N.B. I wrote this and then couldn’t work out quite where to fit it in, until it occured to me that as this is an exceptional week I could post it today and it wouldn’t have to fit in at all. So here it is…
My own first drafts are often clumsy and confused, and nothing like the finely-honed and incisive fare that is eventually laid before you dear reader. (Ah yes, antiphrasis is not dead.) First sentences of first drafts are often nothing more than the manifestation of a pen trying to work out where to go and, more often than not, bear no resemblance whatsoever to what results from and evolves over them. Is it just me, or is it a stage that all great authors (Still not dead!), must work through? I took a delve into some working drafts of great opening sentences and this is what I found:
“…It was pissing down and the clock in the Town Hall was buggered again. Winston Smith, his chin tucked down into his new hessian shirt, slipped quickly through the controlled access doors of Loveme Avenue flats as, unaware of his presence, the delivery man came out, but not quick enough to prevent the mechanised lever movement from snipping off the brim of his hat.
The hallway smelt of boiled cabbage and old rag mats, but mostly of his coat. Well, not his really if I’m honest, it was much too big for him as he’d borrowed it from his Big Brother [I wonder what I should call him? I can’t just keep calling him Big Brother, that would be mad.] who was twice his size and actually didn’t mind the cats sleeping on it because they kept the rats off. He hated the rats…”
George Orwell – Nineteen Eighty Four.
“…Call me Derek [Kevin? Maybe something slightly more biblical. Simon maybe.] Some years ago – [Never mind how long precisely, it doesn’t matter until I’ve got some kind of idea where I’m going with this] – having little or no money in my purse and nothing much to interest me on shore [Irony: whatever it is, it must be preferable to tar up the crack of his arse and semi-digested weevils baked into his hard tack] I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world [Is ‘see the sea’ too nursery rhyme? I think I’d like to be allegorical – although I’d better look it up first. What should I call the whale? A blubbery white thing. Donald?]…”
Herman Melville – Moby Dick
“It was a pleasure to burn.
It was a pleasure to see things eaten, to see things blackened and changed. Of course, it did mean that Montag would almost certainly lose his job at the bakery but, hey ho, enjoy it while you can, he thought. The worse that could happen is that the Fire Brigade would come along and put the fire out…”
Ray Bradbury – Fahrenheit 451
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times [depending on your viewpoint I suppose], it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness [although sometimes it is difficult to tell them apart, particularly when they both work for the council], it was the epoch of belief [Do I mean epoch?] it was the epoch of incredulity [Check the thesaurus. Is there another word for epoch that isn’t age? Incredulity? What’s wrong with disbelief?], it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness [should I just say ‘Autumn’?], it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us [like a cheap Chinese buffet], we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way [except for those on the number 13 bus who were going via the shopping centre… Perhaps I should stop writing after I get back from the pub. I have no idea of where I’m going with this. Can I base a whole novel on antithesis? I wonder what I did with that plot about the orphan…]”
Charles Dickens – A Tale of Two Cities
“Here is Edward Bear, coming down the stairs now, bump, bump, bump on the back of his head, behind Christopher Robin. ‘Pick me up you little moron,’ he murmured under his breath. ‘Is there any wonder I am a bear of little brain. Look behind you, it’s scattered all over the shagpile. Most of my intellect winds up in the Hoover. Firm, my head used to be, firm, but now it’s got less stuffing than a British Rail Christmas sandwich. My stitching is less reliable than a politician in a crowded corridor…”
A. A. Milne – Winnie the Pooh
“Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral Arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun… [I’m not sure about this. Is it all just a little bit glib for a GCSE astronomy text book?]”
Douglas Adams – The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy