I said somewhere in a blog post, that I don’t really plan stories. I just get a beginning idea or an overall feeling of a story and launch straight in there. Sounds kind of exciting, doing it on the fly, and it is quite fun seeing the story develop as I go along. It does lead to rewrites and abandoning early drafts, and beginning again from scratch. I even have this image from when I had to restart something:
That happens a lot. Not always from that many words in, sometimes more, but it happens.
It happened with Settling Slowly where all I knew was, Zoey and Grigory were going to get together at some point, but I hadn’t decided how long it would take them or how far after Falling Fast was going to be set. I thought it would be kind of cool to show you a some different story openings for both books, and discuss why I changed the direction of the stories content and structure.
I’ve actually lost a couple of files from the Settling Slowly early drafts and restarts, so I can only show you a couple of different restarts and for the purposes of this kind of informal essay style post, I’ll call one restart SS1, and the other SS2
When I was wrestling with how much time was going to have passed between Falling Fast (FF) and Settling Slowly (SS), I toyed with setting it a couple of years after Zoey had been to university. She was going to be twenty four and settled in a job. My reasoning for this was so that I could get away from writing scenes in a school, Zoey would be perfectly sure of who she is on her own, without a romantic partner which I believe to be crucially important for everyone, and it would give Grigroy time to get over Katya’s love and friendship which, even if it wasn’t said in FF, was incredibly important to him as they’d grown up together.
Much the same as FF, this draft of SS started with a Zoey/Lexie conversation about Grigory. From SS1 we have:
“Are you seriously telling me you’ve not heard a thing from Grigory since… How long again?”
I sighed and slumped on the futon. We were in Alexander’s wedding dress shop in Oxford and Lexie was picking out her dress for her big day. It was happening in six months and the only thing left to sort were the dresses. Well, on Lexie’s side of the wardrobe. As far as I knew Sergey hadn’t given suits a single thought but he’d asked me to keep that tinsy, tiny detail to myself. “Christmas of our last year at uni’.”
She poked her head out of the curtains and held the thick material closed under her chin. “Really? That was… two years ago.”
“I know. I do see him and ask how he is when I visit, but apart from that…”
Lexie bit her lip. “You know… maybe he isn’t interested in you anymore.”
“Has he been dating anyone since Katya left?” I asked.
“Point,” she said and ducked her head back into the changing area. “At least you’ve been on a few dates.”
“One guy even lasted a whole three months,” I said without humour.
There had only been four men in my life that lasted longer than two dates after Grigory and that had been over the course of five and half years. I’d fallen for my Russian teacher when I was eighteen, he was twenty four. He’d just moved over from Russia and things had been shaky between him and his then girlfriend, but when she moved over they solidified their relationship and got engaged, but a few months later split up because it wasn’t working, mostly because Grigory had fallen for me too but hadn’t realised until he was given the ultimatum. He and Katya had been childhood sweethearts and Grigory hadn’t just lost his fiancée that day, he’d lost his best friend too. I’d always known it was going to take a while to get over, but never had I thought it would take this long.
“Why don’t you call him?” Lexie asked.
I sighed. “Because… God, I don’t know, but…”
“Ok, what about this one?”
She opened the curtains.
“You look like a bulbous melon.”
She frowned. “But it’s all poofy and great.”
“You sill look like a bulbous melon,” I scrunched my nose up. “Either an albino one or one that’s so mouldy that –”
“Ok,” she laughed. “I get it, not this one.”
“What possessed you to even think about that one I have no idea,” I said. “Do you really think I should call him?”
“Yes!” I could imagine her putting her hands on her hips and glaring at me trough the curtain. “He’s never going to start it now. He’s probably worried you’ve given up on him!”
“I’ve been giving him space!” I protested.
“Ugh, not that one either,” she muttered. “Zoey, I’m out of dresses.”
I got up and plucked The Dress off the rack. I’d decided it was The Dress as soon as we’d walked in here and tried to persuade her, but she’d been insistent that she’d found The Dress already. No dress was going to beat this dress. I’d told her that too. Hopefully she was desperate enough to try it on now.
