Welcome to my blog!

I am a lefty. I write vertically, cannot use can-openers and was recently foiled by a right handed ladle (I will have my vengeance...) but more than this, I generally seem to approach life from a different angle. I appreciate that this may have nothing to do with being a lefty and may just be my own dysfunctionallity, but after earning the nickname 'Lefty-Flip' after a frustrating game of Guitar Hero, it seemed an appropriate title for this blog.

Monday, 29 October 2012

You had me at daemon...

A few weeks ago I came across a piece of advice that I think I’d heard before, but never quite so bluntly (and leave it to The Shark to cut through the crap and tell it like it is!)

A good query gets me reading pages and often as not, the novel simply isn't ready to query. Over writing, starting at the wrong place, no world building, too much dialogue, lots of things can make me stop reading those pages and say no.

One of the best ways to train your eye to recognize this is to read good books and copy the first couple paragraphs in your writer's journal.  The act of actually writing the words you're reading helps you see them. It trains your eye and ear for cadence and balance. And if you read 100 books, you can start synthesizing some of the tricks that all authors use to get you into the story

If you’ve read much of this blog you’ll know I am already something of a quote collector so it took no convincing at all for me to spend the next available evening dutifully copying opening paragraphs of my favourite books.
I’ve not hit 100 yet, but it’s already proven a useful task.

Here’s five of my faves:


 (Ok you’re what, surprised? That I’m starting with Harry Potter? Do you know me at all? )

Mr and Mrs Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much (Edit: slightly embarrassed to say I typed that not from my notebook but entirely from memory – yeah the less said there the better) they were the last people you’d expect to be involved in anything strange or mysterious, because they just didn’t hold with such nonsense.
 I love it! You just know something weird and mysterious is coming their way…

Mr Dursley was the director of a firm called Grunnings, which made drills. He was a big, beefy man with hardly any neck, although he did have a very large moustache. Mrs Dursley was thin and blonde and had nearly twice the usual amount of neck, which came in very useful as she spend so much of her time craning over garden fences, spying on the neighbours. The Dursleys had a small son called Dudley and in their opinion there was no finer boy anywhere.
They sound utterly charming. We have barely met this family and already I do not like them.
The Dursley’s had everything the wanted, but they also had a secret, and it was there greatest fear that somebody would discover it. They didn’t think they could bear it if anyone found out about the Potters.
Now I am beyond desperate for the Potters to arrive! If they are everything the Dursleys fear, then I want to spend the rest of my life the book with them! Only I can’t. Because the entire family has just been murdered… well, almost the entire family…

And so began my 15+ year obsession with all things Potter.

I find it interesting that we start with the Dursleys, not just for the opening page, but for the whole opening chapter. The Dursleys are (thankfully!) absent from the main body of the story, their appearances tend to bookend each novel – a nasty reminder of where Harry comes from, and where he is returned to each summer – so I guess it’s fitting that the story starts with them.


Lyra and her daemon moved through the darkening Hall…
You know what, I’m leaving it there because this is precisely how long it took for me to fall in love with Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. Actually, I think it was less. I think it was the first four words
Lyra and her daemon…. I didn’t have a clue what a daemon was, but I desperately wanted one.
For those who haven’t read Northern Lights, the concept of daemons (souls that live outside the human body in animal form) and how they interact, is pretty much the heart of the story, and there it is in the first four words. I love that she is walking with her daemon. Not a daemon. He belongs to her, is of her.
Love it.

 One of the books that came to mind when I thought of this task was Shade’s Children by Garth Nix. I think I’ve only read it the once, and several years ago now, but it’s one that stuck in my mind.
 A razor blade gave me freedom from the Dorms. A small rectangle of steel, incredibly sharp on two sides. It came wrapped in paper, with the words NOT FOR USE BY CHILDREN printed on the side.
I was eleven years old then. Eight years ago, which means I am probably the oldest human alive.
 How’s that for an opening! I mean aside from the morbid curiosity as to what she did with the razor blade, we’re also slapped in the face with the fact that a nineteen year old is the oldest living human?!?!?! More, more, must read more…

There was a hand in the darkness and it held a knife. The knife had a handle of polished black bone, and a blade finer and sharper than any razor. If it sliced you, you might not even know you had been cut, not immediately.
The knife had done almost everything it was brought to that house to do, and both the blade and the handle were wet.
Um, so I am aware that this is the second book choice to open with the murder of a family… Sorry about that…
There’s something chilling about the fact that we are introduced to the knife before we are introduced to ‘The man, Jack’, that what little we learn of Jack’s personality is reflected here in this initial description of the knife.
This is another book that had me with the first sentence alone; darknessknife… What is this horror! I must read it instantly!!!!

When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold. My fingers stretch out, seeking Prim’s warmth but finding only the rough canvas cover of the mattress. She must have had bad dreams and climbed in with our mother. Of course she did

This is the day of the reaping.
Oh god. The what? Anything called ‘the reaping’ cannot be good…

At the moment I have around 20 opening pages copied, mostly from fantasy books, but a few other genres have crept in (I still love the opening pages of Pride and Prejudice, and I had to sneak a couple of Stephen King pages in there somewhere) but the one thing they all have in common, regardless of genre they are, is the tantalising promise that something is about to happen. Something good, something terrible, something mysterious, something wonderful - something interesting!

Something to keep you turning the pages.

Back into the writing cave I go to check what promises my opening chapter makes…

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