See you in 2014!!!

I’m taking a break until the New Year.

I won’t be back till mid January.

There are three reasons: one, it’s Christmas, and I am outta here.

(Besides, bourbon and blogs don’t mix.)

Two, on January 9 I’m moving continents again and that means getting a new internet provider, blah, blah, blah. Nerdy stuff needs taking care of.

And three, I’m getting my own bigger, newer site and I want to get it right. When I return you’ll see huge changes. All for the good, we hope.

Meantime, have a great holiday everyone. To all of you who have visited my blog through the year, left comments – thank you. I’ll tell Santa you’ve been good.

If you’re subscribed to the blog and you want to make sure you stay connected – please sign up to my newsletter. Then no matter what the Technology Gods do, we won’t lose touch.

Have a great 2014!

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ARE YOU IN DANGER OF HAVING AN ARACHNOLEPTIC FIT?

I’m writing a series about Shakespeare right now.

Did you know that he introduced something like several thousand words into the English language that had never been used before?

The one constant of all languages is change; neologisms appear all the time. Words commonly used today such as webinar, indie, omnishambles and Brangelina were unknown 20 years ago.

And nobody Googled.

Here’s some other neologisms; some of them are in use, some are merely humorous. I’ll leave you to decide which is which …

 Arachnoleptic fit: The frantic dance performed by someone who has just walked through a spider web.

Bangster : someone who works for a bank

Bozone : the substance surrounding stupid people that stops ideas from penetrating.

Caterpallor: the color you turn after finding half a grub in the salad you’re eating.

Celebaby: the baby of a celebrity

Circumvent: an opening in the front of boxer shorts worn by Jewish men.

Coughin: any enclosure where smokers go to smoke

Crapacity: the size of one’s attic or garage

Crapplause: a polite but unenthusiastic expression of approval.

Decafalon: getting through a whole day consuming only things that are good for you.

Deskfast: breakfast eaten at work at your desk

Digital afterlife: what remains of a person on the internet after they’ve died

Dryathlon: a period of abstinence from alcohol

Ego surfer:  A person who searches for his own name on Google

Facekini: a face mask worn on the beach to protect facial tanning

Flabbergasted:  appalled over how much weight you have gained. (eg after Christmas)

Foreploy: misrepresenting facts about yourself in order to get get laid.

Frisbeetarianism: the belief that, when you die, your soul flies up onto the roof and gets stuck there.

Gastrocrat: a wealthy person who spends all their money in expensive restaurants

Gaydar: A homosexual person’s ability to identify another homosexual in a crowded room

Geobragging: continual Facebook updates from foreign locations to make other people jealous.

Giraffiti: graffiti painted very, very high.

Grass ceiling: the barrier to career advancement due to an inability to play golf

Ignoranus: someone who’s both stupid and an asshole.

Inoculatte: to start the day with four coffees in order to get through it

Karmageddon: its like, when everybody is giving off all these really seriously bad vibes, right? And then, like, the Earth explodes and it’s like, man, wow, serious bummer.

Ladybro: a woman’s female friend

Listicle: article based on a list of points. Something like this one

Lymph: to walk with a lisp.

Mansplain: to explain something to a woman in a patronizing way

Negligéent: a condition in which a woman absentmindedly answers the door in her nightgown.

Pawdicure: a pedicure for a dog

Percycution: giving your child a name he will hate for the rest of his life.

Phubbing: snubbing someone in a social situation by looking at your phone instead of at them

Pokemon: a Rastafarian proctologist.

Rectitude: the dignified bearing adopted by proctologists.

Refiance: to change your mind about marrying someone

Sarchasm: The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn’t get it.

Skilljoy: a friend who’s just that bit better than you at everything.

Spankbuster : a best selling novel with a lot of bondage scenes.

Staycation: a holiday where you stay at home

Tweet cred: your social standing on Twitter.

Twinterrupt: to stop talking to someone in order to check your cell phone for messages

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Holy Week, Easter, Spain

COLIN FALCONER

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THE REAL CLEOPATRA. 23 THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW

When I first wrote about Cleopatra I was considering making her blonde.

Many historians had suggested she was fair. Her Macedonian heritage made it entirely possible.

But you can’t! my editor told me, when I first suggested it. Everyone knows she was a brunette with a bob!

Cleopatra, Julius Caesar, Marc Antony

She was referring of course to the woman people still consider the ‘real’ Cleopatra – Elizabeth Taylor.

It’s fifty years since that iconic movie was released and the film itself contained as much drama and tragedy as there was in its namesake’s lifetime.

Here are some things you should know:

1. The movie was the highest grossing film of 1963, it was sold out
 for four months and earned US $26 million - yet it almost 
bankrupted Fox Studios - because it cost $44 million to make (the 
equivalent of about a third of a billion today.). The original 
budget was 2 million. Dang!

2. It was originally intended as a vehicle for Joan Collins. Audrey Hepburn, Susan Hayward and Dorothy Dandridge were also mooted. The first choice for Caesar was Peter o’Toole with Marlon Brando as Antony.

3. When Taylor’s husband Eddie Fisher answered the phone and called 
out to her that Fox wanted her to play Cleopatra, she said, as a 
joke: "Sure, tell them I'll do it for a million dollars." Fox took 
her seriously and paid up.

4. Elizabeth Taylor was the first woman to be paid one million dollars for a movie. After extra payments for delays in the shooting schedule, she pocketed seven million, the equivalent of almost fifty million today.

