Make ’em laugh, make ’em cry – emotional scenes on WIP Wednesday

Never Kiss a Toad is set at the beginning of the Railway Age

Never Kiss a Toad is set at the beginning of the Railway Age

It’s our job to pull our readers out of their world and into the one we’ve created: to, as I say above, thrill, intrigue, and delight. In this week’s work in progress Wednesday, your challenge is to find me a scene that provokes a strong emotion in your readers: laughter, sorrow, fear. You choose.

I’ve chosen one from Never Kiss a Toad. This is a tender moment between Sally and her father, one that ends all too soon. Does it work?

“Can you spare a minute for your Papa, Sally?” he asked.

“Of course.” She followed him through to his study.

“You always seem to be hurrying somewhere, sweetheart,” he said. “I miss having my little princess curled up in a chair in my study, keeping me company.”

It was true, she realised. Before her debut, she had sought her father out whenever she could escape the schoolroom. Since she came out… “I have so much on, Papa,” she said. But it was Toad’s exile that came between them, even more since her father began believing lies about him. They were lies. They had to be lies.

Papa smiled, sadly. When had the last of his hair faded to grey? “I know, my love. You are very popular. If a sennight goes by and I do not receive an application for your hand, I know to expect two the following week. Am I to expect a visit from Lord Elfingham? He would make a fine husband, Sally.”

She suppressed a surge of fury. Papa should know that she waited for one proposal, and one only. Would he even tell her if it came? No. That was unfair. Papa had said from the beginning that he would not choose her husband, but would allow her to make the decision.

“He will make Henry a fine husband, Papa, when her mourning is over. If she will accept him. She has this notion that she is not fit to be a duchess because of her mother’s… Um.” Oh dear. She had not meant to discuss that with Papa of all people.

“Henrietta, is it? I hoped it was you, Sally.”

“We decided early on that we would not suit, Papa. It has always been Henry for Elf.” And Toad for Sally.

“You shall be nineteen soon, sweetheart. What would you like for your birthday?”

“Toad to be allowed home.” She had not meant to say that out loud. Her father flinched as if she had hit him, and his eyes, before he hid them by turning away, were pools of pain.

“I know you miss your childhood friend, my darling, but he… He is not as you remember him. If he came back you would suffer for it, and neither his parents or yours are prepared to risk that.”

“You say that, Papa, but you will not tell me how he has changed. You won’t give me any real reasons. And I do not believe it, Papa. Someone has been telling you lies. I know him, and I know you are wrong.”

He had his face shuttered again when he turned back to her, the cold ducal mien that she never used to see before the day it all changed. “You must trust that we know what is best for you, Sarah.


19 thoughts on “Make ’em laugh, make ’em cry – emotional scenes on WIP Wednesday

  1. One of the sequences I wrote in The Long Shadow that actually made me have to take a long walk (or six) when I finished it deals with John and Mary’s childlessness. I haven’t done nearly enough research on what it must have been like to have been a childless couple in late Georgian aristocratic society, but my guess is that it resulted in a big dynastic problem even before touching on personal disappointment. I still think it’s one of the most successful sequences in the whole book.

    Apologies for the length, but here’s a bit of it, set in 1796. I was really hoping to draw the reader into John and Mary’s hopes and fears. I hope I’ve succeeded.


    The future, indeed, was much on her mind. They spent a good while embracing after retiring to bed, as the candle guttered down to its last inch. Once they had sated themselves with kisses John stroked out her long dark hair. He kissed the corner of her mouth, her neck, her breasts, and then, after a long hesitation, her belly, firm and flat under her linen nightdress. In the semi-darkness he looked full of shy wonder, and much younger than his years. ‘I still cannot believe it.’

    ‘Neither can I,’ Mary murmured. She put her hand over his, as though to protect it.

    ‘If it is a son, do you think William will finally allow me to rejoin the army?’

    ‘Perhaps, once our son comes between him and the earldom.’ The phrase our son seemed altogether too strange for Mary to credit, and chased all other words out of her head. John caught the tone of her pause; anxiety flashed back into his face.

    ‘I still think you should not have gone to Court today.’

    ‘How many times do I have to say it? I am with child, not ill.’ But she could hardly blame him for not daring to believe in their good fortune after all the long years of waiting and hoping and, finally, despairing. Luck was not usually on John’s side. Mary was all too aware that her own happiness was a fragile bridge laid across a deep quagmire of fear. So far she had not lost her footing, but she hardly dared look down for what she might see.

    John brushed his lips against hers. She could see he was aware his inability to become attached to this pregnancy hurt her more than she would admit. ‘I am sorry. Only I do not want to— to… I could not withstand another disappointment.’

    ‘Plenty of women have their first child at thirty-four,’ Mary said. ‘Your mother was older.’

    He shifted uncomfortably. ‘It’s not that. It’s— Mary, I can barely even think about what it is. After all these years, to get what I have wanted so much, for so long…’

    He tailed off into silence, but Mary understood. This child was more than the long-awaited heir to the earldom. It was John’s fulfilment and absolution. It was a way into the future, a path away from all the unpleasantness of the past.

