Book Jacket

 

rank 5918
word count 25643
date submitted 03.02.2009
date updated 10.02.2009
genres: Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, Young Adu...
classification: moderate
complete

The Conservatory

Richard Anderson

A once grand and exotic old hothouse, now decrepit, harbours even more tales of death and decay than is first apparent to its young visitor

 

Eleven year old Kerry Brady reluctantly agrees to stay with her grandmother for the week in rural Norfolk. Although devoted to her elderly relative, she privately fears that a whole week may bring boredom and loneliness to an aspiring teenager. Sensing this, her grandmother arranges for Kerry to visit the next door neighbour's large and impressive hothouse: a 'mini jungle'. Although nominally just an overblown old conservatory, and in a chronic state of disrepair, Kerry discovers the place to be alive with atmosphere, mystery - and a sense of something unseen. The story of how the tragic neglect of the conservatory is aligned to the neighbouring family's recent history gradually unfolds, until Kerry finds that she is certainly not bored...and most certainly not alone. Are the sad tales of death and decay in the once grand and exotic hothouse confined not merely to the faded plants and flowers?

 
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tags

anger, families, fear, hope, redemption, resentment, resolution, supernatural

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19 comments

 

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Spilota wrote 616 days ago

Richard, I'm disappointed you have left the site, as this was an excellent read all the way through. I would definitely recommend it for young readers.

Owen Quinn wrote 1421 days ago

Fantastically well written with heaps of mystery and hooks to keep us interested. Backed with pleasure.

soutexmex wrote 1460 days ago

Rich: put Kerry's name in the short pitch so there's immediacy. Break up the long pitch into smaller paragraphs so it reads faster. Jolly good that you end it with a question. Perfecting your pitches is how you climb in ranking to gather more exposure and comments to better your novel. The writing is good so I am SHELVING you.

Though I have been a very active member for over a year, I can still use your comments on my book when you get the chance. Every little bit helps. Cheers!

JC
The Obergemau Key

Burgio wrote 1460 days ago

This is a good story. A gentle exploration of the hothouse next door that reveals more than dead and untended flowers. Kerry is a good main character; she's both spunky and likable; the kind of character a reader knows won't stop exploring or asking questions until she solves this mystery next door. If I have a suggestion, it's to bring something scary about the conservatory down front; start with that, then come back and explain how Kerry came to be staying at her grandathers in order to "hook" your reader better (or as they say in Hollywood, get those heads up out of that popcorn). Aside from that, this is a good read. I'm adding it to my shelf. Burgio (Grain of Salt).

M J Francis wrote 1486 days ago

Hi there, Richard. This is a promising idea and a good read. Not without its faults, but your writing shows you have a good idea of where you want the story to go and what effect you want your words to have. Keep working at this and it could be a success. It gets my backing :)

M J
Requiem

Phyllis Burton wrote 1534 days ago

Hello Richard, I have read some of your story 'The Conservatory'. This is a unique concept and quite a chilling one. I have taken the liberty of looking at other writers' comments and on the whole I would agree with them. It does need careful editing. But having said that, your story is very good.
Have one little nit-pik for you: Your opening sentence (which is so important) should it not read: 'These days, the large conservatory 'is' not 'was'? And otherwards 'modestly 'echoes' not 'echoed'? I would like to read more so I am watch-listing it.

Phyllis
A Passing Storm (Would you look at this for me please?)

