I have a request – is anyone interested in being a beta reader for my book? Its more or less finished now, and I am looking for someone give me a fresh perspective on it.
I need some feedback.
They would be looking for any discrepancies in grammar – spelling mistakes, any excess words, sentence structure, etc.
It’s an historical fiction piece and part of a trilogy of books based on different generations of the same family.
If your interested, you can contact me here, or my email is email@example.com.
Here’s a sample of it –
Sara was sure she had already walked by this neck of the woods; yes, she could see the old piece of farm machinery sticking out of the ground, just to the right of the lane. It had sat in the ground half buried in the soil ever since she could remember, so that anyone passing may not have seen it. Except for me, Sara thought. I should know this lane very well; I have walked around here enough times with Henry. So, why did she feel so lost? She looked behind her at the unfamiliar stretch of woods as they curved around the corner out of sight, and then looked forward again, coming closer to the rusted old piece of machinery. It looked different to what she remembered. It was not the same, but just looked like it. This piece had rusted spikes which had become exposed in the rain. No, it was not the familiar piece. Panic bubbled inside as she realised that she was lost. The sky overhead looked dark and heavy, as a large drop of rain descended onto her nose followed rapidly by another. A chill wind blew up the narrow track as she pulled her shawl around her shoulders. The heat of the day had rapidly turned into the chill of the night time. There was a quick movement up ahead; rabbits had come out to play as the dusk was falling, jumping around the grassland looking for their dinner.
A gust of wind caught at her dress, pulling the shawl off her lithe frame, and she despaired of ever getting home. Her brother Henry usually accompanied her, but he was needed up at Mackenzie’s Farm. He should be here with me! She thought. The shawl blew across the road, onto the branches of an old oak tree. She ran over to retrieve it, trying to free the wool from the gnarly fingers of the tree. It seemed to be stuck fast, and she knew that her mother would leather her if it snagged. It was made of the soft wool of the merino sheep that they kept on their farm and Alice had just finished it. Sara set the shawl free, and adjusted her bonnet which had come off her head and was dangling down her back, allowing the soft sheen of her hair to come loose.
The sound of a twig snapping in the woods to the right of her brought a wave of anxiety. A flock of birds suddenly decided to take flight just up ahead; an indication that something or someone had disturbed them. What was there, hiding in the woods?
‘Who’s there?’ she cried out. ‘Don’t hide from me, I can see you.’
There was the sound of more twigs snapping, and a rustling, which seemed nearer now. Sara could make out no one in the rapidly dimming light; even the rabbits seemed to have disappeared as the rain started to come down more forcefully. The noise from the woods was now just metres away, and she could just make out a form amongst the trees and then a hand appeared pulling back some particularly dense bushland.
‘Oh, it’s you,’ she uttered in a confused tone. ‘What are you doing out here? Did my dad send you? Do you know the best way to get back to the farm? I’m lost you see, and would love some help.’
The only reply was the sound of the rain dripping onto the trees, and the gurgling of the rivets of rainfall as it pooled around her.
‘Henry, come here this minute, your sister has gone up to the woods again, and you know how lost she gets. She’s been gone for hours and tea is on the table; get your coat and go look for her, or there’ll be hell to play!’ Alice Jameson shouted out from the kitchen.
Henry had just finished feeding the horses. The sky above looked heavy with rain. Black clouds had gathered over to the west as he washed his hands and made his way to the farmhouse yonder. If he was to search the woods, he intended to get his thicker raincoat so as to avoid the worst of the weather. As he entered the kitchen, his mother turned on him angrily.
‘There you are at last. You’ll have to make it quick; the radio broadcast has given a fierce storm in the area. It’s your responsibility to look after her; your father and I have to run this place. Hurry now!’
‘Yes ma,’ he answered.
He grabbed his coat off the rack by the back door and raced out to the paddocks. The woods were to the north of the farm, and were as familiar to him as the back of his hand. On a stormy day however, they took on a fierceness of their own, and he knew how easy it was to get lost in the thick undergrowth. He ran to the fence at the edge of the farm that signalled the boundary between the woods and their farmstead, and climbed over the stile. A vast wall of gum trees, oaks and eucalyptus trees faced him, seemingly impenetrable. Luckily, he and Sara had found a path into the woods a long time ago, and it was this path that he now took.
‘Sara, Sara,’ he shouted, cupping his hands over his mouth.
As he walked, he tried to shield his eyes against the rain that was coming down in sheets. The storm was nearly upon him, howling in the tree tops. Thick dense undergrowth bowed against the gusts of wind, forcing him to pull his collar up. He was desperate to find his sister before the worst of the weather had done its damage. Birds flew past and above, trying to find a shelter before the storm hit. The storms in this area had increased in recent years, and were as fierce as the tornadoes that raged further north of the mainland. Henry called out her name again, but the wind seemed to take it with it, so lost was his voice in its vastness. There was nothing but the sound of the wind in the trees above.
