Free Fiction: Once Bitten, Twice Shy

In January this year our writing group, Writebulb, were set a flash fiction challenge. All we were given was the proverb ‘Once Bitten, Twice Shy’, and were able to interpret it however we chose.  Here is my take on it. I hope you like it.

Once Bitten, Twice Shy

The full moon was low in the sky. Instead of its usual brilliance, the orb had a creamy opalescence against the ebony backdrop. She sat at the window seat and gazed out at the shadowed garden which still bore evidence of the latest winter storm. The ice encrusted snow lay thick and heavy in patches, just as it had a year ago. The fateful night that turned her world upside down. Quivers ran down her spine as her memory plunged her back into the nightmare.

Snow had fallen earlier in the day lying soft and feathery on the frozen ground. Marc was restless, pacing the floor in front of the window peering out at the grey snow-filled clouds in the early evening sky. He turned towards her, a speculative expression on his face.

“Do you fancy coming for a walk with me?”

Surprise flittered across her face – this was a first for Marc. A romantic evening stroll through the snow was far from usual for him, but the change was a welcome one.

“Yeah, sure. I’ll just grab my boots,” Rene responded with a grin. She dashed upstairs and rummaged in her wardrobe for her wellies and a hat to keep her head warm. Five minutes later she was bundled up warmly and ready to go. Marc grabbed her hand and they walked out into the cold crisp night.

As they sauntered through the clouds of fluffiness they snuggled closer. The night air nipped at their faces; Rene’s nose tingled and as she wrinkled it, Marc chuckled.

“Awww, you look so cute when you do that!” Rene stuck her tongue out at him and he laughed harder.

“Just because you look like Rudolph’s brother, doesn’t mean you can take the mickey,” she pouted, pretending to be miffed. Marc laughed again and with the speed of a cobra, scooped her up in his arms and deliberately fell into the snow immersing them in its icy softness.

They giggled like two carefree school children. Rene rolled over and scrambled away, scooped up a handful of snow, shaped it into a ball and lobbed it at Marc, catching him on the forehead. She burst out laughing and reached for another handful, but before she could launch another attack a snowball smacked into the back of her head and she heard Marc chuckling behind her. She turned and threw another one then ran, not stopping to see if it found its target. A missile caught the back of her neck and she shrieked as the icy wetness found its way down her back.

Rene bent and grabbed another handful of snow, almost falling as her momentum carried her forward. She could hear Marc gaining on her and she took off over the field, crafting another missile as she ran. This was the most fun they’d had in too long.

Her footsteps masked the sound of his and didn’t realise he was no longer behind her until she heard a terrified scream which could have churned milk into butter at fifty paces. She whirled around, startled to find she was totally alone.

“Marc?” her worried voice appeared muffled in the wide open space, as if she were in a vacuum. She started running back, retracing her steps. Icy panic gripped her heart sending shivers through her torso.

It was a couple of minutes before Rene came across Marc’s footprints. A puzzled expression etched into her features as she noticed them veer to one side and she began to follow. The imprints progressed in an arc close to trees and bushes and then stopped beside two fresh furrows that vanished into the undergrowth. She took a few steps into the bushes then paused. A trail of bright red splashes of differing sizes marred the hoary surface and a coppery odour assaulted her nostrils.

“Marc?” she yelled, the fear in her voice hung among the trees, an almost tangible thing.

Rene staggered back a few steps, gasping in horror. Her breathing accelerated and she was close to hyperventilating. Her eyes gaped in the direction of the blood as a scream began to build in her lungs. A rustling in the bushes ahead drew her attention; her eyes flicked in the direction of the noise and a pair of yellow eyes stared back at her.

Her scream erupted into the night; Rene turned and sprinted back towards home, terror flooding through her. She could hear growling behind her, but no sounds of pursuit. However, she didn’t dare slow her pace or look back. She flung herself through the door and bolted it. As she leaned back against it trying to catch her breath, she heard howling echoing around the outside of the house.

She ran into the kitchen without turning on any lights and peered out at the moonlit vista. Standing six feet from the window, a huge wolf-like creature stood on its hind legs, its head thrown back as it bayed at the sky; the voice filled with agony.

Rene was mesmerised by the creature – she’d never seen anything so strange and terrifying – and scrutinised it from her place of safety. As abruptly as the howling began, it ceased and the beast lowered its head as it dropped to stand on all four paws. It gazed directly at the window where Rene stood; a pitiful whine escaped from its throat and a pair of tormented eyes met her stare.

She inhaled sharply; there was something about the wolf-like animal that she sort of . . .  recognized, yet how could she? Her eyes were unexpectedly drawn to something glinting on one of its front paws which the beast had lifted from the ground and as she realised what it was, her legs gave way and she crumpled to the floor, moaning.

“Marc!” a tortured whisper floated from her lips. Pain flooded her chest as her heart ripped in two. The glint she saw was the engagement ring she’d given to Marc only six months previous and just before he’d disappeared from her view she’d noticed fresh wounds around his neck and shoulder. He’d been bitten.

She couldn’t bring herself to move from the house, it was the only link to Marc she had left. But she didn’t dare venture out at full moon anymore; she’d lost Marc to it, but refused to lose herself.

