The transmogrification of chapter 13

The definition of “transmogrify” is “to change or be changed completely”. This is certainly what has happened with chapter 13 of the book I am writing and I thought I would share how it has been changed through the three incarnations.

I am writing a novel whose working title is I Castrati. It tells of two seven year old boys, who are bought from their families by Count De Lorenzo, castrated and sent to a conservatoire to be taught to sing. The story is told from the point of view of Philippe, the count’s secretary, who is tasked with accompanying the boys to Florence and remains their friend and mentor as they succeed/fail as castrati.

At the start, Philippe is the lover of the counts’s wife, Eleanora but I want a sub-plot of the book to be the love story of Philippe and a woman, Sofia, who is referred to as a witch, but is actually just a woman who lives alone in the woods and makes healing potions form herbs and roots.

Chapter 13 tells of the first meeting between Philippe and Sofia and I am currently writing its 3rd incarnation. The reasons for the radical changes are:

  • as a result of my sister saying Incarnation 1 was predictable and Sofia was stereotypical. I wrote a blog about how this cut me to the quick – but she was right.
  • as a result of Ann Evans, the writing group leader, providing feedback on Incarnation 2 and advising that I need to put more obstacles in the way of this romance and that Philippe had got over his love for Eleanora far too quickly.

There are three main areas that have changed dramatically:

  1. The description of Sofia
  2. Philippe’s reaction to Sofia telling him that Eleanora is pregnant
  3. Philippe’s reaction to Sofia herself

1. The description of Sofia


In this incarnation I described Sofia as being fey and a bit ethereal – not realistic enough.

She was my height and I looked into eyes that were as blue as a summer sky, fringed by long black lashes and laughter lines that spread out like the rays of the sun. Her pink lips were curved into a teasing smile.


Her smile turned into a laugh and she threw back her head, her long, copper tresses shimmering in the light of the candles that were placed all around the room. I noticed that small flowers were entwined into the locks, those of the meadow and mountain slopes.


“You’re la Strega!” (note – this is Italian for the witch)

“No, my name, as I have just said, is Sofia. I am no more a witch than you are. I live off the land and use God’s gifts to make potions that ease pain and cure simple ailments.”


In this incarnation Sofia is far more realistic and down to earth.

She was the same height as me, tall for a woman, and her eyes glared directly into mine. Her expression was one of disdain with no glimmer of warmth and I felt awkward and unwelcome.


She wore a plain green dress that didn’t quite reach the floor and had seen better days; the hem was frayed and the skirt was threadbare in places. Her copper-coloured hair was left loose and hung in unkempt waves almost down to her waist. She handed me the mug and bread and I noticed her hands were rough and ingrained with dirt.


“The boys told me about you, you’re La Strega!”

She looked at me, her black eyes full of anger and she almost spat her words at me.   “No! My name, as I have just said, is Sofia. The ignorant fear what they do not understand and resort to mockery and abuse. I live alone, as my mother did, and her mother before her, and I make use of God’s gifts to heal. I do not read the stars; I do not speak in a secret language; I do not get rid of evil spirits by sorcery; I do not make magic potions that will make someone fall in love, grow a beard or drop down dead. Those who take the time to know me realise that I am merely a simple woman who can help ease the pains caused by hard work, poor diet and, of course, child-bearing.”


Pretty much the same as Incarnation 2.

2. Philippe’s reaction to Sofia telling him that Eleanora is pregnant


In this incarnation Philippe accepts the end of their relationship far too easily.

I must have seemed so stupid to Sofia for I still did not understand. “Il conte said she was a bit under the weather, but why isn’t she seeing a proper doctor?”

“She doesn’t need a ‘proper’ doctor, she is not ill, signore, she is merely expecting another child. And no, before you ask it is not yours, she is certain of that. Shut your mouth, signore, you look like the village idiota.”

It was so much to take in. I knew that Eleanora had been still sleeping with her husband and I had had no illusions that our relationship was anything more than just sexual, but I had hoped that it would continue for a bit longer. I would miss our secret meetings and romps in the most unlikely places.


In this incarnation I wanted Philippe to be far more upset that Eleanora was pregnant.

My heart beat fast. Was the child mine? If so, I could legitimately take Eleanora away and we could bring him up together. I laughed out loud until I saw the expression on Sofia’s face.

“It is not yours. It was conceived in June when you were away.”

My heart pounded even faster. “Did he force himself on her? If he did, I’ll kill him!”

“No, signore. Eleanora is no longer the child who thought she loved you. She is a grown woman with responsibilities and is content with her place in society. She has grown to love her husband, she just did not know how to tell you. It was she who suggested to her husband that you accompanied the boys to Florence and stayed there awhile. She thought it would make her breaking from you the easier.”

I was overcome with rage and I leapt up and pulled Sofia to her feet and, God forgive me, shook her with all my strength.


I haven’t written it yet, but I am going to change it so that the baby could be Philippe’s – so his relationship with Eleanor will continue for much longer and will become more fraught over the following months.

3. Philippe’s reaction to Sofia herself. 


In this incarnation Philippe had feelings for Sofia far too quickly.

I didn’t know who she was, I had no idea why she was living in the middle of a wood, I didn’t understand how she knew my name or how she had obviously been expecting me, but I felt as if my being here was the most natural thing in the world and that this was where I was meant to be.

The last thing I definitely remembered was Sofia leading me to the curtained corner. After that it was as if I was recalling a dream or a distant memory: I heard echoes of laughter and sighs; I saw flashes of pink, copper and sparkling blue; I smelt earth and fresh grass.


In this incarnation, I still wanted there to be a doubt about whether Philippe & Sofia had made love.

I was lost in my feelings that fluctuated from grief at the loss of my dreams to hatred of Eleanora and her duplicity. I stared into the flames and saw her lying naked upon her bed, the satin sheets rumpled after vigorous love-making. I saw her at the dinner table, her head thrown back in laughter, revealing her slender neck and the swell of her bosom. I groaned as I imagined her sitting astride me, her hair hanging down like a copper curtain. I felt her fingers pulling at my britches, then putting me inside her and her naked breasts swaying as she rode me as if I were an untamed colt. I heard her shout out words of desire and lust, words I had never heard her say before, not even at her most ardent. I smelled her fragrance of fresh earth and leaves.


I haven’t written it yet but as Philippe will still be in love with Eleanora at the end of the chapter I will leave his and Sofia’s love-making to much later in the book. I am thinking that maybe Philippe is so upset one night he goes to Sofia’s and ends up raping her.



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