He thought of the cosy farmhouse kitchen where he and Emily had planned to spend the evening snuggled up together. Instead, he was wet and cold in these unyielding woods. Emily Cragie was the eldest daughter at the neighbouring farm and was the prettiest thing for miles around. They had become inseparable in recent weeks, much to the dismay of his sisters. Henry knew that they had not liked him seeing Emily, fearing that she was taking him away from them, but he was sweet on her. The whole family would have to get used to it. The thought of seeing Emily before the night spurred Henry on, and he quickened his pace. Banya woods were a favourite spot for his older sister, as she loved to collect wild lilies and daisies in the summer, and to wrap up well in the winter and explore its hills and vales. The woods ran from their farm in the south, up to the Cataract Gorge in the north. The Gorge was a popular place with the locals, as they could walk, explore, swim and fish in the Esk River that flowed through it. Henry and Sara had visited there many times with their family, but it was out of bounds to visit alone. He was sure that she would be sensible enough to stay in this vicinity; she was as familiar with the landscape as anyone. He was puzzled by her late appearance at the farmhouse, as she knew how fierce their mother’s temper was, fearing that she’d been caught up in an animal trap and was crying out for help, alone and frightened.
He hurried along the small track that led into the centre of the woods, pushing aside the overhanging braches of the oak trees that bowed down under the pressure of the rain. The ground here was already starting to soak up the onslaught and it was getting muddier by the minute. Henry slipped and skidded on the track, trying to avoid the rivets of water which flowed down its edges making it difficult to walk. The wind seemed to have picked up as was common at this time of year. It rushed and howled through the trees, leaving a trail of destruction in its wake. He had a gut feeling that Sara was at their favourite spot in the woods; a secluded copse where the sun was allowed through the dense trees, and where the wild flowers grew. It seemed the most feasible place to start looking. Henry felt a pang of guilt as he realised that she had spent the summer here alone whilst he had been spending time with Emily or earning money at a neighbour’s farm. The trail wound ever deeper into the woods, until he reached one of the many lanes that zigzagged through its depths. The woods were not owned by any farmer in the area, but were classed as common land. This meant that many a stranger used its walkways to hunt rabbits and wildlife, and to fish in the small lake that sat on its outskirts. Sara had been warned numerous times to keep away from any hunters that she came across, or she could get herself shot at. Henry took comfort in the fact that his sister was not prone to silliness like some of the farm girls around the area. He thought of young Millie up on Mackenzie farm where he had worked all summer, saving for a new saddle for his horse Socks. Millie spent all day following him around the farm with a silly expression on her face. One of the other farm hands had teased him, telling him that she was ‘sweet’ on him, but he was not interested in her, preferring to hang out with his sisters, or Emily.
The track stopped as it cut across a lane. Henry looked right and then left, before walking in a northerly direction, towards the copse. He was so familiar with this part of the woods and knew that the clearing was just fifteen minutes up ahead. He started to walk at a faster pace, pulling his jacket up around his shoulders as the rain kept dripping down his back.
‘Sara, where are you? I’ve come to get you, mam is really worried! Answer me if you can!’
He could hear only the sounds of the rain and the wind blowing the trees all around him. He picked up his pace, and spotted the trail that led up to the copse. Please let her be there! He was shaking now, with cold and anxiety.
‘Sara, can you hear me?’ He called out again. ‘I hope you’re not playing around or I’ll be real cross!’
The clearing appeared before him. Just a few summers back, Sara had arranged the logs in a circle to sit around. The stones were still lying there, arranged in a circle where the remains of a fire had been. Moss had formed onto the shadowy sides of them, and wild flowers had flourished inside the circle, making the area look ethereal. Henry walked around the makeshift perimeter, looking under fallen tree branches and behind the large rocks that were positioned at the edge of the copse.
Maybe she had fallen and hit her head? He stood for a moment, anxiety building up inside him.
The rain had eased off now; the storm had moved further south. Where else could she have got to? Henry looked up at the sky, the last of the rain falling onto his already wet face. Sara loved to tease him about his blonde curls, now stuck to his face and blurring his eyes. She was the feisty one of the three of them, and the one that Alice called ‘a wild child.’ Their younger sister was not allowed anywhere near the area, and could only go as far as the stile on the edge of the woods. Henry sighed and brushed his hair back under his cap. He prayed that Sara had not made her way further north up to the small lake that was hidden in the bushland where the fisherman gathered. Something caught his eye at the edge of the copse; a flash of colour that looked like the cloth of a dress. He held it up against the dimming light. It was of the same cloth as the dress that Sara had been wearing earlier, and looked to be torn off from the bottom of her dress. Twigs cracked behind him, and the air went still. A shuffling noise to the left of the trees became louder and he turned suddenly, just in time to see a hand above his head.
Then there was just blackness.
He woke some time later, feeling cold and shaken. A thick liquid ran down the side of his cheek, along with the distinctive smell of blood, mixed with sweat. He tried to raise himself up and groaned, clutching his side in pain. Whoever had knocked him out had given him a kick as well. Holding onto a gnarled old log lying beside him, he gingerly pulled himself up. The sun had nearly sunk behind the trees in the west, so he knew that he’d been unconscious for at least half an hour.
Henry groaned in fear and pain. Clutching the piece of cloth to his chest, he ran back home as fast as his legs would carry him.
Copyright Suzanne Bowditch, 2016