There are many rules in the construction of good story. One of the most important is instant impact- the art of capturing the attention of your readers/potential readers as quickly as possible.
Take your lead from the balladeers and the storytellers of history. If they didn’t impress the audience who gathered to hear their tales by the end of the second line they’d uttered, then they wouldn’t earn enough money to eat that night.
For the modern writer this lesson is a good one. There are so many books in the world that, if you don’t take a firm grip of your reader’s imagination within the first two or three paragraphs (if not sentences), then the chances of you selling your work is automatically harder. If not impossible. Editors and agents read hundreds of first paragraphs each month. If you don’t engage them straight away they won’t read more than a few pages. Consequently, every single word you have written after page four is in danger of being nothing but a waste of time.
Here are a few ways to create instant impact to grab that elusive audience- and hopefully keep them grabbed!
– Start with some powerful first line dialogue. Something that makes you want to know what follows, and why what is being said, is being said. Such as…
“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” – (Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier)
– Add immediate tension by starting in the thick of the action. Such as…
Dr Clouston could barely keep himself on the seat. The wheels of his carriage kept cracking over humps and puddles, breaking the night’s silence as they rode frantically towards Dundee. – (The Strings Murder, Oscar de Muriel)
– Build a scene on paper that draws the reader in so much, that they want to be there- or that leaves them feeling relieved that they aren’t. Such as…
“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, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.” – (A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens)
– Start with a sentence that makes sense- but makes the reader need to keep going to find out what on earth is going on. Such as…
“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” – (1984, George Orwell)
– Begin with a recollection. A situation that your novel will later explain. Such as…
“Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.” – (One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel García Márquez)
In an age of instant technology and an immediate availability of information, people are used to instant gratification- so the faster you engage your readers mind, the better!
I’m delighted to welcome April Hardy back to my place today to help celebrate the launch of her new novel!
Over to you April…
Excuse Me While I Pinch Myself …
Hi Jenny, thanks so much for letting me share my excitement with your readers. I’ll try not to waffle on too much and bore them all away!
This time last year I was doing the edits on Sitting Pretty, which was to be my début novel. I was completely new to the whole editing process and, as I’m a 100% technophobe, must have driven my poor editor nuts with my silly questions! Whilst working on it I couldn’t help daydreaming about what it would be like to be a published author.
Fast-forward a year and here I am, Friday 3rd March 2017, not only doing my first ever author session at one of the biggest and best literary festivals there is, but launching my second novel at it too. It really is a case of Excuse me while I pinch myself!
The theme of this year’s Emirates Airline Festival of Literature is “Journeys”, and my own journey to this point started in January 2011, when my husband and I moved back to Dubai from Abu Dhabi. I’d been writing since 2008 – secretly at first, even my husband didn’t know – and, with no guidance or feedback because I wasn’t sharing my work with anyone, getting nowhere. And who knows how long that might have carried on if I hadn’t gone into Ibn Battuta, my new nearest shopping mall, by the entrance which took me past a huge branch of Magrudy’s bookshop having a closing down sale. I was sad to see another bookshop close, but that didn’t stop me buying so many books I needed a supermarket trolley to get them to the taxi rank. It was a mix of novels and writers’ reference books. I opened a random page of the first one I picked up and my eye was immediately drawn to an article on Winchester Writers’ Conference.
Well, I’m from Southampton, and have family in Winchester, so it felt like I was meant to go. I had a fabulous week and met some wonderful writers, including amazing Ali Spencer and Adrienne Dines, who told me about the Romantic Novelists’ Association and advised me to join its New Writers’ Scheme
It turned out there was another RNA member living in Dubai at the time, lovely Liz Fenwick, who kindly took me under her wing over many cups of tea in bookshop coffee shops. It was Liz who told me about the Emirates Lit Fest and so in 2012 I went to my first one, rushing from session to session like an excited puppy, absorbing as much writerly wisdom as possible. I even collared agent, Luigi Bonomi in one of the corridors to ask his advice on what I was working on at the time. In 2013’s festival I entered the Montegrappa Fiction Prize. I didn’t get anywhere, but three new friends, Annabel Kantaria, Rachel Hamilton and Linda McConnell, came first, second and third.
But 2014 was lucky for me. Armed with the opening pages of two romantic comedies, Kind Hearts & Coriander and Hazard at The Nineteenth, I booked two Quick Pitch sessions with Luigi Bonomi. I also entered both in the festival’s Literary Idol competition. Cutting a long story short, Luigi liked Kind Hearts and we arranged a meeting which ultimately led to my being signed by his agency. And, championed by Judy Finnigan, Hazard at The Nineteenth won Literary Idol. I couldn’t stop grinning for a week. All I had to do now was finish writing them!
