A or B or C or…?

Ok, I have something to confess. I need your help.

I have written a book. I may have mentioned this before. It’s not a great book. It’s certainly not going to change the world, or even your little part of it. It’s not something that you will remember long after you have read it. In fact, I might even go so far as to call it fluffy, if I wasn’t afraid of being sued by fluff. It is, in short, not War and Peace.

But, it’s mine and it’s finished and I am at the point now where I would like to see if I can get it published. So, not knowing what else to do, I went out and bought the How to Get Published book, which you have to admit was a brilliant idea by the guy who wrote it. A little on the cynical side, though, because by the end of the first paragraph I was already begining to realise that my chances were miniscule to totally non-existent. By page 357, I knew all the reasons why it wasn’t going to be published and all the stages along the way at which it would fail.

For example, I now know that the biggest reason for a book not being published is that the author hasn’t started writing it – well, did that.

Next, is because the author hasn’t finished it – amazingly, did that too.

Or, the author hasn’t managed to attract an agent who likes it enough to take it on and tout it to the publishers – hmmm, might get stuck here.

There are a million reasons why an agent might not like your book, some of which you can do something about and some that you can’t. JK Rowling could still be sitting in that coffee shop in Edinburgh if her book had hit every desk just as the agent was coming down with the flu. Or if she hadn’t had an amazing imagination and an ability to type a lot. But, assuming that you can actually string a sentence or two together, one of the main reasons why agents might not like a book is because the opening pages don’t interest them enough to keep them reading. And, if they don’t want to read further, chances are that no one else will either.

So, a good opening is essential. That, sadly, is where my problem lies. I have two openings. Opening A and Opening B. I’m not sure I would go so far as to call either of them ‘good’ but they definitely come at the very beginning of the book. The first is a bit dramatic. It probably grabs your attention more, but then it’s got a very light-hearted 150 pages to follow. The second is in the same style as the rest of the book. But is it interesting enough to capture an agent’s attention?

I only get one chance to submit this book, and it probably won’t look good if I hand it in with two openings. So, here’s where you come in. Can you, please, read them both and let me know what you think, even if what you think is that it needs a third opening? I know that this is a lot to ask so, in return, I will give all three of you (hello) a signed copy of the book when it comes out. If it doesn’t come out, you can each get a chapter or so of How to Get Published. You have to admit, that’s a pretty attractive offer.

So, here we go (and don’t worry, Opening B is a LOT shorter):

Opening A

          It’s 1:30 in the morning and here I am, sitting next to his basket, fiddling with his little chew toy, staring at the telephone and willing it not to ring. I really don’t know how I came to be here, he isn’t even my dog.

           Today, well I suppose it was yesterday now, started the same as always. I came downstairs about an hour or two before I really wanted to, and was greeted by a waggling tail, a joyful bark and a four-legged beastie whose whole life had been made better simply because I was there. The beastie in question was Boris, a year-old Labrador. That’s really all you need to know, to know him. He’s lively and loveable, and full of energy and mischief and a joy in just being alive. He will chase a ball for as long as, or longer, than anyone is willing to throw it and is up for petting, and eating, no matter what the time or place. I am watching him because his owners are off discovering Austria. I am staring at the phone because he is, as we speak, lying at the vet’s having his vital signs monitored.

          We were having a wonderful time up on the Common. He had already terrorised every squirrel he had seen, raced a few cyclists down the path, searched the pond for abandoned balls and was just getting ready to check out his favourite litter bin, when he noticed a large, brown dog that we had never seen before. Being Boris, he went up to make friends. The dog, however, was not in a friendly frame of mind. I have no idea how it happened but before I could get there, he went for Boris in a way that makes you suddenly realise how large and powerful a dog can be. Boris, being Boris, didn’t see it coming and didn’t know what to do. He tried to submit, he half-heartedly tried to fight back and finally, he tried to get away. He ran blindly and didn’t seem to notice that the other dog wasn’t giving chase. I shouted at him to stop, I rushed after him, other people on the Common tried to head him off, but Boris was too frightened to stop. He ran straight into the road, and straight into the path of a woman driving her two small children home from school. I can still hear the brakes squealing, and the children crying, and see Boris lying there. Two seconds either way and he would have been ok.

          Although she was shaken herself, the driver was wonderful, in that totally English we-can-cope-with-anything sort of way. I, on the other hand, am not English and I certainly couldn’t cope. She stayed calm, took charge and got Boris into her car. I joined the children in crying. They were almost certainly sobbing from the shock of what had just happened and from upset over seeing Boris hurt. I was with them on both counts, but had an extra one all on my own. I just couldn’t get the picture out of my head of two little girls, not very dissimilar from these two, as they hugged their dog goodbye, told him how much they would miss him and made me promise I would take good care of him. It’s amazing how guilty you can feel, even when in shock. But, I suppose that’s just one of the many things we Catholics are good at. The driver, Georgina by the way, drove us straight to the vet’s, which was thankfully just a few streets away. The vet, whom everyone in the neighbourhood just calls The Lovely Rory, had Boris out of the car and on a drip faster than I could have believed possible. While he and his assistant exchanged looks and words like ‘broken femur’ and ‘likely internal injuries’, I just sat there, stomach churning, and thought ‘how am I going to tell his owners? Oh my God, how am I going to tell Serena?’

