Author Topic: The watchman - (1st chapter) 2500 words for review please  (Read 1105 times)

Offline sonofdenis

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The watchman - (1st chapter) 2500 words for review please
« on: September 26, 2008, 02:46:10 PM »
I wrote this several years ago and got a little frustrated with it, so I put it to bed.  The idea is that the narrative is from the POV of a young disabled adult (no verbal communication) as he grows up in a disfunctional family.  It's a little close to home - my brother has learning difficulties and a lot of the content is drawn from my childhood. 

I would  like to resurrect it, but I know this kind of thing has been done before and it would have to be of the highest quality.  This is the first chapter and, as I say, was written in the days before forums, before grammar correction software and before I was humble enough to take advice and guidence.  It's a little long at 2500 words, but some feedback would be appreciated.  Thanks.

Chapter 1 - Tomorrow

It’s a little while later and I think we’re home.  I’ve been on holiday before so I know how it feels when we get home.  Holidays normally mean walks, arshee’s and Dad out at night.  The last few days have been unpacking, sandwiches and shouting.  We never have sandwiches on holiday.  And we’ve only had one long walk. 

   This time we are not going home.  We’re home already.  I’m certain of that.

   The day we left our old home was a funny day.  I woke up to this horrible smell and all sticky bits on my face and pillow.  Dad walked in and said “For fuck’s sake, Adam!” and then shouted for Mum.  I heard him muttering something about today of all days.  Jake and Jocelyn poked their heads round the door, smiled, and ran off.

   I wasn't sure what to do so I just stayed in bed without moving.  Mum then walked in with a smile.  She smiled a lot.  She walked towards me in a way that made me feel a little better.  Mum always did that in the morning.  She helped me out of bed.

   I thought about running off and playing with her, but my belly felt a little funny, so I walked to the bathroom and started to run a bath.  I took all my clothes off and sat on the toilet watching the water fill up the bath.  The sound and look of the water filling up to the top of the bath always made me feel happy.  I don’t why.

   I hardly noticed mum walk in a few minutes later.  She came into the bathroom, shut the door, put her hand in the water and stopped the water from running.  She came over to me and smiled.  I could hear Dad shouting at Jake and Joss. 

   I never know if I’m going to spend an hour or a minute in the bath until I’m actually in there.  I climbed into the bath on that morning and didn't like the heat of it that much, so decided to make it a short one.  After a short scrub I got up quick and covered my mum and the walls with water. 

   I was in a much better mood now, so after drying I ran out of the bathroom and went to sit in my usual seat at the table…but it wasn't there.  My seat (the one that let me watch out of the window) had gone!  Was it worth getting angry?  I decided that breakfast was more important than my seat so I sat in the chair by the window instead and grabbed my bowl for cereal and my cup for Pom-Pom Parlar.  I thought that this would keep Mum busy for a bit.

   The first thing that was strange about breakfast that morning was that Mum walked off after filling my bowl.  Normally she sat with me.  That morning she just kissed me on the head and walked off after Dad.  But I had my food, and I had my Pom-Pom Parlar, so I forgot about Mum and my seat and moved the chair so I could have a little watch out of the window.

   The second thing that was strange about breakfast that morning was that my family were making too much noise.  Jake and Joss were fighting over boxes that were full of all our stuff.  Dad was walking from room to room and kept going to the front door to look outside.  Every time either Jake or Joss came in with a box he’d always say “No!  The big ones first!  What the hell are we going to do with the little boxes now!  The big ones go on the van first and the smaller ones later.  Look – today you really need to think and not get in my way.  To do that you must do everything I ask and do it right.”

   I didn't normally listen to what people said, but Dad looked quite funny with his face all serious and hands all dirty.  The others were getting a little scared of him; they always do when he’s like that.  I had to spit my food out so I could laugh at him.  He’s not as scary as everyone thinks.  Mum ran in and told Jake and Joss to help her instead.

  Of course I got away with doing nothing by simply sitting at the table and eating.  I may have lost my seat and all our stuff may have been in boxes, but I had my cereal, my Pom-Pom Parlar and an extra watch to think about.  But my Sugar Puffs were starting to run out.  I couldn't remember eating that fast.  Had Mum forgotten to give me the proper amount?  This would never have happened if she’d sat with me.  I decided that it would only be fair for me to pour some more Sugar Puffs into my bowl.  If anything bad happened then it would be Mum’s fault – she should have sat with me like she always does.

   So I poured.  Something bad happened.  It was Mum’s fault.

