Christopher Robin

In a poetic moment I revisited AA Milne’s Buckingham Palace and wove it into my introduction to my new thriller-heist. Why? Well, that may not become obvious until the final chapter(s). Meanwhile, the protagonist suspects that the king does indeed know all about him! [BTW: my sister is called Robin and I was named Christopher]. And, like Alice, there is ‘time for tea’ in Chapter One for the protagonist, among the rising tension of being followed. Perhaps the obvious connection is that the protagonist is called Sir Christopher.

They're changing guard at Buckingham Palace
Christopher Robin went down with Alice
"Do you think the King knows all about me?"
"Sure to, dear, but it's time for tea" Says Alice

Characters in Search of an Author

Six Characters in Search of an Author, is a play in three acts by Luigi Pirandello, using the device of the “theatre within the theatre,” the play explores various levels of illusion and reality.

I saw this play once and it began with workers putting final touches to the theatre set. They were in a panic to get it ready for the play and asked the audience for some help. The audience soon discovered that they were part of the play.

Pirandello’s device is very clever and it has a lesson for authors—you need to introduce your characters from the get—go! My first manuscript for book #2 fell into this trap. While focusing on a setting builder in Chapter 1, I had left out the main characters until Chapter 2. This left the reader guessing where the protagonist, antagonist were. This begs the question—do all successful books require the main characters to appear in the opening chapter? 

The bible is regarded as one of the most read and most important books of all time. In it, the first chapter—Genesis—describes the main actors (God, Adam and Eve, etc. appearing on the stage (the earth). So, take it from the top; don’t forget to put your main character(s) in the first chapter!

Who wrote this fake news?

“… His head slumped to read the unfolded note in his hand.

“I would recognize my wife’s handwriting anywhere. Who wrote this lie?”

He crushed the paper as the truth exploded on him.
“Someone has set me up! Who? Did they follow me?” …”

In the opening paragraphs of 3 WISE MEN, Jak is confounded and can’t figure out whether he was being set up. This dilemma – in a foreign country and on the run – reminded me a little of Rodin’s statue – ‘The Thinker’.

Jak – like The Thinker – is deep in thought as he tries desperately to solve the puzzle and resolve his predicament. Everything around him is a swirling mess and he has to get to his meeting as quickly as possible. What a great way to start a thriller?

Opening Scene in 3 WISE MEN

“A few passengers glanced at Jak’s tortured expression before he slinked low into seat 21, anxious for the train doors to close. They gathered speed out of Antibes and he wiped away perspiration, taking care to avoid the purple-red wound over his right eye. With a shaking hand he sipped water and shaded the outside glare to search a vignette of fleeting images—a crowded car park blurring into splotches of grass and graffiti, and the rustic bastions of Fort Carré towering proudly above the headland.
“What happened to my wife?” he wondered.
The train swayed parallel to the coast, its rhythmical ‘cli-clack’, ‘cli-clack’ keeping beat with his thumping heart. On the horizon, the sun’s rays gathered into a fiery orb that sank abruptly into the tranquil Mediterranean.
He watched spellbound.
Streaks of tangerine flamed across the bay, and the numbing fear that had stalked him all day subsided. He took a deep breath, closed his eyes and dozed—until a woman’s voice startled him.” (Extract from Chapter 1, 3 WISE MEN)

Why does 3 WISE MEN begin with Jak, the protagonist, on a train journey? It is somewhat ironic that this is how my writing began – on a train trip along the same coast (although mine was in the morning and Jak’s was later in the day). The concept for 3 WISE MEN began some two years earlier and I had planned to write the draft manuscript before visiting the south of France. However, I was not inspired to write until me train left Nice. So, what better way to start the novel than with a similar train trip – one that also gives a sense of going somewhere; a sense of intrigue as the story unfolds. Read more in 3 WISE MEN!

The most agonizing part of writing is the first paragraph

A search of a hundred websites, or a quick read of a Hemingway novel, will inform you that the first few lines in a book are the most important. But how do you gauge that? Easily. Just work out how many times you needed to edit/change the opening lines in Chapter One and there it is all before you – the most critical part of your novel. In 3 WISE MEN, the initial Chapter One quickly got discarded and replaced with new text that helped inform readers of “Character, Location and Conflict.” After several re-writes (including a drastic change in the order of events), 3 WISE MEN finally started like this:

[ Novel Extract from Chapter One:

“Jak hesitated, his heart still thumping. A few passengers noticed his tortured expression before he slinked low into seat 21 and the train doors finally closed.

As they gathered speed out of Antibes, he wiped perspiration from his face – taking care to avoid the purple-red wound over his right eye. With a shaking hand he sipped some water and shaded his face from the outside glare to search a vignette of fleeting images – the crowded car park merging into splotches of grass and graffiti, and the rustic walls of old Fort Carré towering proudly above the headland.

“Where is my wife?” he wondered.

The train gently swayed along parallel to the coast, its rhythmical ‘cli-clack’ … ‘cli-clack’ calming his frayed nerves. At last, the numbing fear that had been rising to choke him began to subside. The sun’s rays gathered into a fiery orb and, as he watched spellbound, they were swallowed abruptly into the tranquil Mediterranean.” ]

So, what do we have? Well, we have our protagonist, “Jak,” on a train and rather uncomfortable about it too. There is something going on here that needs further reading to find out exactly what happened earlier – which is always a good thing in a novel! So, a train is leaving from Antibes and, for the observant reader, they will know that it is traveling east, simply because of the order of images that Jak sees from his window. For readers unfamiliar with this part of the French Riviera, they will be relieved to learn soon enough that the train is heading towards Milan. Why a train you might ask? Perhaps more explanation in the next post … But, first, a question about Jak – he “slinked low.” Why? Why not “sit low” or “slump low” or …? I really struggled with this adjective for some time. I think the reasoning I finally made was that Jak was being hunted like an animal and animals are the best ones at “slinking” are they not?

Yes, the train from Antibes does indeed make a “cli-clack” sound as it tracks towards Nice. My wife and I caught 14 trains in total during our trip to the main locations found in 3 WISE MEN. Each train  and each track makes a slightly different sound, but “cli-clack” seemed the most common, especially when leaving a station at lower speed.

To sum up – Jak is in trouble, scared and cowering in a train that is making a leisurely (cli-clak) journey along the French Riviera. Let’s hope it all works out OK for Jak but, I am not too sure!

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