As you can imagine, 2014/15 flew by in a flurry of writing and rewriting, and the excitement went up a further notch when, in August 2015, I was signed up by Accent Press. The subject of one day being an Emirates Lit Fest author myself was broached – ELF and its sister organisation, Dubai International Writers’ Centre are very supportive of the family of locally based authors they’ve helped nurture over the last nine years.
The 2016 Lit Fest saw me, like one of the Bisto Kids, nose pressed against the glass, thinking “This time next year … This time next year …” But there was still plenty to do before then. Sitting Pretty had to be edited and, when it came out we had a launch in London and another in Dubai, which might seem a tad greedy but we had so much fun! And I like to think I was better prepared when it came time to editing Kind Hearts ready for e-book publication in January.
And here we are, Friday 3rd March 2017. A very important point in my writing journey. Today I’m not a Bisto Kid. Today I get to be one of the authors up on the platform. Today I get to sit behind one of the tables in the book signing area, and see not just the one I expected, but two of my books on sale on the bookshop area. Oh, and the bookshop in question? Magrudy’s! Magnificent Magrudy’s! I love that shop!
April Hardy grew up on the outskirts of the New Forest. After leaving drama school, her varied career has included touring pantomimes, children’s theatre and a summer season in Llandudno as a Butlins red coat. All interspersed with much waitressing and working in hotel kitchens!
After moving to Greece, she spent many years as a dancer, then choreographer, and did a 7-month stint on a Greek cruise ship before working for a cake designer and training as a pastry chef in a Swiss hotel school in Athens. Whilst living there, she helped out at a local animal sanctuary.
Relocating to the UAE with her husband and their deaf, arthritic cat, she has lived in both Abu Dhabi and Dubai, where she is delighted to have found herself so unemployable that she’s had plenty of time to devote to writing her romantic comedies!
At the 2014 Emirates Lit Fest she won the inaugural Literary Idol competition with the opening page of Hazard at The Nineteenth. She also had a successful Quick Pitch session, showing Kind Hearts & Coriander to agent, Luigi Bonomi, whose agency, LBA Books went on to sign her up.
In 2015, she signed a 3-book deal with UK publisher, Accent Press. Sitting Pretty was her début New Forest rom-com. Kind Hearts & Coriander has just been published and Hazard at The Nineteenth is due out later this year.
Thanks April. Many congratulations on Kind Hearts. (You didn’t bore a single person away!)
Today N J Simmonds launches her debut novel ‘The Path Keeper’, part of her thrilling new fantasy romance series. As a romance writer myself I have always been interested in what inspires other authors to write about love. Here’s what N J Simmonds had to say…
‘The Path Keeper’ is much more than just a romantic tale about two young people. It has passion, suspense, drama, humour and a dash of the esoteric running through every page. You’ve been quoted as saying that the book is not a romance novel but a love story. What’s the difference?
To me there’s a big difference. When you write a traditional ‘romance novel’ you generally have two people that fall in love, you have a bunch of obstacles getting in their way and then you have a happy ending. From Cinderella to Fifty Shades of Grey and everything in between – ultimately you are following the journey of two people’s love until they reach their Happy Ever After. But ‘The Path Keeper’ isn’t just about Ella and Zac. I wanted to cover the topic of love in all its guises – unrequited love, friendship, the bond between mother and daughter, lost love, first love and of course soul mates. My writing isn’t linear, probably because my mind thinks more like a collection of crazy fireworks than a straight line, so readers dip in and out of seemingly random people’s lives – zipping back and forth from The Blitz to the 90s to the present day – until it all comes together in the end. Writing romance has a formula, writing about love has endless possibilities, because ultimately every decision we’ve ever made in our lives has been governed by love or fear…and every decision has a consequence.
With all the negativity in the media lately, how do you get into the happy mindset to write romance?
I love love, it’s my escape. I tend to shy away from conflict and anger, it makes me feel ill, so when I don’t want to watch the news any longer I switch on a lovey dovey film. Or I put down my newspaper and pick up a romance novel instead. The thing about love, whether you watch it, read it or write about it, is that it fills you with hope. From the teenager who longs for their first experience of true love to the old lady who is reminiscing of happier days, having someone to love and being loved in return is the best feeling ever.
