Monthly Archives: March 2011

The Year Ahead ….

Following on from my post about how you need to be a blog reader as well as a blog writer

I’ve just been reading ‘The Becoming Year’.

Initially I came across the blog post ‘SVP and I, Volume 1‘ a collection of stupid comments from Abigail’s former boss, which I noticed in a link she posted on the very amusing, Freshly Pressed,  ‘Post It Notes from My Idiot Boss‘ both of which have definitely inspired me to write a second installment of my ‘Tales of a Starving Artist‘ very soon, however it was actually the description of The Becoming Year which caught my eye.

Abigail describes her blog as ‘A thirty year-old gal with scraps of creativity and an abundance of judgment, I’ve quit my career as a leadership consultant to pursue my original dream of becoming a published author, becoming thin, and becoming kind. This is my story. This is my year.’

As I explained just a few days ago in ‘Inspired ...’ I’m coming out on the bright side of a bit of a mope-slash-panic about returning home after two and a half years travelling without a book deal, and have to say I found Abigail’s opening paragraph really inspiring.

I LOVE nice ‘neat’ blog frameworks, where you follow a year in someone’s life, or someone completing a specific challenge, from start to finish, and am kind of envious because my own blog has ended up as a bit of a mish-mash of my personal opinion and my fiction writing!

However, I definitely think I can apply some of her thoughts to my own life at the mo.

In just over a month I return back to England.  And I think what’s going to help me feel like I still have some structure in the haphazard unstructured world of being an author, is by giving myself definite targets.  Obviously there are some targets which I can’t have too much input on.  For example, for now at least, with my novels ‘Flicker’ and ‘The Dream Navigator’, I’ve essentially done all I can do.  I wrote, finished, edited and re-edited both novels, until they were in a condition which my wonderful agent, Lucy Dundas at Peters Fraser & Dunlop, deemed publisher-worthy.  And unfortunately (because this is the bit I’m really awful at!) now I just have to sit back and wait!

However, while the ball on those two projects is now firmly in someone else’s court, that doesn’t mean I have to sit around twiddling my thumbs!

And so … I’m going to take a leaf from Abigail and The Becoming Year, and set myself some targets for the year.  Now I know it’s not the start of the year … however I for one definitely need to learn to be a bit less rigid and precise about stuff (as you may have noticed from my extremely strict approach to writing a novel!! – ‘The Secrets to Finishing a Novel‘)

Also, yesterday was my Dad’s 66th Birthday.  (He died just over 8 years ago)  So it’s a particularly memorable day for me …

By my Dad’s 67th Birthday I hope to achieve the following …

  • Obviously I’d love to get a book deal … but that’s one thing I can’t directly influence.  Though I can obviously work as hard as possible to pursue that particular dream.
  • I’m going to take a Screenwriting course (have been looking at 8 week intensive courses at the New York Film Academy … give me a shout if you’ve done one of their courses!)
  • I’m going to turn My Ten Future Lives into a screenplay … because, without revealing too much about the plot, it would work really well as a film … possibly better than a book.  (Characters change from imaginary life to life, so the same actors could play a variety of characters 🙂 )
  • I will finish my new book ‘Mercury’s Child’ … which is currently just a lot of notes!  It looks like I might be having a rather cruisy few months back home over the summer, after a winter working 70 hour weeks as a nanny, so I’m aiming to have MC finished by the start of September … which would be when I’d be flying out to New York.  If all goes to plan, four months seems to be how long it takes me to write a first draft.
  • I’ll still be keeping this blog, and using it to learn about the life of an author, and share my observations with you guys
  • In a year’s time, I’d like to feel more like writing is my ‘career’ … which is a very loose ambition, I know … but I think that embodies how unspecific ‘writing professionally’ really is …

In previous years, when my ‘year’ has been strictly regimented by school and university semesters, I’ve always had very specific aims.  And yet, I think my main aim for the year is just that I feel I’ve truly made the most of it – whether that’s (shock horror!) by taking a third ski season (rather tempting at the mo, when I know how much writing I get done working as a nanny).  I want to look back, this time next year, and feel I’ve made some steps firmly in the right direction.

Only time will tell how large those steps are …. but I guess the main message should be that I haven’t been deterred from my overall aim.

To be a career author –

To be able to look my best friend’s parents (who have been my adoptive family since my parents died when I was 19) in the eye, and tell them them that I don’t need to ‘look for a career’ because I’ve genuinely found one!!!

No doubt over the coming days, weeks and months I’ll find other aims to add to this list, and I’ll keep you posted on them, but right now, these are the things I want to achieve in the coming year 🙂

And as for Abigail’s other aims … what girl wouldn’t want to be a bit thinner in a year’s time 😉

C-C xxx

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Blog Etiquette

In the words of fellow blogger Jennifer Aaventura I’m doing my ‘homework’.

It’s Saturday night, and technically, I’m at work.  As I’ve mentioned many a time, at night I may masquerade as an ‘author‘, but by day, I’m very much a nanny! And tonight I’m babysitting … So with my two wards safely tucked up in bed, I’m doing some blog homework.

I’m very new to the world of blogging, but it doesn’t take a genius to realise that true membership of this international club is two-way.  You can’t just receive comments, subscriptions and ‘likes’ … you have to give them too.

And so every couple of evenings I try to take a few hours to read the work of fellow bloggers.

Like I said, I’m very new to all this … but I’ve already begun to form some blog etiquette, which I think I would recommend to other bloggers.

1) If anyone posts a comment on my blog, I try my best to reply to it personally.

2) I try to check out the blogs of everyone who likes, subscribes or comments …

This second one is proving to be a bit of a slow process, as I’m sure anyone who has ever been Freshly Pressed will tell you … I have over 400 ‘virtual presents’ to write thank you notes for …. and whilst I *think* I’ve now replied to all the comments, I know I still have a lot of blogs to check out.

But the thing to understand, is that neither of these tasks is a chore.

For a start, the ‘blogosphere’ (a word I’m still not too sure I like!) is a sociable place FULL of potential, as I mentioned in my post ‘ The Writers’ Network‘.  What better place to commune with fellow authors, readers, publishers and agents?  What better way to gain tips, insight, inspiration and feedback, from a forum that isn’t just made up of your friends? (see the Writer and Her Sidekicks)

Back when I lived in Vancouver (I now live in a small mountain village) I used to attend a weekly Writers’ Group … and whilst it’s obviously great to have feedback on your own work, I also loved reading and critiquing other peoples’ work … especially when that work was something so departed from anything I would ever write.  It reminded me of uni … in a good way!

