Here we are at Arlington’s Brasserie in the centre of Ipswich being visited by author Ed Parnell.
First Ed answered some of our questions about his book ‘The Listeners’ and then we did a couple of writing exercises.
Initially, we wrote joint poems, each contributing one line. If you have ever played ‘Consequences’, it’s a bit like that, although in our version you can read what everyone has written before adding your own contribution.
This is the best of them:-
Year Six Art Class
Scissors, glue and yoghurt pots,
Daisies and Forget-me-nots.
All these things we used to know,
When down the stairs was far to go.
Football boots and conkers,
I bet you love Willy Wonka.
Verruca Salt gave up her Golden Ticket,
And the factory gate slammed shut.
Childhood was behind us.
Next, we wrote short pieces in pairs. Tracey Skirrow was Ed’s partner and together they wrote this:-
I love it when he tells me a story. We sit side by side, blanket heaped over us, yellow lamplight slanting over our shoulders. I follow his finger down the page, trying to say the words in my head. His voice is clear, and I am there, there in the words, there in the pages and it’s like the sky and everything else all around us has folded over and there’s just me and him and the sound of his words.
My head is full of the pictures, both the ones on the page and the extra ones his voice summons up for me.
Night and day, shadows and sunshine.
Ed Parnell will be judging our first chapter competition, the results of which will be announced on our Facebook Page and the website.
I asked the writing groups what they want from the first chapter in a novel.
Here is a selection of the answers:-
I need to feel pulled into the story, dropped into the middle of the action and convinced that I don’t want to climb back out again! I like an immediate sense of action and character. I want to be intrigued, surprised even, but not confused. l like prose that is effortless to read but has emotional resonance and rhythm. I want the writer to make me feel – to make me connect – from the very first page.
Intrigue and engagement. If it is a writer I know I am likely to settle in confidently. If it is a new one he or she will need to engage with me by the thoughts and ideas which I am reading. These provide the intrigue for the story development however slow or fast that may be.
The reader’s attention must be arrested by the first sentence. The lead need not necessarily appear, but should certainly in the chapter that follows. There must be movement. Not necessarily physical, for example someone running or swimming, but a sense of movement towards danger, or the unknown. The reader must immediately care about the character in play, enough to wish to know what happens next. Lack of movement, in other words stasis, is death to the opening chapter, and therefore the book.
I tend to prefer a first chapter that falls into one of two categories.
The first is fully dimensional scene that involves action or activity that intrigues me. It should be related blow by blow with almost no exposition or flashbacks. There should be two or more characters, conflict and foreshadowing.
The second category has a strong authorial voice, maybe in first person, which summarises the lead character’s life up to that point. The style is similar to a fairy tale, draws me in and arouses my curiosity.
Here’s a list of other things people are looking for in a first chapter:-
Here are some of the things that would put us off a novel
What about you?
Send me your thoughts about what you like or don’t like in a first chapter and I’ll add it to the page.
I just had to publish these story openers from Dan, Gem and Kelly. Fantastic work, you three!
A Little Known Story of Graeme Le Saux
Graeme Le Saux liked to pretend he was a lampshade. After all, he had to find something to fill the time after he couldn’t make football punditry work. He felt much more suited to this. And every Sunday in the quiet of his Surrey home, he’d put a lampshade on his head and sit perfectly still for a few hours or so.
He’d really come along since he’d first started. Having fashioned a proper shade out of one of his wife’s old dresses, and running electrical wires to his head to actually make light. “I’m going to be the best lampshade ever,” he thought to himself.
He remembered back when he’d first started and his old Southampton teammate James Beattie had called him a homo and a complete tit when he told him of his new hobby but he didn’t care, he was beautiful. And that’s all he really wanted to be. He’d tried to show it in his marauding runs and kicking David Batty whenever he played him in his football career. Only now did he really feel he had brought light into the world in a way he never had before.
He was running from room to room one day. Trying different places and generally giggling like a crushing schoolgirl, when there were his friends. Gathered round with sombre looks on their faces. Graeme would never forget this day as the day that he ran and never looked back. Some say that if you look in the mirror and say his name three times he appears, and that he still lights the darkest places. The truth is, no one really knows.
Truly Furlow’s hook wove the wool deftly. She’d first learned to crochet as a young child at her grandmother’s insistence – “The Devil finds work for idle hands” she always said. Trudy, being only small at the time, thought that as her grandmother always found work for her hands, the old woman must be the Devil. Her wide blue eyes would squint away in fear as the hook and wool were handed to her. Being only small, she dare not disobey.
