A friend recently reminded me of a truism about reading.
One written by the late, great, American author, John Gardner. He said: “We read five words on the first page of a really good novel and we begin to forget that we are reading printed words on a page; we begin to see images.”
And since reading it, I’ve been considering that statement almost every hour. Deciding whether I believe it or not. And concluding that I do. That I think it’s right.
And not only have I come to recognise the truth of this, but I’ve concluded that I must take this truth into my work to such a degree that it sets a new standard for everything I write from here on out.
So I find myself having this new standard by which I shall henceforth and forever judge my work. Those first essential five of every scene of every chapter, of every book, have to be that perfect, that imagistic, that evocative. Nothing else will do.
And I’ve arrived at this conclusion pretty much at the same time as I was answering the many questions of the inestimable J.A. Beard, for a new interview about the book I’m now writing. Which interview will appear in the next few days on his website–he’s interviewed me previously, and then, as now, it was a great pleasure.
But anyway, the new book is called, as I say in the interview, Or Fear of Peace.
And I thought perhaps, given all this, that it might be appropriate for me to at least open the book for you and give you those first five words. And perhaps, even, a bit more…
Sat like a phasmid, still and wingless, his mouse-coloured coat no more seen among the tiles and slates and chimney-stacks than a heap of old sacking, for three days the boy had been watching the house on Mount Street. Watching from the leads beneath the summer moods of a fitful London sky, watching as the shadows and light trailed across the classical portico and fine brick face, patient under a patient sky, watching as the morning was bleached of colour and the linens dried white in the yard. Measuring out the hours from first waking to the lingering midsummer dusk which tarried like a dawdling gabey and counting the number of servants that remained within–the housekeeper, a maid, and two menservants. Clocking their comings and goings, from that time when the scullery sashes were thrown open to admit the day, until the hour of shutting in when the jowly steward went about locking the doors and checking that the upper windows were shuttered and barred. Perched beside an attic dormer or slouched against the flaunching of an adjacent chimney, the boy watched as the long hot hours dropped like weights, indifferent to the herring gulls and house sparrows which congregated near and far, chirruping and raucous, across the red tile ridges of the rooftops that stretched away in every direction.