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When the Last little Star has left the Sky. Ch 1

by Jubbly 

Posted: 05 August 2004
Word Count: 944
Summary: I'm rewriting my novel and would really appreaciate any comments. I won't post it all again but I want to know if this new chapter one works. Thanks all.

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Chapter One

The small boy sat huddled and trembling in the cramped space under the house. His viewpoint reduced to a narrow strip of light. His face was streaked with dirt and tears and every so often his body let out a choking involuntary hiccup.

He could see her legs in his eye line, for a moment his only view was her muscular carves and calloused feet, cradled in those ugly drab moccasins she seemed to live in.

“You come out here at once, you filthy boy!”

He knew she knew where he was, he also knew she couldn’t reach him.

“You can stay there forever if you want boy, but He knows where you are and He knows what you’ve been doing, don’t think you’re safe boy, you’re far from it.”

The harshness in her voice betrayed any sign of motherly love. Soon another pair of legs appeared beside hers. Skinny, white stalks covered in a hideous blotchy puss filled rash.
“It’s eczema,” his sister would declare with pride. “I’m being tested by the Lord.”

“Shall I go under and fetch him out Mother?” he heard the treacherous girl ask.

“No! You’ll not go near him, fetch your father.”

The boy wondered how long he could stay in his hidey-hole, whether it was possible to survive there indefinitely if need be. He could wait until it was dark then in the dead of night creep out and search for food, dig up the carrots in the garden and pull the wild chokos from their vines, drink water from the outside tap, scavenge in the rubbish bins for leftovers. For a four year old boy the possibilities were boundless, the truth a different matter entirely.

Then the boots appeared, soundless but bringing power and terror with them as a calling card.

“It’s happened again,” he heard his mother whisper then his father sigh.

He knew now that he was here nothing was possible, all his dreams died at his father’s bidding.

“Get out here boy, now!”

His father’s fury grew stronger with each syllable, daring the child to defy him, almost wishing he would, so he could prove just how in control of the situation he was.

The child knew he didn’t stand a chance.

“Coming Daddy, coming.”

In his haste to obey he crashed straight through the spider web invisibly barricading his exit. His wan face appeared, covered in the fine silky trap, as he realised what he’d done he began to scream and flap his hands about his face and head, in didn’t matter that there was no spider in sight, he could feel it, crawling over his face and head, trying to burrow into his brain, a tiny moment in time creating a lifetime of terrifying nightmares.

His father reached down and pulled at the thin little arm, even his mother gasped all at once concerned he might break it.

He dragged the wretched child across the yard as if he was nothing but a sack of rotting vegetables. His skinny legs grazing on the barren ground where the grass had simply refused to grow.

The man remained calm and in control yet still he terrified. Once
inside the stark house he slammed shut the wire door and hauled the boy through to the kitchen.

A pot of vegetable soup was simmering on the stove and the aroma of home cooking usually associated with safety and cosiness proved a trick in this family.

The bamboo cane came down hard across the boy’s knuckles, six times, three on each hand.

His mother stifled a cry and turned back to her soup, his sister glared and ran to her room. The boy sobbed, choking, heart-breaking sobs that threatened the man to reconsider his actions, but he chose not to.

“You have sinned and we do not live with sinners, they poison all that is righteous and good.”

The child stood quivering his head bowed, he wore his shame like ill fitting hand me down clothes.

His father spoke again, softly but with the same commanding authority of a bellowing sergeant major.

“What have you to say for yourself boy?”

The child opened his mouth to speak unsure as to whether he still could.

“What…. what did I do?”

His father’s face-hardened and his shoulders stiffened.

The boy tried to think what could have caused such wrath. He thought back to the morning, everything had been fine; he’d been playing in the long grass, chasing those tiny grey butterflies that could almost pass as moths, trying to catch them in his clasped hands, imprison them for a moment so he could feel their gentle fluttering caresses then release them, thrill them with his generosity, when it came to playing God he could do it just as well. Then he needed a wee, that’s how it all started, he stood there beside the willow tree, holding onto his little slug of a penis, distracted by the sheep in the paddock beside their house. There he stood, trousers round his ankles his fingers fiddling and bending even though he’d stopped urinating, he watched the giant balls of cotton wool grazing and imagined what it must be like to be an animal. Then the idyll was over.

“Don’t you ever, ever touch yourself there again boy, do you understand? Ever!”

His father shouted; his red face so close the child flinched.

So that was what it was all about, nothing really, the boy pretended to understand and shook his head.

“No father, I won’t, not ever, I promise.”

Even as he uttered the words he knew this was a vow he would never be able to keep.

