Write a Novel in Six Weeks - Member Feedback Group

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Welcome to the 'Write a Novel in Six Weeks' community feedback group!

This group is specifically for members of Jericho Writers who are taking the 'Write a Novel in Six Weeks' video course. Post your completed exercises here for peer feedback - remembering the Community rules: 

  • Be kind and considerate to others. 
  • Be constructive with any feedback you give. 
  • Be generous with your time.

Not a member of Jericho Writers yet? Join us here to take this course and join the conversation! 

Here is my inciting incident from Book 1 in 'The Fight For Justice' series. (I would have used one from Book 2, like the when/must exercise, but I haven't actually written the novel yet; I'm saving that for NaNoWriMo.) 

WARNING: These are the first two chapters in full, so please be aware of the length. 


1

Ignorance Removed 

    

Songbirds chirped happily and deer and rabbits ran freely as a small company made their way across the unbroken, green landscape. An elegant carriage, drawn by two splendid white horses, sat in the centre of the group. All around it, in a circle, rode over a dozen armed men. It was Sir Charles Manoring’s family surrounded by his men-at-arms. He was a well-respected knight who had proved himself as a loyal subject of the Crown and a brave man in battle. A gentleman to boot, he was every bit as regal and commanding as a king. His head was bald and the lines in his face and around his brown eyes evidenced the many years of battle he had experienced. A neat and close-knit beard framed his thin mouth and with each stride of his horse, a mighty sword clinked at his side. Not dressed in the garb of a knight, instead he was clothed in blue velvet, with a sleeveless doublet and flowing scarlet cloak. Every year he made this journey to his country estate in Northamptonshire for three months to escape the hustle and bustle of where he lived - the powerful city of London. 

Sir Charles was not the only one who travelled to that part of the country once a year. Five local hamlets of peasants also made the trip to his estate, knowing that Sir Charles would be there without fail. He was a wealthy man and they, who had nothing, hoped to be given something, be it money or food. Most were not enthusiastic about the trip as they were ignored by the rich every day of their lives, but some were hopeful that they would be noticed and helped. Famine, followed by the Plague, had ravaged the country in recent years and a large mix of peasants from all over England had moved to the countryside to settle on abandoned, still unfertile, farmland.

As Sir Charles' party made their way across a small stream, the greying knight turned to his company and said, ‘There will undoubtedly be a crowd to greet us. Keep your possessions out of reach and try to stay together and not get separated. When I give the word, throw some money to the people.’ 

His gaze came to rest on his faithful young squire, David Mortimer, who had been his page for five years and then his squire for nearly seven years. He was twenty-one, had short, curly brown hair, warm, expressive eyes, and was more tanned than the rest of the company. His handsome features included a dimple in his left cheek when he smiled. Known to be fiercely loyal and committed, Sir Charles considered him one of his closest allies. David’s training to become a knight was almost complete and then he would be free to go his own way. Deep down, this saddened the old warrior because David had become like a son to him, especially seeing as he had no sons of his own. This was the first time that David had been to Charles' country manor and Charles thought that David deserved a quiet setting to complete his training. 

As the company entered a clearing with a path leading to the grand manor, a shocking sight met their eyes. Hundreds of peasants were gathered all along the road on one side and at least the same number were on the other side. Those who were on the path separated like the Red Sea before the powerful steeds of the armoured men. 

David had lived in the London region his entire life, but had never seen so many peasants all in one place at the same time. He could hardly believe his eyes. Having been born into a relatively wealthy family, he had only ever mixed with nobility. After all, his father was a knight and one of his many aunts was a lord's wife. His family were not related to the former Earl of March, Roger Mortimer, who had been executed twenty-five years before for rebellion against the Crown. Instead, they had come from humble beginnings, of Norman descent, who had served on countless battlefields, fought hard, and served their way to riches and nobility. David’s father, Sir Raymond, had been at the great English victory at Crécy, as had Sir Charles, when David was just a lad. The Mortimer family had proved themselves in tournaments and though David had never fought in battle, his name and family reputation preceded him and his looming knighthood was certain. Coming from a line of pride, power, and prestige, David hardly ever noticed the classes below him. But now, seeing all these starving people before him somehow removed his ignorance. 

All this time, the party kept moving. They were now among the crowd and David saw how truly poor and pitiful the people were. Most had no shoes and only rags for clothing. All were completely filthy and many were sick. Little children looked up at them with hungry, pleading eyes and old men glared at them whilst leaning on their staffs. Something from deep within him began to pull at David’s heart. 

‘Throw some money to the crowd!’ Sir Charles ordered and immediately his men tossed a handful of coins to the people on either side, not caring whether they caught them or not. The scrambling and pushing that began was heart-wrenching. Mothers were pushed back by gruff, angry men. Children got down on their hands and knees and crawled among hundreds of pairs of legs to reach a single coin. The strong trampled on the weak. All in a mad rush for survival. 

David surveyed the scene ahead of him with horror. He did not even realise that he had stopped moving. Suddenly he felt a tug on his leg and looked down from atop his mighty courser. A man on crutches with pale skin and hollow eyes looked at him pleadingly as his family of six clustered around him. 

‘Could you spare a coin, sir?’ the man asked. 

David reached into the leather pouch that hung from his belt and pulled out two silver half pennies. 

‘David, hurry up!’ his brother Weston called over his shoulder. Almost everyone had passed him. 

‘I will be right there,’ David called back. He quickly passed the man the coins and pressed his horse forward. But more people crowded around him; some had children, some were sick, others were simply starving. He gave to all who asked. 

His money pouch was half empty by the time Sir Charles called to him. ‘David! What are you doing?’ 

‘Giving money to the people.’ 

‘There is no need. The people will be here until we head back for the city.’

David glanced back down at the dirty, flea-ridden people clustered around him. ‘Really?’ 

‘Yes. You can give to them all summer if you want. Now come on!’ He quickly turned his horse around and galloped forward, people scattering from him on all sides. 

David looked down apologetically at the peasants huddled below him as he rode on. By the time he reached the front gates, his heart was contradicting everything he had ever known. 

