First Page Feedback – The Viking’s Promise

The number of Historical entries is making our editors happy! Here’s Charlotte’s opening…
“There’s nothing else to be done.” The healer stepped out of Alf’s room into the main living quarters, her head bowed respectfully.

Frea’s heart leapt into her mouth and her hands tightened on the wool she was spinning. What do you mean? she wanted to yell. You can’t let him die! She shifted in her seat but didn’t speak, pursing her lips to keep the words from spilling out.

To her right, the council of elders rose to their feet, their graze jumping to Gerd’s face. Another slave hurried forward with a cup of mead, but the elderly woman pushed her away. “My son asks that we remain calm. He— ” Her voice halted. “He’ll not be in this world for much longer.”

The spinning whorl slipping from Frea’s fingers, skidding along the floor.

“Frea.” Gerd’s voice snapped across the room and everyones’ eyes turned to her.

She rose and bobbed at the knees. Her hands began to shake and she clutched them behind her back. “Mistress?”

Gerd jerked her head towards the door. Her short, greying hair fluttered a little and she ran hand impatiently over her head. “Hurry up, girl.”

Frowning, Frea crossed the room.

Gerd grabbed her upper arm, pulling her past the curtain covering the door. “He’s asking for you,” she hissed, keeping her voice low so nobody else could hear.

Frea leapt across the room, pulling her arm from Gerd’s grasp. She knelt by Alf’s bed, touching his hand. The sweetness of burnt flesh filled her senses and she clenched her jaw. Tears threatened to cascade down her cheeks but she was determinate not to cry. She didn’t want his last few moments to be one of tears and regret.

“Alf,” she whispered. “It’s Frea, I’m here.”

His eyes fluttered open, slowly focusing on her face. “Are we alone?” he asked, rasps marring his beautiful voice.

She glanced over her shoulder—his mother still stood by the door, her eyes narrowed on Frea.

“Not quite. Gerd’s here.”

“Ar,” he breathed, as if saying ‘I should have guessed. “Mother, leave us.”

“I don’t think—”

“Now,” he ordered, his voice barely more than a croak.

“All right, but only for a moment. You need rest.” And she left.

Alf gripped the front of Frea’s tunic with frail hands and pulled her closer. “You know what I want. You have to promise me!”

“Alf,” She moaned. Even when he was dying, he was thinking of her. She lent further over his deathbed, her forehead almost touching his.

“Promise me,” he repeated, his voice hoarse.

She shook her head and the baby-fine hairs along Alf’s hairline tickled her forehead. How could she promise what he asked when it meant they’d be separated for the rest of eternity? She loved Alf and never wanted to be parted from him. Even if it means dying?

“Frea,” he warned and a hint of his old commanding self touched his words.

First Page Feedback from the Historical Team!

This extract is filled with tension and emotion, which immediately held our attention. There are some really lovely moments here, with great examples of show, don’t tell which all editors love to see when it comes to characters’ emotions. For example, the spool of thread slipping from the heroine’s fingers is such an effective way of getting across the heroine’s shock and dismay.

You’ve created a lovely sense of the atmosphere in the room, hinting that Alf’s death somehow holds importance to a wider community, with the council of elders gathered to hear the news. It makes us wonder what his death will change and how it will impact the fictional world.

Again, the reader is intrigued as to the heroine’s position in this household. We liked the sense that somehow she is the underdog here, a silent observer, a secret lover… These hints make us want to know more about her background.

We were intrigued to know where this scene sits in relation to the bulk of the story’s timeline. For example, is it perhaps a prologue, a flashback to the heroine’s past? She seems so in love with Alf, but we assume he can’t be the hero of her story, because he is dying. In general, we do like to see some time having passed between the death of a previous love and the heroine meeting her hero, because this period of grief might make it hard for the reader to believe a character to be invested whole-heartedly in the fresh relationship. However, the promise Alf demands is very intriguing, and we can see this working well as a motivation or even a potential conflict for the heroine’s actions throughout the novel – as the title suggests.

Overall, a lovely tone, and an intriguing start! We’d be turning the page to find out more!

There were a few grammar things to watch out for, graze instead of gaze, is it spinning whorl or spindle whorl (not entirely sure of terminology), “she ran hand” instead of “her hand”  and so on, but they are easy fixes.

Good job! 

 

 

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First Page Feedback – Untaming Delilah

Ooh, a Nocturne! Thanks Ashlynn! (@Ashlynn_Monroe), for sharing…

“Hey there Delilah, what’s it like in New York City…” sang Jonathan Brook, her guardian’s lab assistant.

