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A Small Rain - Prologue

by Hilary Custance 

Posted: 16 April 2003
Word Count: 449
Summary: In a sense this is cheating as it is the opening of the only piece of work that has already been published (in a very small way). I am still unsure about it and even less sure about my more experimental writing. I am hoping that courage will come with exposure.

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Talk, talk, talk. In the last thirtysix hours Stella had spoken to an ambassador, a consul and his wife, half a dozen policemen, all six of her remaining close relatives, five neighbours she liked and several others felt less keen about, two journalists and three members of staff from the Bonnington University. She had also spoken to Tom. Thomas, aged eleven, was now fast asleep. His arms encircled a lump of grey woollen material, which in turn wrapped a large black stone, and his face snuggled up against a nylon animal of indistinct origin.

It was 8.15 pm and, being midsummer, the sun still shone. It turned the street of the Midlands village a delicate gold but it bleached the rooms of Stella's small home. Stella drew all the curtains, locked the front and back doors and took the phone off the hook. She didn't switch on any of the lights as the sun leaked round curtains and blinds into every room. For about half an hour she simply wandered from kitchen to sitting room, from study to bedroom. She walked barefoot. Her movements were purposeful, methodical as if she were carrying out some ritual measurement of the spaces she inhabited; a beating of the bounds. She might also have been searching for something, but if so her eyes were not involved, only her feet seemed to know where to go next.
When her feet grew tired she sat down cross-legged at the top of the staircase. From this position she could watch her son through his open bedroom door, sleeping with his chosen comforts and she could see the long bookshelves, her prospective comforts, lining her bedroom wall. She sat waiting. She was waiting until it was quiet enough to get back into the safety of her own head. She had a task to accomplish, she had to join up two dates - today (the 25th of July) - and another point about eight days ago. Between these two lay uncharted chaos streaming with people. People with many questions but very few answers. People who very, very kindly never left her alone. People who were preventing her from linking up these two dates. If she failed to make this connection she knew that her head would no longer belong to her. Her limbs and her inner parts; her lungs, her liver and then finally her heart would cease to function.
Stella sat like a small Buddha with both hands pressing down on top of her head and her grey eyes, under the dark fringe, wide open. After a while she found herself able to start again in the afternoon of the Thursday 17th of July.

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Comments by other Members

roger at 15:13 on 16 April 2003  Report this post
Hilary, I'm really annoyed. I like your writing better than you like mine! Seriously, not that I'm an expert, but I think this is really well done - certainly well written, and in a relatively few words, leading the reader into something he/she wants to know more about. What did happen in those eight days? Clearly something pretty earth shattering. Good luck with the book.

Hilary Custance at 17:58 on 16 April 2003  Report this post
Roger, I honestly enjoyed your writing, because you can deal in humour. I struggle to make people laugh in my writing. Laughing in more cathartic than crying. QED. 8 days ago Stella was helping her husband get ready for a research expedition to a volcanic region in the Andees. Following an eruption he is now missing, presumed dead. The novel is the story of the following, rather eventful, eighteen months. Cheers, Hilary

roger at 19:26 on 16 April 2003  Report this post
Hi Hilary, okay, you're forgiven! So is it the trial of widowhood, especially via tragic, unexpected means? If so, it's going to be very moving because you can clearly write 'deep & meaningful'. Or does she discover that the 'presumed' was an error, that he's ok?

Humour's an escape by the way - if people laugh at your serious stuff, you've got a problem, and I'm the insecure type, always believing that they will!

Incidentally, I always thought cathartic meant psychological release via emotions like crying - my stuff wasn't supposed to make you cry, honest.

Jubbly at 21:13 on 16 April 2003  Report this post
I really like the way you've managed to create a very vivid and believable world in such a short piece. I loved the image of the Buddha. The reader is very drawn into the story and wants to know what happens next, I certainly did.

Hilary Custance at 09:44 on 17 April 2003  Report this post
Roger, I reckon laughter is a cathartic release via the emotions. At least one of your storyline guesses is right. I think you can be insecure in all directions, One of my daughters chuckled all the way through an early draft and said 'very amusing', one of my neighbours claimed to have cried from page 13 onwards.

Jubbly thank you for the comment this was the most difficult and the last piece of writing in the novel. I'm glad it worked for you.