 

 

 

 

 

2

A Seed is Sown

 

The front gates were opened and the party made their way through while Sir Charles’ manor guards attempted to hold back the giant wave of desperate people trying to enter. Once all the travellers were safely inside, the spear-headed gates were slammed shut in the faces of the thronging crowd. 

David could not take his eyes off the pitiful sight of people crying and wailing just five paces away from him, on the other side of the bars. The party continued their trek, but David did not notice. Finally a gruff-looking guard came to him and said, ‘It's all right. They won't get in.’

David looked at him. 

‘It's all right,’ the man repeated. 

David kicked his horse and followed after Sir Charles and the others like a man in a dream. Every now and then he glanced back over his shoulder at the peasants and simply could not understand the way he felt. Even when the front gates were out of sight, he continued to look over his shoulder, the images he had just witnessed burned into his memory. 

They continued to ride for some time past fields and cottages that belonged to Sir Charles' serfs: the peasants who worked his land. Rows and rows of plentiful bushes and ploughed fields gave way to the humble dwellings that these families called home. As the party passed by, the workers looked up in awe at the strong horses and Sir Charles' striking colours of orange and deep blue. Finally the actual manor house came into view and David longed to be able to lie down and forget about the events of the day. 

The mansion was large, easily twenty times more spacious and grand than the houses that the serfs lived in. Another set of gates guarded the private residence and a seven foot wall surrounded the perimeter. Large glass windows reflected the light from the afternoon sun, which was struggling to remain visible, due to the ominous clouds. The weather matched David’s mood as he reflected on what he had just witnessed, but the impressive house before him quickly distracted him from his musings. Indeed, it was more than a house; it was more like a palace and brought new meaning to the belief that every man’s home was his castle. In this case, it was more elaborate than many that David had seen before. Elegance matched practicality and above all privacy and security were clearly noticeable.

A perfect square, the house was made of strong brick and stone and had a slated roof instead of the thatched huts that David had just observed. The windows were large and some contained stained glass patterns, though David was not sure that he could make out any figures or scenes. Sir Charles’ family name was engraved in a massive iron plaque over the doorway of the house and quickly evinced both the strength of his legacy and the nobility of his class. His coat of arms, two crossed polearms on a field of orange and blue, was emblazoned on an escutcheon above the plaque.

The company rode through the gates that were opened by well-dressed young men wearing Sir Charles’ colours on their tunics and matching hose. They efficiently led the horses into the main courtyard and once there, the party dismounted and refreshed themselves with a drink from the well that stood in the centre of the courtyard. The horses snorted loudly and were grateful for the relief from their burdens and the refreshment that was sure to come. Once the animals were secured, the servants worked quickly to fill and refill buckets for both the beasts and their riders.

Sir Charles' wife and daughter emerged from their carriage and were instantly attended to by their maids. David swung his leg over the saddle and dismounted with a sigh of relief that their journey was finally over. In addition, he was acutely aware of the fact that the long hours of sitting in his saddle had begun to cause some discomfort. He looked around, feeling right at home in the immaculate, well-manicured courtyard. Foxgloves and marigolds grew freely around the garden and jolly old men were tending to and trimming the bushes. The whole place exuded peace and serenity, making David feel as though he were in a pleasant dream. 

‘How do you like my estate, David?’ Sir Charles asked as he approached, beaming with pride.

‘I have never seen anything like it.’ 

Sir Charles leaned against the well as he surveyed his manor. ‘It is twice the size of my house in the city. And the land here is very fertile, bringing in a good amount of produce.’ 

A slight and greying man stepped up to them and reached out his hand. ‘I am glad to see that you have arrived safely, sir.’

‘Ah, Frederick, loyal as ever.’ Quickly turning to David, Sir Charles said, ‘May I present to you my faithful steward and foreman Frederick.’ Turning back to Frederick he said, ‘My squire David.’ 

David quickly looked him up and down, immediately noticing the linen apron tied tightly around his waist and the deep lines running across his forehead. He was clean-shaven and neat, though his thinning hair floated in several directions in the strong breeze. 

‘Pleased to meet you,’ David said as he extended his hand. 

‘And I you,’ Frederick replied. ‘Sir Charles has spoken of you often when he comes for his holidays.’ 

‘Only in a good way, I hope,’ David said with a smile. 

Frederick laughed and Sir Charles answered, ‘Of course, of course. He is the most dedicated squire I have ever had.’ 

‘Charles?’ 

All three men turned to see Lady Gloriana, Sir Charles' wife, coming towards them. She was clearly over a decade younger than her husband, with dark flowing hair and a graceful smile. She wore an intricate gold coloured dress with long, wide sleeves and a train that her two maids hastened to set straight. Her eyes revealed her to be a quick thinker and there was something about her demeanour that made people instantly respect her, and not simply for her status. Indeed, she was a true lady of the manor and she reached out her dainty hand for Charles to take as she approached.

‘Charles, tell me. How long do I have to prepare before you plan a party this time?’ There was no bitterness or resentment in her voice despite the fact that the previous year Sir Charles had invited all his friends over for a banquet and forgot to tell her until the day before. She had still managed to pull it off, but had not felt adequately prepared for them when they arrived. 

Sir Charles smiled, remembering the incident. ‘My dear, I promise you that I will let you know a week in advance this time.’ 

Lady Gloriana then turned to David and asked, ‘What do you think of the manor?’ 

‘It is beautiful, my lady. I am surprised that you do not live here all the time.’ 

Sir Charles sighed. ‘Yes, well, I am still registered as a knight in the King's service, which means if he goes to war, then I may have to as well. And my main work, as you well know, is in charge of the training of young knights and men-at-arms in London. Due to our current war with France, there are many men to be trained. And then there is my lord, Lord Bromley. As his vassal I must fight for him forty days a year. But he is ageing and is less interested in feats of military prowess than he used to be.’ His eyes scanned the colourful flora around him. ‘When my service is over, though, I think that we will move here.’

‘Did I miss the arrival of Sir Charles and Lady Gloriana?’ a strong voice asked. 

‘Now, David, you have to meet this man. He is amazing,’ Lady Gloriana pleaded. 

‘As you wish, my lady.’ 