Reading other blogs broadens your mind.  I like to think of WordPress as a kind of huge free magazine.  Some of the blogs I have read in the past weeks have been far better than any magazine articles or newspaper reports I have picked up.  And just because none of us are being paid for the stuff we write on here, shouldn’t diminish the value of our words.  The thing with WordPress, is I’m inspired to look at blogs on topics I wouldn’t necessarily pay money to read about … and yet often these are the articles which interest me the most.

Secondly, by taking the time to get to know the readers of your blog, you can begin to understand your readership, and perhaps tailor what you are writing to those readers.  You can join in with discussions, present your take on something, or simply offer them a whole host of new readers by adding a link to their blog on your blog … just like this!  Here is the link to the original post by Jennifer which inspired me to write this – Blog Surfing, One Peace at a Time.

Finally, think of it in dating terms!

When you are getting to know someone, those in the know encourage you to ask questions.  It’s great to talk … but everyone enjoys talking, which means it’s also important to listen!  Which means, in the blogosphere, it’s not just a question of blogging, you also need to read too … otherwise the relationships you forge with your readership will only be a temporary one!

C-C xx

PS If you’d like me to check out, and comment on, your blog – please post the link below!  I’m still struggling to trawl through all the comments on ‘So Am I an Author Yet?!’ so it would be great to have links for reading all in one place!!! Thank you 🙂

 

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Unreadable!

The problem with this blog was that it wasn’t meant to be a real blog!

Initially it was designed to be a platform to spread the word about my fictional work … and then ‘So Am I an Author Yet?!‘ got Freshly Pressed.

‘So Am I an Author Yet?!‘ was originally just a commentary running parallel to my fiction work.  An excuse/explanation/apology for having the nerve to call myself ‘author’ in the website blurb!  But once people started reading and appreciating my non-fictional ramblings, I felt a certain obligation to continue.

The problem is, my life as an unsigned author, is a rather limited topic.

I really don’t want this blog to be a journal.  I don’t think my readership want to be hearing the intricacies of my every day. (Though hopefully you all found Tales of a Starving Artist entertaining enough) Instead, I want this to be a forum for discussion about writing.  Not just my writing.  But writing in general.

So the first part of this blog post is a plea … are there any writing-based topics you’d like me to discuss? Please add them as comments and I’ll try my best to come up with something – like the ‘Getting Represented‘ piece I did in response to everyone’s questions about how I found an agent.

The second part of this blog is a rant about magazines.  Which I actually touched upon in my recent rant about Work Experience.

I love to read.

And I love the idea of magazines.

And yet these days I’m finding magazines less and less reader friendly.  Which I think is ironic, seeing as almost every magazine these days carries a self-conscious advert about how reading a physical magazine is way more rewarding than reading things from a computer screen!

Take Vogue, for instance.  I was flicking through it yesterday, and counted 150 pages until I got to a CONTENTS page???!!!  Then maybe another 30 until the first page of Anna Wintour’s editorial, which spanned three pages, and yet was separated by at least five more adverts.  I understand that Vogue is about the clothes as well as the writing.  But please give me something to sink my teeth into when I turn the cover.  I can’t stress violently enough how much I detest having to flick through page after page after page before seeing a word which isn’t a brand name.  It’s frankly ridiculous!  Fair enough, advertising is necessary in the print world.  But firstly actually pretend that the writing is important, by placing the contents page, and a couple of articles BEFORE the ads (or better yet putting all those ads at the back, so you can flick through them out of choice), and secondly, if you are making as much as we know you are making from advertising fees … then charge the reader less!!  Why should I have to pay an arm and a leg for the inconvenience of flicking through almost an entire magazine before I can read so much as a sentence?!

Vogue isn’t alone in this failing.  It’s simply the most ridiculous example of the cult of magazine advertising.

And then there’s another Conde Nast flagship title.  Vanity Fair.

Now Vanity Fair has writing … and articles which I love.  And actually a rather sensible smattering of advertising.  But what irks me about Vanity Fair, every time I open the cover, is the extremely unaccessible page layout.  Surely a magazine of VF’s grandeur will have spend thousands, if not more, on analysis of its readership?Surely a graphic design agency, and a market research team, and God knows however many other teams of analysts will have researched exactly how best to present the amazing variety of choice articles and interviews that only a magazine of VF’s calibre can gather.

So why on earth is the layout so awful?

I’m sorry, but it really is.  The font is too small, the layout frankly dull! No matter the title, or topic of an article … I find myself tirelessly flicking through the pages, because they don’t capture me.  The best example of this is when I’m at the gym.  I love to read magazines when I’m on the treadmill or the cross-trainer.  I’m most probably ruining my eyes, I know, but it’s the perfect minimum effort brain-food, when you need a distraction from the physical pain of your work-out.

But VF isn’t suitable brain food … because it’s NOT eye-candy! The font size used is so small and insignificant that I find myself practically falling off the exercise machines while I squint at the pages.

Now I’m no graphic designer, or market research expert … but I like to read.  And I like to read magazines.  And I know that the kinds of magazines I like, use large fonts and brighter colours to draw the eye in.  That doesn’t mean they’re mere picture books … in fact, if you go back to my criticisms of Vogue, you’ll realise that’s the last thing I desire …

I simply want someone to catch my attention.  I don’t want to force myself to have to read!

Anyone else in a similarly disgruntled boat???

C-C xx

PS No I won’t be applying for Work Experience at either Vogue or Vanity Fair 😉

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Glorified Slavery (otherwise known as Work Experience)

As you’ll have gathered from my last post, I’m on the brink of returning home after two and a half years travelling.  Or rather, two and a half years abroad.  Because for most of the last 18 months, I’ve been based in British Columbia, Canada.  However, because I was still technically ‘travelling’ … my possessions at one point at least having been packed in a backpack, and my credit card bills still sent to my last UK residence … I adopted a traveller’s attitude to work.

Three and a half years after graduating from Cambridge, and two and a half years after the end of my Masters, I’m still in gap year mode.  As if the ‘different postcode’ rule applies to careers as it does (dubiously!) to relationships.

I didn’t have to worry about starting a career, because I was still on holiday.  Even if that holiday was lasting almost as long as my undergraduate degree!

