Thursday 26 July 2012

RFW - Challenge No. 41 - Three Things you could have done better

Welcome to Romantic Friday Writers Challenge No. 41 for Friday 27th July 2012. RFWers is a fortnightly challenge that is founded by and hosted by and Donna Hole. Challenge No. 41 is the theme, 'Three Things You Could Have Done Better'. 

Before we look at my text for challenge No 41, which is a continuation of my triangle drama about Paul, Jenny and Priscilla, you may want to read the whole story from the beginning. I have made a few small revisions. I have changed some details, such as reducing the seven years to only four years, to make the story work better:

Paul was waiting for his first wife, Jenny, to be declared legally dead. He could hardly wait to propose marriage to his new girl friend, Priscilla, a younger associate with whom he had been dating for three months. Paul's first wife went missing four years ago after her ship wrecked in a storm. There were lifeboats and survivors, but she was never found. Paul had asked his legal adviser about speeding things up. He did not want to wait seven years.
Paul invited Priscilla out to dinner at the new French restaurant, Victor Hugo. They had just finished their Lobster Thermidor, and were about to order dessert.
‘I'd like to have the Bavarian cream. What would you like, my love?’ inquired Paul as he returned the menu to the waiter.
‘Oh, that sounds good. I'll have that too,’ replied Priscilla, beaming with pride and expectation. This was no ordinary dinner. 
While they waited for their Bavarois au Chocolat, Paul dug into his jacket pocket and pull out a small gift-wrapped package and put on the table.
‘Oh, what have we here?’ asked Priscilla, lighting up like fire-fly.
‘A little present for you,’ said Paul smiling slyly as he slowly pushed the package on the white linen tablecloth over to Priscilla, ‘Please open it!’
Priscilla tore away the wrapping paper and found a small box. Inside was a beautiful emerald and gold ring with a hand-written note: Will you marry me?
‘Oh, Paul, you remembered my favourite colour! The answer is yes!’ replied Priscilla, in time before the waiter came with their desserts.
Paul smiled and was about to say something about their future together when the Bavarian cream arrived. Paul ordered coffee and surveyed all the well-dressed men and women sitting at white linen-covered tables, celebrating something, just as they were. It was then that Paul saw a woman who looked familiar. She was standing by the entrance, speaking with the head waiter.
‘What is it, Paul? Don't you feel well? You look as if you've seen a ghost.’
‘No, I'm fine. Couldn't be better!’ lied Paul as he was trying to think about what this meant. The woman he saw was Jenny, his first wife. He could see her clearly. Had she seen him? 
Paul paid the waiter and rose from the table, ‘Would you like to wait here while I get our wraps?’

 ‘No, dear, I'd like to use the ladies.’ I'll meet you at the door.’

As Paul approached the coat-check, a thin blond woman touched his sleeve.

‘Jenny! Is it you?’ whispered Paul.

‘Yes, Paul. Take this and call me. We need to talk,’ murmured Jenny as she shoved a note into Paul's hand. Paul unfolded the small paper as he saw Jenny march toward the exit.

‘Well, what happened last night?’ inquired Charlotte, Priscilla's roommate, ‘Did he propose?’

‘Yes!’ said Priscilla quietly showing her left hand with the emerald engagement ring.

‘So pretty! When's the wedding?’

‘I don't know yet. We didn't talk that much. He just drove me home and that was that.’

‘Maybe he was just tired.’

‘Yes, suppose so,’ replied Priscilla unconvinced.


There was a telephone number on the scrap of paper that Jenny had given Paul. He dialled and waited.

‘Hello Jenny, it's Paul.’

‘Thank you for calling. I have so much I would like to talk to you about. Would you be willing to meet me somewhere to talk?’

 ‘Yes. Where shall we meet?’

Jenny gave Paul directions to The Silver Spoon, a middling restaurant on the other side of town. Paul wasted no time. Is the magic still there? he thought as he took Jenny's hand and walked toward the entrance. 
‘Are you hungry, Jenny? I’ve already had dinner, but I can drink a cup of coffee while you eat something.’

