As a writer, half the battle of capturing your reader's attention is won or lost in the first line. Capture their interest-- hook them-- and they'll accord you extra time to do the things you need to do. Provide a bland or boring opening, and you'd better have an explosion arriving real quick, because there's a new episode of Duck Dynasty on the tube and someone's cooking sausages.
Over the course of my career I've written some cracking opening lines (if I do say so myself) and some that have done little more than provide the literary equivalent of lobbing the ball over the next just so the other player can return serve.
Here are five of my best.
Five for Friday: First Lines
The storm had turned the world into a swirl of broken lines.
It's probably 20 years since I scratched this one out. Sad that it still seems utterly accurate, especially given our current Government's predilection for bending over and taking it from the Cult of Reinhart.
"My God, that's the most beautiful thing I've seen in my entire life. Who can we sell it to?"
Amanda Kool lives at the foothills of the Dandenong Ranges, a glorious part of the world surrounded by valleys, forests, walking paths and, most importantly, she says, wineries.
She writes in a little nook at the bottom of the house, closed off by a deep red curtain (her very own Black Lodge). In the summer, this is the only room in the house that is not in danger of combusting due to the sheer ambient heat.
Surrounded by the paraphernalia of whatever book she is writing (various tchotchkes, gewgaws, spirits, liqueurs, books, food stuffs and weaponry), she sits at her desk with a pot of freshly brewed tea and...according to her, procrastinates, avoids, trembles, and swears.
Despite all that avoidance, she's seen her debut novel Tallwood published, as well as The paper Fox, an interactive story for IOS devices, and a bunch of other tales. Here, she takes us to a place familiar and intimate, and yet somehow all her own.
Precious Things: Amanda Kool
Like most people who will be posting here at Precious Things, I was a prolific reader at a very young age, devouring all manner of genres and losing myself in pages of mystery, adventure, and faraway worlds. My shelves are packed with science fiction, fantasy, crime, non fiction, and reference books that help me create the worlds my characters inhabit.
There are two books, however, that helped make me the writer I am today - equal in importance, but only one is my 'most precious literary treasure'.
Watership Down is the first. I immersed myself in this world so completely that I saw the thoughts and lives behind every creature. Living in 'the sticks' as I did (and still do), there were enough rabbits and foxes and frogs and birds to make me believe that Adams' world was real and I was viewing it from my bedroom window. I learned to put myself in someone else's place, look through their eyes.
But my most precious possession? Well, that's a cliché. It's a trope. It's kinda boring as a choice, because it is claimed by so many as a favourite, or a progenitor to their story-telling origins.
This particular, bible-paper-thin, 1077-page, wrapped in faux leather and embossed in faux gold, Guild Publishing edition ofThe Lord of the Rings.
I am not the first to claim the work itself (I'm looking at you, Michael Robotham!), but the only one to claim this particular edition.
As an adult, I have collected several other editions of this book; paperback, hardback, Folio, illustrated... But this one goes into the fire bag every summer with all my other, non-literary precious things, and is whisked off to my parents' place for safe keeping until the danger passes.
Why this monstrosity?
I was 10 when I started reading it. In minutes, I was totally and completely carried away by the characters, the places, the looming dangers, and the whimsy within its pages. Names like Staddle, Combe, Mordor, Bree, and Rivendell swan in my head.
Just days into my journey to Middle Earth, in true Aussie tradition, I was at a BBQ and a cricket game started on the oval. I do not like cricket, but as a kid... Well, you went where your parents took you. I think it was some kind of afternoon get-together for my father's work; all family members invited.
I could describe, in author-like detail, the crack of the bat, the missile-like blur heading for my pre-teen face, and the resulting agony as the ball struck my right eye, but... We'd be here forever.
As a result, my pupil was paralysed in a permanently-dilated state. I had an eye patch and was told by the doctor; "No strenuous activity, no lifting anything, and absolutely no reading for at least two weeks."
Can you imagine?
I had just started this bible-paper-thin, 1077-page, wrapped in faux leather and embossed in faux gold, Guild Publishing edition of TheLord of the Rings.
The hobbits had met up with Strider (eschewing the best beer in Eastfarthing!), Dark Riders were scouring the land, and they were set to meet Gandalf at Weathertop.
Yeah. Screw that.
Tenting my doona with pillows each night, I waited for my parents to go to bed, turned on my torch, peeled off the eye-patch, and risked permanent and irreparable damage to finish the tale. Hard-core, neh?
