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Down Among the Dead People

by Nancy 

Posted: 06 April 2003
Word Count: 4609

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Fran’s flat in Auckland had been created on the third and top floor of an old colonial house; square, solid, built of weatherboards with a corrugated iron roof and decorative verandas. The flat was spacious, open and airy with dark stained floorboards and high sweeping ceilings. A front door had been inserted at the top of what once had been a grand staircase but was now a little shabby and somewhat worse for wear. As far as Nell Pargeter was aware the only access to all three floors of the house, each one now a self-contained flat, was via this staircase.

The front door to Fran’s flat was a solid piece of modern carpentry, its modernity somewhat incongruous amidst the elegant colonial architecture. It opened onto a short but wide hallway. On either side of this hallway were two doors; one opened into Fran’s bedroom while the other, almost directly opposite, was the door to Francesca’s room. This hallway then opened out into a large, open sitting room onto which a small modern bathroom and kitchen had been attached.

Along the right wall of the sitting room was another door, which opened onto a third bedroom. Except it couldn’t really even be called a room let alone a bedroom. It was nothing more than an enclosed veranda, which despite the addition of windows was, nevertheless, still a veranda just pretending to be a bedroom. It was an uncomfortable, dusty room full of junk and orphaned belongings that had nowhere else to go, with walls and a floor made of rough wooden weather boards, full of splinters that dug themselves into Nell’s unsuspecting feet or snagged at her clothes. Walls and floors of claws.

This was the room that Francesca had given her to sleep in. Nell wasn’t used to this, this rough kind of living. Her terraced house in Cambridge may have been small, but it was hers and it was neat and tidy and full of familiarity, and just the way she wanted it. It was important to Nell, this order she had created in her daily life. Sometimes, Nell was discovering, things aren’t always greener on the other side of the fence although it was almost always tempting to believe so; to hope so.

She thought: I want to be there now, in my little house, putting up Christmas decorations and complaining about the cold with my friends, with Kate. I want to be thinking about and moaning about buying Christmas presents and the things I must buy to prepare a Christmas dinner, even though I don’t need to because, of course, I am always invited somewhere else for Christmas. You don’t always appreciate what you’ve got till it’s gone. An old cliché but now she could see how it fitted in.

Nell stood in the hallway listening to the silence. It was dark and cool just there, offering a respite from the intense heat of the sun, which she knew would be hovering relentlessly outside.

The door to Francesca’s room was closed but that was neither here nor there. Francesca had said she was going to work but that too was neither here nor there. Nell had heard her go but sometimes, Nell acknowledged with quiet resignation, Francesca was apt to come back at unexpected times or perhaps she never really went at all, only pretended to. It was hard to tell one way or the other because Francesca could be so quiet and move so silently.

Why do I have the impression that she is still here, in the flat, behind the door, silent but there? Waiting and listening, Nell thought.

Now I am developing one of those irrational and hysterical imaginations. I am too old to develop that sort of imagination, Nell told herself firmly. I am an academic, I deal in facts, I deal in evidence; I do not deal with irrational feelings! The ‘with’ was, of course, a give away. Are all feelings irrational or just those she couldn’t cope with?

...there are some odd things going on here - maybe dangerous things.

Nell sighed. She knew already that it was one of those days that scrape along your nerves, when even the objects around you seemed harder, edged with something sharp, larger with a life of their own. A hell of a day, a day with sharp, dangerous claws.

Making a decision, Nell turned and moved swiftly along the short hall, into the main room, the centre room, the heart of the flat and in which she caught the faintly acrid scent of a cigarette not long lit. Damn, damn! Did that mean Francesca was around? Had she been in here while Nell was searching Fran’s room?

Well so what, Nell thought feeling a defiance and then was angry with herself for the defiance because it meant that she cared.

If you chose not to give me answers to what, in my mind, are reasonable questions then you, Francesca, must accept that I will search for the answers myself.

