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The Colour of Bones

by Freebird 

Posted: 25 November 2011
Word Count: 953
Summary: historical fiction for 11+ I've only done the first draft so far, and by writing the synopsis, I hope to clarify the plot points. But I'm rubbish at synopses, so any comments gratefully received! I know it's a tad long, but I'm trying to get it all in. Does it make sense? Where do you feel the holes are?

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The Colour of Bones

wordcount 96,000 (first draft)

Lancaster, 1755

Fourteen year old Eliza Legge wears a silver locket about her neck - the last memory of her dead sister, Hannah. Devastated by Hannah’s death, Eliza is also struggling to adapt to her family’s new status as wealthy merchants. She seeks comfort from her old village friend – and Hannah’s erstwhile suitor - Thomas March. But he has just received news of the murder of his dearest friend, Richard Brockbank, and she finds him preoccupied and elusive.

Beset by anxiety and overlooked by parents and friends alike, Eliza is shocked to discover a runaway slave in the cellar. The slave, Abi, shows Eliza a mysterious drawing and explains that she is here to find a holy relic, the Lazarus Cloth, said to have the power to raise the dead. Eliza knows that Abi is the rightful property of Father’s unscrupulous partner, Josiah Cottam. But when the cellar floods, Eliza rescues Abi and agrees to help her, hoping that the Lazarus Cloth might bring Hannah back.

Pursued by Josiah Cottam’s ruthless henchmen, Nathaniel Codd and Hooknose Matthew, Eliza and Abi are almost mauled by a dancing bear and narrowly escape capture and imprisonment. Thomas comes to their aid, and Eliza finds herself falling in love with him.

Eliza, Thomas and Abi take refuge with a travelling menagerie, where Eliza fends off the unwanted romantic attentions of the bear handler, Lank. She unsuccessfully tries to hide from him the secret of the Lazarus Cloth, but is surprised when he reveals that he already knows of it. She learns that Richard Brockbank hid it and laid the clues before he vanished to the West Indies. Eliza begins to suspect that Thomas is keeping a secret of his own.

As Eliza’s romantic feelings for Thomas strengthen, his words lead her to believe that he cares for her in the same way. They follow the cryptic trail of clues, only to come to the disappointing conclusion that the Lazarus Cloth is far away, in Jerusalem. Their quest seems to be fruitless.

Eliza’s whereabouts are betrayed by Lank, and Nathaniel Codd throws her into gaol, to await the death sentence. But Eliza is astonished to discover that Josiah Cottam has granted her pardon, on condition that she must be betrothed to him in marriage. Eliza is horrified at the thought – this is the same fate that Hannah suffered, and which ultimately led to her death.

Eliza goes to live in Josiah’s house, where she is imprisoned and abused. To her surprise, Nathaniel Codd proves to be an ally of sorts.

Eliza discovers that the Lazarus Cloth is split into three fragments, and that Josiah already has one. She is shocked to learn that Mother holds one and, having worked out the meaning of the final clue, Eliza is the only person who can find all three pieces. She could use them to bargain with Josiah for her freedom. But she also knows that Abi needs the cloths to resurrect her dead family.

Eliza’s hopes of escape are raised when Thomas tells her that he will come to take her away that night so that they can be together. She waits all night for him, but he never comes. Distraught, Eliza realises that she has misinterpreted his words, and that he must be truly in love with Abi. Overwhelmed by jealousy and embarrassment, she offers to lead Nathaniel to Abi. She plans to hand over both the cloths and Abi to Josiah, so that she and Nathaniel may go free.

Eliza leads Nathaniel to the travellers’ camp, intending to find out where Abi and Thomas have gone. To her surprise, Abi is still there. She is not Thomas’ lover after all. Eliza is astonished when Abi leads her to the old family cottage and Thomas is there... with Hannah!

