Monday, October 22, 2007

Face-Lift 439

Guess the Plot

Coldharbour Lane

1. London, 1888. The city's upper crust are shocked by a series of grisly murders. Can Scotland Yard detective Miles Avery discover who is killing the flower girls of . . . Coldharbour Lane?

2. After years of struggle it looked like Winne Campbell's organic goat cheese would finally make her rich -- until the zombies showed up. Now Winnie and goat wrangler Jorge Santiago prepare to make their last stand on the roof of the barn, armed with only a potato cannon and the will to survive.

3. Chelsea is having trouble adjusting to her new home. None of the kids at school will talk to her. All of her teachers seem to want to expel her. But the real trouble begins when she runs afoul of the coven of vampires that keep her town perpetually shrouded in fog.

4. Mickey can't believe his luck when he lands a low-priced home on the waterfront--until the bodies start washing ashore. After recognizing one as his ex-wife, he starts to investigate. Big mistake. Will Mickey be the next body washed ashore at . . . Coldharbour Lane?

5. No one has lived there since the gruesome--and unsolved--murders three years ago. The Brownes know nothing about the murders when they buy the place. But they're about to find out the truth of what happened that night in the house on Coldharbour Lane. Will they survive to tell anyone else?

6. Michael buys a decrepit house, not realizing that the hippies next door have their marijuana crop on the property. What's worse, Michael's wife wants him to renovate the place into the world's greatest Georgian mansion, and Michael hates Georgian. Will their marriage survive the house on . . . Coldharbour Lane?

Original Version

Coldharbour Lane is a 100,000 word mainstream novel about a family whose plans are always in ruins.

Michael Galbraith buys decrepit houses, lives in them with his wife and three children during [amidst] all the dirt and disruption of renovation, and then, once he's restored them to perfection, sells up and moves on to the next. It's not a hobby; it's his life. Any period can become his favourite, except Georgian, which he hates. [That sentence doesn't belong there.]

Wife Rachel, a Professor of History, specialises in everything Georgian, and wants to combine Michael's mania with her in-depth knowledge to create a more perfectly-restored Georgian mansion than the world has yet seen. [Here's a better place to tell us about Michael's seething hatred of all things from Georgia.]

For the sake of family harmony, Michael agrees to view three walls and a chimney known as 8 Coldharbour Lane. But when he discovers mysterious ruins in the grounds, his imagination is captured by a much more exciting project: recreating a long-lost Roman villa.

Living in a leaky caravan, he labours on the villa by day and the mansion at night. Rachel can't understand how he can work so hard, yet achieve so little. [In other words, she doesn't know about the villa? Why is he keeping it secret from her? Even if he works on the villa while she's at work, wouldn't she notice a Roman villa taking shape on her property?] And why is he reading up on mosaics rather than Muff glass? [That was going to be my next question.]

The renovation project meets with mixed reactions from their new neighbours. The Britisher-than-thou Dhaliwals at number 2 set out to trump Rachel's period knowledge; [You teach the Georgian era? Why, our ancestors lived during the Georgian era.] the hippies squatting at number 4 think [Michael's] son Josh could be naive enough to be duped into tending their marijuana crop (it's behind the villa); [Hey kid, do me a favor and water my . . . uh . . . geraniums, would you?] and reclusive Mr White at number 6 has been pilfering artifacts from the villa site for years, and doesn't appreciate competition. [If you've been looting your neighbor's back yard for years and you still haven't got everything you want, it's time to give someone else a shot at it.] [Is the book a comedy, or are the neighbors just comic relief? It didn't sound that amusing up to here.]

But when the Department for Culture Media and Sport decides to list the mansion--as is-- [Not clear to me what this means. List it in real estate listings? List it as a historic landmark?] and the same Man From The Planning Dept who took Michael to court over the Case of the Pictish Roundhouse serves an enforcement notice on the villa, [and] then the police seal off the marijuana 'crime scene', it seems as if all the Galbraiths' plans really are ruined. [What's an enforcement notice? What does the Planning Dept. plan? Would I know these answers if I lived in Britain? Is the query going only to British publishers?]


While I'm a fan of specificity, I'm not familiar with the Case of the Pictish Roundhouse, so its mention means nothing to me. You could just say a man from the Planning Dept, with whom Michael had a previous dispute/brush/encounter, serves . . .

Have you considered scrapping this book and writing The Case of the Pictish Roundhouse? It sounds intriguing.

There's gotta be a decrepit Georgian mansion in better shape than three walls and a chimney. The Galbraiths usually renovate places good enough to live in. Now, for a project that's supposed to end up as the most perfectly restored Georgian mansion the world has seen, they start with rubble from the Battle of Britain?

As Georgian architecture was heavily influenced by classical Roman architecture, why is a guy who hates Georgian so obsessed with a Roman villa?

I'm sure this is more interesting than just watching the excruciatingly slow progress of an archaeological dig, but I'm not seeing the thread that holds it all together and makes me want to know what happens next and next. At least if Rachel knew Michael was working on the villa instead of her Georgian mansion there'd be more conflict. Can you have Michael dig up a dead body?