I really hope you enjoyed that and would love to know what you think. Please feel free to leave a comment or several. 🙂

The Boomerang Effect

When I finished my first draft of Heart Search and the initial euphoria had worn off a little, I gave my raw manuscript to my editor, Maria Johnson, to smooth out the rough edges. At that time, I had no real idea of what was involved and the true ‘boomerang effect’ (as I affectionately call it) my novel would be involved in.

Maria skilfully and professionally guided me through the process, giving explanations, good constructive criticism and recommendations along the way. By the time Heart Search: Lost was ready for submission, I’d learnt so much about the process, how hard a good editor has to work and the importance of building a good working relationship between author and editor.

Now, one of my nicknames is ‘Hawkeye’, mainly because if something is lost on a carpet or furniture, no matter how small, I’d be the one to find it. So where is this leading? Be patient, I’m getting there! Lol.

I was reading a book on Kindle and began to notice various grammatical errors, words missing and the like. The author was a contact of mine on Twitter and I sent her a polite Direct Message mentioning I’d found errors in her book. She sent me her email address and asked if I would tell her what I’d found, which I did. This was the start of a lovely friendship between Alison DeLuca and me.

After she’d written her third novel, she asked me to beta read and line edit it for her. I not only did that, but also gave her feedback and suggestions for structural changes. Alison and I worked well together and our friendship has grown as a result. Alison was very happy with the work I’d done for her and has recommended me to some of her author friends.

Now I’m editing the third novel of Connie J Jasperson (on Alison’s recommendation). This time I’m doing more than just line editing. Connie warned me her manuscript was, in her words, “very raw” and needed a lot of work.

When you edit you have to look at so many things; attention to detail, as well as a good grasp of grammar is a must. These are the sorts of things an editor must look for, apart from the obvious spelling mistakes:

  • Repetition of words and phrases within a sentence and/or paragraph
  • Over-use of words – ‘that’ being the most common
  • Sentence structure – does the sentence flow? How does it sound when read aloud? If it doesn’t flow then it need changing and then you make recommendations of how to improve it
  • Extraneous words
  • Grammar – this is more than just having commas in the right places. It also involves looking at over-use of exclamation marks, seeing where two short sentences could be joined and what punctuation is required to do it successfully
  • Dialogue – has it been written too formally (as in the ‘Queen’s English’) or is it realistic?

These are just a few examples of what a good editor will do for you, but in each case there should be an explanation for the author as to why something isn’t working as well as suggestions for improving it. I can’t stress how important this bit is. How can a writer learn and grow if they don’t know why something they’ve written is wrong or why it doesn’t flow? And as for the suggestions to improve a particular section, this gives the author ideas of how they can correct it in their own words.

Some authors think an editor should just go ahead and make the changes for them, rewriting sections as necessary, but what they fail to understand is no one can imitate an author’s voice. Of course I could make changes to Connie’s manuscript, but would it read differently to the rest of the novel? Of course it would! Connie has her ‘voice’ and I have mine.

Anyway, having finished the first round of edits (I’ve been sending them to Connie a chapter at a time); along with an overall feedback on the novel, we are now starting Round Two. And this is where the Boomerang Effect comes into play.

No editor is infallible and whilst they will try their very best to capture everything first time around, there are the occasional holes in the net and bits do slip through. Now Connie has made the changes based on my first set of comments, I’m now going through it again to check there’s nothing I’ve missed and this time to look at any sections within the story that slow it down or aren’t really needed. I will make my recommendations and it’s then up to Connie whether she accepts them or not. At the end of the day, it’s the author’s choice to accept or reject suggestions an editor makes. It’s their baby and they’ve poured their heart and soul onto the pages so it has to be their decision.

Again, we have the Boomerang Effect. After this second round, I will have a final check over before Connie sends it to someone she trusts to beta read it and ask them for constructive criticism and feedback on the overall story. At this point, the author can take it upon themselves to make changes suggested by the beta reader or discuss them with her editor before making the changes – again her choice. However, it’s very important for the author to save each version of the manuscript under a different name so if something doesn’t work, they have a reference point to go back to and, if necessary, restore an original phrase/sentence/paragraph.

So what happens next? Yep, you’ve guessed it – the manuscript Boomerang’s its way back to the editor for final checking before it goes to the publisher. [I can’t wait for this to be published – it’s an AMAZING novel!!]

I’m happy to say Connie and I have built a lovely friendship as well as a great working relationship. She can see by the way I’ve managed the first round of edits, the loving care with which I’ve treated her ‘baby’, and appreciates the way I’ve handled the constructive criticism with kindness. Connie is a joy to work with, as Alison was; they are both consummate professionals when it comes to their writing and it shows in the way they’ve responded to the editing I’ve done for them.

Most of what I’m able to do with editing, I learned from my own editor and I owe her a huge debt of gratitude, one I may never be able to repay.

One final word of caution, to those considering undertaking an editing job for someone, be prepared to spend humungous amounts of time and maybe even put your own projects on hold. Editing is a time consuming job if done with the loving care each manuscript deserves and you can’t duck when that Boomerang comes flying back!