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An Uncommon Evening.

by Gecko 

Posted: 22 April 2004
Word Count: 4954
Summary: Chapter 1 from my fantasy novel for ages 12 - Adult.

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The floorboard creaked under the sole of his felt boot - a calculated risk whenever entering a sleeping mans room uninvited. A breeze fluttered the loose linen curtain, and the sleeper stirred at the welcome respite from the hot sticky night. The prowler slowly exhaled the breath that was starting to burn in his lungs, every sense tingling, receptive to any change in the room or the street down below.

The sleeper, thankfully, continued to sleep.

The street under the second-story window was silent, the night given up to the occasional rounds of the city watch and those set on a darker business, the never-ending cat and mouse game that went mostly unappreciated by the law-abiding citizens of the sleeping city.

The summer had been one of the hottest people could ever remember, taxing the energy of the city’s inhabitants to the limit.

Of course several of the more elderly citizens down at the port could be heard explaining that, ‘in their day’, the summers were often this hot, and indeed often hotter. These were the same group who would entertain the regulars at the portside taverns with tales of goblin hoards, ferocious sea serpents or the time the winters were so cold that the seas had frozen solid.

‘A man could have walked from here to Minster without ever seeing a boat or even getting his feet wet,’ was a much repeated reminiscence. Whatever history really concealed, it was a hot summer, and this, a particularly humid night.

Pardigan watched the now softly snoring form and, moving his foot from the traitorous board, crept silently towards the cabinet that he knew held his prize. It was an elegant cabinet - its construction given over to more than mere function. Gracefully curved legs supported drawers and shelves that were fronted by a scrollwork of designs. He inserted the blade of his knife between the edge of the middle left hand drawer and felt for the hidden catch. If the information Quint had given him was correct, the false front should spring open. Sweat was beading his brow and with a glance at the still sleeping form he applied a little more pressure on what he hoped was the catch.


The merchants sleeping form stirred, then returned to snoring. Pardigan tried again.

The fat merchant was hated by most people that Pardigan knew and he and Quint had set about the business of planning to rob him with great enthusiasm. The break had come when Quint discovered the apprentice to a cabinetmaker who’d been happy to talk about the merchant, and the cabinet he’d helped his master build for him.

‘The shame of it is that the true beauty of the cabinet will never be appreciated,’ the apprentice had moaned. ‘Such a cunning mechanism my master contrived to conceal the hidden safe-box, nothing of the like have I seen before.’ He’d been all too happy to describe and even sketch the piece for Quint, who’d shown great interest, marvelling at the skill of the cabinetmaker and of course his gifted apprentice. He’d bought several glasses of elder ale to keep his new friend’s throat well lubricated, an investment in tonight’s escapade that the friends had placed huge hopes in.

Up until this point, the information seemed to be good, the cabinet did indeed look like the sketch that he and Quint had pored over back in their cabin. Pardigan’s hopes had soared when he’d first set eyes on it as he was slipping over the windowsill. Right up until now, that is. But the Source dammed catch simply wouldn’t shift, if catch it was. Pardigan was beginning to wonder if the real catch hadn’t been poor old Quint, who the apprentice had conned into buying several glasses of elder ale on such a blisteringly hot day.

Without warning, the warm still of the night was disturbed. The door to the bedroom had opened with a creak, causing the hairs on Pardigan’s neck to stand up. He slowly turned, expecting himself to be staring at the tip of a crossbow bolt. A large grey cat slunk around the door and walked over to see who was up and about at this time of night. It rubbed against Pardigan’s legs and purred, seeking attention. He ruffled its ears, before gently pushing the animal away. Without a backward glance the cat walked over and leapt up onto the bed. Settling comfortably, it lay watching Pardigan’s efforts.

Pardigan applied his knife once again. Nothing was happening with the left-hand side so he moved his attention to the right. An audible click echoed around the room. The merchant turned over, knocking the cat from the bed. The cat padded over to the open window and leapt to the sill; it watched the street below with a critical eye.

The merchant continued to sleep. He was back to breathing heavily, his fat sweaty chins bobbing with the effort of sucking in the warm moist air.

The click had finally opened the false front to the cabinet. Several moneybags were carelessly tossed inside, with papers, several old books and some rolled documents stacked neatly above on two shelves.

