Sometimes a submission can be let down by tiny details, sentences that don’t read quite right, the misuse of words, a grammar or punctuation fail that’s disruptive enough to throw the reader out of the story. The good news is that this kind of problem is easy to fix. Ideally either an editor or some well-qualified beta readers would be able to sort this kind of issue out.
Title: Whispers of Deception
Synopsis: Lady Lavinia fears that her husband will discover she’s master and lover of Yasir, a djinni enslaved in an urn by a jealous magician. When her husband steals the urn, he endangers his family from the prophecy: one of Yasir’s and her children will defeat the magician.
The Lady Lavinia had cursed him. And now he was sure of it. For three years, these words festered inside Meylo like a splinter he thought he’d dug out, but the little bit left kept doing its dirty work.
The first clue was the bruises from their rough-and-tumble over the bottle. A surprise, that. A rich, proper lady fighting him, a boy what had only thirteen years, over a fancy brass bottle that she herself had tossed in the river. He pictured himself as the Lady Lavinia must’ve seen him then—short and skinny, looking all of eleven years old (he’d scrapped with them that had taunted him so). That old leather belt cut to hold up raggedy pants from Bony Herman. He checked his arm, flexed his bicep. Now he was bigger with a bit of muscle, thin as one of them wheels on the fancy carriages they said, but looked closer to his sixteen years. Still had them freckles though.
After their fight, he’d been black and blue and yellow and purple, with pain shooting through his body, longer than bruises from any row he’d ever gotten into. He pictured the lady by the riverbank, muddy and wet from their tussle, near skewering him with those witchy blue eyes when he said he’d tell her husband about the bottle. Meylo had felt the evil eye all the way to his gut.
This last winter, he almost froze as he starved on the streets of Hertford. After spring came he’d been laid low with a fierce fever, near died; sacked from selling newspapers when his were stolen and made to pay for them; beaten up by a nasty gang of boys, his best friend, Bony Herman, killed.
Meylo’s head spun with his long list of bad luck. But this last one . . . He breathed hard, imagining the hangman’s noose rough around his neck. This last one. Accused of the murder of a gentleman. They were still after him. He looked back, down the dark country road, the wagon bumping along the ruts and potholes. Nothing and no one.
Today, he’d hopped in and out of the cart for what seemed like hundreds of times, fetching this and that bundle at each stop. Making his way to London, bit by bit, pence by pence, where his luck would change. Where he would make his fortune.
He stood on his knees, swaying on the sticky hay piled in between the packages in the bed of the wagon and looked over the driver’s seat to see if they were close to Little Wymondley. Meylo wiped the tangles of his hair from his eyes, and yawned. He glanced up.
In the sky, the full moon glowed just above the dark skeletons of the trees.
His muscles locked. He stared at that thing shining like the gore on the murdered gentleman. The wagon lurched. Meylo fell backwards into the pile of hay, eyes stuck on the sky.
“Criminey! Cursed me double is wot she did.” He squeezed his eyes shut and opened them. “Cor, the moon’s still there, still redder than a drunk’s nose.”
He pushed up on his elbows. The driver needed to know about this bad-luck moon. Might want to hurry and set up camp for the night, not wait for the town. Swaying with the rough ride, Meylo took hold of the back of the driver’s stand and rose halfway. He cocked his head. Horses galloping. Voices. He sank back down in the hay, heart thumping.
They’d found him!
He scrambled. Started to crawl to the wagon’s edge. He’d drop onto the road and run. But a man jumped onto the driver’s seat. Meylo stayed still. He wouldn’t risk being caught.
The driver reached for his pistol. A flash of steel, a strangled gurgle, and the driver fell backwards onto Meylo, head tilting at an awkward angle, blood spurting from the wide slit in his throat.
Meylo could barely breathe under the weight of the driver’s body. Warm blood dripped onto his face, into his mouth. Spitting, he squirmed out from under the man and burrowed into the hay. The coppery taste of blood made him sick, but he forced himself to lie flat and tried not to retch.
Strong fingers gripped his ankles. He stifled a screech as his heart just about drove into his throat.
’S blood. They had him.
“What have we here?” A gruff voice.
Meylo kicked and dug deeper into the hay. If he could break loose they might figure it wasn’t worth the effort, but he was dragged out as quick and easy as if he were a mewling kitten. Someone held him by the ankles and shook. He tried to hold his pocket closed, but his arms swung out from his side, head wobbling, as a big man, face covered in a scraggly black beard, jiggled him back and forth.
