Endings are vital… satisfactory endings are compulsory but beginnings have to leap off the page and grab your reader. The words have to mesmerise them and pull them in under your spell.
My favourite book:
“The truth is, if old Major Dover hadn’t dropped dead at Taunton races Jim would never have come to Thursgood’s at all.”
The book I’m reading at the moment:
“I came into aviation the hard way.”
A favourite book by a favourite author:
“The day they drowned Dendale I were seven years old.”
My favourite children’s book:
“The Old Sea-dog at the Admiral Benbow, Squire Trelawney, Dr Livesey, and the rest of the gentlemen having asked me to write down the whole particulars about Treasure island from the beginning to the end, keeping nothing back but the bearings of the island, and that only because there is treasure still not lifted, I take my pen in the year of grace 17_ and go back to the time when my father kept the Admiral Benbow inn and the brown old seaman with the sabre cut first took up his lodgings under our roof.”
John le Carré, Neville Shute, Reginald Hill, Robert Louis Stevenson
There must be a difference between being an established author with a following who will read the latest book and may be willing to give a dull beginning a bit of a chance, to being a complete new comer to the world of books who has to do everything possible to lasso the reader.
John le Carré wrote “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” my all time favourite book and it was published in 1974, his seventh novel since 1961 so I guess he already had quite a following and his hero George Smiley had already featured in his other novels. Five years later it was made into an acclaimed TV series.
I am reading Neville Shute at the moment. “Round the Bend” was published over sixty years ago in 1951 and he was already a well established author.
Reginald Hill wrote many books under a variety of names; “On Beulah Heights” is one of my favourite of his Pascoe and Dalziel novels and no doubt many people did as I did when it was first published, dash straight to the bookshop to get a copy!
Robert Louis Stevenson’s children’s story of “Treasure island” was his first major success as a writer; it is now a classic.
As a newly published author with none of the support or resources or promotion from a publishing house, an editor or an agent, I really do try to make my first lines count. I write and rewrite the opening paragraphs and even when I think I’m finished I still worry about those valuable few sentences. In FARHOLM, the story first began with Deke on the ferry looking across to the island and trying not to be sick. However, I wanted to draw my readers in and hint at something which would be a major part of the plot so this is what the beginning is now
FARHOLM: “She was beneath the water looking up and there was someone between her and the sun, holding her down, holding her down.”
I am editing my next novel now, THE STALKING OF ROSA CZEKOV
ROSA: The first person to arrive at the cemetery stepped cautiously through the gates just after five in the morning.
Here are the unedited beginnings of my other novels (a sneak preview just for you!!)
THE DOUBLE ACT: She gazed unbelieving at the naked man lying on her kitchen floor.
NIGHT VISION: When something terrible has happened, childhood seems safe, and to reclaim a happy childhood it sometimes seems a good idea to do childish things, innocent childish things… So Beulah climbed a tree.
LOVING JUDAH: They sat at the kitchen table, the flame from the candle flickering slightly in the draught; it was a round, fat creamy coloured candle set in a saucer between them.
FLIPSIDE: I woke and he was sitting upright in bed and I could see in the light from the street lamp that his eyes were wide open and that his face was shiny with sweat; he was terrified
I am currently working on two unfinished novels… so their beginnings are almost as I first wrote them and no doubt will be dramatically changed! (dramatically… I mean that literally!)
THE STORY OF FREDERICO MILAN: “This is Jerome,” said the nurse. “Are you sure you wouldn’t like someone else – he’s not much more than a carrot, are you darling?” A carrot, did the nurse mean a cabbage?
PORTBRADDEN: There was a severed dog’s head stuck on the gatepost – there had been a few seconds pause in the driving snow and in those few seconds Ismène glimpsed the bloodied, wolf-like creature, maw gaping, tongue lolling, teeth bared in one final gory snarl… then the blizzard obliterated everything in a seething maelstrom.