“I swear if you actually said hello like a normal person I’d think you were body snatched by aliens,” Delilah Jones interrupted his serenade. The song was his usual greeting. His cliché musical rendition of her name had been cute for about twenty seconds, and now she found it completely irritating.

He grinned. Jon was a nice albeit obnoxious senior biology major.

She stood outside the McArdle Laboratory for Cancer Research at the UW Madison campus. The breeze brushed her skin. A stronger gust penetrated her cotton t-shirt causing goose bumps to rise on her arms and she shivered. Cold was Wisconsin’s favorite temperature, but this was early September and she was dressed for a warmer day.

Jon held the door for her as she rushed inside the facility. Heat rushed over her and the realization the furnace was already on was a relief and surprise. Delilah’s tense muscles loosened up. Aaron wouldn’t be happy if he saw her.

“You dad is going to be pissed off if you get sick, Delilah,” Jon said, reading her mind.

She shrugged. “Aaron Amun isn’t my father. He’s my guardian and doctor.”

Aaron would freak if she caught pneumonia again. When she was sick, he couldn’t get accurate results from blood tests because her white blood cell count went up. Without the results, He couldn’t give her the right dose 5-23 injection to stave off the seizures.

“Really?” Jon genuinely sounded surprised. He had only been Aaron’s assistant a couple of weeks, long enough for her to know way too much about him, but not long enough for her  to be comfortable spilling the sad tale.

“Yep, he’s a good man, but he’s not my dad,” she gave him as much as he was going to get  from her. If he really wanted to know there were others in the facility willing to gossip  about poor, sickly Delilah and her rare brain tumor that made her see crazy shit.

“What’s going on in your head? You went like a million miles away,” Jon muttered the question with a hint of annoyance in his tone.

“Nothing that would interest you, I promise.”

“I don’t know, you seeming like the kind of girl with deep thoughts and big plans?” Jon said in a flirty way that made her inner voice groan.

“I think I was wondering which Kardashian I want to be when I grow up,” she lied.

He grinned. Not easily fooled are we?

“Aren’t you cute?”

Jon put emphasis on the word cute. As soon as someone discovered she had a terminal illness, interaction always got weird so she didn’t flirt back.

“Oh, that’s right, I was wondering if they ever found the body of Aaron’s last assistant. He liked to bother me too, and then there was that experiment that went horrifically wrong…”  she let her voice trail away absentmindedly and cringed for effect.

 

First Page Feedback for Shannon Barr

Love the song lyrics in the first line! However, you’d need to get permission to use these lines, and it’s unlikely to be granted unless you want to pay for it. Therefore, I’d suggest rethinking the opening lines, even if it hooks the reader in. (I now have Plain White Ts stuck in my head!)

These two pages do a lot to engage the reader with questions: where are her parents? why is the doctor her guardian? what kind of tumor does she have? and how does it affect her life? We also get a great sense of Delilah’s personality from her interaction with Jon, she seems like she has a tough shell with quick, snarky comebacks, but we also get the sense that she is lonely because she doesn’t let people get close enough to hurt her. I would be concered with this as a submission to Nocturne simply because I cannot get a sense of where the paranormal comes into play with this story, hopefully that would become more evident in the following pages…I also am wondering if this is meant to be Young Adult becuase if Delilah has a guardian then she must not be 18 and legally an adult yet. Overall, I think it is a great start and I would love to see where the story goes, simply from the voice of these first pages. 

Too, keep in mind that pop references (like the Kardashians!) might make the book feel dated or not translate well. Though there are enough of those girls around it might not be an issue… :)

 

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Inside a Harlequin Copy Editor’s Life!

Shona Sequeira photo

Shona Sequeira, Copy Editor for Harlequin

Authors–and editors–have frequently mentioned the blessing of a good copy editor to make sure those last participles are undangled and infinitives unsplit (or at least pointed out in case we really meant to do that!).

Shona Sequeira hasn’t been a copy editor at Harlequin for that long, but she knows her Chicago and her Webster’s without a doubt! We’ve invited her to do a series of blogs to give us insight into how a copy editor balances the juggling act of author’s voice, house style, good story and great grammar. So in this first blog she’s going to give us some background….