“Thanks,” she said and took the dress from me without looking at it. “Just call him, Zo.”
“Yes! Zoey, he loves you. He told Sergey a couple of weeks ago. And ok he was drunk. But he’s a spill my most treasured secrets drunk, not a lie out of my arse drunk.”
“Zoey,” she began in her irritated ‘I’m right and you know it. If you don’t call him in the next ten minutes I – Oh!”
“Oh?” I asked.
“Oh, Zoey this dress… It’s perfect.”
I smiled softly. It had only take three hours, seventeen dresses, ten trips around the huge shop, multiple offers of making the dress for her and telling her that her perfect dress was the first one she looked at. The very dress she was wearing now.
“How’s it going?” Alexander whispered in my ear.
“That one I picked out at the very start?” I asked.
“Oh that one I designed for her?” he asked with amusement in his tone. “She like it?”
The curtains ruffled and then she stepped out, a vision of white beauty. I smiled, so happy for her and took a photo to savour the moment for her. It was just a simple dress with a sweetheart neckline, a wrap style bodice and a skirt with a little body to it and a fishtail train, but it was beautiful and the matte silk was a perfect compliment to her porcelain skin tone. Even so she looked more angelic than usual which was by no means a bad thing, she already looked like she was glowing and it wasn’t even the big day yet. Tears flitted in her eyes.
“I told you this one is perfect,” I said.
“Yeah,” she murmured. “You did.”
“I don’t think I even want to know how much it costs.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Alexander said. “I made enough in the last hour to more than cover it.”
She looked up from the perfection of her dress, eyes wide with shock and appreciation of the gesture. “Oh, Alex… That’s… Thank you.”
He smiled. “Just get out of it before your mascara runs everywhere.”
“Oh shit!” she gasped and quickly ducked back behind the curtains.
“I told her to wear waterproof but ‘oh, I’m not going to cry over a dress. Don’t be stupid’. I told her she was going to cry,” I sighed.
My friend chuckled and sat on the futon with me. “So, she’s really getting hitched then?”
“Ha!” he snorted. “No.”
“Thanks, Grayson!” she called.
“No offence… Unless you want me to steel you away from Tolstoy.”
“His last name is Ivanov.”
“Whatever, Lexie. You’re just upset you never had some of this,” he said and gestured to himself. In the background something chimed. “Ah, doorbell,” he said and quickly got up.
Lexie and I laughed. A few moments later she stepped out in her short shorts and t-shirt and plopped down next to me. I grinned at her. I was so right and she knew it.
“Don’t say it again, Zoey.”
“I wasn’t going to say anything.”
“You didn’t have to.”
“I know,” I trilled. “That’s what makes this even better.”
“Oh shut up,” she grinned and shoved me a little.
“Put your shoes on, I need to get home to look after my niece for the evening.”
She bent over to put her gladiator sandals back on. “Dan going somewhere?”
“Yep. He’s got a date with a bonobo. I get to baby sit tonight.”
“Like you mind.”
I smiled. “Can we just hurry? I’ve got some things to do.”
Alexander came back and assured us that he’d tidy all the dresses away and he’d look after Lexie’s until the big day. Then I told him I’d meet him for coffee sometime in the next week and then I was pulling Lexie out of the shop and into my car.
“Hurry much,” she said.
“Like I said, I’ve got stuff to do.”
All the way back to Lexie’s house we chatted about the things that still needed planning and sorting for the wedding – catering, table arrangements, centre pieces, flowers, nothing too important like the venue or the date. “But it’s all in the little things” she kept on telling me. I kept on telling her to chilax, but apparently that just was not possible. The only big thing I had to plan was her hen night. I was thinking a weekend away with spa treatments, a fancy dinner and catching a film and then a pyjama party.
“Zoey?” Lexie asked.
“Huh? Sorry. Thinking about your hen night.”
“Do I get to wear lace pyjamas?”
“If you really… want to?”
She laughed. “See you next week. And call Grigory.”