5. Taylor fell ill during shooting in London and almost died. 
Surgeons performed an emergency tracheotomy to save her life. The 
scar can be seen in some shots.

6. Filming began in London but it was too cold and wet. All the exotic plants died so the shooting was relocated to Rome. The set was finally used for the British comedy, Carry on Cleo.

7. When they sacked the first director, Rouben Mamoulian, the 
studio wanted Hitchcock to replace him. He made The Birds instead.

8. Burton showed up on the first day of shooting so badly hungover that Taylor had to help him drink a cup of coffee. At first he couldn’t stand her – he referred to her as ‘Miss Tits.’

9. The production required so much lumber that building 
materials became scarce throughout Italy.

10. A group of female extras who played Cleopatra’s slave girls went on strike to demand that the Italian male extras stop pinching their butts. The studio eventually hired a guard to protect them.

Cleopatra, Julius Caesar, Marc Antony

11. Fox had chilli from Chasens in Los Angeles air freighted to 
Italy for Taylor, just to keep her happy.

12. Taylor and Burton began an adulterous love affair on the set, and it soon made headlines around the world. Even the Vatican weighed in.

13. In Mark Antony's bath scene, you can see a bright yellow 
plastic sponge floating on the water. (At least it wasn’t a rubber 
duck.)

14. Filming of Cleopatra’s triumphant entry into Rome, requiring thousands of extras, had to be re-shot because one of the extras could be seen selling ice cream.

15. While building the set of Alexandria in Anzio, several 
construction workers were killed by an unexploded mine left over 
from World War II.

16. Egypt initially refused to let Elizabeth Taylor into the country because she was Jewish. They relented when they realized how many dollars they could make out of it for themselves.

Cleopatra, Julius Caesar, Marc Antony

17. The scene showing Cleopatra's navy required huge numbers of 
ships. It was said at the time that Twentieth Century-Fox had the 
third largest navy in the world.

18. Taylor and her female extras went through eight thousand pairs of shoes in the course of the year while shooting the movie. (Beat Kim Kardashian by one!)

19. There is no final battle sequence because Fox ran out of money.

20. Director Joseph Mankiewicz was fired after shooting but rehired for the editing because no one else could work out how to cobble the six hour mess of a movie together.

21. Taylor won a Guinness World Record for most costume changes in 
a film, which she held until Madonna pipped her thirty three years 
later in 'Evita'.

22. The finished script was as thick as the Beverly Hills phone book.

23. The original cut of the movie was 6 hours long. Mankievicz 
wanted the film released as two separate pictures, "Caesar and 
Cleopatra" and "Antony and Cleopatra,’ each of 3 hours, but the 
studios wanted to cash in on the moral outrage over Burton and 
Taylor’s affair. The film shown at the premiere was just over four 
hours. The other two hours are now missing.

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Cleopatra, Julius Caesar, Egypt

“This is the riveting story of Egypt’s last and greatest queen … creating a vivid portrait of an unforgettable woman who thrived and triumphed in a world ruled by men.”

– Publishers Weekly

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Holy Week, Easter, Spain

COLIN FALCONER

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18 gems about writing from 16¼ great authors

1. If you write one story, it may be bad; if you write a hundred,
 you have the odds in your favor. - Edgar Rice Burroughs

2. I believe more in the scissors than I do in the pencil.

– Truman Capote

critics, Melissa McCarthy, Roger Ebert

3. Everybody walks past a thousand story ideas every day. The good 
writers are the ones who see five or six of them. Most people don't
 see any. - Orson Scott Card

4. When men ask me how I know so much about men, they get a simple answer: everything I know about men, I learned from me.

– Anton Chekhov

5. It is perfectly okay to write garbage--as long as you edit 
brilliantly. - C. J. Cherryh

6. Put down everything that comes into your head and then you’re a writer. But an author is one who can judge his own stuff’s worth, without pity, and destroy most of it.

– Colette

7. Books aren't written, they're rewritten. Including your own. 
It is one of the hardest things to accept, especially after the 
seventh rewrite hasn't quite done it...
- Michael Crichton

8. Never throw up on an editor.

– Ellen Datlow

9. Tell the readers a story! Because without a story, you are 
merely using words to prove you can string them together in logical
 sentences. - Anne McCaffrey

10. The task of a writer consists in being able to make something out of an idea.

– Thomas Mann

Thomas Mann, writing tips, famous writers

source: bundesarchiv-bild-183-h28795-/cc-by-sa.jpg

11. All the words I use in my stories can be found in the 
dictionary - it's just a matter of arranging them into the right 
sentences. 
- W. Somerset Maugham

12. The reader has certain rights. He bought your story. Think of this as an implicit contract. He’s entitled to be entertained, instructed, amused; maybe all three. If he quits in the middle, or puts the book down feeling his time has been wasted, you’re in violation.

– Larry Niven

13. Fantasy doesn't have to be fantastic. American writers in 
particular find this much harder to grasp. You need to have your 
feet on the ground as much as your head in the clouds. The cute 
dragon that sits on your shoulder also craps all down your back, 
but this makes it more interesting because it gives it an added 
dimension. 
- Terry Pratchett
Larry Niven photo: David Corby

Larry Niven
photo: David Corby

14. The main question to a novel is – did it amuse? were you surprised at dinner coming so soon? did you mistake eleven for ten? were you too late to dress? and did you sit up beyond the usual hour? If a novel produces these effects, it is good; if it does not – story, language, love, scandal itself cannot save it. It is only meant to please; and it must do that or it does nothing.

