Wednesday, February 24, 2021

From my "lovely, ugly town"... by Cathy Ace

What’s your favorite first line of a book or story, and why? Then tell us your favorite first line from one of your books and stories, and why.

Unlike my protagonist Cait Morgan I do not have an eidetic memory, which would come in handy at the moment. Generally speaking, I don’t go around memorizing the opening lines of anything, books included. So, ignoring the obvious quotes about the best/worst of times, or the predilection to marriage of single women etc. etc., I’m going to share with you the most impactful words that I can never quite quote, but which have drawn me into a magical world since I first heard them…yes, I heard them before I read them, because these are the opening lines of a play, for voices, set in the fabulously-named village of Llareggub (which is “bugger all”, backwards…something that’s bound to make a young person titter).

Maybe it’s no surprise that, since I grew up in Swansea, I should gravitate towards the words of Swansea’s (possibly) most famous son, Dylan Thomas. 

My rather faded copy of the play

But I should warn you that his work is pretty divisive in some circles – for example, my late father thought Thomas was a preening drunk who took himself too seriously, and his work not seriously enough. But me? I adore Thomas’s work, and reserve my views about his personal life. I have several recorded versions of “Under Milk Wood” on vinyl – the Stan Tracy jazz version of it was my eighteenth birthday present from my classmates in school. Link here to see the Brecon Jazz Festival 2001 performance:  

I did memorize the wonderful “Fern Hill”, in its entirety, to recite at a school Eisteddfod in the 1970s. Thus, the opening lines of that are, in fact, etched in my mind, and always make me so happy that I speak them aloud whenever I can:

“Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs

About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green,

The night above the dingle starry,

Time let me hail and climb

Golden in the heydays of his eyes,

And honoured among wagons I was prince of the apple towns

And once below a time I lordly had the trees and leaves

Trail with daisies and barley

Down the rivers of the windfall light.”


As for my own paltry meanderings…I think I’ll stick with the opening paragraph of my first Cait Morgan Mystery, “The Corpse with the Silver Tongue” which I believe works well:

‘The chatter among the dinner guests was bubbling along nicely, when Alistair Townsend suddenly clutched at his chest, made gurgling sounds and slumped into his bowl of escargots. Reactions around the table varied: his wife told him to stop messing about, one of his guests looked surprised, one a little concerned and a couple were quite cross. All of which led me to suspect that “How to react when one’s host drops dead at the dinner table” is not tackled in any modern etiquette books.’

To find out how that story continued, you can find out a lot more about my work at my website:

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