Nevertheless, despite this defiance in her thoughts, Nell decided it would be a good idea to retreat to her room for a while. It wasn’t cowardice, she told herself, merely diplomacy. It wouldn’t be so bad if only she were able to guess what sort of mood Francesca was in but predicting Francesca’s moods was impossible. Capricious was a word that could have been invented entirely to describe her. Well that was one way of putting it. Less kind people might think ‘flaky’ and Nell, in her less kind moments, did think that, and sometimes worse things.

The heat hit her the minute she stepped through the door that led into that wretched veranda room. Nell couldn’t think of it as hers; it was only a place to sleep until something happened; a transitory stop. The room was already a hot house with its walls of glass. A burning orb of orange stared relentlessly down from the intense blue sky at her. There was no protection from the intensity of this antipodean summer sun. Drawn towards it, Nell went to the window and stood for a minute looking down.

This house of Fran’s was, Nell saw, a strong-minded kind of house, looming out as it did over the dark, dense Gully below, watching and standing guard. The view was both enthralling and repellent. Grafton Gully shimmered beneath the summer heat waves: a bush clad secret world; a scar in the landscape that snaked around the city centre, and severed through the middle by a six lane motorway whose ugliness was emphasised by the lush verdant growth that rampaged along its edges.

Looking down into the Gully beneath the house, Nell caught glimpses, between the thick dense foliage, of old head stones.

This part of the Gully, just along from Grafton Bridge had once been a cemetery before the motorway had been put in, when many of the graves had been disinterred; bodies, by then nothing but bones and dust, exhumed and put somewhere else. But alongside the tarmac and concrete bollards of the motorway, some of the graves remained and amongst these silent chronicles to the dead was home, Nell had heard, to many of the city’s homeless: a silent community of the dispossessed.

It wasn’t safe for those who did not belong to wander down there although no one could really tell her why. There was an occasional murder or mugging but this, more often than not, turned out to be one of the Gully’s own who had been killed by someone who wasn’t. Indeed, Nell had seen that morning in the paper a report of an unidentified body found amongst the trees. So it was really those who wandered in, those who didn’t belong who were the dangerous ones. Yet, the reputation of danger for strangers existed down there in amongst the trees and graves and this kept many away. Perhaps, Nell thought, this reputation was engineered and embellished by the silent inhabitants of the Gully, who had no wish for strangers to wander amongst them.

The back of the house had been built right out over the edge of the steep gully: A testimony to the engineering excellence and imagination of long dead pioneer settlers. Now a broken, rusty wire fence was the only thing that said, ‘this part of belongs to the house and this part belongs to the Gully’. Something red, possibly a towel, a brave escapee from some inner city clothesline, flapped in the breeze as if to say, ‘danger, danger. Keep out’. Nell shuddered a little as this thought entered her mind; a little cold thought that momentarily chilled her.

But the feeling was gone almost as soon as she felt it. The room was like a furnace. Sweat was beginning to pour off her. How she disliked sweating. Nell always felt there was something profoundly disturbing about the process, as if her body was weeping uncontrollably. Dare she open a window? Most of them were painted shut but as she moved along pushing and prodding each one, hissing as she felt sharp splinters of wood from the bare boards prod the soles of her feet, Nell finally found a window that opened. It was a little stiff, the wood swollen and cracked. Nell gave it a push, much harder than she meant to but she was angry with the heat, and she was angry with Fran and there was now a part of her that was getting angry with Francesca so with the extra force she used, the whole window swung out. It opened from floor to ceiling. She hadn’t expected that and suddenly there she was, suspended out over nothing.

All her breath left her. I am going to die, her fearful self thought, a small bubble of hysteria catching in her throat, while her practical self grabbed hold of the window and wrenched it back, closing it with a decisive not to say forceful click.

Nell crouched down on the floor, a safe distance from the window. Thankfully, I have this practical side to myself. I could have died just then, there was nothing to stop me falling straight out and down there to be broken and battered on those nasty knifelike looking branches. Dead amongst the trees and graves. Her breath was coming in sharp painful bursts.

