Want a good opening gambit? These writers can help

Want a good opening gambit? These writers can help

We all know that first impressions count. So how have the world’s most famous writers tackled the task of kicking off their stories?

By Peter Foy

You only get one chance to make a first impression. Whether you are writing a CV, attending an interview or making a sales pitch, your opening sentence is of vital importance.

    Get it right and you’ll gain permission to tell your story. Get it wrong and you’ve lost them forever.  

You need to engage the audience, grab their attention and tickle their fancy. Get it right and you’ll gain permission to tell your story. Get it wrong and you’ve lost them forever.

The next time you are in the departure lounge of an airport, watch how passengers select their last-minute holiday reading. They look at the cover, read the blurb on the back and turn to the first page. The book must pass all three tests. If an author is going to get you to invest your time, energy and money in their story, they need to hook you from the get-go.

All of which got us thinking: how do great writers begin their stories? If we can pinpoint their technique, surely it can help us all make a pitch-perfect first impression. So, without further ado, here are 10 openers from the world’s finest authors.

1. The Catcher In The Rye, J.D Salinger (1951)

“If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.”

For people of my generation this book was a must read in school. Salinger’s opening sentence was the perfect introduction to the troubled story of Holden Caulfield.

This is a story about youth. Disturbed youth. Youth that won’t take or give any crap. It invites us into a story that is going to disturb us.

While the book was a disruptive force it also calls on earlier works. I find real echoes of Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn in how Salinger opens his novel.

And we can’t fail but recognise that at the time Salinger penned this work, Jack Kerouac was writing On The Road. Dean Moriaty is a much more rounded rebel than Caulfield. They both rail against the hypocrisy of post-war American society, but Salinger has the better opening.

2. Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell (1949)

It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”

Orwell’s classic is an exercise in futurology that retains huge relevance today.

    Orwell’s classic is an exercise in futurology that retains huge relevance today.  

This wonderful opening line says, loud and clear: I’m going to tell you a story about normality in an abnormal world.

A normal day in April and the clock strikes 13. Bong.

Buckle your belt. We’re going on a ride.

3. Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier (1938)

“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley.”

Okay, it’s an innocuous enough sentence. What it says is: this is a dream. You will never know my name. I’m going to take you on a journey where you will never be sure. I’m going to tell you a story that might be true, but then again it might not be.

And it works: since publication Rebecca has never been out of print.

4. Slaughterhouse-Five, Kurt Vonnegut (1969)

“All this happened, more or less.”

This wonderful novel tells the story of Billy Pilgrim and his experience of the Dresden bombing. Or does it?

Part science fiction, part history, and wholly fiction; even fantasy.

The opening sentence is totally honest. It all happened, more or less. Possibly.

Engage with this fantastic story and you engage with truth distorted. That’s not a bad thing, especially in our era of post-truth and fake news.

5. The Luck of the Bodkins, P.G. Wodehouse (1935)

“Into the face of the young man who sat on the terrace of the Hotel Magnifique at Cannes there had crept a look of furtive shame, the shifty, hangdog look which announces that an Englishman is about to talk French.”

In my humble opinion, Wodehouse is the finest humorist ever to write in English. As the meerkat would say: simples!

I don’t care what comes after this opening to Bodkins (though it is all brilliant, by the way). This is just a fantastic image. As we come to terms with our relationship with Europe, Wodehouse was parodying Boris when Boris was but a twinkle in his grandmother's eye.

    “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”  

6. Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy (1878)

“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

You might disagree with Tolstoy’s sentiment, but what an opener.

We are going to meet an unhappy family. We are going to explore and share its secrets and sadness. We are going to find out about Anna’s very own unhappiness.

The greatest novel ever written? I think so.

7. Earthly Powers, Anthony Burgess (1980)

“It was the afternoon of my eighty-first birthday, and I was in bed with my catamite when Ali announced that the archbishop had come to see me.”

I have read every novel by Burgess and loved each one of them, for very different reasons.

This opener sums the man up. I am going to shock you and then I am going to name drop because I can. He could and he does. The novel is the story of the 20th century and in a brilliantly crafted narrative, Burgess’s protagonist meets everyone from James Joyce to Adolf Hitler. Another work of mainstream fiction that is a fantasy.

8. Under Milk Wood, Dylan Thomas (1954)

“To begin at the beginning: it is spring, moonless night in the small town, starless and Bible-black, the cobblestreets silent and the hunched, courters'-and- rabbits' wood limping invisible down to the sloeblack, slow, black, crowblack, fishingboat-bobbing sea.”

I know, it’s not a novel. It’s a play. A radio play. It is also the greatest opening sentence of any piece of literature written. With the possible exception of John’s Gospel.

