First Lines

The first lines of a book are vastly important. Lots of readers are very patient and willing to give books a chance, but when you’re reading something for the first time or from a new author, it can be make or break. And the first lines of certain books become famous in their own rights, like “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen” from George Orwell’s 1984. It’s the subject of pub quizzes and trivia games across the world!

I’ve fallen in and out of love with the first few lines from some of my books – and WIPs – but thought that it’d be fun to have a quick look at a few of them. Some of this stuff isn’t ‘in the wild’ yet, so hopefully it’s an interesting teaser rather than being cruel.

It’s a garden world this time.

Genetically engineered plants and trees, huge biodomes sprawling overhead; white metal honeycombs with transparent panels, most now missing or decayed.

This is from Parasites and I’m still pretty pleased with it. I really wanted to convey what Kael and Alessia do in the first line – exploring new worlds – but to also get across the emptiness, the silence and loneliness of the worlds that they explore.

“You know, for someone who hates people, you sure do care a lot about what they think,” the man next to me says slowly. He reeks of stale body odour and urine, overlaid with cigarette smoke and cheap alcohol.

We’re friends.

This is the first line from Wild Court, my paused WIP. It’s a fantastical look at the effect of declining empathy in our society, and opens with a conversation between one of the protagonists and their friend, who is experiencing homelessness. I’m really quite fond of this; the protagonist Ben is a quiet, isolated character with occasional anxiety, and I like the contrasts in this line. I’m keen to get back to the book at some stage, because I’m very fond of Alice, the nerdy archaeologist, and Matt, Ben’s laddish best friend. That said, there’s something that’s just not quite working for me in the book. I paused after about 50k words, which isn’t like me at all.   

As I remember it, and as far as anything really has a beginning or an end, it all began when I was ten. With childlike dreams of grandeur and adventure, my friend Sam and I got lost in the Royal Albert Hall at the prom one summer.

I’m slightly embarrassed about this one. It’s the first line from Aenigma, my first – and unpublished – book that desperately needs a rewrite. I’m assuming it’s how Christopher Paolini feels about Eragon in hindsight; great themes, lovely energy, but certainly not the work of a practiced writer. A lot about this book feels too personal, too emotional, and the pacing is way off at the end – but there’s definitely something there worth rescuing! I’m playing with a few ideas for it in the future; I could definitely see a grimdark interpretation of it working, but I’m not quite sure…

“But where’s the cake?” I blurt, staring through the window bemused and frustrated. “When did this happen? Why is there an antique shop here?”

Finally, this is from Small Places, my current WIP. I’m really undecided about it – the first two chapters are told from the perspective of the protagonist when he’s ten, so everything has to be from a slightly childlike-but-growing-up-fast perspective. I’ve changed it a couple of times, but quite like the indignation.

There we go; I’d be interested to hear of first lines that you love as well – what stands out for you?

A ‘thank you’ to writers everywhere

Unless you’ve somehow come into a lot of money, or started writing when you were a student or on a career break, there’s no way around the first challenge of writing: everybody starts part-time.

And that leads rather neatly onto the second challenge of writing – and no, I’m not taking about ‘having an idea’: writing is hard.

I’m lucky enough to have a full-time job that’s reasonably well-paid, and have few other commitments; my partner also works, and the cat doesn’t require a lot. But still, coming home from the daily grind on London transport, and motivating myself to write a few hundred words … well, sometimes it’s tough.

Admittedly, sometimes it’s also joyous. I love my characters and my settings. Spending time with them, developing them can be a fantastic escape from regular life in the same way as reading or watching a good film / tv series can be, and sometimes I’ll get a second wind and just get sucked into creating. Once, when I was on the train from London to Edinburgh, I wrote just shy of six thousand words in a feverish haze, sadly missing most of the spectacular scenery.

But sometimes I’ll have to make a note that a particular chapter will DEFINITELY need more attention. I’ve got a small notepad file in the same folder as most of my WIPs with review notes. Those files tend to have sequel ideas in them, as well as points to come back to, but there’s a note in my file for Small Places that simply reads “I was in a weird place when I wrote chapter five – it might read a little flat”. I think I wrote most of it when I’d had a particularly hard day in the office!

So I wanted to just spend a moment congratulating all writers / authors for their WIPs and works, because it’s not easy. In fact, it’s spectacularly hard – to not only push your thoughts and ideas into a coherent creation with realistic, lovable (or detestable!) characters, but to do it when you’ve worked an eight (or more) hour day, when you’ve cooked dinner for your loved ones, when you’ve loaded the dishwasher, cleaned up, fed the cat (or your children) and you’d like nothing more than to slump in front of the TV and put on The Witcher.

But you don’t. You write. And on behalf of all readers, I’d like to thank you for that.