“No enthralling novel ever started with people having a cup of tea” Edna sighed. She was my editor and it was a tough job. I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t have been doing my editing except for the fact that my father owns the publishing house. I felt worried. If my opening line “They sat quietly drinking their tea while outside the world ended.” wasn’t good enough, what would she say about the other 315 pages?
We had had several discussions prior to this about the importance of the opening line. In fact I had based my whole book on mine.
She had made me re-write several times, each time telling me that my opening line had been copied from another writer. I said, “If it worked for them, it should work for me.”
The importance of the opening line was the theme of the first class I took on writing. Actually to be truthful, it was the only class I took on writing. There was this girl, looked like she knew a thing or two who smiled at me outside the next class and I followed her into her class. Next thing we had a weekly session in her digs, learning how to give each other pleasure. After all education comes in many forms, doesn’t it?
My first book was a family drama, and I found the perfect opening line. ‘It was the day my grandmother exploded.’ Edna told me it was not the sort of book she could allow the house to publish. I guess having the whole family wiped out by insects that crawled inside and ate them until they exploded doesn’t really fit with the image.
So I next tried a love story and had the perfect opening line. ‘This is the saddest story I have ever heard.’ Again Edna refused to work with me on it. She said “you really have to move past these insects that blow people up. Teenagers could be scarred for life reading about a first kiss that is explosive in that way.
‘None of the merry-go-rounds seem to work anymore.’ This seemed full of possibilities. I went off to the family cottage at the sea and spent a whole three weeks writing my book. I was sure this was to be my masterpiece, the one that would prove my father wrong about me. Again Edna refused to help, she said, “When all your characters die by having the life sucked out of them by large spiders, then I think submitting books to your father’s publishing house is not where you should be. How about something more genteel?”
So I found this. ‘Under certain circumstance there are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea’ and then changed it to suit my story. And I was extremely aggrieved when she spoke those fatal words. After all my demented killer of royalty who posed as the butler seemed just the character to get my father’s attention. I think it was the chainsaw he used to chop up the King of Umbria and post pieces of him in every royal bed that Edna disliked. I gather she likes fresh linen on her bed every night.
Eventually I realised I would have to find another way to get my father’s attention. After all he had created our dysfunctional family. It was all his fault! So I started with my brother and sister, then my step-mother. When he found me in the hall, holding the chainsaw all covered with blood I told him I had the perfect opening line for my biographer. ‘All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.’