You can’t just write a novel once—I can’t, anyways. It takes a whole lot of removing and rewriting and editing, especially if one wants one’s book to be a decent one. I wrote almost two whole drafts for Genevieve of Alea, but within that some sections saw more drafts than others. Chapter One was one of these sections, counting four drafts altogether. This is Chapter One, Draft One, written over April 14-22 of 2016. Some of it is surprisingly good, surprisingly to me anyways. You’ll notice that some of the book blurb is from this. However, it’s also very bad! I’ll just note that my heroine does now enjoy dancing; and that I would rather you read the final Chapter One to decide if you want to read this, than the other way around.
My great grandmothers are named Isabella, Eleanor, Dawn and Rapunzel – but you might know them better as Belle, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and, well, Rapunzel. Also, my Grandma Bianca is Snow White, and Grandma Adeline and my mother were the beauties of ten kingdoms. That honor now belongs to my eldest sister. All these fairytale heroines in my family may not seem like a bad deal at first glance, but all that princess-ness creates expectation that the daughters of the royal house will live up to their foremothers. It’s not like they’re long gone legends of centuries past, either – all of them are still alive, and have aged very well. In fact, they are all remarkably beautiful elderly ladies with personalities to be reckoned with. The lovely-princess expectation is not limited to a vague and indirect ‘society’; my mother and father, and grandmothers and grandfathers, and great grandmothers and grandfathers, and even my four sisters, all expect each of us young princesses to be models of royal perfection. I’m the only one left out in the cold.
I would rather ride a horse than dance, sketch than do fancywork, read than flirt, walk than moon over my appearance, and wear a practical dress one can move properly in than one of those affairs which show off all your shoulders and you can’t even move in for fear of tearing it. Also, I’m the only one of my sisters who doesn’t appreciate the family complexion: all those pale, pretty women in my family mean that I have one of those light complexions too – and that means that I sunburn really easily. Fortunately, by being outside as much as I can, I have managed to develop a good tan, though almost all my family “absolutely deplores what Jenny has done to her poor face”.
Another thing I have done, though, I’ll admit, partly to pique my family, is learning how to use a sword. I’m not really a fan of the art, nor of bloodiness in general, but I thought it might prove useful if ever I managed to escape the protective atmosphere of the castle.
The day on which my story begins would, I think, be the day after my sixteenth birthday. On my birthday, I had of course had the compulsory birthday ball, but as my birthday present I requested to be allowed to go out and have a little picnic by myself. It was spring, and I had the loveliest, balmiest weather imaginable for my outing, and I didn’t want to waste a minute of it. After breakfasting early and simply, I took some food, a copy of the Iliad, and my sketchbook, put on the oldest dress my parents would allow me to have, and set out with my horse to make a day of it.
I also like to sit on my windowsill, facing outwards with my legs hanging out, while reading, though due to the over-protective impulses of my family I find it prudent to lock my door while doing so. I think it would be on one such occasion when my story would start, a few months before my seventeenth birthday. I was deep in the Odyssey – not that I hadn’t read it before, but I just couldn’t stop reading it again and again – when I heard one of my sisters calling me and knocking on the door. After a moment, I decided that it was Eleanor. Eleanor was, at the high-and-mighty age of eighteen, my next-oldest sister, and quite vain about her perfect skin, golden hair, and good features, but she seemed to think she was a lot older than me than she really was and missed no opportunity of telling me off. I supposed she had caught sight of me from the garden or something and payed no heed. After a while, she left. Good, now I could focus better on Homer.
Soon, I realized Eleanor had not given up, but now she was down in the garden, looking up at me. “Jennifer Lucy Adelaide, you come down now! Mother and Father want to talk to you!”
“Oh, all right,” I said sulkily. “Where are they?”
“In the small chamber. Personally, I would advise you to hurry.”
“I’m going, I’m going.” Grumbling, I got down inside my room, unlocked the door, and went to the small chamber – in my personal nomenclature, Georgianita. I called it this because it was decorated in the same style as the large chamber, which I had, for reasons unknown to myself, christened Georgiana.
“How should I know? Oh, why did they send me to do this? Why not one of the servants?”
Georgianita was lavishly furnished, with deep, rich handmade tapestries hanging on the walls. Not exactly a comfortable room, but, I had to admit, it wasn’t dark. There were many windows high up, and they gave a considerable amount of light, and also a feeling of airiness to the room which redeemed it from total gloominess.
My father and mother were seated on comfortable chairs in front of a low table – in any dwelling but a royal one, this room would have been called the parlor, but my parents used it as one anyways.
I curtsied quickly as I entered the room and stood in front of the table.