Sir Charles beckoned the speaker over. ‘David, may I introduce you to Father Ronald. Father Ronald, my squire David.’ 

‘We've met before,’ the priest said simply as he gazed deep into David's eyes. 

‘Really?’ Sir Charles exclaimed. 

‘I do not think that you are correct, Father. This is my first time in these parts,’ David countered. 

The priest smiled. ‘No, no. We have met. Do you not remember who used to teach you your lessons in the garden?’ 

David thought back to the time when he was three years old and remembered a large man with a stentorian voice yet gentle hand caring for him like a mother. The images came back to him slowly at first, but then one after another from the vaults deep within him where they had been buried. ‘Yes, I remember!’ he cried at last. ‘But how is it that you recognised me?’ 

‘Same face, my boy. Same face. Some people just never change.’ His joy was evident at seeing his young charge once again. His warm eyes were set either side of a large nose and his somewhat large belly was visible beneath his priestly cassock. Everything about him was large, in fact. His curly and grisly beard perfectly matched his deep set features and David remembered clearly that his heart was larger than everything about him put together. A little bit greyer and a tad bit more wrinkly, but otherwise, he was the same man. 

Sir Charles explained, ‘Father Ronald is the priest for my manor and some of the outlying villages.’ 

‘How many times must I tell you, Charles?’ Ronald interrupted with a smile. ‘Do not call me “Father”. Scripture instructs against it. Just call me Ronald.’ 

Sir Charles shook his head in amusement. ‘Of course. He is a peculiar man, David, but one of the best I have known. But come! We must get to our rooms and unpack.’ 

‘Then I will leave you to it. But, David, I would like to meet with you again and catch up on old times,’ Ronald suggested. 

‘So would I.’ 

‘I am sure that we could make room during his training for a few visits,’ Sir Charles announced. 

Lady Gloriana laid a hand on her husband's arm. ‘No, dear. David must have a rest, too. I do not want you two spending the entire summer sword fighting and jousting. You both need to rest.’

‘Don’t worry, my dear. I will not work him to the bone,’ Sir Charles smiled jokingly. 

All this time, David’s younger brother Weston, after helping the men tend to the horses, had been wandering around the courtyard, sniffing the flowers, and gazing at the many intricacies of the place. He now approached David with evident wonder on his face. ‘I have just taken a peek around the corner, and there is a giant lawn with a garden big enough to camp a circus!’ he whispered. 

‘Beautiful, is it not?’ David replied. 

‘Let us go inside now. Frederick, will you please show David and his brother to their rooms,’ Sir Charles instructed. 

‘Your brother came, too?’ Frederick asked in bewilderment, not seeing the family resemblance, for there wasn’t one.

David replied awkwardly, ‘He is my page ... sort of.’ In reality, he was more of Sir Charles’ page, or even a second squire, but the old knight had taken a great liking to David at a young age and had invested himself in him, while Weston remained a serving boy. 

Smiling, Frederick led the way as they entered the beautifully furnished house and ascended the stairs. Finally the old man stopped and opened a door. ‘This can be your brother's room and yours is down this hall. You should see what the Lady Gloriana said we should prepare for you!’

Weston, though sixteen years old, tugged on his brother's arm and whispered, ‘I want to stay with you.’

‘Ah, Frederick,’ David interrupted. 

The old man stopped talking and turned around. ‘Is there a problem?’

‘My brother would feel more comfortable if he could stay with me. This is his first time away from home.’ 

‘Very well. There is plenty of space for both of you in your room, believe me.’ 

David smiled graciously, but inwardly he fumed at his unsuspecting brother and wished that he would grow up and act his age. The only reason he was with him, following like a tail, was because he had pleaded and begged so earnestly to come, that David’s parents had not allowed David to refuse him. Not that he could have, having seen his imploring face, but now David wandered whether he had made an irritating mistake. 

When they arrived at the room, Frederick took a key from his apron and unlocked the large door. Inside was a giant room with an ornate wooden bed, four upright posts at the four corners, with a wooden canopy above. There was also a smaller, single cot in the corner, which Frederick suggested could be Weston’s. A huge desk, two intricately carved wardrobes, a large candlestick, a bronze wash basin, a throne-like chair, and tapestries and paintings completed the luxurious display. Additionally, a huge window overlooked the garden and gave a beautiful view.

‘I hope you enjoy your stay,’ Frederick said as he handed David the key and left, closing the door behind him. 

‘I am sure we will,’ David answered, but his words were hardly audible. He saw that it had begun to rain and he was instantly reminded of all the people at the front gate. No doubt they were still there, huddled in the rain, hoping to be given something that would help them survive. David tossed the key onto the cherry wood desk, hardly noticing the unceremonious clank that resulted.

‘I love the garden,’ Weston said as he looked out over the flat, green paradise with bushes and flowers and trees. 

David forced himself to look at it, but what he saw was not a beautiful garden; what he saw made a realisation grow in him. The garden pictured absolute wealth and nobility, while the people on the road pictured absolute poverty and peasantry. David just could not get the images of the peasants out of his mind. Even as he looked at the garden, all he saw were masses of dirty people in the rain. Little children, old men and women, all were completely miserable. He closed his eyes and shook his head violently, trying to clear the pictures from his mind.

‘Why are there so many?’ he wondered aloud. 

‘So many what?’ Weston turned from the window to see his brother in a daze, his eyes fixed on the garden. But he was not seeing the garden. ‘Why are there so many?’ he asked again, though there was no one to give him an answer. 

Week 3  - The three act structure.

Act 1. An awkward and unexpected stranger, Leah, comes to stay with the protagonist, Jess, a 12 year old farm girl, in southern Tasmania, and she must find out why Leah has been abandoned and why her mum is keeping secrets.

Act 2. Obstacles for Jess. Dad's stuck at sea, Leah won't talk. Leah's grandmother gets sick and dies. Leah's mum is uncontactable. Leah lies about her family.  Jess's Mum is still carrying the deep wounds of the drowning of her sons years earlier in the billabong. Leah doesn't want to go home. New First Nation neighbours move in and there is an attack on their son, Rob, (crisis point) which evokes past racist events and memories and exposes the past history between the two mothers.

