Monthly Archives: March 2011

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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Filed under C-C Lester, General, Unsigned Author Commentary, Writing

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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Filed under C-C Lester, General, Unsigned Author Commentary, Writing

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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My Ten Future Lives – Life Two

Following on from –
Introduction & Life One

Life Two – 2016

‘Good morning, Vipers VIP Concierge Service, Ashleigh Vaughan speaking ….’

There’s a familiar snort of laughter at the end of the phone.

‘Do you seriously not have me on your caller ID?’ India laughs.  ‘I only ring you five times a day!’

‘It’s a work phone!’ I grin into the receiver, glad to hear my best friend’s voice.

‘So I gathered … seeing as you actually answered it!  Do you ever leave the office?’

I roll my eyes, even though I know she can’t see me.

‘There’s heaps to do if I’m taking a fortnight off to come home ….’

India laughs again.  ‘Fine, fine, play the wedding card, just this once!  Though we both know you’d be working just as hard, even if you weren’t coming home!  So anyway, how’s the new business going.’

I smile, a rush of warm pride flooding to my cheeks.  ‘Business is good … better than good! You know Ind, I really think I might have hit the jackpot with this one!’

‘That’s what we like to hear!  Though I still don’t get why you couldn’t have set up the company on this side of the pond.’ She adds, a little sullenly.

‘There isn’t the same market for concierge services in England.  You know that just as well as I do.  Just let me make things happen over here first … you never know, Vipers could be going global in no time!’

‘I bloomin’ well hope so!  It’s one thing having my maid of honour on the other side of the world! But it’ll be quite another when you’re also a godmother!’

‘What?  India … you’re not pregnant are you?!’

‘Of course not!’  India tuts, and I smile, remembering how proper her parents are.  Sir Harry would have kittens at the thought of his only daughter getting pregnant outside of wedlock!  ‘I’m just saying … that you oughtn’t stay out there too long … you have duties over here!’

I laugh.  ‘Duties?’

‘Yes … duties.  Speaking of which, have you found yourself a date for the wedding?’

‘Since when has finding a date for the wedding been an official duty for the maid of honour?’

‘Since now … come on, it’s hardly inspirational to all those single bridesmaids, if the maid of honour herself can’t even find a man!’

‘Aren’t two of your bridesmaids married?’

‘Well yes … and one’s pregnant … but that’s beside the point!!’

‘India, where am I going to find a man to fly back to England with me?  And at two week’s notice?  It’s hardly your average first date scenario!’

‘Exactly … so that was why I … we … were thinking, perhaps we could find you a date who’s already over here?’

‘We?’

‘You know how much Matty loves you Ash … he thinks of you like a sister … we just want the best for you!’

Who exactly, do you consider to be the best for me?’

I hear India breathe a sigh of relief, she’d clearly expected this to be harder.

‘His name’s Hugo March.  I’m not sure if you’d remember him from uni?  But he rowed in Blue Boat with Matty in first year?’

I shrugged. ‘Name rings a bell …’

‘Well anyway … he’s divine!! And he’s just started work at Matty’s firm, and so Matt decided to take him under his wing …’

‘And arrange a date for him with me to your wedding??!!’

‘Hmm … well, yeah … in a nutshell!’

‘When are you guys going to realise I don’t need looking after?  I manage perfectly well all by myself …’

‘Sorry, who was it you said you were planning on bringing to the wedding?’ India replies breezily.

‘Ok!  Ok! You’ve got me!  Hugo the Rower it is!!!’

‘Hmm, well I don’t know how much he rows these days …’

‘Ha ha … ok, Hugo the Lawyer then… but only on one condition!’

‘Name it!’

‘You let me borrow your gold Louboutins!’

‘Hmm ….’

‘Oh come on Ind … it’s not like you were planning on wearing them!’

India giggles.  ‘That’s true!  Actually, do you reckon I could get away with flip-flops under the wedding dress?’

‘Not a chance!’

‘Love you too!’  She rings off, her intercontinental mission clearly accomplished.

In case you haven’t realised, my name is Ashleigh Vaughan, I’m twenty-nine years old, and I’m the CEO of a rather new VIP concierge service!  At the moment I’m based in New York, though I’m originally from glamorous old Essex!

And India … well India is my best friend by association.

We met at university, when she began dating my then best friend, Matty McAllister.  The very same Matty who she will, in just a few weeks, be marrying!

If I’m honest I’m not really sure how particularly similar we are, deep down, but I guess our friendship blossomed out of necessity.  She was in love with Matty, and I was his best friend, so she had to get on with me.  And as with all awkward threesomes, eventually something has to give … and with us, it was my connection with Matty.  Not that he’s no longer my friend.  It’s just that the battle of the sexes won out, and I ended up growing closer to India, for simplicity’s sake.  I wasn’t about to become the third wheel in someone else’s relationship, and so I assumed the sociably acceptable role in things … her best friend instead.

And so, in two short weeks I will be maid of honour, at a wedding I could have very plausibly have been ‘best-man’ at … or perhaps even played a more pivotal role in … not that I ever choose to think about those could-have-maybes ….

*                                  *                                  *

Those two weeks running up to the wedding were indeed short.  In what feels like no time, I’m back on English soil.  And rather famous English soil at that!  St. John’s College – one of the oldest, and most famous, Cambridge colleges, and Matty’s, India’s, and my alma mater.

The happy couple have decided to wed in the rather grand college chapel, and for novelty value … according to India’s wedding planner at least … all the guests are sleeping in student accommodation.

I’m not quite sure how long I stand outside the 16th century set before I finally go in.  It had been India’s and my home in third year, a gorgeously simple flat – two bedrooms and a spacious living room.  I bite my lip nervously, unable to pinpoint why I feel so apprehensive.  Perhaps it’s just that in my head this room is frozen in time, and seeing it covered in someone else’s posters and clutter might tarnish my memories?  Or maybe it’s just that I will be staying here alone for the first time.

In third year there had always been three of us.  Matty had lived on the outskirts of town and so always stayed here rather than India sleeping over at his.  And yet today marks a difference.  Today India and Matty are sleeping in the honeymoon suite at the Hyatt … leaving me to enjoy the current occupant’s scented candles and predictably rebellious decor, alone.

‘The worker bee returns! I never thought I’d see you dawdling outside the Hive!’ comes a warm voice from behind me.