   My family stopped what they were doing and looked at me with all my Sugar Puffs on the table and all the milk on the floor.  Dad stood there shaking his head, Jake and Joss were trying not to laugh, whereas Mum rushed to the kitchen to get a cloth, her head bowed, so she could clear up my mess. 

   I got up and went to my room.  Everyone else carried on with what they were doing.
Morning watch

   I got there to see everything was gone!  No bed, no books, no toys.  I wasn't that surprised, really, just a little annoyed.  If they were going to move everything out of my room couldn't they have waited until after my morning watch had finished?  Of course now I know that they were changing homes, so it probably wasn't such a bad thing that all my stuff had gone - at the time I found the whole thing terrible.  If Dad hadn't have been in such a scary mood I would probably have bitten someone. 

   I stepped over the boxes anyway and leant on my windowsill to begin my morning watch.  This is watch time.  I do this in the mornings, when I come home from school, after tea and before I go to bed.  Nobody can stop me from doing it, I don’t need anyone to help me and nobody bothers me while I’m doing it.  My family know what goes with my watches – let Adam do it by himself; he doesn’t need any help; it’s something he can do all by himself. 

   It gives me time to think.  Whilst I’m sat in my window, watching people do what they do, day after day, I can think about what’s going on.  I rarely think of my family – they’re always there anyway so why do I need to think about them during my watch?  I think about little things like food and baths.  I also think about big things, like why do I look through a window in my spare time when Jake and Joss go out and do things on their own?  It’s not something that really makes me sad, I just wonder why.

   Most of the time I can handle it quite well.  Other times my head becomes really clear and thinking becomes a lot easier.  If I’m in a bad mood or nobody is listening to me, then I snap.  Normally Mum is on the receiving end of my snaps – not because I don’t love her, but because she takes it without making any noise.  The others hit back and shout at me, especially Jake, but Mum just stands there saying “Alright, darling.  Mummy’s here.”  I never bite her that hard.  I bite Jake as hard as I possibly can.

   That morning’s view was the same as any other, really.  The postman looked as bored as ever; the old couple on the other side of the road were looking at our home and whispering to each other.  Some kids were walking up to the playing field next to our home.  The unusual thing that morning was that a huge lorry was parked outside our home.  Two fat men (who I think were friends of Dad) were carrying all the boxes full of our stuff into the lorry.  Jake and Jocelyn were fighting in the garden.

  It’s strange but I’ve been in the family longer than both Jake and Joss.  When they first came in and were really small they would play with me and talk to me all the time.  Now they hardly speak to me at all.  Joss will come in now and again and read to me.  Jake will take me into the garden occasionally and try to play footie with me, but they don’t really talk to me anymore.  Saying that, however, nobody actually talks to me.  People tell me things or ask me if I’m feeling OK, but nobody looks me in the eye and actually tries to talk to me.  Except Mum.

   Every now and again, Dad will come into my room when I’m supposed to be watching through the window.  He’ll come up to me and sit down and start chatting.  Normally I won’t know what to do so I just sit there and look at him.  But he’ll sit there chatting slowly and quietly and actually look me in the eye.  Sometimes his eyes go a bit teary and he wipes them with his hand.  I’m never too sure what he’s saying but I can make out stuff like “I’m sorry,” and “I really do love you,” and “I wouldn’t change anything,” When he’s with other people he either shouts at me or ignores me.  I like it when it’s just me and him.  He holds my hand and hugs me.  He smiles more.

   After a while I got bored with watching.  That was when the two fat men closed the doors on the back of the van and drove it away.  I could hear everyone downstairs chatting and everything sounded really strange – like the rooms were really big.  I decided it was time to finish my watch and go downstairs… and everything was gone!  All our stuff and furniture wasn't there anymore!  I wasn’t as bothered as I should’ve been because everyone was putting coats on and Jake was holding my coat and trying to put it on me.  We were going out so things couldn’t have been that bad.
Special watch – the car

   Now we’re in the car driving on the motorway.  I like long journeys in the car.  I normally sit at the back in silence and watch all the stuff that happens.  Normally its Jake who starts all the stuff – Mum and Dad say his name loads when they talk to each other.

   “You know why we’re moving to the countryside,” Dad said to Jake.  “Because you need a more quiet home.  The town is just too much for all of us and I’m worried about you in particular.”

   I didn't understand what those words meant but I noticed that Jake didn't listen to any of it.  He never does. 

