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Island Life, Word Birds & Process


Once upon a time is the place where most stories begin. The writer will rarely know for certain where her latest story came from, only that it did. The initial trace will have landed in the bit of her brain marked ‘story.’ From there, if the thing has wheels, in the excitement, that first spark may get forgotten; a once upon a moment lost in the thrill of the story taking shape. It doesn’t matter. It is what it was: a glimmer, a dream or possibly a first line – & even that’s likely to get side-lined.

My favourite first line was written by the immaculate Dodie Smith in I Capture the Castle – ‘I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.’ The image conjured is perfect & instantly the reader wants to know where, what, when & why.


Our original first lines rarely make it to the final cut – editors often see to that – it’s their job. In the event they don’t make us change it, we have almost always done so ourselves, many times.

First lines are the bane of a writer’s life because readers devour them & we have to get them right. Like a cover or a blurb, a memorable one can mean the difference between a sale and a rejection. I always imagine my first lines are pretty cool. I’m often wrong & have a good laugh/wry smile when the real one emerges.

The story I’m currently working on is in third draft. It began with some pretentious attempt as a series of mise en abîme which, by the second draft, were rejected in favour of a simple epigram. Although I liked it – I’m fond of epigrams – by the current draft I recognised these few lines worked better within the narrative. (What I now have is a secret.)

So far mind, the beginning of chapter one hasn’t changed. As first lines go it’s pretty ordinary – ten words, none of them startling or uppity. They do set the scene. I hope I get to keep them. And out of the blue, a few days ago the word birds dropped by with the first line of Book 4. It’s lush.

Onward & sideways!

Oh yes, while you’re here, I wish you a joyous 2017. If you read Ghostbird, thank you. If you reviewed it, I adore you. If you are writing your own story – may the New Year gift you a cooperative Muse, a fabulous first line & this little hackneyed, clichéd, perfect mantra.