‘Matty!’ I squeal, wrapping my arms around his neck.  ‘You know, I’d forgotten you called it that!’

Matty raises an eyebrow.  ‘You girls loved it!  Why this set was the centre of college … home of the two Queen Bees!’

I laugh.  ‘Hardly!! As you pointed out, I was always way too busy to be any form of royalty!  No, I definitely left all that to Ind!  How is she, by the way?  I haven’t been able to get hold of her since I landed.’

Matty smiles.  ‘She’s all good, just stressing, as expected!  The morning sickness isn’t helping either … poor girl, she was throwing up for hours today.’

‘Morning sickness?’

Matty’s face goes pale.  ‘Oh god, she hasn’t told you?  But I thought … you of all people would know …’

I shake my head slowly.  ‘No, though come to think of it, she did make a funny comment the other day …’ I frown, unwittingly.  ‘Lord, how on earth is Sir Harry coping with the news?’

‘He isn’t!  No one knows … no one, it seems, apart from you and me!’

‘Ah well, not to worry … Mum’s the word … apparently!’ I laugh, a little awkwardly.  ‘Though surely he’ll work it out in a few months time?’

Matty shrugs.  ‘She’s gonna kill me for being the one who tells you this, but I guess I’m in big enough trouble as it is … it’s twins!  So they’d be a bit early anyway … Ind’s just hoping they’re not too early, so that she can pass them off as ‘legitimate!’’

‘Congratulations hun!’  I smile, and squeeze Matty’s calloused hand.

‘Still getting enough time to row?’ I remark, nodding down at his leathery palm.

He shrugs sadly.  ‘Not really, just the erg in the company gym.’

He gestures around himself at the expansive college.  ‘All this seems a lifetime ago!’

‘Doesn’t it just!’

‘Now come on, Miss Vaughan … why are we still standing outside?  I do believe it was customary that you made me at least three cups of tea whenever I came to visit!’

Matty bends down and scoops me onto his back, in a very unladylike piggyback, before carrying me unconventionally over the threshold of my old room.

I’d forgotten quite how much I missed him.

*                      *                      *

‘Now are you sure you’re not going to be lonely in here?’  Matty asks, exactly three cups of tea later.  ‘I mean, you only have … Kermit the Frog, and, whoever they are …’ he asks gesturing at the inevitable poster-covered wall of the living room.

‘Don’t tell me you don’t recognise the Choir Boys?  They’re practically vintage!’ I interject, a little defensively.

‘Um yes, Kermit and The Choir Boys, to keep you company … ?  It does seem rather empty in here!’

‘Matthew McAllister … it’s your wedding! There’s no way you could convince India to spend your wedding night in the same cramped single bed you spent most of university in!’

‘Well technically it wasn’t a single bed, once we’d used Tesco delivery crates and pillows to add an extra metre or so …’

I roll my eyes at my old friend.

‘Anyway … I wasn’t suggesting us!’ Matty grinned.  ‘Fun as it would be to re-enact the old days!  I was thinking more of your wedding date!’

‘Oh Jesus Christ, Matty!  Could you try any harder to set me up?  Is it not enough that I’m going to the wedding with him?  We’re sitting next to each other at dinner!  We don’t need to be roomies too!’

Matty looks a little hurt.  ‘I was just thinking … I figured if you shared the set, then you might get to know one another a little better, and actually have something to talk about at dinner?’

I study his face for a moment.  ‘Hang on a minute … you’re not just suggesting this, are you?  You’ve already gone and arranged it!’

Matty frowns, and then looks over my shoulder distractedly.  ‘Right on time!’ he exclaims.  ‘Um Ash … meet Hugo March.  Hugo, this is my best friend Ashleigh Vaughan.’

I glared pointedly at Matty, but shift my frown into a forced smile as I spin around to greet Hugo.

Hugo March is pushing six foot two, his hair falling in messy honey-blond curls around his eyes.  His full lips look bee-stung, his eyes deep chocolatey pools.  In a word … Hugo March is hot! Not that I’m about to admit that to either Matty or India!

I roll my eyes.  ‘If I were really your best friend, I’d be the Best Man, not Maid of Honour!’  I banter back immediately, though I felt a definite twinge of something I couldn’t define on hearing him call me his best friend.

‘I wish my best friend was this attractive!’ Hugo smiles, and extends his hand.  ‘It’s great to finally meet you Ashleigh.’

‘Ditto!’ I smile.

‘I hear we’re going to be roommates?’ I add, giving Matt a sideways glance to let him know he hasn’t gotten away with that particular decision.

‘Only if that’s alright?  According to Matty this is one of the best rooms in college?’

I chuckle in spite of myself.  ‘He would say that, he was desperate to live here!’  I wink.

Hugo had been in his third year at Cambridge when we were in first year.  He’d studied History at St. Catharine’s, a college famous for its sport and drinking societies, and had rowed in the Boat Race alongside Matty.  His accent is surprisingly Scottish – a point of great banter between him and Matty, who he refers to as the ‘fake Scot.’  For despite Matthew McAllister’s grand Scottish name, the farthest North Matty has ever been is York!

As I watch him joking easily with Matty, I wonder why I don’t remember him.  Not only is he gorgeous, but it is really difficult not to like him.  And trust me … I’m trying!  He’s warm, and funny, and yet seems almost a little nervous around me, which in such a towering, attractive guy, is really rather cute!

Finally Matty excuses himself, and disappears off back to the Hyatt, with a cautionary glance in my direction.  I roll my eyes at him, just as he closes the door to the set, and then yawn loudly.

‘How silly of me, you must be exhausted!  How are you still awake?’ Hugo asks, checking his watch.  ‘It normally takes me days to recover from jet lag!’

I laugh.  ‘Dare I even ask what time it is?’  It isn’t even dark outside.

‘A monumental eight pm!’ Hugo grins.

I groan.  ‘I think there were some days in third year where I’d barely even woken up by this time!’

‘Ah, the good old Cambridge all-nighters!  Have to admit, that’s not a part of university life I miss all too much!’

‘Depends what you were doing to keep you up all night!’  I reply cheekily, before checking myself.  Am I actually flirting with him?