Eliza hears how Thomas helped to fake Hannah’s death so she could escape from Josiah. Filled with conflicting emotions, she determines to make up for her betrayal of Abi by finding all three portions of the Lazarus Cloth and sending Abi back to Africa with them. But danger mounts when Eliza realises that Lank has overheard her explaining the final location of the cloth, and that he has gone to inform Josiah. Nathaniel takes their side and agrees to help.

They race to retrieve the cloth from a grave, but Josiah, Lank and the local magistrate catch them in the act and pursue them to the river, where there is a ship waiting to sail for Africa. Eliza now has two pieces of the Lazarus Cloth. She and Abi race home to retrieve Mother’s piece... only to discover a small hole cut in the middle of it. Incomplete, the cloth has no power of resurrection. And Josiah is at the door with the magistrate.

But evidence that Eliza unearthed from the grave and an eyewitness account from Abi see Josiah and Hooknose Matthew arrested for murder. Eliza ensures that Lank suffers an undignified exit, and she is taken by surprise when Nathaniel kisses her passionately. Eliza gives Abi her silver locket as a mark of sisterhood, and Abi boards the ship.

As she sails away, Eliza reflects that the Lazarus cloth may not be intact, but miracles have already happened. She has a new sister; she has a new love; she has her life back. And Abi is going home, though Eliza cannot guess what awaits her.

As the ship disappears, Hannah and Thomas appear, to the amazement of her parents. Hannah reveals that the missing piece of the Lazarus Cloth has all along been hidden in the locket.

And Eliza realises that Abi may get her miracle after all.

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Comments by other Members

Shika at 23:03 on 25 November 2011  Report this post
Hi, I'm no expert when it comes to synopsesse (!) can't even spell it, but I am writing historical fiction and thought I'd have a go. The first thing that came to mind after I read the entire piece was how the title seems to be completely different from the story. Or am I missing something? Also, I think I remember Naomi telling me that the synopsis should turn on key plot events so I ended up wondering if Hannah could be missing presumed dead not dead at the start so that it doesnt become one of those 'it was all a dream' sort of reveal. If she's missing then it gets quite plotty as to whether or not she'll be found and I think more satisfying for the reader who is just casting an eye over the synopsis after having been blown away by your prose . I also wondered why never having heard of it before Eliza is so quick to believe in this cloth only to find that other characters know about the cloth too. Would it be possible to present the cloth as a sort of holy grail at the start? Also, there's a long period of Eliza getting into jail etc when Abi goes missing. You may have sorted it out in the book but as the story is quite plotty you probably need to say what happens her in the synopsis. I'm no expert but I hope this helps.

blob at 08:49 on 26 November 2011  Report this post
I was impressed by this synopsis. It is well written, easy to follow and gripping! I agree with Shika about a) the title and b) Hannah's status. I also felt concerned about the love affairs. Eliza is madly in love with Thomas and then she finds her sister (his girlfriend is alive). She was so jealous when she thought Abi was his lover just when she finds out she wasn't she discovers her sister is actually alive so she has lost Thomas anyway? In the synopsis she seems to accept this quite easily. And later seems to switch her affection to Nathaniel quite easily too. I'm sure the book is more nuanced than this but maybe you need to get this into the synopsis.

Freebird at 11:27 on 26 November 2011  Report this post
Yes, it's covered in the book - the emotional swings, the conlicting feelings about Hannah, and the fact that she begins to doubt whether she wants Hannah back or not.

The trouble with having Hannah missing, presumed dead, is that the reader will guess right away that she's still alive and there's no surprise then. If Thomas is sneaking off and talking about being in love, then it will be flagged up too clearly.

I totally agree about needing to show what happens to Abi while Eliza is in prison - I was aware of this as I was writing the synopsis (so well spotted!) but since it's a rough first draft, I haven't actually put that in. I do know what's happened to her but I haven't written it!

The title, The Colour of Bones, comes from the growing relationship between Abi and Eliza - Eliza wonders if her bones are as black as her skin, and realises that they are basically the same in spite of the prejudices around them.

