Whew, this editing process is tough! Fine tuning and trying to decide what is superfluous and can be cut, is a form of torture. But it must be done.
My editor recently nixed the following passage. It’s a small scene from Sylvia’s Paddington childhood. As glamorous as her adult life was, her younger years were spent in poverty in a part of London that was, at the time, considered the slums. My editor said she quite liked the excerpt but that it was too long for a flashback and didn’t move the story along. It didn’t make the final draft, so I thought I’d give it a little glory here. Enjoy!
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Sylvia was reminded of an afternoon back in Paddington, of a chilly, damp February day from her childhood. Louie, as everyone called her back then, was wearing the thick wool sweater Aunt Nelly had knitted her for Christmas. Ronnie Andrews had come to Gateforth School to fetch her and his sister Lillian, and then walk them back to Wharncliffe Gardens. He was older and looked out for them as best he could, but he was not a tough boy like the notorious Bruce Quay.
Bruce seemed to take pleasure in other children’s pain, dolling out cruelty to the weak and unwary—with a smile. At twelve, he was older than most of the other children and at least a head taller, but not yet a young man. His spite was taller still.
As Louie and her friends rounded the corner onto Church Street, Bruce was waiting for them. He must have followed Ronnie from Wharncliffe.
“Well, isn’t Ronnie the dandy. Always with the little girls.” He spit at their feet. “Are you a girl then, Ronnie?”
The three children froze on the sidewalk. Church Street was not a main thoroughfare and therefore alarmingly empty of any pedestrians that might be of help. Ronnie, though little more than eleven, instinctively shoved the two younger girls behind him in a protective gesture. Louie saw the futility of their situation and shouted, “Run!” assuming Bruce couldn’t possibly catch all three of them, and was probably after Ronnie.
As she sprinted towards the busy intersection at Edgeware Road, she thought she might get the attention of the kind newspaper seller on the corner who sometimes gave her a sweet. But Bruce, close behind, caught her by the wrist and twisted her arm sharply.
Lillian had run back down Church Street towards Gateforth, presumably to bring a teacher or headmistress to the rescue. Ronnie had gotten as far as Edgeware Road when he turned back around and saw Louie was caught.
“Well, ‘ullo. What ‘ave we ‘ere? If it isn’t pretty little Louie Hawkes. I been waitin’ for you, dahlin.” Bruce’s breath smelled of fish and tobacco and his scalp was oily. His fingernails were ringed in black grease and dug into her wrist. She had never been so close to this monster. Adrenaline seized her and she tried to squirm loose despite the pain in her arm. Bruce only snickered into her hair.
“Now where do you think yer goin’? Eh? You think yer better than the rest of us, do you? Yer pater’s a drunk and you’ll marry a drunk too. Maybe you’d like to marry me? Eh, luv?”
Louie held her breath so as not to smell the sharp putrid funk of him. Sour cabbage and cigarettes.
“What’s this, then? Looks like yer comin’ undone, dahlin.”
Bruce had found a thread of yarn from her sweater that had pulled itself loose in their struggle. He tugged at it and silently the stitches began to pop loose.
“Well, luv, seems yer wanting to undress for ol’ Bruce, eh? We’ll ‘ave to ‘ave a look at you then. See if yer as pretty underneath, eh? See if you’ll make me a pretty wife.”
As he continued to pull at the thread, her sweater began unraveling from the bottom upwards and Bruce’s hot nasty breath on her neck sent chills down her spine. She imagined the thread loosening all the way to her chin with only her thin, white shift left between her skin and Bruce’s dirty fingers.
Suddenly Bruce pitched forward against her and they both fell to the ground. Louie’s one free hand caught her while her knees scratched the pavement through woolen stockings.
Ronnie had alerted the newspaper seller on the corner and run back ahead to see what he could do for Louie. When he reached them, Ronnie didn’t stop running, but ploughed into them with his whole body in the hopes of setting Louie free. He knew the newspaper seller would be right behind him and by the time Bruce could get up, all would be settled by the man.
When they fell, Bruce’s grip on Louie’s arm loosened. Despite the pain in her knees, she wiggled out from under him, jumped up and began running. Bruce still had the thread of her sweater in his other filthy hand. As Louie ran, her sweater continued to unravel all the way to Edgeware Road where it snagged on a copper gutter pipe, then split.