Hurriedly, I excuse myself to my bedroom, still determined to prove Matty and India wrong.  I know they mean well, but this all just feels too contrived … too set-up.  I don’t want to meet my Mr. Right like this … I dunno, I just always imagined catching his eye in the gym, and knowing it was him, or bumping into a tall handsome stranger in a hostel in a far-flung hostel and feeling my heart leap appropriately.  I need adventure, excitement, spontaneity …  Argh, sometimes I just wish they would stop molly-coddling me …  I find myself doubting their intentions.

Quickly I shrug on a baggy pair of granddad-style pyjama bottoms, and an old sweatshirt.  No matter how gorgeous and perfect he is, I can still make myself totally unapproachable … thus scuppering their little plan!  I pause for a second, wondering who I’m really fighting with, and as I do so, I take a glance around the bedroom.  My old bedroom.  God, the things I and India got up to in this set.  I grin to myself.  I’d been half tempted to switch rooms today.  To insist that Hugo have my old room, and take India’s bedroom instead … just for a change.  To mark a new era maybe?  But old habits die hard … and I have so many lovely memories of this room…

‘Have you fallen asleep already?’ Hugo asks nervously from outside the door.

I stifle a giggle.  ‘Nope, just coming!’

As I step back out into the living room, Hugo holds up two mugs.  ‘Coffee or hot chocolate?’

I frown, wondering how much I want to stay awake right now.

‘I’ll do coffee!’  I grin.

‘I was hoping you’d say that!’ he smiles back, before adding hurriedly … ‘I’ve always had a sweet tooth!’

I settle myself back down on the decrepit sofa, wondering to myself how often they change the furniture in the college rooms, and Hugo gives me a peculiar look.

I check myself again, suddenly nervous.  Have I gone too far with the pyjamas?

‘Where did you get that sweater from?’ he asks eventually.

I look down at the faded blue rowing shirt, and tug pensively at the hem.  I shrug ‘I guess it must have once belonged to Matty?’

Hugo frowns.  ‘Sorry, would you mind if I just have a quick look at it?’

I bite my lip nervously, and then finally shrug off the sweatshirt.  As I pass it over to him, he chuckles.

‘This is my jumper!’

‘Sorry, what?’

‘This jumper – it’s mine!  I knew I recognised you from somewhere!  I gave this to you … years ago!’  He chuckles and smiles down at the sweater.

I stare at the Cambridge Rowing team jumper, still confused.  Surely I’d just borrowed it from Matty?

‘But we’ve never met before!  Are you sure it’s yours?  Wouldn’t you and Matty have had similar kit?’

He points at the collar of the shirt, to a red paint stain I’ve never been able to remove.  ‘I got this on the collar helping out the May Ball committee.  It’s definitely mine … and now I think about it, I can actually remember giving it to you!’

I frown.

‘It was the Cuppers rugby final – Johns vs Catz, and you were standing shivering next to me on the sideline …’

‘Oh my God!  You had a broken arm!’

‘Collar bone …’ Hugo corrects.

I laugh nervously.  ‘I stole your jumper!’

Hugo laughs.  ‘How about we just say that you never gave it back?!’

I grab the sweater back teasingly.  ‘Well I hope you realise you’re never getting it back!  It’s my favourite jumper!’

Hugo shrugs.  ‘I’ll try not to hold it against you!’  He retorts, grinning widely.

*                                  *                                  *

‘So you’re telling me, you not only met him ten years ago … but you also stole his jumper … and never even realised?!’  India’s face is a picture of comic surprise.  She’s quite literally gawping, but what makes it more amusing, is that she’s currently trussed up in her customised designer wedding dress, on top of a pedestal, with the seamstress fussing around her feet, fixing the hem.

‘You know, I think the part of this story which bemuses me the most, is that fact you were wearing the sweatshirt in front of him in the first place!  Have you no shame?  Are you honestly not attracted to him?!’

I shrug, knowing whatever I say, India knows me too well.  ‘I was jet-lagged.  It was comfy.’

‘Well luckily, I didn’t choose you this,because it was comfy!’’ She motions over to my bridesmaid dress, a gorgeous turquoise halter-neck.

Before I can say anything, she pipes up again.  ‘I did all the initial fittings for you, seeing as we’re the same size.  But obviously you’ll need to try it on, and have Miranda give it the once over …’

I bite my lip.  I hate how India always refers to us as ‘the same size’.  I mean, granted, we’re not too dissimilar in shape, but she’s always been at least a half size smaller than me in all the places that matter … and a full cup size larger up top.  I shrug off the comment, I’m sure she just meant to be nice.  Besides, by the sounds of things, her body will be changing rather dramatically in the near future … not that she’s felt the need to share that particularly bombshell with me yet!

‘Are you two sisters?’  Miranda, the tailor asks, rising up from her stooped position at the hem.

‘Practically!’  India beams, before I can deny it.

*                                  *                                  *

‘If anyone present should know of any reason why this man and woman shouldn’t be joined in holy matrimony, speak now, or forever hold your peace.’

I can feel the awkward shuffle in the chapel.  I never know why they still include this part in wedding vows.  It just makes people unnecessarily suspicious.  Suddenly everyone in the chapel’s mind has been turned to infidelity and lies, just seconds before India and Matty are joined in supposedly beautiful marriage.

I look down at the two bouquets in my hand.  India’s grand arrangement of roses and other spiky things, and my own diminutive clutch of posies, suddenly all too aware that either bunch of flowers could have at one time been mine.  I chide myself for even thinking as much, and stare over at Hugo in order to distract my wandering mind.

Hugo is standing on the other side of Matty’s brother Toby, the Best Man.  It’s only now that I realise he’s wearing a kilt made out of the McAllister tartan.  The touching little gesture brings a smile to my face.  And besides, I’m yet to see a man look bad in a kilt!  I manage to catch his eye, and he smiles warmly back at me, his expression a little bashful.

Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.

The little wedding rhyme pops randomly into my head, and my thoughts turn to the stolen sweater.  It is something old, borrowed, and blue … could Hugo March possibly turn out to be my something new?

I tune back into the ceremony.  This is the only time my two closest friends will ever be tying the knot.  The main event. I really ought to be paying attention!

