the state of things
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by Douglas Lindsay - 14:04 on 25 November 2007Starting a novel is not unlike Monty Python's Novel Writing sketch. You sit at your desk, in front of a large crowd of people, who wait excitedly on your every word. Back in my heyday, of large film deals and newspapers camping on my doorstep, my first day of novel writing used to attract upwards of several thousand people, each paying £70 or £80 a ticket for the chance to see the latest Barney Thomson novel unfold. By the end of the process - some three months later - more than fifteen thousand people would gather in the stadium to watch the final page being written.
Now, no one cares and I eek out a solitary existence, sitting in my office with an Apple Mac which has already catastrophically crashed once, and which feels only ever one wrong click of the mouse away from another massive failure.
Does any writer keep the first lines they write for a novel? You can't sit there all day, waiting for the perfect first line. You just have to plunge in and get on with it. Maybe what you write will survive, and maybe it will even end up at the start of the book. The thing, however, is just to get on with it and to immerse yourself in the story as quickly as possible.
So, I've started writing Lost in Juarezat last. A first few paragraphs. It's more background on the lead character, Lake Weston, but it will likely end up in the final draft somewhere near the beginning. But whether it survives the editing process or not, it's got me going, which is the main thing for the moment.
For the Long Midnight of Barney Thomson I had the serial killer - who always killed young men - kill a young woman instead, just so I could start the book with the first word, "Breasts". Really shallow. In the process of trying to write a film script of the book, I came up with a much better opener, which fitted perfectly with the killer having killed all men rather than an out-of-place woman. The film would have opened with two police detectives asking a woman to identify the contents of a box, with the line, "Mrs Walters, is this your husband's penis?" Sadly, the film never survived Development Hell, and one of the all-time great first lines has been consigned for all eternity to the wastebin of movie failure.
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