First Words


From The Finnish Museum of Photography

In a week (a week!) my novel, Our Endless Numbered Days, will be published in the UK. I don’t have the words to express how excited I am. Well, I do, but they are all adverbs and those aren’t allowed. To celebrate the fact that I only have seven days to wait to see my book out in the world, I’d like to invite all the lovely writers I know (and those I don’t) to share the first words of one of their books, or whatever they’re writing at the moment.

In the comments below please share the first couple of sentences of your writing – not too much, just give us a taster. Include a link to where we can buy your book or read more and tell us a tiny bit about it. And then, and this is the most important part, read at least two other writers’ first words, and click on their link or comment on their writing. And finally, share this post.

So, to start us off, here are mine from Our Endless Numbered Days. It can be pre-ordered from Waterstones or Amazon in UK, Amazon (USA), or Amazon (Canada)


This morning I found a black and white photograph of my father at the back of the bureau drawer. He didn’t look like a liar.


About Our Endless Numbered Days: In 1976, eight-year-old Peggy Hillcoat is taken by her father to a remote European forest. There, he tells her the rest of the world has disappeared. She isn’t seen again for another nine years.

140 thoughts on “First Words

  1. Hi Claire, I am very excited too about the imminent publication of ‘Our Endless Numbered Days.’ I can’t wait to read it. Below are the first two sentences of the novel I am writing at the moment, which has the working title of ‘Flesh and Blood.’ My novel is set in 1917, and tells the story of a brave woman’s extraordinary experience fighting in the trenches of Flanders…it is very loosely based on a real woman who did indeed fight on the Western Front.

    The longer Mary stands here, the greater her apprehension grows. She tells herself she is waiting to begin a journey, but as time passes, it is one she is no longer sure she wants to take. Her nerves thrum and it feels like a bird is trapped in her chest, flapping to be free, but she daren’t move for fear of attracting attention.

    Liked by 1 person

    • This is such an unusual angle for WWI literature; I really want to read the whole thing some day. Mary’s conflicting emotions are a tantalising opening hook and make it easy for me to relate to her even though she’s in such an other-worldly situation.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks so much, Louise. Yes, it is an unusual angle I think, and I haven’t read anything quite like what I am attempting to write…which either means I am on to something hot, or have made a huge error of judgement! Time will tell, I suppose… Thanks for your encouraging comment, anyway.


    • Well done Lou for bringing another brave female protagonist to life. There are too few of them. I am immediately intrigued to what is about to happen to Mary. I love the bird imagery and I’m always lost in a new journey somehow. Good luck!


    • Love this idea! And have really enjoyed reading everyone’s comments/words.

      My first words are:

      “I am sitting in the toilet at work. Outside the cubicle two girls are talking about the gig they have been to the night before.
      ‘Amazing wasn’t it?’
      ‘Yeah, but it was ruined by this old couple in front of us snogging all night’
      ‘How old?’
      ‘God, really old. About 35’
      ‘That’s disgusting.’
      I am trying not to cry. I am 42 years old and have just found out that I am pregnant. I am, apparently, too old to kiss in public – but not too old to have a baby.

      My book, The Secret Diary of a New Mum (Aged 43 1/4) was published in 2011 and is a memoir about what was charmingly dubbed by the midwife as my ‘geriatric pregnancy’ and what happened next. According to Fay Ripley it is ‘brilliantly observed. Funny, embarrassing and yet cruelly honest’ – I hope she is right! Either way, I wrote it in part because I was sick of reading newspaper reports about why people have babies at 40 (careers, only careers (apparently)) and I thought it was time to set the record straight. You can buy it on Amazon. The kindle version is much cheaper.

      Since then I have been working on a novel but I’ve written two non fiction books in the meantime. Procrastination is one of my more developed skills.


        • Hi Claire. I’ve been reading your WM blog since it started, and I’ve enjoyed every single post. Bad writing drives me crazy, and you explain so lucidly how to avoid it. So I was really excited to hear about your novel, and to discover your website. Love the site, can’t wait to read the novel. Congratulations!

