And in my beginning – the writer’s dilema

I’ve been writing about endings and beginnings of books. My new book ‘Billy Christ’ is about a young boy growing-up sometime in the early 1970s in a small English rural community. He’s no ordinary boy in that he has a number of obsessions and a deep and primitive spiritual belief. He’s a ‘wild’ child and an outsider – his world is narrow and mainly confined to the Roman Catholic boys’ school he attends and the clearing in the woods at the top of the hill near where he lives. Compared to his contemporaries he is an innocent, sexually unknowing, naive…

But he is also (unintentionally) amusing and I tried to use humour in the narration to highlight by contrast the bleakness of his world. How do you get all this across in that all important opening page? I guess it’s a question all writers have to address: how do you get the reader into your world, into your characters’ world and into their minds? I  tried the age-old idea of entering Billy’s mind through his diary (or as he call them ‘his memoirs.’)

This is what I did:

“There are two worlds.

Sometimes I think I belong to one world and all the other boys at school and some of the teachers belong to another. I get glimpses of their world but I cannot really understand it, let alone explain it.

In their world they make jokes which they laugh at but I don’t understand, sometimes they snigger behind their hands and then they’ll say things which seem quite ordinary but which make them giggle hysterically, so that the ordinary words they use must mean something else but I don’t know what. Take the drama club. Some of the older boys and some of the boys in my year and even some who are below me and who are not in the drama club look at you funnily when you go to rehearsals and they nudge each other if Father Martin asks you to rehearse privately up in his office.

I once heard Roger Inkman in the 1st year sixth say to another sixth former, ‘Oh, they call it rehearsals? – That’s a new name for it!’ And he put a sort of funny emphasis on ‘new’ and then they both giggled and gave me an ODD look. I didn’t understand that, especially as most boys in my school have been in the drama club at one time or another.

Nor did I understand what Mr Postlethwaite (PE and Games) meant, when I said I could not go to a rugby sevens practise because we had a dress rehearsal for the house drama competition. ‘Oh,’ he said. ‘Well, you’ll have to learn that rugby and plays just don’t mix. Not where I come from, anyway!’ 

He comes from Plymouth, apparently.

Mr Postlethwaite came along to the folk concerts that we organised to raise money for the school development fund and so did Mr Banks the other games teacher and they brought their wives with them who had blonde hair and wore short skirts and cheesecloth shirts and who looked just like each other.

I read some poems at the Folk Concert that I had written for the occasion. At Games the next day Mr Postlethwaite said, ‘Why the poems? You should leave folk to folk singers.’ Apparently Mr Postlethwaite and Mr Banks belong to a folk club in town above the ‘Fox And Hounds Pub’ and they both have ‘pretty fair’ voices – according to Fred Dymond, who is in the third year sixth because he failed his A-levels first time round and who can, therefore, go to the pub.

So can I ask you what you think of it? Does anyone have a favourite opening to a novel they’d like to share? Let me know.  Share them here.

Comments (5)

  • What an intriguing beginning! I want to read more.

  • Definitely made me want to read more. I always felt I came from that other world too… Still do!

    • I guess all the different worlds we occupy have their value, the trick is knowing which one you’ll be happiest in… I’m not sure if my character Billy ever finds out. Maybe he does, or there again… When I was quite young a very far-sighted friend told me to turn the ‘voice-over’ in my head off and listen to the world around me. He had a point.

  • I’m planning to post a few more extracts from Billy Christ before publication in a couple of months and some video & audio readings… I hope you’ll enjoy them.