Friday, November 30, 2012

(46) MG Historical (with speculative elements): The Sky-High Adventures of Never

TITLE: The Sky-High Adventures of Never
GENRE: MG Historical (with speculative elements)

When thirteen-year-old, wannabe-inventor Never finds a strange silver cylinder by the Thames, her only thought is to sell it for a little extra cash. But someone dangerous is after the contents of the cylinder, and if Never doesn’t keep it safe, British soldiers in the Crimea, and perhaps London itself, could face death and destruction on a scale never before seen.

LONDON, 1849

The last thing Never expected, on that rain-dark December morning, was for anyone to want to buy her.

She had lived at Tooley’s for all of her eight years, and every so often, bickering husbands and wives or weather-beaten tradesmen would sweep through the orphanage, inspecting the children like sides of ham in a butcher’s window. But she was always too skinny to be any use to the blacksmith, too pale to catch the eye of the elegant couple, too wild-eyed for the old lady in need of a maid. So she had stopped looking up as they passed, stopped wondering what life would be like outside the grey, bare walls of the house on Castor Street. Stopped hoping.

It was Wednesday, which meant it was her turn to scrub the kitchen floor, and the thick stench of rotting vegetables and sour milk made her eyes water. She was concentrating so hard on not retching that she didn’t notice the peculiar man in the top hat until he spoke her name.

‘The child’s name is Never?’ The man raised a bushy eyebrow.

‘Right little devil, that one. Any time she’s told to do anything, all she says is “Never!”’ The matron pursed her narrow lips in disapproval. ‘You sure you wouldn’t rather take one of our other children, sir?’

You old bat, thought Never, don’t you wish you could just drown me like a kitten. But she caught a twinkle of mirth in the man’s eye.


  1. Love this one. It's unique and well-written. Great opening line and some wonderful description of the kitchen.

    Now for the nitpicks...

    Maybe show the bickering husbands and wives and show Never's reaction to them instead of telling us?

    Maybe show the man more than just his bushy eyebrow? I think in historical novels, the setting and clothes are important. We could hear them in Never's internal voice for even more power.

    Not sure a twinkle can show mirth; maybe he grins at Never or better yet, winks at her?

  2. I like this. You've captured who she was as an eight-year-old orphan in that setting. Also, you've given the matron some great dialogue.
    I'm drawn in by the questions you've raised. I'm wondering about the "peculiar" man, though you might want to tell what about him strikes her as peculiar at that moment.
    I'm also interested to see how, and when, you jump to her as a thirteen-year-old.
    "Wannabe-inventor" is a great way to let us know this is a smart cookie who's quite resourceful. I'd read on.

  3. This is a great, smooth opening. I find myself wanting to read on right now.

    I could nitpick but I like Never too much to care to.

  4. ZOMG, I love this. Fantastic title, unique MC name, and beautiful, voice-filled writing. I absolutely LOVE your first line.

    The only super-picky thing I have is that from the logline I was on the banks of the Thames in my head, and so it threw me off a bit until I realized she wasn't there yet in the story's beginning. (I thought, someone is buying her on the banks of the Thames and this is MG? lol)

    Anyway, not a big deal at all. Oh, and I also love the "wannabe-inventor" description in the logline.

  5. I would definitely read more of this one! Loved the setting and the voice and I'm totally crazy about your MC's name. I'm totally curious how the "Sky-High" from the title connects with the story. Nice work!

  6. Don't touch a word. It's perfect.

  7. I love it too!! No nits, no suggestions.

    Great job :)

  8. I got nothing. This is so good! I would read it in a heartbeat!

  9. Great job. Love the title, love the name, love the set up. Definitely want to read more. Congratulations!

  10. Yeah. Well done. I'd read on.

    The one point where I winced, just a little, was at "Stopped hoping." It was a we bit dramatic for my tastes. The rest of the paragraph illicited emotions from me. No need to drag them out through my nose.

    Good luck.

