Tuesday, January 17, 2006

My personal top 10, and first lines

It's the time of year that many talk about their top ten reads of the past year, and I thought I'd post mine. I'm going with what I read in the past 12 months, not what was released, because I find I discover the backlist of too many good authors after the fact. Unfortunately. So, my personal top 10, in no particular order:

Single Scoop:

Stuart MacBride - Cold Granite
Laura Lippman - To The Power of Three
Val McDermid - The Distant Echo
Reginald Hill - Good Morning, Midnight

Double Your Pleasure:

Simon Kernick - A Good Day to Die and The Business of Dying
John Rickards - Winters End and The Touch of Ghosts
Mark Billingham - Lifeless and The Burning Girl

Just be thankful I haven't read the other two Kernick books yet - just got them for Christmas - or he could have cornered the list. And I'm not at all prejudiced. Just because he's a wonderful person, super-nice and I'm... well, never mind. You'll find out eventually.

And no, those weren't the only ten books I read this past year! But they're the ones that stand out, ones I'd read again, will read again undoubtedly.

Now, a writerly question for you all. First lines and hooks. What grabs you? What do you like to see in a first line?

Why do I ask? Well, tomorrow night is the monthly non-critique meeting. A bunch of writers sitting around, drinking tea*, discussing writerly topics. Last time it was query letters. This time, first lines. So, if anyone has a first line they think is wonderful, or some characteristics to share, I'd appreciate it.

* That's what I'm calling it, and I'm sticking to it.


JamesO said...

Without wishing to sound too hagiographic, I reckon the opening line of Cold Granite has a lot going for it: 'Dead things had always been special to him.' It kind of sets the whole tone of the book nicely.

Iain Banks starts a chapter with the wonderful 'I was in bed with my aunt Jean' (except I can't remember the name of the aunt, and someone's nicked my copy of The Crow Road, so I've just assumed it's Jean). The narrator then goes on to explain that, yes, he is having sex with her, but that it's all right because she's not really his aunt. But that first sentence grabs you attention and makes it impossible for you not to read the rest of the chapter.

I'm a bit lame when it comes to opening lines - must get more practice. The best I could come up with was my first SF novel, which starts: 'Alicia wondered whose face she would be wearing today.'

In the main, though, I'm not sure that it's something a writer should lose too much hair about. As long as it's not a complete clunker of a sentence (like a certain bestselling author I slagged off here a few days ago - and you should analyse that at your meeting), then the fact that I've picked up the book at all means I'm going to give it the benefit of a few pages at least.

The word verification is Gyadzy, which is either an Eastern European mining town, or exactly how I'm feeling right now.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Thanks for that James!

I would agree that you shouldn't get too hung up on the first line.

Though I quite like my first line to this short story I'm working on. "I've been fucked before, but never quite like this." Works for me!

But I will definitely take those comments to the group as food for thought. I think people over-obsess about the beginning of their book often, and don't pay enough attention to maintaining it. I have the opposite problem - an editor told me its my first few chapters that need to be smoothed.

E. Ann Bardawill said...

Bulwer Lytton Contest first lines still me heaving giggle fits.

I's good practice in it's own twisted way.

So is thinking up names for bands.

E. Ann Bardawill said...


Insert the word "give" between 'still' and 'me'.

And DON'T tell MG, for the love of DOG!

Sandra Ruttan said...

I think MG was born with a pocket full of red pens. But editing on a blog? fcuk me. this is casual free speech, not sophisticated prose!

Trace said...

I loved Cold Granite and Winter's End. Haven't yet read The Touch of Ghosts. I can't wait for The Dying Light! I loved The Distant Echo.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Oh Trace, you'll love The Touch of Ghosts.

And with your love of tough chicks, I think you'd really like Simon Kernick - he's got tough men. I hope he won't kick my butt for me posting this, but what a start to The Murder Exchange:

"There is no feeling in the world more hopeless, more desperate, more frightening, than when you are standing looking at the end of a gun that's held steadily and calmly by someone you know is going to kill you. And impotent too. It's an impotent feeling realizing that nothing you do or say, no pleading, no begging, nothing is going to change the dead angle of that weapon, or prevent the bullet from leaving it and entering your body, ripping up your insides, and ending your experience, every thought, every dream you've ever had."

That grabs me and pulls me right in.

Boy Kim said...

"And DON'T tell MG, for the love of DOG!"

"I think MG was born with a pocket full of red pens."

I think I'd better read all future posts with my eyes closed then. But I'm claiming I'm someone who doesn't go looking for typos... they just seem to find me.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Was that typos or psychos Boy Kim?

Boy Kim said...

Well, now you come to mention it...

Sandra Ruttan said...

Maybe I should have you for dinner when I'm over in July...

Boy Kim said...

Your choice as to a response to that:

1) A la Hannibal, you mean?
b) I don't care when you have me, so long as you have me.
iii) Only if my therapist says it's ok for me to start meeting people again.
4) Ooooooh, a date! At last!
e) Your dungeon or mine?
vi) Maybe you should.

Sandra Ruttan said...

What do the ladies say? Do we have a vote on the options? Or just a new appreciation for how easy some men are?

(Kim, I am laughing. Not at you. Just your reply)

Anonymous said...

Sandra, I think you should be cautious about the cannibalism option – some nasty diseases are spread that way. Also, your visit to the UK might end up much longer than you intended without you seeing much outside a prison cell. The publicity would help sell your books, though.


Sandra Ruttan said...

Good points Kate.

And Welsh just doesn't sound very appetizing. Though at British prices likely the only accomodations I can afford are caves.

Boy Kim said...

I object heartily - or do I heartily object? Anyway... I never claimed not to be easy. And all the diseases I have are nice ones.

Totally agree with Kate re the publicity and book sales. It never did Arwin Meiwes any harm.

And if you're stuck for a place to stay, The Princesses have a spare hutch you could borrow.

Sandra Ruttan said...

I'll bear that in mind...

Though I'm not keen on going down in history as the first with Mad Kim Disease.

Dana Y. T. Lin said...

Sandra, I'm voting for E. I'm thinking Boy Kim is a Dungeon Master.

Boy Kim said...

Good choice, Dana. But I'm more of what a Dungeon Master (or Mistress in my case) needs to make their position worthwhile.

Sandra Ruttan said...

That would be something to beat on?

Boy Kim said...

Amongst other things, yes.