There’s a great new blog entry from my super-lovely agent Stephanie Thwaites over on www.childrensliteraryagent.co.uk, all about starting books with that all-important opening. That hook that gets right into your mouth and tugs.
My first sentence for WILD #1: TIGER TROUBLE is:
‘When a tiger lands on you first thing in the morning, even when they’re four months old, you know about it.’
Did I land you? You at the back, stop chortling.
Steph’s blog made me think about ending stuff with bangs too. Nothing muted, nothing neat. Something that goes boom. Literally in the case of TIGER TROUBLE:
‘Did… our house just blow up?’
I confess that this was designed as a springboard into the next book, where it returns as the first sentence. What a cop out. My favourite example of a real, no-hidden-agenda-or-follow-up-book BANG of an ending is Joseph Heller’s CATCH-22.
‘The knife came down, missing him by inches, and he took off.’
Does anyone produce endings like that any more? Endings that revel in inconclusiveness? I haven’t noticed Wile E. Coyote running off his cliff lately. These days he invests in better footwear, makes friends with Road Runner and stops subscribing to all those hopeless Acme products.
In my picture book text, the main character is eaten and NOT regurgitated in a fit of penitence and stomach acid. Yay for that. Now I’m reaching the end of my teenage novel and the scent of challenge is in my nostrils. How best to bring all the strings of my hormonal balloons together and ignite them in such a way that the balloons explode in a synchronised blast of shredded rubber? As it were? (Is that guy at the back still laughing?)
Any breathtaking endings out there that you love?
I’m going out on a limb here, writing again so soon after my thoughts regarding Malorie Blackman and her new role as Children’s Laureate. But a tweet from the British Museum in celebration of its 260th birthday today – ‘What’s your favourite piece from the British Museum collection?’ – got me thinking about two remarkable objects in its possession which I first discovered over twenty years ago.
I dug out a picture. Glory! They are just as perfect as I remembered when I first studied them on Professor Hutton’s Pagan Religions of the British Isles course at Bristol University 1990-1991. Colour, detail. Breathtaking from every angle. And so SMALL. Created without machines, magnifying glasses, modern tools. I defy modern jewellers to do better.
Historians think they were decorative pommels attached to leather thongs, which in turn were attached to the sword found in the great 6th century Sutton Hoo ship burial in Suffolk. There isn’t much of the sword left. It looks like a stretched, flattened cat-food tin that’s been left in the rain for fifteen hundred years. The sword doesn’t thrill me at all. But the decorations. Oh boy, the decorations.
Who made them? Did they use magic?
There’s a story right there.
Malorie Blackman is the new Children’s Laureate 2013-2015. A triumphant choice. Here’s what I would like to see her do.
- Introduce a primetime weekly TV show where people discuss children’s books with wit and humour while armed with large bags of Tangfastics. I will happily go on that show. Tangfastics fuel a tremendous urge for dialogue within me, plus a desire to climb trees and surf down Firgrove Hill on an ironing board. Haribo might like to sponsor this show.
- Talking of ironing boards, let’s encourage people to act out famous scenes from children’s books like Alex Rider’s ironing board stunt in Point Blanc and post them up on social media with links to bookshops. (I am happy to volunteer. Price, one box of Tangfastics.)
- Have a different celebrity a month commit to carrying a children’s book with them wherever they go, so children can see a book as an awesome accessory considerably less painful than a belly ring.
- Ensure that national newspapers dedicate a quarter of their book review space to children’s books, as an accurate reflection of the 1 in 4 books sold today being children’s titles. (Thank you, outgoing Laureate Julia Donaldson for raising this.)
- Start a guerrilla library movement. Set up libraries in unlikely places. Overnight. WITH NO WARNING. Make them mysterious, not municipal.
- Encourage adults to hold children’s book clubs. Not children’s book-clubs, but CHILDREN’S-BOOK CLUBS. Instead of talking endlessly about Fifty Shades of Boring, grown-ups can read and discuss, for example, funny cancer, the perils of floating, parallel worlds and the role of dragons in society. They can then make informed choices for their children, passing on those books which have caused genuine tears / laughter / bladder-control issues instead of blind-buying titles they have vaguely heard of or maybe read themselves in Upper Fourth in 1953.
- Enshrine library lessons in schools.
- Make sure every primary school child has a library card.
What? The library card one’s already in hand? Hot damn, I knew she was a good choice.