‘It was a cold, bright day in April and the clocks were striking thirteen.’ Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four.
‘The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.’ Hartley, The Go-Between.
‘All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.’ Tolstoy, Anna Karenina.
‘‘’Oh, sod this!’ Barry ground to a halt.’’ McCarthy, Barry.
You see? Work at it long and hard enough and pure talent will shine through. Just three words into my debut novel and there’s an exclamation mark which I now wish I’d left out. At a guess, I think I wrote that first line, that first chapter, in about 2007. It was to be several years before I embarked on Chapter 2, and started to enjoy the writing process.
That first chapter really summed up all that I wanted to say at the time. A middle-aged ex-runner gone to seed, attempting a comeback. It was at the end of that chapter that I began to realise that there was more to this writing malarkey than I might have imagined.
Then it began to dawn on me that I could write anything, that there were no boundaries. I could go off on tangents, introduce new elements, unrelated storylines which came together. New characters who were different from the somewhat one-dimensional Barry. For example, Barry’s daughters Lauren and Michelle. It was my first self-taught lesson in characterisation. Obvious now maybe, but here I found an opportunity to differentiate between two sisters. Chalk and cheese, but with common ground.
And with this gradual realisation of possibilities I began to enjoy writing, and that has continued ever since.
But a few more famous first lines:
‘Elmer Gantry was drunk. He was eloquently drunk, lovingly and pugnaciously drunk.’ Lewis, Elmer Gantry.
‘It was the day my grandmother exploded.’ Banks, The Crow Road.
‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.’ Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities.
‘He looked at his watch – 7.33am.’ McCarthy, A Jersey Midsummer Tale.
They just keep coming, don’t they? Have you got a favourite first line? What is one you’ve written yourself?