And so I happily settled down to life as a nanny in a ski village.  It’s paid the bills, and been a lot of fun … just today I have eaten at a 5 star restaurant and visited the fire station, all as part of my ‘work’.  However, essentially the past two years will form a rather large hole in my CV, because realistically, with a Cambridge Law degree, and an IQ of 160-something … it’s unlikely that ‘babysitter’ is something I’ll use too often on my resume.

But I’m going home.  And so that resume is going to need dusting off.

As I explained in my last blog-post, I’m not turning my back on writing.  In fact, I’m hoping to just go back to the UK for six months, before heading to the States to turn my writing hand to screenplays.  However while I’m back home, I still want to be earning money in a manner which stretches my literary muscles … and seeing as my Masters is in Journalism, it makes sense that I look for a job, no matter how temporarily, in that field.

I have a Masters in Journalism.  The problem is … ALL I have is a Masters in Journalism.

I’ve never been paid for my written work.  During the Vancouver 2010 Olympics, I worked as Olympic Correspondent for an online sports magazine.  But because it was unpaid, the excitement of seeing my name in ‘print’ on my laptop screen died off pretty quickly, and once the Paralympics were over, I wasn’t all too inspired to remain on the unpaid staff.

That’s the problem.  Writing seldom pays.  And so as a writer, you’re expected the put in a lot of graft for very little monetary return.  Which is fine when you’re earning your money babysitting in Whistler … but not when you’re trying to support yourself writing full-time in the real world.

I only have a certain amount of free time each day.  And for the past two years, most of that time has been dedicated to my fiction work (also unpaid as of yet!), as opposed to non-fiction journalism.  So now, looking back at my journalism portfolio, I find it rather bare … which means one thing.

If I want to set so much as a foot on the journalistic ladder on my return to the UK … I need to start with work experience.

Back at university I loved work experience.  I did law, which meant in the summer before my final year, several major law companies pitched for me under the guise of work experience.  I was wined, and dined, and paid £300 a week to sit in a solicitor’s office and play on Facebook every day.  Not only did it look great on my CV, but ‘enduring’ four weeks of this ‘ordeal’ essentially guaranteed me a job at a top London firm!

Journalism work experience is not like this!  For a start you have to actually work.  And they don’t pay you!!

For the most part, journalism work experience involves doing everything a staff member does, but for free.

And this rather angers me!  Because, just because I haven’t ever been paid to write, doesn’t mean I can’t write.  My words are, arguably, just as valuable as those of any other writer at a publication.  And will be used just as lucritively.  So why should working FULL HOURS for free, be an accepted part of the profession?

If work experience was simply a case of pre-emptive networking, then perhaps I could understand … A week of sitting around the office, smiling, whistling and making coffee.  Or maybe even just a couple of days to get a taste of the ropes and decide whether they are the ones you really want to climb …

But four full, 40 hour weeks … unpaid, and without so much as a stipend for transport and food?  Now that’s just glorified slave labour.

And I’m sorry, but the excuse that there is ‘no money’ in writing is overused and unrealistic.  I read Vogue.  Or rather, I sift through the first 150 pages of expensive advertising, in an attempt to read Vogue.  (More on that in a later post!) It doesn’t take a genius to work out what the average advertising turn-over at a magazine is like … in addition to the ever increasing subscription costs.  So why not just give work experience staff a break?

If you are honestly going to scrutinise our CVs as if we are applying for a ‘real job’, and use us as such … then pay us accordingly!  If your selection process is as elite as you hope to suggest, then surely anyone you accept for work-experience will write well enough to earn at least a few pennies for her words?

C-C xx

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Inspired ….

A number of your comments on this blog have thanked me for ‘inspiring’ you.

Which is lovely … and something I’m extremely proud of.

However, I have to admit to feeling increasingly uninspired in recent months.

Just to recap my situation for those of you who haven’t read my entire blog … I’m a 27 year-old Cambridge law graduate.  I passed up a career in law for a Masters in Broadcast Journalism, and then disappeared off around the world on a rather extended second gap ‘year’.  Two and a bit years later, and I’ve written three novels, got myself an agent … but am still not published.

Of my two and a half years away, I spent a year travelling across Australasia and South and Central America, all by myself, before installing myself in Whistler, Canada, where I have worked as a live-in and live-out nanny.

But that time is coming to an end … fast!

My plane ticket home is booked for April 27th, and whilst I’ve had an agent for over a year, getting signed to PFD feels like my last tangible writing achievement.  I finished my first novel Flicker almost two years ago.  I know it’s a slow process, and those two years haven’t been without major developments, but still … I’m a month from going home, and if I’m honest I guess I’d always imagined returning home with my first book deal firmly under my belt.

Flicker was sent to publishers last November.  And over half are yet to reply.  Whilst all of the rejections I’ve received so far, have been rather positive and encouraging … they were still rejections.  And I’m not feeling overly heartened by the fact that the other six publishers are in no rush to respond …

My second book, The Dream Navigator, will be sent to publishers in the next few days, but it’s hard not to feel despondent. after getting my hopes up when I heard Flicker was finally being sent off.

So … I’m returning home unsigned.  And unemployed!

Uninspired.

I’ve spent the past few weeks, wincing at job pages.  Trying to find a day job that inspires me, recognises my academic background, but that forgives my lack of professional expertise.  Easier said than done … And while I may have been happy working as a nanny on the other side of the world, being back home and babysitting for a living seems like selling myself short.

So there I was … uninspired, and panicking that my dreams of becoming a writer are all for nothing … Worrying that my only chance to make it as a writer involves making coffee for editors, and working eighty hour weeks for literally nothing … (more on that later!).

The problem with my background is that writing isn’t my only option.  Every now and again the sensible voice inside me reminds me that I don’t have to completely turn my back on my academic background … that the Magic Circle Law firms are still there, and that I have the gift of the gab to glaze over my four year ‘sabbatical’ ….

But I don’t want to be a lawyer!  I dismissed that career years ago … and found a vocation that I love … and truly believe I can succeed in.

I just have to keep working at it.  Like all of you, who have read my blog … I’m almost there … but not quite.  And I need to believe in myself to continue  on that path.

Where did my inspiration come from?  What was it that made me realise I’m not ready to give up on my dream just yet, and that just because I’m leaving the protective bubble of my gap year, and returning back into the harsh light of my ‘real world’, doesn’t mean I have to abandon the thing I’ve spent the past two years working towards?

