30 Mar 09
Mentored (Part 3)
Thanks to the Koestler Trust, I am now being mentored by Sally Hinchcliffe, a published author with an MA in Creative Writing from the University of London, taught by Julia Bell and Russell Celyn Jones.
After reading chapters 4 to 6 of the draft of my book, Green Bologna and Pink Boxers, Sally offered this advice:
Choreography and timing. Make it clear to the reader how much time is passing and where you are. Try to remember the layout of the jail is confusing to the uninitiated. For example, you wrote, “I parked my rolled-up mattress by the sliding door.” This needs more description. Where are you? You need to place your characters and yourself in physical situations.
Consider stepping back at some point and describing how the jail works. Such as the layout, terminology, even the fact that it’s for prisoners on remand. Now that your disorientation stage is out of the way, give the reader some clues.
There is a much better sense of yourself in these chapters, but be careful of editorialising. Tell us what you feel, but don’t tell us what to think. For example, you wrote, “‘OK,’ I said, worriedly trying to digest all of this advice that might save me from violence” That might save me from violence isn’t necessary because you need to allow the reader to know what to think.
Most of Chapter 4 is excellent. Nice pace. Well described. But I have a few quibbles with the prose. The end sort of dribbles off with the prisoner showing you the ants coming out of his wall where he sleeps. I’m not sure what that adds. I would be inclined to jump straight to the lockdown time. Ending a sort of “settling-in” episode on a downbeat, contemplative note.
Chapter 5 in comparison feels quite patchy. It has a stop-start rhythm. I would like to see it told as a more continuous story. For example, setting up the situation (crystal-meth glut), and then having the characters succumb to paranoia one by one, ending with the violence of the guards. As it stands, it ends with a bit of a whimper. The goon squad have come in, but after that it sounds like a Girls Scouts outing as you get your laundry changed out. Make the goon squad more ominous.
In general, think of each chapter as a short story to get the narrative flowing better. Then the thread and the narrative arc become clearer.
Each chapter has a clear theme, which is good. In general these three chapters feel solid and well realised, and would fit in well to the book however you slant it. Good stuff.
Sally recommended I read The War Against Cliché by Martin Amis. It’s a book of literary criticism, containing pieces on some of my favourite authors such as Tom Wolfe and Don DeLillo. Here’s Amis decorticating Hannibal by Thomas Harris:
Following the riot of paceless implausibilities that serves as the book’s climax, Hannibal and Clarice ecstatically elide. What is the more incredible, at this point: that Clarice should actually go off with the murdering bastard or that Hannibal would cross the street for such a charmless little rube? (It’s hard to think what woman would be capable of diverting Hannibal for more than five seconds. Mata Hari? Baroness Orczy? Catherine the Great?
‘Look at this crowd,’ Harris writes, ‘scruffy, squinty, angry, egg-bound, truly of the resinous heart.’ Vintage Harris: what does ‘of the resinous heart’ mean, truly, and what does ‘egg-bound’ ever think it means?
And for those of you following the progression of the opening page of Green Bologna and Pink Boxers, here’s the latest version I’ve asked Sally to breathe her fire on.
“Tempe Police Department! We have a warrant! Open the door!”
The stock quotes flickering on the computer screen lost all importance as I rushed to the peephole – it was blacked out. Boots thudded up the outdoor stairs to our Scottsdale apartment, setting my nerves further on edge.
Bang, bang, bang, bang!
Wearing only boxer shorts, I dashed to the bedroom. “Claudia, wake up! It’s the cops!”
“Tempe Police Department! Open the door!”
Claudia scrambled from the California king, her blond hair tousled. “What should we do?” she asked, anxiously fixing her pink pyjamas.
Bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang!
“Open the door!”
We searched each other’s faces.
“Let’s open it,” I said, not wanting to make matters worse. With Claudia clinging to my arm, I was hastening to let them in when – boom! – the door leaped off its hinges.
Big men in black fatigues and ballistic armour blitzed through the doorframe, aiming their steel at us. Afraid of being shot by some trigger-happy rookie, I froze, terror-struck. I could only gape as they converted my living room into a scene from a war movie.
“Tempe Police Department! Get on the fucking ground now!”
“Police! Police! On your bellies now!”
“Hands above your heads!”
“Don’t fucking move!”
As I dropped to the floor, they fell upon me. There was a beating in my chest as if I had more than one heart. Crushed by hands, elbows, knees and boots, I could barely breathe. Cold steel snapped around my wrists. I was hoisted like a puppet onto my feet. As they yanked Claudia up by the cuffs, she pinched her eyes shut; when she opened them, tears spilled out.
Click here to read Mentored Part 2.
Click here to read Mentored Part 4.
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Shaun P. Attwood