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Posts Tagged ‘excerpt’

Today is the day! After about 9 months of planning, and waiting, and counting down, we are now down to the wire. In about 7 hours, we will leave our home for 3.5 weeks, and by new dawn tomorrow, we will fly across the Pacific Ocean to Singapore, and get a connecting flight to the Philippines.

My next post (whenever that would be!) will recount our experiences in the Philippines. I doubt it will be before Christmas, so to all of you, a very Merry Christmas! May it be filled with joy and laughter, spent with your family and those who are dearest to you.

And as Christmas is my favourite holiday season of the year, it’s only natural that all of my books to date have touched upon this subject. Here’s a little excerpt to bring you more Christmas cheer and joy, from Lizzy & Michael III.

“Ready?” He asked his companion, fingers intertwining with her slender ones, tugging her arm excitedly she had no choice but to trudge along the narrow footpath serving as some kind of an entrance, teeth tightly clamping her bottom lip upon witnessing Michael’s apparent glee.

“How big is this tree going to be?” Lizzy asked, envisioning the available space provided b the humongous living room of the Presidential Suite Michael had called home since May of this year; if he wanted to, he could order a nine-foot tree to fill up a corner, and more.

“Whatever tree that’s light enough for both of us to carry,” Michael replied, sensing the churning of Lizzy’s mind as to how to possibly transport an enormous tree.

Lizzy couldn’t help but chuckle; Michael had booked her diary for this evening as far back as two weeks ago, stating with apparent exuberance that in light of the fact that neither of them will be leaving the Big Apple this year, both wanting to fully experience the joy of Christmas in their own apartments for the first time, they would need to slightly modify their annual Christmas tradition instead of the usual venture to the Fenway Park fete.

“This one’s nice,” Lizzy commented, running her fingers lovingly through the short-spiked leaves of a slender Balsam fir tree the height of her chest.

It would be, Michael thought dryly, for your place. He looked over the tree somewhat dispassionately, believing that his majestic place would swallow the petite plant, making it look even smaller than it actually was.

Lizzy wrinkled her nose when Michael suggested as much, her eyes trailing up and down the length of the five-foot tree with no more enthusiasm than what Michael had displayed just moments earlier. Herself an agnostic, and growing up believing that Christmas was a less-than-special occasion compared to birthdays and Mother’s or Father’s day, the thought of having a lit-up, fancily decorated Christmas tree was foreign and unsettling.

“Let’s find your tree first,” Lizzy said at last. She concluded that should she decide to have a Christmas tree after all, a five-foot tree would be lighter and easier to drag along than a much larger one.

They combed through the well-known SoHo trees displayed on Armsterdam and 98th Street, schooling both their faces to nod and smile appreciatively at the salesman trying their hardest to sell the features of each tree they inspected and put a mild interest on, eyes rolling the whole three-hundred-and-sixty degree or making faces at one another as they walked away from what they believed to be half-dead trees it should already be sent to the chipper.

They emerged out of the lush evergreens some one-and-a-half hour later, both faces beaming and flushed, their hands busily balancing the five-foot tree that had first attracted Lizzy’s attention, Michael’s choice of a seven-foot Douglas fir bushy tree was being delivered this coming weekend, the docket of purchase was safely wedged inside his overcoat pocket; the occasion was made even more memorable as coming out of the display space, they felt small white drops of snow from the sky above, landing on their skins softly like balls of cotton wools.

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How do you calm your inner being in preparation to the night-time slumber? I’ve read of a fictional character once whom religiously brush her thick golden locks to the count of one-hundred (and not another brush stroke less!). I’ve known some who need to have a mandatory glass of warm milk, tea, or even wine. Others rub lotions to the cracked skins of their hands/feet. I myself have, from time to time, prop myself up with a good book (which can backfire when you want to finish just one chapter… and another… and the next…)

Soon after the first draft of Eleanor I was finished, and I was so excited to show it off to anyone who cared to read it, my husband invented a new bedtime ritual for us. Not an avid reader himself, he thought it’d be a good idea for me to read Eleanor I to him. And so began my days (or should I say nights) of story-telling, reading him my very own story. To say I was highly self-conscious would be an understatement. I was extremely nervous, which hindered the flow and clarity of the story.