And within seconds it is all over, and the crowds are rushing towards the newly-weds, clamouring to bestow their congratulations and embraces.  A wry smile plays over my lips as it reminds me randomly of Matty’s first Boat Race.  As the boys had passed over the finish line at Chiswick, a full eight-lengths ahead of the Dark Blue boat, I had run down meet the boats.  I could almost feel the mud underneath my heels now.  At the time I had lost all sense of propriety and waded across the slippery bank in my delicate formal wear, my only concern to wish my best friend ‘Congratulations’.  It’s funny to think, that at that moment, India Masters wasn’t a part of either my life, or Matty’s.  And bizarrely, it turns out that Hugo March was! Because he was sat in that boat, just behind Matty!  And I hadn’t so much as noticed him …

*                      *                      *

I stumble back across the familiar courtyard in the dark, a little light-headed from all the Dom Perignon India’s father had had shipped in.  I slip off India’s golden heels, and with a cheeky glance around, decide the make a run for it, and dance across the forbidden Cambridge lawn.  When we were students, running across the grass was punishable with a Deaning.  Who knows what the punishments are like these days?

As I creak open the set door, a skill I used to be so well practiced at, I find myself wondering if Hugo is back already.  The evening just got away with me, and I feel like I spent half the reception talking to India and Matty’s families.  I guess that’s the problem when you don’t know which side of the church you’re meant to be sitting on!  It seems like forever since I last saw Hugo, let alone talked to him … and if I’m honest, I’m a little disappointed.

I tiptoe across the living room to my bedroom, and a bright Post-It note on my door catches my attention.

‘You looked beautiful tonight …’ The note reads.  ‘EVEN more beautiful than you did in MY sweatshirt!  Sweet dreams, H xx’

I grin, in spite of myself, wondering when the last time I received an actual hand-written note from a boy was!  I peel the Post-It from the door, and hold it against my chest absent-mindedly as I consider my options.

He likes me!  He really, genuinely likes me!  And despite my best attempts otherwise, I really rather like him too.  I drop India’s heels on the living room carpet, reminding myself that life is about taking risks … What is it she sometimes says?  Something about at least trying a closed door?  Just because something appears shut, doesn’t mean it’s locked closed.  I sneak a glance at India’s old bedroom door.  It definitely appears shut … but surely it’s worth a knock?

I take a deep breath, and knock quietly on Hugo’s bedroom door.  ‘Come in!’ comes a dozy-sounding voice.

‘Sorry, did I wake you?’ I ask quietly, as I step gingerly into the dark room.

Hugo clicks on the bedside lamp and shakes his head, ‘Not at all, I only got back a few minutes ago myself.’  He sits up in bed, and pats the spot beside him with a smile.  ‘Fancy a seat?’

I grin nervously, and perch beside him.  ‘I wondered where you went.’

Hugo shrugs, ‘Every time I looked your way you were busy talking to someone else … and seeing as you were the only person I really wanted to be talking to, I figured I’d call it a night.’

‘Oh,’ I reply shyly.

He grins back, equally shy.  ‘Oh yes? Or, oh no?’

‘Um …. Oh sorry? India’s aunts love to corner me and quiz me on why I haven’t found a man yet!’  I laugh a little awkwardly, before realising what I’ve said.

‘And why haven’t you found yourself a man yet, Miss Vaughan?’

‘What is this, Truth or Dare?’  I ask sarcastically.

‘I guess it could be,’ Hugo grins back cheekily.

‘Ok, well if I’m honest, I’ve just never met the right person …’

Hugo raises an eyebrow.

‘What’s the supposed to mean?’ I ask defensively.

‘Is that your question?’ Hugo asks cheekily.

I shrug, curious.  ‘Sure.’

‘I dunno, I just always assumed there was something between you and Matty.  Even that day I first met you … the rugby match.  The reason you were there was to watch him play, right?’

This time I raise my eyebrow.  ‘So is that your next question?’

Hugo shakes his head.  ‘My next question is … how long have you been in love with Matty McAllister?’

I bite my lip, a weird feeling in the back of my throat, like I’ve been caught doing something naughty.  I frown, and then decide to answer properly.

‘If I’m honest, from the day I first met him … until just a few hours ago!’

I can’t read Hugo’s expression.

‘And the reason for that … is it because he married your best-friend?’ Hugo asks. ‘Or because you met me?’ Hugo adds quietly, his nervous expression defying the presumption of his question.

I slip my hand into his large, callused palm.

‘I’m afraid that was two questions in one go!’  I reply cheekily.  ‘It’s my turn to ask a question, and you know what, next time I think I’ll pick Dare, so maybe you’ll just have to work out the answer to that one by yourself.’

Hugo grins.  ‘In that case, I’d like a Dare too.’

I smile back at him, amazed at how comfortable I felt around this virtual stranger.

‘Ok … I dare you to kiss me!’

© C-C Lester 2010

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Getting Represented

In my first proper blog post, ‘So Am I an Author Yet?!’ I brushed over the process of getting an agent.

No, it wasn’t painless … but a year and a bit on, I think of it like I do my driving test.  Something which felt impossible at the time, but which, once successfully achieved, you push to the back of your mind, eclipsed by new worries and challenges … like REALLY learning to parallel park, and getting your first novel published.

However, I am very aware that a lot of the people reading this blog are yet to be able to refer to themselves as ‘represented’, and many of you have asked me exactly how I went about finding my lovely agent Lucy.

In order to properly answer this question and give it some ‘expert’ clout … rather than it simply being my own personal anecdote, I asked my agent Lucy Dundas, of Peters Fraser and Dunlop to chip in with some comments on how to get your work noticed in the slush pile.

So let’s start with Lucy’s comments …

Number 1 – Research.  The biggest thing as an agent is to be addressed directly. Letters sent to “Dear Sir or Madam” or “To Whom it may Concern” drive us mad. If an author isn’t intelligent enough to find a name within a company, then we don’t hold out much hope. If someone has done their research, found out who to direct their letter to, it just proves how much you want it.’

Number 2 – Give us what we ask for. If an agency website says we only accept 3 chapters, synopsis and covering letter, please please please don’t send a letter asking us if we want to read your full mss….please don’t send us your full mss and PLEASE don’t send three random chapters from different parts of your book. Make it the first 3 sequential chapters with a synopsis saying where the book goes from there.

Buy the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook – it has loads more information on agents, publishers, newspapers, foreign rights etc etc and is a great insight into our world.’

So those are Lucy’s main points.  Mine really stem from there.

