Writing the First Chapter by Emma Dakin – Guest Blog and Giveaway

This post is part of a virtual book tour organized by Goddess Fish Promotions. Emma Dakin will be awarding a $20 Amazon/BN GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour. Click on the tour banner to see the other stops on the tour.

Writing the First Chapter

It’s hard to entice the reader into the book without overloading them with information. I have so much information: back stories, clues that are important, a description of the setting that can set the mood. It all seems important, and it is. But if I unload that information as if I’m giving directions to the reader, they will close the book. Occasionally, I’m lucky and think of a way to start my story that begins with action and weaves setting, character and clues into that action. Usually, I write out all the information before the action starts. Pages of “information”. Then, I cut and paste those preliminary pages into a different file, and start over at the point where the action begins and proceed from there.

The first line needs to engage the reader. I’m fond of Dick Francis’s first lines: “You are a spoilt bad-tempered bastard,” my sister said, and jolted me into a course I nearly died of. (Flying Finish) and “I stood on the outside of disaster, looking in.” (In the Frame.)

I enjoy those first lines and even enjoy my own first lines: “I had expected my hostess at the tea party to be boring. I hadn’t expected her to be dead.” (Hazards in Hampshire).

A line like that puts you into the center of action immediately. It also tells you a little about the setting. While Claire is observing the body and considering what she should do, she can reveal to the reader who she is, where she is, and what problems she has at the moment. This is more effective and more interesting that telling the reader that Claire has just moved to this English village and doesn’t know the villagers well, that she is in her forties, has inherited money, but works as a tour guide. The readers will learn all that as they follow her immediate problems with a dead body.

Every first chapter doesn’t have to start with a body, although that will certainly grab the reader’s attention. If the story starts more quietly with only a minor problem, you need to move quickly into a major one, or at least, one that is major to your protagonist.

Crime in Cornwall starts: “The walls were shaking again. The noise level from the neighbor’s back garden rose like the roar of a football crowd and had reached that stage of raucous shouts mixed with wild music that made sleep impossible.”

The first paragraph establishes where the protagonist lives and her personal circumstances. It places her in an English village and highlights the problem with her neighbors. The body appears at the top of the third page.

While it is important to know the back story of your characters and the clues that the reader needs, it is not necessary to put them all into the first page. Trust yourself to sprinkle them in as you go. Readers are intelligent. They will pick up what they need to know.

Claire Barclay and her band of tourists are full of enthusiasm for her trip to Sussex and Kent, the beautiful southeastern part of England. A tragic death of a young man the son of the guest house manager sends Claire into comforting mode and makes it more difficult for her provide a bright and care-free holiday. Laura was not surprised at her son’s death as he had been a drug user and she expected he had taken contaminated drugs, a common fate. But the police lab said otherwise. He was murdered. Claire’s fiancé, Detective Inspector Mark Evans, investigates, so Claire is involved and privy to much information. Too much. In spite of her busy life with demanding guests, she discovers the motive for the murder and finds herself in danger.

A fun tour of Sussex with the extra treat for mystery lovers as Emma Dakin ties places to favorite books. —Rhys Bowen (NYT bestselling author of the
Molly Murphy and Royal Spyness series

If you are looking for a cozy crime novel that evokes a wonderful sense of place – look no further. Emma Dakin skilfully weaves a new mystery into a fascinating and informative tour of Southern England featuring heroine and literary tour guide, Claire Barclay, and a host of interesting characters.
—Julie Wassmer, Author of The Whitstable Pearl Mysteries

This engaging story will appeal to traditional mystery-lovers who like their murders set against the authentic backdrop of quaint English villages.
—Clara Benson, USA Today bestselling author of the Angela Marchmont Mysteries

Enjoy an Excerpt

Approaching the small town of Rye, I marked the route to Canterbury and the road to Hastings where I’d take my guests later in the week, I didn’t know this area well but had done two quick reconnaissance trips earlier. Jacqueline Winspear set her books near here in the war years. Her descriptions had given me a sense of familiarity with the green land around me, but the miles of delta before the sea surprised me. Rother Manor, our guest hotel, was large, but not, I was sure, large enough to have ever been a manor house. The name was probably applied to the house recently to attract tourists. The common meaning of ‘manor’ was a large house on a huge estate, but sometimes it just meant a large house. Mark told me that his colleagues sometimes called their police district their manor. I ruminated on the application of the word. I tended to do that. I’d not brought guests here before, but it looked ideal, sufficiently old to satisfy the North American appetite for a romantic setting but not so old it was decrepit. Laura Wright, the manager, had seemed organized and experienced.

