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Opening Lines with Susie Williamson: Return of the Mantra

I’m delighted to welcome friend and fellow Devon based author, Susie Williamson, to my place today to share the ‘Opening Lines’ from her debut novel, Return of the Mantra.

Thank you for inviting me on your blog today, Jenny. It’s a pleasure to share the first 500 words of my fantasy novel, Return of the Mantra.

Return of the Mantra is the first in a series. Inspiration came from several years living in Africa, the Sudan and South Africa. From the extraordinary sights and sounds of Khartoum, to the rural townships of South Africa, I amassed a complex mixture of experiences. The colours of the social and geographical landscape stayed with me, and Return of the Mantra became a refuge to recreate these colours in a fictional context.

Living among local African communities, with drumming, prayer and ritualistic chanting the norm, magical realism didn’t feel too big of a stretch. Together with extraordinary African wildlife, the concept of the book, complete with its magic system, was born. From the outset I strived for a fantasy story that didn’t feel too much of a leap from the world as we know it, and, since its release last year, I’ve come to think of the story as a kind of elaborate rain dance.

The deserts of the Sudan and the lush green bushlands of South Africa inspired the world in the novel. I once visited the Sudanese pyramids, and on my way there passed a town in the middle of the desert called Shendi. Shendi is now the name of the land in my novel. It’s a land of contrasts, where people have been forced to abandon their tribal heritage and live in a coastal town ruled by a dictatorship.

It’s a first person narrative, told by a young woman called Suni. She exposes social injustices of a persecuted people in her search for truth and her own identity.

First 500 words…

It was early, the skies filled with the golden colours of dawn, but already the river was bustling with life. Today was a special day.

I led the mule along the rise of the riverbank, wading through long reeds. It was hot, it was always hot on my homeland of Shendi: the drought had lasted all my fifteen years, and decades before. Despite the heat I pulled the hood down low over my face, as I passed women washing clothes, men fishing, and children swimming. Listening to their chat and laughter amidst a backdrop of squawking gulls, seeing the odd scowl cast in my direction, I felt like an unwelcomed stranger in my hometown. The hood was reassuring since it hid my face.

I felt something hit me on the back of the head, and then again. I rubbed my head, hearing giggles from behind, and turned to look. Two boys looked out from the reeds, one holding a handful of stones. Nearby, a man was watching from the river, water up to his waist, a young child sitting astride his shoulders. For a moment I thought the man might say something to the boys, but I wasn’t surprised when he didn’t. He glanced at me only briefly before turning away, lifting the child off his shoulders and swirling her in the cool water. My gaze lingered on the child as she reached out with chubby arms, pulling at her father’s lips and nose, making gurgling sounds as she smiled at him. He smiled back and pulled her towards him, kissing her on the cheek before cradling her into his chest.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw another stone hurled in my direction. I stepped aside and pulled at the reins, hurrying the mule along. The closer I came to the estuary, the quieter the river. The townspeople were superstitious and feared the ocean. My mother, Mata, privately ridiculed rumours of sea monsters and evil spirits that pulled people deep into the ocean depths, to die a watery death. The shores of the estuary was one place I could guarantee to find solitude.

Further on beyond the crowds, a girl sat alone idly skimming stones. She glanced at me as I went to walk past, and to my surprise she smiled. I paused, looking back at her, and almost returned her smile. I felt suddenly awkward and turned away.

‘Won’t you sit with me?’ she asked.

I looked back, confused. I had no friends my own age; Mata forbade it and besides, I had never had any offers. I thought it might be a trick, expected her to say something cruel, but her smile faded leaving a hurt look on her face.

I knew few people by name but I knew faces, and I was sure this was not a face I’d seen before. Dressed in a dowdy smock, she appeared poor like the beggars, but beggars never left the dark lanes and shadows of town. She…

Blurb

Suni has grown up knowing she is different. She and her mother Mata make their living weaving baskets, and selling herbs they harvest secretly at night. Her father abandoned them to work in the tyrannical king’s crystal mines. 

Mata follows the old ways of the Mantra, which the king has outlawed. He demands people worship him and the power of the crystals. Mata and Suni keep their beliefs to themselves.