Act 3. Jess finds a way to mend her parents' old wounds and magically to reunite Leah with her mum.  Jess's goal changes as her friendship with Leah and Rob deepens. An emerging connection to the land and water  begins the healing.

When… Must… exercise Week1:

“ALL THE NOISE WE CONCEAL”

WHEN Charlie Concepcion, a 23 year old business degree graduate who wants to pursue a career in filming, escapes the shadows of her parents’ dreams of her becoming an heiress of all their businesses in the Philippines, Charlie MUST leave all the comforts in life and find her own identity and sexuality through helping out a filmmaker from London do a thesis film in the most dangerous part of the Philippines where militants and jihadists thrive. How will she survive the place on her own when she needs to learn more lessons about the basics of being independent.

Here goes my attempt at exercise 1:

CLOUD RIDER

When Josiah Solomon undergoes a heart transplant, he wakes up with another man's thoughts and feelings in his head as well as the ability to see entities in the spirit realm. He soon realises that Doug, the heart donor, has a dark secret, one he died to protect. Josiah must seek the truth and expose it before this secret from the past comes to claim payment for Doug's soul and, subsequently, Josiah's new heart.


Inciting Incidents - Week Two

Three protagonists, each with an inciting incident of his own.

[second incident revised extensively]

Henry Brownlow has unexpectedly inherited a fortune and a large house from his bachelor cousin Bertie. Brownlow resigns from his position as medical officer at Pentonville Prison and takes up residence in Alton. For the first time in his busy life, the appointments in his diary are purely social. He soon grows bored with the same old faces and same old talk. His wife and daughters tell him he needs to find something to do with his time. His son-in-law, a barrister, asks him to assist with a case by getting to know the defendant in question. Brownlow agrees. Although he is unaware of it at the time, it is a decision that will restore purpose and meaning to his life.

Isaac Tyler hasn’t seen or heard from his mother in several days. He is concerned for her safety. She has a violent suitor, whom Isaac knows has hit her previously. Isaac goes to her flat. He doesn’t have a key and the landlady isn’t in, so he climbs up a downpipe and through an open window. Something is wrong inside. It’s out of character for his mother to leave dishes in the kitchen sink and wilted flowers on the table. He searches the flat and discovers the body of a man beneath his mother’s bed. He reasons that his mother, a nurse, might have killed the man – why else would she fail to report his death? Isaac rummages through the corpse’s pockets and discovers a money-belt the dead man wears beneath his waistcoat. Isaac removes the money-belt and puts it round his own waist.

Bram Tillett needs to earn a few pounds extra each month to pay off his debts and keep his butcher’s shop going. His wife’s uncle is a hangman in need of an assistant. Bram convinces himself that he shan’t be doing anything wrong by assisting with hangings – he shan’t actually be killing anyone himself – and besides, the Church of England [at the time] maintains that the death penalty is part of God’s law. Bram passes the course on hanging held at Newgate Prison [it hasn’t yet been demolished to make way for the Old Bailey]. He assists with five hangings before he is given the opportunity to operate the trapdoor. There is no pressure. He could politely decline the offer, but he accepts. That day, he takes his first human life. He will go on to take many more.


Week 1: WHEN.... MUST

WHEN the four year old Manto steps out in front of the chariot wheels of Prince Oedipus but fails to persuade him to turn round before he reaches the crossroads where he is fated to kill his father, King Laius, she MUST go into exile from the city of Thebes, an exile which will take her from Hellas to the fringes of nascent Rome. 

At the same time, the very fact of her attempt to stop the prince throws the gods of Mount Olympus into disarray.

Week 2 - Inciting Incident. At the moment  it comes right at the beginning of the story.

I was pretty much ready to head off. Cows were milked and the chickens fed. Mum was hollering from the kitchen, as usual. ‘Clean your shoes! You’re not wearing them scuffed like that to school.’ And I was thinking, really Mum, no one cleans shoes anymore, but knowing all the time I’d have to do it. It wasn’t worth the argument. Same old, same old, day in and day out. As I sat on the doorstep a shiny white Ford Falcon drove up the long driveway, scrunched the gravel as it parked. The driver was wearing make-up. She wound down her window, nodded and spoke to me, bossily,

‘I’m looking for your mother. Do you have a dog?’

‘Yep,’ I answered, ‘but he’s round the back, tied up or he follows me to school.’

She got out in heels, smoothed down her navy skirt  and blazer and headed for the front door. ‘Leah,’ she called without glancing back. ‘Come with me.’

A girl climbed out of the back seat in city clothes. She seemed to glow a bit in the morning sunlight in her white shirt, blue jeans and desert boots. Her dark brown hair was neatly pulled back into a fancy braid and tied with a white ribbon. They headed for our never-used front door.

I wanted to see what was going on. We don’t get many visitors down here, especially none with kids and that Leah looked about the same age as me. I raced around the back and inside to where Mum was washing up in the kitchen. ‘Mum, Mum there’s people here, a lady and a girl, at the front door.’  Mum headed straight out there, trying to flatten her crazy curls as she went. She was frowning. She showed them into the front room and there was talking, soft talking, I couldn’t catch a word. Then after a bit the lady up and left, drove off down the driveway. She didn’t take the girl. 

 

Exercise One: When… Must…

WHEN the third novel of Roger Davies’ three book deal is a flop, his publisher is insistent – Roger MUST go on a signing tour to promote his book. He reluctantly agrees and discovers a surprising solution to revive his flagging career.

Hi everyone, here is my When... Must... exercise from Module 1: 

When Sir David is called upon to join the English army in the invasion of France, he must overcome his reluctance to fulfil his duty, all the while knowing that trouble and injustice is stirring back home. 

Week 2 - The Inciting Incident

My protaganist is Peter, a Canon at Winchester Cathedral.

The inciting incident in my novel occurs when Peter receives a blackmail letter threatening to reveal his embezzlment of church funds.  (Peter has stolen church funds 20 years ago so that he can rescue and provide a home for an orphan from the Yugoslavian war).  But we don't encounter the inciting incident until maybe half way or more through the book.   Which seems to break the rules.

