This is a really interesting opening, highly original, with a strong voice. It’s not quite publishable as it stands, but then, as I understand it from the author, it’s pretty much a first draft, so that’s to be expected. It needs a bit of a copyedit, and I have a few niggling points that may need some attention. Detailed comments follow:
Name: Annie Shipsea
Title of the work: Cecil Pantry and the Eightfold Path
Genre (please choose): Humour
Language (please choose): British English
Synopsis (max 50 words): If you think you know what success looks like, think again. This is the story of Cecil Pantry – only child, husband, lover, friend, financier, journalist, therapist, property developer and more besides – as he applies his own unique interpretation of buddhism to personal relationships and a series of careers.
1. Mr Nancy Rawlings
Relations being what they were between my parents I am unsure how it was managed that I was born in 1959, in the lengthening shadows of the world wars and a full ten years after they were married. My father, Tasker Pantry, located the midwife at the scene of another imminent birth where she greeted him loudly down the stairs past an equally distressed and anxious man: ‘I have a naked woman to attend to up here Mr Pantry, I cannot help you at the moment. Is your wife still walking around?’
Flushing deepest puce at this intelligence Tasker could scarcely articulate my mother Nancy’s predicament. Riding home as fast as his bicycle wheels would carry him he found me already safe in her arms, just under one hour after the first contractions of the labour had begun. Recalling these events later he regretted he had not avoided the mortification of his errand for want of reflecting beforehand that my mother had never needed assistance from anyone in anything she ever did.
In 1945 Tasker had almost died of dehydration from unloading cargo in the hot sun of the South China Sea. The war had already ended and his illness had secured him an early release from service with the merchant navy. He returned to England at the age of 20, relieved and optimistic that he would not end up like his father Edmund Pantry who had lain for three days with a permanent leg injury among the dead and dying on the battlefield of the Somme, living out his days in mostly silent shell-shock.
Meanwhile, Nancy Rawlings had made plans for Tasker. The Rawlings family home had been bombed to smithereens. Nancy’s parents and her only sibling, a sister, had all been killed. Tasker’s duty was clear to everyone, or so he discovered on his return from the Far East.
‘You’re all I have in the world now, Tasker’ said Nancy, taking full advantage of her bereaved status in the inherited nasal twang she never quite managed to conquer.
The Rawlings and the Pantrys were close friends. Both families had moved to Harrow from Shoreditch, part of the exodus out of the East End of London that accompanied the progress of the Metropolitan railway line. According to my Aunt Edith Pantry, Nancy and Tasker had been childhood sweethearts from the age of five. The inevitability of their alliance did not fully strike Tasker until he was 24years old and the wedding presents had already begun to arrive. By then he had qualified as a teacher and so began his retreat into the world of literature where, not altogether unlike Edmund, he lived out his days. He and Nancy eventually moved to Bedfield, Surrey, a respectable commuter town.
Nancy and Tasker had an understanding: my mother had dominion over the home – the whole of our lives, in fact – bar my father’s ‘library’, a garage that he had converted for the purpose. He made and drank wine and beer in there, and read poetry – activities my mother disapproved of as identifiable subversion but did not interfere with, knowing that there were borders in my father’s personality which even she could not cross.
As her only child, I was naturally the focus of my mother’s formidable attention. At this remove I have a better appreciation of the ambitions she had for me, though I have not realised them quite as she intended. Most pertinent to my present purpose, I, in turn, made an intense study of Nancy herself and came to realise the wisdom of working around rather than through other people. The true success of one’s mastery of this skill may be measured by the extent to which one manages to secure one’s preferred outcome in a given situation, while leaving one’s companions happily persuaded otherwise.
‘Cecil, this navy blazer will match your twill trousers.’ So spake Nancy, for instance, during a Saturday morning shopping excursion for the purpose of smartening me for an ‘At Home’ at the Brewitt’s the next day. I was 15. I might have set up in ferocious opposition to the blazer, which was my instinct, but this would only have strengthened Nancy’s resolve. Tom Brewitt was my own age and, to my mother’s envy, a pupil at the minor public school, St Crispin’s, while I attended Bedfield Comprehensive where my father was by then Head of English. The owners of a haberdashery, the Brewitts were people of consequence in my mother’s estimation – a fact which I turned to my advantage with ease. Loud, public school-style jackets were fashionable at the time.
‘Couldn’t I have this one Mother? It’s like the St Crispin school blazer’.
I pointed to a maroon and chocolate-striped affair that I fancied. As a pebble dropped in a pond, the effect of my words rippled across the surface of my mother’s face.
‘I was just admiring it myself’ she smiled.
At 18, I had my mother’s cooperation in most things of importance to me. By then I was also on first name terms with my parents, an audacious assertion of equality which she chose to interpret as an eccentric expression of precociousness befitting a talented and able son. From his close understanding of the necessity that had birthed it, my father was lost in admiration of my ability to steer my own course through the treacherous seas of Nancy’s maternal and social aspirations. The irony was that I owned the result which in justice should have accrued to Tasker himself, whose deference to his wife was unsettled only by occasional outbursts of furious insubordination.
Editor’s comments: Put these in to context. They’re minor copyediting comments, but I think attention to them would make the whole passage read much more smoothly.
In the first sentence, the phrase, “I am unsure how it was managed that I was born” is a bit awkward. It’s passive, for a start (“it was managed”) and although it’s fairly clear what you mean, isn’t it that he’s unsure how he was conceived, not how he was born? Also, it’s not really that he was born in 1959, particularly – it’s that he was born at all. If specifying the date is important I’d start a new sentence, to make sure that we know it’s that he was born that was the miracle, not that he was born in 1959 in particular, which is how your construction might be misinterpreted.
How does his father know where the midwife is? She’s apparently on call at another birth. What does the father do? Stand out in the street listening for screaming? 🙂
I’m no midwife, but I raised an eyebrow at a first birth taking an hour from first contractions to delivery. I’m sure it’s possible, but it seems very unlikely.
I appreciate the somewhat stilted tone of the language (it’s actually a vital part of the “voice” of the piece), but the sentence beginning “Recalling these events later” (after which there should be a comma) really is a bit tortuous.
There are some rogue or missing commas, like after “parents” in the first para, “intelligence” and, in the next sentence, “him” in the second para, and dialogue punctuation needs an overhaul generally, but these are all tiny details.
If there’s one criticism I’d have of the opening as a whole, it would be that it does leap about temporally, within a very short stretch of text. In the beginning paragraphs, Cecil Pantry is being born. In the next three paras we backpedal some fourteen years to when his father is newly invalided out from the war, then suddenly we race forwards to when Cecil is fifteen and choosing a blazer. It’s all a bit fractured and fragmented. I wonder if it wouldn’t be better to adopt a slightly more linear narrative? It’s fine to move around, of course, but fifteen years backwards and then thirty years forwards, within the space of a few hundred words, is all a bit disorientating, especially at the very start of a book.
I liked it: the Wodehousian tone abetted by the occasional slightly archaic word choices (“spake”), the odd-ball characters and disjointed family dynamic. It needs a rigorous copyedit, and you might give some thought to the temporal flow as I mention above. A silver star. Nothing major to fix, but not at it’s best just yet. Thanks for posting.