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  1. #1
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    1st couple of paragraphs of 'Milecastle' - my ancient Roman Britain horror novel

    Hi folks,

    I'm brand new to the forum and brand new to actually writing...though I've been making up stories since childhood. I've started my 1st novel (as the story has sprung, almost fully-formed into my brain over the last month. It's a horror/suspense thing set in the 2nd century AD at Hadrian's Wall in Britain (I trained as an archaeologist and live in Scotland.) What follows are the first 600 or so words...I'm hoping for feedback of all sorts, as I'm about 8000 words into this thing and would like to know if it's a train-wreck already. I would like to say that I know the thought of the initial sentence isn't resolved in the selection I've offered up here...but it does get resolved at the end of the chapter...thanks!

    Of course the Wall had not always been there, and it had not always looked as it did now. Caepio allowed his eyes to follow its sinuous line as it disappeared over the ridge to the west. A damp breeze buffeted his face and his vision was blurred by a sudden wetness. It was raining, again. It was always raining. He wiped his eyes and drew his sodden wool cloak up over his head. His nostrils were immediately filled with the familiar smell. “Serve in the Northern Armies,” Aculeo had once told him, “and you will smell of sheep for the rest of your days!” As he neared the end of his second year of service at the Wall, Caepio was beginning to believe the old Gaul was right. The wet and the cold were eternal here. Even during the warmer summer months, when the sun never disappeared, the cold and the damp were not driven away completely. It got into everything, corrupted everything...it seeped. Clothes grew black with mildew, boots mouldered, and people could too, he had seen it.

    The previous spring had been torrential...rain lasting for days on end. One day a huge Gallic spearman from the 2nd Cohort of Nervii had interceded in a dispute between two locals over the ownership of a pig. In the ensuing melee, the soldier had ended up with a knife plunged straight through the palm of his hand. The medicus at the fort duly bound the hand, but the wet crept into the wound anyway. Blackness spread from the wound to the man’s fingers and towards the wrist. Caepio, who had come to the valetudinarium seeking a remedy for a particularly angry bowel, had seen the man’s rotting hand for himself, and the smell...the smell was exactly like the fetid reek that wafted into the fort from the bog to the north. The encounter had done little to mollify Caepio’s disagreeable innards and so he had exited quickly. The surgeon removed the hand and cauterised the stump, but still the damp persisted. The man’s arm began to blacken and putrefy, and the medicus kept cutting...and still the damp spread. The man was dead within a week. Caepio had heard from other members of the 2nd that when the man’s friends came the next day to collect him from the surgeon’s and take him to his pyre; the entire body was covered in a slimy, black mould. It was the way of things in this land; the wet infects and claims everything.

    Aculeo, the scarred watch commander in Caepio’s Cohort (and one of his father’s former retainers), once summed up Britannia to him: “It’s a land of ghosts, boy. Surrounded by the sea, covered in mist and rain...half in this world, half in the underworld...it’s all that water, you see? It’s in everything...the land, the trees, the people. If you stay there long enough, it will get into you as well.” Aculeo’s belief in the realms of ghosts and spirits, like all of his convictions, was so staid and unflappable that it frowned-down the incredulity of others. Caepio had often smiled bemusedly at the Gaul’s dour, matter-of-fact superstitions. However, on a morning like this, Aculeo’s assessment of the Province was easy enough to believe. “Land of ghosts?” he thought, “what does that make us?”

    He trudged up the rutted, muddy street of the vicus - the unkempt town that sprawled out behind the fort, unconsciously avoiding the steaming piles of ox and horse ****. The smell of wood smoke infused the damp air – hearth fires were being stoked up as the town yawned, stretched and farted itself awake. Down a dripping side-street, the faint garbled sound of dogs squabbling was terminated with a squealing yelp and the slamming of a door, this last punctuation robbed of its echo by the damp cushion of the atmosphere. He moved alone through the gathering rain, like one of Aculeo’s ghosts.



  2. #2
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    This is a solid, consistent, and evocative prose style, damn near perfectly rendered. The content is fresh (despite its focus on rot!), the depth of knowledge impressively restrained. I am awed, so much so that I wonder if perhaps you're spoofing us with a passage you copied from a book you found buried in a library. My only suggestion would be that you move more quickly into the scene that I sense comes after this. That said, I would advise you not to pause here to rewrite. Finish the novel: you'll revisit your opening a dozen times before it's all done.

    This is no train wreck, not by a long shot. Keep at it and good luck.

  3. #3
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    This is amazing stuff, man. Like really, really amazing. I want to read more.

  4. #4
    Senior Member Zoe Saadia's Avatar
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    Wow, I liked that one!
    (No wonder. Ancient Rome is my second-best on the list of the ancients, although I prefer it still Republican ;-)).

    I think it was a little too descriptive. I would love to see more action. On the other hand it an excerpt and the action may be just around the corner.
    I would definitely love to read it, when it's done :-)
    Pre-Columbian North America

    http://blog.zoesaadia.com/

  5. #5
    Amy Lou
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    Hi Jason, and welcome! I read this with great interest just like Jayce and Zoe. And agree with Jayce about it reading as if you copied it from another book! LOL It's very well written so I hope you are encouraged to continue on with it. You will receive the truth here on WN - if it's no good, we tell you. I also agree with both suggestions that you might need to bring us into the action a little quicker. Best of luck!

  6. #6
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    Thanks for all the comments thus far!! Immensely helpful. I take on board the need to move the action on a bit...I've tried to do that a bit further in...though I was wanting to capture the mood and atmosphere of the locale. See the landscape and the weather and how it affects the characters is meant to be, well, sort of a character itself, if that makes any sense. Yet I don't want to fall into the trap of being overly-descriptive....hmmm.

  7. #7
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    I wouldn't change anything. Your set-up is perfect IMHO.

  8. #8
    Senior Member Zoe Saadia's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jason Hunt View Post
    ...though I was wanting to capture the mood and atmosphere of the locale. See the landscape and the weather and how it affects the characters is meant to be, well, sort of a character itself, if that makes any sense. Yet I don't want to fall into the trap of being overly-descriptive....hmmm.
    The mood and the atmosphere are extremely important, there is no argument about that.
    I also write historical fiction and I know how difficult to avoid this over-description.
    I was advised to pour the authentic setting a little every now and then, between the outbursts of an action. An elegant way to avoid the info dump After all, we have a whole novel to let reader get accustomed with this or that period. Not need to dump it all in the opening scenes.

    (btw, I wouldn't touch the second paragraph, it was perfect to my taste - the description and the happenings perfectly combined.)

    And please, note that my opinion is not professional in any way. Not yet
    Last edited by Zoe Saadia; 07-26-2011 at 01:25 AM.
    Pre-Columbian North America

    http://blog.zoesaadia.com/

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