In my story, the timeline is not linear.   So the novel starts in the middle of the story, in 2010, just after the inciting incident, and opens with  Peter's response to the difficulties the inciting incident has put him in.   This is where he dives into the pool in the crypt and exchanges bodies with Father Hugh.  Once he has done this, and written the letter in the 12C that tells him about the diving pool, Peter returns back to the 21C.  Then in the story we go back to 1985 and work forward for many chapters until we build up to the inciting incident of the blackmail.   I think in the case where the story is recounted partly by flashback and also contains some time travel then the normal 'Start with a set up and then recount the inciting incident' approach needs some modification.    

I imagine everyone is thoroughly confused by this.   Here's the synopsis (which recounts the events in the order they occur in time in the 20/21C).  Hopefully this helps.


Synopsis

In 1982, Peter and Charlotte are students at Winchester University.  They are lovers, but she finds him dull and needy.  Rejected, Peter joins the church after University.   Under the Bishop’s mentorship, Peter goes to Yugoslavia to arrange to find homes for Yugoslav war orphans in the UK and illegally brings Anya, a war orphan, back to Winchester.   With the Bishop’s help, Anya is adopted by Charlotte (who is now married).  Anya has a normal upbringing and becomes a software engineer.

            In 2010, Peter and the Bishop are still transporting orphans from various war zones, using church missionary visits, to be legally adopted in Winchester.  They fund this by fraudulently manipulating the church’s books, with the help of the church accountants

            Rachel, the Winchester Oxfam shop manager, receives a package of old books from the bishop’s assistant and finds documents revealing the fraud inside one of them.  She blackmails Peter and the Bishop.

            Barbara, living alone in Parchment St, receives a misaddressed letter.  On a whim she opens it.  It is a letter from Katerina to her lost daughter, Anya, who is not an orphan after all as Katerina survived the war.  Barbara, who is depressed after the breakdown of her marriage is moved by the letter and Katerina’s need to find her daughter.  Barbara writes back to Katerina impersonating Anya without thinking about the long-term consequences.  But her attempts to please Katerina do not make Barbara happy.

            The Church’s accounts are hacked, and Anya is assigned by her software firm to recover the problem.   She discovers Peter’s fraud and confronts him.   He shows her an old book, describing the drowning pool in the Cathedral crypt. The manuscript, written in 1093 by Benedictine monk, Father Hugh, says that pool, which is actually a well, is a portal in time.   The manuscript also mentions a priceless artefact hidden in the pool. (Father Hugh originally dived in the pool in 1093 to hide the original Anglo-Saxon crown from the Normans).   Peter dives in the pool and exchanges consciousness with Father Hugh.  In 2010, Anya persuades Father Hugh (in Peter’s body) that he should, when he returns to the 12th century, rebury the crown in the walls of the then new Norman Cathedral.  In 1093 Peter (in Father Hugh’s body) writes the manuscript that Peter will eventually find in 2010 and which will tell Peter about the diving pool.  Peter (in 1093) and Hugh (in 2010) dive in the pool once more and reinhabit their original bodies.  

            Peter and Anya recover the Anglo-Saxon crown in 2010 from the Cathedral wall.  It is sold, and proceeds used to balance the Bishop’s books.   Anya and Rachel have a heart-to-heart talk, and Anya persuades Rachel that blackmail is a sin, and Rachel agrees to stop the blackmail.    When Katerina travels to Winchester, Barbara has to admit she does not know where Anya is.  However, together Katerina attends the cathedral and recognises Peter from 20 years before and Katerina and Anya are reunited. Peter mediates between her and Barbara.  Peter decides to take one last dive in the well to visit Hugh and tell him how the plan worked out.  The novel ends with Anya waiting for Peter’s body to resurface from the pool.  It never does.


So the homework question was 'is the inciting incident interesting enough to encourage the reader to keep reading'.   Hmm, well since the inciting incident (the blackmail) is in the middle of the book perhaps this is a mute point.  Maybe though I should simply regard the scene of Peter diving into the pool and time travelling with Father Hugh as the inciting incident (which is the opening of the book) and work from there.

If you are still bemused and have some time I'm appending the first two chapters (about 4200 words):

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The Drowned Priest


Prologue – Winchester, 2015

 

Secure behind the parapets of Winchester Cathedral, high above the Rose Window, a pair of peregrine falcons look down over the city.   Like the citizens below, they have simple needs.  To eat, to mate, to breed, to pass their genes on to future generations.  And in that short existence, they seek some semblance of pleasure.  The rich, plump meat of a pigeon breast or the soapy copper taste of the fresh blood of a baby rabbit.  The satisfaction of regurgitating a church mouse’s liver into a chick’s craving beak.  The lazy circles in a summer thermal and then the thrilling swoop to lift a basking trout from the Abbey fishpond.  The moment of procreation.   The peregrines do all of these without conscious thought, living and acting in the moment, as they had always done.  They know nothing of and care even less about the human concerns below.  The idea of mortgages, a new Mercedes, Council Tax, voting for your MP, a round of golf and quiet pint are as alien to the peregrines as the bottom of the Atlantic.   Yet, had the birds been able to see inside the human minds below them, they would have found a much more familiar world, where human flesh was torn and human blood was spilt, and mere existence was the only prize. 

 

Chapter 1 - The Well beneath the Cathedral, May 2015

 

Canon Peter moved closer to the South Transept wall as the intermittent drizzle of the last ten minutes started to intensify.   Above him, the tower of Winchester Cathedral rose into the early morning darkness.  Anya was late.  In a moment, the rain was sheeting down and the gargoyles above him gurgled in glee as they spouted the rain onto the stones below.  Peter’s Canterbury cap, a square hat of limp cloth with sharp corners, did little to keep him dry, as the water simply ran off it and down the collar of his cassock.  He wondered for a moment if he should have been a Roman Catholic – then he would have had the benefit of the broad brimmed cappello romano and would not be feeling quite so damp.   It was far from the first time he questioned his past decisions.   Not about Anya – there he knew with absolute certainty he had done the right thing.  But other matters– his failure with Charlotte, his uncertain contract with God, his desire to achieve something, somewhere in his life.  Now he had the opportunity to put at least some of these things right.