Last night I watched the Adjustment Bureau.  Easily the best film I’ve watched since Inception.  I love films that make me think, and stretch my imagination.  Partly because that’s the kind of fiction I like to write.  And partly because I just love stories.  Stories are my life.  Whether books, movies, or trashy American TV … I love stories!  And as I sat in the cinema last night, watching an amazingly well-told and thought-provoking story, and at the same time watching the rest of the audience enjoying that story … I was inspired.  I wanted my stories to touch people like that!  I want to sit in a cinema, and know the story inspiring and captivating every member of the audience, started in my head!

I want to share stories with the world!  I like to write … whether fiction or non-fiction, a journal, a blog, a news article  … but it’s the stories that are my passion.  And I want to dedicate my life to telling those stories …  In novels, and screenplays … and maybe even in good old trashy American TV!

Nut the Adjustment Bureau inspired me for another reason.  The film focusses on the idea of destiny, and having a pre-ordained path in life.  And it’s message is a positive one of taking hold of your own life, and determining your own destiny with your own actions.  Truly writing your own story.

What better message for uninspired me, than to be told to take the reigns of my life, and make things happen?

Ok, so Flicker has been at publishers for a few months …  Who cares? It’s my first novel!  And not only did it get me signed to an agent, but she thought it was good enough to submit to some of the world’s biggest publishers!  And in not one of my rejection letters, did those publishers question why Lucy thought it good enough to send to them!

I’m 27 years young … as I observed in The Life/Writing Balance most authors are in their mid-thirties when they write their first novels.  The past two years haven’t been my writing career … they have been my first steps on a path which will hopefully last my entire life.  And I shouldn’t abandon that path just because the first steps are turning out to be a little tougher, or longer than my impatient excitement can handle!

So I am writing my own story, and determining my own destiny … by believing and investing in my ability.

I go home in a month’s time.  But that isn’t the end of my dream.  It’s the start of a new chapter.  Where to next?  Well I’m thinking a screen-writing course in the States so that I can turn My Ten Future Lives into a screenplay …  and hopefully one day sit in a cinema, and stare up at my own story.  And more importantly, stare around at the people touched and moved by that story!

C-C xx

 

 

 

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Flicker – Chapter Two

Click below for earlier sections of the novel –

Prologue & First Part of Chapter One

Second Part of Chapter One

 

Chapter Two

Foundations

Flic hadn’t been able to sleep once they’d returned to the hotel late that night.  She knew that this was what Daniel had warned her about.  Her body clock was completely off-kilter, but sleep had just been too tempting that afternoon.

After a few sleepless hours, she padded quietly out into the hotel corridor, not wanting to wake her roommates.   She turned her mobile phone over and over in her hand, unsure who exactly she was planning on ringing.  She needed to talk to someone.  To tell somebody about the tour, and her new team-mates.  But then reality hit.  There was no one.  Ally had stopped taking her calls weeks ago, and she couldn’t even ring Amelia’s answer-phone, just for the brief sound of her mother’s voice, because the phone company had cut the phone-line off before she’d left England.

She sighed, and walked back into the quiet bedroom without even switching the phone back on.  She slipped it back into her rucksack.  Her first reflections of the tour were going to have to wait.

*                                  *                                  *

Flic looked down at the orange t-shirt in her hands and smiled tiredly.  ‘Flicker?’ she read, raising an eyebrow.

‘I thought it had a nice ring to it!’ Damo replied with an enthusiasm that defied their early wake-up.  The group was standing on Cairns pier, about to embark on their first challenge of the tour, five nights on a live-aboard boat, scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef.

The tour guide stared around at the quiet travellers. ‘You know, you guys are rather green! Haven’t you Discover Australia’s official colour is orange?  It’s a good thing you’ve got those shirts, heh?’ He motioned towards the boat, ‘Now, if you could just find your sea legs …’ he frowned at the unresponsive teenagers, ‘or maybe just your legs, and jump aboard, it’s time to set sail for the good ship Discovery! And yes, she is actually called that!’

No one moved.  Flic couldn’t help thinking that the others looked more scared than hung-over.  The idea of being scared of the sea really surprised Flic.  She’d never had a problem with water.  Still, she wasn’t prepared to draw attention to herself and be the first to jump on board.

Instead, Mark was the one to eventually make the first move.  As he walked determinedly down the jetty and threw his day-sack onto the boat, Flic couldn’t help grinning.  It was obvious who would become the ‘daddy’ of the group.  Mark was a natural leader, but with the compassion and approachability of a parent.  As a silent show of support, Flic followed Jules, who had trudged after her boyfriend, onto the boat.

As Flic waited for the rest of the group to leave the jetty, she felt a warm hand at the base of her spine.  She spun around to find Toby standing awkwardly behind him.  Despite the overly friendly hand holding, she barely remembered speaking to him the night before.  ‘Hi … um, I just wanted to say … uh … Morning!’

She eyed him curiously.  ‘Morning…?’ She replied.

Toby shrugged at his own awkwardness, and then laughed self-consciously.

‘You know, I was wondering what Flic was short for!’  He commented eventually, gesturing down at the t-shirt in her hands. ‘Flicker’ he grinned playfully, a smile, which lit his entire face.

‘Um, it’s not …’ she stumbled, realising too late that he was joking.  He casually batted the awkwardness from the air with the back of his hand.

‘So, you’ve got your Open Water too, eh?’

Damo had explained that while most of the group would be learning to scuba dive, Flic, Toby and Daniel, who had all completed the basic course before, would be using the week to gain their advanced qualification.

Flic relaxed a little bit, glad for something concrete to talk about. ‘Yeah, for some reason my Mum insisted I learn when I was at school.  She was definitely into alternative hobbies!’

Toby grinned.  ‘Sounds pretty familiar – it was my Dad who insisted I learn.  I think he had some madcap plan about diving with me and my brother in English quarries, but thankfully we never had to get that cold! The farthest we ever got was the local pool!’

Their conversation was interrupted by Isabella’s shrill voice.  She and Ant were the only members of the group still on the jetty.  ‘I really don’t see what the big problem is!  If it scares you that much, then don’t do it!’

Ant clearly didn’t want the rest of the group involved in their argument, and muttered through clamped lips ‘You don’t understand … this is the first challenge.  I can’t back out now, I’d never get it back!’

Isabella either didn’t register his tone of voice, or chose not to. ‘Anthony, not everything in life is a competition.  If you’re that scared, don’t dive! I’m not exactly enthralled by the idea of breathing under water either, but we can get out any time.’