One of the greatest joys I have is to sit in “my space” with headphones on, glass of malt in hand, and listen to Richard Burton read these words.

Try it.

9. Moby Dick, Herman Melville (1851)

“Call me Ishmael.”

For me, this is the daddy of all opening sentences.

Moby Dick is not much read these days outside of university, but it is a fantastic novel. Hold onto that word fantastic.

There are commentators who will tell you that this is a homoerotic novel. There are people who will say it is a Freudian exploration of the id.

    Sometimes the opening line is a will o’ the wisp. It draws you in.  

All nonsense.

It’s a fantasy.

“Call me Ishmael.” My real name is Brian but call me Ishmael. Everything you read from that opening line is a fantasy.

Melville writes about the design of the Pequod as though he were a marine designer. He describes the migratory path of whales as if he's David Attenborough. Fantasy!

Brilliant fantasy.

10. Ulysses, James Joyce (1922)

“Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed.”

Sometimes the opening line is a will o’ the wisp. It draws you in. You buy the book and 40 years later it’s still unread. But you know, in your heart of hearts, that it’s already changing you, shaping your dispositions. Making you in its image.

For many, Ulysees is that book. Impossibly difficult, but oddly compelling. Pull it out of that dusty corner of your bookshelf and read on. You’ll find it just gets better and better with each chapter.


Published: 30 October 2020

© Copyright Just Recruitment Group Ltd 2020

If you enjoyed this article, you may like: How to create the perfect cover letter

You may also enjoy: Why smart workers aren’t busy doing nothing

Jobs currently available

New job
Care Coordinator
Sector: Healthcare
Location: Colchester
Role: Full Time
Contract: Permanent
Job ref: BUC-CC
About the role

Back Up Care is recruiting for a Care Coordinator for their Colchester Office to work on the busy Healthcare desk.

Previous experience in scheduling care and support staff would be preferred and a healthcare background is an advantage. You will be extremely confident and well-presented and be able to use your own initiative.

This position will involve working alongside the Office Manager, supporting them with the day to day running of the desk.

The role will include:

  • Registration interviews with potential new candidates, and completion of all necessary compliance documents for successful candidates
  • Booking clients rotas to relevant active care staff, and ensuring that all care staff availability is booked to full potential
  • Service calls to clients that are using service meetings to ensure current clients’ needs are being met by Back Up Care
  • Telephone calls to prospect clients
  • Email and Mailers sent to prospect clients
  • Source leads for possible new business
  • Sales calls to obtain new business
  • Sales meetings to obtain new business
  • Ensure specialist software is updated with carer and client information and all bookings are entered onto the system
  • General administration duties
  • On-call rota duties

This requires you to work at an extremely fast pace, placing candidates into both temporary and permanent placements to match their qualifications, skills and experience.

There is a large amount of telephone calls liaison with candidates and clients, therefore excellent clear communicational skills are a must and excellent interpersonal skills are essential.

Other essential skills are:

  • An ability to work as part of a team and as a lone worker
  • A proven ability of effective time management and organisational skills
  • Excellent administrational skills are vital and attention to detail ensuring all candidates are compliant prior to assignment
  • Due to the requirements of the role, a driving licence and access to a vehicle for work purposes is essential

Holiday entitlement:

28 days holiday including public holidays, increasing to 33 days after 2-year service.

If you wish to apply for this role, please forward your CV to emma.brown@back-upcare.co.uk

Read more
New job
QA Manager
Sector: Engineering and Manufacturing
Salary: Discussed on application
Location: Saffron Walden
Role: Full Time
Contract: Permanent
Job ref: 910873
About the role

Our client is seeking an experienced Quality Assurance Manager to join them on a permanent, full-time basis. This opportunity offers stability, longevity and professional development.

Reporting directly to the MD, the Quality Assurance Manager will be responsible for:

  • Maintaining and improving the Company's Quality Management System and ensure internal compliance
  • Working with all departments to ensure their procedures are being followed and to improve their internal and cross-functional processes and procedures
  • Ensure that the quality of current and newly introduced products is compliant and traceable
  • Coordinate Quality activities with all over departments
  • Develop and improve quality relationships with all customers of the Company
  • Responsible for all Quality activities and personnel in the Quality Department for the Company
  • Provide strong leadership in the day-to-day operations of the Quality department and mentor the members of the team
  • Establish performance goals for all departmental employees and monitor performance on a continual basis
  • Oversee all hiring, appraisal, training and discipline of Quality personnel
  • Member of the Company's Management team
  • Produce the Quality element of the company's annual Budget
  • Formulate the departmental strategy aligned to the overall Company strategy
  • Embed a Continuous Improvement culture within the Quality Dept and contribute to the Continuous Improvement programme across the site