Cas P wrote 1870 days ago

Hi Richard. Here I am for our agreed read-swap, very sorry it's taken me so long!
Ok, The Conservatory.
I liked the opening, the description of the conservatory, and the sense of menace implied in 'it happened.' Personally, I would have left that as ch1 and gone on to Kerry's family in ch2.
After this initial opening, I was expecting the style to change. I wanted to get 'into' Imogen's family, to feel some connection with them, to start finding out what had happened. It's a good ploy, running two scenes together, either drawing parallels or emphasising differences, and hopefully this is what happens between Imogen's experiences and Kerry's.
I do think, though, that you need to cut a lot of the expo. Almost the entire of ch 2 is dry fact and - forgive me! - the text reads more like a manual than an exciting or warming story. The writing is good, don't get me wrong, but to my mind the tone isn't right for a novel. You're aiming for a YA audience and they will want to see Kerry through her own eyes, experience her feelings and frustrations, rather than being told about them. I also wonder how many will bother to read the bits about the plants. (I enjoyed them, but then I love plants!)
Basically, I'm saying that to me, it all felt a bit detached. It's only a suggestion of course, but I think you ought to try writing from Kerry's viewpoint, become an 11 year old child.
One other thing I noticed was your ending to ch 2. It's a very weak ending and does nothing to draw the reader on. Chs 1 and 3 had much better endings.
Hope these comments help, Richard, and that they didn't come over as too negative. You clearly have great writing skills and I really like the premise of the book. I'll try and come back to read some more, because despite my misgivings about the style, I'm curious about what 'happened' in the conservatory.
All the best,
looking forward to your thoughts on King's Envoy,
xx
Cas.

SherryDFicklin wrote 1883 days ago

I like the story, but it took some effort to keep reading. Maybe if you put a preface with an excerpt of later action befor ethe first chapter, It'd help lure us in. Just a thought. Your concept is great and your voice is wonderful! I'll put this on my watch list for sure!

TJ Rands wrote 1885 days ago

hi richard,

10/10 for originality. you've introduced some great characters and tension-always fantastic foundations for a good story.

i love the trepidation about the conservatory-but of course we know they'll go in.

great book for the YA.

ADO wrote 1892 days ago

Dear Richard, I have been enjoying the start of The Conservatory - it has the feel of a 'big' novel (in a good way, like a John Fowles book) where you can sense the gradually rising tensions and undercurrents, which will be released all in good time to those who wait. I have really enjoyed the actual conservatory descriptions, too - I rather like learning something factual when I am reading fiction and it is nice to be presented with a wealth of information about plants where I confess to previously being ignorant. The description of Kerry's wonderment upon first entering the deserted conservatory is very nicely told. My only suggestion might be, in the very opening chapters, to adopt a slightly more "show, not tell" attitude, but this does not distract from an informative and entertaining read. With many thanks, Andrew.

Paul Ebbs wrote 1899 days ago

Okay it's really easy to be negative; much harder to be positive, and The Conservatory is a book that makes that gap even more acute. Like A Woman's Place which I read before this your book suffers from the same problems only more so. I'm really sorry to sound so harsh but it doesn't matter how good your story is because with two chapters of info-dump back story and no incident I was left with no choice but to stop reading. Lists of characteristics, ages and back-story do not an opening make.

I'm sure that you have a great story and if you dumped these two opening chapters and started us 'in' the story you'd have a much better chance of keeping your readers on board.

I actually don't mind your omniscient narrator in the opening section describing the conservatory I was happy to accept that as long as the next section gave me story but you didn't. And then in the second chapter you give us another huge slab of Conservatory description, much of it repeating what you'd already said in chapter one.

I think you need to decide where your story really gets going and start 'there - then blend all your exposition and back-story into 'incident'. Let there be a reason to tell us about the past - reasons that resonate with current action.

I'm sorry to be so negative and I really wish I didn't have to be. But you lost me half way through chapter two and that's because you didn't entertain me.

And now for the positive - it's fixable. You have the skills - you 'can' write but you need to learn a few devices and tricks for telling a story really well. Take your three fave books and I almost guarantee if they were written in the last fifty years they’ll start with incident and tension. The Conservatory should too.

Cheers

Ebbsy

Richard Anderson wrote 1899 days ago

Like Judith, I especially liked the two threads of story going on at the same time and the wonderful conservatory passages. Your dialogues are written naturally and the characterisation of the father is splendid.



