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Bookish. Publisher at Louise Walters Books. Reader, writer, and editor. Working class gal.

Tuesday, 4 June 2019

First Paragraphs: Before and After - Fallible Justice

Welcome to the second of my First Paragraph posts, in which I share the opening paragraphs of my authors' books, before and after they were edited. This time I'm going to talk about my very first LWB title, Laura Laakso's Fallible Justice. There's a bit of a story behind the story, so we'll begin there...

In 2017 I helped "sift" entries to the Retreat West First Chapter competition. Amanda Saint invited me to help her, and I agreed. I needed the money, as I had decided to set up my indie publishing outfit, Louise Walters Books. I also thought the experience would be useful and at the back of my mind, I said to myself, "You never know what you might find..."


Cue A LOT of reading. Some chapters were good, some not so good. Then I reached an entry named Fallible Justice and here are the opening paragraphs I read:



I am running. The foot that touches the ground is a deer’s hoof, the foot that propels me forward a wolf’s paw. Between strides, the wings of a seagull hold me aloft. Running along the sandy hill, the wide paws of a lynx ensure my passing is silent. The wind is against me, whipping through the horse’s mane that is my hair. With the wind comes the smells of the land and the sea and I sift through them with the borrowed nose of a badger. In the distance, a bird takes flight and the ears of a dormouse pinpoint the source of the sound with ease. My foot lands in a grassy depression but with the balance of a squirrel I change the direction of my movement and keep going.
      I am running through the wilderness and the wilderness runs through me.
      The hills follow the curves of the coast and from a sheltered cove, I catch a whiff of decay. My stomach growls and it is the hunger of a vixen stalking towards a chicken coop, a pine marten pouncing on a shrew, a striped dolphin chasing a school of cod. As soon as the thought registers, the smell is gone.
      A hound bays in the distance. It is downwind from me and has recognised my scent. I bay back. Kin recognises kin.
      Although I run with the strength of an ant, the speed of a swift and the grace of a pond skater, there comes a point when I have to stop. I brace my hands against my knees, breath coming in gulps. In that moment, I am all human – only human. There is no sorrow in the change; the wilderness hovers on the edge of my consciousness, ever-present and comforting. I wipe a sheen of sweat from my forehead, a mixture of beads of dew and salt of the sea. Everything is connected, myself included. I smile at the thought as I begin the long walk back to my car. 


Well. I was stumped! But there was something... wonderful about the writing. And that line "I am  running through the wilderness and the wilderness runs through me" - surely that was a gift of a tag line? But was it too ambitious? Too wild? Too over the top? I asked for Amanda's opinion. "Is this fabulous or is it bollocks?" I asked her. She read it and replied: "It's fabulous. Let's put it through to the long list."

The chapter was also short listed, and eventually picked by the judge as the runner up in the 2017 competition. A few weeks later, my submissions inbox now open, Laura submitted another of her novels to me. I wasn't that taken with it, but I recalled her name, and I asked to read the rest of Fallible Justice. I read it twice, back to back. I was keen to kick start LWB with a wonderful author and I knew I'd found her. OK, fantasy and paranormal are NOT my things, usually, but good writing and good story-telling trumps everything else. I had found her! My first LWB author. I offered Laura a one-book deal which she accepted and away we went. 

Editing Laura is relatively easy. We start from a pretty elevated position - Laura writes tidy and clean! Structurally we don't need to do much as her books are meticulously plotted and she is pretty much in charge of that side of things. It's her show and my job is simply to ensure everything makes sense... which it tends to do! Laura has nailed the internal logic of her stories - in other words, she has created a world she knows inside out and she is the boss: she is totally in charge. Nothing random or bizarre or silly happens despite this being a fantasy series... fantasy is just a style. Storytelling is storytelling and internal logic is present in all good novels, no matter the genre. Indeed fantasy is incredibly hard to write well. It takes a great deal of control and it works best when it's character-led. Otherwise it quickly becomes stale. In my opinion, the best fantasy is always, always character-led. 

