Season 1, Episode 3: First Pinch Point
Sue: Hello and welcome to another episode of the Mommy’s Pen Podcast. I’m Sue Campbell, a writer and children’s book author, and I’m here with my 11-year-old daughter, Nora, who is a history buff and an artist. You wanna say “hello” Nora?
Nora: Um, hi?
Sue: So today we wanna talk about a book that we have both read called, “The Blackthorn Key,” it — and it’s the first book in a series by Kevin Sands. And I have to say, even though it’s not the type of book I would normally read, it was absolutely fantastic. It’s an action story and it’s set in the Restoration Period, in England. And if you don’t know anything about the Restoration Period, you are in luck, because Nora is here to explain it to you.
Nora: Well, Charles I, kind of started it, because he thought he was in charge of everything, which he was, except he wanted everyone to acknowledge he in charge of everything. Also, he thought he was so great he didn’t have to listen to anyone else. So he got his head chopped off in the English Civil War.
Nora: So, Oliver Cromwell, during the Commonwealth, or the ‘Boring Ages,’ I like to call it, was like not exactly King for a wh- for about eight years, no, nine years, until his death in 1658. And then his son … took his place as like “not King,” and um, was defeated by Charles I son, Charles II. And um, Charles II was a kind of great king, but also a kind of ridiculous king, until his death.
Sue: So Nora, in the Restoration, the term “Restoration” refers to basically restoring the crown, um, to England, because the Puritans, led by Oliver Cromwell-
Sue: (laughs) … were not of the royal lineage … what do you wanna tell us about the Puritans?
Nora: Well they were totally boring and you weren’t allowed t- to drink wine unless you were like, really important. I think um, also, there was no theater and it was terrible. And also, you could get arrested for wearing make up.
Sue: Why could you get arrested for wearing make up?
Nora: ‘Cuz it’s sinful.
Sue: Okay. So it was all about sin and proper behavior.
Nora: In other words, it was totally boring.
Sue: (laughs) So if you had lived in the 1600s, would you have been a Puritan or a Royalist?
Nora: I would’ve been a Royalist because they’re more interesting. Not that I think they’re right, they’re just better.
Sue: (laughs) Better, in what way?
Nora: They’re much more fun and much more interesting. I think dad would’ve been a Puritan though.
Sue: So “The Blackthorn Key” takes place during the reign of Charles II.
Sue: And uh, can you give us a li- s- uh, description of “The Blackthorn Key” an- and what the basic premise is?
Nora: Well, there’s this boy called Christopher, he’s the main character, and he has kind of terrible judgment. Would you agree with that?
Sue: Ye- yes and no. He’s very smart but he does make some poor decisions.
Nora: (laughs) Some.
Nora: And there’s a murderous plot, and he and his friend Tom, um, what should I say that won’t spoil it?
Sue: And he and his friend Tom have to figure out who the murderers are, basically.
Sue: And st- and find a way to stop them.
Nora: Because something terrible happens, which I’m not gonna say right now.
Sue: And one of the things I loved about the story was they use, um, the fact that Christopher is an apprentice, uh, to an apothecary, as a sort of backdrop. And that line of work is actually really instrumental to the plot. So you get to learn a lot of um, fascinating history about um, being an apothecary. And how apprenticeships worked, as well.
Sue: Nora, will you read us a little excerpt from the very beginning of the book?
Nora: The Stupidest Idea in the Universe, by Christopher Rowe, apprentice to Master Benedict Blackthorn, Apothecary. Method and manufacture, snoop through your master’s private notes, find a recipe. It’s where it’s locked behind a secret code, and decipher it. Next, steal all the needed ingredients from your master’s stores. Finally, and this is the most important step, go to your best friend, a boy of stout character and poor judgment, equal to your own, and speak these words, “Let’s build a cannon.”
Sue: So there were so many good characters in this book, that I think one of my favorites was Lord Ashcombe. Do you wanna tell people about the Lord Ashcombe character?
Nora: Lord Ashcombe is my favorite character and I think he may have actually been a real person.
Sue: We should probably check on that.
Nora: Yeah. Um, but he was the King’s Warden and he was like, really important and paranoid and you can explain more.