Thanks very much for the feedback Paul - really appreciated. As a newcomer, it's a relief more than anything to hear something positive. Not that I can't take criticism...but who on earth would prefer it?!!

mskea wrote 1900 days ago

Hi Richard,
Liked the first sentence here, but immediately queried whether 'dusty, dark' would be an accurate description of the conservatory - and it isn't the impression when we get into it in ch 6, so suggest looking at that.
Some lovely phrases, sentences - 'modestly echoed the great glasshouses of Kew' / 'not added... but born from it..'/ 'Back in the day it had glistened...' - whole para beautiful and effective.
So super opening.
However there were areas I felt could be improved.
1. Pruning - like most of us here, the writing would benefit from being tightened.sugg cutting words in brackets - eg - 'right up until two years ago (but it had been such a long two years') / 'not long ago it had been meticulously filled (meticulously though, not thoughtlessly jammed) with tropical plants and flowers.' (that dazzled the observer.) Moving 'meticulously' avoids the need for the wordy phrase that follows. / stop at 'case anymore.' - Allows us to draw the obnvoius conclusion that something major happened two years ago, without TELLING us.
The intro of Kerry +family. - This also would benefit from a prune, but more importantly (in my opinion) I found it much less engaging. I wonder how much we need to know - for the purposes of the story - about Kerry's background? You need to know all this to write about Kerry, but does it add anything for readers - Unless her parents are going to be crucial later on, then I'd say no. - I'd be very tempted to jump straight to Kerry arriving at Patsy's - without her friend - that disappointment is relevant but we should be able to see that from Kerry's actions / thoughts.
Three final thoughts - I think you need to look at this carefully for TELL - and make sure you go for SHOW instead.
In ch6 when Imogen takes K. to the conservatory - I loved the fact that she seemed incapable of crossing the threshold, but then felt a little let down that I didn't get more sense of her feelings.
Most important of all here - when Kerry is in the conservatory we need to be in her POV - Don't tell us what she doesn't know - what the conservatory should have been like etc. You need to restrict yourself to her 11 year-old perspective - eg she doesn't know length / shape of culdesacs yet - she hasn't had time to explore them. (You can SHOW us the changes in the conservatory by describing dead / shrivelled /whatever plants in among the ones that are now rampant. Kerry can be wowed by the huge ones and notice the cowed ones - we as readers will draw the conclusions - Kerry as a child might be sad at something she sees, but she won't think about Kew or Chelsea or the 'travesty' the conservatory has become. (Travesty is so out of 'tone' for Kerry that it perhaps illustrates best what I'm trying to say here.
One tiny point - I think Patsy would have made a simple comment about the daughter being ill when first asked, rather than second time round.
I think you can and do write beautifully and there is tremendous potential here for a powerful and engaging story, well worth the effort to hone it.
Onto my watchlist, I do want to know what happens next. (I suspect one child has died? If I'm right I'd like to know how.)
Margaret
PS I'd value your comments on Munro's Choice

katekasserman wrote 1901 days ago

Hi Richard! Simon suggested I might like The Conservatory -- and he was quite right, so I owe him one!

The omniscient narrator threw me off a bit at first; while I enjoyed the sharp observations about each of the characters (including quite incidental ones), I was a bit puzzled INITIALLY why I was given such a close-up view (albeit a brief one) of Kerry's parents. And then, a few chapters later, I was swept up in the story and realized that it was just an old-fashioned way of writing -- one that I really love. I am going to be a pain and go against the tide of your earlier comments; I really liked the parentheticals. I felt they worked nicely with the dryness of the tone -- and the dryness of the tone is important, even CRITICAL I think, given both the horrific severity of the crimes we learn about and also the sweetness of the resolution (the dryness helps keep it from veering into outright sentimentality).

You establish a LOT of creepiness right in the beginning with the conservatory itself, and its (unexplained) abandonment by a now-scarred family (and the ominous note that you take pains to mention that LOUISA is thirteen), which casts an air of menace over what would be otherwise a fairly mundane going-to-visit-grandma set-up. I was never quite clear, incidentally, exactly how Kerry felt about the prospect of this visit -- at the first mention, she seems pretty wildly enthused ("I really *love* Nan!"), and then subsequently comes across as more doubtful about the whole endeavor. Of course it's plausible -- in fact likely -- that Kerry would be ambivalent; but since we're inside K's head anyway, you might be able to reduce this see-saw effect on the reader by just having her flat-out reflect that she loves her Nan but can't quite imagine what they'll do for a whole week together, especially now that Naomi can't come.