At least it kept him from doing this...!

It was during such a night that my husband, being so absorbed with the story (now that I have been able to successfully adopt the tone of an articulate BBC news presenter ;)), suggested that I wrote Eleanor II. See, initially, Eleanor I was supposed to be a stand-alone novel; it was supposed to only be titled ‘Eleanor’, with an epilogue that gives the reader a glimpse of her life a little under two decades later. But my husband remarked, “you do know that the story doesn’t have to end there?”

I might leave that sentence hanging so that I don’t give away the biggest spoiler. For a while though, every time he brought this up, I was simply shaking my head vigorously, adamant that Eleanor I would be a stand-alone book. That I was only going to write this one book, and nothing else.

But it was a voice unwilling to be ignored, and the more I denied it, the more sparks of new ideas burst inside my head, urging me to pick up that pen and put words down on paper once more. What I thought was to be of permanent vacation from writing became a short break of less than a week, to both my dismay and amazement.

So here is the opening section of Eleanor II. I don’t think that this was the very first section I’ve written of Eleanor II, but it was one I wrote when the stars were aligned; where inspirations were bursting at the seams of my mind, and words came to me easily.

The waves of memories hit her as soon as she swings the door open. She took one step forward into the house, standing in the middle of her dining room, watching her younger self, perhaps around eight, serving her Father dinner for the first time. He had wrinkled his nose slightly upon seeing the charcoal-burnt chicken and over-steamed vegetables, but cut and chomped through the tough meat nonetheless, smiling at her as if it was the most delicious meal he had ever eaten.

She ran her fingers lightly along the length of the table, watching passively at her dust-smeared fingers.

“A little dust wouldn’t harm either of us, you know,” her Father had said.

“But it might smear the beige shawl I’m knitting for Jane,” Eleanor had argued as she vigorously wiped the table after dinner one night. “Anyway, isn’t it time for you to go to the pub?” she had asked.

“What if I don’t want to go to the pub?” He had challenged her, his brow rising comically.

“I could always push you out the door again,” she had replied, putting her hands on her waist, winking at him slightly.

“Any other Father could have beaten his child for being so disrespectful,” he had retorted, jokingly rolling his eyes.

Eleanor had thrown the cloth carelessly on the table and approached him, wrapping her arms around his neck and giving him a gentle peck. “I’m glad you’re not like any other Father,” she had whispered in his ear, moments before she nudged him gently, pushing him out the door and closing it behind him. She had walked to the kitchen, giggling as she watched her Father disappeared down the hill before she went to her room and took out the emerald-green gloves she had been knitting for him.

Eleanor carelessly rubbed her dust-smeared fingers on her black gown, belatedly realising it would leave a slight smudge. She smiled as she imagined the look of helplessness the servants would give her once she returned to the Palace. Slowly, she paced to the kitchen, turning around slightly to see her at twelve, fifteen, and again at eighteen, sitting opposite her Father, frowning as she studied the chessboard, thinking of her next move. Gradually, her image began to disappear, replaced by a slightly taller man bearing the same expression, with her standing in the kitchen, observing her Father and Patrick playing chess as unobtrusively as she could whilst occasionally stirring the mutton soup. She had emitted a little shriek as she misjudged where the ladle was and burned the tip of several fingers on the boiling hot cauldron instead, breaking both her Father’s and Patrick’s concentration as both of them looked up abruptly from the chessboard, frowning, and later on mocking her clumsiness.

She opened the back door and descended down the three steps of stairs, looking away from the empty clothes line to find the illusion of her Father standing at the second stairs, his eyes twinkling with both mischief and excitement.

“Guess what has just arrived for you?” he had teased her, making her blush in embarrassment as she carefully hung the sheets. She had never replied to his mockery; had simply stared at him and raised one half-exasperated brow until her Father gave in and waved the letters bearing Patrick’s Royal seal; the letters Patrick had written to her from Norway.