 

Behind the red pencil…

Every Harlequin novel en route to publication must inevitably spend some quality time in Copyediting, i.e. with a cheerful group of grammar nerds who live to slay pesky dangling modifiers and rogue comma splices and who ensure that the hero’s flirty eyes always retain the same heart-melting hue. (Unless said hero has a penchant for colored contact lenses, in which case we’ll just STET.)

As copy editors, we aim to make your story shine! Ever-committed to the three c’s (clarity, consistency and correctness), we’re on the watch not only for spelling and grammar issues, typos, repetition, and awkward phrasing, but for problematic trademark usage, potentially libelous material, timeline and factual errors, and just about anything that may distract your readers from truly enjoying your book. While many are forgiving of a sloppy text message or hastily written social media snippet, readers today absolutely still care about and notice mistakes in published work, be it digital or print. As an author, you want to be remembered for your amazing story, not for grammatical gaffes. Copyediting is here to help you achieve just that!

By the time your book arrives in Copyediting, it will have already undergone a solid Editorial appraisal—you will have worked closely with your editor in creating a fantastic plot, unforgettable characters, sharp dialogue and sweet (or steamy!) love scenes. Essentially, both Editorial and Copyediting try to answer the same crucial question: How can we make this story—and the telling of it—even better, even stronger, even richer? But our responsibilities play out differently. The editor’s focus is on the novel’s foundations, its shell and its soul; the copy editor sets to work on the mechanics within this vast framework. It’s not an editor’s job to fix typos or verify the flight time between the heroine’s hometown and her suitor’s romantic desert hideaway. And good copy editors don’t overstep their authority in making changes to plot or rewriting whole sections. (We can certainly make suggestions for edits, though!) Copy editors want to modify just enough that the story flows easily, but not too much that those changes meddle with the author’s authentic voice and personal writing style. Our job is to iron out the wrinkles—it’s the author who stitches the fabric of the story together with the help of her editor’s experienced hand!

So there you have it: a tiny glimpse into the world of a red pen–wielding (okay fine, Track Changes is the new red pen), Chicago Manual of Style–worshipping Harlequin copy editor. We adore working with words, debating points of grammar, and indulging our passion for meticulousness and accuracy. All of us are book lovers and many of us may have writing aspirations. We strive to make our authors’ stories as brilliant as possible before they go out into the world, but…we’re not perfect! We’ve been trained to spot mistakes, but sometimes…sometimes…we miss things. As even the most diligent, accomplished, seasoned author needs a copy editor, so could copy editors do with another set of eyes on our work, which is why we have proofreaders and why I had a couple of copy-editor comrades (thanks, Margot and Katie!) vet this post for me!

You can follow me on Twitter: @ShonaSequeira

Thanks, Shona! All the editors know how often the copy editors save us from embarrassment before the readers. We’re all looking forward to seeing the rest of the secrets of your trade… :)

 

 

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First Page Feedback – Secrets in the Stacks

JMH sent this in for Romantic Suspense. We do love librarian heroines–and maybe a hero, too? Or someone else?

Chapter One
“Ok Y chromosomes, where are you? Come to momma,” Delia said as she adjusted the corset, forcing her chest up to her chin.

“That looks terribly uncomfortable,” her colleague, and best friend, Jane said, while
sliding her glasses back up her nose.

Delia waved her hand in the air. “No actually it isn’t. This one is particularly easy to
move in compared…” Delia shifted a now panicked gaze from the guy canvassing she’d begun to Jane. Luckily Jane seemed oblivious to what Delia had almost let slip out. Jane was a sweet thing and a dear friend but she absolutely did not need to know how Delia spent her spare time.

Scanning Jane’s perfectly combed bob, her neat wire rimmed glasses, her baby blue sweater and pearls, Delia sat back in her chair and sighed.

Yeah, well even Jane had probably had an orgasm this decade. It had been three years
since she’d had one. It had been two years since she broke up with Ted. That information alone summed up their entire relationship. So tonight, Delia was aiming to fix that. Tonight she was hunting.

For a man.

Any man. He didn’t have to be attractive or sexy or hell even have hair, he just had to be
a man. “You know this was a costume party?”

This time Jane did look at her. She nodded.

“A steampunk theme to be exact.”Jane nodded again.

