Updated 9th October 2004
In Harstairs House, Susannah is expecting Oliver to return from Franc. A corrupt member of the militia, Captain Johnson, arrives at the house and sits in the room containing the secret passage Oliver will use to enter the house. Susannah has to warn Oliver not to use the passage, and she takes another passage, one she has only just discovered, down to a cave on the sea shore. She leads him back through this other passage, creating an exciting part of the story.
But when I'd finished the book and read it through, somehow it seemed to be over too quickly. So I added another complication. When Susannah and Oliver were about to emerge from the passage, I decided to make it so that the sun dial which disguised the opening of the passage had been put back in place, trapping them in the passage.
Then I wound the tension up another notch by making the tide come in.
In this way, I created a new scene where Susannah and Oliver were trapped in the passage with the water rising all around them, and that's how I ended the chapter.
She lit the candle at the fire and closed the glass sides of the lantern, then she went into the courtyard. She put the lantern down beside the sun dial, then pushed the centre of the o and the dial swung aside. She felt a surge of fear as she looked down into the black hole, but reminding herself that she was Oliver's only hope she steeled her nerve and set her foot on the first step. It was slimy, and her foot almost slipped away from under her. It would be easier in bare feet. Sitting down on the rim of the hole, she removed her boots and stockings, then placing them carefully on the top step she tried again. The step was cold and wet, but her grip was much more secure. Picking up the lantern, she moved down to the next step, balancing herself with one hand against the wall.
It's like being a child again, she thought, as she descended carefully. She remembered all the times she had clambered over wet rocks as a little girl, leaving her shoes and stockings on the beach. If she had had a nursemaid she would not have been allowed to do such a thing, but her father had seen nothing wrong with it and she had enjoyed many hours of such freedom. It was standing her in good stead now.
There was no light but candle light to guide her. The fading daylight from the hole above her had completely disappeared. She had the stone wall on her right side, a steep drop to her left, and the steps at her feet. She fixed her eyes firmly on the next step, going down slowly and cautiously and making sure she had a firm footing before she trusted her weight to the next step. It was cold underfoot. The sound of the sea grew louder, and her heart began to beat more quickly. She knew nothing about the passage, or where it came out. But it could not be helped. She had to warn Oliver, and this was the only way. She must just move as quickly as possible, and hope for the best.
She descended more rapidly now. She had grown accustomed to the feel of the weed beneath her feet, and she moved with a sure footing. Every now and then she stepped on a sharp piece of rock and winced, but she still kept going down. Here and there she came across a landing where she could stop and catch her breath, but she did not want to. She was all too aware of the sound of the sea, which was coming nearer and nearer.
At last she reached the bottom of the steps and found herself in a cave. It was much smaller than the cave she had entered from the passage in the library. It had no sandy bottom, but instead it was lined with boulders, between which the sea was churning. The water looked cold, and she shivered. If she fell in . . . the pools seemed bottomless, and they had such steep sides she doubted if she would ever be able to climb out.
Keeping to the edge of the cave, she made her way to the light that filtered in dimly from somewhere ahead of her. The noise of the surf became louder, until at last she found herself on the coast. The cave was fronted by rocks, but the sea had not yet reached its mouth, and she realized that the water in the cave pools must remain there constantly, instead of filling and emptying with the tide. She looked to left and right, trying to get her bearings, and was relieved to recognize a rock not far to her right. She had seen it when she and Oliver had gone out in the boat. It was about the height of a man, with a bulbous bottom and a sharp, pointed spike on top. If she walked round it she would find herself in the cove with the jetty. Moving cautiously, aware of the fact that she could run into soldiers at any minute, she rounded the rock. There ahead of her was the sandy cove, and nearing it was a longboat. Two men were pulling on the oars - Edward and Oliver! There were a number of other people in the boat with them. She recognized James and Kelsey, and saw that there were about twenty people besides. Some were men but most were women, and there appeared to be a few children amongst them.
The boat pulled into the jetty and Oliver leapt out.
'What are you doing here?' he demanded. 'Don't you know the danger you're in? You -'
'There are soldiers here,' she interrupted him. 'They're at the house, sitting and waiting for you in the library.'
He cursed. 'Then we must hide in the cave.'
'No. There are soldiers on the shore as well.'
'Whereabouts?' he asked, looking round.
'I don't know. I haven't seen them. They might not have arrived yet. They were coming from the house. But they're on their way, if they're not here already, and they are likely to search the caves.'
Oliver's voice was grim. 'Then they've cut us off. Unless . . . if they've not yet reached the top of the cliff path, perhaps we can reach it before them. If so, we might be able to slip past them and escape into the countryside,' he said, scanning the cliffs.
'There's another way, another passage,' she said. 'It goes up to the courtyard garden that leads off from the sitting-room. Quickly. Follow me.'
Without wasting time asking questions he nodded curtly, and as the tired men, women and children climbed wearily out of the longboat, he directed them to follow Susannah.
She retraced her steps back along the shore towards the rock. As she rounded it she looked back to see Oliver helping the last few people out of the boat, and then heard him softly wish the men who remained in the longboat God speed. She saw them begin to row out again and glanced out to sea, noticing the dim outline of a ship anchored some way out. Then she turned her attention back to the rocks.
The tide was now nearer the cave mouth than it had been. It was creeping closer, and she was worried they would not all reach the cave in time. Some of the people were injured. They were all very tired. She led the way, holding the storm lantern aloft, and doing what she could to encourage everyone following her to make haste. Once at the cave mouth she stopped to make sure the others were behind her. They were. She was just about to turn and go in when she heard a loud crack! tear into the night. It was the sound of a musket being fired.
Oliver! she thought.
'Go on!' came Edward's voice from somewhere behind her.
Knowing she must not dally, she said, 'Be careful. Keep close to the wall. The rocks are slippery and there are deep pools to your right.'
Having warned them, she went into the cave. As quickly as she could, she crossed the rocks, using one hand to steady herself against the wall to her left, whilst holding the lantern aloft with her right. She had gone about half way when she felt something cold wash over her feet. It was the sea.
Spurred on by the rising tide, she quickened her pace as she headed towards the steps at the back of the cave, then breathed a sigh of relief as she reached them and started to ascend. She came to the first landing and was about to turn and go up again when she heard a cry and a splash. There was the sound of child's whimpering, and James's voice saying, 'Damn!' from the darkness. Then Oliver's voice called, 'Carry on!'
There was nothing she could do to help. She turned and went upwards. Up, up, she went, as the sound of the rushing tide grew louder in her ears. It was pouring into the cave. She reached the last few steps . . . and almost hit her head on solid stone. The sun dial had swung shut. She felt her heart begin to pound. They were trapped!
In this way, I created a lot more excitement. Instead of reaching the end of the passage and returning to the house, as happened in my original draft, Susanna and Oliver find themselves trapped in a cave with water rising all around them.
If your book seems flat, then look at any action sequences - even a simple action sequence such as the heroine's horse bolting - and see if you can make it more dangerous and more exciting. Add some more problems and more complications to make it really gripping.
Back to Writing Tips