The story - Oh dear, I should have started with something more compact. I cannot upload the whole novel and the story is very complex. It features death, love and birth. Poetry and music play key roles. There are two stories running parallel and five high profile characters (it 's a first novel!). Cheers, Hilary

roger at 10:03 on 17 April 2003  Report this post

I've looked it up and you're right...sorry.

Anna Reynolds at 13:19 on 27 April 2003  Report this post
Really got me intrigued to see more now- what a great hook! but I suppose we should just get our wallets out and buy the book, shouldn't we? where is it available through? we will shortly be introducing a facility here where subscribers can buy books mentioned/by interviewees etc, so do let us know. It's a lovely, economical piece of writing for an intro.

Hilary Custance at 21:51 on 28 April 2003  Report this post
Thanks Anna. Sure I'd like you to buy the book, though there are bits of writing in it that I already wish had been edited out, not to mention quite a few errors.You can get it through Amazon uk or through bookshops, but some need the publishers address as well as the basic info (A Small Rain by Hilary Custance ISBN 1 898030 73 1, Rhapsody Imprint, Author Publishing Ltd, 61 Gainsborough Rd, Felixstowe, Suffolk IP11 7HS). The next chapter is very long and rather expositional, I will paste some of it in if I can persuade this alien computer to read my floppy. Hilary

Anna Reynolds at 20:08 on 02 May 2003  Report this post
We can happily buy the book A Small Rain Hilary Custance via Amazon link now!

Terry Edge at 14:09 on 26 August 2003  Report this post

At the Brighton meeting on Saturday, you and I talked about the importance of getting straight-talking criticism of our writing. I said I'd do that with one of your pieces, and you've just told me you're happy for me to post that publicly.

So, my general comment is that this is a good start to a novel. You've grabbed our interest - we know something big has happened but not what exactly. You start with Stella's inner life about this, which is more intriguing than if you'd started with the chaos immediately following the event itself.

What follows are detailed points; obviously, some are a matter of preference.

'thirtysix' - should be written as 'thirty-six'.

The list of numbers of people that follows is a bit clumsy, e.g. 'half a dozen policemen' followed by 'all six of her remaining friends'. It looks as if you say 'half a dozen' to not repeat 'six'. It's a matter of flow, really, but why not just change the numbers, e.g. 'seven policemen, all six ...' etc?

'His arms encircled a lump of grey woollen material, which in turn wrapped a large black stone and his face snuggled up against a nylon animal of indistinct origin.' This is a clumsy sentence. Why not simplify it to something like, 'His arms were wrapped around a grey wool blanket containing a large black stone'? I'm not sure you need the bit about the nylon animal, since it overcomplicates the image.

The sentence beginning 'It turned the street ... ' is cumbersome. You're saying here that it's the Sun that is nicely warming the streets but bleaching the inside of Stella's house. But this is only how it seems to Stella, i.e. you have to show that this is her perception, not the Sun’s intention.

I think you should lose the sentence, 'She didn't switch on any lights ... ' since this reads like an author's after-thought, detracts from the flow and isn't really necessary.

The next passage is contradictory. You say Stella ‘simply wandered’ from room to room. Then you say ‘her movements were purposeful, methodical’.

Then there’s a problem with voice: you say ‘as if she were carrying out some ritual measurement ... ’ and ‘she might also have been searching for something ... ’. The problem is that you are writing here in the author’s voice, and the author, surely, knows whether or not she is ritually measuring, and whether or not she is searching, and for what. An onlooker, another character in the story, can make these assumptions, but not the author. I know this sounds nit-picky but it isn’t: it’s about consistency of voice, which, even if the reader does not consciously notice he or she will appreciate. I’m also not sure that beating of the bounds is similar to ritually measuring space. I thought beating of the bounds was an ancient custom for spiritually marking out one’s territory (but I may be wrong).

‘ ... she sat down cross-legged’. You don’t need ‘down’ here.

You don’t need to say ‘ ... sleeping with his chosen comforts’ since we already know this. Just something like, ‘She could watch Tom through his open bedroom door’ is enough.

‘She sat waiting’. Always best to say, ‘She waited’ – keep images definite. Also, try to avoid ‘dramatic’ repetitions like, ‘She sat waiting. She was waiting until ... ’. What’s wrong with simply ‘She waited until ... ’?

