Friday, 7 May 2010

Winner of the Poll: an Extract

So today, as promised, I write up the post that won the poll. It was 'an extract from one of my books', by a slim margin of one vote, followed closely by 'more about how I write and/or edit a novel' and 'a childhood anecdote involving an elephant', with the others not trailing far behind. I've decided, therefore, to write up each of the other posts that were popular over the next week. Today's, however, will be the winner.

Thank you to everyone who voted!

I thought about this extract a lot, and found myself torn for a while: should I post something from ECHOES, which is the novel currently out on submission? Or should I post something from TEA WITH DEATH, DESIRE AND RAGE, which is brand new, three chapters in, and may or may not end up being finished (depending on how the plot unwinds itself and my enthusiasm for it)?

In the end, I decided on the latter. I'm going to be superstitious about this; while ECHOES is being considered by agents, I'll keep quiet about it, so as not to jinx it. So, here we go, a small section from TEA:


I sat down to tea with Death, Desire and Rage. My teaspoon clinked softly against my cup as I stirred sugar into my camomile. I gazed each one of them in the eye, in turn. “Do you know,” I said, “I think this might be our last tea together?”
They started visibly. At least, Desire and Rage did, the former spilling her tea on her fingers, the latter dropping his spoon with a resounding clang. Dearest Death only raised his eyebrows slightly. He must have guessed this was coming. There was very little he missed. I opened my mouth to speak before they could ask questions. I already knew the questions they’d ask; Rage’s first word would be “why?”
As his lips formed the first syllable, I forestalled him. “I think it’s time,” I offered, holding the teacup very tightly between my hands. “Twenty years of drinking tea is enough.”
There was brief silence. It was Rage, predictably, who broke the silence, with an even more predictable reply.
“Does this mean you’re switching to coffee?”

I can imagine you laughing, shaking your head. Yes, he really did say that.

That was earlier this afternoon. Already, I feel a chill in the air, so unlike the monsoon, and it seems to creep towards me, enfolding me. It’s drawing very close, the end of this life.
It was twenty years ago that you went away. It was the day that, as Mary so aptly put it not so long ago, I “shut up shop and went off to sleep”. She was so angry when she said that. I had never seen her so angry. I thought she would push me right down the front steps, wheelchair and all. But she only stared at me, her mouth pressed into a thin, furious line. Then, when I simply looked back at her, steadily and no doubt with maddening calm, she made an angry sound in her throat and released my chair. She walked to the door.
“Do what you want then, Layla,” she said, somewhat tiredly, “You know where to find me if you ever decide to grow up.”
I haven’t seen her since. She hasn’t come back to the old house. I watched her go from the far window, because I didn’t want her to see me. I didn’t want her to see that it was a struggle for me not to cry. As her car, a silver Santro, vanished beyond the bend, I turned away. I wheeled myself into the next room and poured tea.
“Layla and her tea-parties!” Mary would huff when we were children, her arms crossed as she watched me pour my dolls tea in pretty china cups. I think she was a little jealous that I spent so much time with them, though she should have realized she always had the lion’s share of my attention. I adored her.
When she disappeared in her silver Santro, I went back to my tea-parties. Only, of course, I was no longer drinking with dolls.
Twenty years, my darling. It has been twenty years since I saw you last. How has the time felt to you? Has it crawled slowly, far too slowly, like the last bits of toothpaste squeezed out of the tube? Or has it passed for you in a blaze of light and thunder?
Twenty years, my darling. It has been twenty years since I saw you last. How has the time felt to you? Has it crawled slowly, far too slowly, like the last bits of toothpaste squeezed out of the tube? Or has it passed for you in a blaze of light and thunder?
After you went away, my response was not unexpected. I cried bitterly. I lay awake late into the night, angry, anguished, devastated. I stamped my feet. And I refused, steadfastly, to set one foot off the estate again. It was here we had retreated to nurse our wounds, Mary and I, and it was here you had appeared. It was here you had loved me and it was here, I determined, that I would wait for you. I believed this was the place you would find me again. If I left, I was certain you would never find me again.
You can imagine how Mary took that. After all I told you about her, you won’t be surprised to hear she was outraged; more than that, though, she was incredulous. That I, who had never shown the slightest interest in the estate or this lonely, misty sliver of the world, should want to stay? All of this, I expected from her.
But she failed me, my darling, in refusing to believe me. You warned me, I know, but I was so sure she would understand, that she would believe me clever and honest enough not to make such a tale up.
At first she accused me of lying. Of being so afraid to return to our home with our mother gone from it, that I would make anything up. I remember that moment so clearly, the sharp hurt that shot down my throat at the thought that my own sister could think so little of me. When I lost my temper, and shouted right back her in my rage, she began to think I had become unhinged. I had always had a reputation for being the younger and more tempestuous sister, easily angered and easily pacified, but this time I refused to “see reason”, as she put it. As though reason had anything to do with it, when grief and loss and love had torn our worlds to pieces.
Our many and varied older relatives offered their views of the matter. Shaking their heads and glancing imploringly at the heavens, they tutted softly over my story, what little of it Mary had revealed. A few, like Ilana Aunty and old Jimmy Uncle, thought it was the ghosts. Everyone knew, they said, with more shaking of their heads and imploring glances at the heavens, that the old house was haunted. No doubt one of the poor old ancestors had possessed young, helpless Layla. Others didn’t go quite so far as to imply the old ancestors had possessed me, but instead suggested that perhaps the grief combined with the dust, age and decay of the house had gone to my head.
Mary, who is much too sensible to believe in anything of the sort, thought it was something far more prosaic: grief, yes, but not a few windowsills of dust, age, decay or ghosts. Grief by itself can do terrible things.
So it can. But it had not dislodged my sense, my darling. You and I know it, but with you long-vanished into the fog and the trees, poor Mary had no proof to cling to.
“Layla, don’t you see?” she said to me, her eyes wide with worry. “This can be fixed! We can go see someone in the city, you’ll soon stop seeing things—”
I could see how much she loved me, how worried she was about the state I had worked myself into. But I was in no mood to appreciate it.
“Go to hell, Mary,” I said, furious that, proof or no, she so adamantly refused to believe any part of my story could be true.
“What about school?” she snapped.
“I don’t need any more school,” I snapped back, “I’m clever enough.”
She exhaled a slightly hysterical laugh at that.
Long after every other relative had gone back to the city or to their own houses and estates in the area, my sister and I continued to battle over it. Mary threatened to get a few of the coffee-pickers to carry me to the car, kicking and screaming if necessary. In reply, I laughed at her, flung myself from my chair, grasped hold of the great table in the dining room, and wrapped my arms around it.
“Try,” I said.
She didn’t, in the end. Whatever she thought of me, I will give Mary this: she loved me far too much to have me humiliated like that.
What could she do? I was just seventeen, it was true, and she twenty-one, but with our mother dead, who could tell me what to do? So, when I set my wheels into the ground and refused to return to the city with her, Mary went back by herself. Back to our house, to the lingering scent of our mother’s perfume and my dusty dolls on the shelves. 
And I? I stayed.



