The new year brings fresh beginnings. And to celebrate turning the page onto 2023, we wanted to share some of the very best beginnings to our books.
We asked a few of our editors for the most memorable first lines, paragraphs and pages to have dropped on their desk. Here are the openings that made them sit up, take notice, and rush to publish.
Pete Selby – Pandamonium! by Simon Williams
I first met Fierce Panda’s founder and self-styled Chief Tea Maker Simon Williams in the pub. A fan of his sparkling prose from his NME days, I was expecting good natured bonhomie over a pint whilst discussing a manuscript that, I assumed, would be a simple yet entertaining tale of life at the cutting edge of all things Indie. And indeed I got all of that. But as we left, Simon furtively pushed a sealed envelope my way with explicit instructions not to open or read its contents until I was at home. Or at the very least in a different postal district to its bashful author. Honouring my promise, I opened the envelope an hour later as my train pulled out of Waterloo and scanned the first page. This is how it started:
30 DECEMBER 2019, 9.48 A.M.
Have you ever said goodbye to your loved ones? Like, really, really said goodbye to them? Like, knowing that you know and knowing they don’t know that you will never see them again? Like, choking back the silent tears as you lean over to kiss the girls goodbye in their beds, murmuring farewell platitudes in the midst of their mid-morning slumbers? They sink back into sleep as you slink down the stairs, a stranger in your own house, quietly turning the backdoor key. He’s leaving home. Bye-bye
There were only two things I wanted to do with Simon from that point. Publish his book and give him a hug.
I’ve managed to do both.
Kelly Smith – The Hive by Scarlett Brade
‘What happens when your reflection isn’t your own anymore? When who you were isn’t who you are? When the worst things have happened, who do you become?’ I ask this in a measured tone, looking straight at my camera phone.
This instantly captured my attention. As a reader, I felt challenged and seen, as though the protagonist were directly asking me these questions. How would I answer them? Introducing the phone in this opening paragraph set up the framework of the novel perfectly – revenge is streamed live in this debut thriller, for anyone who’s ever sworn revenge on an ex. Peppered with social media comments from viewers of the livestream, a modern-day Greek chorus, as a reader you’re made to feel part of the community watching the thrilling events unfold. Scarlett has reimagined the revenge thriller and it’s a must-read for fans of Clickbait, Blood Orange and You.
Emma Matthewson – STAGS by MA Bennett
I think I might be a murderer.
STAGS by MA Bennett had me hooked at the very first line – ‘I think I might be a murderer.’ You can’t beat that for a killer intro!
Marina (MA Bennett) is a formidable writer, who knows exactly how to create a thrilling fast-paced read, all couched in atmospheric and richly-layered storytelling – plus she manages to weave in the perfect amount of will-they won’t-they romance AND a love triangle! A perfectly chilling example of dark academia, STAGS is the first of a five book series, culminating in the sensational HAWKS, just published last year (2022). In fact don’t just believe me, the Guardian says STAGS is ‘A darkly compelling examination of the allure of privilege.’ Readers are so lucky to be able to race through all the books one after the other now that the complete series is published. Really a series to jump into and devour right now.
Ruth Bennett – Daughter of Darkness by Katherine and Elizabeth Corr
Sing, O muse…
That’s how the old stories used to start. At least, that is how they used to start in Hellas, Greece – of all the realms the most jealously guarded by its gods. A light-drenched land set in wine-dark waters, its craggy hillsides dense with pine, bright with acanthus, loud with the constant thrum of cicadas. Hillsides crowned with the cities of men: Mycenae, citadel of long-dead Agamemnon; warlike Sparta; rocky Aulis where Iphigenia died at her father’s hand. Pylos of the golden sands, on which the palace of wise Nestor once stood, looking out across the Ionian Sea. And mightiest of all, Thebes, from where Orpheus the Tyrant sends out his armies, cutting down kingdom after kingdom.
Sing, O muse, a song of Death…
I absolutely love the opening page of Daughter of Darkness by Kate and Liz Corr. When I first read it, I felt instantly transported to Greece. The story is set in an alternative version of ancient Greece and its opening page signposts the playfulness and creativity with which the authors take the familiar aspects of myths, legends and retellings and use them as a gateway into something entirely original. These first paragraphs show the reader how well they know the history, but they also make it clear that they’re not afraid to tell their own story. Thrilling stuff!
Clem Flanagan – Behind Frenemy Lines by Lauren Price
The ring of the intercom is almost inaudible amid the noise.
“Eric Monroe, please make your way to the principal’s office immediately.”
[…] I pause mid-step at the mention of my name and, almost instantly, a freshman boy stumbles into my back, eager for his next class.
A sigh of disbelief hisses through my teeth. I’ve had three and a half years at this school and the secretary still struggles with that pivotal extra a.
I loved Lauren Price’s Behind Frenemy Lines from the very first page. It’s chockfull of sass, quips and banter, and even after several rounds of editing, I was still belly-laughing. Lauren has crafted characters that feel so real and raw, you can’t help falling for them. When we were going through the final round of structural editing, I felt that the make-up scene between Erika and Chase wasn’t quite there yet; it was missing something sweet and down-to-earth. The revised scene Lauren came up with blew me away: it’s a wonderful example of how to really ask for and receive forgiveness, and that’s what I love about her characters – they make mistakes, but they also own up to them. So, have your tissues ready for chapter twenty-six, because it’ll break your heart and put it back together.
Candida Lacey – Between Starshine and Clay by Sarah Ladipo Manyika
Reading this book felt like entering a large house with twelve successful Black people sitting in their own rooms inside of it, and then being guided by Sarah Ladipo Manyika from one room to the next, in order to sit down with each person and hear about their careers, ideas and lives.
Several of my lockdown evenings were brightened with Sarah Ladipo Manyika eye-opening series of ‘Conversations Across the Diaspora’ hosted at the Museum of the African Diaspora (MoAD) in San Francisco. Sarah interviewed some of the most inspiring thinkers and activists of our time, from poet Claudia Rankine to historian Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Each conversation was startlingly fresh, deeply political and radically hopeful too. Here was a book waiting to happen – and to expand: as we added Sarah’s conversations with Toni Morrison, Michelle Obama and others, we saw that this remarkably curated gathering would be more than the sum of its parts – that we were publishing a unique and vital collection of ideas for the 21st century. Bernardine Evaristo’s foreword, and the words above which open the book, perfectly encapsulate the spirit and intention of the collection.
Sarah Bauer – Reputation by Lex Croucher
For Jane Austen. Sorry, Jane.
Lex Croucher writes brilliantly rebellious Regency characters, but they’re the original one. The dedication at the start of Lex’s debut novel, Reputation, sums the whole book up – witty, inspired by Jane Austen and self-aware. It is then followed up by an amazing opening line that sucks you straight in: ‘It all began at a party, as almost everything of interest does.’.
You can’t help but read on.