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 Towards the conclusion of Eleanor II (there will be a separate post on how Eleanor II was conceived), I had another vivid dream. Like Eleanor I, it was only a snippet, flashing in my mind’s eye amongst fragments of other incoherent dreams, like a ball of laundry.

The dream was simple. A girl was standing near the entrance of what was unmistakably a mansion-like house, about to push the floor-to-ceiling door open when her male friend called out, standing on the third or fourth step of a spiralling marble staircase behind her.

“Come to the dance with me.”

It was all the guy said. But there was so much in what he didn’t say that gave me a bundle of information. Like the tender way he had stared at the girl, indicating that they had been friends for a long time. A flint of yearning and hope in his eyes suggesting that perhaps, this wasn’t the first time he had asked her out; and that the girl had, for whatever reason, rejected his offer in the past.

I mulled over this dream for far longer than I did with Eleanor I, because back then, I was still finishing the first draft of Eleanor II, and I thought that working on two novels simultaneously, on top of full-time work, would be the fastest way to kill myself. I have read how some authors actually thrive on working on multiple projects simultaneously; how they could actually feed off those numerous projects and prevent writer’s block, but most of those authors’ main job is writing.

So I persevered with working on one novel at a time. I had a little (I’m pretty sure it lasted about 3 days) break in-between in which I didn’t pick up that pen and piece of paper before Elizabeth Hartley (Lizzy) and Michael Bradford were born. And even though by the time I finished writing about them in its entirety, there were four books recounting the ten-year span of their lives and friendship, and this scene ended up being in book III, this was the section that started it all.

“Tall, white chocolate mocha with cream and nutmeg sprinkle on top,” he confirmed, handing her the slim Starbucks foam cup. She tore her gaze away from the tree in front of her, looking up from the bench she was sitting on, her earlier thought dispersing somewhere into thin air. He reached into his jeans pocket once she took the cup away from his hand, opening the lid at the same time he produced a sachet of sugar and handed her the spoon before sitting down next to her.

She raised the cup to her lips, sipping her daily addiction as she refocused her attention back to the tree, studying it intently as the soft breeze blew over, rustling the leaves and swaying the thin, dry branches back and forth, the whole tree dancing against the pitch-black, starry sky. Beside her, Michael slouched lazily, resting one arm along the shoulder of the bench, his fingers lightly, absent-mindedly tapping against the solid dark wood, almost touching her back, but not quite.

“So…, what’s coming up in the Bradford’s social calendar?” she asked at last, breaking the somewhat deafening silence that had hung between them.

“We’re having a benefit dance for Cancer Research three weeks from now,” he replied quickly, smiling as he remembered the countless times she had asked him the same question; at least once a week, since they were both old enough to attend such a prestigious occasion.

“Black tie?” she guessed, turning her head around to meet his gaze.

“What else?” he challenged her back, rolling his eyes helplessly. She chuckled slightly before burying her face in her cup once more, tilting the cup, and her head backwards, to drain the last few remnants of her hot drink. Slowly, he straightened himself up, resting both elbows on his thighs, scrutinising her feature; from her long, curled up, dark brown eyelashes, her pair of small, attentive, piercing Oriental hazel eyes, to her soft, light beige skin. He hesitated a moment, pondering, averting his glance down, watching his hands interlink together before he looked at her again.

“Will you come with me?” he blurted out before he had a chance to change his mind. Startled, her head jerked up, turning around and regarding him uncertainly.

“Michael James Bradford, are you asking me out on a date?” she teased lightly, her lips twitching in slight amusement as she tried to hide her nerves, her heart pounding loudly.

“I’m asking my best friend to be my plus one for a social function. If by the end of the night, we end up kissing…” He trailed off, meeting her gaze as she regarded him through slightly widened eyes, daring him to finish his sentence. “It wouldn’t be the worst thing that could ever happen.”

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Ever had one of those dreams that was so vivid you thought it was real until the moment you opened your eyes? Or one so powerful you could recall it in such detail and precision throughout the course of a day?

