On my recent trip to Spain I’d hoped that I would have enough time to simply ‘stand and stare’, and it did happen, although perhaps not often enough. I love my home, but there’s something about the anonymity of lone travel that has a hook for me – where I can morph out of my skin and person and just be – an immensely refreshing space to inhabit.
Staring out of a train window on my way down to Granada, I found myself thinking of my favourite books on aloneness: The Loneliness of the Long-distance Runner (the Sillitoe classic with such pitch-perfect beat and rhythm that you can actually hear the Borstal boy’s shoes pounding the pathways) and the more recent addition to my bookshelf In a Strange Room by Damon Galgut. In the first of the three novellas in this volume, there’s a moment when one traveller passes another on a lonely stretch of road – a definable instant when the characters/the writing become so charged that the story sizzles, becomes electric, unforgettable.
And it’s a long time since I read it, but another scene in literature with aloneness at its core is a scene from War and Peace where a sudden slash from a scythe in a golden field of hay reveals a cluster of bright red poppies. Tolstoy’s portrayal remains as bright in my brain as anything I have ever seen. On my trip, these sudden patches of scarlet alongside a railway line or sprouting from a cliff face returned me again and again to this character standing over the patch of poppies that had escaped his blade – to the heat of the day, the smell of sweat, cut hay and his own frustrated emotions.
Finally, this blog-opener by best-selling U S thriller author P J Parrish resonated with me and I reproduce it here with thanks.
“But I’m tired of hooks. I’m thinking that the importance of a great opening goes beyond its ability to keep the reader just turning the pages. A great opening is a book’s soul in miniature. Within those first few paragraphs — sometimes buried, sometimes artfully disguised, sometimes signposted — are all the seeds of theme, style and most powerfully, the very voice of the writer herself.” (My emphasis.)
Happy reading and writing.
Photo: Courtesy Richard Wheater