– Sydney Smith

15. There is no idea so stupid or hackneyed that a sufficiently
talented writer can't get a good story out of it. 
- Lawrence Watt-Evans

16. There is no idea so brilliant or original that a sufficiently-untalented writer can’t screw it up.

-Raymond Feist

17. It is my contention that a really great novel is made with a 
knife and not a pen. A novelist must have the intestinal fortitude 
to cut out even the most brilliant passage so long as it doesn't 
advance the story. 
- Frank Yerby

18. If you can tell stories, create characters, devise incidents, and have sincerity and passion, it doesn’t matter a damn how you write.

– W. Somerset Maugham

Somerset Maugham, Of Human Bondage

19. Fiction writing is great. You can make up almost anything.

– Ivana Trump, upon finishing her first novel

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Naked, Havana, romantic suspense

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COLIN FALCONER

Posted in WRITING | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

So yew want to bee a riter?

Last week we took a look at some of the entrants in the Bulwer Lytton contest. They were all, you’ll agree, very good at being very bad.

But they were trying to be awful.

What about the writers who weren’t?

The organizers of the contest have quietly been collecting entries from real published books.

Like this one:

 "She wore a dress the same color as her eyes her father brought 
her from San Francisco."

He … he what? No, I’ve got it now; he was looking for an iPod or an iPad and didn’t have enough money so just got her the i’s.

That author sells millions of books worldwide every year.

I love this, from Harlequin:

"The possessiveness in his voice was deep and strong, its triumphant
 throb cutting through the layers of sexual delight as thoroughly 
as a knife through warm butter, and it hit her like a deluge of 
cold water."

I loved a good mixed metaphor, especially a throbbing one.

 From the same novel:

 "The fifty-or-so-mile drive to Donato's magnificent villa in 
Sorrento would be no problem – the Mercedes’ excellent air 
conditioning added to the fact that the late-April temperature was 
only just touching seventy degrees made traveling at midday still a 
pleasure, unlike in high summer – but sitting in close proximity 
to Donato for well over an hour was a different matter."

This next one is just so bad, it’s brilliant. I suspect it’s Donato again, switching publishers. He sounds like he’s the easy-going type. But this time he’s using a different antiperspirant:

From a book published by Zebra Press.

 "She rode astride him like a bucking bronco in the rodeo of the 
flesh."

This next one is written by a man. Can you tell?

 "She popped the elastic at the top of the second sock and pushed 
her sexually ambiguous Timex watch up along the blond hairs of her 
handsome forearms."

My own humble Tissot is not sexually ambiguous at all, I’m afraid, but it does glow in the dark. I’ve always found it helps when my sock elastic pops at night. 

Or there’s this:

 "He was as guarded as a virgin, but infinitely more experienced."

It might be me, but I found that confusing. I’ve not met that many guarded, experienced virgins. Maybe I should get out more.

Still, I think experienced virgins and bucking rodeo flesh (yee-aah!) is still an improvement on what readers had to endure a hundred and fifty years ago.

I don’t like to speak ill of the dead but her name was Adeline Dutton Whitney and this is from one of her nineteenth century novels called ‘Faith Gartney’s Girlhood’:

"East or West, it matters not where – the story may, doubtless, 
indicate something of the latitude and longitude as it proceeds – in
 the city of Mishaumok, lived Henderson Gartney, Esq., one of those
 American gentlemen of whom, if she were ever canonized, Martha of
 Bethany must be the patron saint – if again, feminine celestials,
 sainthood once achieved through the weary experience of earth, 
don’t know better than to assume such charge of wayward man – born,
 as they are, seemingly, to the life-destiny of being ever 'careful
 and troubled about many things.' "

 I hope you got all that. There’s going to be a quiz later.

Until now I have kept the entries anonymous but I’m sure you will all recognize who wrote this:

 "Even before the deal with Straker had been consummated (that’s 
some word all right, he thought, and his eyes crawled over the front
 of his secretary’s blouse), Lawrence Crockett was, without doubt, 
the richest man in ‘Salem's Lot' and one of the richest in 
Cumberland County, although there was nothing about his office or 
his person to indicate it."

 Now, here’s the thing: it is a Stephen King novel so did his eyes actually crawl over her blouse – or did he mean it just figuratively?

And were they the same eyes that other author bought in California?

He’s Stephen King, he’s allowed small lapses. This, on the other hand, is taken from a murder mystery. I’ll give you a clue, it isn’t Elmore Leonard.

"Having had time to think it over, Andrew had decided that he did 
not believe in this for a moment. If he had not been so unfortunate
 at different times during the last few years as to become involved
 in the solution of a murder or two, so that he was more inclined 
than he would have been before he had been drawn into that rather 
gruesome activity to think that his own wild guesses were sometimes
 perhaps to be taken seriously, he would not even have considered 
such a possibility."

Unless you’ve had some training in predictive legal analysis, I wouldn’t advise attempting that sentence a second time.

 Let’s finish with Harlequin again. I could get hooked on these novels!

 "He spun round in the doorway with a violence that was tangible, 
surveying her bitterly with hard, blazing eyes before banging the 
door so savagely that the whole room shuddered and whimpered before
 sinking into an unearthly silence."

Ah, unearthly silence.

Sounds good to me!

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Braveheart, Edward II, Isabella

ISABELLA, Braveheart of France.

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Holy Week, Easter, SpainCOLIN FALCONER

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HOW NELSON MANDELA’S LIFE CAN CHANGE YOURS

Nelson Mandela was not a saint, by his own admission.