  11. Wow, this is really good. Great, original concept. Your writing is beautiful. Just gorgeous. Good luck!!

  12. Brillianto. The second para is all-over brilliant. There's lots of vivid imagery, apt word choices, and the pacing is spot-on.

    Only minor nit is me wanting to know that the matron is lurking before she actually speaks (i.e. "Matron pursed her narrow lips in disapproval. "Right little devil, that one..." I just like to have an image of who is speaking before they actually speak.

    Never's thoughts in the final paragraph--"drown me like a kitten"--are a spot-on doorway to her character.

    I'm betting my fedora this gets snapped up immediately. If not, I may have to don my secret agent garb and pretend to be Brooks Sherman, because this is ace.

    Best of luck!!

  13. I really liked it, but the 'stopped hoping' bit is a little dramatic, and unlikely for an eight-year-old. I can picture someone that old telling herself it's stupid, pretending not to care, or claiming she didn't hope... but not really that they stopped.

  14. LOVED this! Totally hooked and if I was browsing this in a bookstore, I would definitely turn the page. The quality of the writing and the unique premise outweigh any nitpicky comments I might have, so if I were you I wouldn't change anything about this.
    Love the name Never.

  15. This is my favorite YA/MG entry by far. There's a very natural flow to it ("Stopped hoping" doesn't bother me, personally, but I don't think cutting that line hurts either, for the record, and may even strengthen that paragraph), the premise sounds delightful, and Never is a great name for a young heroine whose personality is already leaping off the page in this excerpt.

    I wouldn't change a thing. (Except, again, "Stopped hoping", which I think is worth considering a little more.)

  16. This is dangerous territory for me, because I tend to be an outright sucker for this kind of voice and set up. But as much as I love this sort of thing, I rarely pursue it, and here’s why. The nature of this sort of middle grade calls for strong, sophisticated writing—writing that tends to be too difficult, except for the strongest of middle grade readers. Also, a lot of writers try this arch tone. It’s rare that someone can pull it off from beginning to end.

    Still, I thoroughly enjoyed Never and I can’t help but feeling draw into her story. You paint the types who venture into the orphanage with rare humor and that detached distrust of a child that is so often taken for granted.

    In all truth, I found myself confused by your later paragraphs. Never’s at work in the kitchens, so how does the old man factor in? She hasn’t been marched out on display? Has he seen her before? And why does he want her ? I’m sure that last question will be answered in the coming pages.

    From your logline, the heart of your narrative surrounds a thirteen-year-old inventor Never, and though I see the stubborn independence of her in this clip, you still need to get her there. Which makes me wonder, delightful as this excerpt is, how much of this really belongs as backstory to be revealed later, perhaps in a flashback, than here?

    I’m not entirely sold, but you could tip me in that direction.

  17. BOOYAH on the title. I'd pick it up immediately.

    The voice is somewhere between Dickens and Rowling. The writing is descriptive without being overly so. Never is full of viv and verve.

    I wants the precioussssssss. Someone better make a move on this one.

  18. I think Myra McEntire stole my comment. I love, love, love this entry. One of my contest favs. Well done.

  19. Another Never lover. Hooked. And that is all! Bonne chance!!!!!

  20. I absolutely love this. I bid 5 pages.

  21. Tricia Lawrence of Erin Murphy LiteraryDecember 4, 2012 at 11:02 AM

    25 pages

  22. oh wait, no, we have to get to 150 first... so 150

  23. and NOW, I bid Full

  24. NO WAY! Auuugh!

  25. I hate being on the west coast. *pout*

  26. Lauren MacLeod (Strothman Agency)December 4, 2012 at 12:06 PM

    Just nothing that this is one of the ones I wanted and didn't even get a chance to bid on...

  27. Lauren MacLeod (Strothman Agency)December 4, 2012 at 12:06 PM


  28. MWAHHAHAHAH my evil laughter can be heard across the united states!

  29. Author

    Just wanted to say a huge thank you to everyone for the helpful crits and incredibly lovely compliments, and of course to all the agents for bidding and getting me all excited!