Credit astute reader William22Bowen’s recent question about “first sentences per Margaret-Serious” for the rumblings in my imagination that turned out to be the following meeting. Note: It’s the Writers’ Room, plural, the place for other writers in my mind. The Writer’s Room, singular, ought to be a synonym for my whole imagination.
When my imagination just wouldn’t let me sleep one recent night, I muttered, “OK, Louis, I’ll get the notebook.”
A literary committee meeting was starting in my imagination, discussing my work — this time, just my opening sentences.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Robert Louis Stevenson argued about the chairmanship of this first meeting — in Scots, of course:
“I kent her first,” said Louis, “with my ‘A Child’s Garden of Verses,’ and she’s been fascinated enough by some of my other books that I’ve visited her — so awa wi’ ye, Arthur, I’ll be chairman here.”
“But we wouldna be meeting if I hadn’t written ‘A Literary Mosaic,’ Louis,” said Arthur. “That’s how Margaret’s gotten the idea of writers meeting to help out a younger writer.”
Agatha Christie, another committee member, tried to be reasonable: “Please, Mr. Stevenson, shouldn’t Sir Arthur take the lead here?”
“Really, Dame Agatha!” said Daphne du Maurier, the fourth committee member. “We dames of the British Empire are equal in rank to Sir Arthur!”
“At least as far as our Margaret needs to know,” said Stevenson. “Now let’s get to business. Arthur?”
“Wheesht, ladies,” said Arthur, and they obediently fell silent. “Now she’s made progress in her first sentences, hasn’t she?”
“But I was so proud of her first effort, when she had
‘As Maria Brewer fell to the ice, she thought, oh, not again!’ ” said Daphne. A woman facing something happening again, just like “Rebecca” and my dear –”
The other three leaned forward expectantly.
“My Mrs. de Winter,” said Daphne.
“Still no first name for her?” Agatha said.
“Ladies, mind our business,” said Arthur. “Margaret’s first sentences. Leads, she calls them sometimes.”
“Nae, they’re no leaden!” cried Louis.
“She has worked as an editor,” said Agatha. “Some use the spelling ‘lede’ to explain the pronunciation.” She gave a ladylike shudder that I understood as I noted her words.
“Let’s look at another one,” said Arthur. “Daphne, I think you and — What’s-her-name? — can still see some influence here.”
“She’s Mrs. de Winter,” said Daphne. “More than that, I’ll never tell.”
“This book Margaret’s writing now,” said Louis, “about the murdered roommate –”
“Ought we to reassure S.G.?” said Agatha. “That character obviously isn’t based on her.”
“Right,” said Louis. “Let’s get S.G. that message. She’s another character.”
“Several, actually,” said Arthur. “Now, the first sentence is this:
“The last normal thing I remember from that January night was the difference between the sky and the snow.”
“Memories at night,” Daphne said. “Good, but not quite Mrs. de Winter’s.”
“Oh, go on, you can tell us her first name,” said Agatha.
“To business,” Daphne replied. “If the narrator is remembering in present tense, why does she say what was in past tense?”
“Present would feel mair urgent,” said Arthur. “Louis, what do ye think o’ ‘The last normal thing I remember from that January night is the difference between the sky and the snow,’ then?”
“Better,” said Louis. “But whaur’s the snow? She’s told me eventually that the narrator, Miss MacDonald –”
“Guid Scots name,” murmured Arthur.
Louis smiled and went on. “Miss MacDonald falls in a snowdrift later and needs rescuing.”
“Chivalrous gentlemen, I trust?” said Arthur.
“Aye,” said Louis. “But the snow in the first sentence?”
“We don’t know where it is yet,” said Daphne. “Do you think I wanted to give away where Manderley was in that first sentence of mine?”
“There’s a point,” said Arthur. “Where’s the fun in giving it all awa?”
“Away,” said Agatha primly. “Really, you gentlemen and your English –”
“Scots!” said Louis and Arthur together.
“Margaret will understand,” said Louis.
And so I did.
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