First chapter – Spider's path

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    Sophie Jonas-Hill

    Hi – I thought people might be interested to have a crack at the first chapter – would you want to read more?


    Moments ago he was on the road, with its solitary pools of street-light and the hush-hush sound of cars. He only turned off the path because he was sure that was the way though, and because the map made it seem easy, but now it’s both later and darker than he’d thought it was, as if the strip of woodland were growing deeper the more he waded through it, closing over his head. He turns, because surely the coast road is behind him, because he can hear the sea – only he can’t. It’s the rattle of the trees, their whisper of contempt. City boy, straying too close to the edge.
    Why is he afraid? The only danger to one such as him, is from one such as him and he’s alone here? But he is afraid – afraid of the branch cracked eye of the moon, afraid of the hiss and roar of the silence behind and in front of him, afraid of the tangle at his feet. He strides, imagines his feet in seven league boots in this narrow place – so narrow surely he’ll step through it in a moment? He whistles and mutters to himself, sure this is the way – step, step, stride, not quite running because he’s trying to pretend he’s not afraid. City boy.
    He’s thinking of the book he read at the guest house, the one he’d idly picked up yesterday – Legends of the English coast – sweet, when the night was safe behind glass. But now in the narrow wood, with the rustle of his coat and the beat of the blood in his ears he can’t get the rhythm of the words out of his mind – black shug, black shug – a dog that runs ahead of the devil, a hound that tracks the doomed – runs ahead of the devil, runs ahead of the – and as he thinks it, he hears it. From the pages of the book to the rustle of the leaves at his heels, he hears the pad-pad of a step heavier and faster than his. From the pages of the book it comes.
    Now he runs, now he forgets his pretence and he runs; shouldering his way through the whip of branches and the drags of brambles on boots and trousers. He runs and the Black Shug of his imagination bounds after him, tongue lolling, the Devil at its heels. He runs until he bursts from the claw and snatch of the forest into the clearing, mouth dry and hot, heart breaking on his ribs, and then he sees it. A ghost house watching him with put out eyes. So really, he isn’t alone.


    They brought her a tea, with biscuits on a plate, which was nice of them. They were better biscuits than she’d expected, but then she wasn’t a suspect or anything, she was a witness. Maybe suspects didn’t get any biscuits at all, she thought, then saw there was one chocolate one, and thought perhaps maybe they did suspect her a bit, after all?
    ‘How you holding up?’ the Detective asked, hand flinching to his own cheek when he saw hers.
    ‘Alright,’ she said because really, how she was doing was hardly the point, was it?
    ‘Okay,’ he said. ‘Okay – I know it’s going to be a bit hard, talking about all of this, but we need to get a few things down, you know, while it’s fresh in your mind?’
    ‘Yeah, they said,’ and besides, she’d seen plenty of cops on TV and stuff; of course they were going to speak to her, soon as.
    ‘We could do it at home if that’s easier–?’ Laura looked up at him.
    ‘No.’ She frowned, which hurt. ‘I don’t want you lot bothering my Nan, alright? She’s worried bloody sick as it is, thank-you-very-much, and it would only stress her out more, you coming round.’ She sat up straighter, the way Miss Henshaw approved of, and put on her Miss Henshaw acceptable voice. ‘I am much happier speaking to you about what has happened, here. If that is agreeable with you, officer.’
    Then he only went and smiled at her, the bastard. That was alright though, that was good, as it happened. Probably better if she was a bit angry at him, stop herself liking him, or anything stupid like that, just because he bought her biscuits and looked more like a nice History teacher than a policeman. Better just be a little angry and a lot polite, not let him get under her skin because they did that, didn’t they, policemen? Were nice to you and then before you knew it, you’d be bloody telling them everything.
    ‘You can call me Steve,’ he said, putting his hand on the table; flat, like he’d wanted to reach out and stroke her or something, pet her knee. Oh God, he thought she was being brave, putting on a front because of everything she’d been through.
    ‘I dunno, feels a bit odd that, me calling you Steve?’ She let her shoulders drop, her Miss Henshaw accent fading, smiling at him to let him know she was falling for him after all, like he wanted. Not love falling for him, but trusting him, that sort of thing. Seven of swords, mate, she thought; not that you can see it.
    ‘Well, I’ll call you Laura, if that’s all right?’ She nodded, smiled. Anything, she thought, anything that makes it easier for you, easier for me. I’ll cry whenever you need me to, Mr Steve policeman, I’ll do it, just you wait and see. Won’t be hard, seeing as I’m on the point of tears all the bloody time, even though they hurt like hell. I’ll do a bloody song and dance about the lot of it, if you want me too, because I’ll do anything I can because I promised, all right Mr Policeman, Mr Steve Policeman?
    ‘So, you feel okay to start, Laura?’
    ‘Yeah, Steve. I’m ready.’


    Hi Sophie,

    I enjoy reading this. I think you have two distinctive voices which makes each part stands out from other. Especially Laura, I am curious to get to know more about her.

