The Act of Writing No. 3
How do you start a novel? You know yourself that when you go into a bookshop you will pick up books, maybe look at the dust covers and, more likely than not, read the first paragraph of the first chapter. Then you will dump it – unless…something arrests you, something which is like the shard of a hologram in that it encapsulates the possibilities and potential of the whole story to follow. It can be cryptic:
Call me Ishmael. (Moby Dick)
It can be fulsome:
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair. (A Tale of Two Cities)
But, however you start it must not fail the test of the first few seconds’ glance in the bookshop. For those of you who are clay writers, the first line may have come to you before the novel really began to register in its full glory. For those of you who are lego writers, you may have written the entire book and then gone back to the beginning and thought to yourself, “what’s a good way to start all this…”
Here is how I started Azimuth. What do you think? (It came to me after I began the first chapter. I realised I wanted to take the reader immediately into the head of the historian who recounts the Tales of the Magus).
If a man could be said to be constructed from the tools of his work, then Kamil was just such a man. He laboured with pen and paper and from them he built history. His flesh was as dry and pale as bleached parchment, his blood so dark it could have been extracted from crushed beetles and yet his intelligence was as sharp as the knife he used to give edge to his quills. If in total he could be thought of as a book, it would be a thick, learned, heavily annotated leather-bound tome, with a simple modest title and his name in small letters beneath. And it would gather dust, rarely read except by other scholars, in the Great Library.