Sue: Well, paranoid for a good reason, right? ‘Cuz he’d been through …
Sue: … quite a lot. And it- basically all physical descriptions of Lord Ashcombe in the book involve describing his numerous scars.
Sue: So every episode we discuss, um, a little piece of story structure, and describe some essential component of storytelling. So in our first episode we talked about inciting incident, which is really a story event that kind of kicks off all the fun and really hooks the reader’s attention and gets them engaged in the book.
Sue: Um, in our last episode, we talked about the first plot point, um, which is something that happens that really sets the hero of the story, on the path, and gives the reader an idea of what kind of adventure they’re going on.
Sue: Um, today we’re gonna talk about the concept of a pinch point. Um, pinch points are actually optional in story structure, but they’re really, really common. Um, and when you’re dealing with an action story like “The Blackthorn Key,” pinch points often are there to remind the reader to really ‘pinch’ the characters in a way that reminds the reader of the stakes, um, what’s at stake in this story. And in an action story, what’s at stake is, uh, somebody’s life.
Sue: So, when we’re talking about a pinch point for “The Blackthorn Key,” Nora, what do you think the first pinch point is?
Nora: Well, it, um, it could be where that thing we discussed earlier but I can’t say on the podcast ‘cuz it would ruin it, or it could be where he’s almost caught by Stub.
Sue: Okay. So I think that it is almost caught- he’s almost caught by Stub. So in the story there is um, a cult, and the cult seems to be responsible for a series of murders and some of the people who have been murdered are apothecaries. Um-
Nora: Most of them are.
Sue: Most of them are. And what happens in the book is that Christopher is placed in a situation um, where he’s on his own to figure out who the killer is, or who the killers are, um, by someone leaving him a series of clues. And shortly after the first plot point of this book, which would be a spoiler if we told you, um, there’s a pinch point where he is going back into his apothecary shop and digging around for what’s going on and is almost discovered, um, by some people who he ends up finding out are a part of the cult. And, who are probably responsible for at least one murder.
Sue: So the pinch point is, if he gets caught, these are known killers and he’s probably going to be killed, if he gets caught. So it’s a classic pinch point in an action story where it’s a life or death stakes, um, to remind the reader of how serious the journey is that this character is undertaking. And in particular, this character is only 14-years-old.
Sue: The other thing to know about pinch points is that there’s often two of them in a story. So you’re first pinch point would come after your first plot point, but before the midpoint of the story. And your second pinch point would come after the midpoint of the story, um, but before your second plot point, in the story. Which we’ll be covering in a future episode.
Sue: And I just wanna give a little plug to the audio book version of “The Blackthorn Key.” Nora read the print version, um, and loved it so much that she asked for the audio book version. Um, and that’s how I listened to it. It’s fantastic. It’s narrated by um, a voice actor named Ray Panthanki, and we highly, highly recommend it. We’re pretty much huge audio book fans.
Sue: Right? What do you like about audio books?
Nora: I like that I don’t have to read them, and that I can paint and eat and uh, well, um, I’m listening to a book that I’d normally have to read. Also I can read The New Yorker, while I’m listening to an audio book. And so I’m like reading both at the same time.
Sue: So, as we mentioned, “The Blackthorn Key” is the first book in a three book series. Nora, can you tell us what the next two books are and your thoughts on them?
Nora: Well, the next book, after this one, is Mark of the Plague, and it’s good, but if you don’t like hearing about thousands of people dying of the Plague, don’t read it. And the next one after that is, The Assassin’s Curse, which is about another murderous plot, but I haven’t finished it yet.
Sue: But um, you were telling me that you thought the second book was even better than the first one.
Nora: It is.
Sue: That’s fantastic. And the third one so far? How’s that?
Nora: That’s even better than the second one.
Sue: So that’s it for this episode of Mommy’s Pen. Be sure to check out “The Blackthorn Key,” by Kevin Sands. Um, and be sure to check out our website, mommyspen.com, where you can read show notes and even a transcript for this episode. Also, be sure to sign up for our mailing list, so you don’t miss any great subscriber-only benefits. Nora is nodding vigorously at that idea.
Nora: I’m not nodding vigorously, I’m just nodding insanely.
Sue: (laughs) Thanks again for listening and we’ll see you next time.