The First Page

Was it the French poet Claudel (whose sister was Rodin’s mistress for a time and herself a no mean sculptor) who wrote this unforgettable phrase for a writer?

La blancheur du papier qui se défend.’

This morning I didn’t face the forbidding whiteness of a page, too pure to be defaced by ink squiggles (or printed computer letters), open before me to swoop down on to it. Start off. Trial run.

Instead I contemplated the draft of Chapter 1 , hand shaking, and read to the end, all 5 pages! Was it as impossibly bad as I feared after years of neglect?  No. I even enjoyed the return visit. It’s less formidable than the blank page defending its purity. Already defiled, the writing on the page is far easier to improve, as I tweaked the style and thought about the pitfalls of the first chapter.

First I must learn from past mistakes. Not my first publication, but my first published full length novel, In Restoration, was rejected by one publisher for having too rapid an opening. I thought this was what one had to do. Grab the reader. Another considered there was too much going on in the first 3 chapters submitted. A third said the first 60 pages were too slow to start the action. I was somewhat confused. When it finally came out after I had rewritten what I thought fit in the face of contradictory criticism, readers’ feedback was that they were curious to read on and find out what had made Olivia leap into a train and cross Europe to find the father of her child in Florence. That reassured me a bit.

I changed tactic for this year’s publication, 1955 The Summer When…, and followed the safe path of having the traveller on this true life journey start off on a cross channel ferry, ‘afloat to adventure’. This was hardly an original way to hold the reader’s attention, except that the story was on the move.

The difficulty – I nearly wrote ‘problem’ – is that I tend to write character driven stories and this is only too evident from the start of my new novel.

More problems, do I really call ‘G’ that because I can’t find a name for him? I’ll think that through tomorrow.

I procrastinated today thinking about the TV Memoir of Stephen Hawking which we watched last night. Interesting. I liked the way his wife talked so frankly about living with a young family and an invalid, however brilliant.  Also, how fame might have helped him bear his terrible illness, nearly 50 year of it. I recall having dinner in the smaller-than-one-would-imagine room where the Nobel Prize committee met to decide the winners. It was during a conference in Stockholm. I wonder why he hasn’t been awarded the Nobel Prize?

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