Saving herself. A girl stumbling across the fields at dawn, clothes and self in disarray. What has happened? And before things even begin to get better, they get a whole lot worse.
Title: Saving Grace
Genre: Womens’ Fiction
Language: British English
Synopsis: Two girls, Grace and Valerie are sexually assaulted in different incidences. One flees and the other remains in the village of their youth. Twenty years on and the girls are very different. When Grace returns home, her picture-perfect world starts to unravel, pulling with it Valerie’s only hope for peace.
A dusting of daylight spread over the land as Grace emerged from the field. She climbed back over the iron gate and walked out onto the road. Everything, except for a few early birds, was still asleep. Her teenage body shivered under muddied clothes and a trickle of blood from her scraped left knee slowly edged towards her foot. She was missing one of her favorite ballerina pumps and her jacket. Taking a few steps towards the verge, she cupped her aching elbow. At least she still had her Bon Jovi T-shirt. She whimpered and tried to cry but couldn’t. What was wrong with her? She should be crying.
The Slieve Mish Mountains hung like a giant cloak to her back as the sun’s pale reflection shimmied across the Atlantic. She turned and headed homewards, limping her way along the snaking coastal road, arms folded and shaking, ready to duck any early-morning travelers. The chorus of blackbirds and blue tits grew louder and formed a welcome barrier between her and her thoughts.
After a two-mile walk, the roadside brambles near Michael’s house steadied her. Michael… The idea of crawling in through his bedroom window and lying beside him on his bed came to her. He would hold her, care for her. Yet, what would he say?
She scrambled the short distance to her front door. Her dog, Poodle, was no longer around to sound the alarm. Trembling, she took the key from under the mat and slipped inside. With the bathroom door safely locked, she sat on the side of the bath, soothing her damaged knee with a damp flannel. The magnitude of last night’s events assailed her in waves. She stood up and caught herself in the mirror. Sunken, mascara-encrusted eyes judged her. Her crowning auburn hair was now limp and her freckles dirty against her pallid skin.
The light from outside hit the bathroom mirror. She should move to avoid an early-morning encounter with her mother. As she slid out of the bathroom, she wondered how she should respond when asked about the dance. What would her father say if she chose to speak about what happened with Brian? Would anyone in the village believe her? Worse still, would they take Brian’s side? He was, after all, the promising Gaelic football player, a rising star for the county.
She shut her bedroom door and stood for a moment, gazing at her bed. Anger simmered inside her. She had to take the risk. He couldn’t get away with what he had done. She stripped off her muddied clothes and bundled them under the bed. She would dispose of them later. The fresh cotton of her nightclothes comforted her as she lay down to sleep.
What seemed like five minutes later, her mam, Máire, knocked on the bedroom door.
“Grace?” She peered inside the room.
Grace shifted and felt the dull ache of her elbow. “Mam? What’s up?”
“Grace, love, are you awake?” Her mother moved towards her.
“Yeh, I’m awake.” She rubbed her eyes, the remnants of last night’s makeup crumbling under her fingers. She blinked. Something was wrong. She rubbed her eyes again. Her mother was crying.
“You OK? What is it?” For a split second, she thought that her mother had found out about what had happened with Brian. “Mam?” she asked again, reaching out for her mother. Máire grabbed her hand.
“Grace, it’s awful. I don’t know what to say.” She shook her head as a tear tipped from her eye and tumbled down her face.
“What’s awful?” Grace’s heart began to pump.
“Michael is dead. He’s dead.” Máire brought her hands to her face and shook her head. “He died in a car crash last night.” She rummaged in her pocket and pulled out a crumpled wad of tissue paper, dabbed her face with it and then blew her nose.
“Michael? What are you talking about? Michael stayed home last night. Do you mean Brian? Is Brian dead?” Grace pulled herself upright, ignoring the ache in her elbow as panic gripped her. Michael’s car had been missing when she had passed his house earlier. Suddenly, she couldn’t breathe. Just yesterday, they had spent such a wonderful afternoon together, making plans for their future. He couldn’t possibly be taken from her. Not now, when they had finally stated their feelings for each other.
“No, not Brian. Michael and Seán are both dead. Seán called down late to Michael’s house and they decided to collect you from the dance. They rushed off because the dance was almost over. Did you see them last night at all?”
Grace shook her head. “Brian brought me home.”
“Michael’s car was found in the water at the bottom of the cliffs near Trábhán.” Máire dabbed her nose again with the tissue. “The sea took him like it took his father, and poor Seán O’Sullivan was with him. Two gorgeous young men, both gone and two families destroyed.” She took a deep breath and sighed. “I haven’t spoken to Teresa and Edward, but Eibhlín is in a terrible state. The guards just called an hour ago to ask us to stay with her. Your da is with her now. I came back to tell you. I know you were very close to Michael and Seán. Valerie is going to need your support more than ever now, love.”
Grace sat motionless in the bed. Michael and Seán had been out together last night? Michael had never said a word about it. They went out late. To collect you, Grace.
An imaginary metal vice closed around Grace’s chest, making it hard to breathe and pushing her thumping heart further up into her throat. “Gracie? Gracie, love, are you OK? Talk to me, honey.” Her mother moved closer and put an arm on her shoulder. “Let’s get you dressed.”
Máire helped Grace out of bed. Grace fumbled with her trousers, consciously hiding her damaged knee from her mother. She nearly fell over as she put her legs into them.
Great start. I would ask to see the rest of this in a heartbeat. You slowly bring the details of Grace’s awful night into play as she makes her way home. Then, while teasing us with the anticipation of finding out what actually happened with Brian (which we’re not sure we want to know), you deliver another blow. Michael, her boyfriend, we presume, is dead. The small comfort of creeping into bed with him is denied her, even though, she worries “What would he say?” when he finds out what happened with Brian. When I’ve talked before about getting the reader to ask questions in the beginning few pages of your novel, this is what I mean. We want to know what happened with Brian. We want to know what her relationship with Michael was. We want to know why she is nervous about what he would think about what happened that night. If she’s a victim? Is she internalising guilt, or was she in some way complicit in whatever happened?
The synopsis says that this story relates to two girls with similar experiences whose lives then divide, only to reconverge many years later. The issues that arose this night are obviously unresolved, and then cause further stress later in life. This kind of theme is a popular and recurring one and, done well, should be a popular read.
My only slight concern is a structural one. How have you dealt with the leap in timeline to the “present day”? Is this chapter the only one of Grace as a teenager? Do you then jump to Grace arriving at the airport, back in Ireland for the first time in twenty years? How do you manage that transition? With stories like this, that involve an incident in childhood affecting later life, there are only a few ways to deal with this problem. The other main method would be to tell the teenage incident in flashback, but that has its own particular issues. Dealing with this jump in timeline, though, is a key part of getting this kind of story right.
There are some minor copyediting issues, to polish this properly before submitting to a real life agent, but, as “pretend” agent I would be marking this as “interesting – follow up”. Well done. A coveted gold star.
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