Anonymous said...

Can you condence the first three paragraphs (I'm counting the first sentence as a paragraph since it's separated)into one? Or add some of that info in later? I'm thinking your hook is in paragraph 4 with the mystery. I'd want to get that out asap for an agent to keep reading the query. And - I need more info about that mystery as it unfolds - tell us what's going on there. The end seemed abrupt and I think this addition could help with that.

I think you could have a good story here - I just need more about the mystery b/c that's what got me most interested.

Anonymous said...

Wow, we're having a run on pot-growing hippies lately, too. :-)

And, just nitpicking, I have a hard time with the husband/wife partnership on something as major as living in construction sites, as they strongly disagree about Georgian architecture (or whatever). No marriage could survive that.

Anonymous said...

I actually like the name Coldharbour Lane... The only issue I noticed was the sharp cross between a suspense thriller and then the sudden insert of comic relief, then the jump back again. But it does sound interesting... :)

Anonymous said...

Reading through, some elements of this immediately bring to mind "My Life as a House". Not sure if that's useful information, but there it is...

Anonymous said...

[Is the book a comedy, or are the neighbors just comic relief?]

I suspect they're quirky literary characters that add color. Perhaps.

Anonymous said...

The Britisher-than-thou Dhaliwals at number 2...

Funnily enough, I recently saw a re-run of the British sketch show "Goodness Gracious Me" that, you know, pokes fun at Britisher-than-thou Indian immigrants. (The show is written by and stars 2nd generation ethnic Indian comedians, by the way.)

Anonymous said...

Unless he's a contractor who knows how to do everything, Michael is in way over his head. He can't do much with three walls & a chimney--if I understand British law he would be unable to do much of anything with the wreck.

And the villa--if he finds mosaics & has a good idea of the walls, he might be able to rebuild it. But doing so will require a tremendous capital outlay (atually this applies to both projects).

How can he do this on her salary?

Dave Fragments said...

Why don't you try something like:

Much to the chagrin of his family, Mike Galbreath removates the houses they live in and then sells the finished project forcing them to move into his next project. When Mike buys a Georgian House on Coldharbour Lane and discovers an old Roman Villa behind it, he not only has to contend with his family, but the neighbors too. One neighbor grows pot. Another neighbor steals artifacts from the Villa. And the third neighbor begins to redocorate the neighboring house in Georgian style. To compound the troubles, the local zoning board declares his house a landmark.

Can Mike save his marraige, become a hero to his kids, renovate two houses at once, and navigate the neighborhood situation? Or will Coldharbour lane be his downfall?"

My problem with this is that most men, even those reasonably good weekend warriors, never seem to finish their toolsheds and workrooms, let alone finish renovating an entire house. I know grown men who've never lifted a hammer in their lives and couldn't say what the proper end of the nail is... I had to teach their kids how to measure wood and cut it with a saw. I know guys who think a the butter knives are screwdrivers.

So, you see my problem?

What is Mike Galbreath's single accomplishment in these 100,000 words? Is it finishing the house? Saving his marraige? Or merely dealing with his neighbors.

Just renovating houses, although it's kinda hot and sexy, is not going to keep the reader going. You need more of a story. I think it's there and you just have to get past all of the complications this guy has to face. They are merely portions of Mike's personal struggle.

Is it Mike's marraige? His Kids? the strange Roman Villa holds dread secrets about Jesus? The Georgian Mansion really does contain the bones of George the (whatever number)?
What powers your story.

If this makes no sense, then go look at a movie titled "My Life as a House" with Kevin Kline. That's a story about house renovations. Or on the comedy side "The Money Trap."

AS for the GTP's - I want to meet Santiago and his spud gun.

Evil Editor said...

That's The Money Pit.

Robin S. said...

Hi author,

No commenting on the query from me, but I really like the idea behind this - it sounds like my kind of read.

Good luck with your query tightening.

I like your title.

none said...

Thanks for comments :). The book is meant to be modestly amusing, otherwise things like the estate agents cleverly photographing the house so it looks intact in their details would probably be picked apart for their authenticity.

Dave Fragments said...

Ooops, Thanks EE.
Tom Hanks, Shelly Long - The Money Pit

Chris Eldin said...

Robin likes it because amid all the construction, there's Rod the Roofer.

Lightsmith said...


There's a lot of good stuff in the query. I like architecture, so I'm drawn to imagery like the decrepit Georgian house and the ruins of the Roman villa. Overall the book sounds promising.

Good luck.

Robin S. said...

Too right, CL. I wonder where Rod's been, lately?

I miss that guy.

Anonymous said...

Maybe I'm an idiot but the big mystery distracting me was: where is this happening? And when? Putting the clues together I finally figured its more or less England. But is it supposed to be the 1960s? '70s? 90's? Or now? You could just orient readers early on by briefly stating that into.

none said...

Hmm. I always thought that if a time period wasn't indicated, the novel could be assumed to be contemporary. What sayeth EE?

As for disliking Georgian, perhaps he dislikes it precisely because it's a rehash. His dislike doesn't have to be rational, after all--merely rationalised :D.