So yesterday I met up with my writing critique group (shout out to Yvonne, Amanda and Simon here...hope the three of you are reading this).
Once a month we meet for coffee and critique 10 pages of each other's novel-in-progress. It's something I find both fun and intense (we really do give each other open and honest feedback) and I have to say I always come away from these critique sessions with my brain buzzing. This state of crazy, interconnecting thoughts set on high volume inside my head generally continues for a couple of days after.
I've learned though that even if it makes no sense initially, eventually the overdrive does lead me somewhere. When everything has filtered through and I've balanced the critiques of my fellow writers against the oh-so-personal vision that I have for my novel, I get to work on making improvements.
As we engaged in a little general writing chit-chat yesterday, once the full-on judgement part of proceedings was done, my good friend and fellow blogger Amanda brought up the post I wrote a couple of weeks back about dynamic dialogue. She asked me when I was going to get over my insecurities and post a scene from my novel for people to read.
"We come to critique group every month and fully expect an onslaught of brutal honesty," she said. "How hard is it to post a scene for general reading?"
"Um, not very hard," I responded, sipping at my coffee.
"Well go on, post a scene this week. I dare you," Amanda said.
"And hey, if you post one then I'll post one of mine too."
"Deal," I said.
And then we shook on it. No, we didn't really shake on it, I was just getting carried away with writing this scene.
OK, so below you will find the scene I've selected to share, along with a scene from Amanda's novel. My novel is contemporary fiction while Amanda's is a gripping crime novel. You can visit her blog here. Hope you enjoy.
And maybe, just maybe our dare will motivate you to be daring with something you've been holding back on in your life.
The scene I've selected to share is Chapter 14. It's the moment when my female protagonist, Eve, who's just arrived back in the small town she grew up in comes face-to-face with the boy she had a crush on in high school (Andy). They're now both 30.
14. HISTORY IS EVERYWHERE (PART 2)
I step out of the bakery twirling the loaves of sliced white in one hand, my wallet and a brown paper package holding three cream donuts grasped in the other. Dad’s always loved a donut. Me too frankly. Fake cream, deep-fried dough, raspberry jam; what’s not to love? Sylvia will probably protest, then eat hers anyway.
“Eve. Is that you?”
I spin around, surprised to hear my name. Breath instantly catches in my throat. Andy Lawson. He is standing on the pavement outside the hairdressers and there’s maybe four metres between us.
His short sandy blonde hair is the first thing to compute; the floppy curls, the ones he was forever flicking out of his eyes, are gone. That and his height. He was always tall, Andy, but 13 years-ago he was gangly. Now he’s imposing; angular, but with definition.
I take in his face as he stares at mine. The face. An older, more filled out version of the one I obsessed over for all that time.
“Hi Andy,” I say in response to the still-familiar sloping smile.
Black vomit surging from my mouth, right at his chest. Me staring in disbelief as the explosion of liquid licorice oozed down Bob Marley’s dreadlocks and face, the black mess bleeding into the t-shirt’s white background.
It was THE moment I’d fantasised about over and over; our lips meeting in slow motion…all the feigned indifference and bravado between us finally being pushed aside.
Instead it ended up THE most humiliating and uncorrectable thing that could happen to a 17-year-old girl in front of the boy she’s infatuated with - ON the boy she’s infatuated with: a breaking wave of regurgitated Southern Comfort and Coke.
My stomach churns on cue.
“I knew it was you,” he says, walking towards me.
This is a moment so surreal I can’t move. The boy - he’s now a man. And the girl - the angsty goth try-hard who couldn’t hold her liquor - she’s now a woman. One with bed hair.
“Yep, it’s me.”
I’m in shock so I half expect that to Andy my eyes appear wide and bug like and my hair crazy with electricity like some cartoon character with their hand in a power socket.
“Wow. It’s been so long,” he says; a voice that’s deep and friendly.
“But you’re the same Eve - well, I mean you’re hair’s different. Not as dark. But you, you’re still…you know who you remind me of right now? Winona Ryder circa Reality Bites.”
Andy Lawson, movie buff. I can still remember an afternoon spent sitting at separate ends of the couch in the pub’s upstairs lounge watching Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels on video instead of working on our year 12 english oral - the one Mr Proudlock paired us for.
“You,” I start shakily. “Oh, I can’t think of an actor to reference. Sorry. You look just like you too Andy.”
You look just like you too? Arghhh!