Nelson Mandela, apartheid, South Africa

source: Agência Brasil

His first wife divorced him because of his adulteries.

He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 but in the early sixties he advocated violent struggle.

And although he publicly preached forgiveness, he once let go and gave former South African President FW de Klerk a serve at the Nobel dinner after the award ceremony was over.

He was essentially human.

Yet he triumphed, personally and politically, against overwhelming odds.

Another man might have been left embittered and defeated after 27 years in prison. Mandela instead emerged victorious, a beacon to ‘sinners’ like himself.

There are things he said and did that forever changed the way I looked at the world, and at life. You might like to keep them on your wall, as a daily inspiration, as I have pinned them on mine. 

1. I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the 
triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, 
but he who conquers that fear.

2. There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.

 3. It always seems impossible until its done.

4. There is no easy walk to freedom anywhere, and many of us will
have to pass through the valley of the shadow of death again and
again before we reach the mountaintop of our desires.

5. “I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature
 or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s
 head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward. There were
 many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but
 I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lays
 defeat and death.” 
— from his autobiography: 'The Long Walk to Freedom.'

 6. “The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in
rising every time we fall.”

7. “Difficulties break some men but make others. No axe is sharp 
enough to cut the soul of a sinner who keeps on trying, one armed 
with the hope that he will rise even in the end.” 
— From a letter to Winnie Mandela, 1975

8. “Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill
your enemies.”

9. “Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I 
fell down and got back up again.”

10. “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my
freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind,
I’d still be in prison.”

11. I am not a saint, unless you think of a saint as a sinner who 
keeps on trying.”

12. One of the things I learned when I was negotiating was that
until I changed myself, I could not change others.”

13. “A winner is a dreamer who never gives up.”

14. Nothing is black or white.”

15. "Quitting is leading too.”

16. I am not an optimist, but a great believer of hope.”

Hamba Kahle, Madibe. Thank you for a life of such great inspiration.
"Death is something inevitable. When a man has done what he 
considers to be his duty to his people and his country, he can rest
in peace. I believe I have made that effort and that is, therefore,
why I will sleep for the eternity."
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ARE THESE THE WORST 12 OPENING LINES EVER?

1. “She strutted into my office wearing a dress that clung to her 
like Saran Wrap to a sloppily butchered pork knuckle, bone and sinew
 jutting and lurching asymmetrically beneath its folds, the 
tightness exaggerating the granularity of the suet and causing what
 little palatable meat there was to sweat, its transparency the 
thief of imagination.”
- Chris Wieloch

 No? Perhaps you’re not into detective fiction. Try a love story:

 2. “As he told her that he loved her she gazed into his eyes, 
wondering, as she noted the infestation of eyelash mites, the tiny
 deodicids burrowing into his follicles to eat the greasy sebum 
therein, each female laying up to 25 eggs in a single follicle, 
causing inflammation, whether the eyes are truly the windows of the
 soul; and, if so, his soul needed regrouting.”
 — Cathy Bryant

 Not bad. But perhaps a metaphor is better:

 3. “Cheryl’s mind turned like the vanes of a wind-powered turbine, 
chopping her sparrow-like thoughts into bloody pieces that fell onto
 a growing pile of forgotten memories.” 
 — Sue Fondrie

 No? Too florid? Try this one:

 4. “For the first month of Ricardo and Felicity’s affair, they 
greeted one another at every stolen rendezvous with a kiss – a 
lengthy, ravenous kiss, Ricardo lapping and sucking at Felicity’s 
mouth as if she were a giant cage-mounted water bottle and he were 
the world’s thirstiest gerbil.
— Molly Ringle

You could do worse – or maybe you couldn’t – by beginning your story with a cataclysm:

 5. “Gerald began – but was interrupted by a piercing whistle which
 cost him ten percent of his hearing permanently, as it did 
everyone else in a ten-mile radius of the eruption, not that it 
mattered much because for them “permanently” meant the next ten 
minutes or so until buried by searing lava or suffocated by choking
 ash – to pee.”
— Jim Gleeson.

 Or perhaps with a dramatic entrance?

 6. “Detective Bart Lasiter was in his office studying the light 
from his one small window falling on his super burrito when the door
 swung open to reveal a woman whose body said you’ve had your last 
burrito for a while, whose face said angels did exist, and whose 
eyes said she could make you dig your own grave and lick the 
shovel clean.” 
— Jim Guigli.

 Some girl. But this one sounds like a heart-breaker too:

7. As he stared at her ample bosom, he daydreamed of the dual 
Stromberg carburetors in his vintage Triumph Spitfire, highly 
functional yet pleasingly formed, perched prominently on top of the
 intake manifold, aching for experienced hands, the small knurled 
caps of the oil dampeners begging to be inspected and adjusted as 
described in chapter seven of the shop manual. 
— Dan McKay

 No good? Why don’t we start with an ending:

8. She resolved to end the love affair with Ramon tonight … 
summarily, like Martha Stewart ripping the sand vein out of a 
shrimp’s tail … though the term “love affair” now struck her as a 
ridiculous euphemism … not unlike “sand vein,” which is after all 
an intestine, not a vein … and that tarry substance inside certainly
 isn’t sand … and that brought her back to Ramon. 
— Dave Zobel

 But it may be better to set the scene properly first:

 9. Through the gathering gloom of a late-October afternoon, along 
the greasy, cracked paving-stones slick from the sputum of the sky,
 Stanley Ruddlethorp wearily trudged up the hill from the cemetery 
where his wife, sister, brother, and three children were all buried,
 and forced open the door of his decaying house, blissfully unaware
 of the catastrophe that was soon to devastate his life. 
— Dr. David Chuter

 If you’re writing a cerebral, literary novel, your first sentence should make it clear:

10. She wasn’t really my type, a hard-looking but untalented 
reporter from the local cat box liner, but the first second that the
 third-rate representative of the fourth estate cracked open a new 
fifth of old Scotch, my sixth sense said seventh heaven was as close
 as an eighth note from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, so, nervous as 
a tenth grader drowning in eleventh-hour cramming for a physics 
exam, I swept her into my longing arms, and, humming “The Twelfth 
of Never,” I got lucky on Friday the thirteenth. 
— Wm. W. “Buddy” Ocheltree

 Whatever you do, let the reader know what kind of story you’re writing:

11. The countdown had stalled at T minus 69 seconds when Desiree, 
the first female ape to go up in space, winked at me slyly and 
pouted her thick, rubbery lips unmistakably – the first of many such
 advances during what would prove to be the longest, and most 
memorable, space voyage of my career." 
— Martha Simpson

No, perhaps you’re right. They say starting with the weather is best:

12. "Sultry it was and humid, but no whisper of air caused the 
plump, laden spears of golden grain to nod their burdened heads as 
they unheedingly awaited the cyclic rape of their gleaming treasure,
 while overhead the burning orb of luminescence ascended its 
ever-upward path toward a sweltering celestial apex, for although 
it is not in Kansas that our story takes place, it looks godawful 
like it." 
— Judy Frazier

Bad? Really terrible?

Well, they’re meant to be.

They are all past winners of the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest sponsored by the English department at San Jose State University. Entrants are invited to compose the worst opening sentence to a novel they can imagine – the examples above are all grand winners of the sumptuous first prize of $250.

The competition attracts over ten thousand entries every year – they don’t do it for the money, they do it for the love of the sport.

Some of them have an element of genius:

She made you want to dig your own grave and lick the shovel clean.’

I think Elmore Leonard might have coveted that zinger.

The competition was named after English novelist and playwright Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, who began his 1830 novel, ‘Paul Clifford’, this way:

“It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents, except 
at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of 
wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene 
lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the 
scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.”

So this is why you should never start your novel with a dark and stormy night … or a bright and sunny day. It’s not just poor technique; it’s because it reminds people of Bulwer-Lytton.

I’m happy to report that my latest novel does not start with the weather:

 John F Kennedy, Dallas, assassination, Lee Harvey Oswald, conspiracy

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Colin Falconer, bestseller, historical fiction

COLIN FALCONER

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THE BEST 43 OPENING LINES IN NOVEL WRITING HISTORY

They say you can’t judge a book by its cover.

best opening lines, Hemingway, Dickens, AustenA good cover may make us pick the book up and think about buying it.

But it’s the first lines are crucial in helping us decide whether we are going to keep reading or not.

For my own part, I’ve read plenty of good books whose first lines I don’t remember.

I even tore out the first three pages of one of my favorite novels – The Poisonwood Bible – when I came to re-read it. (Thank God I persisted that first time. )

But all in all, you can never underestimate the power of a good opening line.

Here are 43 of the best in Literature:

1. "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in
 possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife."
 - Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

There’s the hero, the problem and the goal in the first sentence. Brilliant.

2. "Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel 
Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his 
father took him to discover ice."
- Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 100 Years of Solitude 

So many questions and all from just one sentence.

best opening lines, Hemingway, Dickens, Austen3. “Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins.”

Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita 

The best opening to a crime novel since Donald Westlake.

4. "It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking 
thirteen. "
— George Orwell, 1984

They … what? What sort of world are we in?

5. "It was the best of times, it was the worst 
of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was 
the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of
belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it 
was the season of Light, it was the season of 
Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was 
the winter of despair."
- Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

Overblown, overdone, Hemingway’s eyes would have bled. But somehow it works. People who never read Dickens know that first line.

best opening lines, Hemingway, Dickens, Austen

copyright: Little Brown. Claimed as fair use

6. “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.”

— J. D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

I believe this is what agents mean when they use the term: ‘voice’.

 

7. "It was a wrong number that started it, the telephone ringing 
three times in the dead of night, and the voice on the other end 
asking for someone he was not." 
— Paul Auster, City of Glass

That started – what? And who were they asking for?

8. "Mother died today." 
— Albert Camus, The Stranger.

Slap. Right between the eyes.

9. "Every summer Lin Kong returned to Goose Village to divorce 
his wife, Shuyu."
- Ha Jin, Waiting

He did WHAT? every year?

10. I am a sick man . . . I am a spiteful man.
 Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Notes from Underground

And I am a man that will keep reading to find out more.

11. "They shoot the white girl first."
—Toni Morrison, Paradise 

Brilliant, yet simple.

best opening lines, Hemingway, Dickens, Austen12. “He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish.”

— Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea 

Protagonist, main problem and goal all in the first line. This is why he got his reputation as an economical writer.

13. It was the day my grandmother exploded. 
— Iain M. Banks, The Crow Road 

Hard not to be hooked after that. The day your grandmother explodes is always an important day.

At least, it was in my family.

14. It was love at first sight. 
— Joseph Heller, Catch-22 

And nothing like the kind of love the reader is expecting. The novel just keeps getting better, funnier and stranger from there.