And then suddenly the telephone rang. A shrill, piercing sound penetrating the silence of the flat. Nell gave a sharp little scream and quickly swallowed it. She didn’t move though, just listened intently. The phone stopped ringing when the answerphone picked it up. Nell waited until she heard the click signifying the caller had hung up without leaving a message.

No, you won’t leave a message, whoever you are, for how can you leave a message of breaths? Nell closed her eyes. I am thoroughly unnerved by this place, she thought.

Then she gave a start as the telephone began to ring again, loudly and insistently. The caller wanted to be heard; wanted someone to pick up the receiver and listen to them. Perhaps they just might want speak this time. On other occasions, too many other occasions, Nell had been eerily disturbed by the quiet but clearly discernable breathing that greeted her each time she lifted the receiver. And while the breathing may have been quiet, it was, nevertheless full of unpleasantness.

You have to be not right in yourself somehow to enjoy breathing down a phone and listening to someone repeatedly saying ‘hello, hello’ and getting more and more agitated when you don’t answer. Whoever it was, wasn’t a nice person, Nell knew this; she sensed the malice behind the breathing. No, not a nice person at all.

Pushing herself up off the floor, Nell walked back into the flat and picked up the receiver.

‘Hello,’ she said cautiously into the silence that greeted her.

‘Bitch!’ the single word, hissed down the line. Nell gasped. She wasn’t expecting any words. There had never been words before just that rhythmic breathing tinged with malice. Now Nell could swear that she could feel venom pouring out of the receiver into her ear and she jerked the phone away so real was the sensation.

‘Hello, hello! Who is this?’ Her voice was full of strength and indignation. This is better though, she thought, words for all their nastiness are something you can react to. They say something, you respond, they respond. To rage against wordlessness and almost soundless breathing was somehow disempowering.

‘Fran, Fran... bitch, bitch,’ the dismembered voice hissed. Male or female? It was hard to tell. Could have been either. Nell tried to listen. Somehow sexless and accentless too. She might or might not know them.

‘Fran! Fran is that you?’ Nell was cautious now. ‘Fran? Who is this? Fran? Please speak to me whoever you are? Hello!’ Fran is that you? Are you in trouble? Please, please…’

‘What the hell do you think you’re doing?' Francesca had suddenly appeared. Nell hadn’t heard her coming. This silence of hers was so clever and creepy. She wrenched the receiver out of Nell’s hand, scratching the side of Nell’s face slightly with her fingernails, which were long and sharp like claws. Dangerous on the wrong hands. Were they wrong on Francesca’s hands? Possibly, Nell thought, but they looked very much a part of Francesca. They seemed to sum her up: sharp and dangerous. Now I am being ridiculous, she thought, watching as Francesca stabbed at the off button on the phone’s keypad and thus severing the connection with whomever it was; who might or might not have been Fran.

‘Why did you do that?’ Nell asked with remarkable composure. Remarkable under the circumstances because what she would like to do would be to slap Francesca very hard across the face. Her fingers itched to do it. Nell squared up to Francesca. You had to do that to her, Nell had found because otherwise she would bully you.

I do not like you and I don’t like the way you did that, thought Nell hoping the thought showed on her face. ‘I think that maybe that was Fran,’ she said in measured tones.

For a moment Francesca was silent, then she gave a snort, a little huff of breath before she began to laugh; opening her mouth she threw back her head and made her laugh a rather dramatic one and one that rang a little untrue.

What sharp little teeth you have, Nell observed.

‘Don’t be ridiculous,’ Francesca sneered, throwing the phone on the chair. The movement was strangely elegant but showed strength. Nell observed the well toned muscles in Francesca’s arms.

‘Why is it ridiculous for Fran to ring here? Why did you say that?’ You know more than you have been saying, Nell thought, and you’ve just given yourself away. ‘Where is she? Where has Fran gone?’