          But 46 and 48, kissing in public? Don’t get it. I’m 60, my partner is 58, and we kiss in public all the time. If you love someone, why wouldn’t you?



  2. Claire

    I’d love to come (with shaun) if possible to your book opening. How exciting ….loving the first few lines and have already booked it in for my bookgroup to read.

    Do you have the details again as the original email was deleted.

    Cheers Belinda


  3. Good luck with your launch, Claire. I loved the novel and will write a review for my blog where I’ll try to do it justice soon.

    I wrote a short comic/absurd story called ‘Rise’ some time ago which was read by the actor Matt Alford. You can listen to a recording of the reading here:
    “People are rising from the earth. It’s as if someone has flipped a switch so that humans are suddenly weightless. Yet there still seems to be some relation between body mass and the speed with which the people ascend into the sky.”

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Lovely to share your exceitement, Claire, can’t wait for Our Endless Numbered Days to be out there!

    OK, here goes, the beginning of Someone Else’s Conflict, about an itinerant storyteller with a dark past in the Croatian conflict of the 1990s, and the choices, friendships and betrayals that result from his past catching up with him…

    “The boy wakes. It is still dark. The intermittent distant rumble is not a storm, or even a dream.”

    Available from Amazon and,, the publisher, Honno


  5. So psyched to read yours, Claire 🙂 And that first line just works so well! I think the opening of mine was the bit that changed the most, and the most often. The Summer of Secrets mostly takes place in the summer of 1983, when Helen meets the bohemian Dover family. We also have Helen, in the present, forced to revisit that summer when Victoria Dover appears in her life again. But the actual opening lines are in a prologue, from the point of view of Alice, Victoria’s beguiling but unstable mother:

    “So much blue. From where she sat at the very back of the ferry, this was all that Alice could see. The island had changed from a place to a shape to the faintest blur and now it was gone, without leaving a trace.”

    The Summer of Secrets is out with Black Swan on 13th August this year, and is available for pre-order here:

    You’ve caught that moment of paralysing apprehension really well, Lou. Good luck with it!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. (Vanessa Lafaye here. My WordPress handle is ‘hairykid’ for my cat.)What a great opening, Claire, and a great idea. You read so much about the importance of the first paragraph, for seducing the reader. Here’s the opening of ‘Summertime’: ‘The humid air felt like water in the lungs, like drowning. A feeble breeze stirred the washing on the line briefly, but then the clothes fell back, exhausted by their exertions.’


  7. Here are the first two sentences of ‘The Museum of Fractured Lives’:

    The divorce was painful, messy and completely unexpected. After thirty years of marriage I thought I’d got things sussed. I thought I knew Dave inside out.

    Available from Amazon for Kindle here:

    This is a collection of longer ‘short’ stories set in the fictional ‘Museum of Fractured Lives’. People with a trauma in their past donate exhibits to the museum and tell their story.

    Now I’m going to comment on the other openings and share the post on Twitter. Thanks, Claire!


  8. Claire, I can’t wait to read OUR ENDLESS NUMBERED DAYS. Getting your first book published is hugely exciting. Many congratulations. Thank you so much for inviting us to share and discuss our work here in the comments.

    My second novel BURNT RIVER is a literary thriller and follows on from BONE DUST WHITE. It is set in a small town in northern Montana. A young highly decorated war veteran is murdered and Macy Greeley is brought into investigate.

    Opening line: ‘The woman fell to her knees at the base of a tall pine and prayed for the third time that day. The smoke was so thick she could barely breathe.’

    It’s out in the states May but can be ordered online in the UK.


  9. This is a fantastic idea, Claire. I am looking forward to Our Endless Numbered Days!

    Here’s the beginning of my WIP about twins sisters separated at birth for a sinister experiment who team up after 16 years to expose the scientists that tore them apart and to find out who they really are:

    I’ve overslept for the fifth time this week. After splashing my face with cold water, I look into the mirror to give myself a stern talking-to. I recoil when I see my reflection.
    Pale skin. Sunken eyes, bags the colour of slate, a dangerous glint. A glint that takes me back to the nightmare. The eyes in the shadows that follow me around, the eyes that are watching me – they’re staring back at me.