  • HND or equivalent qualification in Engineering or a related technical field required
  • Minimum 5 years experience in a Manufacturing environment
  • Ability to articulate (verbally and in writing), defend and negotiate Quality expectations with internal and external customers at all levels of management
  • Good interpersonal skills with the ability to guide and educate/train at all levels
Read more
New job
Customer Service Administrator
Sector: Customer Service
Salary: £22,000 per annum
Location: Halstead
Role: Full Time
Contract: Permanent
Job ref: 910871
About the role

Just Recruitment is delighted to be supporting a well-regarded organisation at the forefront of its sector that is looking to add a Customer Service Administrator to its team, due to growth – based on the outskirts of Halstead.

The main purpose of the role is to service current and prospective customers by receiving and processing orders, enquiries and general information in a timely and courteous manner.

Key tasks include:

  • Answering incoming calls, giving product information, lead times, dealing with general enquiries and queries, redirecting calls to relevant departments
  • Raising and inputting orders and proforma invoices
  • Raising quotations
  • Amending orders, as required
  • Scanning documentation
  • Liaising with Areas Sales Managers and responding to their requests
  • Arranging couriers and/or carriers as required
  • Any general office associated duties

Key requirements for the role:

  • Excellent computer skills
  • Good eye for detail
  • The ability to work well under pressure
  • Courteous

Previous experience requirements:

  • Previous Customer Service Administrative experience gained within an office environment
  • Excellent telephone manner with the ability to communicate at all levels
  • High level of attention to detail and accuracy
  • Good working knowledge of Microsoft Office and experience of in-house systems
  • Ability to multi-task and prioritise own workload
  • Exceptional communication skills, both written and verbal
  • Understanding of the importance of data protection and adherence to the process

Offering free parking and an excellent working environment, this is a great opportunity to join a growing team.

Working Monday to Friday 37.5 hours per week - offering a competitive salary and company benefits.

Read more
New job
Production Operative
Sector: Engineering and Manufacturing
Salary: £8.91 per hour
Location: Needham Market
Role: Full Time
Contract: Temporary
Job ref: 910811
About the role

Want to work in a safe, clean environment?
And have the possibility of ongoing work?

Just Recruitment is recruiting for a Temporary Production Operative to be based in Needham Market.

Duties include:

  • Ensure all final and completed products are packed to the customer specifications                               
  • Informing Line Leaders of defects found in the products
  • Keep machines supplied with packing materials and labels
  • Assist the Line Leaders with handovers and changeovers
  • Responsible for general cleanliness of the production area and removal of production and general waste
  • Check products on the line for quality and defects
  • Basic production duties carried out in a fast-paced environment

Working hours:

8.30am - 5.00pm Monday to Friday

Read more
New job
Logistics Coordinator
Sector: Transport, Logistics and Shipping
Salary: £24,000 per annum
Location: Ipswich
Role: Full Time
Contract: Permanent
Job ref: 910869
About the role

Just Recruitment is delighted to be supporting, a well-regarded, family-run business on the outskirts of Ipswich.

You will be responsible for assisting with the loads out operation of the business by ensuring that the process from collection to arrival at the final destination is fully supported by the relevant goods in haulage documentation.

You will also be supporting the sales function of the business by dealing with customer queries in terms of both sales and operations as well as assisting with various ad-hoc marketing campaigns. This is a very varied role and requires flexibility, commitment and a substantial desire to learn and grow with the flourishing business.

Duties will include:

  • Process orders and oversees the order to completion of paperwork
  • Facilitate the shipping of products from one destination to another
  • Arrange transportation with outside hauliers
  • Receive paperwork from the Weighbridge department and check and complete the paperwork within the allocated time allowed
  • Answer calls and emails relating to customer queries and log them on the CRM system and resolve any outstanding issues raised
  • Keep CRM records up-to-date
  • Work with the sales and operations team to ensure that high customer service levels are achieved and delivered to all customers you are responsible for at all times

Skills required:

  • Good Microsoft skills including Word, Outlook & Excel
  • Ability to work proactively on an independent basis as well as be a good team player
  • You will have the interpersonal skills necessary to develop and sustain effective relationships with team members of other departments and with all customers
  • Good attention to detail and analytical skills
Read more
Legal Secretary (Part-Time)
Sector: Law and Security
Salary: Up to £11.00 per hour
Location: Witham
Role: Part Time
Contract: Permanent
Job ref: 910868
About the role

Just Recruitment is delighted to be supporting an established business, based in Witham looking to add a highly-skilled secretary to their long-standing team.

The role will involve, audio typing, preparing documents, answering the phone, dealing with enquiries and assisting colleagues as well as directing queries as needed.