Francesca regarded her in silence and then smiled. ‘I don’t know,’ she finally spoke giving a shrug, ‘but Fran goes here and there when the mood suits her. Sometimes she likes secrets and other times she likes to be a secret. Who knows perhaps she has gone with Mak.’

‘Mak?’ Nell frowned and was silent for a moment while she thought this over carefully. It was important to weigh her words up cautiously before she spoke; you had to be careful with Francesca. ‘You made that sound like it is a possibility. But how can it be? Fran left Wellington to get away from him.’

Francesca gave Nell a careful and assessing kind of look that was frankly unnerving ‘You seem to know an awful lot for someone who lived on the other side of the world. Maybe she’s gone with Mak and then again maybe not. But he was here; in the flat; around the time she went away.’ Francesca dropped this casually but the way she watched Nell with her assessing eyes, suggested the comment was her stone that she’d just dropped in a deep pool of water and was now watching to see how far the ripples went.

‘Here! What here in the flat or here in Auckland!’ Nell demanded but she had been too fast again, her voice too sharp. Damn, damn! Now Francesca will just turn this into a game.

Francesca hesitated, narrowed her eyes and waited a minute before she spoke. She knew the power of silence and of waiting. ‘Perhaps I was mistaken, perhaps it wasn’t him at all perhaps it was someone else who looked like Mak; looked like him but wasn’t him. A doppelganger maybe? Isn’t that what they’re called? I have seen someone like that around here and there.’

‘Now you’re being ridiculous,’ said Nell in a sharp voice.

‘Am I?’ Francesca sounded annoyed but there was a look in her eyes that suggested she wasn’t entirely displeased by Nell’s response; that the ripples had spread a quite satisfactory distance.

‘But if you saw him…? You know Mak. You said you did, so you know what he looks like. You would know if it wasn’t him. You would have seen him in Wellington. You lived with Fran in Wellington, you told me so.’ Nell persisted.

Now I sound like a child, you said, you said, Nell thought to herself.

Francesca watched her in a careful kind of way, with her head tilted slightly on one side so that she gave the impression of both listening intently but also of listening to something from a long way off. Then she smiled, a slow and slightly smug smile, and lowered her eyelids for a moment so that her cold blue eyes looked quite hooded and secretive. Nell swallowed her rage. Francesca turned away and walked into the kitchen. Nell followed her using the few minutes of silence to calm herself.

‘So why do you think that it wasn’t Fran on the phone?’ Nell repeated leaning against the door as if to say, I am standing guard, you cannot leave without pushing me aside which you may well do and, of course, I won’t be able to stop you but at the moment this makes me feel in control, something that just lately I’ve felt very much out of.
Francesca didn’t reply immediately. She had walked to the window, which, as it was on the same side as Nell’s veranda room and had much the same view. She stood tapping her long red fingernails on the table and watching Nell out of the corner of her eye.

‘You know, I can’t believe how rude you are,’ she said with a very good sneer. ‘I don’t know you from Adam; you turn up here out of the blue, claiming, yes claiming to be a friend of Fran’s and that you had arranged with her to come here and yet Fran has gone away, probably for quite a long time, she didn’t say either way, and she made no mention of you to me. I have only your word that she expected you. You could be anyone. Some con person. Anyone. So I think I’ve been remarkably kind to let you stay for as long as you have. No, let me finish,’ she held up her hand as if to pre-empt any comment Nell might have been about to make, except that Nell was too astonished to either say or do anything except to stand there staring at Francesca.

‘I know you snoop around,’ Francesca added a little slyly still watching Nell out of the corner of her eye. Nell went very still. She could feel the colour come into her face. ‘I heard you in Fran’s room. You have no right.’ Francesca turned away and stared out of the window, ‘I’m going to have to think very, very seriously about whether I will continue to let you stay here any longer. Even if you did know Fran, I doubt she would be happy to know you’ve been rummaging around in her possessions. I hope you haven’t helped yourself to anything.’ she added nastily giving Nell a quick glance, ‘because if you have, then I would appreciate it if you re...’ and then suddenly she just simply stopped speaking.

