Because Of You

I have decided to use the prompts from Search Engine Stories to flesh out my NaNoWriMo novel.

This is an excerpt from the novel using the prompt Because Of You.

The novel is about a homeless girl, Chook (Aussie for chicken) and her friend, Ceece, and how they cope with life on the streets.

I would be very grateful if you would let me know what you think….

‘It’s because of you I can stand it,’ Ceece told me this morning. ‘This life. Without you I don’t know what I’d do.’
Ceece is eating the warm bread rolls I beg from the Lebanese baker, Mahmoud, every morning. I am teaching him to read and write properly in English. He wants to become a citizen so he can bring his family out here but he is afraid he won’t be able to read the citizenship test. I am helping him in exchange for rolls and sometimes a little jam. Ceece thinks he is getting the better end of the deal but she doesn’t know that he sometimes slips me some cash too. So far I have $132. It’s funny, because that was the amount of money my Mum gave me when she told me to escape. It was all she had. I begged her to come with me but she was afraid we wouldn’t both get away.
I can’t think about my Mum. Not today. I left her all alone.Β  But I suppose we are even because she thrust me out into the world alone. Out on the streets.
I feel bad not telling Ceece about the money but I am keeping it for emergencies and she has a big mouth. I don’t want anyone to know we have it. I swear, Ceece cannot keep her mouth shut. It’s as if she’s simple or something, even though I know she isn’t. We’ll meet some other kids who we’ll hang with for a while and the first thing she’ll say is ‘We have money.’Β  I just can’t risk it.
I was touched when Ceece told me she can stand this life because of me. I also felt like someone had just put a noose around my neck and was pulling it tighter bit by bit. Ceece might think so but as far as I’m concerned this is not a life. It is existing in the shadows, like bugs under pots. It is subsistence. Meagre beyond belief.
Ceece almost prefers it to her old life. Almost. She came from a family with three mansions. Three. I have never heard of that. At first I thought she was lying to impress me but when I first met her she was wearing a real Rolex. I looked it up online. It had the proper mark of authentication and everything. We could have been sitting pretty with that watch but good old Ceece and her big mouth blew it. She told a gang of thugs she had it and they practically severed her arm wresting it from her. I heard they sold it down the pub for two hundred bucks. Losers.
Ceece’s old life wasn’t all good. No one who lives on the streets has come from a great life. In a way our stories are all the same. There is usually drugs, booze or abuse of some kind involved. We are a predictable lot.
Ceece’s father made her have sex with him. Her own father. She used to cry about it every night but now her face just goes blank instead. She says she has blocked it out but sometimes I see her hands shaking and I know she is remembering.
When she feels really down I pep her up with my bad jokes and chicken impressions. I think I have chicken genes because I can cluck just like the real thing. Nothing cracks Ceece up more than me acting like a chicken. My Mum used to crack up too. She said I used to cluck like a chicken before I could even talk, that’s why she called me Chook.

When Ceece starts to cheer up I get her to sing. She was going to be an opera singer. She went to the Conservatorium and everything. She says she is getting rusty but when I hear her sing I believe there are angels or gods or something watching over us. It gives me hope just for a second.
I’m hoping to get enough money from Mahmoud to rent a flat. I want Ceece to go back to the Conservatorium but she has to have a nice warm bed to sleep in if she’s going to sing again. An opera singer’s throat is as valuable as gold and it must be kept free from chills.
I suppose I couldn’t stand life on the streets either if it wasn’t for Ceece. She has given me a purpose and it helps to have someone to look after. It stops meΒ  from feeling everything is destroyed.
When I can’t sleep because the ground is too cold or the enormity of the sky threatens to crush me, I write poetry in my head. I love haiku but I am bad at it. I am trying to learn but I have no books.
I wrote one for Ceece in the old notebook I carry, but when I read it back I couldn’t decide if it was for Ceece or my Mum.

Because of you
I wake to grey morning
Tears coursing silently.
It’s bad, I know. I am still learning.

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26 thoughts on “Because Of You

  1. well selma,, the basics are all there.. plenty of ideas that could develop more fully into little vignettes of the story and stand on their own..

    it is difficult to adhere to,, but i know that is the crush of nano… you are an amazing story teller,, and you could take the little disjointed wisps of life you have brought to this page and flesh them out to make a novel in itself…

    i love the theme,, the characters and the underlying premise.. i think this is a wonderful jumping off place…

    i am only “critiquing” because you invited it… you know i am in love with your work,, in whatever form it chooses to take.,…..

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  2. I’m running mine off in wordpress so I can write from work and it’s driving me up the wall. I long for the familiarity of Word. It taunts me every time I write from home.
    It feels a little disjointed to me, but I think that’s more because I can’t read everything else that goes with it, and you’ve already managed to hook me in. I’m hoping that you’ll feed us some more over the next few weeks.

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  3. I think you are such an amazing story teller.

    I only had a hard time reading it because of the format (that you cant fix because for whatever reason WP is not behaving for you).