Tragedy strikes, and with no warning, Suni is cut adrift. She sets off to find her father. Will she also find the destiny Mata wanted for her?

Susie grew up in the village of Scholes, Holmfirth, in West Yorkshire. She studied at the University of Sheffield and graduated with a BSc Honours in Chemistry, and a PGCE in Secondary School Science. In 1999 she travelled to the city of Omdurman in the Sudan, where she taught English as a Foreign Language. From there she moved to South Africa, where she taught Adult Basic Education and Training, primarily in a township in Kwazulu Natal.

On her return to the UK, she moved to Exeter in Devon, where her childhood passion for creative writing was reignited. Among a collection of varied jobs, including support work at a women’s refuge, she increasingly prioritised her time to write. Inspired by the landscapes of Africa, her passion for women’s equality and representation of diversity, and her love of fantasy books, she began weaving the twists and turns of her first novel.

She lives with her partner, Kate, close to the river Exe and a bike ride away from the sea. She enjoys being involved in community projects, and painting canvases to steadily fill the white-washed walls of her house. Her writing partner is her cat, Mia, who is currently assisting with two fantasy novels, sequels to ‘Return of the Mantra’.

Return of the Mantra is Susie’s debut fantasy novel and is published by Stairwell Books. It is available here. http://www.stairwellbooks.co.uk/product/return-of-the-mantra/

You can get in touch with Susie on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/SusieWilliamsonAuthor/?modal=admin_todo_tour

Twitter https://twitter.com/SJW_writer

GoodReads https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/18616806.Susie_Williamson

and also via her website: www.susiewilliamson.blog 

***

Many thanks for your fabulous first 500 words, Susie.

***

This was the last ‘Opening Lines’ blog for a little while as I’m having a short break from them after 18 months of weekly blogs.

Keep an eye on Facebook for my call for new blog guests in the near future.

Happy reading,

Jenny x


Opening Lines by Janet Few: Barefoot on the Cobbles

This week’s opening lines comes from fellow Devon based author, Janet Few.

Pop your feet up for five minutes, and take a read of the first 500 words of Barefoot on the Cobbles

Barefoot on the Cobbles – a Devon tragedy by Janet Few

In the euphoria of the armistice a young woman lay dying. Daisy had grown up, barefoot on the cobbles, in a village on the rugged North Devon coast; she was mindful of the perils of the uncertain sea. Her family had also been exposed to the dangers of disease and the First World War but for Daisy, it was her own mother who posed the greatest threat of all. What burdens did that mother, an ordinary fisherman’s wife, carry? What past traumas had led, inexorably, to this appalling outcome?

Vividly recreating life at the dawning of the twentieth century, Barefoot on the Cobbles is based on a real tragedy that lay hidden for nearly a hundred years. Rooted in its unique and beautiful geographical setting, here is the unfolding of a past that reverberates unhappily through the decades and of raw emotions that are surprisingly modern in character.

More details about the novel, including information about how to obtain a copy, can be found at http://bit.do/bfotc; alternatively, visit the publisher’s website https://bluepoppypublishing.co.uk.Opening Lines

The magistrate was saying something. Polly, with throat tightening and heat rising, struggled to focus. He repeated his question but she was transfixed, unable to answer. Images and incidents from the past kaleidoscoped before her eyes. She saw her childhood home in the secluded Devon valley, her courtship with Alb, her firstborn being put into her arms. Her daughter, Daisy, skipping barefoot down the Clovelly cobblestones, living, loving, laughing. Daisy, bone thin and dying. Daisy, whose passing had somehow, in a way that Polly couldn’t comprehend, led to her being here in this crowded, claustrophobic courtroom, with every eye upon her. She must compose herself, pay attention, escape from this nightmare. All she wanted to do was dream of the past, both good and bad times but somehow more certain, safer, predictable. Times before everything began to spiral terrifyingly out of control.

Mr Lefroy, the solicitor, had assured her that she wouldn’t hang; this was a manslaughter charge not murder. Nonetheless, phantom gallows haunted Polly’s restless nights. Even when she calmed and the hangman’s noose receded, there was still prison. Prison meant Holloway. Polly’s hazy and fragmented impression of Holloway was gleaned from the terror-ridden stories of suffragettes’ force-feeding, that the pre-war newspapers had revelled in. Or would they say she was mad? Echoes of insanity had touched her in the past. There were barely acknowledged tales of people she knew who had been locked away. When compared to the prospect of prison, the asylum at Exminster was somehow more familiar but no less formidable.

