How to Open a book?

It is one of those questions that writers worry at for ages. How to start your novel so that the reader is drawn into the story from the beginning.

This is the question that has been troubling me at the moment. I finished my new novel  ‘The Angel Bug’ last year.  I then spent considerable time editing it and it has been to my proof reader. I have it back now and I must now put in the time to make the corrections and contemplate any other changes I need to make before it is published.

In this case I am not only worrying over that crucial first line – but also where in the story I should start? At the beginning – is the usual answer, but the end (or should I say the bit just before the end) seems to be calling to me as it helps put the rest in perspective.

But is that a good idea – will it change the whole feel of what follows?  I have read and re-read my own book so often enough that I now have no idea.

This is where beta readers come in handy – folk who can manage to pass through and by the spelling and typo errors to tell you if your book has got IT and whether is pulls the reader into the world of your characters. So we come back to that first line!

Lets play a game – can you match these first lines to the correct book and author*? (*options below)

 1, “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.”

2, “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

3, “In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.”

4, “Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun.”

5, “It’s a funny thing about mothers and fathers. Even when their own child is the most disgusting little blister you could ever imagine, they still think that he or she is wonderful.”

6, “No one would have believed, in the last years of the nineteenth century, that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man’s and yet as mortal as his own; that as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were being scrutinized and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinize the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water.”

7, “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

8, “If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.”

Books and Authors:

A, The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald / B,  Matilda, Roald Dahl / C,  Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier / D,  The Catcher in the Rye, JD Salinger / E,  The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams / F,  Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy / G,  Pride & Prejudice, Jane Austen / H,  The War of the Worlds, H. G. Wells

That was fun – I hope you got most of them! Answers at the end of the blog. How did you do? Why not share this blog with friends  ( on FB or Twitter or forward it ) to see how they get on?

Now, here are my two openings vying for that special place. In each case I have given the chapter title too.

opening One

Gabbi 18 Oct 2011

Thirty years should change a man, I thought, but looking at the handsome face on the giant  poster it didn’t look like it had done much to Luke Adamson’s features except, perhaps, to hone them a little more, making him more rugged, a man to be taken seriously. 

opening Two

Emma 2084

I’m seventy-six this year and though I had known about the stuff since 2012, even I hadn’t put two and two together to realise what had happened to change everything so much, that is, not until I read the records my mother left behind.

I would LOVE to hear your feedback – what kind of book do you think it will be? Which first sentence makes you want to read on most? Could I even start with opening 2 and move straight on to opening 1?


1,C  /   2, G  /  3,A  /  4,E  /  5.B  /  6,H  /   7.F  /  8.D

If you’d like to read the openings of my other full novels just click on the book icon on the side bar – it will take you to a page where you can download the first 3 chapters for free.

(BTW – for FWT cheerleaders – half a pound down – only 1 to go!!!)


Cheesy panic stations!

I sabotaged my own business this week. 🙁

Just for those who may not know my alter-ego – ann of slate-ware – it is this business I am talking about – not the novel writing,

So there I am looking at the google adwords – you know those that appear beside the main body of searches and in the faintly (and getting fainter) pink block across the top.You probably know that all these ads are paid per click – so each time you click on one of these, the business who placed the ad pays google some money. Sounds vague – well this is because the business owner has to put a bid on how much they want to pay for their ad to be displayed when a range of specific keywords are put in by the potential customer. And it is vague. You are given ‘guidance’ like – “the average bid for page 1 is 15p” – meaning that you need to be bidding something in that region to get your ad on the first page.

Now, for certain items like slate plates and slate place cards my products naturally (organically) appear on the first page of the seach results. Fot these I do not usually advertise as well. However, some of my products do not appear on the first page, like slate clocks and slate cheeseboards, and for these I do.

So, I put in the search box one of my paid-for keywords, ‘slate cheeseboards’ – and expected to see my ad appear. It was not there! I tried another – still no ad. I checked that I had not had my limit already spent that day (You can set your own limit for how much you want to spend – but that can quickly get used up at this time of the year and I often have to increase it in November) however, it hadn’t all been used. What was going on?

Exploring my ad campaign, I found that google were now suggesting that this keyword would need an average bid of 49p for the ad to appear on the first page. Call me a miser if you like, but 49p a click !!! At that rate I’d have to put the price of the cheeseboards up, and that would never do!

Better by far, I thought, to get onto the first page naturally – but despite having one of the widest ranges of slate cheeseboards available on the Internet, my slate cheeseboards did not show until page 3 – which I am sure you will agree, is further than most people tend to go to look for items.

My webmaster advised that if I wanted that particular term to show up I should have it in my item names (they mostly said cheese board or cheeseboard) and to put them into a separate group – not just within Tableware.

I then spent hours doing this – adding the plural – setting up the new category, finessing the categories the cheeseboards appeared in to reallocate them and then, feeling please with myself, I tried a search.


All the results that appeared only led to an ‘error’ page for my website!

What do you do if the product you were looking for only gives you an error page – ….yep you just click it off.  Every single one of my dozen cheeseboards now led to an error page!

I had successfully sabotaged my own business! And at the most important time of the year!!  Which is pretty cheesy!!

Hot! Cold! Could I remember the exact words for each to put them all back? What of my bid for organic first page ranking? Panic, hair pulling  – you get the picture.

An URGENT message to my webmaster and a lot of holding my breath and crossing my fingers and the answer came back – maybe it can be sorted out!

***                        ****                           ******                     ********                *********

Fast forward a few days and my wonderful webmaster has almost sorted it all out – the links that have been developing all over the Internet over the past five years since I started my slate-ware business, once again lead the customer back to the correct page!

