First Chapter: ‘The Curse Of Snakes’

Reading & Writing

‘The Curse of Snakes’, my first YA novel in a proposed series of six exploring old myths in a modern world, tanked after a messy edit and a disastrously mismanaged launch (it went through a variety of covers, titles, plans, an abbreviated name for me and eventually no plans at all). As an incorrigible optimist I look for something positive about the experience and do remember that it was an interesting (if frustrating) learning curve.

It was by far my most compromised book. Just because you’re writing for kids (sorry, ‘young adults’) shouldn’t mean you have to use clichés or sound stupid. But almost every time I wrote something unusual it got cut out. The end lines were originally at the start of the chapter but got dropped from the top and were nearly excised – they’re typical of my voice and therefore had to be emasculated. I’m pretty sure you’ll spot the problem immediately.

Here’s the final result;

1: Nightwalker

As the yellow moon rose high and the traffic lights changed to red, it came looking for victims.

It walked alone through the town’s empty streets. The wind in the chestnut trees dropped away, as if in fear of its approach. It glided silently over the wet pavements and roads. A thousand dark shadows twisted in its wake.

It passed the dead houses one by one. Sometimes it stopped to stare and listen, tilting its head to one side. It paused before a house where the TV flickered in the living room, and waited for a moment, sensing life. All the windows were bolted shut, as if people inside had closed them against the presence of something evil. No-one ever saw or heard the creature when it walked, but a few felt it. Parents told their children that there was nothing to be afraid of in the dark, but there was.

Something had been released into the night streets. It moved unnoticed and sucked the life from people. It caused slow painful death, but even those who could sense its presence were too scared to admit it was there.

And now, with quiet deliberation, it was heading for the street where I lived.

A dog barked sharply, then screamed and whimpered, as if it had been hurt. A cat yowled, but the sound was suddenly cut off. A dustbin rolled over on its side with a clang. I was laying on sweat-damp sheets, waiting for the sounds of the city to fade away. The quiet would herald the arrival of a terrible presence. I was expecting it. But I wasn’t ready for it.

Before I could think of what to do, the deep silence fell.

It was so thick that nothing could be heard at all. The rustle of leaves, the noise of the traffic, the low hum of city life, everything became muffled and vanished. It was as if a dense layer of snow had suddenly deadened all sound. Or as if the town had suddenly sunk to the bottom of the sea. No movement anywhere – time itself might as well have stopped.

The creature always walked in a pool of stillness.

It was passing by the window of number 13 Torrington Avenue right now, without a whisper. A shadow crossed the streetlight, moving slowly and steadily.

Up on the first floor, in the front bedroom, I pushed the duvet down from my shoulders and listened. After another minute and a half, the normal noises of the street returned, and it was safe again. I heard a distant car alarm. The faint see-sawing two-note of an ambulance siren. The wind lifted in the trees. The dog was crying in pain, or was it a fox? I couldn’t tell. It was the sound of the city at night, as distinctive as a beating heart.

I sat up in bed and lowered my feet to the floor. I was boiling hot, because I was fully dressed. I pulled my nylon backpack from under the bed and tiptoed to the door. It was dark in the hall, but I could see a light coming from my mother’s bedroom. The middle floorboard always creaked, so I carefully walked on either side of it.

I crept down the stairs and into the hall. Stopping before the stained glass windows in the front door, I held out my hand to see if my fingers were shaking. No, they were steady enough. Let’s finish this tonight, I told myself. Now. Before it’s too late.

Opening the door, I stepped out into the freezing night and pulled the latch shut behind me, but it still made a noise; it always did. I ran lightly down the garden path and out of the gate, stopping to check inside my backpack. At the brow of the road I could see a swirl of dried leaves, an absent shape, like a hole in the air. I knew the creature had just passed from sight. It was in no hurry, because it was scared of nothing. I was sure I could catch up with it – that wasn’t the problem.

The problem was what would happen next.

I knew I might get injured or even die, but I also knew I had to act alone. No-one else could help me, because no-one would ever believe me in a million years. But I still didn’t know what to do.

Ahead I heard the wail of another cat, then a muffled explosion, like the thump of snow sliding from a roof. When I reached the corner, I found Mrs Hill’s mean ginger tom lying on the pavement. It had been turned inside out. Its steaming pink guts were hanging on the nearby hedge, like sausages displayed in a butcher’s shop window.

I’m dealing with something that can explode a cat, I thought.

My world had always been safe, predictable and pretty boring, but now it had been shaken upside down, and I felt that nothing would ever be truly safe again. There was no going back. There was something out there in the dark that lived to kill – and incredibly, I was the only one who could stop it.

6 comments on “First Chapter: ‘The Curse Of Snakes’”

  1. Jo W says:

    Please NO s****s.! These are the reasons I have never sought out this book of yours, Mr. F. 🙁

  2. Brooke says:

    Love this chapter’s atmosphere of dread. But writing… no. I’m comparing the writing in this chapter of COTS to the sophistication of the first chapter in “77 Clocks,”Plastic” and “Reconciliation Day.”
    Could you return to the original? But carry on.

  3. Helen Martin says:

    It’s been a while since I read Hellion and I had not remembered the writing style as quite so simplistic. Great grief, Chris, what was your publisher thinking? Kids today are no different than they were in your day – they read all sorts of things. The publisher’s defensiveness is probably based on the intrusive supervision of some parents. Sheesh! I would be quite confident in handing a teenager any of your work I’ve read – especially Roofworld for example.

  4. snowy says:

    I have to agree with the above comments, it’s a terrible edit. There are so many odd things in there, If I listed every single one I’d be here all night. It would be quicker just to re-edit the thing.

    It was quicker.*

    I thought about posting it just here, but good manners prevailed**

    * There is probably a special circle in Hell just for the sheer presumption of doing this, I’ll probably spend all eternity as a human letter ‘e’ in a giant typewriter, recording the screams of the damned on Satan’s used bog-roll.

    ** I wimped out. (I don’t want to be hunted down and dead-ed by an irate author/editor/publisher/publicist.)

  5. Helen Martin says:

    Snowy is quite right- readers on this site collectively or singly could do a better edit than what you got and it is worth doing.

  6. Denise Treadwell says:

    Can’t you re-edit it, change the names, even change the title? And then submit the manuscript to your publisher, or another under a nom de plume? I liked it as you can see!

Comments are closed.