Setting the scene

A friend sent me some textbooks she used on her MA course; they’re super-useful and I wish I’d had them before I started the novel. (On the other hand, NaNos are not meant to be perfect on November 30th, and there are many rants about poor publishers being lumped with godawful manuscripts on December 1st. Don’t be that writer.)

I try and do the exercises from the books each day. Even if it’s the brainstorms where you take a few lead-in words and stream of consciousness for a few minutes then cringe at the angst that comes out, but yank a few bits of imagery away for later use. The chapters about setting the scene were particularly good when I went back to the start of the novel with more than a little trepidation. But my editor was mostly pleased with it- it was cinematic, one of the Word comments said. I like cinematic. My dear husband has described the snippets I’ve shown him as ‘prose on the right side of purple’.

Alright, I’m attacking this thing with all the vocabulary and literary techniques of a woman with an MA in Classics, who thinks tricolon crescendo is the best thing since sliced panis, you can sort characters out with a decent Homeric epithet like πολύμητις, and the paraklausithyron is the only acceptable way to describe the pains of love. With all that Pseud’s Corner in mind, here is the opening of Chapter 1 as it was a few drafts ago:


He rounded a corner and the Dean Village sprawled out before him. Old stone houses with turrets proudly jutting out over the grass jostled uncomfortably with the wooden hypocrisy of rows of faux-ancient luxury flats. A handful of appreciative tourists ambled by on the path, rustling maps and heading in entirely the wrong direction for the sights they wanted to see.

I’m late. I should be at the Old Town by now.

Cavan sighed and rose to the surface. It was risky but he had to check the skies, monitor the air. He gazed at the glorious scenery before him with a growing sense of dread as the weather began to close in. Cavan’s target was too precious to lose; he had a greater role to play beyond the lowly confines of his species. If he did not get there in time, it did not bear thinking about what would happen. He had quite put aside his usual disdain for the necessity of travelling by sewer for the last leg of the trip. And that had taken a lot of effort- he thought about his last trip down there, eyes mostly closed to avoid looking at the grim selection of items humans saw fit to flush, and shuddered.

The surface of the Water of Leith rippled in sullen grey furrows as Cavan rushed through it, darting effortlessly between rocks and the rusty skeletons of bikes and shopping trolleys. Above the water, the weather was gloriously Scottish: all roily clouds, wind that pierces even the most determinedly-wrapped of tourists and the kind of rain that rushes from zero to drenched faster than an umbrella can open.

The weather was showing no signs of improving. He craned his neck to look towards the Old Town. There was a definite scent on the breeze; his target was still there. Still intact, at least.

A small girl about 5 years old was defiantly pointing at the water. Her mother, immaculately groomed and pushing an expensive-looking pram laden with John Lewis bags, sighed and turned round with some effort.

“Mammy, what’s that over in the water?”

Cavan froze. Oh dear. Not this again.


The modern art galleries in the Dean Valley are wonderful, and I took my husband there early in our courtship when I wanted him to see all the amazing things Edinburgh had to offer. And years of going to the Fringe has filled my head with enough stereotypical tourists and posh middle-class luvvies to frankly write a whole separate book. But I haven’t written about a selkie before, least of all one who’s been visiting Edinburgh for decades. Now there’s a writing challenge.

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