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  1. #1
    George Kozi

    Your opinions please.

    In this scene, Katherine (one of the main characters) just found out that her grandmother is on her death bed. She lives with her uncle and for some reason, she has problems remembering her childhood. During this scene, she falls asleep and dreams.

    I’m a 40 year old mail who tries to describe something an eighteen year old girl might think and feel. As you can imagine, I’m feeling my way in the dark… I suspect that towards the end of this fragment, the text becomes a bit “mushy”. I would like to hear your opinion on it. Does it flow well? Isn’t it a bit choppy in the first half? Is the voice clear?


    P.S. I just put up my deflector shields, so I welcome any faser blasts the grammar police might want to fire at my enterprise...

    Katherine’s bedroom was a small modest room on the second floor of her uncle’s house. A single bed, a wooden wardrobe, an old dressing table and a chair was all that was in it. To anyone that saw it, it would’ve immediately been evident that it wasn’t decorated to suit the taste of its occupant, but rather of someone who forgot what youth was like. She once tried to brighten it up a little, but for some reason, Father Ignatius strongly objected to her changing anything in the room. Katherine pleaded with him repeatedly but the priest didn’t budge an inch.

    “My house, my rules,” he said, “When you have your own place you may decorate it to suit your taste.” In the end she had to give up. Her uncle was too set in his ways to be swayed by a teenager. Katherine looked around. Everything was austere and functional, and she hated it. Not even the dormitory at her boarding school was this empty. The only spot of color in the entire room, was provided by a bunch of freshly cut flowers on the dressing table.

    Last year she came across a little antique shop hiding in a side street, just off the main square. She rummaged around for a while and in the back room, high on a shelf, she saw a little Jasperware vase she liked and could afford. The rim was chipped, but she didn’t care. Had it been perfect, she wouldn’t have been able to afford it. Delighted with her find, she gladly parted with a whole month’s allowance. That was the first time she chose and bought something by herself, without taking into account someone else’s opinions. Unsure of how he would react, she didn’t show it to her uncle. He would’ve probably lectured her on the usefulness of such an object, and no doubt, he would’ve disapproved of her, for so easily parting with her allowance. On the other hand, she did show it to Mrs. Clayton and Peter. She knew that they would appreciate its refined elegance, without making derogatory comments on its value or usefulness. Peter promptly took it upon himself to provide her with flowers every single week during the summer. “Everybody needs a little bit of color in their life” he said, and from that day on, her room always had a bunch of fresh flowers to brighten it up a little.

    No, this wasn’t truly her room, it was just a space she happened to occupy when she was at her uncle’s house. Everything in her bedroom reminded her of her uncle and she felt as if he constantly watched her from behind every piece of furniture. Every school holiday she had to come here where her uncle could keep an eye on her. The boarding school wasn’t any better. “The Saint Ursula school for girls”, a cold place run by nuns for the Catholic church, was her second prison. The sisters liked nothing more than to impose an iron discipline and make everybody feel guilty about everything. She felt watched all the time and she’d never managed to get used to it. She didn’t have much privacy, neither here or at the school. But all that didn’t matter any more because earlier that summer she graduated. And above all, in September she’ll finally be eighteen. On her birthday, her uncle’s guardianship would officially end and she’ll finally be free to do as she pleased.

    During her last year at school she made elaborate plans for this summer holiday, hoping that her uncle would see sense and let her spend it elsewhere. She wanted to go to the seaside, or perhaps even to London for a couple of days. Needless to say, her hopes proved to be in vain. Her uncle insisted she spent the entire summer at his house, the same way she’d done for the past ten years. Begrudgingly she agreed, and consoled herself with the thought that this would definitely be the last time she let anyone decide what she did. In a matter of days she would have access to her trust fund, and that ensured her financial independence. Last year, in an unguarded moment, her uncle let it slip that her parents left her a sum of money. It wasn’t much, but it was enough to pay for a trip around the world and a couple of years of university education. But now, this dreadful news about her grandmother changed everything. Her plans would have to wait.

    She sat down in the comfortable chair in front of the open window. The familiar noises from outside came flooding into the room. In the distance, at the top of the garden, she saw Peter walking along the blue border with his wheelbarrow, busy doing who knows what to the garden. Behind that border stood her favorite tree, an old horse-chestnut that was showing signs that fall wasn’t too far away. The leaves were paler in color, beginning to shift from the dark green of the summer to the autumn yellows. The summer was nearly over, and so was her imprisonment in this house.

    She spent many hours in its shadow, just looking at the sky through the dense canopy of leaves or reading some book she borrowed from her uncle’s library. That tree was be the only thing about this house she would really miss. The secluded spot at the base of the trunk provided her with a few precious moments of enjoyment and solitude. She often went there during the summer. It was the only place she felt free to dream and make plans for the future. Peter was obviously aware of her liking that spot. For the last couple of years he planted a group of Caryopteris at the end of the border.

    “This is Longwood blue,” he explained, “It will grow about five foot tall, and stop anyone looking out the windows from seeing you sitting by the tree.”

    Grateful to the old man, she enjoyed the solitude of the garden and felt relieved that no curious eyes could watch her. From about midsummer, the Longwood covered itself with a multitude of purple-blue flowers that must have been dripping with nectar, because they acted like a butterfly magnet. For hours on end, she watched them busily checking every flower, drinking the sweet bounty of nectar and, when the sweetness dried up, fly away towards some other place. She sometimes felt envious of their freedom. Almost eighteen, she felt she hasn’t really lived. Her regimented life left no place for spontaneity, no place for joy.