    I like the sense of urgency and confusion in the first section. Some of the word repetition work well but I think there might too much of it and and the repetition loses its power and become diluted. Also if this is the opening of chapter 1 we barely spend time or get to know the main MC and what is happening and we get taken out and thrusted into something completely different. My suggestion and you can ignore if you don’t feel it’s right for your story would be either spend more time in the first section before taking the reader somewhere else, or take out that first section and start with 1998. Of course I don’t know how it would work with the rest of your story.

    I think the 1998 section makes for a stronger opener than the first part as it is just a sliver of someone lost in the woods getting worked up by the darkness and an overactive imagination. I think the section with Laura has more of a hook (but that’s just my opinion)

    I hope this helps!


    In a word, yes, would totally read on!! 🙂

    Elle has suggested leading with Laura’s PoV, and I do think it might work well that way, partly because we get to know her much better in that short piece of text than we get to know unnamed him. Also because her section is full of suggestions and hooks that I think set up the reader better in terms of making you want to know more. She’s a really complex character, which is fascinating – she’s been hurt, she’s acting a role but also genuinely upset, she’s protective of her nan, and has this disapproving, fairly dated, Miss Henshaw on the scene. Loads of stuff which is dealt with really well, imo. Deft and intriguing.

    The first PoV. It’s super pacey and atmospheric, and I love the battle between logic and irrational fear, the question of just how much is in his imagination and how much is actually real. We’re too close in to find out his name, which suits the scene well, but conversely makes it harder to feel like you actually *know* him, compared to how well I feel we get to ‘know’ Laura. If there’s a reason why you need to lead with his section, I wonder if there’s a way to make him more tangible as a character – some internal dialogue or something? I love the line ‘The only danger to one such as him, is from one such as him’ – it’s got me thinking all sorts of things!!

    I would suggest that it might be worth watching out for bits in this first PoV where the gorgeous imagery slows up the pace. I’m thinking particularly towards the end where he is panicking and running, so the pace needs to be more action-y and less atmospheric-y. If that makes sense? For e.g. ‘He runs until he bursts from the claw and snatch of the forest into the clearing’ Do you need the claw and snatch? I love the image, but I think here the sentence would be more potent kept simple. But that’s subjective though, of course.

    I love this. The contrast between the two voices and settings, the mix of imagery and pace, i think it works really well. I LOVE ‘the branch cracked eye of the moon,’ and am always a sucker for mythical black dogs of any kind! Bring on more, please!!

    John S Alty

    Yes, I’d read more. The first section is intriguing and I’d want to find out how this fits into the overall story. Good writing, confident. Might be a bit overwritten in places – could be simplified on edit, perhaps.
    Second section brings us back to reality nicely, well written. Without knowing the story it’s difficult to say if these sections are used in the right order for best effect but I’m certainly hooked.

    Sophie Jonas-Hill

    Thank you all for reading an commenting, it’s very much appreciated. I understand what everyone is saying about the start, it’s all good points – It was sort of a prologue (the part in the woods) but everyone hates them, but maybe just switching the two parts round and making them chapter one and two?
    To answer a few specific points, the book moves between him and Laura’s; her’s told in 1998 and 2014, so the chapter seven is really sort of three in his time line. I take on board the points re-pace and language, I wonder if properly breaking them apart in to two might give each more time and space to work better? The other thing I might do is see if I can work the ‘him’ passage into one of the other chapters, so that is almost a dream he wakes up from – to anchor it better into the narrative?

    Thanks all again, I am emboldened enough to maybe post another chapter, not to be a thread hog!


    I would definitely read on, since that’s what you asked, and I really enjoyed the contrast between the first and second sections. The tense change helps to separate the two, so it isn’t confusing. And I don’t hate prologues! The first bit, the more dreamlike, atmospheric section in the woods, would work as a prologue in my opinion. Of course, I guess it depends on how the rest of your novel is structured; if you’re going to give equal weighting to both voices then obviously not, but if the novel is mostly Laura’s voice in 1998 and 2014, then I think a prologue would be perfectly fine. And you could anchor the reader by including a date, maybe?

    I do like your writing. And you’re very good at dialogue!



    Contentwise it is all good and fine. Oh – “Black Shug, black shug” – that’s really creepy, like a chant. And there are some great lines and expressions in here. Stylistically, as it is now, I would want a little more editing to happen before I would be ready to read on, but that may be a matter of personal taste. The tense seems to change a little in the first paragraph; it starts out with a few references to things in the immediate past but then suddenly we’re in the present, so that combined with the slight overwritten-ness is making me struggle a bit. Maybe also name Laura sooner. I felt like I was kept at a distance for a good bit. But, yes, keep at it. Maybe just think about putting a present-tense opening line there to set us in properly. I did like the fast, dreamlike page of the opening bit – once it got going, that set the tone very well.

    • This reply was modified 3 years, 4 months ago by Jonathan.
    • This reply was modified 3 years, 4 months ago by Jonathan.
    • This reply was modified 3 years, 4 months ago by Jonathan.
    • This reply was modified 3 years, 4 months ago by Jonathan.
    Sophie Jonas-Hill

    Thank you for commenting, feel positive and have a good sense of where to go with this – thank you!

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