Paul and Jenny sat down and placed their orders. Looking straight into Jenny’s face, Paul asked, ‘What happened? Why didn't you let me know?’
‘I couldn't. We were going to take the boat, which was why our names were on the passenger list, but we changed our minds at the last moment. Tom had got this idea to take an air-trip instead. Well, to make a long story short, we got off course and crashed on a tiny island. Tom was badly injured and we lost radio contact. I did what I could to help him, but Tom died a week after the crash. After that, I was alone.'

‘When did you get off the island?’

‘About a month ago. When I was found by the fishing boat, the embassy was notified and I was sent to hospital, where we started making inquiries as to who could help me.’

‘If I had only known. We all thought that you were dead.’

‘How are the children?’

‘Sarah was only two when you disappeared; Colin was four. My brother and sister-in-law have really been helpful with Sarah and Colin. They can't have any children of their own, so they want to adopt them.’
‘Please say that it has not yet been done.’
‘No, not yet. I have yet to get a final death certificate.’

‘So I am presumed dead?’

‘Surely, we can get this misunderstanding cleared when I show up alive?’

‘Yes, of course. I’ll get my legal adviser to help you.’
‘Do you still have any of my things, my clothes, books and such?’

‘There are still a few things left, that I could not part with, but I am afraid that we have already had an auction and sold most things.’

‘I see.’

‘To be fair and honest, I must tell you that I have been seeing someone.’

‘Oh? Is it serious?’

‘Well, I had thought that I might remarry. Four years is a long time.’
‘Yes it is. Try spending it alone on a deserted island. After Tom died, I only had one thought to sustain me: to stay alive, be rescued and reunited with you, Colin and Sarah. What do you think, Paul? Is it too late for us? I still love you, or at least, I still love the Paul I knew.’

‘I want to help you any way I can, Jenny. But I think the best thing would be for us to not be married again.’

Jenny put her hand to her mouth and tears rolled down her cheeks, ‘Four years. Think about it! Four wasted years. Please don’t throw the rest of my life away. Let's not decide today.  Let me see the children first at least.’

‘I’m engaged to be married. I gave her a ring. I need to speak with her. Your return  changes everything. I don’t know what to say.’
‘Do you still love me, Paul?’

‘Yes, Jenny, I do. I have grieved for you. I have wished and prayed for your return. But now that you are here, I am confused, bewildered and worried.’
‘Aren’t you glad to see me?’
‘Yes, Jenny, I am happy. Very, very happy that you are alive,’ said Paul and could say no more as tears flooded his eyes.

My text for Challenge No. 41, 'Three Things You Could Have Done Better' is in the form of a fictitious newspaper article: 

A Mrs Robinson Crusoe rescued after four years 

Jenny Holland, 32-year old journalist, is the sole survivor of a crash-landing on the tiny, isolated island of Derasepsy in the South Pacific. The pilot, Richard Smith, perished upon impact and Mrs Holland’s colleague, the well-known photographer Tom Norton, died of severe injuries one week after the crash.  

Miraculously, Mrs Holland survived the emergency landing unscathed and waited nearly four years alone before being rescued by fishermen. Mrs Holland has stated that after the initial shock of the crash, the grief of losing her two friends, and the physical strain of building a Robinson Crusoe-like existence, that it was loneliness and fear that were hardest to bear.

‘I was constantly afraid of hurting myself or becoming ill by eating the wrong plant or fish. I wanted to be rescued, but not by criminals who would have murdered me. I kept thinking that I must survive to see my children and husband again. That kept me going.’

‘There are, however, three things that I could have done better: 

First of all, a mother of two small children, age two and four, has no business doing dangerous work. I should never have accepted the assignment.

Secondly, if you are taking a risky voyage, you should have a ditch-kit with you. I had no tools with me, not even a pocket knife. It was thanks to Mr Smith’s toolbox that I had the means to survive as well as I did. I could make a shelter and kitchen utensils. I took whatever I could use. I used the airplane's stainless steel teapot to boil drinking-water. 

The third thing that I regret is not taking paper and pencil with me.  A paper page written in pencil can get wet and still retain its legibility. The battery to my laptop ran out. I had no paper or other writing equipment.’

In spite of this hinder, Mrs Holland has received several offers from publishers to write about her time as a female ‘Robinson Crusoe’.

‘Yes, of course, I can still write a book about my experience on the island, but it will be difficult to pinpoint exactly when things happened. I know when we crashed and when I was rescued, but the timeline between is not so clear.'

