Thursday, 12 July 2007

Writing a book is easy

Broadly speaking, writing a book is easy. Once you have the first sentence you only have to think of six thousand more and the thing is accomplished.
Don’t have to be short. Proust opened his Cities of the Plain with one that used up 958 words. They should grip the attention. Like the opening of George Orwell’s 1984… “It was a bright cold day in April and the clocks were striking thirteen.”
The first sentence is the tricky one but it can be managed by a nine year old. That was the age of Daisy Ashford, the J.M. Barrie protégée, when she began her best seller The Young Visitors. - “Mr Salteena was an elderly man of 42.”
Doesn’t have to be clever. Virgil rested content after he began his Aeneid – “Arms and the man I sing”.
You can steal of course. Snoopy of Peanuts stole his introduction, “It was a dark and stormy night,” from Bulwer Lytton, the Victorian author whose introductions were windy too:
It was a dark and stormy night, the rain fell in torrents - except at occasional intervals when it was checked by a violent gust of wind (for it is in London that our scene lies) rattling along the housetops and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness…
I’ll bet Mrs Lytton had to have a reading of that the second it dripped from the quill.
The easiest of all is to write a book of other people’s introductions. Such as the one I found recently which promised much.
Forget “Last night I dreamed I was back in Manderley.”
An American academic, Professor Scott Rice, holds a competition every year for the worst introduction his students can conceive. The published collection is awe inspiring.
I liked best the 1983 winner: The camel died suddenly on the third day, and Helen fretted sulkily and buffing her already impeccable nails - not for the first time since the holiday began - pondered snidely if this would dissolve into a vignette of minor inconvenience like all the other holidays with Basil.
In 1984… The lovely woman child Kaa was mercilessly chained to the cruel post of the warrior chief Beast, with his barbarous tribe now stacking wood at her nubile feet, when the strong clear voice of the poetic and heroic Handsome roared, ‘Flick your bic. Crisp that chick and you will feel my steel through your last meal.’
I feel there lurks the next Arnold Schwarzenegger epic.
But my own favourite appeared in the historical romance section: As she fell face down in the black muck of the mud wrestling pit, her sweaty, three hundred pound opponent muttering curses in Latin, Sister Marie thought, ‘There is no doubt about it. The Pope has betrayed us.’
Contemporary romance: During an exuberant rainfall a languid bottle of salad dressing sat passively on a Formica counter top as her lips crushed satisfactorily against the velour upper railing of his moustache.
Even steamier… As she writhed and moaned ‘No,no,no’ he was writhing too and moaning ‘Yeth, yeth, yeth.’
Even steamier than that: Casting an eye over his shoulder he threw her bodily on the bed, ripping her clothes off with one hand, fumbling with the other at his jammed zip, their panting breaths coming as one impassioned sibilance; their ardour dampened only by her spiked heel puncturing the water bed and their bodies cascading round the room immersed in 200 gallons of water.
Biography: Let me tell you how luck, hard work and the love of a good woman brought Roc Sledge from obscurity to the job of chief salesperson in Peoria’s third largest shoe store.
Detective novel: There are things a good detective can feel in his bones and Dillon Shane knew that Josephine Kimberley Collingworth did not drown in her sleep on New Years Eve.
Drama: Heatheton stood menacingly at the very edge of the dark rampart, his formidable apelike figure starkly outlined against the nasty void by a sudden crack of lightning and amid the horrid din of growing thunder and precipitous downpour, shouted up at Emily who hung limply in the belfry, her head almost severed by the hangman’s noose: ‘I say woman, does this mean supper will be late again?’
So that is how it is done. Any questions? No? Well off you go...
Only six thousand more, and riches await.

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