Delia waited but Jane apparently didn’t feel the need either to elaborate her reason for not
dressing up, or her thoughts on steampunk. Delia probably could’ve predicted both pretty
accurately. Jane was no mystery in any way. She was a straightforward, by the book, quiet
reserved librarian with a heart of gold and a terrible tendency to go mute whenever the opposite sex was around or when sex in general was mentioned. On second thought maybe Jane was also lacking in the orgasm department. What Delia did know was that while Jane seemed uncomfortable talking about all things sex, she had no problem reading about them. Delia found that out the day she accidently knocked Jane’s bag off the desk and out popped three books all shelved deep in the erotica collection of the library. Oh well, everyone was entitled to their secrets and Delia definitely had her fair share.

Shaking her head to clear all thoughts about Jane and erotica, she resumed glancing about
the ball room intent on finding a man. They were in Atlantic City, at a librarian’s convention and while she didn’t expect sparks or instant self-combustion, she did expect sex with someone. In her warped, orgasm deprived mind, she was owed. Three years was too damn long.

Her quick glance registered several men in attendance, two that looked very promising
but would require a closer inspection before selecting the winner. She may not have any
prerequisites other than a y chromosome but that didn’t mean she couldn’t choose the best y chromosome of the bunch.

First Page Feed back from Patience Bloom

This entry was entertaining and gave the reader a quick idea of central characters and the plot. My constructive criticism would be to provide a more detailed portrait of where they are at the beginning. I want to see the ballroom in Atlantic City. What does the steampunk themed party look like? Also, watch grammar mistakes (i.e. comma of direct address and capitalization). Through Delia’s eyes, the description of Jane provides nice details about her character; the reader can visualize her easily. This isn’t as true for Delia, the main character. I’d love just a hint more about her beyond her romantic dry spell, though her mission to get a man really shows the purpose of this beginning. She’s there for a purpose and we have the sense that it won’t go as planned. Overall, quite enjoyable to read.

Thanks, Patience & JMH! Could be an interesting hero. What hijinks and mystery could they get into at a librarian convention? In Atlantic City??? :) 

 

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First Page Feedback – A Measure of Money

Another Special Edition entry! Luckily readers also love these stories…

Jenny stowed her bag in the overhead locker of the plane and squeezed herself into her window seat. Flying on budget airlines was the only time she was glad to be shorter than average. She tucked a wayward tendril of her short chestnut bob back behind her ear, feeling quite excited as she contemplated the six weeks ahead of her.

“I really think you need a proper break,” her boss had insisted. “I can’t reverse what Derek did, but I can at least make up for it a little.” Jenny had tried to protest, but he had firmly sent her home to pack her bags and make arrangements.

She looked up as a tall man slid into the seat beside her. He would have been good-looking, she decided, if he hadn’t had such a scowl on his face. She sneaked another peek. Despite his casual shirt and jeans, he looked like a typical businessman, with a clean-cut hairstyle and a smooth-shaven chin.

Definitely has a girlfriend if he’s shaved on a Saturday morning, she thought.

His long legs were squashed against the seat in front of him, and as he shifted to try and make himself more comfortable, his knee brushed against hers. Startled, she pulled her legs together and inched herself closer to the window. The plane suddenly felt very claustrophobic and she closed her eyes, fighting back the panic. Breathe, she told herself. Slowly. In. Out.

By the time she had recovered her composure the plane was ready to go and she dutifully watched the stewardess go through the safety demonstration. Her neighbour glowered beside her all the way up to cruising altitude, while Jenny tried to ignore the blatant invasion of her personal space.

“Sorry,” she said as soon as the seatbelt signs had been switched off. “Could I just get out to go to the toilet?”

He let out a theatrical sigh, and Jenny decided it was time to do some scowling of her own. She looked him full in the face. “Are you always this uncivil, or is it just when you get on a plane?”

Feedback from Carly Silver

I really liked this introductory page. It established a distinct, relatable, and flawed character in Jenny, and her reaction to the man sitting next to her was one I know I would have had. I’d love to see where this manuscript would go, as I didn’t really get a sense of what line this book was meant for.

One thing to watch out for is that many editors and readers are wary of scenes starting in transportation. This isn’t as strong here because we meet the hero right off (or so we assume!), but sitting back and thinking of the elements that got the hero/heroine to the destination while in car/train/plane can sometimes become a cliche. 

Thanks, for the offering! It’s  a solid opening, but might not have established a strong, enticing story right from the start. Could there be something a bit more compelling?

 

 

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First Page Feedback – Potential Wife

One of our first Harlequin Romance entries I believe!

Troy Charles slumped in his chair with one long leg draped over the padded arm, the other thrust out in front. “If you want me to marry, you find me a wife.”