            Finally, Anya was there with him, like some ghost, blown in by the squall.

            ‘Sorry, you must be soaked,’ she said.

            ‘It doesn’t matter. I’m going swimming in a few moments.’

            He handed her the bag with his towels and a range of spare clothes, and then unlocked the Chancel door.  She followed him through.  To the right was the Lady Chapel, and in front of them the Retrochoir.  He turned left, towards the base of the South Transept tower.   He felt they should perhaps tiptoe or take their shoes off, but there was no-one to hear their footsteps on the worn flagstones.  Well, no-one but the bones of assorted Anglo-Saxon and mediaeval kings, and the souls of their subjects.  At the base of the tower another key opened a studded oak door.  A spiral of stone steps invited them down into the darkness of the crypt.   

            ‘There’s a torch in the bag,’ he said.  ‘I don’t want to use the lights. Even at this time of night there could be someone outside.’

            `Okay.’  

            She handed him the torch.

            After they had descended a dozen steps the staircase opened out onto a small dais.

            ‘This is a far as you go,’ he said.

            He slowly swept the torch beam into the distance.

            ‘It’s beautiful,’ she whispered.

            In front of them was a clear, pool of still water.   Thick stone arches rose out of the water, vaulting across the ceiling.   The torch light flickered over the surface of the pool. 

‘I’ve never seen it this deep before,’ he said.   ‘In the summer it dries out and you can walk on the crypt floor, but now there must three or four feet of water – ‘

            ‘Stop, shine the torch back over there – I think I saw something!’

            Peter swept the torch beam toward the back of the crypt.  A tall figure appeared out of the blackness; a figure made of lead, soldered at its joints, smooth and broken, matte in finish yet gently glowing in the dull light. By some hidden mechanism, the water in the pool was being drawn up and overflowing from its cupped hands, flickering and sparkling in the torchlight.  It appeared transcendental, but without any relation to religion.  The figure seemed to stand like a perpetual sentry entombed under the stone mass of the cathedral. Guarding, but guarding what?   They stood, absorbed by their thoughts for a moment.  Then Peter handed Anya the torch, and he discarded his robes.

            Unclothed, he sat on the edge of the dais and swung his legs into the water, sending ripples like messengers to explore the distant corners of the pool.   They made him think of the journey he was about to make.  He wondered, if like the ripples, he too would simply vanish into the dark.  He eased forward, then pushed off into a breaststroke, resisting the temptation to submerge fully under the dark, subterranean water.  The water was cool, cold even, but he felt warm, as if the cathedral was welcoming him into its viscera..    Maybe the cathedral had lived for such long time, at such a slow pace, that it did not need the hot warmth of human blood to pump life through its stony veins.   He felt his heartbeat slow, his limbs becoming sluggish.   He was becoming leaden like the silent statue, as he contemplated the water that passed through his fingers in each stroke.   Barely moving, he reached the limit of the torch’s beam.   Almost lifeless, his body followed his thoughts as he drifted into the distant darkness at the pools far edge.

            ‘Peter, are you alright?’

            He heard her call from the edge of the pool but could do nothing to respond.

            ‘Peter…. PETER!’

            He was secured in the cathedral’s embrace.  Slipping away, into an eternal sleep, becoming another soul, a vassal to the bones of the ancient kings and queens, lying in their caskets in the Nave above.   But there was pain too, a sharp, stabbing pain in his knee.   In the fog in his brain he realised he was floating over the well.  His knee had struck the protective railing, erected to stop careless tourists or their children falling into the well in the dry season, but now hidden in the depths of the pool.   This was what he had come for.  With sudden clarity he filled his lungs and reached down, grasped the railing’s edge and pulled himself down, through the clear, cool water and into the dark, black hole that was the mouth of the well.  The brick wall of the well was smooth and regular.

 

* * *

 

Not for the first time, Father Hugh Longfellow looked up the Norman Cathedral, and wondered in whose praise the stone masons had toiled.  God or man?    The tower, placed at the centre of the cruciform plan, seemingly reached up to beckon an Almighty presence.   Father Hugh indeed thought it a spectacular, awe-some sight and had often said so to his friend and colleague, the master stone-mason Rufus Elinwinson.  In private though, Father Hugh also allowed himself to see the cathedral in a different light – a symbol of the Norman yoke thrust upon the neck of English liberty.  The new building loomed over the adjacent Anglo-Saxon minster, like a falcon standing over its prey. The fabric of the old Minster would soon be broken down, stone by stone and reused to form a retrochoir in the new Norman Nave.   The business of religion and worship would still go on, in more or less the same way, but like the manors, lands and forests in the surrounding diocese, the reins of power would now be held in Norman hands.  The dispossessed English, be they abbots or earls, would be no more.  Father Hugh sighed.  He knew his time was coming to an end.  He still had hope though.  Hope perhaps in the next generation.  A generation that would apparently adopt the new Norman ways, only to rise up at the opportune moment.  Until then the old ways must be preserved.   

            Father Hugh turned round to see his novice, Will Wickham approach, ready for his evening instruction.  Unlike Father Hugh, whose substantial beard was turning white, Will was clean shaven in the Norman fashion, and did not yet wear the Benedictine tonsure.   Nor did he have the black woollen cloth scapula worn by Father Hugh, nor its substantial cowl.  Instead, as he wore a simple grey woollen cassock, to mark his novice status.  

            ‘Follow me,’ instructed Father Hugh.

            They walked in single file, Father Hugh leading, past the refectory, and through the cloisters and then to the priory dormitory.   Here, Father Hugh led Will through a side door and into the Father’s cell, a prerogative earned from more than 30 years of seniority in the Benedictine order.  The privilege brought little benefits though and had the distinct disadvantage that in winter he no longer had the shared body warmth in the adjacent dormitory to keep him warm at night.  The room just contained an oak chest, and a rough table with two stools.  A couple of bolsters, leaking straw, formed a crude bed in a corner.  A yew cross stood in a small alcove.

            ‘Sit,’ said Father Hugh, placing the bundle of cloth he had been carrying on the table.

