Writer's Retreat – Chapter 4
The weather has closed in. Day after day, the sky is leaden. Heavy showers scour the old tin roof, hissing like hot embers or pounding like fists. The gutter overflows and water cascades from the eaves in sheets. The wind howls in the moonahs and I feel the unrelenting surf, a vibration deep in my bones. Salt spray drifts over the dune, a fine mist that stings my sinuses and makes my eyes itch.
The atmosphere in the cottage has changed, subtly. There’s a curious ozoney, salty, almost fishy smell in the kitchen sometimes. A damp chill oozes through the floor, despite my keeping the fire stoked day after day, night after night.
Tubs has stopped coming. I guess he’s curled up in front of someone else’s fire.
I’m listless and can’t seem to concentrate on my work. Nathan’s reaction to what I’ve submitted so far is discouraging, fussy; hardly a strong motivation to press on.
The theft of the bracelet doesn’t strike me as plausible, the way you tell it here. To start with, Helen’s motivation appears weak. It seems odd for her to risk everything for a petty theft – an act of spite? Maybe you should prepare the reader by foreshadowing this act in some small way. Just a thought!
I think a key problem is that you haven’t developed Mary’s character enough for the reader to be invested in her. It’s difficult at this stage to see why we should care whether William stays with his lover, Helen, or goes back to Mary.
Here’s a thought: why don’t you add a character-development incident, maybe a disagreement with Yat-Sen? Show Mary to be a feisty, independent young woman.
At the end of chapter 4, you wrote that Mary has been married to William for two years. Yet in chapter 16, their adult son James Chan pops up at Stawell. Something doesn’t add up!
The continuity error is tricky to resolve, because Mary needs to be a young bride – she’s jealous and insecure, but lacks the confidence to deal with Helen firmly. A more mature woman would act differently, more decisively. Maybe graft James on to another branch of the Chan family tree? Just a suggestion.
The first four chapters consist almost entirely of exposition. It’s a lot to ask of the reader’s attention. Remember what we agreed about showing, not telling? I understand your wish to give historical context – the trek of the Chinese miners to the goldfields, etc – but I think you have to deliver it in smaller, more palatable doses.
While we’re on that subject, I wondered whether …
On and on in this vein. Page after page of reservations, ‘thoughts’ and ‘suggestions’. When the editor’s feedback is longer than your manuscript, it’s difficult to escape the conclusion that your work sucks.
Just to make life more difficult, phone reception is poor at best: just one or two bars on 3G. A simple library catalogue query takes ten minutes, then the connection drops out entirely. I realise that I’ve lost the thread of my thoughts. This won’t do.
On one morning that’s less dreary than the others, I pull on some halfway respectable clothes, grab my laptop and drive to Warrnambool.
An opulent Chocolate Envy and a double-shot latte at Two Tarts Bakery are followed by a productive morning at the library, surfing the sugar-and-caffeine high. I dive off into a glorious afternoon of lounging in hot, mineralised, murky water at Deep Blue spa, punctuated by visits to the icy plunge pool.
As dusk falls, it takes some effort to get back in the car and head back home to the cottage and reality – whatever that is.
The object of this winter of isolation was to clear my head, get some serious writing done. As it turns out, an excess of isolation is not productive for this writer. She needs people around her.
Next week in Writer’s Retreat:
Chapter 5 – Return
In the final chapter of Writer’s Retreat, Alice receives a nightmarish visitor …