Anthony didn’t reply.  He stomped onto the dive boat, leaving his cousin floundering behind him with all her luggage.

‘Maybe it’s a good thing my brother isn’t here,’ smiled Toby. ‘It seems we’re gonna have our fair share of domestics already!’

‘Do you not get on?’ asked Flic, as the engine whirred into action.

‘Not really.’ Toby shrugged.  ‘I guess we’re just too similar.  As long as I can remember, life has always been a competition …’

Flic nodded over at Ant, ‘Sounds familiar!  But, why do you think he left the tour?  I mean, if life’s a competition, then surely he’d need to prove he can do the extreme sports too?’

Toby shrugged. ‘I dunno, maybe sometimes not trying is better than the prospect of losing …’

Flic bit her lip, still uncomfortable for some reason.  It just seemed such a waste of an opportunity.  ‘How can you win or lose at scuba diving?’

Toby smiled wryly.  ‘He’d probably find a way.  The reason he’s not here is that he met this girl.  We stopped over in Thailand for Full Moon Party on our way out here, and he met her on the beach.  When she showed an interest in him rather than me, you should’ve seen his face.  It was like he’d won some game!  After that I barely saw him.  Within three days he’d booked a flight to South Africa, and I was left to explain it all to Dad… Family, huh?’ he shrugged.

Flic tried not to wince at the mention of ‘F’ word.  She wasn’t going to spoil this moment by thinking about Amelia … not now.  She stared over at Toby shyly, and concentrated on the unfamiliar summersaults her stomach seemed to do every time he focussed his attention on her.  They’d been talking about nothing of real importance, and yet she felt an overwhelming sense that she was making progress with him.  Progress towards what?

‘Hey buddies!’ Daniel interrupted.  “Geddit? … BUDDYs!’

Flic raised an eyebrow at his lame diving joke, not sure whether she was glad for the intrusion.  She shook herself, trying to reconcile the thoughts and feelings, which had begun to race around her stagnant heart and mind all of a sudden.  She was still such a mess of emotion.  She knew it.  One minute she felt empty, void of all feeling, as if Amelia’s death and Ally’s departure had exhausted all her possible stores.  And the next she was lusting over not one, but two guys.  She was clearly just desperate to feel wanted again.

Daniel launched into a conversation with Toby about cars, to which she was clearly meant to be playing the role of audience.  Flic tuned out and simply observed the boys, realising, as she looked from one to the other, that no matter how messed up her emotions were, it was nice to not be comparing someone to Ally!

Toby was undoubtedly attractive.  Something about his shaggy brown hair and relaxed gait felt so familiar, but perhaps she was just confusing familiarity with approachability. His good looks were rawer than Daniel’s.  He was rugged rather than chiselled, his masculinity in his rough hands and carefree stubble. In total contrast to Daniel’s cool grey eyes, Toby’s eyes were so frenzied and warm they could have been dancing, deep chocolate brown infused with a lively orange-red that had an energy of its own.

Staring at Toby, Flic tried to picture what his younger brother Max might look like.  She wondered if they were really as similar as Toby made out.  Was Max’s resentment linked to his older brother’s good looks and easy nature?

It wasn’t the only time that first day that Flic’s thoughts strayed to Toby’s absent brother.  Shortly after Daniel interrupted her conversation with Toby, Jake joined them.  His approach couldn’t have contrasted any more starkly with Daniel’s confident introduction.  Jake held himself awkwardly, like an animal ready to bolt at any time, and his face strained nervously as if he were forcing himself to socialise.

Standing beside Daniel and Toby, Jake looked no more than twelve, though Flic remembered the twins saying they were twenty.  The most interesting part of their interaction was the way Toby put Jake so clearly at ease.  She wondered how Max could have fled from such an agreeable older brother.

For some reason, it really bothered Flic that Max wasn’t there.  Maybe it was that she’d never enjoyed the companionship of a sibling, and was angered that Max had abandoned his brother so easily … Or perhaps that he’d defied his father’s intentions?  Flic couldn’t imagine ever going against Amelia’s wishes, no matter how out of place she felt on the trip.  Whatever her reasons for feeling it, Max was missing, and no matter how happy she was to be joined by Daniel on the tour, a weird sense of incompletion hung in the air.

The launch pulled up alongside a large live-aboard ship, and Damo assigned their cabins.  Mark with Jules, Isabella with Anthony, Daniel with Toby, Jake with Luke, and Flic with Camilla.

Flic grabbed her day-sack, and stared quizzically at the suitcase Camilla was attempting to carry onto the live-aboard.  Or rather, the suitcase she clearly hoped someone else would carry for her!  Flic sighed.  She had a distinct feeling she wasn’t going to get on with Camilla.  And it didn’t help that Camilla was basically a perfect version of Flic!  Her brown hair was longer and straighter, her waist smaller, and her smile wider.  The list of comparatives was endless.

As if those differences weren’t enough, the fact that Daniel hung off Camilla’s every word, didn’t help endear her to Flic.  It wasn’t that she was jealous!  She wasn’t even sure what she wanted to happen with Daniel…  It was just that she at least saw him as an option, and she didn’t like prissy spoilt brats limiting those options before she’d even had a chance to think about them! God, she sounded jealous!  She frowned to herself.  Whatever the reasons for her annoyance, she needed to get over them, and quickly! Because, for at least the next four nights, that prissy spoilt brat was going to be her prissy spoilt roommate!

Flic watched Camilla struggle for a few moments, and then resigned herself to faking a smile and helping with the suitcase. Just as she went to help, an everyday knight in shining armour appeared.  Flic watched on jealously as Daniel helped Camilla, and felt familiar insecurities surfacing.  How could she have seriously believed someone like Daniel would have any interest in her?  Her mind rushed back to the twenty-four hours they’d spent together travelling to Cairns. Had she misinterpreted everything? Had she just been making a fool of herself?  Her cheeks burnt as she remembered curling up in his lap in Bangkok airport.  She cringed, charred by the memories of her ridiculous attempts to flirt whilst wearing clothes that she wouldn’t even normally have worn to the gym.  What had she been thinking?

She’d been lucky to have a guy like Ally so much as look at her, let alone waste three years of his life with her!  After monopolising so much of his perfect life, how could she ever expect to find someone again?  Flukes like that don’t happen everyday!