    Katherine closed her eyes. She appeared asleep, but her mind was racing, trying to recall memories of her grandmother. She did this often, and often she failed, as if there was something she wasn't supposed to remember. However, for the last couple of months something had changed and the barrier started to give way. Now and then, she found herself remembering some detail about her life at Foxglove Cottage, nothing big, just impressions and glimpses that felt familiar.

    “Grandma is one of those people who know how to hug,” she thought, and the image of an old lady putting her arms around her surfaced in her mind. She felt lost in the warmth and tenderness of the embrace, completely engulfed by a feeling of safety, as if nothing in the world could ever hurt her again. She wondered if this was a childhood memory or perhaps, just the manifestation of an unfulfilled desire.

    Every night before tucking her in, her grandmother used to read her stories. She couldn't remember any of them, but she remembered the old leather bound book with golden letters printed on the cover. The memory of her fingertips touching the soft Moroccan leather became vivid in her mind. Her parents were always on some trip, somewhere far away, so Katherine and Elvira spent most of their time together. “That must have been a happy time,” she murmured, “It would be so unfair if it wasn't.” The only unpleasant memories were of her uncle Ignatius visiting her at the house. He was her father's brother, and even at that tender age Katherine could tell that her grandmother didn't get along with him.

    She let those faint memories of childhood roam free through her mind. Without her noticing, they gradually become more vivid, almost tangible, and reality seamlessly dissolved into a dream. She again saw herself walking on the gravel path, under the old lime trees guarding the approach to her grandmother's house. The shaded alley lead her towards the front door of the cottage. She recognized it. Solid oak painted dark green, with a polished brass lion head knocker hanging on it.

    The entangled mass of honeysuckle growing above the door, let a wondering ray of the afternoon sun filter through. It playfully sparkled on the door handle, like an open invitation to enter the old Victorian cottage. Before she could reach for it, the door slowly opened in front of her, revealing the long welcoming hallway. She entered. Her steps were silent, as if she didn't really walked on the terracotta tiles, but floated just above them. The large country kitchen and dining room were on her right, the sitting room and library on her left. At the end of the hallway, she saw the large glass doors leading to the conservatory at the back of the house.

    The wrought iron frame was painted white and held acres of glass panels that let the afternoon light flood in. The conservatory seemed somewhat out of place, as if the one who built it there, just had some kind of afterthought. She remembered it filled with colorful orchids and all kind of ferns whose name she didn't knew. Her grandmother used to hang bundles of herbs in there, spreading a scent impossible to ignore. Katherine liked that smell. It was the aroma of a meadow late in the summer, just after the last hay was cut.

    The heart of the house was the large country kitchen with painted pine wood cabinets all around the wall and an old Belfast sink tucked away in a corner. In the middle of the room stood a generous oak table she and her grandmother used to sit at. The centerpiece of the kitchen was, of course, the enormous old fashioned green Aga cooker. At least one of the four ovens always had something baking in it, filling the whole house with comforting smells. She remembered the oatmeal cookies her grandmother used to make every Tuesday, and the rich vanilla flavored rice pudding she used to like so much.

    Ruben, her ginger tom-cat always slept in front of the Aga, forcing whomever wanted to reach the cooker to go around, or step over him. Nothing in the world could have convinced that old cat to move from the warm spot he considered his own. He always lay on a rug with his paws stretched out and the tip of his tail slowly moving up and down, as a kind of “do not disturb” warning sign. And if someone accidentally did, they could expect a dirty look, a hiss and a groan, before he turned around and walked angrily away, only to be back ten minutes later sleeping on the very same spot.


  2. #2
    George Kozi

    Re: Your opinions please.

    To quote the immortal words of Britney Spears, “oops, I did it again”. In the introductory comments, second paragraph, mail, should be male.

  3. #3
    George Kozi

    Re: Your opinions please.

    Hum... nobody would touch it with a ten foot pole... I wonder why?

  4. #4
    Ashling White

    Re: Your opinions please.

    I'm too sleepy to do a line by line crit. The scene where she picks out the vase held my interest for a second, but the relentless telling instead of showing throughout the piece bored me. Halfway through I started scanning.

    You can shorten this whole thing by cutting out all the telling, especially cut the redunant telling twice within a sentence or two. It insults the reader's intelligence when you repeat info this way. And lose the passive/weak/linking verb structure.

    If you cut away the deadwood, the content strengths & weaknesses stand out, making it easier to give in-depth crits.

    To anyone that saw it, it would’ve immediately been evident that it wasn’t decorated to suit the taste of its occupant, ...

    ... he said, “When you have your own place you may decorate it to suit your taste.”
    she saw a little Jasperware vase she liked and could afford. The rim was chipped, but she didn’t care. Had it been perfect, she wouldn’t have been able to afford it.

    Okay, here's the whole paragraph about the vase ...
    She rummaged around for a while, and in the back room, high on a shelf, she saw a little Jasperware vase she liked and could afford. The rim was chipped, but she didn’t care. Had it been perfect, she wouldn’t have been able to afford it.

    Now, my version below shows her delight instead of telling us her vaguely expressed feelings, loses the unwieldy and uninformative "to be/was" verbage and the redundant "affords." Just one example of how to clear out the deadwood.

    She rummaged around for a while, ending up in the back room. Standing on tiptoe, she took down a little Jasperware vase from a high shelf. Katherine ran her fingers carefully over the chipped rim and checked the price. She smiled as she hugged the vase to her chest. The flaw made it affordable.

    Just a suggestion--but tightening and shortening this passage will increase the number of folks willing to give you in-depth crits.

    Hang in there!


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