Poet and comedian Tim Key sleuths out what makes a great literary opening line.
Poet and comic Tim Key tries to find out what makes a great literary opening line.
Truths universally acknowledged. Clocks striking thirteen. Bests and worsts of times. A truly great opening line can make a novel iconic. But what makes these famous first sentences sing to us?
Last year, Perrier award-winning comedian and poet Tim Key chased down the meaning of Nikolai Gogol's enigmatic short story "The Overcoat", in a feature that garnered some of the most prestigious awards in European radio - winning the EBU's Ake Blomstrom Prize, and being nominated for the Prix Italia and Prix Marulic.
Now, another chance to hear his first radio 'documentary' (sort of), originally aired in 2011, as he tries to sleuth out what makes a great literary opening line, with the help of author Joe Dunthorne, comedian and novelist Mark Watson, and literary critics Maureen Freely and John Sutherland. You see, Tim's just desperate to write his first novel - it's in him, just waiting, waiting to be unleashed. If only he could think of a good beginning...
Fresh from his acclaimed stage show "Masterslut" and regular spots on Charlie Brooker's "Newswipe" and Steve Coogan's "Mid-Morning Matters With Alan Partridge", Tim's on a mission to pen the ultimate opening line: one that will knock your socks off, hook you in, blow you away (he'll sort out the rest later, yeah?).
As he slowly crafts his one-sentence magnum opus, Tim taps into the minds of some of Britain's top literary talents to find out what a first line should and shouldn't do, and the hours of sweat and toil enshrined in those crucial few words. He also tries to galvanise his imagination - taking a spin of one of the world's strangest literary board games...
The pressure's on, as we hear a roll-call of some of the finest and most famous first lines in publishing history - from Dickens to Dostoevsky to uh, Dan Brown. Overwhelmed with information, we also hear a crash course on what not to do - as Tim visits Knebworth House, ancestral pile of a man whose most famous first sentence is legendary for all the wrong reasons: Edward Bulwer-Lytton, author of the infamous "It was a dark and stormy night..."
Finally it's time to try out Tim's sentence of the unsuspecting public, as he visits the award-winning Brick Lane Book Club for a focus group...before in the final moments, he unleashes that killer first sentence on the world...(so then Tim: what comes next?).