‘And here I was thinking the first challenge was scuba diving, not carrying your own luggage!’  Flic whipped around to find Jules at her shoulder, her eyes gleaming with sarcasm as she watched Camilla handing over her luggage to Daniel. Flic remembered why she’d liked this girl immediately!

‘I think my challenge is gonna be the living arrangements for the next five days’, Flic muttered under her breath.

‘Yeah I heard about that.  I don’t envy you! I was suddenly very glad to be travelling with Mark!’

Jules checked over her shoulder suddenly. ‘Can I ask you something?’ she asked quietly  ‘Is it true you met Daniel on the plane over?’

Flic flushed various shades of red, wondering exactly what Daniel had told the others after she’d left the pub the night before.

Jules didn’t seem to notice her embarrassment.  ‘What a hottie! Why do I never get to sit next to anyone that fit on a flight?! … Apart from Mark, obviously’ she winked as an afterthought.  ‘So … what’s happening?!’ she pressed.

Flic just shrugged in response, but Jules was unrelenting.

‘Ok, ok, nothing, well, almost nothing happened … nothing can happen!’ she finally resolved,  ‘It’s too soon …’

Jules raised her eyebrows, a silent request for the rest of the story.

‘We need to go to our rooms!’ Flic said, nodding over to the live-aboard where Damo was waiting impatiently.

‘Ok, ok, but I expect to hear the full story soon! Very soon! And I warn you, I have a very good memory!’

Flic smiled in reply, surprised that the idea of chatting about it was actually almost appealing.

They barely had time to unpack before class began.  Those who hadn’t dived before would have two full days of theory and practice before they were allowed into the open water. Meanwhile, Dan, Toby and Flic met up on the deck to discuss their adventure dive options, and kit up for a refresher dive.

Flic grinned as the boys pulled on stinger suits, a necessity during jellyfish season.  They looked like the heroes of a space-age science-fiction movie! She took in every muscle that the blue lycra clung to, and grinned to herself until she realised how unflattering the suit was going to be on her less-than-perfect figure. Feeling suddenly self-conscious, she hurriedly clipped on her BCD, a large inflatable jacket, hoping it would cover some of her flaws.

‘Ready guys?’ their instructor Dillon asked. ‘Flic and Daniel, you two buddy up.  Toby, I’ll go with you.  Now, does everyone remember the signs?’   He ran through the various underwater dive signs, reminded them how to equalise, and ran through emergency procedures.  ‘So, if you lose your buddy, what do you need to do?’ he asked.

Daniel smiled confidently, ‘Swim around for a minute, and then if you still can’t find him, do a safety stop, and find each other on the surface.’

‘Perfect!’ grinned the dive instructor.  ‘Let’s go check out the reef!’

After a few tentative breaths through the regulator, Flic was confident enough to step over the edge of the boat and into the warm water.  As she and Daniel submerged together, her excited breathing gradually slowed, and she took in her surroundings, awed by the clarity of the water.  The reach of the bright sunshine seemed endless, though the deeper she got, the more bleached the colours became. Beneath them coral of all shapes and colours carpeted the seabed, a whole new world.  Bright yellow boulders of coral were nestled between rubbery green and blue showerheads.  Delicate deer antlers crept out from shaggy purple wigs swaying in the current. Creatures of all different sizes flitted around the colourful adventure playground beneath her.  Cleaning fish played tag with their hosts, clown fish played hide and seek in the anemones, and nudibranchs played colourful games of musical statues.  If she hadn’t been concentrating so much on her breathing then the beauty of it all would have left her breathless.

And then there was her buddy.  The light had changed his olive skin, draining the tanned colour from his chiselled features so that he seemed carved from silver, or maybe stone.  A living, breathing statue!  What was that Greek god of the sea called? Neptune? Poseidon? Though Daniel’s movements could hardly be deemed divine!  He seemed almost too heavy for the water.  However, his lack of agility didn’t seem to faze him. He was almost accustomed to it, strange for someone so definite in his moves on the surface.

Flic turned her head to watch Toby, who was hovering above an anemone a few metres away from her, transfixed by a family of clown fish. He knew what he was doing, but appeared unbelievably awkward.  It was almost as if the water burnt him, he moved so gingerly.  And yet, surrounded by the warm water, Flic found nothing but ease.  Air burbled around her ears, a hypnotic rhythm.  She twisted onto her back, water rushing through her hair and whipping it like dark flames around her face.  Playfully she blew through the regulator, watching bubbles of her breath rise up towards the chilled sun.

Daniel tugged at her fin, his arm across his chest, his fist clenched. ‘I’m low on air, 50 bar.’  Flic caught Dillon and Toby’s attention, and then together they swam to the shallower water, resting at five metres beneath the boat for the requisite three minutes.  Safety stop complete, they surfaced, inflating their BCDs around their chests.  Flic pulled the mask from her face, beaming at her companions.  Their faces showed only relief, though weirdly Daniel’s skin had yet to return to its olive complexion.  She had assumed the silver grey tone was a trick of the light.  Toby still looked uncomfortable, obviously one refresher dive wasn’t enough to restore his confidence.  There was a lot to take in, and over the next few days they’d be diving in darkness, swimming through the narrow corridors of a wreck, and diving down to thirty metres below sea level – maybe Flic was the one wearing the wrong facial expression! But, even considering the challenges she would soon be facing, all she could do was grin.  For the first time in months, she truly felt truly herself, and she was buzzing!

Flic swam over to the boat, gracefully slipping off her weight belt and passing it up to the deckhand with the rest of her gear. ‘Would you mind if I hang onto this for a sec?’ she asked, motioning to her mask.  She pulled herself lithely from the water, and then, no longer caring how she looked in the unflattering lycra, dived straight back into the water, right over the heads of the two waiting boys.  Grinning, she pulled herself through the water, feeling more awake with every stroke.  She took a deep breath and dived down again, driving herself deeper and deeper into the turquoise ocean.  She didn’t know what she was aiming for until she reached it, and then suddenly it was as if everything made sense.  Calm and satisfaction flooded through her as she watched the turtle flap casually around her, his slow precise movements silently stating his age and knowledge. Flic hovered timelessly at his side, calmed by his ancient grace.  Eventually the air in her lungs burned, urging her upwards. She spun silently; turning on an invisible axis, and with three strong kicks was back at the surface.  The boys stared down curiously at her from the deck, yet she chose not to explain what she’d been up to.  Something about that moment had been too private, only meant for her.