          All these hours later and I still don’t know the answer to either of those questions, although, since I’ve left a few ‘call me’ messages on both Serena’s mobile and her machine, I suppose I had better come up with something fairly soon. I also still don’t know how I came to be in this awful situation. I suspect it’s my husband’s fault. Most things are. But, and you know I hate admitting this, it may, in a very small way, also be mine. I have, after all, always been restless, always wondered what else was out there and, when it comes right down to it, always loved dogs.

          Serena just phoned. She had been out at a party, one that she had been really looking forward to.  I had known that, I just forgot. Yet another thing to feel badly about. She was having a great time, at least right up to the point where she suddenly realised that there were an awful lot of missed calls from me on her mobile. As you can imagine, she didn’t take the news about Boris too well. Or, maybe you can’t. I have just realised that you probably don’t even know who she is. Well, to put it simply, Serena is the Chief Pet  Nanny, and nothing like this had ever happened to her before.

          A Pet Nanny?

          Yes, a nanny. For pets. Well, dogs mostly.

          Anyway, Serena shrieked ‘what?’ at me a few times, took a deep breath, exhaled slowly and basically remembered that she was English. After hearing the details a few more times, she realised that no matter how many times I told her what had happened, the outcome was always Boris getting hit by a nice woman in a very large car. She was upset herself but tried her best to make me feel better. We agreed that it was good news that the vet hadn’t phoned. We told each other about how far medical science had come in treating whatever it was that was the matter with Boris. We complained that there was some unknown, unfriendly, apparently unaccompanied, large brown dog up on the Common who was roaming around frightening lovely labradors. We reassured ourselves that he was young and healthy and strong and that those were all good reasons to be optimistic. But, whatever we were saying, what we were both really doing, was thinking about a young family in Austria who had no idea their pet was in trouble. And, I suspect, wondering which one of us was going to tell them.

          We hung up. There was nothing left to say. I am guessing that Serena went to sleep, although I’m not entirely sure about that. I went back to staring at the phone, and thinking.

          By the next morning, Rory still hadn’t phoned and I was beginning to hope. I gathered my courage together and dialled his number. I wish I hadn’t. He was just about to phone me. The news was not good. I didn’t catch all of it but the gist was that Boris had been more badly hurt than originally realised, and when you consider how badly hurt they initially thought he was, you knew how serious a sentence like that was. He had survived one operation but would without doubt need several more and even then Rory couldn’t guarantee that he could put right what was wrong. Added to that, Boris would be in severe pain once he came off the anaesthetic, and he couldn’t stay on the anaesthetic forever. There was more, but it was all said in a tone of voice that made you realise that you really didn’t need to hear what he was saying to know where he was heading. Rory felt that it was time to let Boris go and wanted me to come in and sign some papers.

          I had no idea if I could do that. Boris wasn’t my dog. I went around to see Serena. This wasn’t something to tell her on the phone. When it came down to it, though, he wasn’t her dog either. We had to call Austria, and neither one of us wanted to do it. But, Serena was the Chief Dog Nanny, and it was her phone, and I was beyond speech by this point, and so she did. The family was not happy, but they were incredibly kind. They understood it was an accident. They realised that it would have happened if they had been here. They thanked us for taking care of Boris and for calling and apologised for putting us through so much worry. They gave us permission to sign Rory’s papers and they said that they weren’t going to tell the girls until they got home. I marvelled, once again, at how the English react in a crisis, and tried not to think about what they really thought.

          Months passed. Life resumed. The family got a new puppy. The little girls were happy again. I, however, was having a harder time moving on. I knew in my head that there was nothing I could have done to change what had happened. We were in a safe part of the Common, away from roads. Boris was playing. He was near me. I was watching him. I couldn’t have predicted that other dog’s behaviour, or how far Boris would run to get away from him. Still, knowing something in your head doesn’t change how it feels in your heart. I was looking after Boris and he was dead. That was the bottom line. I couldn’t face the thought of ever watching someone else’s pet again and while Serena gave me some time to get over Boris, she was soon casually dropping into conversation stories about some dog or other and the preposterous things they had gotten up to. Her stories fell on deaf ears, for awhile. But, it was getting harder and harder to pretend I wasn’t interested and before you knew it she had a dog who desperately needed a home and no one else was available, so would I just for this once?