I’ve had many such dreams, and this particular one was of no exception. It was a movie-like dream, involving a horse-drawn cart, a girl thrown into the dungeon, and a young man saving her from further torture. It was a dream that occupied my mind from the moment I woke up to the time I went to sleep the following night. Like other dreams I have had, I started ’embellishing’ it with more scenarios, and by the end of the second day, I had clearly envisioned in my head at least half-a-dozen scenes.

Unlike other dreams I’ve had previously, however,  I decided to write this one down. And just like that, my journey as a writer began. Words seemed to be flowing from that place within me I never knew existed. Those that didn’t come to me naturally and immediately, I seemed to be ‘plucking’ them out of thin air. And as each word materialised on paper, it was as if a chain that had suffocated me rattled and broke free.

Four days later, in winter of 2006, Eleanor I, my first-ever attempt at story-writing was born. Here is the excerpt that started it all (in its raw form).

Little by little, she came to; her eyes flickered, struggling to focus. She emitted a fearful shriek as a silhouette of a man began to fill up her vision.

“Eleanor?” He called, concerned.

She swallowed and blinked rapidly, hoping that it would further ward off the thick fog stubbornly clinging to conceal her view.

“Patrick?” She croaked, finding reassurance in one end of his lips, twitching wryly.

She looked around, now able to make out the firm outlines of the window frame, the somewhat cylindrical curve of the top of the bed posts, the flicker of flames leaping in the fireplace.

“Where am I?” She asked, brows knitted close together as Patrick ducked his head down, face flushing.

“You’re in one of the maid chambers,” he replied. “I didn’t have much time…”

Still feeling too weak to wave a dismissive hand, she pressed her palms to the soft woollen blanket covering her to above her breasts, the corner of her eyes observing the clean white linen covering the sturdy mattress of a proper bed, her head was lying on top of at least two soft pillows.

“Thank you,” she said hoarsely, the lips that had begun to quirk up into a faint smile froze, quickly replaced by a mild look of incomprehension.

“How…?” She said hoarsely, frowning at Patrick.

He reached out a hand, the tip of his thumb brushing soft strands of her hair away from her cheek. “You fainted,” he said simply.

Eleanor hoisted herself up with one arm before Patrick could stop her, immediately emitting a small gasp, eyes closing as she collapsed onto the bed promptly, feeling the stabbing pain on her back.

“Let me help you.”

Patrick put a hand on her nape, the muscle of his upper arm flexing as she used it to pull herself up, her breathing came out through gritted teeth to suppress the pain.

He waited until she looked like she was comfortable before he reached for a small bowl and scooped a clear-looking broth, blowing a spoonful of the liquid several times before pressing the brass spoon to her lips, repeating the process again and again, moving both the plain white bowl and the spoon away each time her hand reached out to take them away.

He placed the empty bowl on the nightstand and walked over to the window, tightly strung back facing Eleanor as she looked on, unsure as to what to say. It seemed the one thing she had always uttered lately was ‘Thank you,’ and repeating it once more sounded… lame.

“Patrick…” she called after gulping the lump in her throat. Slowly, he turned around, staring at her with a look of utter anguish, concern and… something else she couldn’t quite comprehend.

“Eleanor, I wish you would put aside your pride for once and allow me to help you,” he snapped.

Her mouth dropped; of all the things she thought he would say, she hadn’t expected this; not even remotely.

“My pride is about the only thing I have left, Patrick,” she replied with an edge to her voice; her body shaking uncontrollably. “I had to beg them to take me in my Father’s place,” she continued. “And still, they put chains on me and dragged me out of the house. They pushed and shoved me as if I had been found guilty. They beat me…”

Her voice cracked, tears welling up in her eyes she had to bite the inside of her bottom lip, the cracking sound of the whip on her back ringing in her ears; each one stripping her dignity away. “If I break,” she said tremulously, “what have I got left?”

She turned her face away, the back of one hand roughly rubbing her eyes and nose, the shoulders that had begun to shake paused abruptly as she held herself back from sobbing.

Inhaling a deep breath and holding it, Patrick approached her. He sat at the edge of the bed and stretched his hand to cup her chin, giving her his sweetest smile as he turned her to face him.

“You still have me.”

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