As she climbed up the ladder and back onto the boat, she eyed the boys curiously.  They no longer looked like untouchable superheroes.  In fact, they actually reminded her of a circus act!  The comparison was far from comical.  All of a sudden, they just looked disconcertingly vulnerable.

Back in her room, Flic unzipped her make-up bag for the first time in weeks, realising the significance of what she was doing.

When Ally had first broken up with her, everything had burned.  It was as if there was permanently bile in her throat, preventing her from thinking about anything beyond her pain.  Like her spurned heart had spontaneously combusted within her chest the minute he had removed his love. She had barely functioned, still reeling from the loss of Amelia. Ally was meant to be her rock; and then he too had been washed away.

And yet, suddenly, two months on, it was as if something had changed.  It was more than her eyes that were suddenly registering the objects of beauty around her.  For the first time in weeks it was as if her heart was actually beating again.  Perhaps duller than it once had, shrouded in the scar tissue of heartbreak, but definitely beating.  Blood rushed to her cheeks, a healthy glow to compliment the bronzer she now swept over them.  But it wasn’t just lust that was thawing her heart, it was comfort.  For the first time in weeks, she felt happy.  Here on the water, in this arid desert of a country, as far away from Britain as she could get, she felt at home.

She heard voices in the corridor outside her cabin.  The others had finished their day of theory lessons, which meant it would soon be time for dinner with her new ‘family’. Camilla swept into the room, a haze of perfume and silk, and not wanting anything to spoil her unexpectedly buoyant mood, Flic dashed out through the cabin door before it had even closed.

The cold of the night shocked her, and she touched the back of her hand to her cheek, wondering why she was so warm.  She felt almost feverish, burning with this unfamiliar sense of purpose and hope.  She shivered, maybe she was just getting overemotional, or coming down with something.  She was yet to sleep through an entire Australian night, waking at frequent intervals, overheated and with a sense that her dreams had jolted her awake, but unable to remember anything about them.  She assumed this was jet-lag, but whatever it was, she didn’t feel quite right.  She hugged her arms around herself.

‘Cold?’ came a musical voice behind her.

‘I thought Australia was meant to be hot!’ she smiled, turning to face Daniel, his dark hair still wet from a shower.

‘Here’, he shrugged off the navy sweatshirt he was wearing. ‘Wear this, I’m not really that cold anyway.’

Flic smiled in thanks, and engulfed herself in the huge jumper, breathing in the metallic fragrance of Daniel’s aftershave.

‘So, someone played down their dive experience this morning!’ Daniel exclaimed, his dark brows raised in amusement.

‘What do you mean?’

‘There’s no way you’ve only done four dives before! You were like a fish! Well, a fish carrying an aluminium tank!’

‘I dunno, I just felt so comfortable!  I can’t get over how warm the water was!  But I don’t think I was any better than you or Toby.  Maybe it’s just because I’m smaller, it probably helps with the buoyancy.’  She shrugged awkwardly.

Daniel grinned, ‘Accept the compliment Felicity-Flic!  Whatever you say, I felt like I was holding you back this afternoon, and I reckon Toby’s a lot closer to my ability. Tomorrow you should buddy up with Dillon. That way when we come to do the wreck and stuff you can really enjoy it.’

Despite the light tone of his voice, Flic could sense he was unmoving on the subject.  Perhaps she ought to just be flattered and accept.

The discussion was put to an end by the call to dinner.  As the others arrived, Flic noticed how stressed and tired they all seemed, and Jules shot Flic a look to suggest she had some stories to tell.  While the thought of adventure diving really excited Flic, she couldn’t help feeling sad that she wasn’t spending her first few days with the rest of the group.  A glance at Camilla, however, suggested that she wasn’t the only one who felt she was missing out on company.  The tanned Australian was staring longingly over at Daniel.  Flic wondered how Camilla was dealing with the fact that Flic was not only spending the next three days with the two most eligible guys on the trip, but also blatantly wearing Daniel’s jumper!

Flic snuggled smugly into the brushed cotton.  Out of the corner of her eye she caught a weird look from Toby that left her cold.  He looked … in pain?  Hurriedly, she pulled the hood of the jumper up around her face, and busied herself scooping strands of wayward spaghetti onto her plate.

© C-C Lester 2009


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The Dream Navigator – Chapter Four

Please click the links below to read earlier sections –

Chapter One – Ewah the Great

Chapter Two – My Secret Audience

Chapter Three – Make a Change


Chapter Four – Escape from the Noise

(Depressed Urban Grey)

Adults dream.

They dream of sex and money and murder.  They dream of power and influence and evil.  But most of all, they dream of themselves.  Over the years my ability has changed; strengthened.  I can tune into dreams farther and farther away, but no matter how far I roam, the dreams are always the same.

Day and night, wherever I am, I’m chased by greed and lust and jealousy.  Children don’t tend to daydream, so unless I’m near napping children, my daytimes are monopolised by adults.  At school it’s the selfish dreams of my peers – teenagers whose foreign dreams make me feel too young and too old all at once.

Then there’s the bus trip to and from school.  Public transport is like a zoo full of daydreams, a bubble of people wrapped up in their own bubbles.  A busload of commuters escaping the reality of being sandwiched up against peoples’ armpits, by replacing it with their own selfish fantasies.  Finally there’s the gym, where people disappear into dreams of vanity and success in a quest to forget the physical pain they’re putting themselves through.

I’m surrounded.

I can’t escape.  Everywhere I go I hear the transmission.  And the more my powers develop, the more insistent the noises become.

I used to try and fight it.

I’d refuse to sit patiently at the edge of their selfish dreams, soaking up their narcissism and arrogance.  I would use my skills, and tweak; more to save myself than save any of them.  I mean after all, if my ability is a vocation, it’s to add confidence and happiness, not take it away, right?  But sometimes it would all just get too much.  I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t able to be more selective – why I couldn’t chose when to step in and out of dreams, and why I wasn’t only drawn to people who needed me, instead of being thrust into people’s heads twenty-four/seven.  At first it was fun, removing the red carpet from beneath their arrogant feet, or smudging the magic mirror into which they constantly stared.   Spoiling their dreams. But that soon grew tiresome … almost as tiresome as the dreams themselves.  And besides, karma seemed to always get me back for my meddling.  I’d be so distracted playing that I would miss my own bus stop, or fall off the back of the running machine!

