What a day. I spent most of it working on a submission for a scholarship to a writing academy in Sydney and realised that I also needed to submit a 1500 word writing sample from the novel too. Okaaaaay.
So then I slashed my 1800 word opening scene to 1496 words. Then I sat here. Then I wrote to 8 of my girlfriends and sent them a link to the sample asking for some feedback.
Man, am I so glad I did! What a wonderful afternoon – filled with encouragement, constructive points of view and new ideas to transform what was ultimately pretty decent into something just that little bit better.
It is the opening scene, after all, so it will probably go through at least another couple of transformations before the book is complete. But for a first draft, I am pretty happy with the direction.
Now, this is the question: to publish the scene or not. Hm, now, there are differing schools of thought on this, but my gut says be me, and me would publish. I am a sharer. Can’t help it. Can’t fix it.
So I am going to share my first scene as it stands. I won’t change what I have just yet because a couple of my buddies are getting back to me with their thoughts and I want to look at everyone’s ideas first before making changes.
Feel like adding your own point of view too? Go ahead BUT be kind. I have no problem with negative feedback and welcome it, but if it’s nasty, it’s going to get removed 🙂
Keep in mind that I realise there are a few errors, and that apparently Morton Bay figs don’t produce edible fruit (my bad) so feel free to just comment on the way the story feels, the characterisation and of course the plot!
Here we go!
Chapter 1: The Journey Begins
The familiar prickle of hairs standing to attention across her arms, neck and face signalled about 15 seconds left of control. Hannah clenched her fists and jaw. She tried to relax her breathing, but it just came out all shaky and shallow. ‘Breathe Hannah’, she whispered. ‘Breathe slower. Count Hannah. 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5… Breathe Hannah, come on, you can do this…’
Eventually she wiped her eyes clear. This attack had hit hard and fast and she had sat strapped into the seat, white knuckling the steering wheel of the 1969 Countryman that was practically her second home.
Why was it so hard, she wondered as she forced herself out of the car, standing a little unsteadily. It’s just Aunty Mak, for goodness sake. Still chastising herself, she walked up the familiar path, through the wrought iron gate and past the pink and blue hydrangeas. They must be at least 30 years old and still bloomed magnificently. The magnolia off to the left had a new companion – a morton bay fig that looked like it was close to bearing its first season. Hannah loved figs and thought this would be a good starting point to get the conversation going. After all, where do you begin after 10 years?
As she raised her trembling hand to the ornate cherry wood door she pushed the panic down. This is ridiculous, she thought and wiping the sweat onto her jumper, she raised her hand again and knocked. Before she had the chance to reconsider, she was standing face to face with a stranger.
Hudson Brown was a distinguished gentleman and this was evident from head to toe. His crisp cream shirt and dark blue trousers were complemented by a navy blue bow tie that looked to be covered in little cream sheep. His matching braces and grandpa style slippers completed the look and he stood tall and straight like a man who had served in the forces at some time.
Hannah was so absorbed in this visual experience that she nearly forgot to introduce herself.
‘Hello’, said Hudson.
‘Oh, hello, um, I, ah, my name is Hannah Barnett. I am Mackenzie Cooper’s niece?’, she stumbled, realising the cold breeze was tickling her neck, causing her to shiver. They may have been in Sydney but North Bondi in July could be freezing.
‘Ah, yes, of course, Hannah, lovely to meet you. Please come inside out of the cold. Would you like a cup of tea? I’ll go and fetch Mak’. With that, Mr Brown widened the door and ushered her into the lounge room. Hannah just mumbled a yes, thank you’ , and he walked off to find Mak.
It had been so long, but the room still had the same effect on Hannah. Overwhelming and calming – two feelings that would normally collide and yet, creating a synergy that resonated with her stylistic choices. She remained standing while reacquainting herself with childhood memories and compensating for adult observation skills.
The room hadn’t changed. Hannah estimated that the ceilings were 10 foot, at least. Pale lemon walls, white cornices, not too ornate. 1920’s art deco, she remembered, as she reabsorbed the space. Each piece of furniture resembled a room full of guests who didn’t know each other and formed little islands within the vast room. Hannah walked over to the wing back chair, made with horsehair padding and brass buttons. The colours faded yet still bold, fighting but complimenting each other beautifully. The cherry wood side table sat on proudly curved legs and a single blood red rose sat holding court, cradled in a blue ceramic Ming vase. Hannah chuckled softly as she recalled Mak reaching over to catch the coveted vase while her brother flew by unaware, lost in a world of his own making.