But Nell was so taken aback by Francesca’s speech, by the unfairness of it, by the absurdity of it, that it didn’t register for a minute or two that Francesca had gone silent; that her face had gone quite blank. Nell had never really seen anyone do that before. It was quite disconcerting seeing that incredible, frozen stillness.

‘What is it?’ Nell asked carefully, walking over to stand beside Francesca. This is significant, she thought, something significant is happening. But what? Nell followed the direction of Francesca’s eyes but could see nothing beyond the view down into the Gully, a view that she’d already seen that morning; that she’d almost fallen into that morning! The red towel still flapping its message to the breeze. There was nothing certainly that explained this sudden, disconcerting stillness of Francesca’s.

‘What is it?’ Nell repeated and suddenly for a second she felt a momentary fear, a tightening in her chest. ‘What do you see?’ Nell forced her voice to remain calm and to ignore the fear.

‘See?’ Francesca turned abruptly and it was as if she’d suddenly woken up, as if she’d given herself a little mental shake. ‘See?’ she sounded amused but there was something strange about her eyes, as if all the blue colour had been sucked out of them. ‘I don’t see anything except what I always see. I was... just lost in thought. I do that sometimes,’ she added sharply with a very good sneer, ‘think! I mean I might not be a clever academic like you with more letters after my name than in it and I know you just assume that I can’t think, that I’m too stupid to think, but I am quite capable of stringing a thought or two together.’

Nell stepped back. I should be used to this by now, she reflected, this is the developing pattern of our relationship, if what exists between the two of us can be called a relationship. She taunts me, then berates me and then accuses me of insulting her or putting her down.
Then it occurred to Nell that Francesca may have spoken like that to deflect her attention away from Fran. A very effective way of changing the subject, Nell thought, but I’m not going to allow you to manipulate me that easily.

‘So why don’t you think that was Fran on the phone?’ she persisted, folding her arms across her chest, an unconscious movement of protection.

Francesca stopped what she was doing and hesitated. Then she gave a soft snort of exasperated laughter and rolled her eyes. ‘You don’t give up do you. Silly Nell.’ She said it so affectionately that Nell blinked. ‘It’s simple,’ Francesca shrugged, picking up the kettle and filling it with an abrupt hiss of water, ‘Because Fran is never up at this time of the morning so whoever it was, it couldn’t possibly have been her.’ Her tone implied that Nell must be very stupid not to know this.

Nell took several seconds to find her voice. ‘That is a ridiculous thing to say! What sort of answer is that?’

Francesca regarded her for a moment and Nell noticed for the first time that Francesca’s blue eyes were slightly bloodshot and her lids were a little puffy. Has she been crying, Nell wondered?

Francesca shrugged and rolled her eyes, ‘It is a perfectly reasonable answer.’ she said. Her affectionate tone replaced by one that had just the right amount of boredom. It was thoroughly disconcerting this way she had of changing from one sort of person to another sort within seconds, with no warning.

Nell wanted to say something. She wanted to protest that it was anything but a reasonable answer but she backed off. She’d had more conversations like this with Francesca over the last days than she cared to remember. How can you have a reasonable discussion with an unreasonable person who thinks they are being reasonable? Nell closed her eyes and took a deep calming breath.

Francesca switched the kettle on and then looked around for clean cup. She finally found a mug in the dishwasher. Taking it out she carefully inspected it to make sure it was clean, sniffing it to make sure. She grimaced and rinsed it under the hot tap.

‘Honestly,’ she muttered, giving it a quick, vicious dry, ‘you could occasionally empty the dishwasher since you seem to have managed to make yourself quite at home in my home.’

In my home!

Nell ignored her. Not only was it an unreasonable accusation, it was also untrue. Nell waited in silence, although it was difficult to keep her tongue still. Most people couldn’t stand a silence, especially one as uncomfortable as this. Nell had found that sometimes it worked with Francesca but then sometimes it didn’t; it was a game Francesca was also very good at. Francesca filled the mug with boiling water and dropped a tea bag into it.