Polly knew she must concentrate, breathe slowly, think about what she should say. Mr Lefroy had explained that all she needed to do was to keep calm and tell the truth, so difficult in this alien environment with all these well-to-do folk looking on. Faces. Faces whirled and blurred in front of her. There was Alb, shuffling in his chair and running his finger round the restrictive collar that she had helped him to fasten only this morning. He looked lost and bewildered, barely recognisable without his beloved trilby hat. Faces of the villagers, reproachful and remote. Mr Collins, her accuser, cold and self-possessed. Mrs Stanbury, gossiping neighbour, once a friend maybe but now here as a witness for the prosecution. Then, overlaying all of these, the vision of Daisy. Daisy looking like a young lady in her new hat, proudly setting off for her first job beyond the security of the village. Daisy fighting, screaming, twisting her head away from the spoon that held the broth that might save her. Daisy dying.

Was it really her fault, as they were saying? Polly wondered. Could she have done any more? She was a mother; mothers should protect their children. She had tried, she really had, struggled in vain to shield them all from harm. The enormity of her many failures consumed her. There was Bertie, not quite the full shilling, Violet and her troubles, the worry over Leonard while he’d been away at sea during…

***

You can find Janet at https://thehistoryinterpreter.wordpress.com/

Many thanks for sharing your first 500 words today Janet,

Happy reading everyone,

Jenny x


Opening Lines with Sonja Price: The Giants Look Down

I’m delighted to welcome friend and fellow Romantic Novelist Association member, Sonja Price, to my place today.

Sit back and enjoy her opening lines from The Giants Look Down.

Driving to work one day, my imagination was ignited by a report on the radio about the Great Earthquake of 2005. In addition to news of the devastating tragedy, I discovered that the Vale of Kashmir is breathtakingly beautiful. Some of the highest mountains in the world cradle a valley lush in sycamore woods and fields of saffron interspersed with a necklace of lakes. A spectacular place to set a story, it also boasts a rich history of maharajas, princes and princesses. But this paradise has been spoilt by strife since the mostly Muslim Vale of Kashmir chose to become part of its Hindu neighbour, India.

There must be a story in there somewhere, I thought. What would happen if a 10-year-old Hindu girl called Jaya decided to become a doctor much to chagrin of her mother and the patriarchal society of 1960s Kashmir? My aim was to entertain and amuse the reader and not want to take sides. At the same time, I tried to depict the situation as sensitively and genuinely as possible. Drawing attention to the plight of Kashmiris could surely not be a bad thing in itself, could it?

I love to write about unfamiliar terrain and going to Kashmir, if only in my mind with the help of online resources, picture books and interviews with Indians, has been a wonderful journey that started in my car!

First 500 words from The Giants Look Down

Kashmir 1967

When I was ten, I found out what I wanted to be. In fact, I can remember the very day I decided to become a healer. On that late summer’s morning, I could still see my breath when I climbed up into our battered old Land Rover. You know what those kinds of vehicles are like. I was up high, and I felt so much bigger anyway because I was in the front next to Pa. If I shut my eyes and concentrate, I can still smell his pipe smoke lingering on the leather seats. The radio was on that morning because Pa, being such a huge cricket fan, had started listening to the Ashes long before the sun cut the peaks of the Nun Kun. In India, you hear talk of three things on every village corner: cricket, movies and politics. The Vale of Kashmir was no exception.

The tiny red figure of Lord Vishnu, the protector, bobbed about under the rear-view mirror as I scanned the skies for golden eagles. I spotted one, riding the winds, soaring and circling before dropping hundreds of feet to pluck a groundhog from the mountain slopes. All around us, tiny mauve and yellow flowers danced in the breeze as the snowy summits of Pir Panjal meditated in the early morning sun. Beneath them, rocks gave way to forests, emerald green valleys and the glint of the Jhelum River. In the far distance, Wular Lake slumbered peacefully under its blanket of mist. Above us, the Thajiwas glacier sparkled ice blue beside the cone-like peak of Gwash Brari where settlements hugged its foothills. All Pa’s territory, because he was the only doctor for miles. The crowd roared and the man on the radio was getting terribly excited when a posh voice cut in:

‘News has just reached us that a suicide attack in Indian-administered Kashmir has killed three people, including the bomber, and injured more than seventeen. The explosion occurred in the Nowgam area on the outskirts of Srinagar, the region’s summer capital. A Pakistan-based Islamic militant group has claimed responsibility for the explosion in a telephone call to local news agency Current News Service.’

