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Jera’s Jamboree : Guest Author Amanda James ~ the importance of those first few lines

I’m delighted to be welcoming Amanda James as part of Choc Lit’s blog tour today.

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Amanda James, has written since she was a child, but has taken it up seriously in the last five years.

Amanda has written many short stories and has four novels currently published. A Stitch in Time was published in April of 2013 by http://www.choclitpublishing.co.uk and has met with great success.

The newest, also with Choc Lit are Somewhere Beyond the Sea and Dancing in the Rain (March 2014)

Righteous Exposure is published by Crooked Cat Publishing. http://crookedcatpublishing.com/

Amanda’s blog – http://mandykjameswrites.blogspot.com/

Twitter – @akjames61

Facebook mandy.james.33

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Opening Pages

Thanks very much for having me as a guest on your blog today, Sharon.

I would like to talk about the importance of the first few lines and opening pages of a novel. When you consider the number of books on the shelves and virtual shelves nowadays, writers, and less well known writers in particular, have to make sure that when a reader opens the cover of their book they are compelled to read on. This of course is easier said than done and for me one of the hardest things to get right. The writer of course knows the story, or at least some of it, (I never really know what is going to happen!) but the reader has no clue apart from the blurb. Therefore, to make an impact and create enough interest for the reader to want to know the rest of the story is a little tricky. They have no knowledge of the various characters’ personality, feelings, motives or twists and turns of the plot, because literally nothing has happened yet.

I mainly write within the romantic suspense/mystery genre though my first novel with Choc Lit was A Stitch in Time which is actually time travel.

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It could be argued that with writing suspense, it is somewhat easier to create a dramatic opening than some genres, but that keeping up the mystery without giving too much away as the story progresses is far from simple. I love a challenge, and that’s one of the reasons I love writing suspense. So, let’s go back to how to make an impact in the opening pages. I have included below those of my new novel Somewhere Beyond the Sea to illustrate what I mean. The opening is just over a page long and is also the first chapter :

I folded my clothes neatly and placed them with the precision of a drill-sergeant on a flat rock by the shore. I positioned the letter in its blue envelope carefully on top and weighed it down with a round white pebble. Standing before the moonlit water, I felt the caress of the breeze like salt kisses over my naked skin.

I began in first person to engender a feeling of ‘being there’ in the reader. The folding of clothes by the shore and the mention of a letter should also ring a few alarm bells in the readers’ head.

I walked a few steps nearer to the sea. Firm sand cushioned my steps and despite my weight, each footfall barely left an imprint. Surf foamed in, tickled my toes and encouraged me further. Out on the island, the glass eye of the lighthouse winked as if it knew my secret, and a gull wheeled above in day-bright moonshine. I spread my arms wide, tilted my head to the dazzling stars and inhaled. I belonged to the universe. I relished the sense of freedom, the oneness with nature.

The reader should now have some kind of picture of the person on the beach. They are overweight, have a secret, and feeling exhilarated. They are genderless however which adds to the mystery. Is the person male or female? The reader might want to check back to see if they have missed any clues.

Ironically I had never felt so alive.

I left a space between the end of the last paragraph to create more impact with the above seven word sentence. The reader should be by now putting two and two together as to what exactly is happening.

Lowering my arms again, I turned to have a last look at the cliff tops. In my mind’s eye, beyond them I could see the Cornish village where I had lived for the past sixteen years. I could see every little street and lane, every little country garden. Most of the buildings were now in darkness of course, apart from the light of a lamp or two.

So now the reader knows the beach is in Cornwall and the person is at least sixteen years old.

There was no light in my mother’s house.

The reader is hopefully wondering why there is no light and what the mother has to do with the situation. Again I left a gap and continue to do so for the rest of the page.

Turning back towards the waves I stepped forward, one, two, three long strides. No hint of hesitation fettered, nor apprehension restrained.

This was it. This was what came next.

The weight of the incoming tide was my only barrier, but even as a breath caught in my throat, I gritted my teeth against the cold and plunged headlong.

I would tire of course … soon. But for now, with adrenaline pumping in my veins, legs and arms powering my body through the waves, for now I was strong, free, and in control of my destiny.

I decided to close the chapter here to maximise the impact and hopefully leave the reader eager to find out what happens next. Does the person drown or not? If yes, why did they take their own life? Who were they? If not, what happens to them next?

Questioning sets up a ‘dialogue’ between writer and reader which I believe is essential. It enables the reader to really engage with the text and helps to engender a satisfying read.  Sometimes these questions aren’t asked in any conscious way but are part of the ‘feeling’ the reader has for a book. I always ask questions when reading suspense in particular, but it happens in all genres, even if it us just to the extent of ‘will they get together or won’t they?’ It is all part of the dialogue. This dialogue is either strong enough to keep you eagerly turning those pages and reading to the end, or to end the conversation early and close the book.

I hope I have managed to do the former :)

Thanks very much, Sharon. It has been great fun.

I’m hooked Amanda!  

The best books for me are when my notes are littered with question marks …

SBTS_hirespackshot-smallPaperback: 336 pages
Publisher: Choc Lit (7 April 2014)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1781891206
ISBN-13: 978-1781891209

When love begins with a lie, where will it end?

Doctor Tristan Ainsworth has returned with his family to the idyllic Cornish village close to where he grew up. The past has taught him some hard lessons, but he’ll do anything to make his wife happy – so what’s making her so withdrawn?

Karen Ainsworth daren’t reveal her true feelings, but knows her husband has put up with her moods for too long. A chance to use her extraordinary singing voice may set her free, so why shouldn’t she take it? Surely her past can’t hurt her now?

As a tide of blackmail and betrayal is unleashed to threaten the foundations of their marriage, Karen and Tristan face a difficult question. Is their love strong enough to face the truth when the truth might cost them everything?

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