Adding to Lucy’s point about research, make sure the agencies you are approaching, and the particular agents at each agency, specialise in your kind of writing.  Look at the other authors they represent, and the other books they have worked on.  There’s no point sending an amazing adult book to a children’s agent, etc, because they wont bother with it, no matter how amazing it is.

Secondly, be professional.  That obviously includes the ‘knowing who you’re writing to’ point that Lucy made.  But in my opinion, if you want to come across as a good client, do so right from the beginning.  Be organised with your work.  Present it well – footers with your name, and the name of the book.  Page numbers.  Make it easy for them to print out and read.  You want to encourage them to read it, not confuse them.

Thirdly, play the game!  If the agent asks for three ‘random’ chapters, make sure they are your three favourites. Don’t just lazily send off the first three chapters, if you know you have action-packed central chapters which better display your ability.  You want them to read more.  So pick the good’uns, and polish them!  Whilst an agent WILL do edits, and spelling errors aren’t the end of the world, it makes sense to present your manuscript to an agent in the best possible state you can.  It won’t be the finished state, but you may as well do as much work on it as you can.  The agent will only read it once, so make that one time worth it.

Finally, be persistent.  Maybe some people DO get signed the first time they ever send out a manuscript, but I bet you the majority of signed authors approached a fair few different agencies before they found their match.  I happily admit to sending out letters to American and Australian agencies as well as British ones, and to also submitting myself to a couple of publishers which accepted unsolicited manuscripts.  And my persistence paid off.  Publishing isn’t affected by odds.  Your book doesn’t come with a tag saying ‘she contacted 500 agents before it got signed, and 200 publishers before we published it’ … so go for it.  As long as you tailor each letter and application for each agency, and chose agencies who really are likely to want to represent you, then why not cast out your net as wide as you can?  It’s your time, effort and (postage) money!

If you really believe in your work … then commit to it!  You need to be committed to persuade someone else to replicate that commitment.

C-C xx

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The Life / Writing Balance

In my recent post ‘The Writers’ Network’ I explained how blogging can provide a new social network for writers.

Interestingly some of the comments on the post extended this new society to an actual social life.  As if talking to other writers online is the closest thing a writer might have to a life of her own.

The idea of a writer not having a real life of her own angers me.  As I explained in ‘Writing from the Heart’, it’s important to know and understand the things you write about.  So how can a writer convincingly write about the exciting lives of her characters, if she herself lives a rather mundane existence?

For me, becoming a good writer has meant understanding people.  And that involves communicating with, and engaging with, people from all different backgrounds and in all different situations.  In order to have the imagination to create a full range of characters, and empathise properly with those characters, I feel like I need to truly understand the world around me.  As a result I often feel like I’ve lived a hundred lives.  I’ve tried anything and everything … possibly one of the reasons why I’ve adapted so well going from Cambridge Law student to professional babysitter! Every adventure is two-fold.  Not only is it interesting and exciting for me as an individual, it’s also useful for me as a writer.  I’ve stood on both sides of the fence – the served and the server –  and as a result I understand life ‘upstairs’ and ‘downstairs’.

I’ve noticed that a lot of people write their first novel in their mid-thirties.  However I was 25 when I finally committed Flicker to paper, and I think the reason I did so at such a relatively young age, is because I feel I’ve had more than enough life experience.  The adventurous and constantly-changing way in which I live my life has equipped me with the knowledge and empathy to write from various different perspectives on a number of different subjects, which has proved particularly useful, particularly where books like ‘My Ten Future Lives’ where the characters’ situations change with every chapter.

In my opinion the traditional image of an author as a loner, trapped in a room, able only to socialise through her pen is out-dated and unrealistic.  Just because I can write, shouldn’t mean I can’t talk to people … and vice versa.

Personally I like to think of myself as a rather bubbly and sociable person, who also enjoys writing, and I hope that this personality shades my writing rather than hampering it.

The idea of the loner writer is a rather romantic one.  As if she puts her all into the book and has no time for a life of her own.  However, it is more than possible to have a life, and dedicate your time and energy to writing a book … it’s simply a question of understanding your writing.

As I explained in ‘The Author, The Journalist and The Blogger’, everyone writes differently depending on the nature of the task.  I also find that within each ‘discipline’ of writing, I work differently according to the task.

Take, for example, the administrative side of writing a novel.  As I will explain in more detail in a later post, it’s important as an author to present your work in a user-friendly manner.  And this involves headers, footers and page-numbers.  Compare this side of writing to expertly selecting the perfect words for the opening paragraph of your novel, and you can hopefully understand the different mental demands of various tasks.  Labeling my pages uses 2% of my brain power … finding the perfect words, maybe 92%.  And then there’s re-reading and editing.  The more often you have revised a piece of work, the less attention you need to pay it.

And so, with this all in mind … it’s actually possible to be rather sociable, and still find time to write!

When I’m writing prose, I know I need to be alone … whether that privacy is offered by four walls, or simply by my laptop headphones.  Similarly, I need to have relative focus when it comes to my initial edits.  I’ll perhaps play music I know well, or a tv show I’m not captivated with in the background.

But in the later edits, where I’m simply skim-reading for mistakes or repetition, and when it comes to numbering my pages and making everything look neat and tidy, I don’t need anywhere near my full attention on my computer.  And so these activities don’t require me to be a ‘loner’.  In the same way that I’m sitting writing this blog post whilst half-watching a movie with my boyfriend, and contributing (all but half-heartedly) to a conversation with him and one of our friends, a lot of writing tasks don’t require my full attention, and so I have adapted my life to include ‘laptop’ moments.

It’s not gospel, and probably wouldn’t work for everyone, but knowing when I can fulfil tasks in a sociable manner definitely helps me feel a lot less like a loner writer.

Finally, the other thing which keeps me sane is knowing when NOT to write.  As I mentioned in The Writers’ Network, I’m between books.  And three novels into my writing career, I understand my habits well enough to know that I need to take a decent break in between projects.  I need to switch character perspectives, in order to write convincingly from that new point of view … and whilst I’m not exactly lazy during the gaps (as perhaps best evidenced by this blog!!) I definitely take a proper break.  Which leaves more time for that life part of the life/writing balance …

Two years in, and it seems to be working for me … what about you?  Have you found the perfect balance?  Are your coping methods different to mine?  Or are you the stereotypical loner writer?