Pa switched off the radio. ‘Madmen! Outsiders! Trying to turn us against each other! Sufi, Hindu, Sikh, what does it matter? We’ve been smoking beedi together in the teahouses of Dal Lake for centuries. Long before the British came. Long before Partition. Now they make us play the Great Game and fight like cockerels. Should I not attend to Mrs Durrani because she is a Muslim? And Kaliq? Should we throw our beloved servant out? How could the gods tolerate bloodshed in our beautiful vale?’

I certainly didn’t understand. How could grown-ups fight and kill each other when we children were always being told to be nice to each other? Diwali, our festival of light, includes their Muslim god Ali and Ramadan includes our Lord Ram, so how were we so different? It didn’t make any sense.

About the author: Sonja lives in Somerset with her family and dog. She’s a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and her short stories have appeared in Stories For Homes, the Shelter Anthology of Short Stories and In these Tangles, Beauty Lies, an anthology in aid of the Beanstalk Trust for children with reading difficulties. Her debut novel The Giants Look Down (2016) made her a finalist for the Joan Hessayon Award. She’s currently working on the story about a widow’s quest to resolve the mysterious circumstances surrounding her husband’s death out in the Canadian Wilds.

Links:

Website:                      www.sonja-price.com

Twitter:                       @PriceSonja

Facebook:                   Sonja Price Author

You can find The Giants Look Down as a paperback or e-book on:

AMAZON UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Giants-Look-Down-Sonja-Price/dp/0719819954 

 

Many thanks Sonja,

Happy reading everyone,

Jenny xx


Opening Lines with K.M. Pohlkamp: Apricots and Wolfsbane

This week’s opening lines comes from the amazing K.M. Pohlkamp; an aerospace engineer who works in Mission Control no less! In contrast to her up to the minute profession, she has written a fascinating historical novel…Apricots and Wolfsbane.

Over to you…

The world’s first known serial killer was a woman.

That fact struct me after reading an article about forgotten females from history. Locusta was a female poison assassin from Rome (Gaul) who discovered it was more lucrative to use her knowledge of herbs to kill than heal. As a female engineer, I relate to the struggle of going against traditional gender stereotypes. Locusta must have faced challenges, but her gender would have been an asset in a field where surprise provided an advantage. There is not much known about Locusta, which incited my imagination. And the more I thought about her life, a story began to weave in my mind.

At the same time, my priest gave a sermon about the ease of falling into a cycle of sin and penance. How often we realize our actions are incorrect and then feel guilt but after awhile the guilt wears and it becomes easy to commit the sin again. Of course he was talking about minor offenses, but as a matter of reductio ad absurdum, I applied this concept to a murderer and placed Locusta’s inspiration at the height of the Catholic Church in Tudor England.

Synopsis of Apricots and Wolfsbane

Lavinia Maud craves the moment the last wisps of life leave her victim’s bodies—to behold the effects of her own poison creations. Believing confession erases the sin of murder, her morbid desires are in unity with faith, though she could never justify her skill to the magistrate she loves.

At the start of the 16th century in Tudor England, Lavinia’s marks grow from tavern drunks to nobility, but rising prestige brings increased risk. When the magistrate suspects her ruse, he pressures the priest into breaking her confessional seal, pitting Lavinia’s instincts as an assassin against the tenets of love and faith. She balances revenge with her struggle to develop a tasteless poison and avoid the wrath of her ruthless patron.

With her ideals in conflict, Lavinia must decide which will satisfy her heart: love, faith, or murder—but the betrayals are just beginning.

Apricots and Wolfsbane was shortlisted for the 2017 Chaucer Historical Fiction Awards and received 5-stars from Readers’ Favorite.