My father was the first to speak, “Sit down, Jennifer.” After I complied, he said, “We would like to talk about your birthday. First, what would you like to do?”
“Father, I would like not to have fuss about it. I would rather have a day by myself for my birthday present, just me and my horse and a book.” My mother sighed but remained otherwise silent, and my father frowned.
“We expected as much. However, we will not allow you to simply ride off like that. You have your duties towards your family and society – and yourself, as well. Your mother and I wish you to have a ball on your birthday, just as you and your sisters have always done.”
“But Father, Mother, I don’t want a ball!”
Now Mother spoke, gently, as though I was a little child she wanted to quiet, “Jennifer, you may think you feel this way now, but really, I’m sure you’ll come to think better of it. I am confident that you really will enjoy your ball, perhaps you just think you may not on account of all that reading you do.”
I’m not a toddler, I wanted to say, and really, why must you always be at me about my reading? instead, a different thought occurred to me.
“I have a proposition to make,” I said slowly, “What if I have a ball – and then, perhaps on the day after my birthday, I get to have my free day?” Father started to say something, but I hastily cut in, “Really, you know, the success of my birthday ball will depend on me. If I don’t want it too, it won’t be an experience you’ll want to repeat. I can dance – but I can also step on the toes of my partners. I can look happy – or I can be glum and depressed. I can be witty, merry, good company – or I can not.” I hoped this wouldn’t backfire. Was my ‘proposition’ a little too close to blackmailing my parents? Probably. I do love them, really – but they can be a little much. At any rate, it worked.
My father took a deep breath.
“We’ll consider it. Your mother and I will talk it over and let you know our decision later this afternoon.
Now what to do? I returned to my room, and tried to fix my mind once more on my reading, but failed miserably. I tried sketching, writing, reading again, but, no matter what I tried, I was pursued by the same inattention and listlessness. In the end, I simply sat for a while, then suddenly got up and set off to find my mother or father and apologize. However, I met Mother coming up to find me.
“Hello, Dear,” she said, and listened patiently to my request for forgiveness, “That’s all right, don’t worry about it. Your father and I have decided that, though your proposed methods of gaining your ends are not particularly laudable, your wishes do deserve consideration. After all, it is your birthday and we do want you to be happy. I think that if we have a ball on your birthday, which everyone will be expecting, it would be all right for you to have the next day to yourself to spend as you wish – with certain conditions, of course.”
I really didn’t deserve this. I really shouldn’t have talked to my mother and father like that. All the same, I also really wasn’t going to let the opportunity pass. I thanked Mother again, and apologized some more. She repeated that it was all right, and gave me one of those big comforting mother-hugs. I wish we could always understand each other like this, I thought, life would be so much better if we weren’t usually at angled purposes, and looking at problems from different angles.
Mother then took me down to dinner.
The month preceding my birthday went well, almost smoothly. I was docile about the dress Mother wanted me to wear, I allowed my sisters to decide how I would wear my hair, I let all five of them pick my jewelry, but I did put my foot down (if you will permit me to use the phrase) about the shoes they wanted me to wear. My adorners wished me to wear a pair of gold- and gem-encrusted heels; but I far preferred my normal, but still decorative, flats. In addition to the fact that I don’t like dancing in heels, the shoes were not very comfortable, and I managed to plead out on that ground, as well as that, if all went well, no one would see my feet. Also, I would have had to accustom myself to dancing in heels – not that any of my sisters would have minded helping with that.
I enjoyed my birthday ball much more than I had expected too. I really did enjoy wearing the dress Mother picked for me, though I was a little apprehensive beforehand of what it would look like. She went easy on me, though, and decided on a lovely floaty blue dress, with a wonderful drape and twirl in the skirt. Thankfully, it had a proper neckline, all trimmed around with pearls and accented with silver. My sisters had mercy on me, also, in the matters of jewelry and hair. The jewelry they chose was simple, silver and sapphire blues, and my hair was put up – miracle of miracles – in a manner both comfortable to the wearer and nice to look at, or so they said.
The evening itself was actually pleasurable also, though after several dances I became rather tired and started glancing around helplessly, wondering how to escape the clutches of the elderly but still alarmingly spry baron who had custody of me. Eleanor saw my distress, however, and, to this day I don’t know how, whirled me off and deposited me at a table near Grandma Isabella, with some little bits of things on a plate. She was not done dancing, and flitted off immediately to the lucky young knight of the evening.
I managed to leave after earlier than most, abandoning my sisters to hold the fort, which they did not mind at all, so that I could get a good night’s sleep before my outing of the morrow.
And that was Draft One of Chapter One of my first novel, Genevieve of Alea.