I loved trying out new guest hotels and the whole experience of taking a tour to the sites of mystery novels. The tourists shared my itch for mysteries and were usually interested in what I offered. I’d had a career as a teacher of English to executives in many parts of the world. I enjoyed it as I was fascinated by linguistics and the way people use language. Now at forty-eight, I had achieved stability with a reliable partner, my own house and tour business and a legacy from my much-missed step-father. I should be able to feel comfortable, not always expecting a disaster. I admonished myself. This time the tour will go smoothly. This is a beautiful house; you will enjoy it here.

Rother Manor House was a three-storey rambling Victorian and was as close to a gracious house as was possible at the edge of Rye. The grounds were beautiful. Laura’s son, Reece Martin, looked after them she’d told me. He was in his late twenties and committed to creating beauty. The owners of the guest house were glad to hire him, Laura had told me, as staff was hard to find. It was unusual to see so much land around a house of this age in a town but it made a picturesque setting for my visitors. Across the street and well below it lay the cricket grounds, still green in the July heat. Beyond the grounds, the salt marsh stretched to the sea. The tourists would love this view.

I pulled my eyes away from the vista and turned into the car park, a graveled area to the left of the entrance. After unloading my small suitcase, knapsack and briefcase from the van, I climbed a few steps to the front door. It was unlocked. I entered into a long hallway and saw a side table with an open guest book and a prominent bell. I called for Laura but there was no answer. I hit the bell. No one came. I hadn’t told her the exact time I’d be here. She was likely nearby. I wandered into the lounge which was off the hallway. A small table held two cups and saucers, sugar and a milk jug and a plate of cake. My guests weren’t arriving until tomorrow. She could have others guests tonight, but I hoped that cake was for me. I dropped my luggage on a chair in the lounge and walked down the hallway to the rear of the house. There was no one in the kitchen. I pushed through the back door and stepped into the garden. The minute I opened the door I heard the keening of a woman in distress, a soft, desperate cry that rose in the air and hung there. There was anguish in every tone. The hairs on my forearms rose and I stood frozen for a moment.

The wail receded, then rose again. It came from the area at the back of the property. I walked towards a shed. I moved cautiously to the open door and peered in.

Laura was sitting on the floor beside a young man who lay still. His skin on his arms was pale, deadly pale. His head was turned so I just saw his dark hair. He was muscular, wearing a black T-shirt, denim jeans, black trainers. At first, I thought he’d fallen or had a seizure of some sort. Then I saw the Prenoxade kit open and the syringe on the floor nearby. Prenoxade, naloxone, the life-saving remedy for drug poisoning. Tour guides carried it; police carried it; teachers had it handy and, apparently, so did mothers.

About the Author: Emma Dakin writes a series of mysteries set in Britain. Her protagonist is a tour guide who takes different characters in each book to the sites of mystery novels in the countryside. She appreciates the elegant, people and humor of each area. But in that idyllic country, Claire stumbles on murder. Author Emma Dakin has five books so far in this series with the latest release September 12th 2023. An historical mystery set in Vancouver in 1886 is due out soon. She won a prestigious 2022 Lieutenant Governor’s Community History Award for her non-fiction account of life in the 60s.

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  1. Thanks for hosting!

  2. Marcy Meyer says

    I enjoyed the excerpt. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Tracie Cooper says

    How did you decide on the setting for your book?

    • Hi Tracie, I decided to set the first book of the series “Hazards in Hampshire” in England because I liked reading British novels and thought I’d like to do research there. By the time I got to “Shadows in Sussex” I’d hopped over a lot of England and parts of Scotland and I’m still enjoying finding unique pockets of the country to explore.

  4. Great excerpt and giveaway. 🙂

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