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I wonder if some of you lovely folks would cast an eye over my 2nd chapter. This is a lower middle grade book for about age 7-8. 12 chapters, approx 22000 words total in my initial draft. At the end of chapter 1 the family are dejected that they have nowhere to stay for their holiday (having checked out of the ghastly guest house they were in) and are going to have to go home at the end of the first day...

The Magic Beach Hut

Chapter Two: Old Man  

We parked at the end of the seafront and set off a little dejectedly towards the beach. Polly was swinging the string bag, I was in charge of buckets and spades, Dad had a football and Mum carried the “sensible bag” with handwipes and plasters and suncream and cream for stings. 

The sun was out and we soon cheered up and decided to enjoy our day out at the seaside. We strolled past palm trees, sandwich boards advertising talent shows and little kiosks selling trinkets or fishing nets or tickets for boat trips. It did feel like we were on holiday. It was just a shame that it was only going to last for one day. When we reached the ramp that went down to the sand Polly yelled that kind of overexcited yodel that little kids do. She launched herself full tilt towards the beach, string bag swinging wildly beside her. 

“Polly!” shouted Mum and Dad together. “Steady on!” 

Polly looked back over her shoulder but didn’t stop running. She careered straight into the legs of a little old man coming the other way and the two of them ended up in a heap in the sand. 

“Sorry,” muttered Polly. She knew she was in big trouble.  

“I’m so sorry,” gasped Mum, helping the man to his feet. “She can get a bit boisterous when she’s excited. Are you alright? Goodness me, I am sorry.” She was flustered and embarrassed and fussing around the old man trying to brush sand off him. It was probably more annoying than being knocked over. 

The man put his hand up to stop her burbling. 

“My dear lady,” he said, “nothing gives me greater pleasure than seeing a child enthusiastic for the joys of Bodbury-on-Sea.” He winked at Polly. “First day of your holiday eh? I can always tell.” He looked back at Mum who smiled uncomfortably. “It’s like when you first let a puppy off the leash.” 

“First and last day,” I muttered. 

“Ah, of course,” said the old man. “That’s why your parents are so on edge.” He looked at Dad. “Reels you in doesn’t she with such a friendly, happy name. Mrs Macaroon.” 

“How do you know we’ve been there?” asked Dad in amazement. 

“All over your face man. Written in capital letters! You didn’t get a wink of sleep did you?” 

“And breakfast was horrid and a mouse was on Mum’s bed and now we have to go home and that lady’s all grey!” blurted Polly. 

Mum and Dad pulled faces at her intended to signal to her to be quiet but she went on. 

“And there were HUNDREDS of stairs and she counted our toilet paper!” 

“Anyway darling,” Mum interrupted, “we must let this gentleman be on his way.” She turned to the old man. “I really am sorry,” and back to Polly, “say sorry Polly.” 

“Sorry,” Polly said to her feet. 

“I know, I know, a terrible start,” the old man said, “but you’ll love the rest of your holiday.” 

“This IS the rest of our holiday,” I said. “We’re going home tonight, there’s nowhere to stay.” 

“Nonsense!” said the old man. “You’re here for a week. You’re staying in my beach hut.” 

“Yay!” Polly said, jumping up and down.” 

“Well, that’s very kind..” Dad was hesitant. 

“It’s OK,” said the old man. “It’s free. You’ll love it!” He suddenly turned and disappeared into the crowd on the promenade. I tried to see where he went so we could follow him to his beach hut but he was gone. It was like magic. 

“What a funny man,” said Mum. 

“Can we Mum? Can we?” Polly was still jumping up and down. 

“Can we what?” 

“Stay in his beach hut!” 

“Don’t be silly.” 

“Oh! But why not?” 

“They’re just like sheds you use for your stuff in the day. You can’t stay in them. Anyway, we don’t know which one is his.” 

Polly’s bottom lip came out. Dad rescued the situation. 

“Come on,” he said. “Let’s build the world’s biggest sandcastle.” We settled on the beach and Mum smothered us in suncream. We started digging and piling up sand. The row of beach huts along the front looked bright and jolly in the sun. They were all painted different colours, reds and blues and yellows. One was green with big purple flowers all over it. One was rainbow striped like a deckchair, each plank of wood a different shade. Some were very fresh and shiny, some a little more tired and faded. One, at the end, was drab and grey. Its shutters hung at an awkward angle at its windows. Its roof was green with algae. 

“Hey look,” I said, pointing at it, “do you think that’s where we’re staying?” Dad grinned. 

“Better than Mrs Macaroon’s,” he said. 

