Great Beginnings for Ayr Writers’ Club – 18 September 2019

Six-foot iguanas. Schoolboys wandering the jungle. A woman doing… well, we don’t actually know. How do you craft that perfect opening that will hook your reader and compel them to read on?

Luckily for Ayr Writers’ Club, Cathy McSporran was on hand to guide us in the right direction. Cathy is a Creative Writing tutor at Glasgow University and has adjudicated a few of our competitions over the last couple of years, so it was a pleasure to finally meet her in person. Her workshop on Good Beginnings was rather timely, as it was only our second meeting of the new season.

Cathy began by giving us a few examples of some good beginnings. After the famous ‘Marley was dead: to begin with,’ we looked at Lord of the Flies by William Golding, Wide Blue Yonder by Jenny Diski and Bampot Central by Christopher Brookmyre. After a lively discussion about each one, and how effective it was as an opening, it was time for us to give it a go.

Cathy suggested that the best openings are the ones that start in media res, the fancy Latin way of saying ‘in the middle of things.’ No dark and stormy nights here. She also suggested looking again at that first paragraph. Do you really need it? Or does the story actually start in the second paragraph? If so, cut the first.

She then gave us a deceptively simple prompt – someone is waiting in a hospital A&E. It was up to us who that someone was, and why they were there. What followed was an excellent example of the variety and imagination of our members.

We didn’t have to use the prompt, but many members did. We had injured nurses, men in blue (or should that be polis?) and floorboards falling from above. There was the crushing claustrophobia of an MRI machine and a rather odd-shaped mole. And who could forget the swarm of children, nagging their parents for a snack from the vending machine?

Not only was the workshop enjoyable and informative, but it also got me thinking about some of my own favourite openings. There are too many to list here, but I would recommend reading the first lines of 1984 by George Orwell, Holes by Louis Sachar and A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab.

What a great first workshop of the year. We’re all hooked to see what is going to happen at the club next.

Kirsty Hammond

2 comments

  1. Great blog Kirsty, thanks

  2. I enjoyed the workshop thoroughly, and I was very impressed by the quality and variety of the participants’ work. It was lovely meeting everyone – I hope to be invited back again sometime.

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