Opening Lines #1: with Lindsey Fraser
What grabs the reader’s attention? What draws you in and makes you want to read on? We’re delighted to welcome Lindsey Fraser to Opening Lines. In a blossom-like flurry of busy-ness, Lindsey has generously commented on all the entries you submitted in March. That’s 17 in all! The first two are here. Come back every Saturday until early June to catch the rest. Thanks a million, Lindsey, for your insight and encouragement!
Lindsey Fraser and Kathryn Ross established the literary agency Fraser Ross Associates in 2002, largely specialising in books for young people. The agency represents writers and illustrators from all over the UK.
In this picture book, Pirate Pink (with the awful stink) is feared across the seven seas. But when his crew can't bear the smell anymore, he is forced to have a wash, with disastrous consequences.
Pirate Pink gave off a stink,
he'd proudly waft it round and wink.
He'd plunder ships, their crew aghast.
Noses held as he went past.
It was a weapon, wielded freely,
Injured many, one killed- nearly.
A stench so rancid, pong so rank.
That pirates begged to walk the plank.
The pitch is splendid - it conveys humour, energy and fun. Pirates are ideal purveyors of the kind of over-the-top domestic mayhem with which the picture book readership (and their parents) will quickly and enthusiastically identify, so pirate stories always make me sit up and pay attention.
The danger of writing in verse is that the story takes a back seat, bent to the will of the rhythm and rhyme. Whereas the pitch sounded just right for the readership, the text feels older, more formal. This could well end up being a highly entertaining piece of verse, but that doesn’t mean it will translate into a picture book format. I’d like to see this story ‘out’ of verse. Picture books should have rhythm and lyricism whether they’re written in verse or not, but very often, when they’re released from the boundaries imposed by strict rhyming schedules (and they need to be very strict for a picture book age group) the writer feels liberated.
12 year old trainee Time Witch, Feather, torn between nature and Time magic, must develop her Time magic skills in a race against the clock to save the world from destruction, before the 13th hour strikes.
‘I labour here with all my might to tell the hours by day and night.
For every hour that strikes there is a joy.
For every hour that comes there is a hope.
For every hour that passes there is a record.’
- Inscription from The Clock Tower, Tettenhall, Wolverhampton.
12.17pm: Bedroom, Hourglass House, Witches’ Quarter
Feather Horologium slumped down on her bed next to her dog, letting out an almighty sigh. ‘Why does Dad make me do this every Saturday, Conker?’
Conker raised his snout from the colourful patchwork blanket Feather’s mum had made and whined in response.
Feather ruffled his brown and white fur. They were in Feather’s bedroom, in the loft of Hourglass House. The walls were covered in posters of bands and a round, clock-shaped window looked out over the little garden. Every flat surface was cluttered with items such as twigs and shells, and an old sewing machine sat next to a huge pile of scraps of fabric.
‘I know Dad wants me to follow in his footsteps but how can I be a Time Witch when I'm so bad with numbers?’
Conker looked like he had raised one shaggy eyebrow as Feather propped herself against her pillows and bit her fingernail. What's the point in working in the clock room every week if I can't do even the tiniest of time spells?
An arresting pitch, with lots to attract attention, but it would benefit from a little finessing. The quirkiness of the name ‘Feather’ momentarily distracted me from the ‘race against the clock to save the world from destruction’ part, which sounds rather like a great many other books, and the capitalisation which was inconsistent.
The opening is fun, drawing me into the clutter of the house, effectively evoking Feather’s anxieties. I felt you could have done more to establish the girl/dog bond which is a promising dynamic in the novel - it was going well until the ‘Conker looked like he had raised one shaggy eyebrow’ line. Why not have Conker raising one eyebrow? I’ll be slightly disappointed if he turns out to be nothing more than a conventional pet dog. Don’t get too bogged down in describing Feather’s actions - as long as we’re aware of how or what she’s feeling, the story can gallop along.
Thanks again Lindsey for your time and professional feedback! Opening Lines is a great exercise for those receiving personal feedback above – and for all of us who want to learn how to write those killer lines.
Hooked by the feedback? Catch more of Lindsey Fraser at the Edinburgh International Book Festival this summer.
Louisa Glancy is a features editor for Words & Pictures.
Twitter: @Louisa Glancy