Thursday, August 16, 2007

New Beginning 342

It seemed such a good idea. My PPL was burning a hole in my pocket and I was desperate for chances to use it. My boyfriend's mother was becoming wheelchair bound and her ability to travel was becoming limited: not because of the flights but because of all the hassle and queuing around them. So I came up with a plan: take Anne and her wheelchair for a trip around the Channel Islands. Cliff and I could travel London the night before and then meet her at Elstree in the morning for the hop across the channel. It'd be a blast.

I knew I was in trouble when the British Airways staff who checked me in for the flight to Heathrow marked my bag as "heavy". I compounded this by deciding to leave the case at Elstree Airfield that night, which led to my waking up in a roadside hotel with nothing but my flight bag: no shampoo, no hairbrush, no toothbrush, nothing. Just me and Pooleys and a map.

I checked my watch. It was still very early, despite the sunlight washing in under the curtains. I looked around the hotel room in the dim hope of finding some distraction to pass the hours until it was time to go and meet Cliff and Anne for breakfast.

I was in luck. Tucked beneath the Gideon's bible, some one had left--or perhaps hotels are providing these too, now--a copy of a book called Novel Deviations 3. I read it cover to cover and laughed so hard I actually peed myself a little. That's when I remembered: my Protective Panty Liner was still in my pocket.

Opening: Sylvia.....Continuation: ril


Evil Editor said...

Unchosen Continuation:

Imagine my surprise when I meandered out to the garden and saw Ann and Cliff exchanging packages with an Indian courier. When the courier had left, Cliff tore into the package. He apparently found its contents disappointing and threw it to the ground, angrily. Then, Ann rocketed up from her wheelchair and slapped Cliff squarely across his face!

--Bill Highsmith

Nancy Beck said...

Okay, I'm probably showing my ugly American side, but what is a PPL and what are Pooleys?

Unless the PPL is the Protective Panty Liner in that funny continuation?


Anonymous said...

PPL = Private Pilot's License.
Pooley's = Navigational aids for pilots.
Google = my best friend.

writtenwyrdd said...

It is probably my American ignorance, too, but I didn't follow the details in this. Overall, however, I have to say that there is no tension or reason to care about this narrator. The action is rather dull so far, and the lady with mobility problems seems irrelevant to the situation at this point.

Anonymous said...

The beginning is filled with backstory and doesn't interest me as written. Like others, I didn't understand PPL and Pooleys, and I don't know anything about the MC to care about her taking Cliff and Ann on vacation. I think this would be better if it began with dialogue, or if something funny happened with them on vacation - even start with an employee at Heathrow talking with her about the bag (show in dialogue, obviously) - and then back up and give a short paragraph (ie, the first) as explanation for what's going on. This way, we're able to see what's going on NOW, instead of being told what was going on in the past, and we have more of a reason to care about why she's there in the first place.

Robin S. said...

Hi Sylvia,

Do you remember what number your query was in the FaceLifts? I'd like to read that, and then read you opening again.

I'm good with the non-American stuff here. Why? Because this isn't a book set in the United States.

Sylvia said...

Er, yeah, I really should have submitted a US version of this. Sorry!

I did have a flash back and forth version initially (action, back to making the decision and then the hotel, then back to the action where we started) and it was ... clunky. So I shifted it around but it sounds like it's ended up a bit dreary and I'm fretting too much about the introductions.

I'll think about it some more. :/

ril's continuation made the point and made me laugh ... as usual.

Anonymous said...

You don't need to submit a US version, just drop the acronym the first time you use it.

You're assuming that all Brits know what a PPL and a Pooley's are. I'd bet this isn't the case, unless most Brits get their PPL like they do their driver's license. (insert scary vision of flocks of 16-year-old newbie pilots buzzing around over London)

Dave Fragments said...

It is your misfortune Sylvia to write this opening when airline delays, lost luggage and stranded passenger mini-disasters are almost a daily event in the USA. That doesn't make a compelling opening to a novel.

Perhaps "trapped in Borehamwood and Elstree" might work better. (I've never been there, but Google has maps and Wikipedia has descriptions). I checked the news there - a flasher, traffic jams, high school student projects, and sports news - Bored to death in Borehamwood.

Even the report of a flasher story is (how shall I gently put his) unexciting.
He admitted exposing himself in Organ Hall Road, Aycliffe Road, Hartforde Road, Signet Close, Belford Road, Crown Road, all in Borehamwood, as well as two locations in Bushey, between January 2005 and August 2006.

Yawn. I think you need a little someting, humor maybe to spice up the opening.

"Even the flashers are boring in Borehamwood and Elstree." Anne said.
"Bored in Boreham and overweight in Elstree? What did they do? Give it to the flasher for excitement? how did they know, they're all asleep down there..."

Well, that might be too silly.

Dave Fragments said...