    ‘This time it will happen.’ She held his gaze, willing him to partake of her determination. ‘I promise.’

    She tried not to think of all the times it had not happened, and her body had betrayed her best hopes. John, however, had given himself entirely to those black thoughts. His eyes were wide and dark, his mouth twisted with the pain of doubt.

    ‘I cannot lose you,’ he said.

    That simple phrase brought her too close to the abyss of terror she was trying so desperately to avoid: the pain of her miscarriages, the fate of her sister-in-law Harriot Eliot. For his sake, however, she forced the hope into her voice. ‘You will not.’

    He snuffed the candle. Mary lay for a long time in his arms, eyes open, staring up towards the bed canopy and painting her dreams and fears in the darkness.

  2. My brain is really muddled right now, and i’m struggling with my writing. Too much education, likely. And nothing I’ve written is any good, and I just realized, I think I lost something I loved beyond words…

    But, I have this to share!

    “You are leaving.” The question – no, it was decidedly not a question – came from the door, and she paused her packing, hands frozen in midair.

    Their eyes met across the length of the bedroom. Briefly, she wondered if he could see the evidence of her tears, but quickly dismissed it as of no matter. Newly engaged women often shed tears of joy, after all.

    She owed him an explanation, and opened her mouth to provide one, but found she could only say, “I am.”

    Her shoulders dropped, and she leaned against the window, letting the cold seep into her hot skin. She owed him everything, but could give him nothing. “We cannot be, Rupert. It does not work, and you know this.”

    He closed the distance between them, sweeping her into an embrace. Before she could protest, his lips crashed down upon hers. Despite an outward appearance of calm, she was eager for the kiss, for it would be the last they shared, and she wanted to savor every moment of it.

    He took his time, slowly parting her lips with his tongue, and she knew she would relive this kiss for the rest of her days. When his lips left hers to trace the vein that led to the pulsing hollow at the base of her throat, she thought she would catch fire. Surely the frost upon the window panes would be melted from the contact.

    All too quickly, the embrace ended, and she was cold again.

  3. This little snippet is from this week’s work. The heroine has returned to London after some harrowing experiences. She had gone to Bristol with the hope that she might help gather evidence that would get her abusive husband jailed or transported. She saw him killed instead. He had threatened their son and the boy was terrified of him. Relief is only one of the many emotions she feels. Her first thought upon returning is to tell her children what happened.
    The countess had suggested she change first, but she couldn’t wait.
    I need to assure them I am safe. I need to tell them at least some of the ugly truth. I—

    “Mama!” Lena burst in and threw herself at Meggy, climbing into her mother’s lap to wrap her in a hug and plant a sticky kiss on her cheek.

    Drew followed behind with a bit more dignity. Old beyond his years, his expression showed relief and a measure of wariness. “You’re safe,” he said as if it weren’t obvious.

    “Yes,” Meggy laughed. “I am. We all are.”

    “Did the duke and everyone catch all the bad men?” Lena asked.

    “They did. The counterfeiters and their bullies are in gaol.” She didn’t add, “the ones that survived.”

    Lena smiled, but Drew tensed. His little face wrinkled up in concentration. “Will I have to talk in court?” he asked, voice wavering. Meggy hadn’t realized just how much he feared being asked to give witness. Brave lad. You would have done it, but at what cost?

    “No,” she murmured. “You won’t have to.”

    “But Papa—“

    “Your Papa won’t go to court.”

    “Did he get away?” Drew asked. The fear in his eyes broke his mother’s heart.

    “Your Papa is dead.” She couldn’t think of a way to dress it up. Lena leaned in closer and Meggy wrapped an arm around her.

    Drew still stood rigid and unmoving. “Did Rand kill him?” he whispered.

    “No!” Meggy replied. Thank God.

    Drew visibly relaxed and came closer. He snuggled up on the settee next to her. “What happened?” he asked. She wrapped her free arm around to pull him close, giving herself a moment to think. How much do they need to know? I should have realized that it mattered to Drew, and probably Lena too, that Rand didn’t do it. They love him. Divided loyalties even for a man as worthless of Ferdie, could have torn them to bits.

    “Who did?” Lena prodded quietly.

    “Corporal Martin,” Meggy replied. She felt sick. A child Lena’s age should never have to ask such a question.

    “I hate Corporal Martin,” Lena said emphatically. “I hope he is punished.”

    “He was darling,” Meggy murmured kissing the little one’s head. “He was.” A vision of Martin lying in his own blood with a gaping hole in his chest invaded her mind. Whatever Lena imagined as a terrible punishment, she didn’t have to know the ugly truth. She let the vision go. It may come back but she refused to let the memory rule her life with her children.

    Drew kept his silence, and Meggy worried what might be going on in his imagination. The three of them huddled together sharing warmth for several long moments. “What will we do now?” Drew asked at last.

    Meggy drew a deep breath. and wished she knew. “We will go home, I think,” she said out loud.

    “To Canada? Good. I miss the forest. And the chickens,” Lena said. “So does Cat.”

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