Pardigan hadn’t had any real idea what he might find in the cabinet, but when he and Quint had been working out the finer details of the plan, they’d had plenty of time for speculation. Jewels, money and magical items had been on the hoped-for and expected list, but Pardigan now noted, with a certain touch of dismay, a distinct lack of necklaces, rings and brooches in the safe. He turned over a few of the papers to see what they hid and wondered at the markings on them. He could read after a fashion, but only the local low speak, enough to tell the difference between a bag of beans and a bag of rice. High speak was for merchants and nobles.

He slipped several of the more promising looking papers into his coat, along with the moneybags. A small knife without a scabbard caught his eye as he was pocketing the last of the bags. He picked it up. It had a blade about a hand’s span long and a plain blue jewel set in the pommel. He slipped it into his pocket and cast a last glance over the remainder of the contents. With a sigh, he carefully pushed back the false front, watching the merchant’s face to make sure he wasn’t disturbed as the catch clicked back into place. He straightened, feeling the new weight in his pockets and walked to the window. The cat watched him approach and meowed in irritation as he brushed it from the sill. Taking care to mind the loot in his pockets, he straddled the windowsill, and with one eye to the street for the city watch and one eye on the still sleeping merchant, Pardigan made his way quietly to the ground.

He dropped the last few spans with a silent prayer of thanks to the Source and drew in his first real breath for what seemed an eternity. With a last look up at the window he moved towards the sanctuary of the poor quarter, staying in the shadows and now keeping an eye open for both the watch and for any opportunist that may be lying in wait for a rich victim like himself.

The grey cat watched him go, noting his haste now he was in the open, and the way he looked back and forth for danger, seeing everything, but knowing so little.

She’d been waiting for something like this to happen for several weeks, and now that it was past she felt both excitement and regrets that the game was to move on. Maybe I was beginning to enjoy the lazy life of a house cat too much, she wondered. The easy life did have certain merits, especially for a cat. Licking a paw she cleaned herself one last time, enjoying a few final moments in this form, then leapt from the window, spread her wide, snowy white wings and glided silently in search of the departing figure.


Pardigan made his way down the darkened alleyways, the houses coming closer together the further he got into the poor quarter. At several points the building’s actually touched above him and the alley became a tunnel, blocking out even the faint moonlight that had lit his progress so far.

Earlier in the evening the oil-lamps would have been lit, but at this time of night the oil had long burnt away. He passed The Stag, an inn on Barrow Street that was frequented by traders from market square and heard the murmur of a few late drinkers, a glass smashed and a woman’s shrill voice rose in anger. Pardigan hurried on before the drinker was tossed onto the street, illuminating him in the light from within.

At the end of Barrow Street he slowed, Market Square was in front of him, a regular hangout for drunks and beggars who tended to group together. Even at this time of night there would probably be a few milling around. These people didn’t seem to keep normal hours, you could be walking around at midday and several would be sleeping like it was midnight, and then times like now, they would be up and about sucking on a bottle and probably wondering idly where the sun had gone to.

Keeping to the shadows as best he could, Pardigan moved into the square, skirting the edge and walking as normally as possible. He had to side-step several piles of rotting vegetables left over from the market, the warmth of the night was rich in their pungent odours. Clamping his hand over his nose and holding his breath, he hurried by.

He saw several of the square’s occupants dotted about, but none seemed interested in him as he shuffled on. He passed close to three drinkers, grouped around a small fire, singing and laughing as they shared a small barrel between them. They were taking it in turns to upend it and were laughing at each other’s efforts as more of the liquid splashed down their chests than into their mouths. Pardigan shuddered, and wondered at the mystery that was adulthood and at what age you lost your mind and did crazy things like that.

At only 12 years old, Pardigan dreaded the thought of waking up one morning as an adult, all the fun sucked out of his life and the need to scowl at people and tell everyone off for not seeing the world his way.

He and the others had made several vows that they would never grow up and would sail the coast in their boat The Griffin for a lifetime of fun, adventure and good-times.

Whatever happens I’ll not be sitting in this square drunk, dribbling and howling at the moon like some crazy dog, he vowed, casting another look at the small group as he moved on.

He crossed without incident and started down The Cannery, a street so called, because of all the fish canning shops that lined its sides as it went down the hill to the little port. During daylight hours it was one of the busiest areas of town with fishermen bringing in their catch and canneries shipping out their product all over the realm. At this hour all was deserted and Pardigan passed down the pungent street without incident, a few squabbling rats its only nocturnal occupants.

