Thursday, July 30, 2009

New Beginning 668

Polly Godwin knew she was lost when she smelled the Thames.

More likely it was a canal, but where on the Wandsworth Convalescent Hospital’s great grounds would a canal be? She stopped to make a map in her head. Toward west was the City of London. The railroad station, where the troop trains arrived, was south, nearer the coast. But where the water must be, she couldn’t picture.

She stood Heaven knows how many floors beneath a 100-year-old pile of granite filled with wounded soldiers from the trenches, in a maze of hallways still lit by gas lamps. Looking for a bedpan liner.

First day on her first nursing job, and it was Prank the New Girl all over again. No doubt an orderly meant to jump out at her from a cupboard. Fine chance he’d find her now.

She started back the way she’d come. In the dark behind her someone groaned with pain.

Polly turned to find a man lying on the floor, his face white as a sheet. How had they let one of the patients wander down here?

"Where does it hurt, sir," she asked, kneeling over him.

"Me gall bladder, I think," he said through clenched teeth.

Polly paused and frowned as she drew a mental map. Toward the left was the pancreas. The kidneys, that cleaned the blood, were right, by the lymph nodes. That must mean the liver is down, nearer the foot, so . . . No, wait . . .

Opening: Susan Hall-Balduf.....Continuation: Anon.


Evil Editor said...

Unchosen continuations:

Probably the orderly trying to trick her, and all she wanted was a bedpan.

Polly took a left at the railroad station, continued north to Nelson's Column, and turned into Times Square.

Now she really was lost.


Polly imagined the floorplan of the hospital in her head. Where could she be? Groaning amputee behind her. She sniffed the air. Gangrene ahead. She was somewhere in D Wing, exactly where, she couldn’t picture.

She couldn’t wait to escape this hellish place. Once she saved enough money she’d escape to America. The war hadn’t reached there yet.

But how were her finances? She imagined her checkbook in her head. She’d just paid for groceries yesterday. Her rent was due tomorrow. Ah, yes, she had 10 quid in her account. Or did she?

Hell, she’d never have enough.

--Matt Heppe

"Sorry," Polly said, and stepped away from the urinal.


She pulled the low hanging branches to aside. There, surrounded by typewritten bundles sat a potbellied man in a turquoise waistcoat squinting to read in the dim light. It hadn't been the Thames she'd smelled after all. She summoned all her compassion and asked "Can I help you?"

He looked up sharply. "Help me? HELP ME?!?" He waved sheafs of paper in both hands. "Not unless you need an unlimited supply of bedpan liners!"

He lowered his arms and peered over his spectacles. "Say...nice get-up. You, uh... into fancy dress?" He eyed her uniform.

'Prank the New Girl' was about to backfire. Polly allowed a coy smile to creep onto her lips. "Oh, yes! It's a hen's party. Come along and I'll show you where the rest of the girls are." She had her bearings, now.

--Mother (Re)produces

Polly knew that was wrong. Why would someone be groaning in pain outside the Wandsworth Convalescent Hospital? She stopped and thought about it. After a moment, she continued to wander away as she lamented over the fact it was so easy to get the best of her, and she was not going to fall for 'jump out from behind the tree and scare the new nurse routine'. Miss Godwin was not a very smart otherwise she would know the difference between a canal and the Thames – although that maybe could be excused, maybe, and she would not have gotten lost in the first place – although that could be explained too, maybe. But certainly if she had any intelligence at all she would not be wandering outside looking for a bedpan liner – they don’t grow on trees.

Thus Polly was destined to die a spinster with 100 cats and the hurt hero lying in the hospital’s tulip bed was destined to die in pain until a smarter heroine wandered along and saved him.


An old man dressed in a ragged hospital smock stepped out of the flickering shadows and looked at her with pleading eyes.

"Who--" she started to say.

"I've been waiting for you," he said, wincing with pain. "You shouldn't be wandering around daydreaming. There are tasks for you to do."

He hitched up his hem, grabbed the bedpan from her and pissed into it. "Uhhhhnnhhhhhhuh," he said. "And next time I'll know to just come down here and get my own fucking bedpan."


Evil Editor said...

First she smells the Thames, then she thinks it's more likely a canal and immediately goes into all the reasons it probably isn't a canal. Hey, Maybe it's the Thames. Whatever it is, I'm not sure why she'd be more likely to smell it here than wherever she came from in the building.

