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Thread: Your opinion...

  1. #1
    G. Kozi

    Your opinion...

    Hi all.

    I would like to hear your opinion on a fragment from something I recently wrote. It is the beginning of a longer story I’m working on right now. I’m new to all this and English is not my first language. Of course this means I have some insecurity issues with it... I would appreciate some feedback...
    The letter slowly fell from his hand and rested on the wooden floor in front of him, almost touching his shoes. Father Ignatius didn’t make any attempt to retrieve it. He just stood there, in the middle of his study, staring at the wallpaper. The moment he dreaded for so long, had finally arrived.

    Curious about the cause of such an unusual reaction, Katherine looked at him and wondered if he was seeing some image from the past projected on the wall, or he was just letting the impact of the words written on that piece of paper, sink in. The letter he opened seemed to have made quite a impression on her uncle. He didn’t usually express any emotion in front of her, but this time she could definitely tell he was unsettled by what he’d just read.

    Father Ignatius was a slim tall man, who always dressed in a black suit and wore a dog collar that appeared to be tighter than strictly necessary. And as if to leave no one in doubt he was a priest, suspended from a substantial chain around his neck, a big silver cross dangled on his chest. His gray hair was carefully combed towards the back of his head, betraying a little bit of pedantry one wouldn’t usually expect from a clergyman. There was something about him that made people take notice of his presence as soon as he entered a room, but at the same time try to avoid him if they possibly could.

    He knew this letter meant trouble from the moment the postman handed it over to him that morning just after breakfast. He avoided opening it until late in the afternoon finding something else to do that, he tried to convince himself, required his immediate attention. Aware that his behavior was bordering on the ridiculous, he filled his day with all kinds of odd jobs, not that they were really urgent, but they were the perfect pretext to keep himself occupied.

    A couple of times during the day, he noticed Mrs. Clayton, the housekeeper, looking at him over her glasses with a disapproving gaze. Usually he went out in the morning leaving her in control of the house, but today he couldn’t bring himself to do so. Used to have the house empty, Mrs. Clayton was certainly irritated by his presence and she didn’t think twice about letting him notice it. Every time their paths crossed that day he could hear her mumbling to herself in a muted voice, but loud enough for him to understand exactly what she was saying:

    “I wish he’d stop ferreting around” or, as a variation on the same theme, “How am I expected to keep the house in order, with him getting in the way…”

    Not to be outdone by this, whenever she was in his vicinity, he at his turn mumbled something that sounded equally unpleasant, but Mrs. Clayton seemed to have one of those rare and convenient forms of deafness that allowed some people to hear only what they wanted to hear. Nevertheless, he tried to keep out of her way. It was easier that way.

    One would expected them to get along, but even after ten years they still hadn’t managed to become accustomed to each other’s presence. Not once, had Katherine witnessed some disagreement between the two of them. She saw them fight their battles in the most polite manner possible. She liked Mrs. Clayton. She grew up around her and often the old lady showed kindness towards her.

    The large kitchen, Mrs. Clayton’s headquarters, was a cozy place where she found refuge every time her uncle was displeased with something she may have done or refused to do. Mrs. Clayton seemed to always be aware when something like that happened. Whenever she entered the kitchen upset or sad, she always found a piece of Victoria cake or a mug filled to the rim with warm chocolate, waiting for her on the kitchen table.

    Nothing ever changed in Mrs. Clayton’s appearance. She wore the same old fashioned clothes that belonged in an other era. Her white hair gathered in a tight bun at the back of her head, a pair of wire frame glasses and sensible black shoes completed her image. She was one of those no-nonsense hard working woman who liked things done in a particular way and didn’t hesitate to tell Ignatius exactly what was on her mind. Everybody in the house was well aware of this, and everybody knew better than to try to cross Mrs. Clayton. Katherine once heard her say to his uncle in a steely voice:

    “Father Ignatius, you may be a servant of the Lord and know a lot of things, but when it comes to good house keeping and the caring for Katherine, I’m afraid you don’t know the first thing. You better leave those things to me. It is my job and I know how to do it best.”