She shut the door before I could tell her how much I thought that was a really bad idea and the next thing I knew she was down her garden path and shutting the front door behind herself. I just set off home, back over to my small flat Elephant and Castle. When I got there I threw some washing into the machine and set it to dry as well and then I got the internet up and searched for a new job.
This opening shows the change in their lives. They’re shopping for Lexie’s wedding dress in Alexander Greyson’s shop, and though they’re talking about Zoey’s love life again, they’re not focused on what the man looks like, but his actions or there-lack-of. For a lot of teenage girls, the initial attraction stems from appearance and is what they talk about with their closest friends. This was how Grigory was introduced in FF. Not only do both characters know what Grigory looks like and there is a past there, they are more bothered about him as a person, as a man, than his physicality. It shows maturity and that Zoey is more concerned with his personality than his appearance. This change occurred in Falling Fast, but showing that it is still relevant now shows that she’s not fallen back to being attracted only by his appearance.
She is also concerned about his well-being and emotional state. She knows that Grigory would need time to get over his former fiancée and shows that she is empathetic and selfless. She’s delayed speaking to him because she doesn’t know if he’s ready to rebuild a relationship with her. This is a continuation of refusing to be his rebound, she wants to do what’s right for the both of them, and shows the audience that she has emotional maturity.
It also shows Zoey and Lexie’s candid, honest friendship and its strength. Zoey isn’t afraid to tell Lexie what she thinks of the dress without waiting to be asked for an opinion which most people wouldn’t do with a stranger, especially when they don’t like the dress. There is also teasing between the two concerning “The Dress” and Zoey being right in that the dress she initially picked out was the right one.
Friendship was a driving force of a theme when writing Falling Fast. As discussed in the blog post Why Did I Write Falling Fast, I wanted to write a story with a strong friendship that dictated many of the main characters’ actions. Before the story started, Lexie had begun to explore her sexuality in that she had a previous boyfriend and was dealing with a bad breakup. Zoey on the other hand was just beginning to explore hers. Being only seventeen years old, they both still had a lot to learn so friendship was still incredibly important to them and in many ways the centre of their personal universe. They were the person the other had the strongest connection to.
Though both characters are older now, I didn’t want them to be any less good friends or less important to each other, I still wanted friendship to be a major theme of the books and showing that friendship in the opening scene felt like an appropriate way to do that. Having them discuss Grigory again shows that though they have matured as they’ve got older, their friendship is very much the same friendship as when they were teenagers. They’re able to go to each other for advice, they can talk about romances, they can rely upon each other for support, they can trust each other to always be there. Now that they’re older, moved out and have jobs, there will naturally strains on the relationship – distance, less time to see one another, not seeing each other every day etc. I didn’t want this to be explored initially, I wanted to remind the reader of the intimacy of their relationship, its strength and show that that can continue through life changes, as I found out in my own personal life.
SS2 has much the same feel of tightly bound friendship, a conversation and narration about Grigory and it explains the time jump and a couple of other things in narration. This opening differs in that it shows Zoey and Lexie’s now fiancé Sergey to have a warmer, closer friendship than in FF as they know one another better and have a friendship outside of him being Lexie’s significant other.
“I cannot believe he did that!”
“You better believe it,” Lexie said ruefully down the phone. I could imagine her pursed lips and the roll of her eyes. “He was so nice when I first knew him.”
“We created a monster,” I chuckled. “Good job you love him.”
She sighed dramatically. “Goodness only kno…”
“Oh no!” I gasped and stopped ironing my t-shirt. I nearly dropped the phone from between my shoulder and ear as well. “The drier ate a hole in my Tom and Jerry t-shirt!”
“Really? Oh no!” Lexie gasped fully sympathising. Not only was this a Tom and Jerry t-shirt which automatically made it awesome, we’d gone out one night after not seeing each other for weeks, I’d been wearing this t-shirt and she’d been wearing it too. We hadn’t even told each other we’d recently been out shopping.
“I’ll have to even yours up now.”
She snorted at me. “No way are you ruining my Tom and Jerry t-shirt… You do realise that you’re twenty five and I’m twenty four and we’re taking about cartoon t-shirts as if they’re the most important thing out there.”