'What is more important than the book is getting back to being a mother to my children.’

[Text Copyright 2012 Christina Wigren]

Word count for 'Three Things You Could Have Done Better' is according to WordCalc: 400; FCA; Full Critique Acceptable

Best wishes, 

The characters and events in this text are fictitious; any resemblance to persons, living or dead, places, events or firms, is purely coincidental.

I have rewritten this text, but the revision will not be available for reading until the next challenge 'I need a change'. I will include all of the earlier excerpts (with revisions) of this story, before posting the 400-word text for the challenge for 'I need a change'.


First Commenter:
Denise Covey 
L'Aussie Writer


Denise Covey said...

Hello Anna. It was lovely how you've improved the text and posted all the excerpts for us. I love the idea of the newspaper interview. The way you incorporated the 'three things' was seamless and clever. A bit hard to add a romantic element, but that is understood from the earlier excerpts. Perhaps you could have alluded more to the husband and her hopes of a reconciliation. The more you write, the better you get.

Congratulations. You are getting a good short story here.


Mr.Miglani said...

Really liked the Idea of newspaper !!!! You have stuck to the theme of 3 things, which is so tactful.
This is a good narration style,Thanks for sharing !

Unknown said...

Really enjoyed reading your back story and the text, Anna. There's only one thing I'm unclear about - Was she running away with the man who was with her on the plane - who later died?

I like the way you incorporated the prompt. The idea of a newspaper interview is clever. Wish I'd thought of it first! :)

C.S.H said...

I loved how you continued on with the story of Jenny. The newspaper interview was brilliant!

Heather Murphy said...

Great story, although 4 years would've required a lot of paper! I love the concept!

dolorah said...

A newspaper article; how fresh. Christina you have such excellent voice in your stories, and the flow is excellent. You are building a great story here. The underlying romance is perfectly integrated.

I know we have not e-mailed in a while, but my offer to be a critique partner still stands. I think your writing concepts are developing superbly.

You have definitely drawn me into this story.


Unknown said...

Dear Denise,
Thank you for your encouragement. I'll wrap this story up next time for 'I need a change'.

Dear Rahul,
Thank you. TI chose the newspaper interview in order to give this story some variation and to present the facts more clearly that in the conversational parts.

Dear Adura,
Thank you for asking about the relationship between Jenny and Tom. Onr aspect of this story is the price women sometimes pay for 'liberation' or for trying to do a
'man's job'. Jenny got a job offer. Tom is a photographer who she works well together with. But they are only co-workers and not lovers. Good friends, yes, but they are each married to different people.

This idea came to me when I was visiting the US and watching TV I saw different programs about war veterans in a hospital. There were young women soldiers who had just as severe injuries as male soldiers; that is, they had lost limbs; amputees. Women in the army means that they can get killed and leave motherless children.

Because of the word limit I have not gone into much detail as to what kind of assignment Jenny had. She is a journalist and is supposed to write an article about something. Tom is supposed to take pictures.

What got me started on this theme of the wife returning after being presumed dead was watching a DVD of the movie 'His Favorite Wife' with Cary Grant and Irene Dunn. I really liked the basic idea of the story, but the film turns out to be so silly. I took the basic idea and removed the silliness.

That movie is inspired by a poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson "Enoch Arden" which is about a man who is presumed lost at sea, but survives and returns to find that his wife has remarried. He does not want to disturb her happiness, so he does not make himself known to her. It ends very sadly.

There is a later film that is more realistic about how it might be to be left alone on a tropical island for a number of years, and that is Castaway, with Tom Hanks. They shot that film with a year's wait in between during which Tom Hanks lost a lot of weight to really look the part of someone who is starving. I confess that I have borrowed the lines about being afraid about being alone and becoming ill from that film. I have also tried to remember what was said in these documentaries abiut survival that Ray Mears had on the Discovery channel. There are other authors of survival guides that are also worth wild. But I had no time to do any deeper research at a library. I tried to just remember what I had seen or read, which would be Jenny's situation. When she crashes, she is not well-prepared at all. She does not have a copy of any survival guidebook with her.
Being a journalist without any kind of paper or means of writing or recording one's thoughts is something that I have experienced several times.
So that is probably the most original thought in my story. But I am am sure that I am not the only writer to have had that kind of bad luck.

Unknown said...