    I am impressed with you joining nano, and I look forward to watching this story unfold.

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  4. I’m with everyone else, you are a splendid story teller. The characters are believable and the voices have the ring of youth, too early wizened. I just love the pacing of the piece. I really like the somewhat disjointed (not the best word – sorry, brain is fuzzy today) movement from topic to topic, it keeps the energy high and seems consistent with the characters and their situation. Nicely done – and nice use of the prompt!

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  5. I am so inspired by your work and your ambition Selma.

    Good luck with the novel project, what a great idea and this certainly comes through as a plot you will do well with and go far….YOU GO GIRL!!!

    Hugs, G πŸ™‚

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  6. Hi Selma,
    I think that the feeling of ‘disjointedness’ is caused by the number of ‘elements’ that you have introduced here. There are an amazing amount of ‘stand alone’ chapters that could be created from this brief (and wonderful) piece. The culminating chapter could also go ‘anyway’. Ceece could ultimately become a successful opera singer and a mother and Chook might be destined to spend the rest of her life on the streets looking after others, then again it could go the other way, or, they could both end up happy, or, they could both fail, or, Chook may end up as the first female Prime Minister of Australia (sorry Julia G.), you have created lots and lots of options.
    Maybe you should ‘ring the bell’ again, this one has a good feeling about it too πŸ™‚

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  7. PAISLEY – I need all the help I can get. I usually write at a much more leisurely pace. Still, I think the ideas are sound ones. We’ll see what happens….

    VIC – I agree with you about the disjointedness. Novels are much harder than short stories. Yikes!

    MELEAH – WP doesn’t like me today. I don’t know what is going on. Thanks for your encouraging comments.

    DEOLA – you too. I am enjoying your work. Keep writing.

    PUNATIK – thanks, hon.

    PWADJ – come on. I need my writing buddy back. I know you can do it!

    LINDA – you are such a good support for me. I really mean that.

    KAYT – thanks so much for your critique. I really appreciate it.

    GERALDINE – thanks, G. I’m going to attack it with gusto.

    CHRIS – you know, you’ve got some great ideas in there. I might just have to hire you to help me flesh out my ideas. Will you work for tea and cake? I make a mean chocolate fudge cake!

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  8. Hi Selma,
    For the tea and cake? No problemo!!

    For the chocolate fudge cake, “YOUR wish is my command, MASTER!!” πŸ™‚

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  9. It’s gorgeous, Selma – I fell in love with this story when you introduced it before (at least, I think it’s the same one…)

    My only comment is that this entire passage is “told”, which is a hazard of writing in first person. Are there any elements in this section that relate in particular to the novel as a whole? If so, they would benefit from being shown instead of told, to highlight that they are important, and to let the reader into the story. Also, showing gives the reader a break from the narrative; if there is too much narrative in a long book it can make the reader start to skim read and become disengaged.

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  10. Selma I agree with Elsa. Characterization is great but take us to the place. Sit us in the room and let them talk, let things like Ceece being forced to have sex with her father and Chook leaving home come out in drips to add suspense. This piece alone could make four or five excellent chapters. Telling speeds things up but sucks out the excitement. Let’s see Chook get the bread from the baker, maybe the end bit of the English lesson. What’s he like that baker? Kind? lecherous? So much room here. But Selma, you know I love your writing. A bit excited to hear a book is soon to be on offer.

    I just read an absolutely fantastic book on a similar theme,though she’s a prostitute almost living on the streets, one wrong move away, but the same sort of harshness told in a first person blase way. It’s called Whiplash. If you can find it you really should, she does so well writing about these types of issues without sensationalizing them or pitying the characters. Just presenting an alternate reality.

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  11. It felt like wandering thoughts… maybe like a journal of sorts. I agree with the others – not feeling where they are, but love the relationship they have. πŸ™‚ It is really good though – you know how it is – NaNo is just the first draft.

    Last night I went to colloquia and the book being discussed was written in 3rd person. One of our members asked the question, what would have been gained and what would have been lost had it been written in 1st person? Personally, I liked it the way it was, but her argument was she wanted to get into the head of the woman more than she could, so she could empathize with her. It’s all about perspective – we are getting to see what is in Chook’s head, and sometimes that intimate look can be more profound. πŸ™‚ That’s what’s great about being the author – I know whatever you do with it, it’ll be GREAT. πŸ™‚

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  12. CHRIS – hahaha. Cake-makers could rule the world if we wanted to. But we’re too busy eating cake!

    DAOINE – guilty as charged. I don’t know what I was doing when I wrote this. It just goes to show how easy it is to write a bunch of codswallop. I have rewritten the entire thing and followed the cardinal rule of ‘Show, Don’t Tell.’ I will admit I was being lazy and the disjointedness was starting to drive me crazy. I think it’s much better now but it was harder to write. Thank you for your excellent advice. I really appreciate it!