Similarly, you only need one ‘she had’ in the sentence beginning, ‘She had a task ... ’. Also, in this sentence you describe one of the points Stella has to connect as ‘about eight days ago’, but at the end of this piece you give the exact date.

Again, ‘ ... people. People with many questions ... ’ Don’t need two sentences or to repeat ‘people’.

Avoid descriptions like ‘very, very kindly ... ’ This is lazy emphasis; besides, the slightly ironic meaning is better with just one ‘very’.

‘People who were preventing her from ... ’ Better to say, ‘People who prevented her’.

Not sure I’ve ever seen a Buddha with ‘two hands pressing down on top of [its] head’.

All the best,


olebut at 15:21 on 26 August 2003  Report this post
Hilary just to be slightly develish I have copied the following line in whcih i see much humour, but then as well as a sophisticated sense of humour I also have a totally school boy one to offset it.

Stella was helping her husband get ready for a research expedition to a volcanic region in the Andees. Following an eruption he is now missing, presumed dead

however well done on geting published and it was great to meet you ( pity we couldnt get the cricket score but as it turned out perhaps it was just as well)


Hilary Custance at 09:13 on 27 August 2003  Report this post
Hi Terry, thanks for this comprehensive piece of work. There is very little I disagree with there. I have learned much since I wrote it, but even with this knowledge it is difficult to detect some types of error in one's own writing. My method now is to edit and edit and edit.

If it were to do again I think I would change the numbers of the friends (I even thought I had) in para 1 rather than the 'half dozen'. It is one of the errors that make me cringe now. I thought I needed both the black stone and the nylon animal in Tom's arms (because they both have an important role) though I agree that could be better phrased. Maybe I could leave one until later.

The whole author versus protagonist point of view is difficult territory for me and as you point out needs further tweaking. A lot of the problems you have highlighted are to do with wandering from one to the other.

Mmmm, 'chosen comforts', I want that there because he has his already, she can only look forward to hers, and they are, in fact, going to fail her, but maybe it is sufficiently implied by referring to her prospective ones.

With Stella's movements I was trying to describe something that does not fit in the usual span of behaviour. A way of walking that falls between our views of what someone walking all around a house might normally be doing. I have obviously not quite succeeded here. You are quite right, 'wandering purposefully and methodically' is not a sustainable image. I hadn't ever thought about it before, but is the author not allowed to be puzzled by a character's behaviour?
Some of the repetitions of 'waiting' 'waiting until' and of 'people with' 'people who' 'people who' and 'very, very kindly' were intentional. I wanted that sense of weary banality. I wanted Stella's failure to engage full brainpower visible in her language. I wanted her to be in limbo linguistically as well as physically. As you point out though, it would have worked better if I had kept within her head. My (vague) understanding of beating of the bounds is these guys walking ceremonially round the edges of their territory (Oxford?). I thought it was an ownership ritual, nothing very spiritual. As a child I imagined them with sticks tapping the fences round the edge, but I think I added that.

And no, I've never seen a Buddha precisely like that either. It was meant to convey that she looks a bit unnatural and posed, that she is both symmetrical and still. I summoned the image in my head and a Buddha is what it reminded me of. Can't I get away with the word 'like'?

On the dates question, she was only reaching vaguely for a moment to start making sense of things when days are first mentioned. When the date is specified at the end, it is because she has now chosen a starting point. Does this not come over?

All in all, the most helpful comment has been about the wandering POV - because it is the problem I was least aware of and causes many of the rough patches down the line.

You don't fancy doing a similar job on the cut version of Valle dei Miracoli do you? That is due for submission soon. (As it is 3000 words I guess probably not). As for A Small Rain, the Prologue is probably one of the better bits of writing in it, so I would give the rest a miss.

Cheers, and many thanks. I fear you will not get such detail out of me, even if I had the training, which I don't. Time is never on my side.
Cheers, Hilary

Hilary Custance at 09:20 on 27 August 2003  Report this post
Hi David, good to meet you too. I see you have chosen a section from the appalling blurb. (No longer on the cover, but merrily preserved by Amazon). I'm afraid I have a complete sense of humour failure about this.

Yes, we were indeed better off without the cricket. Cheers, Hilary

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