“I might just have to do that.” His father looked up from the Sunday newspaper. “Fulfill your dearest Grandpa’s last wishes, and soon.” Liam Charles sipped the excellent coffee brewed moments before on Troy’s verandah. Adelaide sprawled to the west, then Gulf of St. Vincent beyond, and Australis Island to the south.

“Dearest Grandpa. I’m eternally grateful for the responsibility.” Troy slumped further. His hangover was not letting up.

Liam leaned forward to eye his son. “It is your responsibility.”

Troy met his father’s gaze. “We’ve been over this a hundred times.”

“And a hundred times more until you get it. Abide by the conditions or we both lose.” Liam took up his newspaper. “Unless your nuptials happen within six months, the inheritance will go to some Home for the Bewildered.”

“That’s not funny any more.”

“Neither is your reticence. You wedding by October twenty-eighth this year or I go to the poorhouse.”

Troy squinted. “You could’ve re-married again regardless of Grandpa’s will.”

Liam dropped his chin. “You well know my not re-marrying is because of your grandfather’s will. Carol and I are happy enough as we are.”

Troy closed his eyes. His grandfather Petronius, or Petny to family, had ensured
that Troy’s inheritance would be greatly reduced if Liam remarried.

Naturally the deaths of Troy’s mother Angie and his brother Marc in a traffic accident were devastating. Liam didn’t give a toss for himself and his father-in-law’s millions but for his remaining son Troy, he wanted the best, and Grandpa Petny had bequeathed a lot of money.

“If you don’t marry the share to your cousins is greatly reduced as well.”

“I know all that, but they’re not the ones doing something against their will.” Troy clapped his hands to his head. And man, that was a mistake. His head protested a clanging thump inside. “Why me?”

“You know ‘why me’. Because your brother died, too. Because your mother was Petny’s only child.” Liam slid a look at his son. “I know you want to get married one day. No-one wants to live a solitary life.”

“Then you better get off your butt and find me a wife in a big hurry. God knows you’d be good at it.” Troy thrust on sunglasses, closed his eyes and leaned back in the deck chair.

“That’s my boy.”

“Find me a good woman, that’s all I ask.”

“I’ll see what I can do.”

Troy lifted the sunglasses with a finger. “I don’t like that look.”

“I might have a plan.”

“I definitely don’t like that look. What is it?”

“Unorthodox. Old fashioned. A business partnership, something which would satisfy the terms of the will.” Liam shrugged.

“You’ve already got someone in mind.”

“Just thinking.”

“You don’t just think. You connive.”

A shake of the newspaper. “You are so right.”

First Page Feedback from Laurie Johnson

This is a great opening! You set up the key hook – a marriage of convenience – straight away and introduce a delicious, alpha hero in Troy. The family dynamic between Troy and Liam adds an element of fun, but is also a clear way to build the initial tension of the emotional conflict ahead. The reader is completely intrigued and left wondering – who is Troy going to marry? What’s going to happen between them? And how is Troy’s ‘convenient’ bride going to become the love of his life? Can’t wait to see where this story goes!

One or two points to think on–does Troy come across as a bit petulant and childish? And at first Liam almost seemed a more heroic type with an interesting potential dynamic. And if Troy’s mother was an only child, how does the share to his cousins get reduced?  But there is some snappy patter, so that is appealing.

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First Page Feedback – Finding Finnegan

This was sent in for Escape, our Australian digital publication! Thanks, Amanda Knight who is @AKnightWriter on Twitter…

 

He didn’t spit out the sandy dirt caking his teeth or lift his head from its half buried state. He didn’t fixate on the fact that he couldn’t feel his left leg, or that the searing heat in his lower back had him wondering if he was leaning on the side wall of Hades. Dragging his newly conscious senses to order, Captain Nate Calloway drove his mind to block out everything other than the question flashing neon in his temporal lobe:

Where the hell is my dog?

With sweat pouring into his eyes, he tried to ignore the pain, and focus on listening. The dull whistle of sand whipping in the wind and a muffled explosion in the distance ignited his reflexes. He grabbed for his weapon. A fresh spear of agony flooded his body, sucking the breath from his lungs, sending his barely conscious thoughts kicking and screaming back into shut down.
***
Doctor Beth Harper slid her fingers beneath the soldier’s lifeless hand and squeezed. Watching his eyelids for any flickering, she shifted her gaze and efficiently scanned the length of his body, searching for an indication he’d registered her touch.