  1. yay! book-age! i like this start. guess the world will have to wait for echoes!!! x

  2. Love this, my dear, its gorgeous. Love the voice, tone and letter style, it feels very personal like you're sharing a secret.


  3. love the character and sense of longing and love here, v. well done. if you don't mind me saying so, howevr, i wonder if this could be too slow for a book's opening?

  4. Harry: thank you very much, and yes, the 'secret' feel is exactly what I was going for!

    Anonymous: thank you! And no, of course I don't mind you saying so, I could really use honest responses! I do actually agree that maybe it's quite a slow opening, but I don't want to just throw in an action sequence for the hell of it. (Always annoys me when books open with unnecessary action scenes, lol)

    I think the pace of the book will be quite gentle in places, so I'm not sure if opening it differently will set the wrong tone...

    Just how I was thinking as I wrote it, if that makes it any clearer for you! Thanks again for letting me know what you think!

  5. ah, i see. i didn't know what the style of the book would be, so i was basing it on my experience of eplosive epic fantasy openings. thanks for clearing that up for me! hope to see more!

  6. Utterly beautiful, I'm transfixed.

  7. Hmm... I finally got around to reading the excerpt in its entirety.

    Please keep in mind that this doesn't feel like the kind of book I usually read, so my opinion is skewed to begin with... and this is just my opinion, which is merely that of a voracious reader...

    The interaction with the triumvirate I thought was great, and leaves me full of curiosity... but then came the part where I got what felt to me like too much personal information (exposition) and drama centered on a person I didn't care about or know yet.

    The first part hooked me, pulled me through up until "You can imagine how Mary took that.", and then the line would break.
    I came back to this piece several times, read up to that point, and stopped... finally, I read through it. Past the part where I felt I was getting too much too soon, to the last paragraph that I liked. If I were reading this in a book, I would already have skimmed through that bit and potentially have come back to it later if I got interested in the character and the story.

    As I said, that is merely my opinion, that of someone who probably isn't representative of your target audience. Perhaps this piece works within the frame of the whole, but as an excerpt... shrug.

    Thanks for sharing it though. Sorry I didn't have nicer things to say.

    I normally wouldn't have posted my opinion unless it were positive, or solely commented about the positive aspects, but you asked for opinions in yesterday's post... and so here it is mine. I hope you don't mind.

  8. Vix: thank you!

    Alesa: no, I don't mind at all, thank you for your honesty! I see what you mean about too much too soon (always my pitfall in first drafts, sadly), but I reckon I'll be able to sort things like pace and back story out when I go back and edit.

  9. Phew that's a relief...
    It seems a couple bloggers feel that I've stepped on their toes, while in fact I was tap dancing around eggshells in the next door building. That's how sensitive some people are. Shrug. Old news I guess.

    Glad you aren't one of those people. It's always a pleasure visiting your blog, one that I'd miss. : j