  10. I’m so very excited for you, Claire – and will pre-order your book! I am still in the querying stage for mine. The opening words came to me at the writing workshop I attended in the Bahamas, when my story was still unfinished and stuck. Once I had this in mind, the rest came together in just another few weeks.

    My novel is called Broken Parts and the opening lines are:

    “We all carry with us broken parts; those places just under the skin held together with mending tape and hope. Tender, never quite healed, we ache to be known and understood. For Ann Bishop, some of these broken parts can’t be healed. They must be balanced, like an equation, subtracting from each side to reach a solution.”

    Congratulations on your upcoming release!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. What a great idea – some very intriguing openings here!

    Below are the first few lines of The Daughter’s Secret which will be published in August (Orion). It is the story of a mother dealing with the aftermath of her daughter’s relationship with a teacher.

    I was forty-two years old when I stopped worrying. I don’t know why it happened then. Maybe it was the quietness of the almost-empty house or the way that one day melted into the next without Freddy to feed and argue with. Or maybe I had worried so much for so long that my neural pathways had been ground to dust and my brain could no longer make the leaps required to see the catastrophes waiting behind the acts of everyday life.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Hi Claire, I’ve pre-ordered your novel, and can’t wait to read.
    The first paragraph of chapter one – The Single Feather (sorry couldn’t settle on a particular line).

    As I sat in my doorway, trying to get the courage to propel myself forward, I listened intently to the sounds of Carthom. Due to it being a much more rural and open location than Weston, with a bird sanctuary only two miles down the main road, it was the sound of birds singing, and in particular, the blackbird’s song, with it’s melodic, mellow tone, which supplied the soundtrack to spur me on. If I listened carefully, I thought I could hear schoolchildren, giddy as they ran around at mid-morning break. Periodically, I could also make out the low rumble of trains as they weaved around the tracks that circled Carthom. Above all that, I heard the wind, as it flowed through the trees and picked up then scattered leaves in my path.


    • That’s such a great idea to just focus on sound as way to lead us through the narrator’s locality. It makes the paragraph incredibly atmospheric and immediately gives us a sense of the person listening. Lovely.


      • Just realised I missed out words, should be – the sublime, soundtrack to spur me on.
        – the high pitch screams and shouts from schoolchildren as they ran around at mid-morning break.
        – picked up then scattered the leaves in my path.

        Serves me right for not actually looking at the book – and assuming I could remember it, word for word!!

        Liked by 1 person

  13. I’m so glad you’ve done a ‘first lines’ post of your own, to mark the imminent publication of your debut novel . Very exciting times for you!

    My debut novel is called Singled Out. It’s a slow-burning psychological suspense, set on a singles holiday in Turkey. No one is quite who they seem and when the sun goes down, danger lies in wait. Singled Out by Julie Lawford, was published on 1st February and is available to buy on Kindle and paperback from Amazon UK: , Amazon USA:…/…/1505207517 and all other Amazon websites. Here’s how it begins:

    He stands over her, fastening his jeans. Then he scans 360-degrees, checking for any disturbance – evidence of his presence…


  14. Absolutely sold on your opening lines, Claire. This is a great exercise. I’ll give it a go. Though I wish I knew how to format text in these replies. The ‘am’ in my opening line should be italic and I can’t seem to make a short link to other sites.

    Border Line was published in December and is available as print from and as an eBook from Amazon worldwide.

    I am in my right mind.
    It seems important to mention this, because I sense my ‘right’ mind sliding away – a sea-change over which I have little control.

    Border Line is the story of Grace, who is looking online for a way to die and finds herself with nine other people and a leader on a trek across Slovenia. They have twenty-one days to share stories and surprise themselves with laughter before making a final decision. Love, kindness, suicide, assisted dying and the remote beauty of Slovenia all feature.


      • Yup, it’s not remotely personal, but it’s written in that style. I was interested in law-abiding citizens who have caused disasters and how they cope with guilt. I had some fun with drama and therapeutic exercises and I am fascinated by the issue of choice in how we die.

