Friday, December 7, 2012

Not a Holiday

Today we have Sharon Mayhew's first page from her MG historical fiction, NOT A HOLIDAY. Hmm, that has an ominous tone to it, don't you think? Anyway. My comments will be in purple and don't forget to go see what Dianne thought of Sharon's first page.

August 1, 1940
            I flung my gas mask over my shoulder and plopped down in a kitchen chair.
            “But I don’t want to carry a gas mask around all the time,” I said. Holy cow! I wouldn't either!
            “It’s not a choice, Joyce, you have to.  Everyone has to, from grandparents all the way down to babies.” Mummy stacked a pile of newspaper on the counter, and then dug around in the odds and end drawer.
            “Well, I don’t think it’s fair that the war is coming to London.  That Mister Hitler is a real rotter!” This feels a little bit like as you know, Bob, war is coming to London... I'd just leave it at a general complaint about the unfairness of life. It will become obvious quickly that we're in the midst of WWII.
            “I think everyone in England would agree with you on that, Love.” Mummy brushed her long auburn hair out of her eyes.  “But right now I need you to show Gina carrying your gas mask is all right and not fuss about it.  Imagine how grateful you’ll be to have it, if something horrible happens.”
            “I still don’t like it.”  I scratched the back of head and thought about Gina being scared of bombs and gas masks.  “I’m going to make Dolly a little gas mask box. That should make it less scary for Gina.”   Dolly was special to Gina, she was her only doll.  Gran gave her to Gina on her last birthday.
             “That’s a wonderful idea!”  You can make it while I’m getting the house ready in case the air raids start.” I wonder if she wouldn't just say raids.
            I found a matchbox, a roll of sticky tape, the crayons, and some string in the odds and ends drawer.  I separated the matchbox into two parts. I cut off a piece of string and taped it to the inside of the outside part of the matchbox, then I slid the drawer part back in.  I colored Dolly’s gas mask box blue.  Gina liked blue and it covered up the words on the matchbox.
            Gina came in the kitchen carrying Dolly.
            “Look what I made for Dolly.”  I held up the tiny gas mask box.
            “Oh!  Now, Dolly will be safe too.” Gina slipped the gas mask box over Dolly’s shoulder, gave me a cuddle and then plopped down in the chair next to me. 

Ok. so I have to say I am not the best person to crit MG. I don't read a whole lot of it so I don't have much to go by but what I remember reading a million years ago. But character has always come first for me and I think if I was still in grade school I'd like Gina. She's annoyed by the stupid masks they have to wear, finds the war an inconvenience (probably because she doesn't know or can't conceive of how awful war truly is), and is nice to her little sister. She feels like a real girl (not perfect) and knowing a war is coming definitely makes me worry for her and her little sister. I think if I was MG I would read on.

Now, what about you? Care to offer Sharon any advice? You know we love comments around here so don't be shy!


  1. I think it's a very strong start.

  2. Her opening line is great! It catches my curiosity. A gas mask? Why? It makes you want to read-on. Also, she pulls you right in to care about the characters.

    Hugs and chocolate,

  3. I don't read much MG anymore either. It's a strong opener, though. The only thing I might suggest, since most kids today wouldn't know about gas masks, would be to maybe have her complain about the smell of the rubber or how it feels on her face when she has to wear it, which is why she doesn't like having to carry it around.

  4. This was a really good start! Action and knowing what's going on from the get-go. I'd keep reading. :)

  5. I already commented over at Dianne's place, but after reading your critique, Marcy, I've gotta say, I agree 100% about dropping the sentences about the war coming to London and that "rotter" Hitler. Omitting both makes the piece that much better. Good eye! And again, Sharon, I love the idea of using this setting as the background for an MG story. Good luck with it.

  6. Hi, Marcy, Hi, Sharon,

    I had the pleasure of reading a synopsis on this piece. I LOVE the voice Sharon, well done.

    Not much to improve here. YAY! I like your suggestions Marcy,

  7. I hit Dianne's blog first this morning and left comments there. Sharon does a nice job here! :)

  8. Thank you everyone who came by and commented. I appreciate it and I'm sure that Sharon does. Thanks :)

  9. A great start, a real feel for the characters. I would agree about dropping the war and Hitler sentences.

    One detail for historical accuracy. Sticky tape was almost never used. Parcels were tied with string, and a child would have pasted things together rather than taping them.

    1. thank you Al, for that. Historical accuracy is very important, imo.

    2. They did use tape to cover the windows with heavy paper during the war. I saw it in displays in a WWII POW camp in England that had been turned into a museum. It was also listed in the safety precautions pamphlets the government passed out prior to the blitz beginning.

  10. I think I've seen an older version of this start. It's wonderfully strong now.

  11. Hi mshatch... new follower here... what a great thing you having going on here--I love it!

    I also came by to say thanks for signing up for the Cheers, Cavanaugh Blogfest. I'm stoked you're participating! It's going to be so fabulous. :D

  12. I commented over at Dianne's blog, but I want to respond to Marcy's excellent point about the war. I do read a lot of middle grade and I think a kid would mention SOMETHING about it. Like "Stupid old war." Or whatever. Then you could still keep the mom's sentence about everyone in England agreeing.

    Also, Sharon, I just realized from Marcy's comment about liking Gina, that the MC's name is Joyce, but you only say it once, whereas you say Gina (her little sis) several times. If you find a way to insert the name Joyce another time, it would be easier for us to remember. Just a thought!

    1. Thank you very much for commenting, Joanne :)

  13. Nicely done, Sharon! I'd suggest adding a few internal thoughts to let us get to know her inside as well. Maybe a little grumbling she doesn't want to say aloud so she doesn't get into trouble. Or a bit of thinking about how it will be fun to make that for Gina. Anyway, I like it!!

  14. I like the details -- a fine start. To echo Jemi above, a few thoughts would flesh out the character nicely; and to echo L.G., I like the idea of more descriptions of the mask itself and why she hates wearing it.

  15. Thanks everyone! I really appreciate the input. On my first draft you wouldn't believe what page it was before I used Joyce's name.(hangs head in shame) I will check my ms and see how many times I use her name and then see how I can add it in more.

    Again, thank you everyone!

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