A girl in Paris, tripping along the boulevards in the sun. What’s not to like? There are a couple of confusing issues here, but also good writing.
Title: The Doyenné
Wordcount: 94 500
Genre: Womens’ Fiction
Language: Irish English
Synopsis: Just months short of Beril’s achieving her quest to save The Doyenné; piggy-backing three degrees and a job, disaster occurs. No livelihood, no rent, nowhere to study. Unless she’s willing to accept an offer only a fool would refuse. But Beril has good reason to.
Striding along Beril raised her face and beamed back up at the sun shooting vitamin D at her. She forgot where she was going, even what day it was. Her mind trailed her steps all the way to the end of the street, where she was forced to halt at the kerb. ‘Thursday, Champagné,’ she murmured, and focusing again, set off across the boulevard.
Her job took her all over Paris for intense two hour stints pumping people to speak. She was also a student, so she fit her chattering classes between lectures. Champagné was one street over from the Jeu de Paume and the Tuileries, a good twenty minutes according to the street-map in Beril’s head. She glanced at her watch and stepped up her rhythm.
Beril had long since shed her Paris Pratique for a proper map pinned to the wall at the end of her bed. Now she knew Paris was shaped like a turtle with a snail on its back. The turtle straddled the Seine with its head in the Bois de Boulogne and its tail in the Bois de Vincennes. The great Boulevards defined the turtle’s plates and chopped them into neighbourhoods – arrondissements, twenty of them, winding in ever greater circles like a snail. The snail’s heart was in the First and it turned clockwise all the way to the Twentieth and the Bois de Vincennes, where the snail’s tail snuggled up next to the turtle’s.
Beril had visions of some long-forgotten engineer in a dun-coloured back office poring over his map with a set of colouring pencils, trying to make sense of Baron Haussmann’s crazy plan. He had to make it simple, or they would all be lost, all the time, so he chose the game of Goose. Everyone knew how to play Goose. It brought order to the city and Beril never got lost again.
She rummaged in her bag for her badge to get into the slim Art Nouveau building tucked in on the Rue Saint Honoré, in the heart of the First. She used it again to call the lift. Norah Jones was singing Don’t Know Why and Beril hummed along while checking her teeth in the mirror. At the ping she stepped into Champagné International Communications, where the hall was filled with women –young, pretty, very tall. Beril approached reception.
‘Wow it’s hopping in here.’ she said.
‘It’s our new broom.’ The receptionist mouthed.
‘Yes, I heard.’
‘Only hands-on selection will do for our Maestro. But we will go back to photos, trust me. I saw Madame Victoire’s face just now.’ She tapped her log-book. ‘Let’s see, Thursday, you have Duchene and then Rousseau, right?’
‘Duchene will be late.’ The woman pointed a shiny nude index. ‘Take a seat –if you can find one, have a coffee.’ She handed Beril a little plastic coin. ‘The casting couch should be along any moment. That will be entertaining, I’m sure.’
Beril shrugged. She was like a taxi; she was paid to wait. So she took a drink and found a chair in a corner back by the entrance. Women lined the velvet carpet in the corridor, where dove coloured walls, white woodwork and a runway of starry ceiling lights produced a sort of Christian Dior backdrop illuminating all that sharp bone-structure. Odd Glances queried Beril on her simple jacket and flats. A born again Twiggy with a pale crooked mouth came and sat next to her.
‘You look like a mistake.’ The girl said.
Beril laughed. ‘Because I’m too short, or is it my nose?’
‘Yes and yes.’ The girl’s eyes wandered. ‘Just look at that hair over there.’
While Beril was getting a concise master-class on the other candidates, a goblet fell into place and drew her attention to the coffee machine over by the far wall. Beril studied a man whose gaze wandered with all the interest of a waiting-room browser. He glanced along the row of models and then found her, and a fun gleam appeared behind his glasses. He had short brushy hair and wore a good blue shirt with the sleeves rolled. It was tucked into grey trousers -plain black belt, plain black shoes –though nicely shaped ones. He was a corporate type, like most of her clients, in fact. Beril bit her top lip. She must be his biggest puzzle of the afternoon. Boring job or not, maybe he should go back to it. She wasn’t that funny.
The hallway stiffened and Beril’s attention snapped to the advancing group of – well – not quite suits, because no one wore one. A cute guy leading the pack began working his way along the line, his human clipboards fluttering at his heels. He was Serge Spagnolo, Artistic Director, and genius. Beril poked her head out to get a better view of him in the flesh. He was dressed in black, no surprise, and his skin looked prepped, his hair was lush and oddly two-toned, as though the ends had been dipped in blackcurrant. A pair of noisy bangles jangled with every move.
