Thursday, February 19, 2015


85 000 words
YA Historical Fantasy


Fourteen-year-old Lara is thrilled, but unconvinced, when Irish musician, Finnian, decides she has a gift for magic – just because she noticed something strange about his blackthorn walking-stick.

According to Finnian, the ordinary-looking stick is really the Staff of Truth, a legendary Celtic treasure, powerful enough to unleash a cataclysm that destroyed Britain 1500 years ago, transforming it into Arthur’s Wasteland. To support his assertions, the musician lends Lara a manuscript by Gildas, a young scribe at the court of King Arthur in sixth century Wales. Unfortunately, Finnian can’t prove that this unique, first-hand account is authentic.

Lara is no extremist: she isn’t sure to what degree she believes her new friend’s stories or how far she’s prepared to go to protect a long-lost Celtic treasure. But when she learns Finnian’s life is in danger, Lara's determined to find a way to save him.

First 250 words:

Nobody paid any attention to the man outside the small supermarket, or the bedraggled dog dozing beside him on the pavement. Mothers of small children bustled their offspring quickly past, mumbling their mantras to ward off the dispossessed.

“Move along. Quickly now. Keep going.”

 The man’s face was hidden by a battered cap. Every now and then, his head jerked like he’d just woken up. He twirled the blackthorn stick he held loosely in his hands, and subsided back into a worn parka. Any passerby who noticed him would have sworn he was a tramp.

A solitary teenager shivered in her T-shirt and shorts. She tripped and almost fell on the pavement. The man looked up, spinning his stick. The dog opened one eye.

The girl’s glance fell on the blackthorn. Its tip glowed softly, tugging at a distant part of her brain. She paused for the blink of an eye, before pushing through the glass doors of the supermarket.

The man stared after her as the doors swung slowly shut behind her.

“It’s not her.” A small, skinny boy sat down beside the man and caressed the dog. “She didn’t see it.”

“She did too.”

“She only half-saw it. I see it better than that.” The boy sounded sullen, but if he was looking for reassurance, he didn’t get any.

“You know what to look for.”

“She’s just a stupid tourist.” The boy picked up a pebble and whipped it across the street.


  1. Hi there, I'm intrigued by this one. The writing and premise are interesting and I'd read more to see where it goes. Good luck to you!

  2. Pitch: While the story sounds interesting, I'm not getting enough of a feeling that something big is at stake for Lara. No, of course she doesn't want her new friend to die but there's not enough of a sense of urgency. What terrible things will happen to Lara if he does die? Or if the long-lost treasure is destroyed?

    250: I would suggest you pick one point of view and stick with it. Stories told by outside narrators aren't usually immediate enough for teen readers. Personally, I would tell the story through Lara's eyes since she is the MC. You have some nice, vivid descriptions like: "His head jerked like he'd just woken up". Good luck!

  3. Hello! I really enjoy the sense of tone and mystery in your first 250. The man and his companions definitely have my attention, but I feel like we might have lost your main character as a result? That IS Lara who walks into the store, right? I have a sense for who we're looking at because you laid out your characters in the pitch, but the first 250 needs to stand on its own. To that point, I think you need to make sure you've put in a little more information about your actual story and take special note to cater it to Lara. Your pitch is very heavy on plot while your first 250 is very heavy on character - if you could marry the two strengths together (in both sections) then I think you'd really have a dynamic entry. Best of luck and thank you for sharing.

  4. Hello Author,
    Like the idea! Some dots need connecting for me as the stakes seem a little low... not that a man's life is low, but she barely knows this guy... Who is going to do the killing? Not sure who the villain is in this one is where I am going with all of this.
    If FInnian cant prove his story, what is to say that he isn't a crazy old homeless man and she drops a dollar in his plate and walks by? What is the catch that makes her go: yeah! This guy is cool to hang out with!
    Curious to see if the dog is simply part of the discriptions of Finnian or if it is more so something like comic relief? Good comments up top by Garrett and Jenny that I agree with as well.
    Keep developing this one because I think it could be something great! (I love a good Irishman's tales, being one and all)
    Fellow Contestant & Writing Friend #35

  5. Love the stories of re-imagined myths and lore, and, here, you have such an interesting premise. I appreciate the suspense of *will she or won't she succeed,* as well as the idea of a character discovering/reaching her magical potential, though I agree with Jenny about the stakes. It seems that something like a repeat of the 1,500-year-old catastrophe might be a stronger motivation to act, than a near-stranger's death. (Unless, of course, Finnian becomes a beloved mentor, or an important supporting character.) I would also love to see a bit more of Lara as she walks past the magicians. Always helpful to have a visual of the heroine. Oh, and I do like the rival-to-ally potential of Finnian's assistant.

    I'd tweak the first line of your pitch just a bit: "Fourteen-year-old Lara is thrilled, but skeptical, when Irish musician, Finnian, declares she has a gift for magic – just because she noticed something strange about his blackthorn walking-stick."

    Good luck!!
    #44 The Land of Joy and Sorrow

  6. I was a little thrown off by the pitch being mainly from Lara's POV and the first 250 being from Finian's. If this is dual-POV, great (mine is too!), but I would stick to one in the pitch and make sure the pages that go with it are from that same POV to avoid confusion. I was also expecting the first 250 to be set in the past, so the supermarket and the shorts sort of threw me.

    This is an intriguing idea and a historical setting that I love, so I'd definitely read more! Best of luck...

  7. Pitch: I love the setting, and you have a lot going on but you've expressed it clearly. Worldbuilding in 150 words is rough! That said,14 seems really young for YA MC. Most readers targeted by these categories read up, not down. You might have a better response if you consider categorizing as Upper MG rather than YA. Doubly so as this sounds more like an adventure story rather than one with a coming of age or identity focus.

    250: I'll echo the above comments, but add, I'm not sure if you're going for omniscient third or a really loose third focused on the old man. Omniscient is hard, especially for younger categories. Readers want to be able to identify with the voice and anchoring POV in a character of their age helps contextualize the story.

    I think the story sounds really interesting. Hope this has been any help at all! Best of luck!

  8. Thanks so much everyone for taking the time to comment.

    Katya, thank you for that tweak - great suggestion!


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