In any case, I'd drop the entire second paragraph. The third paragraph leaves us believing it's a hospital in London in wartime, so dropping p2 loses little and gets us to the groaning man sooner.

none said...

I suppose it's a pet peeve, but I do dislike it when something opens with an interesting line, then immediately goes back on it.

If it's night, and she's in an unknown part of the building, how can she know which direction is West?

Also, come on...this is Britain; the coast is in all directions!

Did bedpans have liners during WWI? I think it unlikely, but stand to be corrected :).

Anonymous said...

I suppose Wandsworth Convalescent Hospital doesn't have to be in Wandsworth, but if it was, the City of London would be North-East of it. And the coast to the East is way closer than the coast to the south, so saying the railway station is nearer the south coast is kind of like saying Pittsburgh is closer to the Pacific than New York.

If it's WW one, which the trenches suggest, would she really be thinking "still lit by gas lamps"?

"Prank the New Girl" also feels a bit anachronistic to me.

If an orderly was waiting in a cupboard to jump out, he wouldn't find her, he'd be waiting for her to "find" him.

Steve Wright said...

I second the general sense of geographical confusion ... also, what's this railroad station thing? To the best of my knowledge, there are no railroad stations in London. Railway stations, now, there are plenty of those ... and, since they're significant landmarks in a rather complicated city, Londoners tend to know them, and refer to them, by name.

And I have no idea how she can smell either a river or a canal when she's in the basement of a hospital. The girl must have a nose like a bloodhound.

Anonymous said...

I find it interesting that some readers are reading Polly is outside and some are reading she is inside.

I think this needs to be clarified somehow.

What's a bedpan liner? Really during WWI?

Mame said...

Yeah, the opening line had me, then *poof*. You got distracted, and so did I.

Dave Fragments said...

In your zeal to pack information into the opening, you've made it confusing.

You don't need to tell the reader this is in London quite this fast so drop that until later in the chapter.

You have two mentions of the hospital and its grounds in 150 words. Too much. Drop the first mention in the second paragraph. Leave the mention in the thrid paragraph.

The opening line is good but what follows? That's the question you have to ask yourself and think about. It's not that confusion about directions on a map.
What it is, is Polly's annoyance at being sent into the depths to find (of all things) a bedpan liner. (A right handed smoke deflector, a B flat sewar pipe flute, etc...)

This could be a quick fix:
Keep the first sentence.
Drop the second paragraph.
Keep the third paragraph.
Move the fifth paragraph up.
Move the fourth paragraph after it.
Leave the sixth paragraph as the sixth paragraph.

So you have:
She's lost.
She's lost in the mass of sub basement.
She hears a groan.
She thinks it's a joke. She's indignant.
She finds the man.

Now are you really going to reveal he's a vampire this early in the novel?

Adam Heine said...

This had me thinking she was in the long-buried hospital from Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere. That's probably why I liked it, but it's also probably not where she actually is.

P2 sounds like she's outside. That's where I expect the Thames and a canal would be, and all her landmarks are overland ones. Then P3 drops her deep(?) underground either in the basement of a hospital or beneath an actual pile of rubble (I wasn't sure; though I suppose the wounded soldiers would be dead ones if it were rubble, plus it's a heck of a place to look for a bedpan liner).

I don't mind the jumping back from the hook so long as you either get back to it quick or give me something else interesting so I forget about it. I'd read on, but if I'm still confused on page 2 or 3, I'm done.

Sarah Laurenson said...

Hm. About all I can say is ditto. She's outside, no wait, she's in the basement of a building which is a pile of rubble but still has hallways.

Very confusing but you do have gems tucked in here and there. I'd read on a bit more in hopes of it settling down and moving along.

I do get the impression that she smells something that smells like the Thames and is confused herself about why she would smell it in the basement. Perhaps the groaning man just came from there - somehow...

Anonymous said...

That continuation is so brilliant, I actually wanted to read on.

Author -- what they said. Readers want to be oriented to the time & place of the story. This is like a geography puzzle which makes that difficult. We don't understand how she got to this building without knowing which part of London it was in, [blindfolded?] and why she is now trying to discern that via these clues.

