I’ve just read the first two chapters of Maggie O’Farrell’s new novel Instructions for a Heatwave, an opening so exquisitely orchestrated that it has left me feeling every other writer should just pack up their things and go home. I’d be full of gloom and despair for all our prospects, if I weren’t enjoying her book so much.

Why is it so wonderful? It’s not just because her writing is pitch perfect: never understated, yet never flashy either, with a tone as clear as a bell; it’s the way she turns water into wine, using her intricate knowledge of the human heart to transform the ordinary lives of simple people into something representative and symbolic. In the opening pages we discover certain things about the Riordan family – the elderly father has gone missing, the son’s marriage is on the brink – but we are learning so much more about the geology of human relationships as O’Farrell digs deep into the impermeable seams of rock, the crumbling sandstone, the pockets of air that make up the foundations of the interplay between people. She deals in misplaced aspirations and assumptions, in the shortfall of good intentions, in the abrasions between hope and reality – and I am only on page twenty-five! I’ve got three hundred and twelve pages still to go (not that I’m counting) and shall doubtless have plenty more to say about this amazing book once I have finished it. But in the meantime, if you want to discover how to write the opening chapters of a story, learn from an expert  – it’s not just instructions for a heatwave that Maggie O’Farrell’s novel contains, it’s instructions for writing to the best of your ability…