A couple other minor consistency/flow things. Patsy insists to Kerry that she's never told Kerry about the daughter, but in fact she HAD (and Kerry had heard Louisa as well, and Patsy knew about it). Patsy also refers in passing to the "two of them" about the Hutton sisters before anyone's told Kerry that Louisa had a twin (although Patsy might reasonably just have let it slip while speaking rapidly under emotional strain, and Kerry might reasonably not have picked up on or followed through with it, so this may *not* be a consistency burble!). Kerry's first interest in the conservatory itself felt like it came out of the blue; we know she's blurting, but I still wasn't quite sure what possessed her to do so (perhaps adding the snippet of conversation where Patsy tells Kerry about the conservatory would smooth this over). The writing itself has some occasional word repetitions that a quick pass would pick up easily enough -- and weeding out the accidental repetitions will let the DELIBERATE ones shine further (if you like, you can email me a file, and I'll do a run-through for these -- my address is on my author page).

*** SPOILERS ALERT -- STOP HERE UNLESS YOU'VE READ ALL OF THE CONSERVATORY!!! ***

The dreadful nature of just what had happened with the twins caught me by surprise, in a good way -- it was savage enough, and sad enough, that it has a real emotional gouge. I had been going blithely along assuming that there had been some kind of accident -- and of course it WAS an accident, the FIRST horror anyway, but accidental only in its severity, not in its instigation. It takes confidence and nerve to inject something quite that dreadful in the story, and rather than feeling let down by the big reveal, I was galvanized by it.

The sad/happy birthday party where Sadie gets to pretend that she got her wish, even if attaining it is forever out of her grasp, is a lovely scene that I think could use a little more elaboration. I mean, when kids pretend (especially older ones), it gets BAROQUE in its complexity. You probably don't want to go THAT far! But a little more detail about who else is at the party, or what Sadie's presents are, or a few other fillips like that would I think make it feel more like a watershed moment for Sadie (and then less time on scraping together the candles). Of course it's impossible to forget that if Louisa had been able to let go of her own frustrations about her unrealized dreams, she never would have hurt her sister; and Sadie has the bittersweet opportunity, now that she's dead, actually to heal the wounds she caused through her own resentment.

YA novels usually, I think, run about the same length as adult ones, so 25K words is probably too short to be a stand-alone novel for the market; IF I AM CORRECT in this (I'm not sure that I am), I think you could put together a book containing three or four novellas like The Conservatory. Although...how long were those R. L. Stine books that were all the rage a while back? I think they were pretty short, although since I never read one, I'm not entirely sure. Anyway! I think this is a lovely story, with both tenderness and some savage nastiness in the middle that makes the journey interesting and the destination worthwhile. Very best of luck!!!

Keefieboy wrote 1903 days ago

Hi Richard,
Simon Betterton put me onto this, and I'm really enjoying it.

A few nitpicks:
Try to cut down the amount of stuff you put in parentheses - they are inelegant, and very rarely needed - you can use a hyphen to surround their content, or separate sentences. I think the Latin names of plants should be italicized.

In one of the early chapters your have 'being very rare' and in the next sentence, 'being physically attached'. Apart from the repetition, these both jarred because the 'being' is a bit passive. In chapter 4 you have 'cornflour blue' - I believe it should be 'cornflower'.

But 'The Conservatory' is an interesting, well-told story, and so it gets a shelf-space for a bit.

If you want some light relief, please have a look at my Tybalt & Theo.

Good luck.

paul house wrote 1903 days ago

Like Judith, I especially liked the two threads of story going on at the same time and the wonderful conservatory passages. Your dialogues are written naturally and the characterisation of the father is splendid.

S Richard Betterton wrote 1904 days ago

Hey Richard,
Great description, interesting characters and a sense of forboding. I really enjoyed reading this!
I agree with Judith that you should put this in the YA category, but as you can only choose four...
Cheers,
Simon

Joanna Stephen-Ward wrote 1904 days ago

Hello Richard,

I like the sound of this. It has an original touch. The site is slow at the mometn and I'm putting it on my Watch list till I can down load it.

Good luck, Joanna

Richard Anderson wrote 1905 days ago
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