            Will dutifully sat and said nothing.  There was a long pause.  Father Hugh was considering the wisdom of his next move.  He trusted Will, as much as he trusted anyone.   Will’s grandfather had been the Earl of Wickham and had fallen at Hastings nearly 30 years before.  Will’s father held the Earldom for less than a decade before he too had been brought down by the Normans.  Now his son had a Norman name and no land or title – plenty of reason for Will to help Father Hugh with his plan, then.

            Father Hugh gestured at the bundle.

            ‘Unwrap it.’

            Will dutifully did so.   

            ‘In the name of the blessed Mary!’ he exclaimed.

            The contents of the bundle belied its coarse cloth wrapping.  Will had only seen gold once before, the previous year when the Norman Cathedral had been consecrated.  Here though, there was gold, silver and precious stones in abundance.   Amber and amethyst encrusted a fine gold cross, while in the centre of the blanket gold with diamonds, rubies, emeralds, sapphires, enamel and pearls adorned a regal gold crown.  But it was the silver chalice that sat partly hidden in the folds of the cloth that most fascinated Will.   He looked at Father Hugh:

            ‘May I touch them?’

            ‘By all means.  You will be among kings and princes.’

            Will paused, uneasy about this unexpected promotion, then slowly uncovered the chalice and raised it front of him.   The silver was worn with use, but Will could still see the decoration around the rim.   The motif was the five senses, each being depicted several times over, with kings, princes, abbots, saints, warriors, monks and plain men in various poses.  In the centre of the bowl of the chalice an engraved figure kneeled with clasped hands, in silent, penitent supplication.   No matter which way Will rotated the chalice, the eyes of the figure looked directly back at the drinker.

            ‘Many of the kings of Wessex and of England wore this crown at their coronation, and drank from that chalice.   More than rest now in the Minster.   These are the lifeblood of the English, this is our past, our heritage.  It is in our promise to those who have gone before to hold and cherish these things, in readiness for a new time.   They were hidden in the grave of Saint Æthelwold after Harold’s fall at Hastings.  But the Minster will soon be no more.  It is our responsibility now to keep them safe.’

            ‘Tell me what I must do, master,’ said Will, his gaze still fixed on the chalice      

            * * *

The February full moon shone down on the two churches as two figures flitted from shadow to shadow.  Each breath they took hung around them, frozen like white smoke in the cold air.   Then they were inside the cathedral.   The moonlight filtering through the crude glass in the southern windows was enough for them to find their way to the entrance to the crypt.  As ever, Father Hugh led the way.  Will followed, carrying the cloth bundle, now waterproofed with candle wax and tallow and sealed in a leather firkin.  Father Hugh reached into his cassock and drew out a short, stump candle and a simple wooden candleholder.
‘Here, light this at the altar,’ he said.
‘Shall I say a prayer, master?’
‘Two.’
             Will was quickly back, the flickering candle throwing its shadows up on the stone walls around them.  In a moment they were down in the crypt.  The winter rains had flooded the water meadows in the Cathedral grounds outside and the water was a foot deep in the crypt.   Father Hugh quickly slipped off his cassock, took the leather parcel, and a lead weight manufactured from an offcut of flashing from the new roof, and strode out into the water.  He left the dim glow of the candlelight behind and the darkness gradually enveloped him.   At the distant end of the crypt, he could just make out the low circular stone wall marking the well’s position.    He intoned:

            Send thy light, O Lord, into the dark places of our hearts. In thy love, discover to us the snares set by our enemy in the hours of night, that, saved by thy protection in soul and body, we may deserve again to see the morning light. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

After one brief look back at Will he stepped over the wall and sank into the depths.

* * *

Peter swam down and down and down, and then he was no longer swimming, but drawn down by an unseen current, further and further into the arteries of the cathedral.   He could feel, no, he could hear the pulse in his head as his lungs started to burn?  The cool, clear water was turning red in front of his eyes, even when he screwed his eyelids tightly shut.  The cathedral caressed and held him in its embrace as he lost consciousness. 

* * *

Anya continued to shine the torch into the distant recesses of the pool after Peter disappeared.  The disturbance caused by his descent had long died away but the reflections of the beam on the arched roof of the crypt were still dancing, dappled shadows.  After a moment, she realised that the water falling from the leaden statue’s hands was sending out a sequence of regular, ever expanding ripples across the surface of the pool.  The figure’s hands seemed now to be cupped in supplication, as if it was praying.  She was increasingly anxious and wondered if she too should pray.  Peter had been gone for several minutes.  She did not   know quite how long, but she was increasingly sure he could not have held his breath for all that time.

            * * *

Wet. Cold. A dim light.  Peter was floating again, now relaxed both in mind and body.    For a moment, his eyes would not focus.   Then, he gradually began to perceive the stone arches vaulting over his head.   He was still in the crypt.   But a strangely different crypt, now crowded with lead and stone caskets, carefully arranged on stone columns rising out of the water.  Peter realised he was not really floating but more lying on the stone floor of the crypt. It was now only covered with six inches of water.   He rolled onto his side and looked into the distance for the source of the light.

                  * * *

Father Hugh felt as if something was burning the linings of his lungs.  Even with the lead weight of the leather package he had not been able to reach the bottom of the well.  He had tried to grasp the brickwork of the well with his one free hand and push himself down.  But the water beneath seemed to somehow be holding him up, supporting and caressing him, showing him, directing him back upwards.  His breath exhausted, he dropped the leather package, and allowed himself to be borne back to the surface.  

                  * * *

   Peter could see a candle dimly burning in the distance, set down on the floor.  As he stood up, he saw that he was beside the well. The protective railings had vanished and now a small stone wall marked the well.  Other things were different too.  For one thing he was naked.  He reached up and touched his face only to discover a luxuriant beard.  His hands were no longer smooth and white – now they were larger, rougher, stained with soil, with dirt under each fingernail.    He looked into the distance again and saw a thin, clean shaven man in a grey cassock crouched by the candle.   Easing himself up, he started through the water towards the light…

            * * * 

Borne up by the cool water, Father Hugh floated on his back over the well mouth.  He was still light-headed and gasping for breath, his vision blurred by the water and lack of oxygen.  It took him a moment to realise that something had changed in the crypt.  Then he realised the water was much deeper now – he hadn’t be able to float freely in the pool before.   The light was brighter too – and he could hear a woman’s voice in the distance, calling:

            ‘Peter – PETER – is that you?  Are you all right?’