          Well, I suppose I could, just for that once. And, of course, before you knew it I was once again hooked. Being a Pet Nanny isn’t an easy job, there is a lot of responsibility and, as I had learned, some heartache, but more than anything, there are dogs, lots of dogs. And lots of owners.

          And lots and lots of stories. But before I get too carried away with my tale, let me tell you a bit about myself. I come from New York City, not Manhattan of course but fairly close to it. Growing up in such a multicultural place can make you go one of two ways, you either enjoy seeing hyphenated American life or you want to go out and see the real thing. I enjoyed the St Patrick’s Day parade down 5th Avenue, in the days when they still painted the white line down the middle green, but I really wanted to know was what the parade in Dublin would be like. Chinatown was great, but I suspected that Hong Kong was better.  Michaelangelo’s Pieta looked beautiful at the Vatican Pavilion in the World’s Fair, but how did it look in St Peter’s in Rome? As you can imagine, I was a pain to live with. Until, that is, Jimmy Carter decided that he really did need me in his diplomatic corps and so, after some training at the State Department and some liaising with the White House, I was, much to my delight and everyone else’s relief, off to explore the world. What I didn’t realise at the time is how lonely exploring can be. Luckily for me, I had a supportive family and a love of dogs. Armed with those two things, you can go anywhere and become anything.

          What I did, eventually, was go to London. What I became is a Pet Nanny.

          Now, before you start getting ideas about doing it yourself, you should know that not just anyone can become a Pet Nanny. We are, after all, an elite group, the chosen not the volunteers. Our training is long and arduous. We need to start off with the skills of a superhero, the gentleness of Mother Teresa, the wit of whoever that guy was who wrote the play about a handbag and wound up in Reading prison, the brains of Steven Hawkins, the speed of Usain Bolt and the organisational genius of Jeeves. And then we have to step it up a notch.

          So, how did I go from being a lowly American diplomat to an exalted Pet Nanny? I have to admit, not easily. It was a long journey.

Moving right along:

Opening B

          It’s 5:30 in the morning and here I am, standing amidst the chaos of my newly-decorated kitchen, trying to figure out which one of them did it. There are several possibilities. The fat one in the corner may have that ‘Who me? I just got here’ look on her face, but I don’t think that I’m buying it. After all, she’s got form, plenty of form. The skinny one looks pretty innocent, until you notice that strand of last night’s pasta hanging out the side of his mouth. He’s chewing, slowly, hoping to get rid of the evidence without drawing attention to himself. It’s not working. Meanwhile, the enormous brown one with his back to the room is studiously contemplating the cookbooks, apparently trying to decide if he’s a Delia or a Jamie fan. Unfortunately for him, I’m fairly certain that a lot of this stuff used to be up on that counter, much too high for his companions to have reached by themselves.

          No one moves. We stare at each other. Well, I stare at them. They are pretty much looking anywhere but at me, until the creaky old lady who sleeps outside my bedroom door finally makes it down the stairs and around the corner to join us. She takes in the scene a bit, shakes her head a little, gives me a ‘teenagers, what do you expect?’ look and sits down next to her bowl, which she then nudges forward to remind me that it may still be dark outside but it’s never too early for breakfast.

          And so, another day as a Pet Nanny begins.

          A Pet Nanny?

          Yes, a nanny. For pets. Well, for dogs mostly. We’re here when their owners can’t be. Or, to be more accurate, they are here when their owners are elsewhere, usually somewhere either very sunny or very snowy.

          Now, before you start getting ideas about doing it yourself, you should know that not just anyone can become a Pet Nanny. We are, after all, an elite group, the chosen not the volunteers. Our training is long and arduous. We need to start off with the skills of a superhero, the gentleness of Mother Teresa, the wit of whoever that guy was who wrote the play about a handbag and wound up in Reading prison, the brains of Steven Hawkins, the speed of Usain Bolt and the organisational genius of Jeeves. And then we have to step it up a notch.

          It’s not an easy job. There is a lot of responsibility and, as I have learned, some cleaning up, but more than anything, there are dogs, lots of dogs. And lots of owners. And lots and lots of stories.

          But before I get too carried away with my tale, let me tell you a little bit about myself. I come from New York City, not Manhattan of course but fairly close to it. Growing up in such a multicultural place can make you go one of two ways, you either enjoy seeing hyphenated American life (as in Irish-American, Italian-American, Martian-American) or you want to go out and see the real thing. I enjoyed the St Patrick’s Day parade down 5th Avenue, in the days when they still painted the white line down the middle green, but I really wanted to know was what the parade in Dublin would be like. Chinatown was great, but I suspected that Hong Kong was better.  Michelangelo’s Pieta looked beautiful at the Vatican Pavilion in the World’s Fair, but how did it look in St Peter’s in Rome? You get the idea. As you can imagine, I was enormously difficult to live with. Until, that is, Jimmy Carter decided that he really did need me in his diplomatic corps and so, after some training at the State Department and some liaising with the White House, I was, much to my delight and everyone else’s relief, off to explore the world. What I didn’t realise at the time was how lonely exploring can be. Luckily for me, I had a supportive family and a love of dogs. Armed with those two things, you can go anywhere and become anything.