    Nobody else dared to speak to him that way and from that day on he refrained from any comments relating to the way Mrs. Clayton did things around the house. Ignatius didn’t think he really needed a fulltime housekeeper and would have dismissed her a long time ago, but she came highly recommended and his eminency the bishop told him in that soft voice of his:

    “Decent domestic help is nearly impossible to find these days, and your duties, as a guardian to this child require you to employ someone. A woman. We don’t want that child growing up in a house with two old men, do we?”

    That sounded like an order to him, and deep down, although he could see his eminency’s point, he was convinced that he put Mrs. Clayton in his house just to keep an eye on him. This made him control his behavior and never say anything in the house he didn’t want his eminency to hear about the very next day. Father Ignatius had no proof that Mrs. Clayton was reporting back to the bishop. Nevertheless, ever since she was in his employment, he carefully locked away his notes in the wall safe every time he left the house. The kind of work he did taught him to be careful.

    Luckily he wasn’t home all that much. His business on behalf of the order kept him on the road most of the year, but when Katherine had a school holiday he insisted on returning home. Last summer was an exception. He was sent on two short trips in the month of June by the bishop, and although he tried, he couldn’t pass that assignment on to someone else.

    The truce between Father Ignatius and Mrs. Clayton held quite well if they kept out of each other’s way, but the long summer break usually meant three whole months at home, and for him, the only peaceful time was when, Mrs. Clayton took her three days off each month. He didn’t mind having her out of the house, but the problem was that there was no way to predict when she will ask for her free days. She just casually informed him a week in advance and that was that. He found this to be quite strange and once even asked her about it, but Mrs. Clayton only gave a vague explanation sighting family obligations.

    Finally, later that afternoon he couldn’t avoid it any more. He retreated to his study. There, on his desk it waited for him. He took it in his hands, and with a determined twist, broke the seal. All would have been well if Katherine, wouldn’t have entered the study while he was opening it, and now she stood there looking at him, clearly interested in his reactions.

    He opened that letter knowing perfectly well what it contained. The small crest on the upper left corner was enough to tell him from whom it had come, and he immediately guessed what it was about. Elvira Montague, Katherine’s grandmother, was taken ill a month earlier, and when someone in the family of one’s protégé is ill, the last thing one wants handed is a letter marked “Urgent”.


  2. #2
    Anthony Ravenscroft

    Re: Your opinion...

    Well! FWIW, your writing overall is better than 90% of the proposals & portions I receive. It's a little self-counsciously Gothic, but overall your structure is good enough to stand up under that sort of crepe-shrouded weight -- most writers who try for that tone simply cannot support it.

    You need to shape up some of the mechanicals... but then, so do I. If I were to advise you to attack anything first that'd be to reduce the usage of passive sections -- not eliminate them entirely, of course, just add more rhythm. For excerpts such as this, you're writing about the present, the "stone's throw" past, & the "dim dark" past, & keeping the reader's metaphoric feet from getting rooted too strongly to one or the other allows him to follow more gracefully the movements of your prose.

    I'm vaguely embarrassed that your writing is better than that of so many people for whom English is their only language....

  3. #3
    G. Kozi

    Re: Your opinion...

    Thank you for your comments. I needed some feedback. This is my very first attempt at writing fiction and I don’t have a yardstick to measure my work against...

    I was surprised you picked up on the Gothic tone of the fragment. This story is indeed in a way Gothic, but in a polite way. No blood and guts, no clichés if I can help it...

    It is a story about the conflict between a shadowy catholic order and the "Ancient council" that keeps alive the old ways. Caught in the middle of all this is Katherine. It has a couple of subplots involving magick, tampering with the weather, betrayal of trust etc.

    This is the opening fragment of my work and I need to set up a lot of things in it. That’s why I take the reader away from the study and let the characters remember things that happened in the past. Every one of these “digressions” is significant in some way and will be picked up again later in the story. (it goes on for an other 67 000 words).