Edits wise, we didn't actually change much. I've marked in red where we made changes and deletions:

I am running. The foot that touches the ground is a deer’s hoof, the foot that propels me forward a wolf’s paw. Between strides, the wings of a seagull hold me aloft. Running along the sandy hill, the wide paws of a lynx ensure my passing is silent.The wind is against me, whipping through the horse’s mane that is my hair. With the wind comes the smells of the land and the sea and I sift through them with the borrowed nose of a badger. In the distance, a bird [my note to Laura: This could be more specific. Name the bird? You name all the other animals in this fantastic paragraph, so I think we should name the bird too. (It became a magpie.)] takes flight and the ears of a dormouse pinpoint the source of the sound with ease. My foot lands in a grassy depression but with the balance of a squirrel I change the direction of my movement and keep going.
      I am running through the wilderness and the wilderness runs through me.
      The hills follow the curves of the coast and from a sheltered cove, I catch a whiff of smell decay. My stomach growls and it is it's the hunger of a vixen stalking towards a chicken coop, a pine marten pouncing on a shrew, a striped dolphin chasing a school of cod. As soon as the thought registers, the smell is has gone.
      A hound bays in the distance. It is downwind from me and has recognised my scent. I bay back. Kin recognises kin.
      Although I run with the strength of an ant, the speed of a swift and the grace of a pond skater, [my note to Laura: I think this may be too much. Could we try just picking one? The best I think is the ‘grace of a pond skater’, as it’s the most surprising of the three] there comes a point when I have to stop. I brace my hands against my knees, breath coming in gulps. In that moment, I am all human – only human. There is no sorrow in the change; the wilderness hovers on the edge of my consciousness, ever-present and comforting. I wipe a sheen of sweat from my forehead, a mixture of beads of dew and salt of from the sea. Everything is connected, myself included. I smile at the thought as I begin the long walk back to my car.


And here are the opening paragraphs as they appear in the published Fallible Justice:

I am running. The foot that touches the ground is a deer’s hoof, the foot that propels me a wolf’s paw. Between strides, the wings of a seagull hold me aloft. The wind is against me, whipping through the horse’s mane that is my hair. With the wind come the smells of the land and the sea, and I sift through them with the nose of a badger. In the distance, a magpie takes flight and the ears of a dormouse pinpoint the source of the sound. My foot lands in a grassy depression, but with the balance of a squirrel I change direction and keep going. 
      I am running through the wilderness and the wilderness runs through me. 
      The hills follow the curves of the coast, and from a sheltered cove, I smell decay. My stomach growls and it’s the hunger of a vixen stalking a chicken coop; a pine marten pouncing on a shrew; a striped dolphin chasing a school of cod. As soon as the thought registers, the smell has gone. 
      A hound bays in the distance. It is downwind from me and has recognised my scent. I bay back. Kin recognises kin. 
      Although I run with the grace of a pond skater, there comes a point when I have to stop. I brace my hands against my knees, breath coming in gulps. In that moment, I am all human – only human. There is no sorrow in the change; the wilderness hovers on the edge of my consciousness, ever-present and comforting. I wipe a sheen of sweat from my forehead, a mixture of beads of dew and salt from the sea. Everything is connected. I smile at the thought as I begin the long walk back to my car. 


Don't know about you, but I find the ending here on the very mundane "long walk back to my car" is perfect: what is this world? Who is this character? Is she a human - she seems human. She drives a car. But she has just done all these extraordinary things. I want to know more, a lot more, about this character. Don't you?! 

Fallible Justice was published in November 2018 and its follow up, Echo Murder, is published this week, on Thursday 6th June. 



I'll do another of these soon, and it will be Helen Kitson's opening to her fabulous novel The Last Words of Madeleine Anderson.

See you soon! x



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