***

And the first 500 words of Apricots and Wolfsbane:

The violent display of convulsions lasted longer than I anticipated.

With my boots propped on the table, I remember watching beads of wax roll down the candle, marking time between my victim’s spasms. The brothel room was sparse, and the bed in the corner remained undisturbed. I had assumed the role of temptress that evening, but delivered a different climax.

I savored the fear on my victim’s face as much as my own unlaced mead. The sweetness of both danced on my palate. His repulsive gagging, however, I endured with patience.

My target focused upon me. His hand shook, reaching out in a misplaced plea for aid. Instead, I raised my goblet in a final toast while he turned purple. He glanced towards his spilled glass, and then studied my face with new understanding. With his last remnants of life, he pieced together what I had done. Those little moments made the act so delicious. And as his body collapsed upon the floor, I added one more success to my mental tally.

Murder just never got old.

The scratching of my chair sliding across the uneven floor broke the sudden, serene silence of the room. Driven by curiosity, my boots echoed with each step towards my victim.

The man’s eyes contained a lingering remnant of vibrancy despite the departure of the soul they once served. White froth percolated from his open mouth, overflowing the orifice to trail down his neck. It was not an honorable death, but my client had paid for certainty, not dignity.

Curious, I examined the large ruby on the victim’s pointer finger which matched the client’s description — an ornate setting with a coat of arms on one side of the gem and a mare’s head on the opposite. The worked piece of silver did not seem important enough to procure my service, but as a professional, I had not asked for justification, only payment. Material significance so often motivated patrons to fill my coffers. I recognized the inherent sin, but I never judged a client’s reason. I was not qualified to cast the first stone.

I did admire my victim. After all, he was a fellow criminal. I believed his talents as a thief must have been remarkable to pilfer the ring unnoticed from the finger of its owner. I often boasted of my own sleight of hand, but admittedly, I could not accomplish such a feat. Though in my defense, assassin clearly trumped thief.

After donning the black leather gloves concealed within the lacings of my bodice, I returned to business. I pushed the tipped chair out of the way and pulled on the ring, but my motion abruptly halted.

Caught at the knuckle, the gem did not budge.

I stared at his limp hand, dumbfounded, before a flame of focus burst through my body. How I craved and savored that rush. That high, and the feeling of power, motivated my ghastly craft all those years. Despite the stress, I never lost control of my…

 

About the author

K.M. Pohlkamp is a blessed wife, proud mother of two young children, and an aerospace engineer who works in Mission Control. She operated guidance, navigation and control systems on the Space Shuttle and is currently involved in development of upcoming manned-space vehicles. A Cheesehead by birth, she now resides in Texas for her day job and writes to maintain her sanity. Her other hobbies include ballet and piano. K.M. has come a long way from the wallpaper and cardboard books she created as a child. Her debut historical fiction novel, Apricots and Wolfsbane, was published by Filles Vertes Publishing.

Links:

Watch the book trailer

Visit GoodReads and see what others are saying

Amazon.com

Amazon UK

Google Play 

***

Many thanks for some great opening lines.

Happy reading everyone,

Jenny


Opening Lines: Walking Wounded by Anna Franklin Osborne

This week’s ‘Opening Lines’ come from the pen of Anna Franklin Osborne, who is sharing the beginning of her wartime novel,

Walking Wounded.

I have always worked in health care, and more recently in education, and like so many other parents, hit a tiny crisis a few years ago when I felt that my purpose in life had narrowed to not an awful lot more than dashing between my two jobs and being a mummy taxi.

I managed to find time to begin singing with a choir, and that helped me feel that I might have a more creative side to myself. One evening, my husband was out and, quite suddenly, I decided to Start Writing. I immediately hit the first obstacles of terrible handwriting and a broken laptop, so my writing career began that night in bed, typing into the note section of my smart phone, with no clear idea of what I wanted to say but resulting in a severe case of RSI and several short stories over the next few nights.

My husband was delighted that I had suddenly found this passion and kept encouraging me to write a novel, which I really felt I did NOT have in me. Later that summer, however, we were walking along a D-Day beach for no other grander reason than our ferry home from France being late, and I began telling our kids about my three great-uncles who were part of that day, and my grandmother who sewed parachutes for the paratroopers jumping over Normandy. Neil looked at me and smiled and said, ‘you do actually have a story there, you know….’