But these are great comments - exactly what I need, so a big thnak you


thank you, even!

blob at 12:11 on 26 November 2011  Report this post
"The trouble with having Hannah missing, presumed dead, is that the reader will guess right away that she's still alive" I don't think this matters as the reader is an agent or publisher so they will know anyway. Plus too much of a surprise doesn't ring true. And this "the last memory of her dead sister, Hannah. Devastated by Hannah’s death" sounds pretty final. As she isn't dead, what happened to Hannah? You could install some doubt like this, for example "The last memory of her sister, Hannah who had disappeared four months previously and was almost definitely dead"

"The title, The Colour of Bones, comes from the growing relationship between Abi and Eliza - Eliza wonders if her bones are as black as her skin, and realises that they are basically the same in spite of the prejudices around them."

Lovely explanation - I think you should try to include it in the synopsis maybe after this sentence - "Eliza rescues Abi and agrees to help her, hoping that the Lazarus Cloth might bring Hannah back." something like " despite their different backgrounds, Eliza and Abi become close. Eliza wonders if Abi's bones...

LorraineC at 12:19 on 26 November 2011  Report this post
Hi Sarah,
This looks really promising. I have a few comments to make - hopefully they'll help.

For a synopsis and in term's of pitching this, I don't think it matters if you say Hannah is missing, presumed dead. Building suspense for the back of a novel cover is I think different to trying to outline the plot. I'm no expert but something to think about I guess. If you didn't want to say it in that way - you could indicate that someone has told her that Hannah is dead (an eyewitness account of sorts).

It would also be good I think to say how Hannah had 'died' - at first I thought it could have been that she died of natural causes like some kind of plague and it kind of jarred me when half way through I found that Eliza was about to suffer the same fate as her sister, especially when at the start we find out her suitor was Thomas. How did Hannah come to be at the mercy of Josiah? Was it that she made the same kind of betrothal with Josiah and why?

The search for the Lazurus cloth is told from Eliza's motive i.e. to raise Hannah from the dead. But later we find that Abi needs it to raise her own family from the dead and we lose sight of Eliza's motive. Within the second paragraph, when Abi tells Eliza about the mysterious cloth can she not reveal her reason for wanting to find the cloth, and then unite them in their purpose?

I didn't understand how Lank came to know about Richard Brockbank's quest for the cloth or why Eliza suspected Thomas was keeping a secret of his own. You may need to elaborate a litte here.

Why would she realise that Thomas was truly in love with Abi? There is no mention of any interaction/attraction between the two of them. If you alluded earlier that during the quest the three of them had developed a strong bond or friendship, I think it would be entirely feasible for Eliza to mislead herself as to Thomas's affections, that they were meant for Abi.

I assume the concluding line promises us of a trip for Eliza to search for Abi in Africa to bring her family back from the dead. Interesting. ;

What I've suggested are only tweaks to an intriguing synopsis.

Hope it helps,

Freebird at 17:06 on 27 November 2011  Report this post
You guys are so great Thanks to your valuable comments, I have made some notes and thoughts to change in the next draft.

I'm going to put Hannah's 'death' in at the beginning and perhaps something alluding to the Lazarus cloth at the start. But Eliza is utterly convinced of Hannah's death so I need to leave that in. She appears to have died of typhus, but actually Thomas has given her a concoction called Brown's Mixture, which was apparently used in Georgian time as a sleeping draught. It's all explained in the book.

I will either explain the meaning of the title or change it to 'The Lazarus Legacy' - depends whether it ends up being more of plot based or relationship based novel.

Yes, I need to put Abi's motivations in earlier. And Lorraine, what a great idea - I hadn't thought of sending Eliza off to Africa with Abi!!

I need to be clearer about the relationships between Abi, Thomas and Eliza to make it clear why misunderstanding occurs (I think it's clear in the book but not here in the synopsis).