Coming down into the port, Pardigan had one more obstacle still remaining in his path - Blake’s. It was the largest of the inns around the harbour and never closed. On a warm night like tonight, even at this late hour, there could be people sitting outside, hoping for the comfort of a small breeze to come in across the sea.

As he approached, Pardigan could hear music playing from inside and the sound of several voices laughing and talking. He couldn’t escape being noticed, he would have to cross right in front of the entrance to pass on down to the area where the Griffin was moored. He drew his cloak about him and walked on, a shiver running through him - nerves once again on edge.

A lone figure was sitting on a barrel under the main window, bathed in a pool of light from a lantern hung above the door. Keeping his eyes averted and with his heart beating in his ears, Pardigan tried not to stumble on the uneven street in his haste to get past.

Nearly there, just Blake’s to pass, almost there… Talking to himself often helped in times of stress, it was almost as if some of the burden of the moment was shared … Just a little way … Nearly …

A movement behind caused him to spin, just in time to see a dark figure loom up, arms outstretched to grab him. Stepping back with a cry, he tripped over something and hit the ground hard.

He lay sprawled on the cobbles gasping, trying to fill his lungs, yet it was only fear and despair that filled him as he realised he’d been caught so close to the Griffin.

It was almost in sight, just a little further around the port, but this obviously wasn’t to be his night after all. That’s how my luck’s been running lately, thought Pardigan, offering a silent curse to the Source. Gathering his energy, he tried to struggle up but was flipped over and someone sat on his back. He was powerless to move or even breathe properly, the first fluttering of panic begin to rise. He listened as several pairs of feet surrounded him and waited for the touch of a knife.

‘You should have told us you were going to do it tonight.’ The speaker tapped Pardigan’s head. ‘We could have helped you know.’ He sounded cross.

‘Quint?’ Pardigan felt both relief and anger at being tricked like this. ‘Get off me you lump.’ He felt the weight move off his back and several pairs of hands rolled him over. Someone lit a lantern and he looked up into the shadowy faces of his friends.

‘Well, how did it go?’ exclaimed the tall scruffy boy holding the lamp. Tarent, for that was his name, reached down and pulled Pardigan to his feet. Waves of relief filled Pardigan and he felt himself smile despite his anger at being jumped.

‘You rotten…’ he took a half-hearted swing at Tarent who ducked it easily. ‘Why did you jump me? I thought…’

‘It’s your own fault, now tell us…’ hissed Loras, the fourth and final member of the Griffin’s crew. He was a small boy with a tangled mop of red hair and was peering up at Pardigan through thick glasses that were far too big for him. He pushed them back up his nose - something he did often. ‘We found you’d left the boat and Quint here told us about your plan.’

‘Which he wasn’t meant to carry out yet,’ interjected Quint.

‘So we came and waited here for you, you’ve been ages.’ Loras pushed his glasses back up his nose again, studying Pardigan. He was hopping from one foot to the other, obviously agitated by something. ‘Quint seemed to think you’d have plenty of coin, and would be in a better position to settle our bill than we are,’ he glanced back into the inn, a worried look on his face. ‘Like I said, you’ve been ages and we were hungry.’

‘And thirsty,’ added Tarent. ‘We appear to be a little in arrears with the good landlord here.’

Loras reached out and dusted Pardigan’s cloak. ‘Sorry about the surprise, but you should have included us, so… how did it go?’ All three waited patiently for some sort of response.

Pardigan finally shook his head in disgust then checked up and down the path for observers. Reaching inside his coat he pulled out a moneybag, recently the property of a certain local merchant, and pulled out a silver coin that he tossed to Tarent. ‘Settle up here and let’s get back to the boat. I’ll tell you all just how well it went when we get there.’ Tarent disappeared inside the inn while the others moved off towards the gently bobbing boats of the port.

Now back in the company of his three friends, Pardigan could at last feel safe. They were a strange group, all with a different story of hard luck and the tough times they’d had before finding each other. They’d since formed the closest thing to a family that any of them had ever known.

Even the boat that they called home had a sorry tale.