“Well, they are!” I protested. “We’ve had these t-shirts for years!”
“Whatever, Zo. You are going to be at ours on time?”
“Yes,” I sighed. “I’m leaving in ten minutes.”
“Good. I’ll see you there.”
I quickly finished ironing the t-shirt and then threw it on over the white turtle neck I was wearing. I already had my small suitcase packed and I was ready to go so I left to impress Lexie with my being on time. I used to always be on time for everything, well nearly everything, but I’d since been to university and got a demanding job so I now tended to be about five minutes late when meeting up with friends and family. I always looked like I’d just left a meeting as well, but that was actually generally the case even though I didn’t have many meetings to get to.
“Kim, Lacy, come here!”
My two dogs ran up to me skidding on the hard wood floor and once they’d skidded to a stop they plonked their butts on the floor. Kim was a pure black Staffordshire Bullterrier and the softest, most soppy dog I knew. She lolled her tongue at me and waited for the command to get going already. She’d been watching me get ready all day. Lacy on the other hand was a somewhat aloof Komondor or ‘mop dog’. Her hair formed pale yellow dreads but were pure white just after a bath. Not that she ever stayed clean for long because no sooner did I get her out of the bath than she rubbed herself down on the grass. With people she knew she like spending time with you, but not lots. She was a watcher, Kim was a hugger.
Fortunately they were only medium energy dogs, otherwise I’d never have time for them and work even though they came in with me to the studio.
“Going to pick Lexie and Sergey up,” I said.
Kim went mad just because I’d spoken. She pranced around in a tight circle and jumped up and down a few times. I clicked my fingers and she went back to being calm and sitting. I put the ironing board away in the space between the fridge-freezer and the wall and then got their leads from the hook by the back door. Kim was always easy to put a lead on, but it always took me forever to find Lacy’s collar under all that hair. But once I had them on the leads it was a simple process of holding them both with one hand and pulling my suitcase in the other.
I’d been coming home late one night from the ballet I’d made the costumes for and these two had been huddled together in the bust stop shelter just a few yards down from my house. I’d dropped my things off and then come back out with a packet of ham to tempt them. Both skinny to the bone they’d greedily eaten the few slices I tossed to them and then happily followed me when I tempted them with more. The next day it had been a trip to the vets and I’d kept them otherwise they’d go to a shelter. I had no doubt that Lacy would have easily found a home, but Kim wouldn’t have just because of her breed.
It hadn’t all been plain sailing though. After a few weeks, they’d both become very protective of me and became aggressive. I’d done a search on the internet and sent them both to live with a lady who lived near Bradgate Park in Leicestershire who was an expert dog rehabilitator. They’d come back so much more balanced than when they left. I hadn’t had a problem with them since.
I drove over to the posher side of St. Albans where Lexie lived with Sergey. It was so posh there was a small Waitrose there. They lived in sight of the cathedral and on a small crescent where there were only a few houses. I pipped the horn and they hurried out with a suitcase in tow.
Lexie dived into the front passenger seat grinning like a mad woman. She also tried to hit me with her left hand.
“Whoa!” I yelped and backed away as much as I could in the car. “I didn’t do anything!”
“No look!” she grinned.
I pushed her hand away from me a little so that I could uncross my eyes. There, on her hand was an engagement ring.
“Agh!” I squealed. “Lexie! Oh my god!” I leaned over and pulled her into a hug and so very nearly began to cry. “Congratulations!”
Lexie pulled away laughing. “It very nearly didn’t happen.”
“What?” I asked. “What do you mean?”
“Oh relax,” she waved off. “I just kept on interrupting him and he got annoyed and in the end just said ‘fine then, I won’t ask you to marry me today’.”
“Oh, wow, Lex. Real smooth,” I said dryly.
“Am I really relegated to the back?” Sergey asked even as he got into the seat behind me after putting his case in on the other side. The dogs were in the boot probably sleeping.
“I don’t know if I can put up with that, Lex. I might have to call your wedding it off,” I tisked.
“You’re not the woman I’m marrying,” he said.