As a writer you not only have to move the images from your mind to the mind of your reader, but make them feel what your characters are feeling. It’s not enough for me to have my readers follow a storyline; I want them so absorbed that they are the characters. To do this I love to watch romantic movies. One of my favourites is ‘Before Sunrise’. Not only is the dialogue so clever but it’s what isn’t said that speaks volumes. The way Jesse looks at Celine when she isn’t watching, the contradiction between what they are saying and their body language, those tiny subtle pauses, touches and unspoken words are what pulls you into the story and make you feel that all encompassing emotion. That’s what I attempt to get across in my work.
The love between your main characters Ella and Zac is very unique. How is writing fantasy romance different to regular love stories?
To be honest I didn’t approach it any differently to writing a normal love story. In fact using fantasy elements makes writing about love easier as it opens the story up to endless possibility. Being in love, especially the first time when everything is so intense and raw, is truly magical….so adding a touch of the mysterious and unexplained to it feels totally natural to me. Unlike a lot of YA fantasy romances like ‘The Vampire Diaries’ and ‘Twilight’ my book doesn’t have vampires, werewolves or witches – it’s a lot more realistic (if you believe in the unbelievable, that is). Isn’t that what love is all about, striving for that ultimate fantasy?
Did you have to sensor yourself once you discovered that ‘The Path Keeper’ was being categorised as YA (Young Adult)?
I never wrote ‘The Path Keeper’ intending for it to be a Young Adult book. I wrote the kind of story I like to read, which just happens to have a nineteen year old girl as the main character. When my publishers said they wanted it for their YA division I was worried – there’s swear words and sex and some really adult themes – but they kept it in. Then I realised that I don’t write for children, I write for older teens. They aren’t stupid, they know about sex and F words and violence so why keep it away from them? I show love in a realistic light; hopefully I can give my younger readers a taste of what is around the corner and my older readers can be taken back to a time when life was simpler and more exciting.
What do you love the most about writing romance?
The escapism. To be a decent writer you have to do more than just choose the right words – you have to feel everything your characters feel in order to describe their emotions effectively. So I could be doing something mundane like walking to the shops or ironing but in my mind I’m imagining what the taste of Zac’s kisses are like or whether his lips are firm or soft. Likewise I may be imagining the pain of losing someone I love or being on the receiving end of an unloving mother. It can really take you to the brink and back, many a night I’ve been typing with tears splashing on to my keyboard. But I love it; the drama and the intensity – what other job gives you such a ride?
Ella’s love interest Zac is a character that no one will forget in a hurry. What makes a perfect leading male character?
Lots of things. I guess it depends what people want from their dream guy. For me I wanted to write about someone who was far from perfect. Zac is a very complicated character. Yes he’s beautiful to look at and he adores Ella with a ferocity that can be quite suffocating at times but he’s troubled. He is torn between the life he has and the life he wants with her. He wants her in every way, but knows that he shouldn’t be with her…that makes for some very impulsive decisions that create all sorts of problems for our star crossed lovers. Saying that though, he really is gorgeous! Who doesn’t love a guy with olive skin, dark hair and bright blue eyes?
And finally, what can you tell us about the sequel ‘Son of Secrets’?
I wrote ‘The Path Keeper’ knowing that it would be the first in a series of books…I wasn’t sure if it would be a trilogy or more, but I as I began to explore the characters I realised that the story had the potential to run and run. Except ‘The Path Keeper’ doesn’t start at the beginning, it starts at the moment that Zac and Ella meet for the first time. But they have a bigger past, and we see that in the second book. We also see how they learn to live with their new lives and we find out what happens to the truly vile Sebastian. Best of all we meet Luci, one of the most exciting and original characters I have ever created. She is both petrifying and beguiling in equal measures, even I’m not sure what I think of her yet…but I’d definitely want her on my side!
Many thanks for such a wonderful interview! Good luck with The Path Keeper.
Happy reading everyone,
Exciting news today for anyone who has been waiting for me to hurry up and write the sequel to my Cornish romance, Abi’s House!
Abi’s Neighbour will be out on 4th May!!
Check out this wonderfully summery cover!
Here’s the Blurb!
Abi Carter has finally found happiness in beautiful Cornwall, with her old tin miner’s cottage proving the perfect home. But all that’s about to change when a new neighbour moves in next door…
Cassandra Henley-Pinkerton represents everything Abi thought she’d escaped when she left London. She’s obnoxious, stuck-up, and hates living in Cornwall. Worst of all, she seems to have designs on Abi’s boyfriend Max…But Cassandra has her own problems. Her wealthy lawyer lover has promised to leave his wife and join her in their Cornish love nest – but something always comes up. Now, not only is Cassandra stuck on her own, miles away from her city lifestyle, but someone seems intent on sabotaging her successful business. Will she mellow enough to turn to Abi for help – or are the two just destined not to get along?
