first line friday

“It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York. I’m stupid about executions. The idea of being electrocuted makes me sick, and that’s all there was to read about in the papers – goggle-eyed headlines staring up at me on every street corner and at the fusty, peanut-smelling mouth of every subway. It had nothing to do with me, but I couldn’t help wondering what it would be like, being burned alive all along your nerves.”

Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

Welcome to the first ever First Line Friday. I aim to use this weekly post to belljarshare some of my favourite opening lines – of novels, primarily, but also of poems, short stories, plays and occasionally films.the-bell-jar1

I should say at this point that I’m no stranger to the dangers of judging a book by its opening. I have been hoodwinked before by great openings that peter out into nonsense. I was even duped once into reading a terrible novel that consisted entirely of openings.

I’ve also read a few slow burners in my time: books with 20 plus pages of plodding exposition that might take weeks, months, even years to get through before you’ve hacked your way clear of the undergrowth, but that reward you once you’ve done so with an exhilarating sprint across the plains.

My idea is to use the first lines as a starting point – a springboard if you will – for a conversation about writing, writers and other literary curiosities.

I’ve started with Plath’s opening to The Bell Jar as it rates, in my humble opinion, as one of the greats. It takes the classic dark and stormy night formula and turns it completely on its head.

On that topic, the bell jarclick here for another take on the “dark and stormy night” opening from a very different kind of genius…

New story in Etchings 7

Volume 7 of the Ilura Press journal Etchings is out this month and I have a story in it called ‘Trace’. The theme is chameleons:

Colourful, playful, and particularly creative, the Chameleons issue abounds with ideas of change, disguise, double identities, and purely ephemeral moments of beauty.


I’m a fiction writer whose short stories have been published in a number of journals and anthologies, including Best Australian Stories, The AgeOverland, Southerly and Going Down Swinging. My work has been broadcast on radio. I’ve also worked as a freelance writer and columnist.

Awards I have received for my short fiction include first place in the Banjo Patterson National Short Story Competition, the Wimmera Literary Competition, the University of British Columbia “Ubyssey” Literary Competition and the FAW Frank Page Award for Short Story Writing. I have also been placed in the Age Short Story Competition and the University of Canberra Literary Competition.

I am a past recipient of the Varuna Eleanor Dark Flagship Fellowship for Fiction, an Australian Society of Authors Mentorship, a Bundanon residency and an Australia Council Emerging Writers Grant.

Selected published work

  • ‘Benny Wins Powerball’, Going Down Swinging, #32, October 2011
  • ‘Honey’, Australian Book Review website, December 2010
  • ‘Trace’, Etchings, July 2009
  • ‘My Life as a Freeze-Framed Action Hero’, Final Draft, 2ser radio, 2/6/2008
  • ‘The Promise’, The Age, January 2006
  • ‘Jump’, F.Moorhouse (ed), Best Australian Stories 2004, Black Inc.; Southerly, v 60, n 3, 2003
  • ‘On the Way to Thursday’, Hecate, v 30, n 2, 2004
  • ‘Packing a Punch’, Overland, v 171, Winter 2003
  • ‘Scene on a Boat’, Dot Lit, 2002
  • ‘The Wound Begins’, Imago, v 13, n 3, 2001
  • ‘Sheets’, Southerly, v 60, n 3, 2000
  • ‘Seven Points in Detail’, Idiom 23, v 10, n 1, 1997