“You marry her, you might as well be marrying me,” I said. “Since we apparently bicker like an old married couple.”
“Oh, really?” he asked with a smile. “Who said that?”
I backed out of the drive. “This Russian bloke called Sergey Ivanov.”
“Sounds like an idiot to me.”
“Sure does,” I grinned at him through the rear view mirror.
He realised what he’d said just then and his face fell. Lexie and I both laughed at him.
“So is this why you two demanded everyone to be home this week?” I asked.
“No,” Lexie shrugged.
“We haven’t all been together since last Christmas,” Sergey said. “I only proposed half an hour ago.”
“Uh… Shouldn’t you two be, like, having sex or something?” I asked. “Don’t even dare suggest doing it in the car,” I said to Lexie.
“Oh we already did,” Lexie said with a flap of her hand.
“Ouch,” I said once again looking at Sergey through the mirror. “Post engagement sex blown off like that. Embarrassing.”
“Do you want the details?” Lexie asked and quirked an eyebrow telling me that there was a lot to share.
“Some good might come out of this,” Sergey said.
“Oh really?” Lexie interrupted. “Some good other than us being married?”
“Errr… you know what I meant,” Sergey said not even bothering to try and dig himself out of that one. Just as well. “Grigory might get his act together.”
I nearly stalled the car.
Sergey’s cousin Grigory was my next door neighbour, well, my parents next door neighbour but mine too when I used to live there. He’d also been the teacher of the Russian class I’d attended before moving away to London to attend the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA for short). I’d fallen in love with him in just three weeks and he fell for me too at some point and without even realising it until he kissed me on the first of November at Sergey’s Halloween party. Not only had Grigory being my teacher been an obstacle, he’d been in a relationship with another woman who, only a few days later, moved over to England to live with him.
They became engaged the next day and I found out through Lexie. A few months later Grigory and I resumed a rocky friendship which quickly solidified and she’d known without either us of saying anything or acting like anything other than friends that there was more to it. She’d moved back to Russia.
Grigory hadn’t been ready for a relationship after she left, I hadn’t even entertained the notion of getting either of us into a rebound. Katya had been his childhood sweetheart and for months he hadn’t even been able to look at me without crying. I’d gone off to university and that was the end of that. Now, a couple of years after my degree, I was going to be staying at my parents’ house for a week. It was going to be the longest stay since finishing university and whilst I was excited I was now a little apprehensive.
I had no idea what Grigory’s feelings for me were now, but I’d never really got over him. I’d been on dates, had a few short relationships, lost my virginity, been used by a guy, but nothing had compared to even that one kiss on the night after Halloween.
“Someone never got over him,” Sergey said.
I swallowed a lump in my throat.
“You don’t just get over love like that, Sereoshya,” Lexie murmured. I realised she was speaking in Russian. “I mean –”
“Lex,” I said a little thickly. “I’m fluent remember. Go for German or something. Damn, it, Sergey! I was fine until you said that.”
“Sorry,” he said and squeezed my shoulder. “I didn’t –”
“Neither did I,” I said shortly.
Never had just the mention of Grigory got me into a state like this. I wanted to break down and cry and not move for a month. It made no sense whatsoever so I did my best to ignore it as my friends prattled away in happy German tones. I let them talk for as long as they wanted and only interrupted when I got to the street where Lexie’s parents and some of her younger brothers still lived.
Both of these openings open the story up to more mature themes such as physical relationships, married life and just generally being an adult, the main difference in them being the obvious strength of Zoey’s feelings for Grigory. SS1 could be seen as Zoey still loves him, but doesn’t know if a relationship would work between them and wouldn’t be completely devastated if one wasn’t possible. SS2 shows that she never got over him in the slightest and would be clearly devastated if Grigory said no. What both conclusively show is that whatever her feelings toward him are and whatever the end result of rekindling their romance, she would be able to build a life without him. She already has a life of her own, one where she is successful and confident. I felt that this was also important to show as she was never incapable of living without him. Once she found out about Katya, she took a day off school and then pulled herself back together.
