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Thursday, 10 January 2013

That All Important Opening

Thursday 10 January 2013 – As The Man Who Would Be King, by The Libertines played at a discreet volume, I sat looking at the keys of my laptop and waited for inspiration.

I have hit a block – I wouldn’t call it writers’ block, just a pregnant pause in my work schedule. I had half written the next chapter of ‘52’ when I left it to write a piece I’d been commissioned to write for a magazine. Christmas and New Year also interfered with my plans for the chapter and so it remained forgotten. That was until now, when I know I must continue if I am to reach my self-inflicted deadline of 90,000 words by March 2013.

The problem is I just cannot get back into the rhythm of the piece, I’ve even written a chapter that appears later, in the hope that I’ll be inspired to complete this troublesome piece of prose. Sadly it didn’t help. So I looked back at the opening of the book, and those first few words that need to hook a reader; hoping I’d get that writers’ rush we get when we start a new piece of work. Did it work? – No, all it did was get me thinking about opening sentences of well known books, and if they grabbed me enough to carry on reading.

The first sentence is from Emile Zola’s novel, His Masterpiece. This novel was Image.ashxmentioned in my friend Tim's Blog and I became intrigued to read some of the text. The opening sentence had me straight away and I’m now reading the book.

Claude was passing in front of the Hotel de Ville, and the clock was striking two o'clock in the morning when the storm burst forth.


One of my favourite books; read as a schoolboy is Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. I know it’s an odd book for a man to cite as wutheringone of his favourites, but I’m a bit of a Bronte fan and love the way that Emily, Anne and Charlotte wrote.

I have just returned from a visit to my landlord - the solitary neighbour that I shall be troubled with.


In my opinion, Othello, is one of Shakespeare’s finest plays, and the opening sentence is directed to one of the greatest theatrical villains of all time, Iago. Oh my goodness, how I love how deliciously bad he is. Some may say that, Macbeth is the Bard’s most evil creation, but no. Macbeth is a honourable man, a good man corrupted, a man tortured by his deeds. Whereas Iago is bad through and through, a man who relishes in his 5694118793_fabe5938a8_bnastiness. Othello’s opening is a street in Venice, and the first sentence is uttered to Iago by Roderigo.

Tush! never tell me; I take it much unkindly, that thou, Iago, who hast had my purse as if the strings were thine.


Published back in 1972, The Rats by James Herbert had a profound effect on me. It was the first of Herbert’s books I’d ever read and it consumed me completely. Dated now, but still a darn good read; it was one of the books that I can say inspired me to write. I tried my hand at the thriller/horror genre as a twenty-something and very quickly discovered I didn’t have the talent for it. I went on to read all of the books written by Herbert, digesting them like a literary glutton. I tried Koontz and King, but found them lacking that something special that Herbert has.

The Rats has a prologue, but I’ve decided to quote the first sentence of chapter one, as it grabs you by the balls: at least it did me as a teenager and the bruising remained.

Henry Guilfoyle was slowly drinking himself to death.


Some openings just don’t grab you, but the books still go on to become a major success. One such book for me is JK Rowling’s, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. I found the first sentence uninspiring and bland. I’ve not since been able to connect with any of the books in the series, and remain happily ignorant to the story of this famous boy-wizard.

They didn’t think they could bear it if anyone found out about the Potters.


Sex, Lies and Family Ties, is an independently published coming of age novel9780953226078 written by Sarah J Graham. At a reading event in late 2012 I picked up a copy and read it avidly from the moment I’d turned the first page. It’s a dark book, but unlike Wuthering Heights it isn’t brooding.The story contains a despicable man that you can loathe, almost as much as Othello’s Iago. And finally like The Rats, it has moments that make your insides churn. Oh, and a brilliant first sentence.

On the day that Jim finally died, Carol Hopcraft danced a jig in Mrs Hamilton’s hallway.

My final first sentence comes 52 from my own novel in progress. I just hope it grabs readers attention.

The rush of hot air on my leg indicates that Len has silently farted again.

Only time will tell.

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