Instead of relying so much on the names of landmarks and the N S E W directions to describe where she's at, you might have better success giving more description of the place: tell us about the building or yard in terms of what she sees, hears, smells, and if it's important to know she doesn't know what part of London this is, just say so.

Also it seems you are using some terms that belong to American English and are not used in British English, which works great if your protagonist is meant to be a recently arrived American abroad but not so well if she's supposed to be a long term resident of the old country.

Anonymous said...

I'm reading all these comments and I want to know where Polly is.

The second paragraph indicates she is outside.

The 3rd paragraph I quickly imagined she was looking up at this huge building in the shadowed garden at night but others think she is a basement.

If she is in a basement, shouldn't it have a light of some kind? Why would she be in the dark? No way am I going into a basement without a flashlight. They are always darker than outside where there is the moon and street lights. And, how is she smelling outside smells inside a basement? Shouldn't it be moldy, dusty, stinky? Really can she smell the Thames in a basement?

wait - it says "great grounds".

My vote is she is outside, looking for a bedpan liner - which is weird.

I was not particularly interested in this opening until now - but now I want to know - Where in the Hell is Polly? It's a riddle!


Wes said...

You might have a powerful story here along the lines of NOT SO QUIET by Helen Zenna Smith, but ditto on EE's comments and those of the minions.

Matt said...

I think Polly is in a bombed out building. That way she could navigate through hallways while still smelling the scents of the outside.

Dave Fragments said...

I picked up the first line of the continuation as the author's last line.

Sorry about that. It is logical that Polly finds the source of the moans.

I stand by deleting the second paragraph switching the fourth and fifth. I think that makes a better opening, focuses the reader on Polly and gives her a mystery to solve.

BTW - some of the confusion in the comments is that very few US buildings are built over tunnels, sewars and subway tunnels that you can walk through. All of that underground structure that exists in London and Paris, does not exist in the USA. This hospital is a building with multiple sublevels.

Susan Hall-Balduf said...

You guys crack me up! This is my favorite:

"Polly imagined the floorplan of the hospital in her head. Where could she be? Groaning amputee behind her. She sniffed the air. Gangrene ahead. She was somewhere in D Wing, exactly where, she couldn’t picture.

I sort of crammed this opening all together to get it into 150 words. But here is my principal question for you clever boots: How can I communicate which war this is? That's how trenches got into the second paragraph.

Evil Editor said...

Trenches is in the third paragraph, so all is well. If it were in the second you could start the piece:

London, 1917.

Susan Hall-Balduf said...

EE, I bow to to your superior paragraph counting. Guess it's not quite as squashed together as I recalled!

I'd sooner not start with a date -- as a reader I just skip right over dates, chapter headings, quotations and so on.

(Also, since not everyone got that there is no such thing as a bedpan liner, anybody got another suggestion?)

Anonymous said...

How can I communicate which war this is?

Ask the publisher to mention it on the back cover.

Dave Fragments said...

Trench warfare is associated with mostly WW1 and not WW2. Apparently not strongly enough to work to place the year in your story. Why don't you use mustard gas because that is specifically a WW1 phenomena and it did but many soldiers in the hospital if it didn't outright kill them. Or pick one of the battles in 1917.

Anonymous said...

How about this:

First day on her first nursing job, and it was Prank the New Girl all over again. No doubt an orderly meant to jump out at her from a cupboard. Fine chance he’d find her now. She could have been at home in the Yorkshire Downs now, if only The Black Hand hadn't assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand.

none said...

The reference to trenches gave me WWI immediately. No worries there :).

She could be looking for a staff member, or maybe a piece of equipment that's been borrowed by another ward, or perhaps a patient with a head injury who's wandered off.

Steve Wright said...

I agree with Buffy - one reference to trenches was all it took for me; no need for any info-dumps about Gavrilo Princip in my opinion.

Robin B. said...

Trenched = First World War to me as well. That'll do it.

That contin. was extra good, by the way.

Susan Hall-Balduf said...

Thanks, everyone.

P.S. She's in a tunnel. There's one under the building where I work. It runs right under a bank... but that's another story.

none said...

Oh, a tunnel! Cool :).

_*rachel*_ said...

The directions confuse us, as does her location.

150 said...

Polly! I remember this. Hope things are going well with it, I always wanted to read the whole thing.