“I want it to be the rainbow one,” said Polly. 

“Sweetheart,” Mum said, “we are not staying in a beach hut.” Polly’s bottom lip started to come out again. 

“Guess what?” said Dad, “It’s ice cream time!” 

“Yes!” I punched the air. 

“It’s half eleven in the morning,” said Mum. 

“Yes,” replied Dad, “and we’re on holiday.” 

Mum gave in and she took Dad’s hand as we walked up to the kiosk. We had big soft ice creams and Mum and Dad let us have a flake in it. We explored the seafront. We played in the penny slot machines and found a place where we could race remote control cars. I chose a blue one and Polly chose a pink one. There were six cars and I came third and Polly came fifth in our race. At lunch time we found a little café which did an all day breakfast and Dad said it was only fair to make up for the morning’s disaster. It was yummy.  

We went back to the beach in the afternoon and continued on our castle. After a bit more work it was magnificent. We had built a huge pile of sand and arranged towers around it and on the top. We were half way through digging a big deep moat around it when Polly suddenly stopped. 

“I saw him!” she shouted. “Look!” She was pointing towards the old faded beach hut. 

“There’s nobody there,” I said.  

“I saw him, I saw him!” she insisted. “The old man!” 

“Of course you did,” I said sarcastically. We went back to our digging in silence. Suddenly the edge of the moat gave way. Polly disappeared head first into the sand. She shrieked and I laughed as I saw her little feet waving around in the air. Mum lifted her out. Dad and me exchanged glances. We were waiting for her to be cross that we had laughed. To our surprise Polly was grinning triumphantly. She lifted her hand in the air. 

“Look!” she cried. “I found buried treasure!” In her hand she held a small old fashioned looking key. “It could be for a treasure chest,” she exclaimed. 

“Maybe,” said Dad. Then he looked up at the sky. “Just our luck,” he said. “Our one day of holiday and it’s going to rain.” It had gone a bit darker and a cool breeze had started. Clouds were gathering. “Great!” said Dad. 

“Well never mind,” said Mum. “We’ll find somewhere to shelter. It’ll soon blow over.” She was gathering the towels and buckets up and glancing at the sky as she did it. “Come on kids,” she said. “Let’s go.” 

As the first big drops started to fall we reached the promenade. 

“Polly!” shouted Mum suddenly. “What are you doing?” 

“It fits!” Polly shouted. She was jubilant. “It really fits!” 

“Polly!” said Dad. “You are unbelievable!” Polly was at the door of the old drab beach hut. Her treasure key was in the keyhole and her other hand was on the door handle. 

“Well it’s a bit scruffy,” said Polly, “but it will be dry.” At that moment the heavens opened properly. It was as if someone had turned a hose on us. 

“I guess we won’t be doing any harm,” said Dad. We all looked hopefully at Mum. We all expected her to say no. She glanced up at the sky. 

“Go on then,” she said. “Lets get out of this rain.” 

Polly pushed the door open and we all surged in blinking as our eyes adjusted to the dark. We stopped, mouths open in amazement. I looked at the others to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. It was clear from their faces that they were seeing what I was seeing. 

  • Hi Kate

    Thanks for posting this. It’s certainly a very intriguing premise and has enormous amounts of promise. I very much get the feeling that something exciting is about to happen. As kids love the idea that a magical world is only an opening door away I think they could be drawn in very well.

    I do write MG, but 9-11, so not far off. Writing children’s books generally means that the protagonist is a few years older than the age group you are writing for and therefore could be about 10 or 11. I think that first person point of view does draw you in closer but it is of course limited due to having to be at the site of essentially all the action.

    My main comment would be to prune out anything that really doesn’t push the story forwards. The chapter describes the day on the beach but very few of the sentences/ideas actually push you towards ending up in the beach hut where presumably the real action starts. I feel that to keep children engaged the dialogue needs to be pacey, preferably funny and anything that’s mundane should be left out, for example the contents of the beach bag/details of cars etc..

    It also seems a massive coincidence that they happened to spot the correct beach hut and then they happened to find the key on the beach. I’m sure you are setting this up to be completely magical but my suspension of disbelief is pushed just a little too far for that. If the old man had dropped a note or whispered something like ‘The one with the green door. It will open for you, Polly’ then there could be more reason for the family going ahead to try it. Weird is completely fine but one does have two give a plausible reason for it. Coincidence is not an ideal reason for anything happening and I think you could strengthen up the reasoning for their decisions somewhat.

     I also felt there was an awful lot of telling eg at one point it says “she was jubilant”, rather than showing her doing a little dance on the spot or high-fiving her sister.