Quint had found it in a terrible state, rotting in a small river off of the main estuary to the city. Having nowhere better to go, he’d started to live on it. The boat had conveyed the feel of abandonment and the only inhabitants had been a few mice and lots of spiders. Quint had spent the first few weeks alone and in fear, expecting a gang of cutthroats to reclaim the boat at any moment. As the weeks had gone by he’d realised The Griffin, for that was the name he had found under layers of grime, really was abandoned and he began to relax. The hull was sound and had no leaks and it had several cabins and a good-sized cargo area. The problem with the boat was simply neglect. Whoever had abandoned her hadn’t left any clue to their identity, but abandoned she most certainly was.

About ten spans long The Griffin made a wonderful home blending in wherever the boys moored her. They spent most of their time in the rivers hidden from the world, but made several trips into the port cities for supplies and a change.

Pardigan, of course, was the practised thief, bringing gold, food and supplies to the boat whenever they were needed. He felt no remorse from his exploits saying it was a harsh world and if he didn’t take stuff then someone else would. Quint often found the rich targets for Pardigan and was the only one who’d known how to actually sail, making him the logical choice as captain and unofficial leader of the group. Loras had once been apprenticed to a magician but the old boy had died before passing on much of his craft. Loras had taken what he could of the books and spells and the boys had found him blowing up tree stumps in the forest one day with soot all over his face appearing confused.

‘That’s great!’ Quint had said, obviously impressed at Loras’s efforts, ‘how do you do it?’

‘I haven’t the foggiest unfortunately, I was trying to make the stumps grow new leaves, they aren’t supposed to blow up like this.’ He’d looked questioningly at a tatty old book held together with string. ‘I think I must be doing something wrong, maybe there’s another page missing?’ He was pushing his glasses up his nose, waving his wand again and trying to read, all at the same time.

Quint had brought him back to the boat and Loras had settled in well.

Tarent was the laziest person that any of them knew. He hid this flaw in his character behind the mask of also being one of the nicest people you could ever want to meet. He slept more than anyone had a need or right to, and could spend the most amazing amount of time merely gazing out to sea or up at a star-filled night while the others were working. To many this would have grated and annoyed no end, but his one good point was that he could talk and talk and talk. He would tell stories about the night skies or monsters from the deep and knew the reason why a compass would point north or how to make the ticker fish bite on a hot afternoon. After supper Tarent could always be relied upon for a good story to lead their minds around the world or bring enchanted sea creatures up from the deep. His body could be lazy, but his mind was as nimble as an acrobat. He was one of the crew, and shared many of the responsibilities of leadership with Quint.

The Griffin was waiting for them at the end of the quay dwarfed in the shadow of a large black barge. The smell of spices and herbs was rich on the warm night air indicating the cargo the barge was carrying. They clambered up the gangplank and Quint waited at the top until the last of them came aboard, then pulled it in, sealing the boat from the land. He glanced over to the barge where a sailor was smoking a clay pipe, watching them. Giving a wave that was returned, he slipped down the hatchway pulling it closed behind him.

Down below, one of the others had already lit two lamps, a slight breeze was coming from the open portholes making the flames dance and flicker round the dark cabin. Everyone was settled down, eagerly awaiting the news. Pardigan stood at the table and without any ceremony started to empty out his pockets.

He carefully placed the bags side by side, eight of them in all. The boys watched without saying a word, each bag made a soft chink as he set it down, the cord drawstring falling softly to the side of each one. Eight bags, four were blue, one red, one yellow and two were common canvas. The papers and books he took out and passed across to Tarent. The small knife he placed upon the table alongside the bags.

No one had actually believed Quint when he’d told them of the plan. No one had actually thought that Pardigan would come back with anything except a tall tale of a daring escape and some would have beens and should have beens. No one had thought they’d really be seeing moneybags this evening. They all sat and stared.

‘So what’s in them?’ Loras broke the silence.

‘I haven’t had a chance to look,’ said an exhausted Pardigan waving him an invitation to the table.

Loras stood up and went to one of the canvas bags and tipped it out onto the table. Coins fell out and rolled around, copper coins. ‘About thirteen shillings in coppers,’ said Loras pushing the coins with his fingers. He picked up a red bag and untied the cord. Upending it, more coins hit the table making an altogether different sound, the buttery colour of gold glinted in the lamplight. ‘Seven sovereigns and one royal crown’ said Loras with increasing interest. The other bags were duly opened and all but the yellow bag held coins of gold, silver and copper. The yellow bag held a necklace of gold that sparkled with precious stones as Loras held it up in awe for the boys to see.