    My English is not that good. This passage is cleaned up. I still struggle with my grammar. Unfortunately I never had the opportunity to have English lessons. What I know I picked up simply by watching the BBC and trying out things.

  4. #4
    gulliver h

    Re: Your opinion...

    I agree. Your writing is measures above a majority of native English speaking aspirants. Really. The stuff I notice in here is really pretty minor and looks more like spelling and construction difficulties than anything else. It's extremely readable overall (and is clever, which is so hard to do in another language). You just need someone to nitpick it for you, with a hard copy and a red pen.

  5. #5
    Joe Zeff

    Re: Your opinion...

    You don't even need to do that, Gulliver. Have your editor put all corrections inside [brackets,] in a seperate file. Then, you can search for the open bracket, see the correction and make it in your master file. This way, the editor can also make *suggestions* that you can take or not as you see fit.

  6. #6
    gulliver h

    Re: Your opinion...

    It's not my work, Joe.... Whatever the mechanics are the point remains. It's good, at least in terms of the English (and more, actually). Find a fluent English speaker to do the minor edits for you; you don't need anyone to mess with the voice at all.

  7. #7
    Joe Zeff

    Re: Your opinion...

    I know it's not your book we're discussing, Guliver, but I was replying to something you said. I've had my beta-readers put their comments/suggestions/corrections in brackets, and found them easy to find. Then, I can consider them and change what I think needs changing in the master copy. Much easier than a hard-copy and red pencil, especially as one if them is in a different state.

    The nice thing about it is, you don't have to leaf through a hard-copy page by page, looking for notes. You just search for the bracket, and your word processor goes right to the next one. If there's ten or fifteen pages between them, it moves quite quickly.

  8. #8
    G. Kozi

    Re: Your opinion...

    Thank you for your comments. I know I need to find a native English speaker willing help me edit this story, but that’s easier said than done. The problem is that I’m completely new to all this and I don’t yet know all the ins and outs I need to be aware of.

    If you are interested, you’ll find below the dotted line the rest of the opening passage of my book. I gave it the provisional title “The Blue Moon Brotherhood”. The txt immediately follows the passage I posted at the beginning of this thread.



    He opened that letter knowing perfectly well what it contained. The small crest on the upper left corner was enough to tell him from whom it had come, and he immediately guessed what it was about. Elvira Montague, Katherine’s grandmother, was taken ill a month earlier, and when someone in the family of one’s protégé is ill, the last thing one wants handed is a letter marked “Urgent”.

    Father Fergal, the parish priest from her village, discretely and regularly kept him informed about the old woman’s condition. Not that the parish priest had any access to her, but in a place like Upper Wexbury, everybody knew everybody else’s business. And certainly everyone knew what Elvira Montague was up to. She was the preferred target of gossip for the good people from Upper Wexbury. Her house was built just outside the village and her eccentric mannerisms earned her the reputation of “the odd one out”. Whenever the conversation in the pub was slow, someone always suddenly remembered some strange story involving Elvira Montague. The result was that half of what was said about her, originated in people’s imagination.

    Ignatius allowed himself a little smile. He had relied on that reputation eleven years ago at the trial involving Katherine’s custody. With a little help from the judge he got his way, but now things ware about to get complicated. From what the parish priest was writing, Ignatius deduced that her end was near and that meant trouble was coming his way. Slowly, his right hand moved towards the silver cross hanging from the chain around his neck, grasping it firmly as if he was searching for comfort and strength. He has been dreading this moment for a long time. He knew it wouldn’t be easy, but he and Katherine would have to go and see her.

    The very thought of being in the same room with the dying old woman made him feel uncomfortable. Although he would never admit it, Elvira Montague always frightened him a little. He never could quite understand why a frail old woman could have such an effect on him, a clergyman used to dealing with far tougher people than she was. Nevertheless, he felt uneasy around her from the very first day his late brother Marcus introduced them to each other, twenty years earlier. Against his express wishes Marcus married Elvira’s daughter and the old woman was hostile from the moment she laid her eyes on him.