I sincerely hope that I don't get hate mail from Borehamwood and Elstree. That would be boorish.

Anonymous said...

Gee, I don't want to sound harsh, but this opening did not read very smoothly for me. I didn't know what a PPL was and the context of the whole first para did not give me a clue that it was a license.

My boyfriend's mother was becoming wheelchair bound and her ability to travel was becoming limited: not because of the flights but because of all the hassle and queuing around them.

I am aware that disabilities come in all shapes, etc but "beoming wheelchair bound" just sounded odd, even more so when "becoming" was used again (no problem with the 2nd usage) so quickly. The words following the colon need to be a complete main clause.

There are Channel Islands off the coast of California and England. Since I'm American, I thought of the ones in Cal first, but then you mentioned London so I had to mentally spin the globe rather quickly.

Perhaps UK readers will have no problem with the geography, but I was confused by all the unfamiliar info and locations. Sorry I can't be more positive about this Syl.

Evil Editor said...

The query was Face-Lift 298, in the March, 2007 archives.

Note that it was labeled nonfiction. If it's still nonfiction, that might affect the comments regarding the opening.

writtenwyrdd said...

I don't think you should have to submit a US version, but from the first sentence you are using jargon that applies to pilots, apparently, so it's a bit confusing.

Robin S. said...

Thanks for the FaceLift number.
I remembered reading it and liking the idea of the book.

I think Sylvia has a website as well, detailing her travels. The book is still non-fiction, isn't it? Hope so.

Sylvia, I don't think you need an American version of this, although maybe a few changes for both sides of the pond would be good- someone suggested PPL be spelled out initially, for instance.

I still like the idea of it, I like the first sentence of the second paragraph as the first sentence, somehow. Haven't thought through how you'd work that around your opening, but "I knew I was in trouble" sounds good to me.

Anonymous said...

Even if it is non-fiction, it probably wouldn't hurt to slide in a reference to Novel Deviations. Or two.

I wasn't at all disoriented by the geography: I've had a passport for quite a while now. I did have to google the pilot terms though.

Anonymous said...

I think a couple of quick fixes.

Write out Private Pilots License in full the first time.

Use the subtle CNN approach to geography:

the Channel Islands, Britain.
London, England.
Elstree Airfield, near London, England.

You could also, instead of simply reporting that the check-in staff said the bag was heavy, you should show her saying "Cor blimey luv, what you got in 'ere, a sack of spuds?"

Just a thought.

McKoala said...

Also didn't follow the PPL and Pooleys references. If this is a novel, I'm not sure that this is starting in the right place.

McKoala said...

If it's for a UK market then you wouldn't need those references, in fact, they would be offputting and make me feel like an idiot as a reader. Perhaps slipping a mention of France in might solve the whole thing more subtly (our Channel Islands being between England and France).

McKoala said...

Hi EE! Still up? I'll stop posting now and let you get some rest.

Anonymous said...


The Channel Islands, Britan (near France).

Got it.

McKoala said...

No Britain. E.g. ... '...trip around the Channel Islands and maybe over the coast of France'.

Anonymous said...

Hmm. It does read a bit flat and bloggy, I'm afraid. Voice is everything in this type of writing. My all-time favorite travelogue writer is Bill Bryson. If, by any chance, you haven't read any of his books, give one a try. Notes From a Small Island is wonderful, and if you could capture the absolute joy of travelling like he does, you'll be in good company.

Sylvia said...

Sorry for the late response!

Yes, it's still non-fiction: I've been trying to condense the back-story but it sounds like this didn't quite do the trick.

PPL should be written out. The US version actually also does not assume any aviation knowledge so says things like "Pooley's flight guide" and the like.

London, England -- over my dead body! Unless it's specifically for a US audience ... but that's a very good example of where you can see the difference between a US/UK version. It'd be like saying "California, on the west coast of the United States." You immediately know that the piece isn't aimed at Americans.

France is mentioned very early on but a very good point to get that in early for the US version: I didn't know there were other Channel Islands (er, Calif? Where's the channel?).

I love Bill Bryson but I'm not sure his voice is one that can be mimicked. :)

I'll have another go (with explanatory references but more importantly trying to get action mixed in with the back-story) and post it here afterwards. About to go away for a week so it'll be after that (hopefully EE will be kind and point you all to this).

Dave, your write-up of Boreham made me laugh almost as hard as ril did! :)

Sylvia said...

Actually -- here is the previous version, which felt very clunky to me. Maybe it'll help to see what I was trying to fix (and appear to have overdone)?

Note this is UK again -- jumper=sweater and the apron is the tarmac where the planes are parked (I can't remember the name in the US now!)


I sat cross-legged on the ground in the apron, applying mascara without a mirror and wondering what the hell I was doing here.

