My favourite opening lines in fiction

Challenged by James T Kelly on Twitter @realjtk, I plundered my own meagre, mainly fantasy, collection, to select a few of the best.

None are from the literary giants that The Independent – who started this challenge – took theirs, but my own favourites, plus a couple I’ve bought and got as far as the first line but then … well, you know how it is. They’ve been chosen because they paint a picture in my head without describing anything physical. Or they just make me laugh.

First Among Sequels – Jasper Fforde

The dangerously high level of the Stupidity Surplus was once again the lead story of The Owl that morning.

My number one – encapsulates the ultra alternativeness of the alternative Swindon in one line.


 Stargazy Pie – Laura Lockington

Nobody understands the meaning of the word embarrassment unless they have travelled on a packed Inter City train with a small masturbating monkey, trust me on this.

We don’t know the how or why but we get it.


 Chocolate – Joanne Harris

We came on the wind of the carnival.

And we knew something magical was going to happen.


 The Day of the Triffids – John Wyndham

When a day that you happen to know is Wednesday starts off by sounding like Sunday, there is something seriously wrong somewhere.

I read this for the LitFest Skywatcher event (scroll down), writing my own piece using his descriptive language to capture the feel. Reading it aloud on the Sunday afternoon, with Sophie and Lance acting it out, all was silent apart from the bells of Rochester Cathedral and Mozart’s Ave Verum Corpus paying softly behind me. It was quietly chilling.

Photo: Nikki Price

Photo: Nikki Price

The Truth – Terry Practhett

The rumour spread through the city like wildfire (which had often spread through Ankh Morpork since its citizens had learned the words ‘fire insurance’).

Master of the * and turning a cliche on its head, I could probably have filled the list with lots of Pratchett.


In fact …

The Wyrd Sisters – Terry Pratchett (favourite first whole paragraph or two!)

The wind howled. Lightning stabbed at the earth erratically, like an inefficient assassin. Thunder rolled back and forth across the dark, rain-lashed hills.

The night was as black as the inside of a cat. It was the kind of night, you could believe, on which gods moved men as though they were pawns on the chessboard of fate. In the middle of this elemental storm a fire gleamed among the dripping furze bushes like the madness in a weasel’s eye. It illuminated three hunched figures. As the cauldron bubbled an eldritch voice shrieked: ‘When shall we three meet again?’

There was a pause.

Finally another voice said, in far more ordinary tones: ‘Well, I can do next Tuesday.’


wyrd sisters

The Righteous Men – Sam Bourne

The night of the first killing was filled with song.

Macabre beauty.


Valhalla – Tom Holt

‘Oh, look,’ observed Napoleon. ‘There’s a speck of dust.’

The diminutive French general concerned with housekeeping? Really?


The Northern Lights – Philip Pullman

Lyra and her daemon moved through the darkening Hall, taking care to keep to one side, out of sight of the kitchen.

He spelt demon wrong differently to everyone else. And why does a Hall need a capital letter? Do the Landings have capitals too?


The Goblet of Fire – J.K. Rowling

The villagers of Little Hangleton still called it ‘the Riddle House’ even though it had been many years since the Riddle family had lived there.

The first Potter book not to begin at No.4 Privet Drive; the first to show us how far she was prepared to take these characters; the first to give us real background on He Who Must Not Be Named; the first to give us pay-off from that trip to Olivander’s.


Jackdaws – Ken Follett

One minute before the explosion, the square at St. Cecille was at peace.

The juxtaposition of war and peace. And a must if, like me, you’re slightly obsessed by the Special Operations Executive.


My favourite two I’ve only read the first lines of, saved on my Kindle:

Night at the Circus – Angela Carter

‘Lor, love you, Sir!’ Fevvers sang out in a voice that clanged like dustbin lids.

Shades of Grey (God, no, not that one – relax!) Jasper Fforde

It began with my father not wanting to see the Last Rabbit, and ended up with me being eaten by a carnivorous plant.

Roll on the summer holidays …

Ok, there is one ‘classic’ that’s probably on everybody’s list:

Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier

“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.”

Defines ‘Evocative’.