“Will wonders never cease?” The bearded man dropped him in the dirt. “Look a here. A bob.” He dragged Meylo upright. “Now where would a slip of a beggar boy like you, get hisself a silver bob?” He slapped him across the face. “Got anymore?”
Meylo shook his head and wiped his nose with his sleeve. These weren’t the constable’s men. They were just robbers, plain and simple.
In the man’s palm, Meylo’s shilling from the murdered gentleman glittered. He had stumbled across the body in a smelly alley piled with trash. He didn’t kill the man, but that hadn’t kept him from looking through his fancy clothes. And low and behold, what did he find but the bob in a secret pocket the murderers missed. He had used the pennies he saved to live on, kept the bob for the big city London. Finally, his luck had changed.
But now . . .
“Farley, slit his throat and strip him. See what other surprises you can find.” The man shoved Meylo in the direction of a skinny chap who pulled a knife from a worn scabbard at his side.
Editorial comment: There’s lots to like about this opening, a juvenile on the run, tension from the outset with an interesting hook (the “curse”), a good “voice” for the main character. Unfortunately for me, there were one or two things in the first few lines that jolted me out of the story, made me think “what does the author mean here, exactly?” Of course, if you’re thinking that, you’re not being immersed in the book, so the opening is failing to do its job.
The first issue is that “and” beginning the second sentence. I’ve no problem, unlike some other rather more dictatorial grammar purists, with starting a sentence with a conjunction. If the voice and pace of the story fit, fire away. However, here I’m waiting for details of that new confirmation that he’s been cursed, the justification for that “and”. If he said, next line, “It was when I was accused …” the “and” would work. As it is, this new reason does finally arrive, but 250 words, or an entire page, later, after we’ve read about all the other reasons he thinks he’s cursed. By that time I’ve forgotten that I’m waiting for this latest reason. Without that new reason, the “And” is misplaced, and I had to go back to the opening few lines to make sure I hadn’t misread them.
The second issue is that sudden jump into Meylo’s inner “cockney” voice in the second paragraph: “a boy what had only thirteen years”. Up until this point, the first three sentences forming the first paragraph are also Meylo’s inner voice (they’re his internal dialogue about him being cursed), but there’s no hint of any kind of cockney accent or language in those inner thoughts. In fact, the third sentence of the first para is quite sophisticated, with multiple clauses and quite detailed and apt metaphor. Having a particular accent or language for a character is a great way of making them memorable and distinct, but that voice and language must be consistent. Is the first sentence a narrator telling us that Lavinia had cursed Meylo? Or are they the thoughts of Meylo himself, told in a rather distant third person perspective? Whichever alternative, the voice of the person (narrator or Meylo) describing the fighting in the second paragraph, also from a rather distant third person perspective, should be the same. But they’re not. The sophistication and complexity of the voice of the first paragraph changes completely, and suddenly we’re into very vernacular phrasing: “a boy what had only thirteen years”, “he’d scrapped with them that had taunted him so”, “thin as one of them wheels on the fancy carriages”. It’s not consistent with either the first paragraph, or much of what comes later, when we similarly appear to be in Meylo’s thoughts but we’re not really sure, because of the lack of consistency, whether we are or not.
There are a couple of other minor details that are relatively insignificant but would also throw a reader out of the story. One of them is using the phrase “pence by pence”, to describe accumulating some wealth. A native British-English speaker would always say “penny by penny”. Pence is a plural of penny (the other, that would be used in different situations, is “pennies”). It’s a very idiomatic word that probably only a native speaker could use “correctly” – one of the perils of not writing in your “native” English. Again, a decent editor or beta-reader well versed in US/UK language differences would be able to point these kinds of issues out.
There’s a similar problem with the word “bob”, later on. Having “a few bob” is an idiomatic way of saying you’re quite wealthy, but I’ve never seen it used in the singular form in reference to a particular coin, so every time it comes up I’m thinking “that’s not right” instead of concentrating on the developing drama.
I’m afraid it’s a rejection from me. As an agent, I’d be concerned that although there’s the bones of a good story here, there would be quite a bit of work to do before this manuscript is near publishable. You might say, but why wouldn’t an agent work with the author and whip it into shape? Because that’s not an agent’s job, simply. They’re looking for something to sell to a publisher, not a work in progress that they’ll have to commit hours of billable time (time that they could be out selling another more polished manuscript to a publisher and earning some money) trying to fix, with uncertain reward.
Thanks for posting.