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The Fabulous Spirit World of Justin Orchard new draft

by buffyfan70 

Posted: 22 February 2009
Word Count: 1268
Summary: Matt inherits a spirit guide after an accident involving a local psychic medium outside his house. This is a redraft of the opening which some of you read- I hoped to make it a bit punchier

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There was a film out a few years ago that everyone said was dead scary. This little kid in it who freaked everyone out by telling them ‘I see dead people.’
Well, I’m not a little kid – I’m fifteen – but I’ve come to realise that we all do. All the time. We just can’t always tell them apart from the living.
Of course, I didn’t always know that.
I certainly didn’t know that when I was staring down at Justin our mobile hairdresser, when he was lying in the road outside our house. There was blood coming out of the back of his head and his arms and legs were spread out at awkward angles.
I guess he was somewhere between being dead and alive then. That’s a place where you can spend a lot of time, if you’re unlucky.
And who knows, there might have have been some dead person standing there in the road, watching the police poke around and interview the tearful young woman that had driving. Watching the ambulance workers gently attend to Justin’s wounds, put a drip into his arm and wrap him in one of those red blankets, and then take him away.
You wouldn’t know they were ‘dead’, of course (by the way, they don’t like that word). They could be wearing jeans, carrying a briefcase, pushing a pram even. You probably wouldn’t notice the way their voices sound a little thin, or that they might suddenly slip from sight. They could be little old ladies or teenage kids.
They get tangled up with us. They catch buses and go to church. They visit parks and browse the books in the library. If you can’t actually see them they might just breathe on your neck or leave a cold spot hanging in the air that might cling to you as you walk through it like brushing a cobweb.
Some of them might even hold a door open for you or push past you to get to a seat in the cinema. They’re pretty solid when they want to be.
And some of them can be really in your face.

Chapter 1

Justin, our hairdresser, always had a scruffy brown zip up bag with him that was clogged up with other people’s hair and greasy bottles of lotion and a plastic plant sprayer. Never mind the spirits of the departed, that bag used to haunt me. It was so gross.
I would have gone to a barbers but no-one would give me the money, and I wasn’t paying for it out of my own meagre pocket money. Justin came to our house.
He’d do my mum’s roots first, piling a load of stinky gunk onto her head, then Jinny my little sister, then me and then back to my mum.
“Right then, lady, let’s finish you off,” he’d say. Mum and Justin would have a cig in the back garden together when they were done.
He was only a bit taller than Mum with bright blue eyes and a bit of a wrinkly neck. I think he sometimes wore fake tan because I once noticed a big streak of white on his arm where he’d missed a bit. He had silver grey hair that was cut short and smart. Sometimes he’d wear a trendy t-shirt and a pair of jeans and immaculate trainers. They didn’t go with his grey hair somehow. And then other times he would wear a grey stripy shirt and a dark suit.
He would leave the jacket in the car; a beaten up Mercedes that might have been a Merc but looked like it was a hundred years old and had been driven to China and back. He would wear an apron if he was bleaching mum’s hair so it didn’t wreck his clothes. Once he wore one of those comedy aprons that made him look like he was wearing women’s underwear. My dad nearly choked when he saw that.
Dad refused to let Justin cut his hair. He’d hide behind the newspaper or go upstairs and fiddle about on the computer in the attic.
“Head down, Matthew,” Justin would say. “Now then, Julie, you know I love the hairdressing, I really do. But my first calling is the world of spirit and one of these days the spirits might just tell me to put away the scissors and work for them full time. And that’s what I’ll do!”
We would listen to all his latest news from the land of spirit as he buzzed away at me with his clippers.
Justin wasn’t just a hairdresser. He made a good living from standing up in scout huts and church halls and communicating with the dead. He sometimes went round to peoples’ houses and did ‘reading’s there, too, as he called them. It was as if he had a band of spooky old relatives following him around wherever he went, telling him a load of pointless stuff like where they’d left the shed keys or who in the family had had food poisoning lately.
“We had a lovely night at the Working Men’s. And now they’ve banned the smoking, I set up a few joss sticks, you know, just to give it a bit of an atmosphere. I’m sure I was a hippy in a former life! Ssss sss!”
I suspected he was actually old enough to have been a hippy in this life but I didn’t say anything.
“And Winifred was spot on. I’d been a bit worried about her lately. She seemed a bit…off.”
We jumped as a mug fell off the rack behind us.
Winifred, or Win, was Justin’s ‘spirit guide’. She often knocked things over if she didn’t like what he was saying.
“Well, how did that happen?” Mum tutted and picked up the broken bits.
“That might have been my fault, Julie! Sorry, Win!”
Justin often seemed to be having a conversation with more than just the visible people in the room.
He put on his coat and the scissors and clippers and plant sprayer went back into the holdall. He waved to Jinny and then my mum walked out of the house with him, both of them still yakking about messages and the departed.
I looked out of the window and noticed Jonathan Smith from across the road was out with his new stunt bike. He was wheeling it up and down on the patch of grass on the corner. He was always getting new stuff. Part of me hated him for it and I hadn’t even ridden my bike since Y8 but another part of me had to go and have a look anyway.
The cars were parked all the way along both sides and the lights were just flickering on as the night drew in.
Justin was unlocking his car boot.
“Jonathan!” I called and crossed out into the street.
But it was Justin’s voice that I heard in return, harsh and loud, calling into the night.
Now what? I remember thinking. And then I felt an almighty jolt as something rammed into my back and sent me sprawling. The next thing I heard was a screech of brakes. I looked round to see Justin fly up into the air and then crash to the ground on the road in front of the car.
The jolt in my back had been Justin pushing me out of the way of the car I hadn’t even noticed as I had dashed across the road.
A puddle of blood began to form around his head.
Then I heard mum screaming.