          What I did, eventually, was go to London. What I became is a Pet Nanny. It wasn’t easy.

So, there you have it. Opening A or Opening B or C or D or E or…?

Answers on a postcard, please. And thanks very much for your help.

Not Leo Tolstoy (aka Eileen Riley)

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This entry was posted in About Me, Advice, Dogs, Humour, Writing and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to A or B or C or…?

  1. Opening B.

    What audience is this intended for? That makes a huge impact on the style, language, and tempo of a novel.

    I have great respect for anyone who finishes a novel. (even a bad one!) It is an accomplishment you should be proud of no matter what.

    • eileenriley says:

      Thanks so much for your reply. I wrote it with a cross of dog lovers and early Bill Bryson fans in mind. But, to tell you the truth, I would be thrilled at any audience that is not made up entirely of my friends and relatives. They have suffered enough.

  2. Harriet says:

    Opening B as in Bad dog.

    We can all sympathize with dogs wreaking havoc in the kitchen and be glad it’s not us whose kitchen has suffered. On the other hand, it seems a little dicey to start off a book with the death of a dog, especially when the rest of the book is lighthearted.

    And brevity has something to be said for itself, she said briefly.

    I, too, am impressed by anyone who can write a book.

  3. mdcs2011 says:

    I like Option A. Of course it depends what the rest of the book is about but It put me in mind of “The Slap: Whose Side Ar You On?” by Christos Tsiolkjas; I haven’t read it but I’ve read the blurb – “At a suburban BBQ one afternoon. A man slaps an unruly boy. It’s a single act of violence. But this event reverberates through the lives of everyone who witnesses it happen.” The Guardian describes it as “The must-read novel of the summer”; The Daily Telegraph “The ideal summer read; escapist, funney and clever”; The Sunday Times “…tremendously vital…”; The Independent “…dazzling”. My wife’s read the book and hated it, but does Christos care? I doubt it. And if a publisher is similarly reminded, perhaps you too will be the proud author of next summer’s “must-read”!

  4. tom arms says:

    Definitely B. You are a humorous, not a dramatic writer. Stick to what you do best.

    • mdcs2011 says:

      Tom
      All of Chekov’s plays were written as comedies, except for Uncle Vanya, as i recall. The contrast between Eileen’s easy style and the drama of Boris’ death is striking… I think! She’s said it herself… Option B is fluffy!

  5. Sue from round the corner says:

    I go for B – but I would still hope the Boris story appears in the book.

    Well done for finishing it! I’m very impressed.

  6. Eileen says:

    I vote for B. A is a bit heavy. I am impressed that you wrote a book! Do we get a vote on the ending ? Boris is fully recovered and reunited with his family who moved to Austria …..

  7. Brian says:

    Definitely A. There is story telling, a structure, a build up and an insight into your character before your formal introduction. Boris’s story has insightful details, it sets the eveyday scenario and what you do, complete with wry digs at Briishness, but most of all, it is a funny/sad tale with drama. The teenagers in B is flatter and not as engaging because it merely sets a scene and does not tell a story, hence it is less effective as an introduction. You are a born story-teller. I pick A. Brian

  8. Mim says:

    I think A because it is a page-turner and contains a gamut of emotions yet it is essentially humourous and shows off your wit. It makes you think if this is only the start what other amazing stories are you going to tell?
    But the way you launch into your life growing up in NY straight after is a bit abrupt though (to me).
    Keep going – it’s a great read!

  9. Carla Rapoport says:

    Hmm, I remember when you switched from A to B and thought it was great. It’s clean, crisp and grabs you by the labels. I can just see that tired intern reading her way through the slush pile at some publishing house or other and jumping out of her skin with excitement.

    But then I read all these comments and was thoroughly confused.

    Bottom line, Eileen, is that you cannot write a book by committee, even if the committee is made up of your best friends. If we knew anything about writing books, we’d have written them.

    Get out there, use your contacts and talk to people who have done this – find a friendly editor who will give you some advice. Write emails to agents or people who have written books. It’s a great book, Eileen, and the best person to figure out how to write it and get it published is you! (ps – if anyone reading this blog is a publisher, editor or agent, please stop reading this and ask Eileen for a copy of the book!)

  10. MJA says:

    I vote for B. I like it as a start to the stories and not the story itself.

  11. eileenriley says:

    Thanks so much for your help everyone. I really appreciate it. Of course, I would have appreciated it even more if you had all agreed. I’ve obviously got a lot to think about…

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