Complete with sun, sea and adorable Labrador Sadie, Abi’s Neighbour is the fantastic new novel by bestselling author Jenny Kane.
You can already pre-order your copy of the paperback from Amazon.
E-Book pre-orders can be made here –
Although Abi’s Neighbour is a sequel, you can read it as a standalone book – however, it’s more fun to read Abi’s House first!! Links can be found here.
I thought, as a Valentine treat, I’d share a romantic extract from Another Cup of Coffee with you today!
…Amy was nervous, more nervous than when she’d caught up with Rob on her arrival in London.
Paul was late. She examined the inside of the intricate medieval stone work opposite her. The doorway to St Martins-in-the-Fields wasn’t easy to spot, Amy had walked past it by mistake before she’d come in, and she’d been here before. Maybe the British Museum would have been a better place to meet, or the Victoria and Albert? Amy glanced at the entrance for the tenth time in as many minutes. Paul might not even recognise her; after all, it had been a long time since they’d seen each other.
Her drink was already half gone. Amy checked her phone again. No messages. Giving up, she dug into her bag, bringing out the ever present novel.
Paul had spotted Amy as soon as he’d manoeuvred his six-foot-two frame through the low stone doorway. He’d been confident she would be in the café’s furthest corner, and sure enough, there she was. Amy had always adopted a position where she could hide. As he watched her, Paul wondered if it was even something she was conscious of.
There was a coffee cup by Amy already, and the book her nose was stuck into was a paperback of the more ponderous variety of classic. Most of the girls he met these days wouldn’t even have considered picking it up.
She was definitely a bit slimmer than he remembered, and her hair was sleeker, tethered back into two shoulder-length bunches that made her look younger than she was. Amy hadn’t managed to get them level, and one bunch was noticeably higher than the other. Paul found he was dying to straighten them out for her.
Her clothes were the same as in the old days, though; knowing Amy, Paul thought with a grin, they might well be exactly the same. Jeans and a stripy blue jumper, probably with a T-shirt beneath, very probably a black one. The only really noticeable difference between now and then was that she was wearing knee-length boots with a wedge heel rather than trainers.
Rob was right. Essentially, Amy Crane hadn’t changed a bit.
Suddenly aware that she was being observed, Amy looked up from her book.
Her face broke into a welcoming beam. ‘I thought you might have got lost.’ She stood up and found herself smothered in a massive bear hug. Paul smelt nice; all warm and clean without the overpowering scent of the male perfumes Amy so despised.
‘Tube delays. I couldn’t get a signal down there to let you know.’ Paul felt awkward, not quite sure what to say next, having held her slightly longer than perhaps was normal for a couple of friends. He’d engineered this opportunity to get her alone, and now he was here, he was tongue-tied.
Amy unwittingly came to his rescue. ‘You getting a coffee then?’
‘Yes, sure. You want a top-up? Black I assume?’
Amy watched Paul flirt with the Polish girl behind the counter as he placed his request. He was taller than she remembered. His black hair was still cropped very short, but it wasn’t as severe as the shaved style he’d favoured as a student. His jeans were blue rather than black, and his shirt, although crumpled, was smarter than the off-white T-shirts she’d always associated with him. Smarter. He was definitely smarter. A huge brown overcoat, which probably weighed a ton, covered the back view of him almost completely, the heels of his Doc Martens only just visible below the hem.
How come she hadn’t noticed how attractive he was back then? Amy felt taken aback at the alien notion, and abruptly pushed the idea away. Yet that hug …
Amy reined in and dismissed her wild flight of fancy as Paul returned with their refreshments. After they’d covered a wide range of comfortable reminiscences and laughed heartily at their past selves, Amy brought the conversation back up-to-date.
‘So, is anyone special waiting for you back on site?’
Paul pushed his cup aside. ‘No. No one’s twiddling their trowel and pining for my return.’
‘That’s not like you.’
Paul regarded Amy as if she was nuts. ‘I’m not stuck in a timewarp, Amy. I’m thirty-four. That pretty much makes me the father figure. I’m the oldest guy on site by at least five years. It’s the twenty-something’s that have the trowel-twiddlers waiting for them these days.’
‘But surely …’ Amy was genuinely shocked. She was so sure that things would have been just as she’d left them. ‘You must meet heaps of nice people.’
‘Sure I do. I have many friends, both male and female, right across the world.’
Amy wasn’t quite sure why she pushed further, ‘But no one special?’
‘Not since uni.’ Paul sighed, not sure if he was ready to go where this conversation might take them.