    LAURI – this is a very bad habit of mine, the tendency to slide into the backstory. I don’t know why I do it. I think it has hindered a lot of my work in the past. My friend, Mel, who is always honest with me basically said it was a load of crap and that I should rewrite it immediately. I am very guilty of having a lot of good ideas but not following through with practicalities such as narrative flow, consistency and appropriate point of view. I am going to train myself to stop doing this. Thanks for your points. They have really helped me fine tune a very unfocused piece!

    SANDY – how kind of you. I really appreciate you stopping by. Thank you.

    TEXASBLU – you have more faith in me than I do. Thanks so much, hon. It’s hard, isn’t it? Writing a whole novel, I mean. I find writing the little vignettes I write for the blogs to be easy because I’m just exploring one idea but an entire novel seems so vast. It’s as if I can’t gather up everything I want to say quickly enough. Thank you for your support!

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  13. Hi Selma,
    I don’t know if this comment is appropriate or not, but for what its worth?
    Have you thought about using mind-mapping. Its a technique (‘system’) which helps to ‘log’ creative thoughts. You start off with a single premise and then ‘log’ all of your creative thoughts in balloons heading off on as many different tangents as you like without either losing sight of the original premise or restricting your creative thought flow.
    I don’t use it myself however, my mind is far too chaotic. πŸ™‚

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  14. Don’t be too hard on yourself, dearest. You’re still a superb writer even when you’re purely telling the story. Your words will blow the mind of the world one day.

    And, to be honest, showing is really something that can be developed in a second draft. Get the story down first.

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  15. Yes. “Get the story down first”. Writing is rewriting and you can’t rewrite unless you write. Get it down, black on white, the zero draft, the shit draft. Let it flow and then let it rest and then come back to it. DavidM

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  16. Again-I agree with Elsa (I actually do have my own brain but am borrowing hers for now). Just now I have dug out one of my wall flower novels. I wrote them when I first started writing six years ago. I thought they were masterpieces. They went on to get piles of rejections so I set them aside and said, “Sorry no one wants to dance with you”. Now I’ve dug one out and the problem is so evident- it’s all show! Now it’s more about mechanics,how to transform them into more show. I think that is not really the talent. Talent you have. That is more like engineering. A skill to be taught.

    But please… so many writers are unsuccessful, very talented writers more talented than many published writers, because they don’t have stick-to-it-ness. Stick to it! It will be very worth it. I see something bright and shiny waiting out there for you.

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  17. I’ve always thought that the first step in telling a story well is to elicit interest from the reader in a character. Coax them into wanting to know more, to follow, and, eventually, merge with the story. Forgetting they’re reading at all. Stay with me here…

    I love Stephen King because he understands these things. He doesn’t get caught up in creative verbiage that distracts the reader, he just tells a relatable story — even if its about a giant tarantula/alien that projects itself as a clown named Pennywise to terrify a small town in Maine. πŸ™‚ He tells his stories in ways that pull you in and engage you almost immediately, and make you believe – in incredibly clever, yet subtle ways – that YOU are having the experience that his characters are.

    This is what your writing reminds me of. Its subtle yet detailed, so it gently engages the reader. I cared about Ceece and Chook a third of the way in, and I wanted to know more. I was interested. You’re so talented, Selma. Like Paisley said, you could take this piece anywhere you want. Flesh it out, and follow up with us. We’re all interested.

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  18. CHRIS – that is a good idea. Lauri from Thoughts of Botswana wrote a great piece recently about using a character bible to sort out your characterisation and so on. I’m going to try and use both techniques to bring order to a very haphazard thought process. Thank you so much for suggesting this. I’m going to give it a try. I’ll let you know how it goes.

    DAOINE – you are far too kind to me. Seriously, I need to be brought in to line on occasion. I am a little bit all over the place. This conversation is extremely constructive for me. I am so grateful.

    DAVID – your advice is always so welcome. You do really know an incredible amount about the writing process. Thank you so much!

    LAURI – I agree with you about the sticking to it being important. I know many talented writers who have written novels I could only dream of writing and for one reason or another have been unsuccessful in getting published. So they have given up. That is a sad thing. I say to everyone out there DON”T GIVE UP. YOUR NOVEL IS WORTH FIGHTING FOR!!!!

    EPIPHANY – what a compliment. Really and truly. Back in the day when I read a lot of Stephen King I was always struck by his sublime characterisation. He hooks you in with these people who it is so easy to identify with and the rest flows from there. If I can even come close to that at some stage in the future I will be happy indeed. Thank you.

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  19. Selma I know Diddly Squat about writing so I will give my opinion based on that confession. I was drawn in and wanted to know more about Chook’s and Ceece’s lives, their futures and their pasts. But then I am a huge fan of your writing and would read a cereal label if you had written it. I think you’re wonderful and I hope to read more about this story in future posts. Good Luck with it my friend.

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  20. ROMANY – your encouragement is so appreciated. It’s such a shame you don’t live in Sydney or I don’t live in Adelaide. One of these days we’re going to have a cuppa and a chat – I mean it. Thanks again!

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