‘There’s still no response to stimulation.’ Beth regarded the dayshift nurse charting her findings. ‘We’ll give it another twenty-four hours before starting the necessary consultations.’ But I’ll be damned if we give up on my watch. Beth kept her final thought to herself, as the nurse moved into the next room.

Beth’s determination to save every person she treated in the makeshift clinic was a given, but something about their yet-to-be-identified solider, and the knowledge that she only had two weeks left of her tour, tugged a little harder at her resolve.

He’d arrived with scarcely any of his uniform intact and his identification missing. The levels of artillery and combat activity over the past forty-eight hours had been considerable, so quick identification of his platoon would prove difficult. Trailing her fingertips across his vast palm, down his long fingers and encircling his perfect nails, it was clear that this was the hand of a man who wasn’t afraid of hard work, a man who was meticulous and capable. She became acutely aware of her heart pounding against her ribcage. Snatching her hand from his, with heat flushing her cheeks, she silently chastised herself.

What on earth are you doing?

Inhaling a shaky breath, she struggled to calm her rioting senses. She hadn’t experienced anything other than work-infused adrenaline since… since… the truth she’d been avoiding for three years tumbled into her consciousness.

She hadn’t felt anything in the longest time.

Clumsily gathering up her equipment, Beth shook her head. Obviously the latest round of sleep deprivation had caught up with her… she was a Captain for goodness sake – Hard-
Heart Harper didn’t behave like this.

With the name she’d heard whispered by several of her unit flashing through her chaotic thoughts, Beth dropped her notes, gave into her fatigue and collapsed into the bedside chair.

First Page Feedback from Mary-Theresa Hussey

There is some great imagery here in the opening. Immediately we root for the injured hero and are curious about what happened.

I admit though, when I saw the “flashing neon in his temporal lobe:” I began to wonder if this is a science fiction or futuristic story. And the asking about the dog seemed a real non sequitur so I was left even more confused about what I was supposed to take from it.

Then we switch to Beth’s POV and she comes through as caring, compassionate and very determined. All great traits for a heroine! “Hard-Heart Harper” though, seems to contrast with her caring attitude. But maybe there were other instances where she needed to take a firmer line.

I’m not sure of setting–could be any country or location or war. So perhaps something grounding us a bit more would be useful? And from a grammar POV, don’t think “captain” is capitalized without it being direct address. A lot of military branches and terms are lowercased when we might instinctively cap them.

Overall I think it is effective, but it would be stronger if I wasn’t left puzzled by a few things–and gotten a sense of where/when they were.

But a good start!

Thanks, Amanda, for an intriguing start!

 

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First Page Feedback – Love Taxis

Although aimed at Harlequin Intrigue, we’re not quite sure it has the right tone. But Marie Laval did create a vivid opening!

‘I’m Pelveden. I believe you’re waiting for me.’

Startled by the deep male voice behind her, Rosalie spun round to face a dark blue coat open onto a blue pin stripe suit, crisp white shirt and immaculate knot of a dark blue silk tie.

She took a step back, tilted her chin up and met a pair of serious grey eyes.

‘Welcome to Scotland, Monsieur Pelveden. I’m Rosalie Heart, from Love Taxis.’

She pointed to the bright pink, heart-shaped board on which she’d written his name in black felt tip.

‘I was expecting McBride.’ His cold voice that only bore the faintest trace of a French accent.

 

‘I’m sorry, Geoff’s been … ahem… unavoidably detained at Black Thorn Manor,’ she stammered again.

Lying never came easy, especially when she was being scrutinised by a dark-haired giant of a man with eyes as cool and uninviting as the stormy Inverness sky outside.

She forced a smile. ‘It’ such a shame the weather forecast is for a snow blizzard. You may not be able to go hiking or riding this coming week. I hope you brought warm clothing.’

He didn’t answer, and she babbled on. ‘You must be tired after your journey. Let’s go to the car. Would you like me to carry your bags?’

‘No, of course not,’ He frowned, as if shocked by her suggestion.

She led the way across the small terminal, pushing her way through a crowd of holiday makers who, judging by their bright, flimsy summer clothes, had just returned from sunnier climates. There were in for a nasty shock. The sliding doors opened onto gusts of icy wind and rain.

Rosalie gestured towards the car park.

‘This way, please. I was lucky to find a space nearby for the cab.’

‘Is this McBride’s idea of a joke?’ Marc Pelveden’s anger was so palpable it sent prickles down her back.

‘A joke?’