   He went back to playing with Joss and I heard Mum say to Dad -   

   “It’s not his fault.  He doesn’t need any more pressure.”

   “We’ve discussed it already.  It’s what we all need.”  Said Dad.

   “What you need,” said Mum.  “You’re not the one who’s going to have to spend every day at home with Adam for the next six months…”

   I heard my name mentioned and decided not to listen.  I learnt a long time ago not to listen whenever I heard my name mentioned.  What can I do or say to change their minds?  I’ll just sit back and let everyone else make the decisions.

   So the car journey carried on for hours with the same conversations, arguments and games of Pub Cricket.  We stopped at a café and I tipped the table over so that all the cups and teapots made a crashing noise on the floor.  That wasn't the only reason I did it.  I’d finished my Pom-Pom Parlar ages before, and my family were just sitting there saying nothing.  Something had to happen.

   There was no talking.  There was no eating or drinking.  Dad was looking tired.  So I snapped.  Bang!!!  All the cups and teapots made noise and mess everywhere.  My family got up quickly and stood all around me.  I was there in my mess again, Mum was saying sorry to everybody.  Jake and Dad had screwed their faces up and kept looking at the other people who were staring.  Jake shouted at one of them.  Joss was standing there smiling.

   After a little while we started to walk quietly away.  Dad went to the lady by the door and gave her bits of paper.  He didn't look at her.  Mum laughed and said sorry again. 

   “I don’t mind clearing the mess up.” Said Mum.

   “No, honestly.  That’s fine.” Said the lady.

   That was when we left.  Dad, Jake and Joss walked in front of me and Mum so they could get to the car first.  Mum held my hand.
   Back in the car and I was happy.  I can watch out of the window for as long as I like and the stuff keeps changing.  All those people with all their lives going to different places for different reasons.  It’s all so… complicated for them.

   That was a few days ago when I thought we were just going for a drive or even going on holiday.  But we got to the house and it was empty, and now its full – full of all our stuff again.  So I’m home.  Home with Mum, Dad, Jake and Joss.  I get the feeling that, sometimes, it’s Mum, Dad, Jake, Joss and Adam.  It’s hard to know that for certain when they all come and go, day in day out, and I just sit up in my room watching out of the window. 

Offline BrigidMary

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Re: The watchman - (1st chapter) 2500 words for review please
« Reply #1 on: September 26, 2008, 10:07:52 PM »
I like your title a whole lot, and I think this is a brave topic.  I think you have the voice to carry it off, but I think this needs a significant cleaning. (Of which you're already aware.) One of the things that makes pieces like this work so well are small moments. Lines of overheard dialogue that the reader understands, but the narrator doesn't. (Kind of like in Rain Man when Tom Cruise is sleeping with the chick under the covers, and Raymond comes in and starts imitating the sounds they're making. It's a different medium, so not a great comparison, but maybe you'll understand what I mean. We all know what's going on under the covers. But it's more potent because Raymond doesn't know what's going on. He's just imitating the sounds of lovemaking that he hears, when it's clear he has no concept of it.) You have a few lines like this, but I think you could explore it more, and have something really powerful. Don't let your desire to stay true to your narrator get in the way of the story.

Does this help? I do mean to be encouraging -- I think this is a brave topic, and I think you can pull it off. But it's not going to be easy.
Brigid Kemmerer
Author of <b><i>Storm: The Elemental Series</i></b>, coming April 24, 2012 from K Teen (Kensington Books)

Offline sonofdenis

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Re: The watchman - (1st chapter) 2500 words for review please
« Reply #2 on: September 27, 2008, 12:24:58 AM »
Thanks BM.  Looking at it again after all these years I think the voice is stifled by a lot of cutable material.  IE just one quick glance at this paragraph

I was in a much better mood now, so after drying I ran out of the bathroom and went to sit in my usual seat at the table…but it wasn't there.  My seat (the one that let me watch out of the window) had gone!  Was it worth getting angry?  I decided that breakfast was more important than my seat so I sat in the chair by the window instead and grabbed my bowl for cereal and my cup for Pom-Pom Parlar.  I thought that this would keep Mum busy for a bit.

SOooooo muchbetter thus

I was in a better mood now.  After drying I ran out of the bathroom and went to sit in my usual seat at the table, but it was gone. I don't know where. I don't know why. Mum made me breakfast and Pom-Pom-parlar.  I sat next to the door, poured sugar in my Pom-Pom-Parlar and and forgot all about my normal seat.

Still not great but much improved I feel