From both of these starts, I found it easy to get the story going somewhere and they ended up going in different direction – Zoey leaving the showbiz costume wold behind in SS2, but simply taking a break from it in SS1, but I found that with so much time passing, Zoey in Grigory got together all too easily and quickly. There were arguments in both versions, but ones that were easily resolved. It was too simple and convenient.
In the end after a couple more rocky starts what were abandoned, one of which involved a serial killer in a clown mask (because I was that stuck for ideas, and clowns freak me the hell out so why not make one a killer?), I eventually settled on the final (draft) version, which I’ll call SS3:
I sighed as I looked at my calendar. There was a picture of a Lynx on the top and already there were a few dates circled in. Tuesday 13 – go back to school; Wednesday 14th – have sketch books finished and handed in; Friday 30th – have new design completed. I wasn’t looking at any of those dates though. I was looking at today. January 7th. January 7th marked Christmas Day in the Russian Orthodox Church. I wasn’t Russian so the date should have meant absolutely nothing to me apart from the pain of Papa Nikolai’s ice cream parlour being closed.
The date marked a few things – the day after my great-great-grandmother’s birthday, being a whole week into the new year, the first Wednesday of 2015. On a more important level it marked the fourteenth day I hadn’t seen Grigory – the longest amount of time that I hadn’t seen him since we met, but that was because he taught the Russian class I was in and we were on holiday still – and the day I invited Grigory over to have dinner with us.
I wasn’t sure he was going to come. It wasn’t that he was busy, it was because he’d just split up with his childhood sweetheart and the argument had been about me. Grigory and I hadn’t tried to fall in love, hell he’d tried his damnedest to not fall for me, but it had happened anyway. Katya had gone back to Russia on the twenty- first or -second of December and I’d been giving Grigory space to grieve the romance he’d lost and sort himself out. He’d asked me to stay away for a while.
Being the sentimental, festive loving sap I was I’d invited him over because no one should spend Christmas alone. I’d originally asked him to come on our Christmas because no one should be alone on that day either, but he’d gone to his aunt’s on the other side of town. He hadn’t celebrated New Year and that was a bigger deal for Russians than Christmas was (weird I know, but the celebration according to Lexie had been phenomenal, I’d bowed out of it so that Grigory could see his family without bumping into me even though I knew he hadn’t planned on going, but I thought that he might change his mind. Turns out it hadn’t). A week later he still hadn’t emerged from his house.
His family was worried about him, his cousin Sergey the most. Sergey had been visiting him every couple of days but he’d been in London overnight meeting some author he liked. He was on his way home now. He’d taken Lexie with him since she liked the author too and I think he would have liked to keep her to himself for a little longer, but his mother wanted him home for Christmas dinner at the very least. He’d text me earlier to ask if I’d seen Grigory.
That was what had me staring at the calendar.
“Zoey?” Dad asked from the open door.
I was lying on my bed and looked over to him. He was in a knitted jumper his witch of a mother had knitted for him. It had a snow flake on it. Even though it was a Christmas jumper made by a woman I couldn’t stand the sight of, I had to admit it was really nice. Dark blue and white. She’d made me a bright pink hat with light pink snowflakes on it. As usual with her presents I was going to give it to charity. Dad always got a little upset that I did that, but this time he’d suggested it. It was well made, but a monstrosity of colour I hated.
“You ok?” Dad asked.
I put the calendar down and carefully sat up. Dan and I shared a room and had bunk beds, being horrifically clumsy was all part of the joy and being me and twelve years after getting the bunk I still whacked my head on Dan’s bed. “Yeah,” I sighed.
Dad smiled a little and sat next to me. “You don’t have to worry about him. You shouldn’t.”
“Well I am,” I snapped.
He sucked in a breath not wanting to turn this into an argument. “After what he did to you –”
“We’ve been over this,” I said firmly. “Yes he should have told me about Katya, but I’ve forgiven him. You need to as well.”
He scoffed. “Not happening.”
I got up, decision about whether to go and see Grigory or not made. “You should take Mum’s advice and stay out of this.”