    There was something in her eyes that demanded caution. Around her, he always seamed to walk on tiptoes, careful about what he said and did. Ignatius wondered what exactly made him behave that way. It must be her eyes. Yes, it was definitely her eyes. They always followed him around the room, constantly keeping watch like a predator ready to strike at her prey. There was no fear in them and she always looked at him as if she knew something he didn’t. Now, after all these years, after all that happened since Katherine’s parents died, he will have to look into those eyes again. A sharp pain in his right hand interrupted his thoughts. He saw the white marks on his palm and recognized the shape of his silver cross imprinted upon it.

    “At least I can time our arrival at her house” he told himself. “I don’t want to be in there longer than absolutely necessary”. There were occasions when his work made him feel uncomfortable, and this was one of those times. He would have to be there, in case the old woman decided she needed a priest. His eminency wouldn’t have it any other way.

    “That will never happen” he heard himself thinking.

    In the few times they saw each other, Elvira always made a point in letting him know she wasn’t interested in anything to do with the church, and Ignatius would have been surprised if she asked for a priest on her death bed. And even if by some miracle she did ask for one, he would be the last person in the world she would want to see there. “Everybody is a catholic on their death bed” the bishop told him, but Ignatius knew this didn’t apply to Elvira Montague.

    He reached down to the floor, picked the letter up and put it in the inside pocket of his jacket. The thought of Elvira gone made him smile for a second. Ashamed, he closed his eyes and said a silent prayer for her soul, but truth be told, his heart wasn’t really in it. By the time he was finished, his mind was made up. He would go alone. He knew that the old woman would want to see her granddaughter, but he considered the risk too great. He would face her alone, and with a little bit of luck, she would be too weak to cause any real problems. It was a terrible thing to do, but in his job he had to do terrible things from time to time and over the years he had learned to live with it.

    As soon as he finished this thought, it dawned on him that this particular plan would be impossible to implement. There was nothing short of not telling Katherine what was happening, that could have stopped her going with him. Neither reason nor threat could convince her to stay here while he was gone. For the last couple of years he had dismissed her questions about her mother’s side of the family, but her insistent inquisitiveness made it increasingly difficult to do so.

    To his dismay, Katherine showed the same steely determination he remembered the old woman having. She even had the same rebellious attitude towards rules and discipline and, he was sad to admit it, the same disregard for the holy church. Katherine stopped attending mass a couple of years ago, and nothing he said or did could convince her to resume going to church. He’d managed only at Easter and Christmas to prevail upon her, and only after confessing he wanted to avoid the embarrassing questions his eminency would surely ask, if he didn’t see her in the congregation. Guilt still worked sometimes.

    “What is the matter uncle Ignatius?” Asked Katherine.

    His eyes slowly left the wallpaper and rested on the young woman standing in front of him. Katherine had changed a great deal in the last few months. The sweet little girl he had always known was gone. She now looked exactly like a younger version of Elvira Montague and the truth was that Ignatius had a hard time dealing with it. “It must be something that runs in the family”, he told himself with a deep sigh. He would have liked nothing more than to go alone but was resigned to the fact he wouldn’t be able to stop her coming with him.

    “Your grandmother is dying” - As always his voice sounded dry and determined. - “We are going home”.

    The enormity of these words surprised both of them. Why did he call it that? It wasn’t his home; it was hers and hers alone. After eleven years, Katherine barely remembered the old Victorian cottage and she remembered her grandmother even less. She was only a small frightened child when, on a cold November morning she was taken away, but the blurred image of the big white house half hidden in the shadows stayed with her all these years.

    After her parents passed away in that terrible car accident, something happened between her grandmother and Ignatius. She remembered being taken to a big building and having to talk to a funny old man wearing a gray wig. Later, she realized he was a judge and that there must have been a court case involving her custody. Katherine wasn’t aware of the details, and Ignatius always resisted her attempts of extracting information from him. The final outcome of the trial was that her uncle was appointed her guardian and her grandmother was denied access to her. Shortly after she came to her uncle’s house, her memories strangely faded away within a couple of months as if her life before that hadn’t existed at all.