Twenty years of daily crochet had turned her into a pro; she could whip up a wooden extravaganza wherever she was. But her favourite place was here – the graveyard of St Mary’s on the Quay. It was a graveyard love had long since left. The only flowers were thistles and the stones were crumbling like hobnobs dunked in tea for too long. A soupy mist would often sneak in from the nearby river and tug at her ankles as she sat on the bench. It was an atmosphere most would find creepy but Trudy felt safe here. Safe from the Devil.
Purple strands stirred through the black as the hooded cloak she was crocheting grew. Soon she would start on an edging of silver thread – but not yet. She needed to do it under the light of the full moon so it would soak up the moons protection and cast it over her when she wore it. But the moon had not yet risen and she needed that protection. Today was her 27th birthday. Her grandmother would be coming for her.”
Claire Morris liked watching black and white movies. At 42 she was past caring about having company. She preferred to go on her own, submersing herself in worlds of handsome heroes. She would imagine herself to be the beauty they fought over, instead of the short, mousy haired woman she really was.
It was Sunday afternoon and she was at the Playhouse Cinema, row ‘h’, centre seat. It was her place of worship. As the glow of the screen shrouded her, she felt truly happy. Far removed from the realities of life, from the disappointment it contained. Occasionally the outside world would try and worm it’s way into her consciousness. Why couldn’t her husband be as chivalrous as Cary Grant? She would feel the familiar knot of anxiety stir in her chest, but she pushed it back down. She refused to think about him. Not here.
Hurray! I’ve just finished editing my novel ‘Where Dead People Go.’
It’s about a Victorian boy thief intent on possessing a modern-day teenager.
The above picture was a big inspiration. The ghost, Ezekiel Parthingate, is the boy third from the left . The boy at the front is his younger brother Jacob.
Ezekiel grew up on the brink of starvation and worked hard to support his whole family until his death in a robbery at the age of fourteen. One hundred years later, when he is able to possess a modern boy of the same age, he feels he is justified in taking control.
Ben, lead-singer in a school rock band, doesn’t quite agree and determines to fight for his life…..
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
….So now I just need to find an agent and a publisher. Easy right?
Luckily someone gave me a link to a great website that’ll help speed up the process considerably.
Here I go.
I hear a creak and look up. She is coming downstairs, singing under her breath. Already rehearsing for choir practice. Cheerful.
Her favourite night of the week.
I know there is no point in speaking. When she has remembered she will let me know what she came in for.
As she came into the room something left her eyes. A sense of purpose, vanishing with the crossing of the threshold. It is eerie to witness. As if the strip of wood on the floor holds the power to wipe memory and the as the foot passes over a surge of energy floods upwards and wipes her thoughts.
She looks at me and frowns, as if irritation with me will bring back the memory. She tuts and leaves the room. The sun catches her silver fox hair, slanting redly from the horizon, across the fields and through the hazy window. She lifts her head, sniffing the air, it always seems to me. As if memory is a smell, lingering.
She hesitates in the glow. There is a pause and then, “Where are my shoes?”
By Anna Max
Congratulations Anna and thanks to everyone who entered.
Our next competition will be for the first chapter of a novel. (2000 words maximum)
It’s been two years since my dreams first started to echo my nightmares and now the two have become inseparable. They can be long, deep and torturous or staccato sharp, broken and shattered but, in timbre at least, they are always the same.
We were deployed to Hermal, a town in the north east of Lebanon, to try to keep the peace after months of civil unrest. Here, the children would play football in the streets as the women offered scarves, crafts and tea from stalls in the market. The men would relax with games of backgammon or cards and drink and smoke until the smoke clouds hung low with heady smells of molasses, damson and date.
When we knocked on the door to our rendezvous, there was no reply. We had to wait and there was never a wait we didn’t expect.
Then the blast.
The white light, the heat and, looking back, a quietness.
My first thought was not of the pain or even any immediate danger but of the betrayal from something I’d relied on and a constant in everyone’s lives.
It’s a simple threshold I’d passed seamlessly through a million times but that single doorway will stay with me.
Two years after all my travels and after all my years there are now only two things I wish to find behind any closed door.
The first is my family and friends peaceful, safe and sound.
The other, quite simply, is nothing at all.
Here are the entries into our ‘Write Red’ competition. I was very impressed with the standard. Which is your favourite?
I have a photograph. It was taken of my family on some big occasion that I now forget. Everyone together. It was the 70’s so we are all dressed in brown and beige. Even the photo itself has started to yellow and fade, and we disappear into it. My uncle stands out. He wears that familiar smile, but his eyes glow red. We laughed when we saw it: “Poor Uncle Karl, he won’t like that one.” But now I think the camera saw deeper than all of us. It betrayed the very nature of his soul.
The brush trembled on the approach. But as it touched down, it steadied. One smooth stroke down the centre of the nail, glistening red in its wake.