He gestured towards her bright pink hackney cab with the name Love Taxis printed in large black and fuchsia letters on the side doors, then to her matching pink anorak.

‘If you’re planning to take your clothes off and squirt shaving foam all over me, I urge you to reconsider right now. I am really not in the mood.’

Although his voice was quiet, there was a steely edge to it which made his French accent more pronounced.

She laughed. ‘Why would I want to take my clothes off in this weather?’

And what did he mean by squirting shaving foam all over him? That’s what strip-o-grams did.

‘Surely, you don’t think I am a….’

Faced with the icy expression in his eyes she realised he hadn’t meant it as a jest. Her cheeks burning, she pulled the zip of her pink anorak right up to her chin and gave him her frostiest stare.

‘Listen, Mr Pelveden, I’m your taxi driver, that’s all. Now I suggest you put your bags in the back and hop in before we both get soaked.’

First Page Feedback from Allison Lyons

We get the impression this hero is a pretty serious, stuffy guy, and it’s obvious this pink cab is not the way he prefers to chauffeured around! So I liked his shocked reaction when he saw the car. That said, this isn’t where the story should start. As it stands, the opening isn’t engaging enough for me to want to keep reading. Not much happens other than that he arrives at the airport and gets picked up. We should be thrust right into the action, the stakes clear from page one. As written, I’m not getting any sense of what the danger is or how this hero is  going to protect her. Whatever action follows this pick-up should be your starting point. Later he can think how ridiculous the taxi is but, for now, his main focus should be whoever’s shooting at them/crashing into them/targeting them, etc. Or, he could even think about the ridiculous taxi while he’s taking down the bad guys, like how crazy it is that he’s defending this beautiful stranger while driving around in the pink taxi. This would show us he’s both a strong, heroic character and a man who sees the absurdity (and seriousness) of the situation. Intrigue stories need to start off strong, hooking the reader from page one. I’d go back and reconsider how the story opens and just what tone you’re trying to convey to the reader. 

Thanks, Marie, for an interesting opening. It could go in a lot of different directions!

 

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First Page Feedback – Warrior’s Surrender

An exciting Historical entry from Elizabeth Ellen Carter! She’s @EECarterAuthor on Twitter…

1070
Durham
England

The flare of a pitch-soaked torch lit the corner of the timber long-house. Lying on the floor, its yellow-orange flame licked greedily at the timber, igniting it. Roiling black smoke billowed up, filling the room and obscuring the entrance to the hall. The acrid smell mingled with the bitter, metallic tang of freshly spilled blood.

Sebastian coughed and doggedly followed his Norman Lord through the rapidly thickening miasma within the burning building.

The young man’s heart pounded wildly.

The excitement of the battle fought through the afternoon still thrummed in his veins. And although he knew the foe was well and truly routed, there were still dangers as the rebellious Saxon Earls of Northumbria fiercely defended a retreat that brought them all closer and closer to the Scottish border.

As a squire, Sebastian took his role of guarding his Lord seriously. Already here, in this still unfamiliar country, he protected the flank of the warrior both on foot and horseback, using his training, agility and skills to ensure the forces of King William of Normandy vanquished their enemies.

William was the newly crowned King of England and Sebastian had lived and fought for him in this land for two years but never before travelled this far north.

Here, the wild moors were strewn with rocks and sharply cut escarpments, covered with gorse and purple heather. It was without question one of the most wild and beautiful features of this uncivilised region.

Sebastian’s adjusted his sweat-slicked grip on the pommel of his sword to keep it slipping from his grasp.

“Seb!” his Lord called through a smoke rasped throat. “Outside!”

Sebastian rushed to where he had last seen the door.

One or two well aimed kicks saw the hinges gave way. A roar of air rushed in, fuelling the flames which grew in size and heat, propelling the two men outside.

Screams of terror and pain filled the night air as the Norman knights laid waste. Not even this village’s only stone building – a church – was immune from the ransacking and arson.

Sebastian knew a number of his compatriots had broken ranks, that some of the screams he could hear came from women being raped in the flickering firelight of destroyed houses and out buildings.

Disgust filled him at the thought. Fighting men in the field of battle was honourable. Raping, looting and pillaging like the worst of the Vikings was vile.

Despite the heat from the fires, the burden of the mail across his chest and legs, and the fatigue of many hours of fighting, Sebastian kept his eyes on his Lord, watchful for threats.

They reached another corner of the burh marked by a boundary palisade of sharpened logs.