‘So,’ Francesca finally spoke, stabbing at the tea bag with a spoon and squishing it on the side of the mug. Nell felt a flicker of triumph. She couldn’t help it but somehow every interaction she’d had with Francesca had an element of challenge in it: a sense of confrontation. She watched Francesca carefully but her face was a clever face and she was good at giving little away, except, Nell suspected, exactly what she wanted to. A smooth blank face, a beautiful face but beautiful like a painting, not real. A mask of white ice. Her mouth sometimes said things that her face denied while her eyes lied.

‘What makes you think it was Fran anyway?’ Francesca didn’t look at Nell but focused her attention on stirring her teabag around and around, watching the water turn gradually darker.

Nell felt her nostrils flare, metaphorically of course. Ah so you are curious and more importantly, you are not entirely convinced yourself that it wasn’t Fran. Perhaps it is just that you just simply don’t want this anonymous caller to be her. Curious. If that is the case then there are definitely things that are being kept from me. And don’t think I won’t find out. I am an historian after all, it is my job to ferret out those forgotten and seeming inconsequential things that others have overlooked, or simply just not seen.

‘I don’t know. Just a feeling,’ Nell said before turning away. She knew how to keep secrets too. She headed toward the bathroom with Francesca’s eyes boring holes in her back. You won’t like that, Nell thought, I answered your question just like you answer mine, with no answer at all just a statement about nothing.

‘Oh by the way, Nell,’ Francesca called to her retreating back. She made it sound like Nill in her strange New Zealand accent, ‘in the future, don’t answer the phone. It isn’t your place and besides that’s what the answerphone is for.’

Ah, thought Nell, closing the bathroom door behind her and bolting it. That is my punishment for trying to play you at your own game. You remind me that I am only here because you allow me to be. But you are wrong, I am here because Fran asked me; she offered me a room in her flat for the year I am to be here in this country trying to reconstruct my career from its tattered ruins. And I don’t believe Fran meant for me to sleep in that room, that veranda, that splinter hell.

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Comments by other Members

dsj at 17:11 on 06 April 2003  Report this post
Hi Nancy - welcome to the Crime Writers' Group!
Many thanks for uploading your work. I will read and try to respond here shortly.

Best wishes

dsj at 23:28 on 07 April 2003  Report this post
Hi Nancy
Well done on a fine piece of writing. This has a confidence and fluidity. You maintain and then build the tension extremely well. It works terrifically as an extract, although you may want to find a shorter extract to upload as well, to allow more casual perusers of the site to get hooked on your writing!

Generally you seem a very accomplished writer and there is little help you need that I can see. I have a couple of observations if I may. I thought the initial nervousness of Nell emerged slightly unclearly. The line

The door to Francesca’s room was closed but that was neither here nor there

I think is where you intend it to start, but it suggests a puzzle to which we have not yet been introduced. Perhaps this is not the start of the story? If not, that might explain it, along with the similar lack of clarity at the beginning when introducing Francesca and the confusingly similar Fran (I assumed from this they were the same person till some way in!)

I thought Francesca's 'disconcerting stillness' was very effective - most spine-tinglingly effective!

Finally, very tiny criticism, the sentence

Nell felt her nostrils flare, metaphorically of course

jarred with me a little - How do you feel your nostrils flare metaphorically? did they or didn't they! It's a silly point I know, but these are tiny blemishes on an otherwise very intriguing piece. If you like, do tell us more about this work, in reply to this - and let me know if you agree or disagree with what I have said!