Walking Wounded was written over a period of a year, on a tiny tablet which I bought specifically because it fitted into my handbag – as I said, ‘if it’s not with me at all times, this just won’t happen.’ I wrote every day in 10 minute bursts while I sat in the school car-park waiting for my daughter to emerge from school, I wrote parked outside ballet lessons and maths lessons, I wrote early in the mornings  while everyone was asleep.

Walking Wounded is a war story and family saga, focusing on those left behind whilst their men folk went to war, how they survived and how their relationships evolved through periods of violence, loss and reunion. The main story is about May, a young woman struggling to find her own identity as the youngest in a large family, forced into a stormy marriage through a mistake she is too proud to admit, and explores the web of loyalty, guilt and duty that shaped the decisions of the women awaiting the return of their men-folk as WW2 draws to a close. Spanning the period from the Armistice of the Great War to the exodus of the Ten Pound Poms to Australia in the 1950s, its internal violence is mirrored by the world stage upon which it is set.

So many of you can find this history in our relatives, but not, sadly, for very much longer. But if you look at your own upbringing, your family’s catch phrases, your own family folk-lore – it doesn’t take much insight to recognise that we have all been shaped, for better or for worse, by these seismic world crises.

First 500 words

1918, Mons, Belgium, 5 a.m.

He awoke with a shock as an icy rivulet of water finally penetrated

the gap between his collar and his neck and trickled

down inside his sodden greatcoat.

With a sigh, Sergeant Edward Peters leant back against the

boards, squinting up with resignation into the rain dripping endlessly

into the deep trench. The rain had woken him from a fitful

sleep, punctuated by the sound of snores from his fellow soldiers,

the occasional muffled curse. He shifted his long frame uncomfortably,

and shuddered with disgust as he felt a rat scuttle across

his legs and drop into the stinking mud next to him. No matter

how many trenches he dug, how many wounds he patched up,

how much blood he saw, he reflected grimly, he would never get

used to the rats. He vowed to himself silently that he would never

tolerate one in the house again when he got back home to London,

that he would fill the house with cats and wage his own tiny

and very personal war against the rodents which had plagued his

life for the past four years.

He smiled as he thought how much Edie would love that. She

loved animals but couldn’t have any in the crowded house she

lived in in Muswell Hill, but, one day, he thought firmly, one day,

they would start afresh and fill their own home with pets and

children. He fumbled in the pocket of his greatcoat then, trying to

extricate something with his clumsy fingers, numbed with cold.

Finally, his fingers alighted on the little photo, and he sat drinking

in the sight of his girl, smiling shyly at him all those miles away but

so close he could feel her.

His eyes filled with tears suddenly, and he had to catch his

breath in that bitter November morning to steady himself.

Then the captain stirred and stumbled out of his shack at the

end of the trench.

‘Time to be up, lads,’ he said quietly passing along the line of

men still sleeping in the bottom of the trench, just inches from the

foul mud, ‘time to get ready.’

Edward gazed one last time at the picture in his hand, then

stuffed it carefully back into his pocket. He blew on his hands and

caught the captain’s eye, nodded grimly at what he saw there.

At 6 a.m. he blew the whistle.

 

1918 London 11 a.m.

Florence Johnson stood stiffly to attention, clutching the hand

of her eldest daughter, Edie, as she listened to the bells pealing

out the Armistice on that cold, wintry morning.

As the sound of the last chime died away, it seemed that all of

London erupted at last into cheers, the sounds of laughter and

joy mingling with the echoes of the great bells. Feeling disorientated

and utterly disconnected with the crowd surging around

them, Florence half-turned towards Edie, immediately saw the

tears running down her cheeks and pulled her close, hugging her

tightly.

***

Buying links:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Walking-Wounded-Anna-Franklin-Osborne/dp/0993569005/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1520597578&sr=1-3

http://www.goosewingpublications.com/buy

Website:

http://www.goosewingpublications.com/

Social media:

Facebook: @GooseWingPublications

Twitter: @HomeOsborne

Many thanks Anna.

Happy reading everyone,

Jenny x

 

 


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