A few weeks ago, it had all seemed sensible and, dare I say it? …fun. I’d decided to really use my PPL and invited Cliff's mother to join us for a trip to the Channel Islands. I bragged about my ability to get by on a wing and a prayer and even bought a jaunty little wheelie bag for the island flying. This lasted until it was actually time to pack. I sat at home on my bed, surrounded by piles of clothes -- winter jumpers and summer t-shirts, walking clothes and dinner outfits and shoes for all occasions. I cut it down to half what I thought I needed and then looked at the dinky bag again. Not even close. I finally broke down and dragged a proper suitcase up from the garage and promptly filled it.

I was spending a week island-hopping in a small plane. The British Airways staff who checked me in for the flight to Heathrow marked my bag as "heavy." This wasn't an auspicious start.

The plan was simple: fly to Heathrow and get a lift to Elstree in North London the night before, make sure the Saratoga looked healthy and happy, then stay locally and leave for Guernsey first thing in the morning. We arrived at the airfield at dusk and I couldn't help but feel that the big, bulky, heavy lump of a suitcase was over the top for the single night's stay, so I shoved it into the back of the plane and left it there.

Dave Fragments said...

I like the previous opening better. It's a little bit fat (you know me and "fewer words") but it's more personal and fun.

I overpacked is too short and impersonal for the second paragraph but your version is too long. Cut it down some.
Drop the "I sat on the bed" because it is too close to the opening "I sat on the runway" and calls attention in the wrong way. We all know how to overpack. You only need a few words for the reader to get the idea.
You have an enjoyable voice and style for this.

Once you say "dinky" and another time you say "Wheelie" for the same object.

Why is "make sure the Saratoga looked healthy and happy" in the middle of cities and locations? This doesn't have to be an exact list of what you need to do, it's you telling the story of lost luggage and overpacking. We all overpack. I take three suitcases for a two night stay, myself. Remember to tell the story and don't write the takeoff list for the airplane flight.

When you say "left it there" do you mean "forgot it there" ?

I was having fun making "BORE" ham wood sound exciting while making it comfortably ordinary and reassuringly non-threatening.

Anonymous said...

PPL should be written out. The US version actually also does not assume any aviation knowledge so says things like "Pooley's flight guide" and the like.

Why would the British version assume a greater aviation knowledge? Are terms like PPL and Pooley's more commonly thrown around in the UK, or is this aimed specifically at the private flying community?

Robin S. said...

Hi sylvia,

I like the second version - I feel dropped right into where you are in the first paragraph, (but maybe still spell out the PPL thingie?)

It feels more personable, more personal. Like a friend at your neighborhood bar, telling you about their trip kind of thing, but a lot more interesting.

Hope your week away was/will be a fun one.

Anonymous said...

Another thought is: perhaps you just aren't starting this in the right place? Yes, you're starting at the beginning, but it's a pretty straightforward description of relatively mundane things. Even if we're not all qualified pilots, a lot of us have been on holiday before, with friends and relatives. With this opening, I'm not sure yet why I should keep reading. How about starting with a mor engaging anecdote - like a tight landing on a small island? Draw us in with the tension, give us something enticing, that most of us won't experience ourselves.

If you think about what makes Bryson's books so compelling, it's his wry humour and keen observations. He sees things in a different way from the majority of us and makes us think differently about what's around us. And he makes us like him. We're having a chat with an affable, witty and smart person. He's not just describing a bunch of events, he's putting an engaging twist to them.

I think that's what you could try and do. Make your story special, put more personality into it. The quest to land on every island in the isles is something different and unusual, but if this isn't just a coffee table book, then the narrative needs more than just a simple step by step description of the events. We'd like to know what you did, what you saw, what you thought about it, how it affected you and how you grew from the experience. And we want to be entertained in the process.

You shouldn't try and mimic Bill Bryson, of course; but Bill Bryson and his ilk are your benchmark.

Sylvia said...


is this aimed specifically at the private flying community

The flying (aviation) community, but yes, that's right. It isn't in any way a comment on US vs UK attitudes towards aviation -- just me being unclear by my references. One of those things were I know what I mean! :)

I have two partial versions: one is targeted at a UK audience (terminology / geography references)with an understanding of aviation. The second is targeted at a US audience (terminology -- will fix geography references!) without assuming aviation jargon is understood.

One reason why I'd like to get someone supporting this as an agent/editor is specifically being able to nail down the specifics of the target audience (more flying / more travelogue / more history?) so I can stop driving myself crazy :)

maybe you aren't starting in the right place

Yep, looking at that too. But this isn't the "start" as it were -- we will need to go back to look at a lot of what came before. So I am nervous of too much flitting around. What I didn't want to do was start off with the roller coaster that is the runway at St. Mary's and then backtrack to explain how we got to the island then backtrack again to explain who we are and what we are doing.

I'll circle round the problem a few more times looking for an approach that works.