Two more strokes, sure and steady then the nail was held aloft and admired. That one fingernail now expressed everything Alex felt inside. Sassy, fearless, proud and seductive. One crook of it would have people drop to their knees.
Slowly it dried into the hard protective armour he craved. Then he scraped it off with his thumbnail. Pushing hard to feel the pain. One day every nail would be ruby red.
Scarlet, princess of neon Soho and thigh-high boots.
Prostitute, never afraid of ‘whore’. Wildcats are still cats, after all.
Prowling in skimpy black with overcoat armour.
A predator in the Sleepless City, but not the Apex.
Yuppie redhead dyed black. Tastelessly rich. Meat.
Men like you shouldn’t be alone, sweetie.
Three-sixty. Clientèle’s predictable arrogance.
All food is welcome in Vice’s Jungle.
Her Studio, the Den.
Meat fearfully tenderises.
But this isn’t Becky.
Baby wipes, hot shower and strawberry lipstick.
Meat eaten, leaves bare. Forgotten.
Stockings check, modesty check, self-respect…
On the hunt again, this Princess of Soho.
Red Clichés Make Me See Red! Or Take It As Read!
The sun seen through my eyelids
A clotted knot of scarlet scab
Or it might be
My cheeks burning with embarrassment
Blind fury, seeing red.
A goblet of gently swirling merlot,
Vegas volt lipstick on a plump pout;
Red words invite me:
Cerise cherry and burgundy
Ruby, claret, garnet,
Maroon and cranberry.
Red flag, red rag,
Red handed, in the red,
Do Red herrings lead you up the creek, on a Red letter day?
Oliver holds his plate painstakingly level as he moves to His seat. The sweet corn is not touching the golden chips. Three pallid fish fingers are precisely parallel. All is correct. He sits.
Cutlery is carefully inspected, wiped, re-inspected. Clean. His yellow mug stands exactly at the centre of his yellow coaster. All is well. He waits now for Grace who never arrives.
‘Are you ready Oliver?’ the new dinner lady innocently enquires.
Oliver’s face turns puce; his mouth vomits a scarlet scream ‘No reddy!’ as his plate skids across the dining room floor and smashes into the wall.
The Crimson Couple
Sitting on opposing sofas the two guests got comfortable while Desmond and Melissa arranged drinks. They both came back with goblets and a bottle of Merlot that Desmond was holding rather oddly.
“Looks good?” said Desmond
“If it gets me merry then it’s good” said the male guest
“Ah the bottle opener’s over here”
Desmond got behind his guest while Melissa stood behind hers. Removing the top of the wine bottle revealed a hidden blade which Desmond plunged into his guest’s skull. On cue Melissa slit her guest’s throat pouring blood into the goblet.
“Well… here’s the menu” said Desmond
“Don’t do nothing stupid,” he warned with his gruff whisky voice, “Like crossing when the red light’s showing.”
He eyed our beer in the car boot with contempt. I put the casserole dish on the car roof.
“Please thank Mrs Griggs for the food.”
“Couple didn’t listen last month, only got halfway across. Had to get Ol’ Bill Weekly’s rowing boat out to them. Jabbering ‘scuses they were, making no sense.”
He gave a guilt-inducing stare and pointed his pipe at the cottage.
“I’ve used generators before, sir.” Nick stood up straight. Mr Griggs hesitated then turned towards his quad bike.
“Best get back then, afore the tide comes up.”
“We should unpack before dark.” Nick said, watching the quad bike bump across the causeway. I agreed and took the beer he was offering. We leaned against the car, drinking, watching and not talking.
‘Have you seen this Major?’
Borodin turned from the window, the frozen figures on Nevsky Prospekt below, the Zenit stadium hazy beyond the projects. Taking the sanitary towel from the child soldier Kerensky, glancing at the English policeman Borodin held it to his nose.
‘The blood is not a woman’s.’
Catching the red rag, Kerensky stared at the KGB legend he had been warned not to trust.
‘I’m joking, Yevgeny. Get it checked. Sergeant..?’
The English policeman who was not a policeman stepped over the corpse, lighting a cigarette joined Borodin at the window.
‘His Excellency, he was a gay?’
Skinner blew smoke into the freezing air between them.
‘Only in his spare time…’
Things for writers to consider:-
If you can make your way to Ipswich on Wednesday or Thursday evenings, come and meet some lovely people to write, discuss and improve your technique.
Writing can be a lonely business. It’s much more fun when you have other creative types to bounce ideas off.
Even if you’re just in town for one night, get in touch. Hopefully we’ll be able to squeeze you in,
Just call: (01473) 711639 or email email@example.com