    Ignatius thought it was unfortunate all this was happening now, just before Katherine’s eighteenth birthday. He had never explained to her why she was taken away from her grandmother’s house, and he certainly didn’t want the two of them, Katherine and the old woman, talking about it. He knew that Katherine would never accept his reasons for doing it. She was too young to see it had all been done for her own good. Now, Katherine’s coming of age was rapidly approaching and that meant he would lose his last remaining influence on her. He knew it wasn’t possible, but the thought that the old woman planned the timing of these events crossed his mind.

    Despite the fact that she was not supposed to be in contact with her granddaughter, Elvira had ways of keeping herself informed, and he suspected that in some strange way Katherine knew about her grandmother’s predicament before he told her about it. And judging by the look on Katherine’s face he was sure he was right. She didn’t look surprised at all when he broke the news to her. She somehow knew. Ignatius resigned himself to the fact that the truth could not be kept from her, and that it would be unwise to even try. He didn’t like it. He didn’t like it at all, but he had no choice in this matter. Katherine had to go home for this one. A cold shiver went down his spine.

    She looked at the priest. He seemed to be lost in his thoughts as if he suddenly found himself far away, in an other time and an other place. “There it is again, ” thought Katherine, “that irritating habit of retreating into himself in the middle of a conversation, as if the person to whom he just talked suddenly wasn’t worth his attention any more”. He often did this and she didn’t know what to make of it. Every time he did it, she felt awkward and not quite sure how to react. She wondered if the fact that he was a lonely man, not used to share his thoughts could have something to do with it. These silences didn’t last more than a couple of minutes and she usually just waited patiently for him to return. But not this time.

    “Uncle Ignatius!” He brushed a memory or an uncomfortable thought away with a sharp hand gesture and looked at her as if surprised she was still there.

    “I trust you will make the necessary arrangements. I don’t want to waste time. This might be my last chance to meet my grandmother.” Her voice sounded determined. There was no point in arguing with her. However, he had no intention to hurry. The timing of their arrival was the only thing he could control and he secretly hoped they would arrive too late. “That,” he thought, “would be best for everyone involved.”

    “We won’t be able to leave until tomorrow after lunch. Peter has to pick up the car from the garage” he said, knowing full well that the car could have been ready early next morning.

    “I’ll go pack.” Katherine looked at him for a moment as if wanting to underline what she had just said, and then she turned away and started walking towards the door leading to the hallway.

    She had sensed for weeks that something was amiss, but she didn’t expected something like this. It had been years since she’d had any contact with her grandmother, but in the last summer she’d dreamt about her grandmother’s house a couple of times. She had planned a visit after her birthday, when her uncle couldn’t stop her any more. But now, everything had changed. They would see each other sooner than she thought under these unfortunate circumstances. Katherine had many questions she wanted to ask and wondered if she would ever get the chance to ask them.

    Her eyes gradually got used to the dark hallway. At the end of it she saw Mrs. Clayton heading toward the kitchen, probably busy preparing the evening dinner. Food was the last thing on Katherine’s mind and having to make polite conversation around the dinner table didn’t appeal to her today. Not after what she just found out. This evening, she wanted to be left alone with her thoughts.

    “Mrs. Clayton, I won’t be having any dinner tonight. I’m not feeling well and I will remain in my room for the rest of the day”. Mrs. Clayton didn’t answer. She just looked at Katherine for a moment and nodded. She turned around and continued her walk towards the kitchen still limping from the nasty fall she’d taken in the cellar a couple of weeks ago.


  9. #9
    Jill Smith

    Re: Your opinion...

    I was trying to read your sample but sorry it is way too long to be just a sample. For the part I did read it has potential so re-write a bit on it,ok?

    Jill Smith

  10. #10
    George Kozi

    Re: Your opinion...

    Please clarify this for me. You say: “it is way too long to be just a sample”.

    This brings me to a logical question: what length constitutes a viable and representative sample of someone’s work?


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