It is not a pretty book to have as a Precious Thing, nor is it a remarkable choice.
But it is my Precious Thing and I have just packed it in the fire-bag ready to be whisked off to safety for another year.
Last week, I discussed Ms 15's discovery of the The Beatles, and compared it to my own teenage awakening. In a guest post, she revealed her favourite 5 Beatles songs, and why:
Here Comes the Sun
I Am the Walrus
Let it Be
By way of reply, and to pay her back for usurping 2 of the songs I would have chosen for my list, it's only right that I list my own favourites, in no particular order.
Five for Friday: My Own Favourite Beatles Songs
1. Hey, Bulldog.
In no particular order, except this one. I may be the only person in the world who says this, but Hey, Bulldog is my absolute favourite Beatles song. Quirky, musically complex, and heavier than the run of the mill Beatles song, it's a delightful Frankensteinian monster with all the trademark Beatles quirks that still manages to sound like nothing else they ever produced. I love it.
2. You've Got to Hide Your Love Away
I first heard this song, not on the album or radio, but as part of watching the Beatles' movie Help. The movie is a fun, silly romp with a very 60's sensibility-- it fits seamlessly alongside the likes of the utterly awful Batman TV series and the Monkees visual efforts. And then, right in the middle, the whole thing stops dead and this slow, mournful, heartbroken song is played utterly straight, like a three-minute invasion by grown ups. I find it haunting, and saddening, and utterly beautiful.
3. Norwegian Wood (This Bird has Flown).
That John Lennon was a genius is beyond argument. That he was an utter shit of a human being is, also, pretty damn clear to anybody who has learned anything about the man. This song, widely accepted as the story of an affair he had while on tour, shows both sides at their purest. Possibly the most beautiful song about being a traitorous arsehole ever written.
4. Helter Skelter.
Blah blah Manson blah blah death of the Summer of Love blah blah loss of innocence blah blah blah.
But listen to it. I mean, listen to it. This is the Beatles. The mother-friendly, boys next door, radio staple Beatles. And they're rocking it fucking hard. Release this today and you'd still be on the punk side of edgy. It's fucking fantastic.
5. Being for the Benefit of Mister Kite.
The legends that have grown up around this song are almost as much fun as the song itself: that Lennon copied the lyrics word for word from an actual circus poster; that George Martin came up with the whirling background by recording some hurdy gurdy music then cutting it up into lengths and throwing them into the air, piecing them back together in random order; that the band recorded the song in response to an A&R demand that they tour their next album, so set out to create a song that could never be played live...... no matter what is true, or what is manufactured legacy, the truth is: this song is just a wonderful, swirling, skirling, floating trip of joy. (Typically, I can't find a decent original version of this song online. Have a listen to it on Spotify)
Damian Magee is, quite simply, one of the loveliest people alive. A gentle librarian with glasses and a moustache that would send Professor Challenger into fits of envy, his softly-spoken demeanour, air of general gentility and love of all things Sherlockian seem almost old-worldly when surrounded by the gauche flashiness of much of science fiction fandom, wherein he spends most of his off hours.
Here, as befits his bibliophilic stature, he gives us not one Precious Literary possession, but a quartet.
Precious Things: Damian Magee
During those years of growing up, Mum always seemed give me books to understand the world and the language. The first real book Mum gave me, discounting the TV Annuals, was Vanity Fair. It did not impact, nor did A Tale of Two Cities, or even Charles & Mary's Shakespeare. I started collecting my own classic books, as well as novels based on TV & Film.
But four authors changed my life and their works became my literary treasure. First, H.G. Wells' The Shape of Things to Come, a book that looked at a future war and and the science necessary to stop it. John Galsworthy's trilogy The Forsyte Saga, and the works of NZ writer Kathleen Mansfield joined my list. Finally, on my 16th birthday, Mum gave me the works of Franz Kafka, which changed something deep within me. Those are my literary treasures.
One of the most delightful moments of parenting comes when a child independently discovers something that has given you joy for years, and begins to express their own joy.
I first discovered The Beatles in a big way when my mother started dating the man who would become her 3rd husband. I was fourteen, and just beginning to branch out from my parents' taste in music. Mum was early-Beatles: she hated what they did after they became "stupid hippies". Ray was just as conservative, but for reasons I never figured out, had a copy of The White Album amongst the Jose Carreras and London Symphony Orchestra. For other reasons I never figured out-- he openly refused to move in with Mum until we were out of the house because he didn't want to be bothered with us-- he gave me free reign of his record collection. And I went nuts for this album. Nuts, I tells ya. And my life-long love for The Beatles (and yeah, I'm Team Stupid Hippies) was born.
