Wednesday, February 12, 2014

First Two (MG Fiction) #7

TITLE: sweet adversity
GENRE: historical

The Emu Swamp Children’s Home – 1930

Today was a good day to break a bad rule. Addie McAlpine straightened her tiara, grinning at the bold idea. And with a bit of craftiness and good luck, she’d get away with it.

Tucking her pinafore into the legs of her bloomers, she climbed the paddock gate and gazed over the wide-eyed audience.

Addie wriggled her toes in the short, leather boots from the hand-me-down box – a size too big, and scuffed. Their row of shiny buttons on the side of each boot made up for that though.

Breezes from the distant Blue Gum Ridges carried the tang of eucalyptus; and a hint of autumn. Surely only good things happen on such a day.

Addie flung back her velvet cloak in a dramatic gesture. The gate wobbled. Her audience watched, jostling each other. She ignored their unease, and from the back of her memory came her grandfather’s voice.

Relax those neck muscles, Adversity. Breathe through your nose, right down into your middle. That’s right; fill that belly full of air. Now your chest. Hold it. And release, through your mouth. Slowly.

Addie breathed in again, then her voice rang through the crisp air – clear, powerful and filled with longing.



The Jersey cow in the front row rolled her eyes in fright. She bellowed again, shoving her backside into the herd. They jostled and panicked. All seven cows bolted across the paddock to safety, their full udders swinging.

‘Come back, girls,’ Addie yelled. ‘I haven’t finished.’

When the cows returned to chomping grass, Addie grinned and jumped from the gate. Did William Shakespeare ever face a stampeding audience? Perhaps the cows would’ve preferred a song instead of Romeo and Juliet; she knew plenty of songs. Something bouncy? Like young Jack’s favourite, A Bicycle Built for Two. Addie hummed the catchy melody – a perfect song to teach the orphans. And Matron Maddock’s stupid rules could go jump in Tin-pot Creek, including the one about NO FRIVOLITY ALLOWED.

Through the trees came the strident clang of the kitchen bell. Breakfast time!

‘Oh, bloody hell!’ For a fleeting instant, Addie cringed, imagining her mother’s horror at the number of rude words she’d learned. She raced across the field, her boots slipping and her cloak flapping. It didn’t pay to miss a meal at the Emu Swamp Children’s Home.

Blast and damn!’ Addie cursed again. She’d forgotten the basket of washed sheets waiting to be hung on the clothesline. If Matron Maddock discovered she’d been acting Juliet for the Jersey herd instead of finishing chores, she’d cop an earful. Performing Shakespeare from the paddock gate would definitely come under the No Frivolity rule.

Addie raced towards the laundry building, choosing a shortcut past Matron’s office in the Home's main building. Risky, but worth it.

The sandstone structure squatted under the gum trees, solid, squalid, cold. Like a giant toad. Mould streaked the blocks, leaves choked the gutters and


  1. Love the place and time, Emu Farm Children's Home, 1930. That's great. Has an initial flavor of Swamplandia. In the fourth paragraph the second sentence, the tense threw me off, present instead of past like the rest. A great character already emerges in just this short passage.

  2. My favorite part was when she was performing for the cows. I thought it was very funny.

  3. This worked for me. I'm a sucker for a kid with gumption. There's a clear sense of time and character. I'm guessing the setting is Australia or New Zealand. There is enough of a hint of the story problem that I would continue reading.

  4. I really enjoyed this piece. Got a great sense of the era and setting. I loved the humour and felt like I could really connect with Addy's character. Loved the Shakespeare references too.

  5. I think Addie sounds adorable and I automatically want to root for her. These two pages are great because they set up who she is, where she is , and a little bit about who takes care of her. I enjoyed the part about her grandfather's voice, it shows that she is a recent orphan, and her real name. Would definitely read on.

  6. Love the first line. Drew me right in. Also, love the MC and how you evoke time and place so well.

    A couple nitpicks. I got lost in the first few paragraphs. Each one was so short that it felt choppy and disjointed to me. Also, I was just plain confused. The reference to her tiara at the beginning felt very real to me. At that point we had no reason to believe she wasn't really wearing a tiara, so this painted a quick image of elegance. Maybe she was at a theater or dance and had a "real" audience waiting. But then the climbing on the gate was confusing with this image of an elegant girl with a tiara possibly in a theater.

    I suggest you put a few more details in those first 2-3 paragraphs to to firmly establish the setting--the smell and sound of the herd, the feel of the gate, the sun shining etc. Something right away so the reader doesn't construct a very different image. Also, I'd describe the tiara differently so the reader knows it isn't real. Or I'd leave it out.In fact, leaving out that one detail and a few more sensory details might have been enough to keep me from being confused.

    I have to admit, I'm not sure I would have read on. Once I got past the initial confusion, I really liked this piece, but if I had been a reader, agent, editor etc. I might never have gotten to that point.

    My other nit pick is this transition between paragraphs: "Breakfast time!

    ‘Oh, bloody hell!’

    "Breakfast time!" made me think she was really excited to hear the bell. Then she curses like she's upset to hear the bell. This was really jarring to me, and I had to reread it.

  7. Cute, spunky character and interesting setting/time period! I'm interested to know if this is in Australia, given the eucalyptus and the spelling of "favourite."

    Good first line. Love the performance in front of a cow audience. Addie sounds a little like Maria in The Sound of Music.

    Pinafores and bloomers sound earlier than the 1930s, though. And it's never made clear why she's wearing a tiara if she's supposed to be doing chores.

    Consider putting the "tucking pinafore" paragraph right before she breathes in and sings.

  8. Thank you all for your comments! Much appreciated.

    Yes, the story is set in Australia - great detective work there, haha. :)

    Glad to see, as well, that the mention of the 'displaced' tiara did exactly what it was supposed to do - question why Addie wears such finery in a cow paddock. (There is a reason).

    I was also interested to see if a story set somewhere obviously different (geographically and culturally) to the US, would still manage to interest the reader.

    Thank you, Authoress, as usual, for these fabulous opportunities. :)

  9. Good opening line. What MG reader has not broken a rule that they think is unfair and justified their action with "Well, it's a bad rule to begin with!" So, I think the reader is on her side right away.

    Addie (Adversity) is a good name choice for the time period. You also do a good job of weaving in period details to ground the reader. However, it took me a while to realize why she was wearing a tiara? Wondering if it was a paper tiara, tin foil tiara, or rhinestone tiara? the last one seems unlikely for her circumstances.
    Love the humor of performing for the cows.

    Good language choice with "frivolity", "cop an earful", and the cussing. Wanted to keep reading too. I think I will like this dramatic, fiesty, resourceful MC that you are creating.
    Good luck with the MS. Patricia Nesbitt

  10. Thank you, Patricia, and everyone, for your comments. :)
    I'm having a ball creating Addie.
    Re the tiara - it's a stage prop from her family's travelling Shakespearean troupe (which of course, the reader finds out very shortly). :)