OPENING LINES #4 with Lindsey Fraser
Opening Lines with Lindsey Fraser, from Fraser Ross Associates #4!
What grabs the reader’s attention? What draws you in and makes you want to read on?Our lovely Lindsey Fraser season continues. If you’ve been following it, you’ll know that, in a blossom-like flurry of busy-ness, Lindsey generously commented on all 16 submissions to Opening Lines in March. Come back every Saturday until early June to read more. 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.
Title: A Thousand Ways to Say Goodbye
It is 1984. The Smiths are just starting out, Madonna is wearing crucifixes around her wrists and image is suddenly EVERYTHING. But Cat hasn’t been out of her house since her Mum died a year before. She still looks like a gawky child, even though she is almost sixteen. With the help of her best friend she goes back to school, makes new friends, creates her own image and begins to heal. Then the Miners go on strike. And her father breaks the picket line. Cat is the daughter of a SCAB in a town where everyone is related to a Miner.
New Years Eve 1983:
I could tell Roz had something big to say by the way she kept talking about the weather. She didn’t need to tell me about the weather. It was so cold I thought my ears might bleed. We were sitting on the spider’s web in the park, and the freezing metal bar was numbing my legs. I’d picked the thinnest and oldest coat to on purpose make her feel bad about dragging me out into the world.
“Christ, Roz. It’s colder than a witch’s tit.”
“Might snow, “ she said, rubbing the tops of her arms with her lace-gloved hand.
“So why are we here then?” She counted the reasons on her fingers and I noticed the gloves were fingerless; her nails were painted a deep crimson.
“Cos it’s New Year’s Eve and it’s your birthday tomorrow. Cos I haven’t seen you since Christmas Eve. And I cos I wanna talk.”
The pitch is taut and with a distinct narrative voice. I like the ebb and flow of the story, the apparent recovery torpedoed by circumstances over which Cat has no control. It’s an interesting shape to a narrative. I am nervous about novels for teenagers that relate so strongly to a particular time in recent history. Of course your readership could have a strong affinity for this period in the 80s, recognising the cultural hand-holds you’re offering, but many won’t, and those hand-holds won’t be as compelling as they might, say, to a readership that has lived through those times. So my hesitation about this pitch and the opening section is more about perceived readership than anything else. Joanna Canon’s recently published novel, The Trouble with Goats and Sheep, tells a story of childhood and adolescence which will appeal to some teen/YA readers, but the widest appeal is to people (like me) who lived through the 70s and can join the author in delighting in the idiosyncrasies of the time.
The opening section is immediately appealing, with a strong narrative voice and a real drive to the dialogue - but I’d be a little worried that too many reminders of 80s imagery (fingerless lace gloves etc) might become distracting. The authenticity should, first and foremost, be in the voice. It’s important that you’ve done your research, of course, but it’s as important that the novel wears it lightly.
Title: Long Live The Heir Of Brude
A wolf-guarded circle of standing stones, and two bickering aunts, protect Annie from a hidden world. The 12yo must unlock their secrets, find her mother’s killer, and fight to restore a disenchanted land.
Black fur sleek with drizzle, she shot over the hill, paws skimming the lane. Emerald eyes fixed ahead. No need to turn – she heard him panting. For at her tail, was Dylan, the awful terrier.
At a dip in the lane, Cantrip leapt onto a garden wall, and twisted to look down. He hit a patch of mud, and her whiskers twitched up as he skidded to a halt, inches from the wall, seconds from a squished snout.
Along the dry-stack she pranced, hearing his snort, the rattle of his collar as he shook his head. He raced on to the wicket gate, and budged his nose between slats. With a proud sniff, Cantrip turned. As light as a shadow falls, she dropped beyond the wall between the rosebushes, and tripped away inhaling scented victory. She heard him bark, as if to say, Catch you tomorrow, before her black tail licked the corner of the McNiven cottage.
Through the back door flap, she paused to cool her pads on stone tiles, thrashing her tail. She had only just shadowed Annie out of the cottage. This she did most mornings. Schooldays were fine, but on weekends, Cantrip rarely made it past the house nearest the village, before, Yap, yap, yap! And the chase was on.
The rickety stool clattered as Cantrip leapt up and dipped her head to her purple plate. She froze. A fierce prickle had fired – tail-tip to whiskers. They quivered. Still as a doorstop, she listened. One ear swivelled ... then the other. No one. She clacked her teeth, ignored the shivers, and set about her cheese and bacon sandwich.
There’s some terrific descriptive writing here, and plenty of energy in the narrative. I am definitely intrigued, but as the pitch doesn’t provide much information about the characters I’m also quite baffled. There’s nothing wrong with that, but if this is a submission to an agent or publisher, you probably need to shed a little more light on what to expect.
Title: Time Walkers
A mystery time travel thriller novel revolving around the hunt for Uncle Isaac who mysteriously goes missing after Ben’s birthday. Ben discovers he’s a Time Walker from the Planet Tempus. A strange, slightly baffling planet where all the inhabitants have red hair, together with the ability to time travel around the universe.
Ben peered out of the lighthouse window. He watched the setting sun cast a crimson glow over the treetops on Puffin Island and impatiently glanced at the grandfather clock in the hallway for the time when he could open his presents.
‘You’ve done that about a thousand times in the last minute,’ jeered Raven flicking her dyed black hair out of her eyes.
‘Shut up! I know he’ll be here soon.’ ‘Here,’ said Raven passing him two small, perfectly wrapped boxes. ‘They’re red, just like your freckles!’
‘No!’ he said pushing them back towards her.
‘What about opening this one first?’ She held up the smaller of the two birthday presents and rattled it. ‘You know you want to,’ she teased as Mum strolled into the lounge.
‘Leave Ben alone,’ she said. ‘It’s his birthday. He can open his presents when he wants.’
‘Fine! I’m going to my room!’
Mum sat down beside Ben and patted his arm. ‘Uncle Isaac just rang. He’s running late but said we’re to start without him.’
‘I didn’t hear the phone ring,’ said Ben, crossing his arms defiantly. ‘He’s always here. I’m not starting without him.’
‘Ok,’ said Mum. ‘Let’s give him five more minutes or I’ll be late for work.’ She walked into the kitchen and switched the kettle on.
The grandfather clock chimed the hour as Ben gazed at the stars beginning to twinkle in the night sky and then suddenly he heard the latch on the heavy oak door open. He shot up and raced towards the front door where he saw Uncle Isaac standing in a puddle of water, his copper red hair frizzing at odd angles. His uncle pulled out a soggy, wrapped gift from inside his black trench coat pocket and smiled sheepishly.
‘Happy birthday, Ben.
The pitch is a little bumpy, slightly unsure sounding. So I embarked on the opening section with limited confidence, and I was pleasantly surprised. There’s a traditional feel to the writing, the family group set-up, the bantering siblings, the grandfather clock, the heavy oak door etc. which immediately settled me into the genre, and restored my confidence. If you get the world of the novel right, forays into ‘strange, slightly baffling’ planets have more of a chance of convincing readers.
Thanks again Lindsey for your time and professional feedback! Opening Lines is a great exercise, for those who receive personal feedback above, and for all of us who want to learn what makes those killer lines.
Missed the first three Opening Lines with Lindsey Fraser? Read them here #1 here 2# and here #3.
Hooked by the feedback? You can see more of Lindsey Fraser at the Edinburgh International Book Festival this summer. Follow Lindsey: @LindseyFraser
Louisa Glancy is a features editor for Words & Pictures.
Twitter: @Louisa Glancy