There had to be some way to escape the constant noise…

I went through a phase of experiments, trying to avoid other peoples’ dreams.  I became nocturnal, sleeping during the day, so that when my brain was most susceptible, there were less transmissions around me.  I would still drift into the odd daydream while asleep, and at night the strongest dreams still caught me, no matter how awake I was, but for the most part my navigating calmed down.

Unfortunately life itself didn’t.

Being nocturnal might work for bats, but when you’re an eighteen year-old girl, struggling to pass your A-Levels, sleeping at day, and living by night isn’t really the answer!  Dad let me get away with it for three days, when I claimed I was having migraines, and then forced me back to school, on one hour’s sleep.  Needless to say, over-tired and extremely susceptible, the day I returned to the daylight hours was one of the ‘noisiest’ I’ve ever experienced.

Looking for an alternative escape from the dreams … and the people dreaming them, I began to travel up to the Lake District at weekends.  I would trek into quite literally the middle of nowhere, miles from the nearest village or townhouse, and revel in the physical, and mental, silence.  My roaming brain might tune occasionally into the musings of a passing hiker, or the odd group of Duke of Edinburgh students, but after eighteen years in the centre of England’s most vibrant city, the desolate wilderness was like a sprawling soundproof box.

I had found my escape.

Even if it was only two days a week, and costing me a fortune in train fares. But when I discovered it, I also discovered something about myself.

I had finally managed to rid myself of the dreams, only to suddenly realise how much I needed them.  The quiet was too quiet. Without the noise, my life felt suddenly empty.  Who was I if I wasn’t a Dream Navigator?  For six years Dream Navigating had dominated my life.  It had become my life … and it was addictive.

I knew I couldn’t do without it completely, but I also needed to be able to choose the dreams into which I navigated.  I either needed more power, or I needed to find a way of surrounding myself with less selfish dreams.  If this thing really was to be my future as well as my childhood, then I wanted to help people, not dedicate my life to watching people’s greedy whims.

I needed to truly make Dream Navigating my vocation.

At times when I was feeling particularly low, I would entertain myself with the idea that my mother had passed this ability down to me.  That she too had been a Dream Navigator, and that it wasn’t really depression that had driven her to suicide, but actually the constant voices, and the inability to choose between them.

I guess I just didn’t want to be alone in this.  An irony, I know, because my mind is always so full of other peoples’ thoughts and fears.  But the Navigation was lonely.  There’s a big difference between knowing what someone is dreaming about, and having them actively tell you their dreams and worries.

The two people who knew my secret couldn’t help.  Dad would never talk to me about Navigation, and Dom was away at university.  Somehow assuming Mum might have shared my ability comforted me.  I didn’t want to be alone any more.  I needed there to have been other Dream Navigators.  I needed there to be other Dream Navigators.

I needed to find others.  But the more I trawled the dreams of Londoners, the more convinced I was that I was simply an anomaly.

A freak.

I had been navigating for years.  I had seen inside the minds of hundreds of other people, but not once had I noticed so much of a suggestion that someone even knew about the things I could do, let alone could actually do them himself.

When I was sixteen, I went through a phase where I fantasised about bumping into another Navigator inside someone’s dream.  I would either enter a dream shouting at the top of my lungs, and hoping to hear an actual response, or I’d sneak into it like a sleuth, sniffing out the corners of the dreamer’s mind in the hope of finding a person there who could actually see me.  A twisted game of Hide and Seek.  But no matter my method, I was always alone.

Even if I couldn’t find others, I needed to at least find some form of validation. I was barely scraping by at school, all hopes of following Dom to university were out of the question, and I had no friends and a non-existent home life.  Dream Navigating had quite literally become my life, and I needed someone to confirm that what I could do really existed.

I needed help.

Finally I decided that maybe my search wasn’t wide enough.  If my ability was as rare as I imagined, then perhaps the reason I hadn’t found any others, wasn’t because there weren’t any, but because there weren’t any near where I lived.  And so I turned to the worldwide web.

I can remember sitting there, staring at the computer screen, trying to find the right combination of words to Google. In the end I settled for ‘people who can see other people’s dreams’.  The results were endless.  Thousands of pages vaguely linked to the seven words I had entered.  And then I found a place called the ‘Rumbellow Foundation.’

I knew I was on the right track when their website described ‘Dream Moulding’.

Only someone who had experienced it could know that the workings of a dream can be physically moulded.  I poured over the contents of the site, reading about the phenomenon of Dream Moulding.  Apparently it was believed that the brain emits radio waves of a certain frequency when a person dreams, and that those capable of dream moulding are not only aware of this frequency, but possess the ability to alter it.

The Rumbellow Foundation was a private neurological clinic, which was conducting research into the phenomenon.  I dwelled briefly on the contacts page, wondering if the clinic could really hold the answers to my complicated life.  But the more I thought about it, the more I realised how much at stake.  It was one thing to find out others shared my gift, or even that it had a real, recognised name.  But it was a very different thing to walk into a neurological laboratory and admit that my brain is wired differently to everyone else’s!

I was about to close the webpage when a random advert flashed up at the bottom of the screen, obviously selected because of the prominence of the word ‘dream’.  ‘Live the Dream!’ it suggested brightly.  ‘If only you knew! I thought ironically, but then the caption changed to something I hadn’t expected …

‘Work at the Vancouver Winter Olympics!’

Looking back on that moment I guess the advert was the ticket I needed out of my life as I knew it.  I wasn’t a normal teenager.  I was bitter and twisted and jaded. I needed an escape, and that simple suggestion was offering one.  A gap year.  A socially acceptable means of running away.  An escape from all the noise, that didn’t involve camping in a desolate field for the rest of my life!  And the Olympics seemed like the perfect retreat.  It was an event, which I associated with hope and unity, and positive dreams.  An international forum of good intent.  A haven away from the selfish dreams of the real world.  The Olympics wouldn’t be silent, but hopefully the noise would be of a far more promising calibre than the dreams of central London!

I looked into moving to Vancouver, but the Olympic host city seemed too sprawling, and too much like home.  Too many people with too many selfish problems.

If anything was going to change I needed a complete change of scenery.

That was when I considered Whistler, the host mountain resort for the Games.   A small mountain village with a population of just fifteen thousand, Whistler would host the alpine, cross-country and bobsleigh events.  It would still be home to aspiring athletes and to the Games, but was two hours away from the bustling metropolis.

The perfect escape.

© C-C Lester 2011

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