All the best

Nancy at 11:32 on 08 April 2003  Report this post
Hi David. Thanks very much for the constructive criticism. This is exactly the sort of thing I've been looking for - those bits that don't make sense or aren't clear or just wrong. It is, I've found, very hard to be objective about my writing. I can miss things too.
Also, you're right, this wasn't the first bit. There is a prologue but I've never been very sure about it but I realise that it is important as it explains a few of the oddities that you point out ie the Fran and Francesca thing- are they the same person or not is part of it - no one is really sure.
Anyway, should I put the prologue up? It is a shorter!!
Thanks again.

dsj at 13:25 on 08 April 2003  Report this post
Nancy - yes it would be great to see the prologue. I suggest you upload it as a separate item. Looking forward to it.

roger at 20:58 on 13 April 2003  Report this post
Hi Nancy,

Have read this chapter (having previously read the prologue) and also David's comments. I agree with him...you are an excellent fluid writer - so keep writing.

Gary at 17:38 on 22 April 2003  Report this post
Hi Nancy, just finished reading this and thoroughly enjoyed it. i can honestly say that the description of the flat was precise and clear and put me right there. But I did pick up a few pointers that might help you, only because I do them all the time!
Firstly a bit more dialogue in the narrative would break it up a bit more ie when Nel opens the window she might say 'Shit!' she checked the splinter in the palm of her hand 'Out you come buster.' or when the phone rings 'Jesus' Nell held her hand on her heart as the phone kept on ringing. also in placers you do my fav trick and get a bit wordy, which is using the same word in close proximity of each other, in this case I think it was Claw. Just my opinion though, and if I didn't do it myself so much I'd never have noticed!

Good stuff Nancy, looking forward to reading more.

jester at 21:20 on 26 April 2003  Report this post
Hi Nancy,
Very nice tone to your writing. An easy read. And I love the title!

I do have some comments but I'd like to preface them with a caveat about my style of critiqing: I tend to be very blunt but well-meaning (typically American, I guess). You will get a very thorough critique from me. Never take it personally. It's all about the work.

That being said, I don't think you need the prologue. It doesn't add anything to the piece and editors consider it a little trite. Suspense needs to be built, not told and that's really all that seems to be doing. Start with the first chapter six paragraphs in with "Nell stood in the hallway listening to the silence." Those are great first words to a novel. It's a more intriguing paragraph and sets us in the middle of the action. Beginning a manuscript with a description, be it the weather or a character or a landscape--or, in this case the house--doesn't draw the reader in. If this description is important or integral to the plot, by all means put it in later.

The expression "neither here nor there" is not compelling enough to be used once let alone twice in a row. I suggest rewording those sentences. Also, try shortening that paragraph. Give it short, punctuating sentences. It's the rhythm in the writing that helps create suspense.

I think you mean "days that *scrape* along..." That's a nice little paragraph, full of intense imagery.

"...turned out to be one of the Gully’s own who had been killed by someone who wasn’t." This needs rewording.

"I am going to die, her fearful self thought," There's a little too much of this. Just have her think it (in italics) and don't always add "she thought, she mused, she whatever."

"closing it with a decisive not to say forceful click." Don't editorialize in the narrative. It's something you might do in a letter, but not a novel. Say instead "closing it with a decisive click." Now find all the places you've done this and delete them.

"Then she gave a start as the telephone began to ring again, loudly and insistently. The caller wanted to be heard; wanted someone to pick up the receiver and listen to them." this is very nice; good narrative voice.

"she said with a very good sneer" again, editorializing. "She said with a sneer."

Generally speaking, you've got a good skeleton here but it needs a bit of pruning down to the necessities. I'd leave off the description of the gully for now. I don't mind a little confusion in the chapter as long as the questions are answered later.

How much of the ms have you written so far? The farther along you get, you will see how you can change the beginning to make it more compelling. You'll be able to "show" more than "tell". Right now, Nell is telling us how confused she is. We need to see it in the action rather than have her explain it.

Looking forward to more. Definitely keep with it.

Jeri (jester)

Nancy at 23:26 on 26 April 2003  Report this post
Hi Jeri

Thank you very much for taking the time to read my work. I appreciate your comments and need time to mull them over. I think you have made some pertinent points - and there were quite a few!! I'm impressed that you read it so thoroughly. I have actually finished this work.

I'm looking forward to reading your work.


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