The first few lines of a book, as we all know, are what makes you buy it, borrow it or hide it under your jumper and hurry out of your best friend's house saying you left something in the oven or baby in the bath or vice versa.
So here are some my fave openings at the moment:
- Just in Case by Meg Rosoff. Within four or five pages, we've met the hero, the villain, the helper, the dog and envisaged every possible disaster that can befall humanity. Phenomenal.
- The Death Collector by Justin Richards. "Four days after his own funeral, Albert Wilkes came home for tea". Now, if that doesn't grab your attention, what does?
- A Child's Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas. The first sentence is as long as a midwinter night and yet easy and cosy as a fireside on said night. To me that opening describes exactly how memory (mine anyway) works: it doesn't. It's just a constant meandering between bits and pieces, where the big picture is at once lost and retained: ''... I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six."
- The Jolly Postman by Alan and Janet Ahlberg. "Once upon a bicycle,/ So they say,/ A Jolly Postman came one day..." How can you resist? As a writer of picturebooks myself, I'm forever fighting against the easy "once upon a time" option. So far (with about 20 stories out there), I've only used it once, but that was at my editor's request.
- The Lightning Key by Jon Berkeley. "Listen: rain is falling, and what a rain! A billion beads of cold sky slant down through the night..." That rain is music and it's movement and it has me wondering whether I left the skylight above my desk open...
- The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness. "The first thing you find out when yer dog learns to talk is that dogs don't got nothing much to say." What can I say?
- The Seeing Stone by Kevin Crossley-Holland. A different affair altogether, but the voice is as distinctive and as convincing as that of Ness' narrator, and from the very first paragraph too.
- The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents by Terry Pratchett. Definitely one of the funniest and cleverest books I've read. "As the Amazing Maurice said, it was just a story about people and rats. And the difficult part of it was deciding who the people were and who were the rats." There's at least four interruptions on the first half page and we're introduced to no less than three characters with deliciously odd names. Tentalizing or what?
- The White Darkness by Geraldine McCaughrean. Another powerful voice, that of Sym who is ironically so powerless when it comes to action. Here's the first paragraph: "I have been in love with Titus Oates for quite a while now - which is ridiculous, since he's been dead for ninety years. But look at it this way. In ninety years I'll be dead, too, and then the age difference won't matter."