        Liked by 1 person

  15. I think I might be the first man to post on here, which might explain the slightly more ‘blokey’ feel of my opening sentence. Please don’t be put off – my debut novel Ordinary Joe, which is to be published by HarperCollins in July (and available for pre-order through Amazon now!) really isn’t a blokey book. It is actually about an unusual love triangle (almost a square) that develops when the crazy worlds of Hollywood and accountancy collide. Here then is the opening line:

    The first thing I noticed about Olivia Finch – that very first time I saw her in the flesh – wasn’t her breasts bouncing like pale pink pomegranates as she worked herself into a frenzy on her lover’s lap.


  16. Thank you for inviting writers to share their first lines. My novel is Mrs Sinclair’s Suitcase, published in 2014. Thirty-something bookseller Roberta finds a letter written to her centenarian grandmother from her grandfather. The letter intrigues, not least because it was written after he had supposedly died during WW2. Here are the opening couple of sentences:

    8th February 1941
    My dear Dorothea,
    In wartime, people become desperate.We step outside ourselves.

    Here’s the Amazon link and it does seem to be available in most good bookshops.


  17. Hi Claire,

    Looking forward to our chat next week, and the book, of course.

    First lines of Memoirs of a Dilettante Volume Two:

    Somewhere east of Buffalo and west of New York City, at the crossroads of cultural stagnation and economic failure lies the town of Arcadia, Population: Dwindling. There actually is a real Arcadia, New York, but that’s not the Arcadia I’m talking about, darlings. No, the Arcadia I’m describing is an Arcadia of the mind, the Arcadia of my memory, whose remaining residents press on ploddingly like dim-witted dinosaurs denying an impending Ice Age.


  18. Claire, I love this idea, such a wonderful way to bring writers together and create excitement and intrigue for one another’s work. Your taster really engages with me so count me in as a reader when the novel is published. Wonderful!

    Dorethea, I love the line “we step outside ourselves”, it’s captivating. Sad and yet so full of something else, potential, fascination for the unknown. I would love to read more.

    Helena, the Arcadia of the mind is fascinating and the voice is so alive. I can feel fun and something really different ahead, a story that definitely engages. It is so tempting I’d definitely read more.

    My first line is from my novel The Birds That Never Flew. It was shortlisted for the Dundee Prize in 2012 and longlisted for the Polari First Book Prize in 2014.

    I stopped in my tracks, realising instantly that she was the Virgin Mary.
    It was obvious it was her; the outfit gave her away, yet there was something unfamiliar about her.

    You can find it here:

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Claire it has been such a privilege to follow your remarkable journey to publishing. I truly can’t wait to read your novel. I just hope that I experience a similar experience when the time comes.
    Thank you so much for supporting fellow writers in your post and for giving us the opportunity to publicize our work. This means a lot to me as a Mom sitting at home writing a bit when I can!

    The first lines of my coming of age novel “Northern Branches”, (working title) set during the Troubles in Northern Ireland are:

    “That sunny Friday afternoon, Daddy stood in front of the pink bushes that crowded a grassy patch by the red brick farmhouse.
    “It’s Sammy Botham at the World Cricket Championships. A real class act!” Daddy’s silly voice, and clown face made me wobble with giggles.”
    You can’t believe how nervous I feel just sending this!!!!


  20. I truly wish you every success with Our Endless Numbered Days, Claire. It’s the very next book on my reading pile and I’ve only heard marvellous things about it.

    I’m so impressed by the variety and care so many of you have given to your intriguing openers. It feels a bit odd to me to talk about opening lines as An Appetite for Violets uses eighteenth century recipes to preface most chapters and they are as important as the actual opening lines. In my forthcoming book, The Penny Heart, the opening is a recipe for a sinister but once popular drink, about to be offered to two travellers by a confidence trickster. The heading is Manchester, Winter, 1787:

    ‘Sassafras Tea
    Take a large spoonful of sassafras root ground to a powder and put into a pint of boiling water, stirring until it is like a fine jelly; then put wine and sugar to it and lemon, if it will agree. A most refreshing drink sold liberally about the streets and said to lift the spirits and ease the mind of suspicion, all for a halfpenny piece.’