I also need to be clear about Eliza's fluctuating emotions (intensely felt at this age). Describing Nathaniel as 'a new love' probably isn't appropriate because she hasn't considered him that way until he kisses her right at the end. I suppose it's more the potential new horizons that she's aware of.

This synopsis is intended for my agent, so that we can thrash out a good, strong plot before I get on and write the second draft. So it can be as long as I want, really.

Thanks for all the comments. I'll have another stab at it this week

SusieL at 20:26 on 27 November 2011  Report this post
Hi Freebird. Agree with the comments that Eliza's emotions are coming across as a little fickle. I'm sure in the book her conflicting emotions are explained clearly but this needs just a little clarifying in the synospis.

If this is for your agent to read then she will, I imagine, prefer to have the possibility of Hannah not being dead flagged up, rather than led astray, so to speak.

I wondered whether you could slightly reword:
almost mauled by a dancing bear

to make it sound more dramatic - the 'almost' waters down the scariness a bit. Perhaps a terrifying encounter with - or something along those lines?

Probably just me getting a little confused but why is Eliza awaiting the death sentance?

Overwhelmed by jealousy and embarrassment, she offers to lead Nathaniel to Abi.

Perhaps the 'and embarassment' isn't needed here? Again it seems to weaken the stronger emotion a little.

It does sound like a cracking story. And not a storyline I've come across before either. A really meaty idea and lots of emotional angst too. Has to be a winner!

Freebird at 09:41 on 28 November 2011  Report this post
some people in Lancaster were hanged for stealing a loaf of bread or a horse (including a child as young as 7!) - because Abi is a slave and is Josiah's property, Eliza is technically stealing her. Hene the threat of the gallows.

I do need to work on her emotions, because they're very intense and they do swing around a lot. But I've only done the first draft to try and get the story out - all the work is still to do

funnyvalentine at 10:23 on 02 December 2011  Report this post
Hi Freebird - i've not read the above comments. I thought overall this was a really good story. The things which jumped out at me were really just to do with clarity.

Is Abi living/hiding full time in the cellar? (hence the rescue).

Richard Brockbank - where did he get it? Maybe an explanation here - ancestor brought it back from the Crusades - or something.

Nathanial Codd and Josiah Cottam - could you make these surnames more different? I think they are too similar.

Why would taking a piece of cloth from a grave mean they were chased by a magistrate?

It's a lovely ending though and has all the right bits in all the right places. Lovely! Don't worry about it too much - just write it!

Freebird at 10:31 on 02 December 2011  Report this post
Oooh, how spooky that you would guess the Lazarus Cloth came back to England in the crusades!!! Have you been reading my backstory notes?

Ah, yes - the Codd and the Cottam. That did cross my mind, but since you've noticed it too, I'll change one of them.

Abi has stowed away on Josiah's ship, which has just arrived, so she's hiding in the cellar because it's accessible on the quayside.

Graverobbing and body snatching were punishable offences, - hence the magistrate (who's a friend of Josiah's)

There are lots of bits I need to clarify, but thanks so much for your encouragement

funnyvalentine at 16:54 on 02 December 2011  Report this post
Yes- gotcha about Abi. It all sounds great! It's probably because I just watched that film with Orlando bloom in it, so it was in my mind. It's beautifully shot if you need some inspiration. Just wish I could remember the name - soory- gone completely, but directed by Ridley Scott.

SusieL at 18:34 on 04 December 2011  Report this post
Kingdom of Heaven?

Manusha at 20:23 on 05 December 2011  Report this post
Sounds like Kingdom of Heaven to me too. And I agree, it is beautifully shot.

Freebird at 11:53 on 06 December 2011  Report this post
You mean I'll be forced to watch Orlando Bloom for the sake of my art? What a hard life it is to be a writer...

thanks for the tip ; Will look out for it. And Amazing Grace, I believe, is about slavery.

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