‘It’s beautiful, Pardigan, who in the name of the Source did you rob? Was it the king!’ the boys all stared at Pardigan.

‘What sort of trouble are we in?’ asked Loras. ‘What are we going to do?’

‘Come on, let’s not panic,’ said Quint. ‘Did anybody see you, stop you or question you at any point, Pardigan?’

‘No, nobody saw me and I’m sure I didn’t leave any clues,’ stated Pardigan confidently.

‘Well come morning the city will be in uproar about this, we have to play this smart and no mistake.’
Quint looked at all the boys in turn; lastly he turned to Tarent. ‘What do you think?’

Tarent sighed. ‘If we up and sail on the first tide come daybreak, the watch will be after us like a shot. We can’t be appearing guilty.’ He pondered a moment. ‘Even if we did want to give it all back, which we don’t’? He glanced around the group seeing shaking heads, ‘well we couldn’t, could we?’ Everyone shook their heads again. ‘We keep the coin, some on the boat and some we take up river and stash back at the moorings.’

Quint nodded.

‘The papers I’ll look over tonight to see what we have, then either we burn them or plan on their use. What we don’t do is leave them here to be found, if we do get searched. Source willing, we can up and leave in a few day’s time and be back on our usual moorings for further plans.’ He turned once more to Quint.

‘I agree,’ said Quint. ‘Check the papers as quick as you can, the coppers we can add to our own cash box with a few of the silver as well, we’ll get our normal provisions and leave in a few days.’

‘And the knife?’ asked Pardigan.

They all stared at the knife, still lying next to the sacks. The blue jewel sparkled in the lamplight.

‘It’s a very unusual knife,’ said Tarent in a soft voice almost as if talking to himself. ‘The best thing would be to lose it over the side, or drop it in some back alley well away from here,’ he turned to Quint who said nothing but stared with the others at the knife on the table.

They all gazed at it. It seemed to call to each one of them and they all knew they wouldn’t be throwing it into the sea or losing it anywhere else for that matter.

‘Stash it in the stove for now until we can think on it,’ said Quint and they all readily agreed.

The knife was placed in the cold stove and old ash and wood were placed over it. The cash was split between that which was staying, and that which was going, and then Tarent moved off to his cabin to check the papers by the light of his lamp. The boat settled down and Pardigan and Quint went on deck in search of fresh air before sleeping.

‘So it was really there, false front and all,’ whispered Quint looking up at the stars.

‘It was really there, just as he said it was and twice as lovely as the picture,’ agreed Pardigan.

‘I wish I could have seen it. What were you thinking when you were creeping round the room?’ asked Quint sitting up and looking down at his friend. ‘ Weren’t you scared to the very marrow of your bones?’ he asked incredulously.

‘To be scared is what keeps a thief alive and not caught and hung,’ said Pardigan. He pulled the knife from his pocket, and rubbed the blue gem with his thumb.

‘I thought that you put that into the stove?’ asked Quint.

Pardigan stared at the knife, a frown creasing his face. ‘I did, I’m sure I did but …’

‘Well you can’t have, can you? It’s a beautiful little knife.’ Quint looked at the knife in Pardigan’s hand. ‘Don’t get caught with it, put it in the stove, eh.’

‘I will,’ said Pardigan feeling the long thin blade. It wasn’t sharp but it didn’t feel dull either, he could just make out in the dim light, signs or writing on the side, but unfortunately the light wasn’t bright enough to see it properly. ‘I’m sure I put it in the stove, I remember covering it with ash,’ he murmured as he slipped it back in his cloak.

The boys chatted about the night’s events for a while longer. Pardigan telling of scaling the wall and creeping around the fat merchant’s room, and Quint telling a lengthy story of how he, Tarent and Loras had managed to drink and dine at Blake’s on the slim hope of him turning up with a few coins.

‘Blake would have skinned you all alive if he’d known you were eating and drinking all evening with no money in your pockets,’ laughed Pardigan.

‘Ahhh, but I had faith in you my friend,’ countered Quint punching Pardigan softly in the arm. ‘And besides, we were hungry and needed it.’

‘I know,’ said Pardigan softly, ‘but maybe our fortunes have changed now.’

As the stars continued their journey across the night sky the city continued to sleep and the boys finally went below to their bunks, ready for a busy day.

The owl watched from the top of the barge’s mast as the two boys disappeared and with a beat of her wings she flew off back into the city. It had been an interesting evening and she felt pleased that events were finally moving along. She knew the boys would need a nudge or two to put them in the right direction, but she had a good feeling about them, a far better feeling than she had when the merchant had got his greedy, pudgy hands on the knife.

She soared over the shops and buildings of the city enjoying the freedom of flight, the air rippling her feathers as she rode the warm currents coming up from the buildings below. She watched as the moon rose above the water, its reflection rippling upon the calm ocean, its pale light making long dark shadows of the boats in the harbour, and giving a new texture to the cityscape beneath her.

She flew until she saw the world start to awake and with it, dawn break on a brand new day. Turning back towards the harbour, she glided down to alight upon the deck of the Griffin, returned to the form of the grey cat and curled up on a badly stored sail. There she slept, waiting for the start of the day’s events to unfold.


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Comments by other Members

Christie at 19:10 on 24 April 2004  Report this post
Hi Gecko

I read this story with interest as from the synopsis it sounds like my kind of thing! And it didn't disappoint. The story moved along at a good pace and I was easily able to visualise the world that you have created.

All the points I was going to make seem to have been rectified in this version. I much preferred this opener.

Have you read the thread on editing, it's really useful.

You said this is finished, have you sent it to an agent yet?

I'll look forward to the next instalment.


Gecko at 09:41 on 26 April 2004  Report this post

Thanks for reading my first chapter, did you read the first draft? I guess you must of! I have most of the other chapters up on www.fanstory.com if you did want to read more, its a great site.

Yes I'm playing the agent game right now, Ive had about 10 rejection letters so far but suspect that the agents are so flooded, that they arent even reading stuff. The papers come back too crisp! I'll keep on trying.

Thanks again for reading


Account Closed at 12:48 on 05 June 2005  Report this post
I liked this: I think it could do with some tightening up in places though, to make it clearer and more immediate. I'll give you a couple examples of what I mean:

enjoying the freedom of flight, the air rippling her feathers as she rode the warm currents coming up from the buildings below. She watched as the moon rose above the water, its reflection rippling upon the calm ocean, its pale light making long dark shadows of the boats in the harbour, and giving

Perhaps it could be reworked as: 'the air rippled her feathers, [...] the moon's reflection rippled on the calm ocean and it's light made dark shadows of the boats in the harbour'

As you can see, I've cut out some of the adjectives and changed the phrasing a little - to me it reads as more immediate and a little more compelling - perhaps you disagree? I think the second version puts the emphasis back onto the owl and her experience of flying - what she feels and sees - rather than the air and the moon. Vivid stuff though - just linking all the observations back to the owl makes it more vivid, in my opinion.

The boys chatted about the night’s events for a while longer. Pardigan telling of scaling the wall and creeping around the fat merchant’s room, and Quint telling a lengthy story of how he, Tarent and Loras had managed to drink and dine at Blake’s on the slim hope of him turning up with a few coins.

Pardigan told him about scaling the wall... Quint talked lengthily about how he and the others had manged...

Maybe? Just a thought, obviously I'm new here and didn't see your first draft, but I do think changing 'telling' to 'told' makes it a bit clearer and it seems to read a bit better. I mean, if the whole thing is in present tense it's different 'Pardigan is telling him about scaling the wall...' would work fine, but seeing as you start off in past tense in this paragraph 'the boys chatted' I think you should stick with it. Using indirect speech like this is really good though - I think it works well to keep the story flowing and give the information that is needed without spending pages of dialogue doing it.

And finally, when people speak, I think just saying 'he said/she said' is better, rather than, 'he laughed' or 'he countered' - you can make the way they say something implicit in the dialogue or the action without having to spell it out like that. King's book On Writing goes into this really well and it's where I first started reading my own work and finding 'she breathed' all over it - cutting it out has made my own stuff much more readable. Anyway - it's a great book and even if you disagree with this point, there's a lot else in it you might find useful for editing and drafting your work.

Hope you find these little things useful for a later re-write - keep trying with the agents, you might strike lucky one of these days!

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