    The Penny Heart is set in the 1700s in the north of England, Australia and New Zealand. When a naïve young wife unwittingly employs a former Botany Bay convict as her cook at a remote Hall in Yorkshire, she uncovers a tale of revenge that culminates in murder.

    Published by Hodder & Stoughton in the UK, May 2015. Details at my Amazon page:


  21. I’m a little late to the party here Claire, but I had to say how much I admire the stunning and succinct opening words of Our Endless Numbered Days. Very intrigued, and I can’t wait to read it. Best of luck!

    Here are the opening lines of my novel ‘Tantalus: the sculptor’s story’.


    Journal of Thomas Hope: 30th June 1967.

    You were just 17, and I was now 70 years old. Your hair shone like burnished copper and you sparkled with youth, while I faded into the winter of my life.


    Tantalus begins to dovetail two time periods, 1924 and 1975, when Sylvia sees something stir in the shadowy corners of the studio where she paints. She finds herself staring straight through the neighbour’s wall, and into the startled eyes of a young sculptor called Tom, but what he doesn’t realise is that she is not yet born. She is not due to be born for another fifty years.

    Tom and Sylvia happen to be separated by an impenetrable, tantalisingly invisible wall of time, but they could just as easily have been parted by barriers of race, place, creed or class, as they battle with unbreakable laws and unfulfillable yearnings.

    Tantalus: the sculptor’s story is available on


  22. I’m a little late to the party here Claire, but had to say how much I admire the stunning and succinct opening words of Our Endless Numbered Days. Tension is created immediately here, as the relative normality in the first sentence is quickly twisted in the second. Very intrigued, and can’t wait to read it. Best of luck!

    Here are the opening lines of my novel ‘Tantalus: the sculptor’s story’.


    Journal of Thomas Hope: 30th June 1967.

    You were just 17, and I was now 70 years old. Your hair shone like burnished copper and you sparkled with youth, while I faded into the winter of my life.


    Tantalus begins to dovetail two time periods, 1924 and 1975, when Sylvia sees something stir in the shadowy corners of the studio where she paints. She finds herself staring straight through the neighbour’s wall, and into the startled eyes of a young sculptor called Tom, but what he doesn’t realise is that she is not yet born. She is not due to be born for another fifty years.

    Tom and Sylvia happen to be separated by an impenetrable, tantalisingly invisible wall of time, but they could just as easily have been parted by barriers of race, place, creed or class, as they battle with unbreakable laws and unfulfillable yearnings.

    Tantalus: the sculptor’s story is available from…


  23. What a fantastic – and generous – idea, Claire. Your opening really whets the appetite. I love the way the second sentence completely undercuts the potential for sentimentality implied by the first.

    Like Martine, my novel, The Art of Baking Blind, makes use of a (fictitious) 1966 cookery book, quotes from which preface each chapter. In the prologue, we see the first quote from The Art of Baking and then its author, Kathleen Eaden, agonising over whether she has adequately described her gingerbread house. As the novel progresses, it becomes clear that the public face of Kathleen Eaden – as manifested in her prose – is very different to her private reality; the same is true of the other characters in the novel who take part in a baking competition to become the “new Mrs Eaden” as their own lives unravel. Hopefully this disparity between appearance and reality is flagged up in the prologue (and explains my lengthy quote. Apologies in advance:)

    “Imagine your perfect home: a gamekeepers lodge or rambling farmhouse, the walls wreathed with wisteria, brick warmed by the sun. Picture the garden: bees drunk on the nectar of hollyhocks, the air shimmering with sumer. An apple tree rustles and drops early fruit.
    “Now imagine this house made of gingerbread, its sides gently golden; royal icing piped along the rooftop and studded with sweets. Plant sugar canes in the flower beds; drench with jelly tots; pave with smarties. Pause and admire this culinary doll’s house. Your ideal home and all-too-brief treat.”