With some small restrictions, we've always given the kids the run of our music collection, but the way they interact with music is markedly different to my generation: for a start, the album is almost a completely dead concept to them, and they're boggled that there are some albums that were created with the express purpose of being listened to in one order and one order only (What concept, Dad? Concept album? I don't get it...). In many ways, they are discovering songs individually, without context or history to guide them. And yet...
Ms 15 has found The Beatles. Completely independent of any parental guidance, or of the progression of albums and ouvre. And yet, just like me at a similar age, something has opened up inside of her, and she has fallen instantly, and deeply in love. So, as a way of providing some new words on the subject, please welcome the lovely Ms 15, who gives us her 5 favourite Beatles songs.
FIVE for FRIDAY: Ms 15's LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND
1.Here Comes the Sun
A sweet melody. I enjoy this song because it calms me. It has a tranquil and happy vibe that always puts me in a good mood.
2. Oh! Darling!
An upbeat approach. I love the lyrics. It's a song that makes me feel confident and always makes me sing and feel silly.
3. I Am the Walrus
This song is the best! It's absolutely silly but I just can't get enough. It makes me feel so enthusiastic and although the lyrics are hard to follow, it doesn't matter because it's one of my favourites.
4. Hey, Jude
A smooth, sweet song. It's very peaceful, and has the calmest set of vocals. The balance between the harmony, instruments and lyrics is something I find beautifully pleasant.
5. Let it Be.
Oh, my God. This is my absolute favourite. The tone and harmonies are just beautiful. I love the way the band sings it. Their voices are so soft and unique. The lyrics and the atmosphere make me feel connected emotionally. It's the song I turn to when I need to de-stress.
The Prize, which attracts an award for (wait for it) THIRTY THOUSAND FREAKING DOLLARS, will be announced on 22 May, when I'll be lying in bed exhausted after running myself to death for the Asian Festival of Children's Content, so, you know, it might be pretty flipping good weekend, as weekends go......
Lee Murray is a six-time winner of New Zealand’s Sir Julius Vogel Award for science fiction, fantasy and horror writing. She's the author of monster thriller Into the Mist (Cohesion Press), and co-author (with Dan Rabarts) of the speculative crime-noir series The Path of Ra, releasing in 2017 from Raw Dog Screaming Press. She lives online at her website, and you can also catch up with her on Facebook and Twitter.
Precious Things: Lee Murray
Precious things… precious things. How to choose? I’m lucky enough to have lots of literary treasures, although most of them are still boxed away after our house move two years ago. This one, though, is still on the bookshelf and has been since 1970 when I was just five years old. Invitation to the Dance is a 1969 Fantasia picture book based on the romantic piano waltz by composer Carl Maria von Weber, the story of the music adapted by Keisuke Tsutsui and translated by Ann King Herring.
A gift from my uncle, I remember reading Invitation to the Dance for the first time, the book open on the carpet, me turning the pages and discovering the story. Already a voracious little reader – my parents taught me to read before I went to school – this book, with its gorgeous water colour images by Japanese illustrator Chihiro Iwasaki, enthralled and inspired me. The back-cover blurb declares the publisher’s intent to “help young readers expand their musical imaginations, and encourage children fond of music to find new enjoyment in books”. They certainly achieved that: I could positively hear the music of the dance, see the children pirouette around the ballroom, which they, in their wonder, would transform into the garden, the lake, and the sea. If you haven’t already heard the music Invitation to the Dance you can listen to it performed here.
Although I couldn’t articulate it back then, I loved the idea of freedom and abandon expressed in the story. I could imagine myself dancing on a lake, where “the surface of the water feels like fresh, cool silk” – not so far-fetched for folk in some countries, but for a little Kiwi girl living on the shores of Lake Taupō, an impossible dream.
I took the book to school on several occasions. In my second year, I showed it to my class teacher who thought it was so beautiful that she read it to the class at story time. Maybe that was what I really liked: the attention from the teacher.
My favourite image in the book is also the darkest: the page where the children are confronted by the scowling gatekeeper, whose interruption causes them to sink, the waves lashing high. It seems my predilection for dark speculative elements was already manifest, even at five.
