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Right at the start

Blue Gold, my debut thriller out this month, went through many iterations as it seems, must all novels. But the part that changed the most during the editing process was the most important to get right: the beginning. Since the opening scene was the thing I had fixed most clearly in my mind when I started writing Blue Gold, it seems a little strange. So, what happened?

The original opening that I stuck with for quite a while was a homage to Alan Moore’s graphic novel, The Watchmen. For those not familiar, the first few frames of his classic consist of a picture of a yellow smiley badge that has been splattered with blood. You can’t tell at first, because the artist has zoomed in so close, but as the view pans out you see the badge lying in the gutter and then, zooming out some more, a detective standing on a balcony of a high-rise apartment from where somebody has fallen to their death.

My opening scene went like this. Black. A black dot on a red background. A ladybird on a leaf. A hedgerow along a narrow country lane. And then the satellite capturing those images blows up. Intriguing yes, but maybe confusing as well. Some people may never get past the first paragraph, so you have to grab potential readers and suck them in straight away. Oh, and that opening sucked at live readings. So, as much as I loved it, it had to go. Kill your darlings…

My second attempt at an opening was more like a prologue. I wanted the reader to realise they were in a world that had changed, while still referring to the satellite explosion, obliquely. So I conjured up a polar bear that had swum to Reykjavic (and I read recently that this has started to happen in the Outer Hebrides due to climate change) and the city was in lock-down while the beast was hunted. But one boy hadn’t heard the curfew sirens, nearly getting himself and the sniper killed. At the end, the huntsman looks up, sad at destroying yet another of these magnificent animals, noticing an explosion in the sky like a tiny firework (the satellite). Also intriguing but a distraction from the main action.

Eventually, a literary agent who thought Blue Gold had potential suggested that I start the novel near the end. There are two separate timelines in my story, with two groups of characters whose adventures are seemingly un-related but collide in part three. The agent suggested I use an action scene after they have met up, to help the reader realise that the two plots will eventually dovetail.

And so that’s the start I went with. The very first review I received from an advance copy said: “it has a brilliant start and pull to the story.” I reckon that agent knew what they were talking about. I hope you agree.

This article originally appeared on Portobello Book Blog.