And everything is apple-pie again 🙂

Have you ever tried to improve something but got yourself into a worse predicament than when you started? Does the ‘mind’ of the Internet lose you along the way? Do share and make me feel a little better 😉


For FWT cheerleaders – same as last week – so close! Just  a pound and a half to go!


Give a cheer for Ginger Beer!

Returning to the theme of old (antique) bottles this week, and today it is ginger beer bottles! What is it about Ginger Beer that sounds exciting?

I’m looking at four stoneware bottles from the late Victorian period of slightly different dates.

All were found in a corner of the garden at our place. From the evidence of a few barrel hoops, much rusted, we guess they were put into a barrel for returning to the seller at some time, but it never happened and the barrel (sited behind what had been a small barn – and is now only a garden wall) got covered up and rotted away, so that when we were clearing the garden we found quite a number of these old bottles in the same area. Many were chipped or broken but an example of each we keep on show as part of the house history.

The earliest one appears to be this Dubbin’s as the name of the producer of this drink has had his name impressed into the damp clay.  We can see that  W. DUBBIN was a business in DEVONPORT (1882- 1916 which is now firmly part of Plymouth but at the time was still slightly apart. The bottle, as are the others, is made of stoneware and has a simple low-shine glaze all over, cream on the inside, brown on the out. (some stoneware bottles at this time glazed only the lip to shoulder outside) The base is unglazed.

One of the other bottles is also from DUBBIN’s – but by now they have really moved upmarket and their bottle is nicely trade-marked and tells you more about the contents.

The next bottle is from BRACHER’S of Plymouth (1897 or earlier  – 1914) with a very clear name and design glazed on the bottle.Cream glaze for the body of the bottle with a darker honey colour from shoulder to lip.

Our final stoneware bottle is from BISCOMBE’S of Plymouth (1850s – 1950s). By far the fanciest design on a very nice bottle, with ivory glaze inside and out.

I find it interesting that this simple drink had quite elaborate bottles to be sold in. They were, as I suggested, returnable for a small refund on them, and I for one am glad they never got round to returning these.

Thinking about this I realise I remember returning glass ‘fizzy pop’ bottles for the penny you got back on them at the shop (and promptly spent on halfpenny sweets) Something I hadn’t thought about for donkey’s years.

It is strange how memories can be triggered. Do you remember activities like this that were normal in your youth but just not done, not required or wanted today? And just why does ‘Ginger beer’ sound exciting??? Do share – I love to hear from you!

[For my FWT cheerleaders – same same this week {I knew a whole pound down in one week was too much at this stage!} so I’m all square and only one and a half pounds from my target!!



A ‘Fluffy’ post!

Hi All, and I do mean ALL, as I know lots of you will not have got my last post as the feedburner would not send it out to all your emails for me.

No!, No, no, it wasn’t too rude. Nor did it contain dodgy material [Well, I contend that it wasn’t dodgy material, though my friend Christine, who DID see the blog thought it well dodgy]  —  no, I made the post too large (it seems) with too many pictures of ………………. *SLUGS   (*Christine shudders; she doesn’t like slugs)

But seriously – the sheer numbers were amazing – and then there was the experiment I set up and … well – you’ll just have to scroll down to last week’s blog and take a look.

So I had to promise to do a ‘fluffier’ blog this week without slimy, creepy crawlies anywhere to be seen.

Enter the dog – she’s the fluffiest thing I have round here!  

As readers of the blog you will have realised that the dog is a labradoodle – and a curly ‘poodle’ coated one at that. This means that every six to eight weeks she needs cutting if I don’t want a her to have a long knot-forming, mud-bedraggling, puddle-bringing coat and with the almost constant wet and mud we’ve had this year – No I DO NOT!

First up is to get her into the bath. If her coat is not clean then the dirt in the fur will wreck the sharpness of the blades in the clippers. I need to get this done early on a day that looks like it will be warm enough to get her completely dry as damp fur does not cut well.

The day I chose looked promising, however, as it turned out she wasn’t quite dry so the hairdryer had to be employed and neither of us like that much, then it’s up onto the table!

I am used to clipping our dogs, in the past we have had standard poodles (for the uninitiated these are the largest size of poodle) and I always did a ‘country clip’. No poms, no shearing down to the skin  – just a nice even all-over cut. And it is a similar cut I use for the labradoodle – no leaving long whiskers or shaggy eyebrows.

I start with her face, before the clippers get warm and while she has maximum patience. Picture one has had the first few swipes at the fur on her nose done before I decided to record the trim, picture two is her nose all done.

I then trim all down one side of her body. Then down the other side. She started by standing but then chose to lie down. Left picture below shows half clipped, right shows both sides clipped.



She chose to flop over on one side so I then trimmed her legs and tummy on that side. It was tricky getting her to roll over so I could do the other side though.

Then it is on to clipping her feet. I think these are ticklish as she does her best not to let me get at them, amazingly even tucking them back under her legs. There is fur between the pads that has to be trimmed out carefully. Then her tail needs trimming by scissors to a sensible length (As I also do with the hair on the ears and on top of her head this way).



All done – she stands for me to take off any little bits I’ve missed and brush her down.

All that’s left then is to sweep up the clippings, wash the table and floor! What a lot of dog hair off one dog! It all goes on the compost heap – and if it is the spring it is often taken by small birds to line their nests!


So, here’s hoping this post isn’t too big and you all get to see it!

For my FWT cheerleaders – I am delighted to report a whole pound down. I know, I didn’t expect that so close to my target. Half a pound a week is fine at this level – so I am well pleased!

What pets do you have and how do you get on with their grooming? Is it a chore? Do you get it done by professionals?

Do share, I love to hear from you — and if you want to comment on the SLUGS – by all means drop down to that blog and let me know your thoughts on the collective noun for a group of slugs.


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