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Comments by other Members

crowspark at 20:54 on 05 August 2004  Report this post
Ah, those were the days - you took me back! No, seriously, this is excellent. My only comment would be about your first sentence, "The small boy sat huddled and trembling in a nook under the house." I think you need to be clearer about what this nook is as at the moment it kind of throws the reader - well, this one anyway.
Will he be able to leave his slug alone? No, probably not. We want to hear more!

Jubbly at 20:57 on 05 August 2004  Report this post
Thanks Bill, I take the nookie point,in fact I only just changed it from gap so I'll sort it out. Soon to appear is a re written ch 2 and 3 then I'll do the rounds again.



Becca at 06:47 on 06 August 2004  Report this post
Hi Jubbly,
An Aussie house with space underneath for hiding? If so, the idea of going under the house, so familiar to an Aussie kid, could be missed. But it's only chapter one, so maybe later you could elaborate a bit more. Going under the house where it was dark and cool, with spiders, was the one place you could get away from 'the others.'
You set the scene well and I liked the part under the willow tree and the fact that you don't bring the father in at that point, and that the boy is as yet nameless.
After the 'child stood quivering' a comma is needed, and 'face-hardened'? hyphen not needed here.

Jubbly at 07:16 on 06 August 2004  Report this post
Thanks Becca,I know I just can't describe what I mean, you know when the whole house is slightly raised yet not on stilts,oh bother, let me know if you have any thoughts and thanks for reading.


Nell at 10:43 on 06 August 2004  Report this post
Hi Julie, I'm reading after you've altered 'the nook' to 'the cramped space underneath the house, and having lived for many years in Southern Africa I knew exactly what you meant and could picture it. I haven't read any of this novel before, so I can't compare it to the first version, but unlike your other confident writing - the clever flash etc. - there's a tone here that suggests you're not entirely comfortable with this. I have the feeling that possibly you're trying to show the reader too much with this opening setting. I'd be inclined to look at the adjectives first - it's possible that you could lose a few. I was fairly aware of the writing and it seemed to intrude slightly on what was happening. I think if you can sort that out you'll have a first chapter with a great hook - we feel and fear for this poor little lad and want to know what will happen to him. A few typos etc. below.

...her muscular carves... (...her muscular calves...)

The harshness in her voice betrayed any sign of motherly love. I don't think 'betrayed' is the right word here - surely softness would betray signs of motherly love rather than harshness? Maybe you mean '...the harshness in her voice betrayed the lack of motherly love...'

...puss filled rash... (pus-filled rash)

A pot of vegetable soup was simmering on the stove and the aroma of home cooking usually associated with safety and cosiness proved a trick in this family. Perhaps 'but' instead of the first 'and'?

The boy sobbed, choking, heart-breaking sobs that threatened the man to reconsider his actions, but he chose not to. 'threatened to make the man reconsider his actions'? Possibly a dash instead of the first comma.

...ill fitting (ill-fitting)

The child opened his mouth to speak unsure as to whether he still could. (comma needed after 'speak'.)

I'm reading Patrick White's The Vivisector at the moment - it's set in Australia and covers the whole life of a fictional artist from childhood to death. This reminded me in some ways of that - the intimacy of the events from the perspective of the boy Hurtle is handled with brilliance and the writing is extraordinary, sometimes in the third person, sometimes using the device of 'you' (ie 'you didn't know what to make of that...') - I can hardly put it down. Lots of childish colloquialisms too, and the slightly muddled way of thinking/speaking that gives a real sense of the character. I can recommend it.


Jubbly at 11:02 on 06 August 2004  Report this post
Oh wow Nell thanks for taking so much time to crit this, I really appreaciate it,it'svery helpful. Obviously I feel uncomfortable with such a shocking subject, mind you I've just returned from the supermarket trip from hell with my toddler, so I can almost understand. In the original the character of the boy didn't enter the novel until the last third and by that time he was a young adult. Because he plays such an important part in the plot I though it would be a good idea to introduce him immediately and in doing so in such a brutal fashion,I could illicit some sympathy for the adult he becomes.

Thanks again, I'll go back to the drawing board.

Becca at 16:25 on 06 August 2004  Report this post
Hi Jubbly,
Maybe you could describe it, along with some other features of the house, - and have a fly screen door that was always flapping, or squeaking, something like that, and build up the menace in the house before we see the legs from his hiding place. I can remember things about Aussie houses in the suburbs of Sydney, the still air, the oppressive heat, and most of all the flies. You can't describe 'under the house' for the sake of readers who don't know about it, but you could flesh the scene out with a para about the boy's surroundings.

Elsie at 21:36 on 06 August 2004  Report this post
Jubbly, I didn't see the first version, so I can't compare. But a few points that struck me:

Skinny, white stalks covered in a hideous blotchy puss filled rash.

Somehow this sentence seemed a bit extreme at that point - in that are these the child's thoughts?

... home cooking usually associated with safety and cosiness proved a trick in this family.
The expression 'proved a trick' - I think I know what you want to say ... I don't know how to say it myself..

his sister glared
- did she glare athte boy, or the father?

I also wondered why he only just realised after his dad arrived what had caused the problem - as he already had hidden, knowing he was in trouble.

Hope this helps..

old friend at 07:07 on 07 August 2004  Report this post
Some pertinent comments have been made by others. I had no problem with instantly 'seeing' the boy's hidey-hole. I did find the 'staccato' nature of the chapter a little disturbing to read, for me, the short paragraphs felt like you were making statements.

I guess there are some fathers who might react so angrily and with a red face at their four-year old son touching his penis but I did find this a bit difficult to accept.

However my overall impression was that I liked it, had sympathy with the boy and wondered how all this would affect him in the future.


TheGodfather at 08:56 on 08 August 2004  Report this post

It was a good read. I saw the nook under the house immediately. I also had some trouble with the legs comment.

"The man remained calm and in control yet still he terrified." --> Does this need a "was" after "he"?

Although a vividly described scene, the closing portion didn't seem to work with me. He didn't understand and yet still knew he wouldn't be able to keep the vow. Maybe it works, but I wasn't sure.

Good luck with the rest.


Jubbly at 07:54 on 10 August 2004  Report this post
Thanks Elsie, Len and Godfather, all your comments are really helpful. This character is brought up in a very religious almost cultish family and escapes as a young adult. He is not the protagonist but his actions cause huge ripples in my story pool. I'll have another go at it but if everyone feels it works as an opening chapter then I'll go down that road.



dryyzz at 09:38 on 10 August 2004  Report this post

I've read this and let it sink in for a day. It all works, but for me it seemed to be lacking a little bit of colour (for want of a better word). I think Becca may have touched on something similar. Whilst I could see the boy's predicament well, I had some trouble with the suroundings. In hindsight I imagined a rural setting, but I dont think it was clear. I imagined heat and dust under the house and would have like those images shown to me. I think that because of the relative shortness of this as an opening chapter, it could stand being 'coloured' a bit more. I think it could improve the impact the start of the novel can produce.

It does set up an interesting scenario and automatically bring up the question of how this kind of upbringing would affect a person later on.

Must have worked as a hook though, I've been thinking quite a lot about this peice.


Skippoo at 12:38 on 14 August 2004  Report this post
Hi Jubbly,

I haven't read any of this previously so I'm coming to it fresh.

The opening image of the boy is a strong one which drew me in straight away. You immediately get the reader asking questions and empathising with this vulnerable little figure just in a few lines. You couldn't ask for any more from an opening, really!

I wondered if you would be able to see the mother's callouses if she's wearing moccasins?

All the dialogue in the piece is very strong too. Again, it's sparse and simple, but filled with emotion and therefore easy for the reader to 'hear'.

I liked the imagery which often seems to involve vegetables! It gives a sense of domestic drudgery and decay.

The paragraph of the boy with the butterflies and sheep and the boy touching himself is great. He is so natural, innocent and curious - a normal child. I love the last line too - an almost adult knowingness.

There were places where I thought your grammar could be improved. For example, with the opening 2 sentences. If "His viewpoint reduced to a narrow strip of light" is to be a sentence on its own, perhaps "His viewpoint was reduced..." would be better. Or you could change the full-stop after "under the house" to a comma and make it all once sentence. Similarly, in the second paragraph, I think you'd be better off putting a full-stop after "eye line" and then starting a new sentence.

The sentence halfway down the first page, "He could wait until it was dark..." seems a little long to me.

Small typo: "it didn't matter that there was no spider in sight...".

I think this works alone as a short story, actually, but I'm looking forward to reading more of the novel.


p.s. Just had a look at other comments. I didn't have a problem picturing the under the house thing, despite growing up in London. I've seen enough of that kind of thing in films.

Account Closed at 20:35 on 15 August 2004  Report this post
Julie, what a strong opening and a good idea to show us his upbringing straight away. Are you going to leave it there or include more of his childhood?
Good luck with the re-write
ps I definately prefer this title but it has a sad tone to it - is that what you want?

scottwil at 10:26 on 16 August 2004  Report this post
Hi Julie, this is very powerful and sets up the household dynamics brilliantly. I can't help but agree with Dryzz and Becca though that it could do with a bit of local colour. Even through the fauna - redbacks etc.

By the way, I just got back from the Uk and read a really good review of Morpheus Descending in the supps. Congrats.


Jubbly at 21:53 on 16 August 2004  Report this post
Thanks for the comments. All very helpful indeed. Yes Sion, the show seems to be going really well and I'm thrilled and delightfully surprised.

Best all

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