Key responsibilities to include:

  • Audio typing – dictation
  • Preparing letters and drafting documents
  • Handling diaries and booking appointments
  • Answering the phone and dealing with queries
  • General secretarial and office-based duties

As well as having experience in a secretarial position, you will have audio typing experience and excellent typing skills. The role requires you to have a good level of IT literacy, experience of Word (essential) and Excel would be useful. You will take pride in your work and have a caring and sympathetic nature.

Please note this role is part-time.

This is a great opportunity, offering a good pay rate and company benefits.

Read more
Accounts Assistant
Sector: Accountancy, Banking and Finance
Salary: £9.50 - £10.00 per hour
Location: Sudbury
Role: Full Time
Contract: Permanent
Job ref: 910867
About the role

Just Recruitment is delighted to be supporting, a well-regarded, family-run business on the outskirts of Sudbury.

They are looking to add an Accounts Assistant with payroll experience to their team.

Key duties include:

  • Responsible for weekly and monthly payroll’s on Sage and all related duties (holiday forms etc.)
  • Knowledge of Xero accounts
  • Purchase Ledger
  • Sales Ledger
  • Chasing payments
  • Exporting mail-order invoices and credit notes from Magento to Xero
  • Assist Bookkeeper with any accounts duties
  • Assist Bookkeeper with HR Duties as needed
  • Reconciling Braintree payments to Mail Order invoices
  • Assist with stocktaking and valuation

Knowledge of Xero and Microsoft Office would be advantageous, although Sage experience would be considered. Attention to detail, good time management skills, accuracy, approachable and reliability is a must.

Free parking is available on site, offering a competitive hourly rate and an excellent working environment.

Read more
Commercial Office Assistant
Sector: Public Service and Administration
Salary: £20,000 - £25,000 per annum
Location: Sudbury
Role: Full Time
Contract: Permanent
Job ref: 910864
About the role

Just Recruitment is recruiting for a Commercial Office Assistant on behalf of a company based in Sudbury.

The role will be office-based offering administrative support to the team and will involve call handling, preparation of documents, diary management and other administrative duties as required.

Part of the role will also include direct dealing with customers and clients, providing face to face customer support.

Key responsibilities include:

  • Handling enquiries over the telephone or in reception
  • Provide a high level of efficiency and customer service
  • General office duties such as filing, photocopying, booking meetings etc.
  • Updating records and databases
  • Liaising with clients in a polite and efficient manner

You will have strong administrative skills and will be highly organised, reliable and hardworking, with the ability to multi-task and prioritise workloads. Good telephone manner and effective communication skills are a must.

This is an excellent opportunity to join a company offering further training, development and progression.

Free parking is available on site.

Due to company location, you must have access to your own car.

Read more
Class 2 Driver
Sector: Transport, Logistics and Shipping
Salary: £9.50 per hour
Location: Colchester
Role: Full Time
Contract: Permanent
Job ref: 910848
About the role

Just Recruitment is delighted to be supporting a well-regarded business on the outskirts of Colchester looking to add a Class 2 driver, day shifts (preferably with ADR experience) to their long-standing team.

Their vehicle fleet includes artics, rigids and trailers operating from a warehouse base.

The company prides itself on its commitment to the health, safety, and welfare of the entire staff team.

Key duties include:

  • General driving duties, observing current legal and best practice delivering and collection to/from the customer’s premises or other locations.
  • Wearing correct company uniform and PPE (clean and in good repair).
  • Maintaining a professional standard when representing the company whilst delivering, driving, or collecting products.
  • Carry out pre-use checks prior to using any equipment/vehicle/trailer, complying with appropriate documentation and procedures.
  • Reporting of any vehicle defects/damage or H&S issues to management.
  • Ensuring that vehicle loads are safe and damage-free, secured with the appropriate restraints as per company procedures / Safe Systems of Work.
  • Check/ complete /retain and hand over all load documentation/POD’s and delivery paperwork.
  • Ensure that the returned goods process is followed.
  • Provide relevant feedback to management on information gathered whilst completing your duties.
  • Maintain vehicle cleanliness using all equipment safely as specified in operating procedures and Safe Systems of Work.
  • Adhere to all H&S rules. Comply with other site rules and maintain high standards of compliance, hygiene, and housekeeping.
  • Operate in accordance with company policies and procedures.
  • Comply with any other reasonable requests from Management.

Key person specifications:

  • Category C driving licence.
  • Minimum 12 months Class 1 driving experience on UK roads.
  • No more than 6 penalty points.
  • No driving convictions.
  • An understanding of the law relating to drivers’ hours regulations and tachograph.


Read more