    So I would suggest sticking to story advancing material, funny, quirky, mysterious but leaving out anything mundane if it’s possible to do it without making the flow frankly stilted. I hope that’s helpful.

    Good luck with your writing.


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    • Hi Alison. Thank you for taking the time. I agree totally with what you are saying. When I read it back there is loads of superfluous information that adds nothing at all to the plot. I’m not entirely sure why I felt the need to describe every second of their day! They need to arrive at the beach hut in the evening but that I’m sure that can be done by just saying so. Plenty of stuff I can cut out. This is just how it flowed out of my biro. Now it’s typed up I need to get busy with the delete key! I watched Holly Dawson’s webinar the other day which was really helpful and I can see that my writing head has been busy but my editing head has not yet woken up.

      Reading it back I can see it was a bit odd Polly going straight to that beach hut. I need to make more of the bit where she sees the old man there. Make him beckon her maybe. I will do more jumping up and down etc too rather than just telling. Thanks again

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    • Hi Kate,

      It's fun to see Chapter two. I really like your story idea.

      Alison has given you some fantastic feedback. I agree with everything she said. The only thing I would add, but I've said it before with your first chapter, I think you need to get rid of the adults. I'm posting part of an article that might help you :

      Children’s editor Cheryl Klein has since covered this topic in her newsletter and has some useful advice. She writes:

      In present reality, kids must be supervised at all times or parents can be accused of negligence — and many kids like such supervision, in my understanding, or may not want to be without their parents or break the rules. And yet it is also a Great Law of Children’s Literature that any middle-grade novel must be centered on a child who is free to act as necessary, who will drive the action and ultimately solve the story, and grown-ups, by their very nature, get in the way of all of that. It will be very difficult to find an editor who does not believe in this Great Law, so It seems to me you have three options here:

      1. Quash your instincts. If you’re protecting your characters and making sure they’re always adequately supervised, you are acting like your characters’ mother. As much as you might love your characters, you need to remember you are not their mother:  You’re their Fight Club manager, and it’s your job to get them into trouble, or let them get themselves into trouble, and then maximize that drama on behalf of readers. This can be hard to do, but if you want to write an adventure, you have to let go.

      2. Find a way to make the adults less responsible or less able to save the day. The circumstances will depend on the plot of your novel and the nature of your characters, but:  Perhaps the mom is an alcoholic or works the night shift, so while she’s around, she’s not always reliable as a guide. Or perhaps the dad knows he’s a helicopter parent, so he’s consciously trying to step back and have his kid take more risks. Or perhaps the terms of the adventure dictate (for whatever reason) that only a person under the age of 18 can solve the final puzzle. Something like that might let the parents be present, but still provide a limitation on their powers that allows the child to act.

      3. Shape your novel for a market where adult-centrism will be appreciated. I’m not sure about this one, but perhaps your book could work in the Christian children’s fiction market, where readers might appreciate more deference to parental authority?

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      • Great article, Julie. Love the ‘you are not their mother. You’re their fight club manager...’

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        • Thanks Julie. I’m glad you like the idea. That gives me hope it can turn into a book eventually! Having read everyone’s advice and watched more lovely JW webinars I am starting to have more confidence that I know where to go. I am going to get a red pen! There are lots of things that need cutting to make it more relevant and give it more pace. I don’t want to remove the adults altogether. Lots of children’s books, although centred on the kids, have parents, grandparents, teachers, shopkeepers etc. Biff, Chip and Kipper do, Lots of Jeremy Strong books do, even David Walliams books do. But I agree that they need to not get in the way of the kids’ running the show so I am going to prune them a bit! Thanks again for taking the time.

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          • I'm glad to help. You've got a great story and I'm sure you'll figure out a way to make it work with the adults. Plotting is so hard! I'm still trying to figure my storyline out after more than a year😞

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          • Hi Kate,

            Thankyou for sharing your story with us.

            I think the story is taking an interesting turn. I am intrigued and ready for more. I also think the narrator sounds older and was wondering about their age and maybe other things we could know about them.


            Also there was one sentence that didnt flow as well as the others because of the word "to"

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            • Sorry I omitted the sentence.  Here it is.

               to signal to her to be quiet but she went on. 

              I dont know. After I read a few more times it was fine. 

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              • Thanks Nancy for reading and commenting. I am really chuffed that you like the premise and want to know more! If the premise is rubbish there’s no point working at editing it. As feedback seems good for the premise then it is worth me learning more and editing away to make it work.😀I agree that sentence is a bit clunky. I’ll have a tinker with it. Thanks again

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                • You're welcome Kate!

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