            He rolled onto his front and tried to put his feet down.  How deep was the pool?   He found he could stand, half in and half out of the water. As he turned towards the voice, he stumbled and nearly fell back as a tall man appeared to loom out of the shadows.  He thought the figure was accusing him, clasping its hands forward, pointed at his naked body.   But it did not speak, nor did it move.  He looked towards the light, beyond the immobile apparition, and saw a woman, standing on a stone platform, holding up a dazzling lantern.  She was beckoning him towards her.   He felt dazed, unsure how the crypt could have changed in such a short time.   As he skirted the leaden figure, he intoned 

In martyrio martyrum,
In uirtute iustorum,
In formis spiritalibus,
In diuinis sermonibus,
In benedictionibus,
Deus tuarum protege me.

but the figure remained unmoved, immobile, continuing its fixed stare towards an unseen horizon.   

            The woman pointed at a bag containing cassock and a rough towel.  

            ‘Benedicite!  You are welcome here,’ she said, averting her eyes from his naked body.  ‘Dry and clothe yourself, Father Hugh, and then I will explain.’ 

* * *

As Peter reached the figure by the candle the enormity of his task became clear.  He had no idea who this person was.   Indeed, he had no idea who anyone was in this new world.   He had certainly been told about Anglo-Saxons, and Normans, monks and abbots, barons, vassals, jesters, peasants and knights in secondary school.  But this was hardly adequate preparation for actually meeting them.  Mostly though he remembered being told that life in medieval England would have probably been dirty, dangerous and short.   



Chapter 2 – St Alfred’s, September 1982

Driven by the October easterlies, the rain sheeted down under grey skies. It fell with unwavering determination onto the equally grey Warren Drive, on the edge of the Winnall trading estate in the northeast corner of Winchester.  At number 23 Peter looked out of his bedsit window, wondering how the others in his undergraduate year were faring.  In reality, his room was much more bed than sit.  A faded pine single bed was pushed up against one wall and occupied a good portion of the room, while a matching wardrobe, which apparently needed a little help to remain upright, lent against the opposite wall, tilted back by small third wall, a 1960’s gas fire hissed quietly next to a meter which also supplied a single gas ring.   Peter had never seen such a fire before and was convinced it had seen many more birthdays than he had.  And the fire certainly seemed to be wearing its age rather less well than wedges under its front legs.  On the Peter.  Next to the meter there was a small sink. A tiny cupboard above contained exactly one plate, one cereal bowl and a single saucepan.  A few pieces of cutlery concluded the inventory.  The room’s contents were completed by the table and the chair at which Peter was sitting.  They seemed somehow familiar to Peter, and after a moment, he realised they were made of the same veneered plywood he had seen in a TV program showing what life had been like after the second world war.

            He could hear the murmur of the landlady’s TV in the sitting room below through the thin carpet on the floor.  He wondered if that room was as meanly furnished as his, but he did not think he would ever find out.  She had made it clear that morning, on his short introduction to the house, that he was expected to remain in his room and only make the briefest of sorties to the bathroom or his shelf in the fridge.

            The raindrops continued to beat a rhythmic tattoo on the window.  He looked out at his bicycle, checking that it was still chained to the railings that separated the well-tended garden from the road.  He considered an escape into college, but the sodden saddle and the thought of the twenty-minute ride in the rain quickly dissuaded him.  Besides, he knew no-one who actually had rooms in the college and, considering the particularly steep streets of Winchester, that journey seemed too much of a hill to climb, at least for the moment.

            He found he had been holding his breath as he pondered his isolation.  He exhaled with a deep sigh and turned to the first chapter of ‘The Geography of European Agriculture.’  His studying only lasted a moment as he kept recalling his headmaster’s words, 

            ‘Go to University, my lad.  You should try for Queens - best college in Cambridge, I had a tremendous time there when I was demobbed!  Hardly went to a lecture, spent most of my time on the river – when I wasn’t in an eight, I’d be punting up to Grantchester.  Of course, that’s the advantage of a Classics degree – you’ll probably have to put in an appearance at least a few of your lectures if you’re doing engineering.’

            Well, Peter had tried for Cambridge – and even done quite well in the entrance exam.  He knew that though he had messed up the subsequent interview. It was the first 

time he had been away from home on his own.  He put it down to nerves, mostly.  It had been a complicated train journey, with three changes, and he was late as he had had trouble finding the college.  Then, slightly overawed by sitting in front of two college Fellows, each wearing gowns, and offering him sherry, he was totally silent when asked:

            ‘If the second law of thermodynamics says that you can’t unscramble scrambled eggs, what would you have for breakfast if you wanted to increase your entropy?’

            Perhaps it was not surprising then he had abandoned doing Natural Sciences and had settled for Environmental Sciences at King Alfred’s College in Winchester.   The college originally specialised in teacher training and had only just started expanding to provide ‘proper’ degrees under the supervision of nearby Southampton University.  Maybe the need to fill their extra places was the reason he had got in.  He was really only there because his friend John had already applied to St Alfred’s to do Geography.  Peter was not sure he wanted to be a teacher.  Maybe he would look for a job in TV?  But first he would have to get through the next three years.

             ‘A pity I didn’t know the College was strapped for money,’ Peter thought.   If he had, he would have known that that St Alfred’s had yet to complete the funding of its expansion and had found it expedient to place its first-year intake in various lodgings and bedsits provided by the more permanent residents of the town.  Maybe he would just drop the idea of a degree, but he had no idea what to do instead.

             ‘If only my surname had begun with F instead of G,’ he thought.  ‘Then I would be next to John in the allocation list - with a bit of luck we could have ended up in the same house.’

            ‘Bugger!’ he said.      He put another 50p in the gas meter and started to make some toast.

 

 

 

 




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