Behind the table stood the Tiffany, much larger than Hanna’s bedside version. It’s soft light broke through the room as she flicked the switch. Hannah was suddenly flooded with sweet memories: she and Flynn had spent many school holidays here, painting, screen printing in the backyard, tie dying fabrics in the old bath. Ten years had passed but this room had not really changed. Had Mak?
Lost in thought , Hannah didn’t hear her enter the room: it was the perfume. Eau de toilette was her preference; parfum was too strong. She preferred the delicate, the subtle, the hint. Hannah loved that about Mak. Always the one to reveal just enough, allowing the other person to complete the circle of understanding. Some found it irritating. Why can’t she say what she means? Why the ambiguity? But Hannah never found it to be difficult. Mak’s penchant for only saying part of what needed to be said showed Hannah she had the strength to find those answers herself.
As she turned around to greet her aunt, her knees buckled. Mak was a woman of great strength, both mental and physical. She was tall, lithe and graceful. When she entered a room it changed; the space changed.
But today; not today. Mak stood proud and tall but aided. Hannah couldn’t remember when she’d seen Mak aided by anyone. Hudson stood at her side, one arm under hers, the other around her back. Their companionship was deep and true. It was in his eyes. Love. Concern. Compassion. Fear. Sadness. Acceptance.
Hannah’s heart began to race and she could feel the hairs on her neck standing up and bristling. In one movement she was sitting beside her aunt.
An eternity passed in silence. Hannah didn’t stir until she heard the soft clang of cups and saucers.
‘Aunty Mak, what’s going on? You look…’
Hannah sucked in deep breaths. ‘I suppose. It’s been so long, I’m sorry – I haven’t been -,’
‘Hannah, darling. It was me who chose not to include you in my life and I am deeply sorry. I’ve so missed our long afternoons sitting around magazines and fabrics.’ She stopped to breathe, which Hannah suddenly realised was laboured and raspy. Then she smiled, her face lighting up like the Tiffany. ‘Tell me, what are you doing now?’
Hannah pushed the knot back down her throat. Mak wasn’t going to answer her, as if she really thought that would change. Her aunt wanted to know about the good, the positive. It was clear that she was unlikely to reveal the cause.
‘Okay, well, the funny thing is, that I didn’t become a designer like I thought I would. But I did end up working on magazines. I spend my time playing with fabrics and pouring over design spreads for the magazine each month. Then I race around at all hours setting up shoots, working with designers, models, photographers and such. It’s a crazy busy world but I just love it.’
When Hannah was younger, Mak would sometimes just smile at her. She never really understood that smile other than to say that she knew that it was one that conveyed a deep love and approval from the one woman who seemed to understand her the most. Hannah reached over and took Mak’s hand.
‘Mak, please? Why me? Why not mum?’
Mak squeezed Hannah’s hand, leaning further back into the deep cushions on the daybed. She carefully propped her legs onto the matching ottoman and Hannah rearranged her billowing Indian cotton skirt, revealing matching flared pants. Hannah couldn’t help but enjoy the moment, despite the deepening ache throbbing in her chest. Mak didn’t conform to conventions, of any kind, least of all fashion. She had her own sense of style. Instead of layering up in woollen jumpers and thick pants to keep warm, she wore cotton. In fact, Hannah was sure that cotton was really all Mak wore. Sometimes silk. And if it became cold, she would layer. Her style was an eclectic mix of Indian, Japanese and Australian fashion, always choosing the best designers she could afford and mixing these with her own handmade creations. The sewing machine was a constant fixture on the dining table, where Hannah never recalled having a meal, but lost count of the hours with her aunt, sewing, crocheting, spinning wool, doing paper toile.
‘Hannah, I am dying.’ Mak said softly. Hannah knew this but the reality hit her hard. She gripped the side of the day bed.
‘I didn’t invite your mother because she does not want to see me. She’s hurt, and I am the cause of that hurt. I hope to share the reasons with you. I’ve made so many mistakes Hannah. Maybe this would help Grace see that there is still hope…’
Hannah opened her mouth to say something, but found it dried out. In a heartbeat she was in her aunt’s arms, fat tears crashing over her face, thick heaving sobs racking her body. Mak held tight and Hannah felt her tears falling onto her hair. They wept, openly, unashamedly. They didn’t try to hold it together. Remorse was their companion and nothing could stop the flood.
(c)2016 Miriam E. Miles. All rights reserved. Please respect my copyright as I have worked so hard to bring this story to life and would be devastated to see it plagiarised.