatory where everyone must go after they die. When people disappear, they are in fact moving on to the world of the dead - a mysterious but beautiful place: everyone’s home. She has come here because something so terrible happened to her that it made her want to give up living. She is faced with a choice: to stay here or to go back and face a life she is no longer sure she wants to return to. She chooses to return to life.
When she gets back to the city, she slowly regains her memory. She was involved in a shipwreck, in which her parents both died: they were economic migrants, coming to England as stowaways. Only she survived, and she had been in a coma until the moment she woke up in the hospital in England. Her parents were among he people she met - and recognised only on a subconscious level - in the land she has returned from. Her experience in the land before death has made her able to deal with her terrible loss, because she now knows that although there is darkness and grief in the world, beyond it is the promise of home.

shepline at 18:00 on 06 February 2006  Report this post
I didn't say it before, because I didn't want pre-judge things, but I did wonder if this was a fantasy story - definitely had that feel to it. And it definitely has a David Almond touch to it, and also, I think, a touch of William Nicholson's "The Wind Singer" trilogy.

I definitely want to read more of this! :)

Steerpike`s sister at 14:02 on 07 February 2006  Report this post
Thank you Thomas - those are good people to be compared to! :)
Just like to mention Terry that I've tided up a few of the lines acc. to your good advice, especially the first line and the "half-full" repetition. I'm wondering about making the whole chapter a little shorter, to try & get round the attention-loss problem...

Issy at 00:35 on 08 February 2006  Report this post
Thanks for putting in the synopsis. Wonderful and not at all morbid. Highly imaginative and delves into the subconscious. I am sure there plot holes throughout, but I really do think it is worth working on them to sort them out, and I am certain it will all fall into place.

I love that part that explains the loss of memory - something coming from the place between life and death where memory fades. Love the half forgotten things - the woman who has lost something, the girl who keeps scrubbing. They are almost like ghosts who have gone back and repeat certain actions, but written from a very different perspective. Am sure if you can work all that out will work the rest out.

Am certain that because the plot details are so hard they will be amazingly original. This is a story that goes far beneath the surface of things and would totally agree that its life affirming. Am now doubly bowled over!

Steerpike`s sister at 15:29 on 09 February 2006  Report this post
gosh, thanks, Issy, I'm flattered! :) What a good point that they're like ghosts. I will have a think about that. I'm glad it doesn't sound morbid, too. Did you ever read "Marieanne Dreams" by Catherine Storr? I was aiming for something a little like that in the way that it's an inner journey - I love that book!

steve_laycock at 22:49 on 01 March 2006  Report this post
Hey there,

I really like it, and well done for getting an agent - you guys are all so clever! It's really nice, as someone who's just starting to send stuff for publication, to be in contact with oher people who are breaking through. Well done!

I really like the style, there's a kind of lovely eerie silence about it best summed up by yourself as:

an almost inaudible susurration, many lips moving in whispering. The [piece is] full of breath like the body of an instrument.

and i loved the old lady who looked

thin as a winter tree

I wondered, it might be too much, but in light of the surreal quality of the piece, could the metaphore be extended to her hands and feet? and maybe her sitting down, creaking - though i did like the rusty hinge image.

I thought, at the time, like Thomas said, about whether the camera's and phones broke the timeless quality about the piece. Then i wondered whether these days, for so many YA readers who've grown up not knowing anything different, if they are timeless now? I also grew to quite like the marriage of eerieness, spirituality and technology, there's something very surreal about it.

The synopsis sounds great - the only worry i had was that the City, the Angels and the half bird creatures were a little Pullman. But i think your story and style are sufficiently different for it not to be apparent in the telling.

I also don't think it's depressing at all. Darkness is so underrated, and, through the narrative you get to go dark and then pull it back again - there won't be a dry eye in the house!

Thanks though.
look forward to seeing more

Anj at 19:26 on 18 April 2006  Report this post

This is wonderfully written, so self-assured, so distinctive and so intriguing.

I love the thoughts of the opening paragraph which put us right inside her head, and the sense of the girl's dislocation, which made want to understand her surroundings as much as she did.

Tall windows looked out onto a flat grey roof where pools of rainwater lay like mirrors. Beyond the roof was a wall: yellow brick, and another window, behind which a staircase showed like a spine behind transparent skin.

The geography of this confused me - where were the tall windows?

I did feel there was too much description - although the descriptions of the passersby were very vivid and stood out in strong relief, emphasising all the more her own bewilderment - and it's hard to read so much uninterrupted narrative, but I can see that you can't break it with dialogue. Perhaps you could tighten some of the earlier text so that we get to the door quicker?

That said, I loved this and couldn't not read on if I tried. Look forward to the next chapter.


Steerpike`s sister at 19:30 on 18 April 2006  Report this post
Hi Andrea, thanks for reading and thanks for the comments. I am getting the general feedback that this chapter moves too slowly, bit too much description so I'll work on that in re-drafting -the first chapter has to really grab. Maybe just shorten the whole thing a bit, or take out some of the description of the church...

Colin-M at 07:32 on 03 June 2006  Report this post
Hi Leila,

I haven't read through any of the comments, so forgive me if I repeat anything.

First impressions: creepy, dreamy, nightmarish and full of atmosphere. Your descriptions are detailed, but not overdone; they have a staggered, edited feel - a bit like notes, and I think that suits very well. The beginning reminds me of the opening to the film, "28 Days Later", but in giving an opening like that, as a reader, I'm almost bursting with questions.

What I seem to get is that she's woken in a deserted hospital - so there's a bag of questions - and then the streets are packed and although foreign (feels French) there is a sense of normality about it.

This all works for me up to the point where she walks into the church. By that time I've had enough of description and mood and I'm really clamming for some kind of interaction. We desperately need dialogue. I always think Philip Pullman cheated a little with Pantelaemon and the other daemons, because it allows conversation even when Lyra is alone, and I think that's what we need here. Rather than the reader asking questions and wondering if the questions are justified, if you could have the main character quizzing herself at what is going on, that dialogue might break up the description.

Well written, fascinating and mysterious, and I want to read on, but lacking in... something!


Steerpike`s sister at 07:40 on 03 June 2006  Report this post
Hi Colin & thanks for commenting! This has been through a few drafts since putting it up and has become shorter, (the church has gone) so there's less of a delay before getting to some action/ dialogue.

To post comments you need to become a member. If you are already a member, please log in .