Dear Adura, (continued)
As I have said before, I chose the newspaper interview in order to give the story another kind of voice: a public voice. She cannot talk about her husband here. But, have no fear, I will reveal what happens romantically too. Next time.
I think you should try to use the newspaper article where you think it suits your purpose, Adura. I did not invent it. It is free for you to use too. The early novelists used it. Stevenson uses it in Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (I think) and Bram Stoker uses it in Dracula. As you see, I have been 'stealing', er, borrowing ideas from all over the place. So you can use ideas from different sources too. The trick is to make it your own.
I have revealed several of my sources of inspiration. But I have one left: A woman whose first husband was missing in action in the Vietnam war told me that she did not want her first husband to suddenly show up after all those years. She had remarried. The US army has now a program to find every soldier. There is not to be a 'tomb of the unknown soldier' anymore. They keep a DNA-file on everyone who sent into battle so that even if it is only a tiny body-part, like a tooth, they will be able to confirm for the relatives that their son/husband/father actually was killed.

Dear Crystal,
Thank you for your kind words. I think it worked well for the theme.

Dear Heather,
Thank you for your comment about paper. You have made an interesting point.

But I think it might work, especially if you know you have a limited number of pages. You know that you must write concisely in small letters. It might be enough with one notebook, if you only wrote short texts once a week or only when something happens that mark a change, such as the first time Jenny succeeds in catching a fish.

What I am trying to express here is our perception of the passage of time; how clocks, calenders and newspapers help us keep track of time. On the island, Jenny has had trouble measuring time.

Another problem for Jenny is the fact that she is a native of some part of the temperate zone in the Northern Hemisphere where one can see four distinct seasons. My guess is that the seasonal changes on this tropical island are not distinct enough for her to see what season it is; what month it is. Nature is not helping her out.

Best wishes,

Unknown said...

Dear Donna,

Thank you for commenting on this story!

Yes please!!!!!
I would love to send you some earlier stuff (troll stories among other thing) that I would like to work send to a publisher somewhere.

I'll be in touch.

Unknown said...

Just a thought: I don't have time to include this in my story, but I think Jenny is going to have problems with her children, at least in the beginning. She has missed her daughter's formative years and this may cause her some grief.

Another aspect about survival: a British man who was one of the few survivors of the sinking of the ship Estonia, was interviewed on TV.

He was lucky to get out, but he even had to survive sitting many hours in a cold and wet life-raft, in which several people died before they could be rescued. He had an unusually good mental attitude and will to life. The rescuers were surprised that he was doing as well as he was.

This bit of information has made me make Jenny's children very important to her. If she has neglected them before she wants to makes amends now. Her wish to be reunited with her family is what keeps her alive. She wants to live.


Sally said...

Hi Anna, I loved the way you've written the newspaper article. It did cross my mind how her children would react to her now being alive after having grieved for their mother for four years. Everybody has moved on but can she after all she's been through? Can't wait for the next instalment.

Unknown said...

Dear Sally,
Thank you for your input about the children. I haven't decide whether or not to write more specifically about the children for these challenges, but I will for a longer story.
In real life, it is rare that people come back if they are lost at sea. The only example of separation that I can think of would be if Jenny is sentenced to jail time or prison, but in most civilised countries, children get to visit their parents.
An excellent twist on that plot (going to prison + temporary memory loss) would be Preston Sturges film, Sullivan's Travels. See my post about this film here:
or just click here:
Sullivan's Travels
Best wishes,

Scheherazade said...

Hi Anna,
Thanks for providing the back story. I like the concept of an interview and you have addressed the three mistakes in an interesting fashion.

Francine Howarth said...

Hi Anna,

Clever you. The newspaper article is genius. I do see trouble ahead but no doubt a happy conclusion will come out this little saga!


The Poet said...

My dear Anna,
I must say I am happy she was alive. I have seen some real TV shows where one mate never returns and the other is blamed for their death. Good story my friend. You had my full attention (smile).

Tanya. said...

HI Anna...I am loving the way you are letting this story unfold. I like the few changes you have made in the first two chapters to help the flow of the story and I can't wait to read the next instalment.

Denise Covey said...

Hey sweet Anna.I've been waiting for you to comment on my story this week. Just in case you went to my L'Aussie blog, I have my story on my Paris blog. The address is:


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