Dad stood up too. “You’re my –”
“Eighteen year old daughter who doesn’t want your overbearing protection right now,” I snapped and walked out of the room and hurried down the stairs before we really did have an argument. I may have punched Lexie’s ex-boyfriend and threatened him a few times before Christmas but I was not normally a confrontational person.
As soon as I was stood out in the snow and had the door closed behind me I felt calmer and regretted the argument already. I pushed the churning in my stomach aside and the freezing temperature registered and I very nearly swore. I was bare foot, stood in a pile of snow and ice and dressed in leggings I normally used as pyjamas and a t-shirt. I supposed I could have gone back inside and dressed, but that would feel less than cool.
I hopped over the wall which ran between mine and Grigory’s front doors and knocked on his a few times. I hopped from foot to foot until the door opened. Grigory was in dark jeans and a green jumper, feet encased safely in what looked like really warm slippers. That was where the normalcy of his look ended. Normally his dark hair was neatly styled with a little gel and his facial hair cut short. I supposed I could let the lack of gel go since he wasn’t going anywhere today and probably didn’t expect visitors, but his beard was growing out and wasn’t him at all.
“You’re not dressed,” he was quick to point out and pulled me inside. “Not for this weather anyway.” He closed the door.
“Thanks. I can hardly feel my feet,” I said through chattering teeth and rubbed my arms.
“Sit down, Zoey,” he said and gently pushed me into the lounge and over to the sofa.
I sat gratefully. He took his jumper off and put it over my head leaving me to sort my arms out while he took his slippers off leaving them by my feet. Already soaking up the warmth of his jumper I slipped my feet into the slippers and sighed. It was going to take a lot more than warm slippers to return feeling to my toes, but I wasn’t going to complain. It was nice.
Now that he knew I wasn’t going to get frostbite, Grigory sat down and lost the spark in his eyes. Sadness overtook them and seeped through the room. “Why are you here, Zoey?”
He didn’t ask it unkindly, he sounded weary more than anything, but I still hated the question. Once I’d been allowed to visit whenever I wanted no questions asked. I hadn’t come over a lot even though I’d been falling for him, the intensity of my emotions scaring me a little. It only took three weeks for me to fall completely head over heels, but I hardly knew the guy, I still hardly knew the guy. But I felt like I’d known him forever. I also had my own life to lead, I’d been busy and I bluntly refused to let a man dictate everything I did just by existing. I could have so easily fallen into that trap had he been single and reciprocated my feelings. I knew now that both of those things were true, but neither of us were dumb enough to get into a re-bound relationship.
“I just wanted to see how you are,” I said.
“I’m fine,” he said blandly.
“No you’re not,” I whispered.
“No,” he said harshly. “I’m not fine at all, but there’s nothing you or anyone else can do about it.”
I looked down at my lap so that he didn’t see the tears that threatened to spill over. “I should go.”
“No. Please,” he said and stood up. “I’ll make you some tea.”
I listened to him rattle around in the kitchen for a few minutes. I sat still on the sofa and sucked up the tears that threatened my dignity. Of course he was more likely to snap right now. For all I knew that was the first time he’d got angry since he and Katya broke up. It was bound to happen. He didn’t mean anything by it, I knew that. But knowing that it was my fault he felt like this, even though I hadn’t done anything wrong, hurt.
“Here you go,” Grigory said and held a mug out to me.
I smiled and took it from him. “Thanks.”
He sat back down in his chair and paused the TV. I hadn’t even realised it was on. He was watching Frozen Planet.
“He’s good isn’t he?” I asked.
“The world will have lost a gem when he dies,” Grigory said softly. “You like Attenburgh?”
“He’s only my favourite TV presenter,” I said with a smile. Easy conversation, this I could do. “He’s so freaking old, but he’s so… childishly enthusiastic about what he does even after, like, sixty years doing wildlife documentaries. What I’d give to meet him.”
The corners of Grigory’s mouth twitched into a momentary smile, a true smile of amusement. “I could hardly agree more. It’s sad about his brother.”
I nodded and blew on my tea. “Yeah, he was in some great films, but I would have rather seen David a lord if I’m being brutally honest.”
“Why are you here?” he asked softly.