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Comments by other Members

NMott at 16:05 on 22 February 2009  Report this post
I like the prologue, and this is a much better opening to the chapter than the earlier vesion.
The only thing I didn't find clear was 'who is the narrator?' Is it someone called Matthew? or someone called Julie? -
“Head down, Matthew,” Justin would say. “Now then, Julie, you know I love the hairdressing,...

I know you put up a question about this in the Topic section, before. Maybe you have decided to leave it to the reader's imagination? If so, I would say it would fit a ~14yr old girl.

- NaomiM


Ah, I've just read the summary, so Matt is the narrator - I think you need to clarify this in the prologue and opening chapter.
I would still prefer it to be a girl.

buffyfan70 at 17:53 on 22 February 2009  Report this post
Hi naomi

I'm glad you thought this was improved and thanks for taking the time to read it. I guess with making the gender clear I thought there were enough clues- barbers, buzzing clippers, going out to look at a bike. Matt is a sensitive kid which might make him seem a bit feminine but as a secondary school teacher I have met lots of 'Matt's ; nice lads who don't hand out with gangs, mug people, smoke weed etc! He does go to a football match and hang out with his mate Steve etc and falls in love later in the book. My previous novel had a female hero and I wanted a gender change but I didn't want him to fall into the negative stereotypes of teenage boys. he's a bit Adrian Molish I guess!
Thanks again

NMott at 18:04 on 22 February 2009  Report this post
but I didn't want him to fall into the negative stereotypes of teenage boys

The problem with taking this tack is you risk the character coming across as a girl with a boy's name. I also think it would be difficult to sell it to an Agent, assuming you are aiming at publication.
I would still advise changing it to a girl - she can still go to football matches with a friend called Steve.


You do need to consider your potential readership. If a boy is reading it he'll want to empathise with the mc, and he's going to have problems doing that if the mc comes across as a girl.
You don't have to fall into 'negative' stereotypes, but you do need to acknowledge the differences between the sexes.


...one of which is a boy not being remotely interested in their mum's visiting hairdresser, unless the man is dressed like a Goth or a heavily tattooed & hairy biker.


in fact, having a hairy biker as a visiting hairdresser is one negative stereotype you can kill at the start.


It is a good prologue, but you can't use it as a reason why a boy mc would be so interested in a male hairdresser before the event - the reader is going to assume the boy's effeminate if he does pay anything but the glancing attention to the man, unless there's a good reason for him to do so, eg, he's a hairy biker.

Issy at 20:16 on 22 February 2009  Report this post
I like this very much and I didn't think it was a girl. Whether that is because I had read a previous version or whether I simply got it, I don't know.

I also did like the first version, even though I felt the beginning needed some alteration. I very much enjoyed the style there that has been toned down a little in the latest version.

And I was interested in Justin.

The only thing I was a little put off was the beginning with the reference to the film - I wondered if there could be a more original opening. But this could be me again.

Why not move onto the next chapters and then come back and see which strikes the right chord. I get the feeling that though the mc might inherit the guides they won't like him so much as Justin. Or perhaps he inherits Justin's mannerisms too? Looking forward to more.

mafunyane at 00:29 on 25 February 2009  Report this post
I enjoyed chapter 1 more than the last version - it seemed tighter and read more smoothly. I think I said the MC sounded like a girl last time. That's less the case now - though Naomi makes a good point questioning why (even a sensitive) boy would pay the hairdresser much attention (and especially notice what he is wearing etc).

Personally, I wasn't sure you needed the prologue at all - the most engaging part of it (about not knowing who the dead people are and how they behave like ordinary people) could perhaps come in chapter 2 instead? I also agree with Issy that the Sixth Sense reference doesn't really work. If you do keep the Prologue, I'd start it with something more like:

There was a time when I didn't realise they were dead. I certainly didn't know it when I was staring down at Justin our mobile hairdresser...

Keep this up though - I'm intrigued to see what happens in chapter 2.


buffyfan70 at 21:18 on 04 March 2009  Report this post
The opening is usually the bit I find easiest in my writing and this one is killing me! But I like your suggestion, Anna and may possibly use it!

I may have to agree to disagree with Naomi about the differences between the sexes- it's hardly a subject that is set in stone anyway. But I don't think that having a male narrator means that there will be no comments on clothing and appearance-I think young men are very conscious of appearance, especially other men, because they are looking for style models and becasue asessing physical appearance is a way of assessing the person.

I agree that it would be difficult to sell to an agent in so much as it is a draft and you would be very unwise to approach agents with working drafts, but I actually have an agent already and she is keen on the book and has seen a draft.

But I am really grateful for the time you have taken on this and I really welcome all comments, critical and otherwise. I hope you will read the next posting with the same helpful eye!


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