I’m putting the book back on the shelf and… look another treasure! Bernard Werber’s science fiction blockbuster Les Fourmis (The Empire of the Ants). The important thing to note about this one is the date on the inside cover. 1991. It was the year the book was first released, and the year my husband and I moved to France. I purchased it – yes, I paid French francs for it ‒ at the end of that first year of immersion and it was the first title (that wasn’t a children’s book) that I read in French from cover to cover, and barely having to look up any words. You have no idea how immensely proud I was of myself. I was five and rediscovering the joy of reading again. The freedom of it was indescribable, because up until that point every bookstore or library I’d entered, I’d have to ask myself: “What am I capable of reading?” For a bibliophile, passing that milestone in a second language, that moment when I knew I could choose any book was inexplicably freeing. It was as if, until then, my life in France hadn’t really begun. And Les Fourmis is exactly the kind of book I love, a genre that has stayed with me: dark science fiction and fantasy with its basis deeply rooted in fact. I went on to read the entire trilogy, and any other book I wanted. Actually, now that this book is out of the bookshelf and on my desk, I think it is time for me to read it again...
Books offer freedom in other ways, as more than just imaginary places to visit, places to hone our philosophical views, to test our intellectual progress, or as historical records of times past: they are so much more than just their content. I remember my daughter making book forts out of hers, volumes stacked up like playing cards to create her own secret reading room. One year, our little family built a book Christmas tree and decorated it with lights. My dad, for many years a member of Rotary, helped run an annual second-hand Book Fair in our community, the funds raised used to help less fortunate folk both at home and abroad. And in another more sombre tale, in my mother’s family, there is a book: a banal grey covered book with aging rice paper leaves, where every other page is connected to the next at its outer edge. In the secret spaces between the pages, my grandfather slipped bank notes, using the book to hide his money when he fled China for Taiwan in the 1930s. I have no idea what literary content the book held ‒ I can’t read Chinese ‒ I only remember thinking it was neat to slip my hand between the pages, but for my grandfather and his family, the book must surely have represented safety and freedom.
What's Book Crossing day, I hear you ask? Well, sit your jimmy-jammied little bot-bots down, and I'll tell you. Are you sitting comfortably? Good. Then I'll begin.
Book Crossing is a fun little website wherein you can release books into the wild, tagged with a barcode, and watch them as they are shared across the known world by people who are prepared to let them go once they've finished reading and go onto the website to log the wheres and the whens of the controlled release program. Think of it like tagging sharks for scientific purposes, without the wet and the cold and the seasickness and the risk of getting your bollocks gnawed off. Assuming you don't try to release the book in Mirrabooka, anyway. There's a whole lot to learn at the Book Crossing website, including the fact that they have a Day, and it's today!
So to celebrate, I'm releasing five books into the wild today, and these are they, along with the links to their Book Crossing records so you can watch them disappear into obscurity along with the rest of us.
The first of Butcher's Harry Dresden novels, it's a wonder that any more of them were picked up. back in 2012, I called it "choppy, badly balanced, written with the kind of breezy lack of depth I'd normally associate with a Star Trek or Star Wars tie-in," in a 2-out-of-5 review on Goodreads. Maybe 5 years later is the right time to give it its freedom......
One of the most awful books I've ever read, I probably should feel a little guilty at inflicting it upon some unsuspecting passerby whose only crime is to be attracted to the idea of a free book. I gave it a withering one-star review on Goodreads, and it'll be a relief to get it out of my house. If you're the person who picked it up, and you've made your way here, I'm sorry. I'm so, so, sorry.
There are all sorts of ways authors deal with a block, or a fallow period. One of these days, I'll post a 5 for Friday listing some of the ways I kickstart my writing efforts.
But something I do on a somewhat-irregular basis is to dive into my archives, and re-examine some completed works with an eye to getting them onto the treadmill. After completing a poem recently, I found them time tonight to do just that, unearthing eight poems completed over the last 12 months that had been waiting for a night like tonight.
I am an occasional poet, but it means a lot to me: my first sales were poems, way back in the late 80s and early 90s, before Real Life (tm) got in the way and took me away from serious writing for too many wasted years.
So, as of tonight, the following titles are completed and out in the world, and if the Universe is a just and giving endless saddled-shaped veil of beige nothingness (seriously, look it up), then I'll celebrate the success of: