This post is inspired by a prompt response I wrote back in 2017 as part of the October writing challenge. I didn’t do it justice because it was day 31 and I was exhausted and just thankful the challenge was finally over! Had I written it properly, my response might have been something like this. Side note: this is a model answer I shared with my A Level class so they could dissect it to pieces. You can read all about how much fun that is in my last post.
Write the opening of a novel set in a secluded place, make sure you describe the first meeting between some or all of the characters. (600-900 words)
Outside, a single streetlamp flickers rhythmically to the vibration of nearby train tracks. An empty cul-de-sac except for one emerald Clio. The hubbub of the day is dead: anxious mothers, mischievous children, the grumpy postman, and the roaring milk float…All silenced now by the blanket of darkness. Hidden amongst the murky clouds, an ivory half-moon watches the world below.
In Maryam’s bedroom, in the house that stands isolated, a parliament is assembled.
Spice Girl posters are plastered across one wall and on the opposite side, revision timetables, mind-maps, and to-do lists hold the 90’s border-wallpaper hostage. It is a modest room. There is a single bed and a naked window looking out on to the woodland behind the house. In the dark and under the timid moonlight, the branches cast long shadows across the bedroom floor like a witch pointing her shrivelled fingernails at the accused.
“Is it time yet?” whines Mr. Shame, “It’s just that, well-“
“What? Ya got somewhere to be have ya? Someplace more important?” interjects Dr. Future.
“But shut up then,” Dr. Future barks back.
This can’t be happening; Maryam thinks as she squints at the square-faced clock. 17 minutes past midnight. The covers feel oppressive and despite the coolness of the night, a pool of sweat gathers in the small of her back.
“Guuuys, you’re making her anxious,” a melodic American accent chimes in. It is the chairperson, Miss Hope. “Let’s be mature, now. We’ve a lot to discuss plus it’s a school night. I’m sure between us we can solve this quickly.”
Hearing this, Mr. Shame opens his mouth to comment but stops immediately under the doctor’s glare. You’re not even a real doctor, Mr. Shame wants to say, just because you have a PhD in some nambo-mambo pseudo-science. But he knows better than to go down that road. Instead, he slumps further into his pink armchair unaware that the teacup on the armrest is dangerously close to tipping over the edge.
Now that Maryam is wide awake, parliament can begin. Tonight’s meeting is unexpected, then again, these meetings are always spontaneous. The first point on the agenda is the vacant seat where Ms. Innocence once reclined.
Ms. Innocence, the youngest member of the group, recently quit The Maryam Committee of Concerns. Her personal belongings (Roald Dahl books, crayons, colouring books, all the Disney movies on VHS) sit in a plastic box under the bed. For, she’d announced quite loudly on her last day, “Got no bloody use for ‘em now, innit.” Except she didn’t say ‘bloody’.
“We have several applicants,” continued Miss Hope, “and since Mrs. Failure is still recovering from her failed knee operation, and Mr. Regret has regretfully informed us he can’t attend, it is up to the three present members to make a decision. First, we have Miss Betrayal.” She gestures her perfectly manicured fingernails at the applicant, who at that very moment appears out of thin air.
Miss Betrayal’s lush chestnut hair glows as it catches the faint light. She says ‘Hello’ in a heavy but sultry Spanish accent, and suddenly Mr. Shame is extremely interested in the meeting. He stumbles out of his armchair, all arms and legs and mumbling something about what a pleasure it is to meet her.
“Next, we have Miss Dishonesty.”
“You can call me Dee, or, like, whatever,” she waves but her hand is hidden in the sleeve of her baggy hoody. The laces on her canvas trainers are undone and she might as well have not said anything at all because absolutely no-one has noticed she’s even there!
Maryam thinks back to the events of the day. Her heart lurches as grief threatens to drown her again. Her stepsister Sarah had broken her promise. Lied to her. Humiliated her in front of the whole school. Just when Maryam believed there could be the semblance of a relationship between them, Sarah had shown her true colours. And tomorrow, Maryam would have to go back to school to listen to the sneers and jeers of all the other kids. She knows they’re going to make her life miserable. If only a massive hole in the ground would swallow her up.
“Ermm, how long is this going to take?” Mr. Shame enquires again, having lost all interest in the interview process. Not even Miss Betrayal’s fluttery eyelashes could tempt him to stay engaged for Miss Betrayal is currently busy quizzing Dr. Future about his wisdom, and the doctor evidently is oblivious to her flirting because in response, he is graphically describing the process of digestion. Something about his thesis investigating the impact of an ill-balanced diet on one’s mental health.
Miss Hope, on the other hand, is preoccupied with Dee –
“And she’s been travelling from place to place, wrecking people’s homes and lives,” Dee whispers. “Look, I have proof!” She pulls out a crumpled photograph from the pocket of her grungy jeans. In the photo, Miss Betrayal is sans makeup and wearing a prison uniform – the standard mugshot. “Do you really want to hire a criminal?” Dee probes.
With each applicant busy trying to win the coveted seat, Mr. Shame turns his complete attention to Maryam.