As ever … discuss!! That’s the whole point of the blog 🙂 Get social with the rest of the internet’s aspiring authors!

C-C xxx

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Tales of a Starving Artist

As I begin writing this, I have a feeling this may be just the first of a series of posts detailing my life behind the pen.

I currently live in the Canadian mountain resort Whistler.  It’s a friendly ski village, and whenever I end up on a chairlift with a stranger, and they realize that I live here, conversation inevitably turns to what I do for a living.

‘So do you work for the mountain then?’ is the typical question.  Whistler is full of Brits and Aussies, all working for minimum wage in the name of Whistler Blackcomb.

I shake my head.  ‘No, actually I nanny!’  I reply with a smile, knowing I’m actually paid a wage worthy of the work I’m doing!

‘So how do you find that?’ they ask.  And fifteen minutes later we get to the end of the chair, and I begrudgingly finish talking.

The same thing happened just this morning.  I work for a nanny agency, babysitting for different families on a daily basis, and so with every day comes a new story … and the past weekend was particularly eventful.  As I finished my most recent tale of mirth and woe, ‘you should write a book!’ was the response I got from the Californian tourists sat at my side.

‘Well actually ….’

I’ve often thought about penning a form of ‘Nanny Diaries’.  That movie with Scarlett Johannsen is pretty spot on … if not, in some places, actually rather tame!  And don’t worry, I haven’t ruled out the possibility … I just figure maybe it’s time to share some of my nanny tales in a less disguised fashion!

This isn’t fiction.  This is the life which funds my fiction!  I’m an unpublished author, a penniless artist.  And so I do a job which pays the bills, without stemming my creativity.  A job where I can spend large amounts of time at my laptop while children sleep, and which doesn’t leave me too mentally drained at the end of the day to put pen to paper.

I am a nanny.  A babysitter.  A house elf.

One of the above, depending on the family I’m working for.

For the most part the families are lovely, but when you’ve worked for close to 300 different families in an elite ski resort, you’re always gonna come across some characters.

‘Risa’ was one of such characters.

I babysat for her on Saturday.  After explaining that I have worked full-time as a nanny for the past year and a half, and reassuring her that 18 month-olds are one of the age-groups with which I have the most extensive experience, she kindly took me on a tour of her apartment to identify which of the toys were for the 18 month-old, and which were for her 6 year-old (who would be out at ski lessons).  Building blocks for the 18 month old … crossword puzzle, not for the 18 month old.  Check.  Got it!

Forty-five minutes later, and Risa was finally happy to hand him over.  As her adorable young son yelped ‘Dora’ and pointed at the television, she made it clear that he ‘never watches television’.  Yeah right!  I interpreted the code – don’t watch television whilst looking after my son.  I smiled brightly, knowing how much fun is to watch a 1 year old play with building blocks in a silent room, and obliged.

Fifteen minutes later, I and the one year-old are happily playing building blocks to a soundtrack of Glee tunes, care of my computer’s iTunes, when the front door beeps.

Risa swoops in, and asks me several passive-aggressive questions about what I’m listening to, remarks how much she likes Glee, and then informs me that the song playing (Glee doing Justin Bieber) was not suitably educational for her one year-old.  Did I have any Beatles? (I’m even rolling my eyes as I type that comment!)

The mother heads back out.  Unlike most Whistler parents, I’m not babysitting her son so that she can go out and ski.  In fact, I have no idea why I was babysitting her son, because another ten minutes later she returned, and declared she would do her work from home.  Sitting regally at the apartment table, she gave me a look to suggest I would no longer be playing Glee, or the Beatles, any more.  ‘Shall I take him out for a walk?’ I suggested, desperately wanting to leave her eagle-like grip.

‘No, don’t.  I love to hear and watch him playing while I work!’ she exclaimed.  To which my response really ought to have been, ‘So why do you need me here?’  But I knew what her real answer was.  ‘No don’t.  I love to watch and judge you while I work!’  She may as well have grimaced.

I sat for an hour and a half at the woman’s feet, desperately trying to entertain a one-year old, who had zero interest in what I was doing!

At midday, I finally looked up from the floor.

‘What time does he normally take a nap?’ I asked gingerly, my throat sore from play-acting.  (Children of one don’t normally need to be played ‘with’, in so much as you normally watch them play, and give them big smiles when they try to hand you something.  Occasionally I might sing, or count aloud … however I realized this wasn’t what Risa was expecting me to do whilst playing at her feet, and so I had spent an hour and a half narrating play time to her unimpressed ears.)

‘Oh he doesn’t nap!  He’s far too advanced!’ Came the reply.

Half an hour later when I put him in a stroller to finally escape on a walk outside, he fell straight asleep and remained that way for the rest of my shift!

Oh the life of the ‘starving artist’ !!

C-C xx

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The Author, The Journalist and The Blogger

Not to be confused with The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe 🙂

In one of my first blog posts, ‘So Am I an Author Yet?’ I discussed what I felt the distinction was between being a writer and being an author … and my conclusion was that it really seemed to simply boil down to self-confidence.  When what you have achieved as a writer, on a personal note, makes you feel like an author.

After all, it’s really just semantics.  As I explained in my response to one of the comments, when I was a law student at university, I was called ‘a lawyer’ and yet I was years away from practicing law.  And so by the same token, ‘author’ is a word, which can be applied to a variety of stages of writer – we simply have a tendency to attach considerable creative weight to it, and so as a writer, the privileged term ‘author’ is a state you hope to attain.

In the various comments made about the post, many people suggested that you only become an author when you are ‘published’.  However, a number of people also noted that because of the role the internet now plays in our lives, being ‘published’ is a far easier and less meritocratic feat.  You simply have to click a button, to have your work out there in the open.  I did so a matter of minutes ago, when I copy and pasted a chapter of my most recent book – The Dream Navigator – into a blog post.

And so, whilst I might be rather liberal in my awarding of the title ‘author’ – in that I personally feel it embodies a personal state of mind rather than being a metaphorical rosette pinned upon your writing, I have to admit to still being rather conservative with the distinction between writing on paper and on the internet.

I know the world is changing.  I know a Kindle can be a thousand books in one, and that words don’t have to physically be inked onto a page to ‘count’.  However, I guess I’m rather romantic in my distinctions between the different classes of writers. Between bloggers, and journalists, and authors.