“I just wanted to see how you are,” I said.
“You don’t have to worry about me.”
“Classes start again on Wednesday,” he said. “Have you enrolled?”
I nodded and sipped my tea wondering how to phrase my next question. “I can ask for a different teacher if you’d prefer.” It would be a lot more simple in the long run if I did, but right now I was thinking about the immediate future. I wanted Grigory in the least amount of pain the current situation would allow, and if that meant sacrificing being taught Russian by the man I considered the best teacher in the world, I’d do it.
“No,” he said with a small shake of his head. He sipped his tea too. “I want you in my class.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Oh really? And why might that be?” I asked teasingly, keeping it light. I hoped it was obvious that I was asking as a friend, not the girl he had feelings for but was being held at arms length for now.
Sagely, but not actually being serious, he replied, “Someone has to keep an eye on you and Harriet.”
I laughed. “The last time we were in class together I nearly punched her.”
“Exactly. And if you do punch her before anyone can intervene, I’d like to be there to see it.”
“Now Mr. Ivanov, that is not the spirit of a teacher,” I said and wagged my finger at him.
He nearly smiled again and went to ask me something, but the text tone on my phone scared the crap out of me.
This opening scene takes place a few weeks after the end of Falling Fast, so I did not feel the need to open with a conversation between Lexie and Zoey. Their lives haven’t drastically moved on since the last book, only they now have a few more possessions since Christmas has just passed. Starting close to where FF ended with a similar theme and having an emotional link allowed a smooth transition from one book to the next. It allowed me to immediately introduce the Zoey/Grigory conflict and give context to the season, give the exact date and establish a time line from one book to the next, and the reader gets questions answered about how Zoey feels about Grigory deceiving her about his availability “Yes he should have told me about Katya, but I’ve forgiven him. You need to as well”.
The scene with Grigory shows that the rawest emotions of him breaking up with Katya are gone, he’s sad and a little lost, not ready to move on from her, but able to see Zoey now and have a conversation with her. The scene starts in a friendly way that isn’t particularly awkward, but Grigory soon turns harsh for a moment which means the repair of their friendship and then romantic relationship cannot be seamless and will take a while. Whilst the moment immediately peters out, there is a pause in conversation while Grigory makes tea. This can be interpreted as whilst he wants her to stay, he needs a moment to get control of his emotions back and needs to be away from her to do it.
Drinking tea was a regular occurrence in Falling Fast and was something they did as friends when they didn’t know each other so well. Grigory making it in this scene, is his way of extending an olive branch to smooth things over and to start a dialogue of friendship with her. This is then continued with the banter of Grigory wanting to be there if Zoey punches Harriet and Zoey’s reply about the spirit of a teacher.
Zoey considering asking for a different teacher shows her consideration towards Grigory’s feelings and a level of maturity that could be considered above that of a normal seventeen year old.
This beginning also slowed down the resumption or restart of their relationship, allowing for plot development in other areas allowing me to further explore other themes such as friendship, loyalty and bullying. The story would also be in a setting familiar to the readers and keep the characters at the same age, thus more relatable to the teenage audience. SS1 and SS2 would have been more appropriate for a new adult audience, an audience who hadn’t read the firsts book and the readers of the first book may have been put off by the drastic change in setting and place in the characters’ lives. It makes the story more accessible to the original audience and allows them to finish reading the entire story.
Formulating the correct opening for Settling Slowly was vital, because the end product was a story that took the characters to a new place in their lives, by the end of the book. The young adult characters are all beginning a new chapter in their lives – preparing to go to university. This would not have been the case in SS1 and SS2 as Zoey and her friends had already been through higher education. Keeping them all in school allowed for an exploration of their sexuality and sexual/emotional maturity and made the newer friendships (those between Zoey and Dan’s groups for friends) more concrete. The SS1 and SS2 openings, as well as rushing the repair of Zoey and Grigory’s relationship, did not allow for such extensive exploration of the main themes which are the same through all the versions of Settling Slowly and Falling Fast. The characters’ surety of themselves is already solid and was what ultimately made me abandon those early drafts of the story.