.I strongly believe that to grab the attention of your reader you need to start your piece of writing with a strong first sentence. This is what led me to start Carry On Tuesday, and why week after week I spend a considerable amount of my scarce spare time trawling through lists of first lines to use as prompts. Probably about ninety nine out of a hundred are unsuitable, but I thought you might like to see some of the weird and wonderful ones which though totally unusable are nonetheless very amusing!
Iain Banks started his 1992 book The Crow Bank with the words ‘It was the day my Grandmother exploded’. Rose MacAulay also wrote about a relative in The Towers of Trebizond in 1956. ‘“Take my camel dear” said my aunt Dot as she climbed down from this animal on her return from High Mass’. Emotionally Wierd by Kate Atkinson kicks off with ‘My mother is a virgin (trust me)’
Body parts pop up in quite a few first lines. In Larry McMurtry’s 2007 novel When the Light Goes we read ‘“Wow, look at those two!” the young woman exclaimed – by “those two” she seemed to be referring to her own stiffening nipples, plainly visible beneath a pale shirt that showed her small breasts as clearly as if she’d been naked’.
This brought a smile to my face ‘Helen woke up in the middle of the night wearing someone else’s breasts. Not her own insignificant, almost nondescript bumps, but huge pendulous full ones’. That was written by Barbara Hodgson as the opener to The Sensualist, 1998.
How about this one? ‘Of course an erect penis is all very well at the end of a party, rather to be desired really, but it’s not the first thing you expect to see when you enter a room’, so said Maggie Alderson in her 2000 tale When the Light Goes. However, John Varley in his book Steel Beach writes ‘“In five years the penis will be obsolete” said the salesman’.
The opening sentence of Notes from Underground by the fabulously named Fyodor Dostoyevsky is ‘I am a sick man...I am a wicked man. An unattractive man, I think my liver hurts’.
I liked this. ‘My mother didn’t try to stab my father until I was six, but she must have shown signs of oddness before that’. Those opening words appear in the wonderfully titled Never Have Your Dog Stuffed: And Other Things I’ve Learned by Alan Alda, 2006.
Alice Walker tells in her 1992 book Possessing the Secret of Joy ‘I did not realize for a long time I was dead’.
This opener paints a wonderful picture. ‘The mayor was found shortly after eleven with his bronze, brooding face lying on the last two slices of a prosciutto and artichoke pizza, his head turned and his mouth wide open gaping, as if gulping for a smashed brown bulb of garlic with life’s last breath’. Those were the words of Scott Simon in his 2008 novel Windy City: A Novel of Politics.
Pete McCarthy tells us at the beginning of his 2000 book McCarthy’s Bar ‘The harp player had just fallen off the stage and cracked his head on an Italian tourist’s pint’.
The title of this next one is as good as its opening line. Alesia Holliday tells us at the start of her story Nice Girls Finish First ‘It’s hard to meet nice guys when you sell sex toys for a living’.
I could go on and on, and maybe I’ll bring you some more at some time in the future. But right now I’ll leave you with Gabriel Garcia Marques who tells us at the start of A Memoir of My Sad Whores. ‘For my 90th birthday I wanted to give myself the gift of a night of mad love with an adolescent virgin’. The mind boggles!