“The hay barn,” said the Knight. “There may be more men hiding. Secure it. We’ll need fodder for the horses tonight.”

First Page Feedback from The Historical Team!

This is vividly written. There’s a real sense of the warrior fighting his way through the flames – and you can feel the adrenaline of the hero still pumping in the clear, expressive writing. A great start!

It’s an interesting take as the Normans are winning – it can be hard to maintain a sympathetic hero when his fellow soldiers are the ones destroying, looting and pillaging. However, the hero’s morals are made clear here, which reassured me. I was intrigued to know what might have shaped Seb’s point of view, perhaps a hint of a darker past – this would have really hooked me on an emotional level as well, but there was plenty to keep my interest.

The reader can admire Seb’s loyalty to the King and his Lord and can get on side with this, even if feeling uncomfortable with the death and destruction of this village. Although again, a hint of a deeper purpose to his fighting, a cause he really believes in, would warm me even more to this hero. This of course, might come later!

A nicely balanced beginning to an intriguing warrior’s tale! Well done!

 

Thank you, Elizabeth, for your entry–he feels young, but there’s certainly room for growth!

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First Page Feedback – Dark Justice

Here’s a potential dystopian, potential  futuristic story from Shelley Russell Nolan. 

1
Jackson opened his eyes a fraction to study the two guards stationed outside his cell. All  the lights in the cell block were dimmed but he could see them clearly. They were both watching him, their enhanced vision almost as good as his in this light. Their hands remained close to their holsters, ready to shoot him if he made a move they didn’t like. The one on the left shifted his feet, fingers caressing the top of his stun gun, mouth twisted into a grimace as he glared at the prisoner lounging on the cell’s only bunk.

The guards would be able to see the whites of his eyes shining even though his lids were half closed. That shine allowed him to see in the dark far better than when he’d been a member of the pack, like his guards. The only physical manifestation of the virus that had overtaken his brain, turning him into a freak bent on dealing death and destruction, it  left him hypersensitive to light.

Darkness was more than a friend; it was a way of life. Even a split second exposure to anything brighter than moonlight would send excruciating needles into his brain. The dim light in his cell was bearable, just.

Jackson closed his eyes and listened to the guards breathe, their respirations shallow as they maintained a vigilant stance. That level of vigilance would wane. Two hours into their shift they were alert and prepared for anything, but three weeks of guarding him without incident would soon see them settle into their watch. Respirations would deepen, tense muscles relax and attention spans waver. His turn would come.

Ears pricked for any change in his surroundings, Jackson caught the murmur of voices from the guardhouse down the end of the corridor. He stifled a grin as the door into the cell block opened and his guards were called away.

Visiting time.

The guardhouse door closed and moments later a single set of footsteps made their way towards him. Only when the footsteps stopped outside his cell did he open his eyes and look at the woman who had replaced him as pack leader.

‘Hello, lover.’ Jackson kept his rangy form relaxed despite the chains around his wrists and ankles. ‘Did you miss me?’

‘I miss the man you were, the man you’ll be again as soon as we find a cure.’

‘Miranda, Miranda …, it ain’t gonna happen. Your blue-eyed boy is gone forever. I’m all that’s left.’ Jackson gave her a lazy smile.

‘I won’t accept that. I can’t accept it.’ She shook her head, long black hair momentarily obscuring her face. She brushed it back behind her ears.

‘Will you accept it when I’m carving out your insides?’ He rattled his chains. ‘These aren’t going to stop me any better than the bars did. How many throats do I have to rip  out before you put us both out of our misery and let me go, or kill me?’

First Page Feedback from Deirdre McCluskey

This first page accomplishes a great deal very economically. Without wasting words, we know where we are, what kind of world we’re in and the names of our protagonists. We also know what kind of book we’re going to get – there’s a paranormal or sci-fi element (a mysterious illness) and we can expect high-stakes drama (the illness causes its victims to be capable of extreme violence.)

This setup hints at a dystopian alternate world without giving us too much detail or exposition. We know enough to picture what is going on, but not so much that we’re lifted out of the action and left with nothing to discover.

We also have two characters motivated to act. Miranda cares about Jackson and wants to help him, and Jackson wants to escape his captors. It’s unclear at this point how much we can sympathize with Jackson. The fact that he’s a threat to Miranda creates some interesting tension, and we want to read more. What’s not clear yet is, who do we root for?

Overall, a very strong beginning. Well done!

 Very exciting, indeed! Thanks for sharing it with us, Shelley!

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