PERHAPS it’s because I’m a journalist that I believe the sadly departed David Nobbs wrote one of the greatest opening lines I have read in a book.
“Henry Pratt stared in disbelief at the first word he had ever had in print. It was ‘Thives’.”
The second sentence goes on to say: “The full story read ‘Thives who last night broke into the Blurton Road home of Mrs Emily Braithwaite (73) stole a coat, a colander and a jam jar containing £5 in threepenny bits’.”
Those of us who fell foul of the old-fashioned typesetters and readers at our local rags will know exactly how the star of “Pratt of the Argus” felt.
I’ve been tinkering about, trying to find the perfect way to start my new novel Header.
Originally it was going to be a novella but the more I developed the idea, the more it has grown.
I wouldn’t say it is a sequel to Crossing The Whitewash, more a prequel as it is based around Arnie Dolan’s career-criminal dad Big Mo and his relationship with his wife Beryl and eldest son Chuck. Hopefully it answers some questions posed by the first book.
Taking place in the early 80s, it has enabled me to reminisce about those times, looking back at the music, the politics and the fashion.
I think I know where I am going with the plot, but one thing that is definitely a work in progress is the first line.
The ability of a first line to draw you into a story cannot be underestimated. I guess it should ask questions of its readers, inviting them to peel away the answers bit by bit.
I always remember my mum quoting the first line of Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities at me: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” A paradox, begging the reader to ask why it was so good, and what was so bad about it? There’s your hook, right there.
In more modern times I recall reading Stephen King’s It, about a scary clown figure that terrorises the children of a small town in Maine. It’s longer, but has exactly the same kind of magnetism to pull you into the story.
“The terror, which would not end for another twenty eight years – if it ever did end – began, so far as I know or can tell, with a boat made from a sheet of newspaper floating down a gutter swollen with rain.” It seems a bit long winded but drags you straight in at the deep end, as it were.
Another good one liner is George Orwell’s 1984. “It was a bright cold day in April and the clocks were striking thirteen.” Intriguing.
As with Whitewash, I am considering starting my new novel in a prison – on this occasion with Chuck visiting his father, who has just been transferred to HMP Isle of Wight.
Now, Chuck may be the visitor but he isn’t exactly a good boy, as those who’ve read the first book will know. So I’m dabbling with this…
“Every time he heard the rattle of keys, clunk of tumblers and creak of rust-infected hinges, Chuck Dolan has the irrational fear he might never emerge into sunlight again.”
As I said, though, a work in progress and no doubt it will become something completely different by the time I get around to finishing it.
In the meantime, why not let me know your favourite first lines and why? Free copy of the Paperback copy of Crossing The Whitewash for the person who offers up the one I deem the best.
Meanwhile if anyone can give me any of the inside gen on HMP Isle of Wight I’d be delighted to hear from you. Contact me by email at email@example.com