15. "What if this young woman, who writes such bad poems, in 
competition with her husband, whose poems are equally bad, should 
stretch her remarkably long and well-made legs out before you, so 
that her skirt slips up to the tops of her stockings?"
— Gilbert Sorrentino, Imaginative Qualities of Actual Things

Yes, yes, yes! What if?

16. "I have never begun a novel with more misgiving." 
— W. Somerset Maugham, The Razor's Edge

Really? Why?

17. "In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some
 advice that I've been turning over in my mind ever since." 
- F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

And of course we want to know what that advice is.

18. "Francis Marion Tarwater's uncle had been dead for only half a 
day when the boy got too drunk to finish digging his grave and a 
Negro named Buford Munson, who had come to get a jug filled, had to 
finish it and drag the body from the breakfast table where it was 
still sitting and bury it in a decent and Christian way, with the 
sign of its Saviour at the head of the grave and enough dirt on top 
to keep the dogs from digging it up." 
— Flannery O'Connor, The Violent Bear it Away

Flannery was a genius. She never said more than she needed to say but it was always enough to keep the reader asking why.

best opening lines, Hemingway, Dickens, Austen19. “Granted: I am an inmate of a mental hospital; my keeper is watching me, he never lets me out of his sight; there’s a peephole in the door, and my keeper’s eye is the shade of brown that can never see through a blue-eyed type like me.”

— Günter Grass, The Tin Drum

Voice, voice, voice.

20. "The past is a foreign country; they do things differently 
there."
  — L. P. Hartley, The Go-Between

Wonderful metaphor, and so many questions arise from this simple sentence. You just have to know what he means and why the past is important to him.

21. "Justice?—You get justice in the next world, in this world you 
have the law." 
— William Gaddis, A Frolic of His Own

Which tells you everything you need to know about where this novel is going

22. "Vaughan died yesterday in his last car-crash."
— J. G. Ballard, Crash

Not A car crash. His LAST one. Brilliant.

23. "I write this sitting in the kitchen sink." 
— Dodie Smith, I Capture the Castle

You can’t possibly not read on to find out why.

24. "I, Tiberius Claudius Drusus Nero Germanicus This-that-and-the-
other (for I shall not trouble you yet with all my titles) who was 
once, and not so long ago either, known to my friends and relatives 
and associates as "Claudius the Idiot," or "That Claudius," or 
"Claudius the Stammerer," or "Clau-Clau-Claudius" or at best as 
"Poor Uncle Claudius," am now about to write this strange history 
of my life; starting from my earliest childhood and continuing year
 by year until I reach the fateful point of change where, some eight
 years ago, at the age of fifty-one, I suddenly found myself caught
 in what I may call the "golden predicament" from which I have never
 since become disentangled."
- Robert Graves, I, Claudius 

Robert Graves establishing voice and telling us the story he’s going to tell us and all in one long, meandering but somehow compelling sentence.

25. "Of all the things that drive men to sea, the most common 
disaster, I've come to learn, is women." 
— Charles Johnson,  Middle Passage

No argument from me there.

26. Psychics can see the color of time it's blue. 
— Ronald Sukenick, Blown Away

Well you have to know more, don’t you?

 

best opening lines, Hemingway, Dickens, Austen27. “In the town, there were two mutes and they were always together.”

 

— Carson McCullers, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter

How many towns has two mutes? Instantly, we’re there.

28. "He—for there could be no doubt of his sex, though the fashion
 of the time did something to disguise it—was in the act of slicing 
at the head of a Moor which swung from the rafters."
— Virginia Woolf, Orlando

This is an opening that is impossible to resist. She raises two questions that you immediately want answered – one has to do with sex, the other with death. This is why other writers were afraid of Virginia Woolf.

29. "High, high above the North Pole, on the first day of 1969, two 
professors of English Literature approached each other at a combined
 velocity of 1200 miles per hour." 
— David Lodge, Changing Places

And then, we ask breathlessly, what happened then?

30. "When the guy with asthma finally came in from the fire escape, 
Parker rabbit-punched him and took his gun away."
- Richard Stark, (Donald Westlake) The Mourner 

And this is just the first line!

31. "It was now lunch time and they were all sitting under the 
double green fly of the dining tent pretending that nothing had 
happened." 
- Ernest Hemingway, The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber

The details of the ‘double green fly’ and the hanging question: what just happened?

32. "Someone must have slandered Josef K., because one morning, 
without his having done anything bad, he was arrested."
- Franz Kafka, The Trial

Listen to the narrator. ‘Without his having done anything bad.’ Really? And you believe him?

best opening lines, Hemingway, Dickens, Austen

copyright: Harper Collins
claimed as fair use

33. “Where’s Papa going with that axe?” said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast.”

– E B White, Charlotte’s Web

Not the way you’d think a children’s book would start.

But immediately you know this is going somewhere profound.

 

34. "All children, except one, grow up." 
– J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan

‘Except one.’ What a great way to introduce an immortal main character.

35. "As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found 
himself transformed in his bed into a monstrous vermin." 
– Franz Kafka, Metamorphosis.

Kafka always started his stories at the very beginning, which is when Gregor changes into a cockroach. No exposition.  

36. "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again." 
– Daphne du Maurier, Rebecca

For me, the best first line ever written.

37. "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."
- Roald Dahl, Matilda.

Another unexpected and brilliant first line to a children’s novel.

38. "I still remember the day my father took me to the Cemetery of 
Forgotten Books for the first time." 
– Carlos Ruiz Zafon, The Shadow of the Wind

You just have to know more about that place, don’t you?

39. "First the colours. 
Then the humans. 
That’s how I usually see things. 
Or at least, how I try. 
*** HERE IS A SMALL FACT *** 
You are going to die."
- Markus Zusak, The Book Thief

Markus establishes voice, the unique nature of his narrator and tells you where this story is going. Cheating, I suppose, as this is more than just one line. But it’s my blog, so there.

40. "Death is only the beginning; afterward comes the hard part."
– Jed Rubenfeld, The Death Instinct

Well it’s a world we all wonder about so Rubenfeld has our attention immediately.

41. "When a day that you happen to know is Wednesday starts off by 
sounding like Sunday, there is something seriously wrong somewhere."
- John Wyndam, The Day of the Triffids

And he leaves curious about what it is that’s wrong. We are primed.

42.  "There was me, that is Alex, and my three droogs, that is 
Pete, Georgie and Dim and we sat in the Korova milkbar trying to 
make up our rassoodocks what to do with the evening."
 - Anthony Burgess,  Clockwork Orange 

Burgess introduces not only his characters but the new language he uses in the novel. Compelling stuff.

43. "I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice - not 
because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever 
knew, or even because he was the instrument of my mother's death, 
but because he is the reason I believe in God; I am a Christian 
because of Owen Meany."
- John Irving, A Prayer for Owen Meany 

Far too many questions not to read on …

“According to Father Goode, the worst thing Corrigan ever did was impregnate his housekeeper during the Sunday service.”

best opening lines, Hemingway, Dickens, Austin

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WHY THE POPE COMMITTED GENOCIDE

Or … 13 things Dan Brown didn’t tell you

Dan Brown sold a couple of books about ten years ago based on the conspiracy theories of three men called Lincoln, Baigent and Leigh. They had done some research around a mysterious church in Rennes le Chateau in the Languedoc region of southern France.

The book touched on one of the great atrocities of the medieval age, though it still remains obscure to many – the Albigensian Crusade. Here’s 13 things you may not know about this turbulent period in our history.

1. First of all – how many crusades were there?

The history books will say nine but the history books are wrong. There were ten. Pope Innocent called a Crusade against the people of southern France in 1209. The Crusade was designed to obliterate another Christian religion – and it succeeded utterly. It was known as the Albigensian Crusade of 1209–1229.

2. Who were the Albigensians?  

Cathars, da Vinci, Crusades, Dan BrownMore recently known as the Cathars, they were a religious sect who wanted a return to the Christian ideal of perfection, poverty and preaching. They understood God as pure spirit, the embodiment of love and peace – but the material world was not His realm. They believed the earth was created by a demiurge called Rex Mundi, (Latin for “King of the World”).

Such beliefs were a fundamental challenge to the Roman church which aspired to the status of a universal monarchy. They had far too much invested in this temporal world to tolerate a religion that made the welfare of the spirit pre-eminent.

3. Why all the fuss about them?

The Cathars were rumored to be the keepers of some great secret – some people think they were hiding the Holy Grail, famous for being the cup used in the Last Supper. It is now even more famous for being the maguffin in ‘The da Vinci Code.’

4. What did it mean to be a Cathar?

For a believer – your life didn’t change that much. Cathars were a very practical people. A priest or priestess who had taken the ‘consolamentum’ lived an ascetic life, but most believers were only required to take these vows on their deathbed when it was not quite so difficult to foreswear meat, sex and material possessions.

5. Who ordered the crusade against them?

Innocent III, the same Pope who ordered the fourth Crusade in 1204, which was responsible for sacking Constantinople, slaughtering innocents, raping nuns and desecrating churches. Priceless artworks were destroyed and the Library of Constantinople was burned to the ground. So, he had already established a game plan. 

6. Were there atrocities in the Languedoc as well?

Cathars, da Vinci, Crusades, Dan BrownThe horrors perpetrated by the Pope’s men easily matched those of World War Two, Bosnia or Rwanda.

For example: when Bram fell in 1210, 100 prisoners had their noses and lips cut off and their eyes gouged out. Just one man was allowed to keep his left eye.

He was then roped to the others so that he could guide them back to their colleagues as a warning of what would happen if they continued to resist the word of a merciful God. 

7. Was it only the soldiers who were targeted?

The most famous quote from the conflict was uttered by one of the Pope’s representatives, Arnold Amaury, just before the massacre at Béziers in 1209. When the walls fell a Crusader commander asked him how he should discern a heretic from a Christian. ‘Kill them all, God will know his own,’ was the answer. Twenty thousand men, women and children died in the resulting massacre, some of them burned alive while taking shelter in a church.

8. What else do we know about Innocent III?

As a cardinal he wrote De miseria humanae conditionis (‘On the Misery of the Human Condition.’) It would appear he was well placed to write this treatise, as he caused so much of it.

9. What happened after the war?

Cathars, da Vinci, Crusades, Dan BrownThe Albigensian Crusade heralded the formation of the Holy Inquisition. In 1233 Pope Gregory IX put together a task force, recruited from the Dominicans, dedicated to the total suppression of Catharism.

The ‘Domini Canes’ – hounds of God – were charged with uncovering heretics among the civilian population after military action had ceased.

10. Where did the Inquisition get their powers of arrest and interrogation?

The use of torture was officially sanctioned by Pope Innocent IV in 1252 in his Papal bull ad extirpanda.  I have read the Sermon on the Mount several times, but still have not found the passage that advocated the use of thumbscrews. Maybe there was an error when it was translated from the original Greek.

