At the back of the hall are the Blue Pencillers. These writers and agents are there to give you advice on the structure of whatever you have brought – a few pages of a novel, a handful of poems.
Anne Perry waved me to a seat and held up her hand to stop me passing her the few pages I had selected from an old novel, stuck in a dusty drawer for a little over a decade.
I launch into a discussion of The Silent Lips. Title taken from the famous poem by Emma Lazarus on the plaque of the Statue of Liberty. Before being shipped to New York in 1885, parts of the statue were exhibited in Paris. The words that gave me the title for this old novel of mine are stirring:
"Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries sheWith silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
|Statue of Liberty head 1885|
The story is set in a New York which has had a ring of steel thrown around it to stop the spread of a disease that sprang from one man's experiments to save his friend from sickle cell (using himself as a test tube, and crossing the species line by using chimpanzees). Frantic experiments take place in the ParkLab as scientists – flying in on one-way tickets to help the stricken city – try to find a cure. They overstep boundaries in their desperation, lead by the military commander of the ParkLap, while B52 bombers trace lazy contrails in the sky above, waiting for the order by the President to solve the problem.
What causes you concern about your story structure, Anne asks.
The flow, I answer.
She leans forward, and talks for several minutes. Your risk is that your novel might sound like a documentary. You might want to personalize it more.
Take your lead character and see if you can make the story more about him/her, and drop any details you do not need.
I sit back, thinking.
Ten minutes with a highly skilled professional, and an uncanny insight given to me which solves a niggling problem I had – a problem which lead to The Silent Lips being thrust into the back of a drawer and hidden out of sight for so many years.
Time well spent.
No wonder this woman sells so many novels!
I leave, and another hopeful author takes my seat at the small table. Anne Perry leans forward, waving aside the proffered pages.
Speak to me, she says ..