I swallow on a mouthful of awkwardness and take in his casual business attire. Open-neck shirt, thin wool jumper, suit pants. Solicitor Andy Lawson. My brain continues to process it all.
“Here visiting your Mum and Dad?” he asks.
“Yes, just for a few days. I’m not out here often.”
“You’re in Brisbane aren’t you? What is it, PR that you work in?”
‘Did’ work in marketing Eve. As in past tense. What is he seeing standing in front of him right now aside from my spaced out demeanour? It certainly isn’t a take no shit career-woman. The hoodie and jeans. The battered Converse on my feet. What do they project exactly?
“And you. You’re here. At the firm with your Dad right?”
“Yep. That’s me.”
Andy’s eyes drop to his feet. He kicks at some crusted bubblegum stuck to the footpath with his shoe.
Me. I’m still slightly paralysed. All I can think is: I can’t believe it’s taken this long. 13 years.
I did see him once, after school was over. A fleeting moment that left me ruffled for days after. It was second year uni at a crappy pub in the city. All the uni kids used to flock there because even though the place was divey jugs of beer were $6. I was there with Phil and another girl from our course, Sally Prescott. We were walking through the beer-garden on our way out. Sally’s rich cousin was having a party at some swanky restaurant in the Valley where fancy finger-food and free wine was on offer. As we left Andy and a group of other telltale law undergrads barrelled in. They were drunk already, all of them and Andy didn’t even look my way. Thank-god.
That was the only time in 13 years.
Now here we are. And it’s every bit as awkward as I always imagined.
Shit. The bread. Sylvia is going to kill me.
“Andy. Sorry. I’ve got to go. This bread is for breakfasts at the pub. I was supposed to be gone for five minutes. My mother is probably having a panic attack.”
“Oh, right. Sure. Bye Eve. It’s good to see you after such a long time.”
And here is Amanda's scene. She has a gift for description.
The house at number 12 shone in the morning sun. The sound of a surf washed over the backyard as it was carried on an unusual wind down the street. The back door opened letting the wind carry the fresh ocean air into the back of the house.
The top windows were still shut off to the world but a radio was playing somewhere in the depths of the house, the sound muffled behind the closed doors. From behind the curtains her room was lit.
The grass at the foot of a macrocarpa tree was still damp from the night air. The sun had already dried the ground outside of the shade of the large tree. Two steps would be the difference between cold and warm.
She was sitting deep in the large cavernous kitchen at a table, a cup in her hands talking maybe singing.
Then she had moved quickly, quietly, it took him by surprise, suddenly she was there, walking out the back door, a phone in one hand a cup in the other. A fine wisp of steam rose from it.
She sat on a large seat under the tree. Her hair smelt of shampoo, it looked damp at the ends, dryer on the top. A small halo of blond hair had lifted above her head. He reached out his hand to catch it withdrawing it quickly.
Bark in front of him slowly moved, lifting from the tree like an optical illusion. An image formed as slowly as the small insect started stretching out its long thin legs. A stick insect that had blended into the bark was now in flight mode, it scurried around to the other side of the tree. He caught the tail end of it. Any shift in the small microclimate under the tree could make her turn, he couldn’t let that happen. He pulled the small insect towards him, holding it carefully in his hand letting it crawl from one hand to the other and back again, a slow, circular tumble as it tried to escape.
He lifted it to his lips throwing the insect into a panic, it leapt to the grass at his feet. His breath. Had it smelt it or felt it. Could she?
He could step back, blending with the shadows like the stick insect in the tree, but she might hear. Birds and crickets were building in a chorus of chaos each species trying to outdo the other. In the midst of the noise perhaps he could risk taking a step back. He slowly stepped one foot back, his weight carefully held in the thigh of the other leg, he watched the ground where he was about to step and as his foot went down the other occupant appeared in the doorway, a mobile phone to his ear. The occupant spoke and turned walking back inside again.
He stood in the shadows watching her talk on her phone. He could hear her but he couldn't work out who she was calling and what information she was getting. He wasn't sure if she was even getting through to anyone. Then she stood and walked inside.
New Plymouth had been a mistake. He already knew the police were involved, and now they were going to learn she was just more curious, not scared. There will be anger, there will be a cost.
He walked down the drive and got in his car and watched the house from across the road, cigarette smoke billowing into the street, as he considered the cost of not saying anything. Having something on someone. He played scenarios out as he watched the house. No one walked down the drive, no one came out onto the street. He threw his cigarette out the car window and turned the engine on.
'She's pretty too.’