11. So the Inquisition was like the secret police?   

Cathars, da Vinci, Crusades, Dan BrownLocals called before the Inquisition were invited to betray their neighbors as heretics. Some resisted by giving the names of members of the community who were already dead. In these cases the Inquisitors sent soldiers to the local cemetery to disinter the bodies. They then marched the corpses through the streets and burned them in the town square.

Surviving family members had their property confiscated, or else were thrown in prison.

The Inquisition terrorized the Languedoc for a century after the end of the Albigensian Crusade; the last perfect, Guillaume Bélibaste, was burned at the stake in 1321.

They didn’t make Dominic a saint for nothing.

12. So what happened next?

Cathars, da Vinci, Crusades, Dan Brown

photo:bmsgator

Before the crusade, the Languedoc had a tolerant administration, a prosperous economy and was famous for its vibrant culture. A hundred years later it was a land of ruins, a ravaged backwater. 

13. Thank God those days are over

Not quite. The Inquisition still exists. It is now known as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Joseph Ratzinger (who became Pope Benedict XVI and retired this year) was actually appointed prefect in 1985.

To my knowledge they do not own a rack.

But don’t quote me.

To read more about the Cathars and the Albigensian Crusade, read my novel STIGMATA

Stigmata, Colin Falconer, Padre Pio

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Colin Falconer, bestseller, historical fiction

COLIN FALCONER

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15 GOOD REASONS WHY YOU SHOULDN’T WRITE FOR A LIVING

Do you want to make a career out of writing?

Here’s 15 damn good reasons to think again, straight from the trenches, from those who have been there before you.

1. Coleridge was a drug addict. Poe was an alcoholic. Marlowe was 
killed by a man whom he was treacherously trying to stab. Pope took 
money to keep a woman's name out of a satire then wrote a piece so 
that she could still be recognized anyhow. Chatterton killed 
himself. Byron was accused of incest. Do you still want to a writer
 - and if so, why?- Bennett Cerf

writing tips, books, famous writers2. As for me, this is my story: I worked and was tortured. You know what it means to compose? No, thank God, you do not! I believe you have never written to order, by the yard, and have never experienced that hellish torture.

Fyodor Dostoevsky

3. You know how it is in the kid’s book world; it’s just bunny eat bunny.

– Anonymous

4. Unless a writer is extremely old when he dies, in which case he has probably become a neglected institution, his death must always be seen as untimely. This is because a real writer is always shifting and changing and searching. The world has many labels for him, of which the most treacherous is the label of Success.

– James Baldwin

5. Rejection slips, or form letters, however tactfully phrased, are
lacerations of the soul, if not quite inventions of the devil - but 
there is no way around them. - Isaac Asimov

6. Beware of self-indulgence. The romance surrounding the writing profession carries several myths: that one must suffer in order to be creative; that one must be cantankerous and objectionable in order to be bright; that ego is paramount over skill; that one can rise to a level from which one can tell the reader to go to hell. These myths, if believed, can ruin you. If you believe you can make a living as a writer, you already have enough ego.

– David Brin

 7. Writing is turning one’s worst moments into money.

– J. P. Donleavy

8. I get up in the morning, torture a typewriter until it screams, then stop.

– Clarence Budington Kelland

pseudonym, George Orwell, famous authors9. All writers are vain, selfish and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives lies a mystery. Writing a book is a long, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.

George Orwell

10. People on the outside think there's something magical about 
writing, that you go up in the attic at midnight and cast the bones 
and come down in the morning with a story, but it isn't like that. 
You sit in back of the typewriter and you work, and that's all 
there is to it.

– Harlan Ellison

writing tips, books, famous writers11. ‘ … it maddens me not to get published. I feel at times like getting every publisher in the world by the scruff of the neck, forcing his jaws open, and cramming the Mss down his throat — ‘God-damn you, here it is – I will and must be published.’ You know what it means – you’re a writer and you understand it. It’s not just ‘the satisfaction of being published.’ Great God! It’s the satisfaction of getting it out … That good or ill, for better or for worse, it’s over, done with, finished, out of your life forever and that, come what may, you can at least, as far as this thing is concerned, get the merciful damned easement of oblivion and forgetfulness.

– Tom Wolfe

12. Every writer is a narcissist. This does not mean that he is vain; it only means that he is hopelessly self-absorbed.

– Leo Rosten

13. People are certainly impressed by the aura of creative power 
which a writer may wear, but can easily demolish it with a few 
well-chosen questions. Bob Shaw has observed that the deadliest 
questions usually come as a pair: "Have you published anything?" 
(loosely translated as: I've never heard of you) and "What name do 
you write under?" (loosely translatable as: I've definitely never 
heard of you).

– Brian Stableford

 14. Every writer must acknowledge and be able to handle the unalterable fact that he has, in effect, given himself a life sentence in solitary confinement. The ordinary world of work is closed to him — and that if he’s lucky!

– Peter Straub

 15. Writing is a fairly lonely business unless you invite people 
in to watch you do it, which is often distracting and then you 
have to ask them to leave.

– Marc Lawrence

Have I put you off? No? Well good, then. Because if you’re really serious about being a writer, nothing anyone says will ever stop you.

That’s the truth of it. 

 

John F Kennedy, Dallas, assassination, Lee Harvey Oswald, conspiracy

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COLIN FALCONER

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