‘Uni?’ Amy couldn’t believe it. This was Paul. The guy every girl had wanted to date back then. Well, every girl bar her. Yet none of the string of young women he’d dated had ever lasted more than a fortnight, and for the life of her, Amy couldn’t remember if Paul had especially liked any of them. ‘Who was that then? You never said at the time.’
Paul hesitated, before taking the easy way out, ‘You never met her. Let’s go and explore. Gallery, museum, or a walk in the park?’
Amy was disappointed by his answer, but accepted it for now. She looked at her watch; it had already gone one. ‘How about we nip into the National Portrait Gallery, have a quick mooch around and then grab a bit of lunch.’
‘Good idea, is there a good café in there?’
‘Two; but the Portrait Restaurant is fantastic, you get views right across London. I went in with my friend Kit before Christmas.’ Amy paused. ‘It’s a bit expensive though. We could go into the Lounge area, that’s better price-wise, although maybe we shouldn’t …’ Uncertainty took hold, as Amy’s words trailed off.
Paul intercepted her rambling, ‘Amy, this is my treat.’
‘But archaeologists earn crap money.’ Amy blushed as she blurted out the sentence.
‘Oh thanks!’ Paul laughed at her, ‘Although, I can’t argue. However, I have news on that front. Come on, I have heaps to tell you yet. Show me these amazing views of yours, and tell me about your new friends.’
They were in luck. After a companionable hour soaking in the diverse art work, they found a two-seater table available at the very edge of the lounge bar. After purchasing a glass of white wine each, they sat in silence for a moment, staring at the world through the window. It was all there. London. Everything the tourist could hope to see in one complete eyeful. St Paul’s, the Eye, Big Ben. Everything.
‘It quite takes the breath away Amy. All that history.’
Without turning from the view, Amy ran through their personal history as she replied. ‘I knew you’d appreciate it.’
The waiter came over and took their order for two bowls of wild mushroom soup and homemade bread, before leaving them to soak up the panorama. Amy was the first to break the silence, ‘You were going to tell me something?’
‘Ah, right,’ he put down his own glass and sat back in his seat, ‘I will, but first I want to know if you saw sense and took the management post you were offered?’
‘I did,’ Amy took a draft of alcohol, ‘thanks to you.’
‘You helped me clarify a few things. I was so sure I had been set up, I felt feeling manipulated, but you made me see it wasn’t really like that.’
‘Of course it wasn’t.’
‘My friends were just trying to do their best for me.’
Paul was pleased, ‘Good. I’m glad. Now I can press ahead with my plans.’
Amy was intrigued, and more than a little impatient, ‘Tell me then!’
‘As I said, I’m no spring chicken on the excavation circuit. If I’m not actually running the dig, then I’m at least responsible for a good part of it.’
‘That’s great. Your CV must be excellent. You always were the only one who could tell an ordinary stone from a Neolithic axe-head.’
Paul smiled in acknowledgement, ‘I’ve seen the world Amy. I’ve found and seen all sorts of marvellous things. Written thousands of reports, drawn a million diagrams, been cited in heaps of books, but I’ve had enough.’
Amy was startled. ‘But Paul, it’s your life!’
‘Yes, it is. But I’m fast heading towards my forties, Amy. I have, as I’ve said, friends everywhere, but no one waits for me when I do get home. Only my parents miss me if a dig is extended at the last minute. It’s just not enough anymore.’
Like me, Amy thought. There’s no one at home, not for me anyway. ‘So, what will you do?’
Paul returned his gaze to the view; the people below looked tiny as they scuttled about, oblivious to the fact that they were being observed. ‘Is it nice living in London?’
‘Bit expensive I guess, and a touch overwhelming sometimes, but I like it.’ Amy began to nibble at the soft granary bread which a waiter had placed in the centre of their table.
‘Rob loves it, and I guess Jack does. I suppose the night life suits him.’ Paul verbally pounced as Amy reddened at the mention of Jack’s name, ‘What is it? What’s he done to you now?’
‘Nothing.’ Amy put up a hand, ‘Really, nothing. I’ll tell you all about it later. Go on with what you were telling me about London. Are you coming here to work? Are you?’ Amy felt as if she was on tenterhooks as she waited for his answer.
She seemed so eager; Paul felt more hopeful than he had dared allow himself to before. ‘I have the chance to. I wanted to know what you thought.’
‘And what Rob thinks, of course,’ Amy added.
‘Oh yes, and Rob.’ …
If you fancy finding what finds out next, or how much had to happened before Amy and Paul caught up with each other after years of being apart, you can buy Another Cup of Coffee as an e-book or a paperback from all good retailers including…
I hope you’re being treated well on this day of romance and snuggles.
Happy Valentine’s Day,