Don’t get me wrong – all three are valid disciplines.  As a new blogger, a trained journalist, and a wannabe-author, I clearly appreciate all three.

What I am, however, trying to make clear, is that they are all very different things and shouldn’t be confused.  A lot of people seem to define ‘author’dom purely through publication.  But if the internet is a valid source of publication, then the term ‘author’ loses all of its exclusivity.

Maybe I want the best of both worlds.  I want to be able to call myself an author, whilst waiting idly on my hands for a publishing house to acknowledge my talents … but I don’t want anyone who has ever written a word on the internet (does Facebook count? 😉 ) to call themselves authors too!!!

And so, as a writer (the term which I thing encompasses all of the disciplines) I think it’s important to adopt the multiple ‘hats’ metaphor I used in my article ‘The Pen Name’.  It’s not simply a question of recognising exactly what you are writing, but approaching that type of writing with different ambitions, and with a different mindset.

When I write fiction, I write as an ‘author’.  (Or if you don’t think I’m an author yet, because my books aren’t tangible entities, then call me a fiction writer).  I plan methodically (The Secrets to Finishing a Novel), think about the story as a whole matrix, and keep careful track of character development, chronological order, themes and imagery.  As I progress through the story, I feel as if I am carefully tying together the various tassels of a mop, until piece by piece the entire story has intricately come together.

When I write fiction, I am a perfectionist.  I dwell on every word, sound each sentence aloud, and go over and over each and every section.  When I begin a new chapter, I take time to read and edit the chapter that comes before it, and when I eventually send off a ‘first draft’ of a novel to my agent, it has perhaps been edited as many as ten times.

When I have my journalist hat on, my approach is very different.  My word count is normally stricter, and my classical training makes for a more rigid layout.  I focus carefully on my first sentence, rather than my first chapter, and approach each article with a very formulaic need for a start, middle and end.  Whilst these things are obviously just as necessary in a novel, with fiction I am more concerned that the story is constantly moving, rather than rigidly shaping these developments into three clear sections.  I think carefully about words, and keep my tone erudite.

And then there’s blogging.  Now the ‘wordy’ in me, sees the word ‘blog’ and thinks it says it all.  Blogging isn’t an elegant word.  If it conjures any imagery, it’s a little clumsy and unrefined.  And I guess that’s my approach to this discipline of writing.  It’s experimental.  As Carol Rives commented yesterday about my blog post ‘The Writers’ Network’ she uses her blog to develop her writing.

If writing is a sport, then blogging is the training phase.  It’s gym time.  Where you practice that sport outside the comfort of your own home, but still with the safety net of a ‘delete’ button.  You can try out something, and if it doesn’t work, or doesn’t conjure the response you hoped, you can adapt it.  It’s the crash-test dummy phase of writing.

And so my approach to this phase is very different.  I write my blog how I talk.  Obviously I have a slight plan when I begin each post … but generally it’s more just a notion of what I’d like to talk about, and then as I begin to type, my argument, or lack of, begins to form!   Quite often my post names change as the article progresses, and I’m fully aware that none of my entries are overly sculpted or edited.  They are fresh meat in writing terms.  Fodder for debate.

And for me, well I think that’s the perfect use of the internet, and of blogs.  The very nature of a blog allows for change and for constant update.  If you spend too much of your time editing, then you lose out on the immediate nature of it as a form of media, and of the readership you will reap, should you sew enough seeds of wisdom on a regular basis.

I only really noticed the change in my attitude to writing, and acknowledged the reasons for it, when my agent Lucy asked me to adapt my blog post ‘So am I an Author yet?’ for use in a newspaper.  As I copied and pasted my rather spontaneously-written post into a word document, and frowned at the various coloured lines which appeared under the words and sentences, I realised I would never have sent such a document to Lucy if it were fiction!  I wouldn’t let one person read a fiction draft in that state, let alone hundreds or thousands.  And yet the blog post had been read by 5,000 people in 24 hours!  Over the course of an hour I changed the blog post into a newspaper article, reigning in the personal anecdotes and conversational tone, and making my words more precise and efficient.  I turned from blogger to journalist, and thus my words took on a completely different shape.

And so, as if to illustrate my point, this is where the blog post ends.  Not with a neat summary, as if it were a newspaper article, but with the natural course of conversation, as if I were explaining this all to you out loud!

Let me know what you think – is writing a ‘sport’ made up of different disciplines, or is the writer of a blog post as bona fide an author as he who pens a 600 page novel?

C-C xx

 

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The Dream Navigator – Chapter Three

Please click the links below to read earlier sections –

Chapter One – Ewah the Great

Chapter Two – My Secret Audience


Chapter Three Make a Change

(Inquisitive Cadbury’s Purple)

 

Dream Navigator is a bit of a misleading term.

It suggests I just walk from dream to dream, and as I’ve already explained, physically jumping from one stage to another is actually a very hard process.

But it’s also misleading, because it undersells what I can do.  You see, I not only see what people dream, I can also change it.  I chose the name Dream Navigator because it made me sound noble, as if I were fulfilling some higher duty – overseeing people’s nocturnal musings.  But what I really do is far more invasive.  Dream Meddling … if you were.  Though in my defence, I like to think of what I can do as far more noble than simply watching on while people dream.

People’s dreams affect their lives.

Whether he wakes up with only vague recollections, or remember every detail, a dream colours a person’s day.  It taints his feelings about the topic at issue, and can fill him with courage or drain him of confidence.  It can poison an idea, or lay fertiliser for ingenuity.  And so, in my role as a Dream Navigator, I like to try and make sure that a person’s day is coloured an appropriate shade for ideas and happiness to flourish.

‘What real difference can I make?’ you ask.

The answer is an immense one.  People are riddled with fears.  Negative energy, doubts and insecurities threaten their everyday lives, it just sometimes takes the night to bring them out.  Because it is at night that they are most susceptible to these fears.  In a dream, a tiny niggle can hold an entire court, and in the morning, that niggle will have firmly planted its seed.

So what?  What happens if these fears are allowed to spawn?  If doubts are allowed to colour people’s creativity?  So the world might be devoid of a few ideas?  A few inventors are stopped in their tracks, or a couple of Romeos don’t fight for their Juliets? But that’s not it.  Or it is, but it isn’t.