‘Up, up all of you, I need an idea of height. Come along, ladies, I haven’t got all day.’ Spagnolo clapped his hands and the hall rose as one, except for Beril. Beril might have been looking through trees. The decisions sounded arbitrary. ‘Yes- No-No- You’re joking Cherie, you again? No- Okay. Sylvie Bébé you’re back!’
He came to the next girl along from Beril and saw the gap. ‘You – I said up.’ He snapped. Over the way coffee-man raised his palm in up-ups of encourage¬ment. Beril’s lips twitched and she stood to her full height, twinkling at Coffee-man’s face of pain when she did. Well, by the sounds of it, Spagnolo was about to express that pain.
‘You have got to be kidding!’ He was actually doing a twirl around Beril where she stood. ‘What have we got here? And look at that nose –if it isn’t Nefertiti in the flesh.’ He chuckled, so they all chuckled, some of them honked.
It would be unfair to focus on the synopsis of this submission as grounds for rejection, but you do need to be able to summarise your work quite clearly when pitching to agents (or publishers). For the purposes of this site, we have a very abbreviated form of synopsis – Americans would call it “the elevator pitch”. Imagine you’re at the Cannes film festival and getting in to the lift in the Hôtel Martinez. Just as the doors begin to close, your favourite film director squeezes in, nods at you and looks down at their phone. “Excuse me,” you say, “I heard you were looking for brilliant new writers. I have a script I’d like to tell you about.” The doors close. The film director looks at you. “My room is on the third floor,” they say. “You have until then. Go!” The wheezing lift starts moving up. Your job is to convince the film director to ask for your script in the twenty seconds it will take for the elevator to get to the third floor and the doors to open.
Now, here I’m just confused. Who or what is the Doyenné, and why does Beril want to save it/her? I don’t really understand the phrase “piggy-backing three degrees”. She’s studying for three different degrees, at the same time? And has a job? Is that realistic? More to the point, is it important? What has this got to do with the Doyenné? Perhaps we need to know what disaster occurs, otherwise it seems a little random. And the offer that’s too good to refuse seems overly complicated. “Start again,” the director says. “What’s The Doyenné? Why is it/her important?” Ooops. There’s a ping as the elevator reaches the third floor, and the director steps out. The doors close. I read this synopsis and I’m not really any the wiser about the story. What does Beril want? What stands in her way? How does she resolve her problem?
Not knowing what the story is about is not a good start when beginning reading the text. I have no reference points. There’s quite a lot about the geography of Paris in the first few paragraphs–185 words, to be exact. It’s an appealing description, but I’d leave it till later (I don’t know the game Goose, either, so that reference is lost to me). I love the description of Serge, although “cute guy” seems very bland compared to the rest of the description. Why not just have “Serge Spagnolo, artistic director and genius, began working his way …” and then describe him? After all, is Beril narrating the scene or not? If she is, she knows who the cute guy is from the start.
There are a couple of other minor things that throw me and leave me scratching my head. “A goblet fell into place” seems an odd choice of word describing the workings of a coffee machine. “The casting couch should be along any moment” ascribes movement to a piece of furniture. What does a “fun gleam appeared behind his glasses” mean? In fact, the few lines about the “coffee man” are all a bit opaque. Why does she assume he has a boring job? From his shoes? From the description of the women lining the corridor, all very tall, I assumed they were already standing, but then Serge gets them all to stand up. Beril is not there to audition, but if we knew what she was there for (what is her actual job?), we might share her chagrin/amusement (difficult to tell how she feels about Serge’s attention, really) at being asked to stand up herself. Why does Beril stand out so much? Why does the coffee man single her out among all the young wannabes? Why does Serge then do the same?
There are flashes of good writing here, enough to make me wonder about the rest of the story, but were I an agent I would need a better pitch to get me to read it, I think. In a real-life submission you would have at least a page-long synopsis, so hopefully that problem wouldn’t arise. There are quite a few copyediting problems with the text, too. It might be worth getting at least your submission package (usually your first three chapters and the synopsis) looked at by an editor, just for maximum impact. With regard to the queston you had (“Is my style too light?”), no, I don’t think it’s too light at all. Women’s fiction as a genre can be lighter than other genres, but this comes across as quite literary in style. Not an issue.
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