    Kathleen Eaden puts down her pen and chews her bottom lip in dissatisfaction. That wasn’t what she wanted to write.”

    And if you want to read more, you can do so via Amazon or on the Waterstone’s blog:


    • Thanks Sarah for sharing your first lines. I was really in the scene with the farmhouse in the sunshine, and then you swipe through that vision with the gingerbread house, and just as I have that in my mind, you smash it all up with the realisation that this is Kathleen’s writing. Very clever.


  24. Thank you (though I’m not sure it is!) But I wanted to play with the idea that perfection is never attainable (a big theme of the book.) Just rewriting the prologue to book two and realised I am envisaging a farmhouse – though a very different type of farmhouse – there. Can’t wait to read yours. Just ordered.


  25. What a stunning opening, Claire. I’m hooked – can’t wait to read your book. I wish you lots of success with it.

    Here are the opening lines from my young adult/crossover novel, Minty:

    Sorry. That’s all it takes – just one word and she’s off on one.
    “Dad,” Jess says, stretching out his name. “You’re not sorry at all.” She furrows her brow. “This always happens.”
    Then she does this toddler thing of shoving out her bottom lip until, geez, she looks so bloomin’ daft that I need to stuff a hand over my mouth to squash the snigger that’s threatening to burst out.
    But my sis must have the hearing of a bat because she wheels round to me and says, “I don’t know why you’re laughing, Minty, you were looking forward to it as much as me.”


    • Lovely bold start with a sentence of just one word! I wonder if apologies is a theme carried through the book. And so many questions are set up with this little snippet. What exactly where they looking forward to, and what has their father done?


  26. Pingback: Flash fiction: Dogged | Claire Fuller

  27. I have several things I work on in rotation. This is the first paragraph of one of them. Please bear in mind I’m only an amateur scribbler, the idea of writing a novel is a lifetime away! That said, here it is:


    The mild, spring breeze blowing down from Ben Corran ruffled the majestic beast’s bronzed feathers. In its hooked, yellow and black beak a blooded, headless field mouse lay limp. The Red Kite’s all seeing eyes roamed from left to right, and back again – returning their unnerving focus to Andrew Nicolson. Andrew had never seen the raw, barbaric splendour of nature up this close – it was unnerving, yet breathtaking. For what seemed like minutes, but was likely seconds, boy and bird remained locked in wary observation of each other’s movements. Up ahead the engine of the Nicholson’s train continued to stand idle; distant shouts and cries hinted at trouble on the line.


    It’s about an isolated railway community, where the only way in or out is by train. Andrew Nicolson will in time become the villages Station Master. Needless to say there isn’t a happy ending.


  28. So many fabulous openings!!! Here’s mine – it’s the start of Arthur and Me, which is for 7-9s (and all ages upwards :D) about a bullied child who finds King Arthur asleep in a cave and thinks the great hero will solve all his problems – only to find that heroes aren’t quite as they are written in the storybooks.

    One day I will go on a school trip without getting ‘the talk’ from Mrs Wendell-Jones. Not the one about turning up on time and bringing a packed lunch. The ‘don’t ruin this for everyone’ talk.

    Arthur and Me was published by Firefly in October last year.

    All best for tomorrow, Claire – Have a wonderful day!

    Liked by 1 person

  29. I’m very late to the party – and what a party, such an abundance of creative openings here, I only wish I had time to comment on them all – but nevertheless, I think it’s apt that I’m commenting on publication day with a copy sitting on my desk and looking forward to starting reading this evening. It’s a very fine opening, I immediately want to know more about that relationship.
    So generous of you to provide a platform for the openings from other novels in this way, Here’s the opening of Sugar and Snails, due to be published 23 July:
    Halfway down the stairs, I sink to my haunches and hug my dressing-gown across my breasts.
    Below me in the hallway, Simon reaches up towards the row of coat hooks. His hand hovers above the collar of his black fleece and then falls, combing the sleeve as his arm flops to his side. “This is ridiculous, Di. We should at least talk about it.”
    More info on my website:

    Liked by 1 person

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