When I was four, my mother committed suicide.

She had depression, in an age when the disease wasn’t so quickly diagnosed, and when medication was either too strong, or not strong enough.  My mother committed suicide.  She left my life just a handful of months after I had entered hers.  She robbed me of the chance to know her.  To ask her advice about boys, and haircuts and A-Level options.  To hear her wisdom on periods and sex and all the other awkward things my poor Dad ended up lumbered with.  To see me graduate, go shopping for my wedding dress, and name my unborn children.  But she didn’t rob me of those things.  Her depression did.

Depression; something which coloured her days.

A feeling she couldn’t put a finger on, but knew was there.  A sense. An emotion.  A shadow of something.  Ring any bells?

So there you have it.  My motive.  My raison d’etre.  Or at least my reason to be inside people’s heads.  You see, I never had any chance in my calling.  The radio is always on, blaring in the background, and there’s only so long I can ignore it.  But I can control what I do when I’m being called, and so for that reason I tweak.

Tweaking is the name I’ve given to dream alteration.  It took some time before I realised what I was capable of.  For months I just sat there awkwardly in the background.  Sometimes I was fascinated by what was happening inside people’s dreams, sometimes I was scared, but for the most part I was just bored.  I know I’ve used television as a metaphor, but people’s dreams really aren’t like TV shows.  They are incomplete.  The reality kind of hangs there, reliant on what the dreamer, or the Forecaster as I like to call him, is focussing on.  So a person might only have a face, or a world might have a sky but no ground.  I only see what the Forecaster sees, so I see the world in frames, neat slivers of reality.  And that was the problem.  In the early days I was searching for the realities.  I was looking for things I recognised, expecting the dreamer to entertain me like a movie director.  But the forecasters don’t know I’m there, and to be honest even if they did, they would be too busy trying to make head or tail of what they are dreaming about to worry about me.

I got bored.

I would sit uncomfortably in the corner of the dream, waiting impatiently for the Forecaster to wake up and free me from the show.  I would drift off … daydream.  Oh the irony! The only time I ever daydreamed was in other people’s dreams!  And that was when I felt it.  Not a harsh broadcast like the dreams themselves, but a general undercurrent.  A vibe.  The same vibe the dreamer would wake up to.  And suddenly I knew what colour the dream was creating – what effect it would have on that person’s day.

You’d think it would be obvious.  That a person dreams of sunshine, and puppies and sunflowers, and wakes up glowing with happiness as a result!  But for the most part dreams don’t happen like that.  They are the careful downloading of your brain – your daily thoughts and experiences being filed and processed by a computer, and so sometimes a dream may start negatively but end positively, and vice versa.  By watching the fragments of reality, I might get a certain impression about the dream, but it is the undercurrent that tells me what is actually going on.

An internal ‘happy-o-meter’.

‘Warning, someone is about to drown in this cheerful beautiful waterfall!’  That kind of thing.  At first I just accepted the colours.  Saw them as a warning for myself.  Like a certification on a film.  Rate 15 – this show may contain swearing and content of a sexual nature.  Rate Red – the dream will end unsatisfactorily and the Forecaster will wake up feeling angry.  And then I began to wonder if the colours were fixed, or if I could do anything to alter them.

It was actually Dom who helped me discover tweaking.  I had been telling him about the colours.  About how as I had stood at the periphery of this particular dream, I had known  it was going to be a bad one.  ‘But you interrupted my dream!’ Dom had remarked. ‘I stopped what I was doing, and came to you.  And now we’re just chatting, so how can that be so bad?’ he asked.

And so I concentrated again, searching for the sombre grey colour that had flashed at me as I had entered his dream.  Instead I found yellow.  Mellow, level yellow.

‘It’s changed!’ I gasped.  Dom nodded intuitively.  ‘I always feel different when you appear in my dream.  Your counting helps me find you, but the minute you enter my dreams, it’s as if I feel lighter … I know you’ve arrived just from that feeling.’

Buoyed by his words, I decided to see if I could change anything in other Forecasters’ dreams.  After all, Dom could see me when I navigated, so I very directly affected his dream experience.  Surely in dreams where I’m invisible, it was a different matter?

The next night I returned to Quincy’s dreams.

For some time I had avoided the little girl’s company, shunning offers of work, because I was still shaken by the vivid reality of Quincy’s monster.  But that next night I accepted a babysitting job, and like before I wrapped my arms tightly around the sleeping toddler as she drifted off to sleep.

That night Quincy dreamt about her parents.  Matthew and Rachel Graham stood prominently in the centre of her dream, the only clear objects in amongst the confusion of light and taste and pillows.  I sensed the danger of the dream before it appeared.  The dream was jet black in colour – the type people wake up from crying.  And just as I felt the danger, Matthew and Rachel began to disappear.

‘Mummy!  Daddy!’  Quincy shrieked, screaming at the disappearing figures.

‘Mummy!! Don’t leave me!  Where are you going?’ I watched on helplessly as her parents quite literally evaporated, dissolving into the warm nothing around them.

I gritted my teeth as Quincy’s sobs boomed all around me.

‘Make a change!’

I commanded myself, and lunged forwards at Matthew and Rachel, or rather the space from which they were disappearing.  Somehow I caught hold of Matthew’s leg.  I was literally just holding a limb – the rest of his body had already disappeared, and there I was, face down in the pillows, arms outstretched like a fallen rugby player lunging for a ball, but with my hands gripped around a disembodied leg instead!  And if that wasn’t weird enough, the leg felt like Playdough!  I’d never tried to touch anything in a dream before.  I’d touched the dreamers, tried to get their attention, but everything else had just seemed too private.  Forbidden.  I hadn’t wanted to intervene.  But that day I realised that perhaps that was actually what I was supposed to be doing.

I gripped hold of Matthew’s leg, fighting the urge to let go, caused by the revulsion at his leg’s putty-like texture.  As I squeezed the putty more tightly, it seemed to elongate, shooting upwards and downwards.  But the section of leg didn’t change shape like a normal ball of putty.

Somehow the leg began to grow back!

I concentrated on the limb, imagining Matthew’s leg back into existence, and then just like that the putty sprouted.  The leg grew a foot, and then a body, then another leg.  And very soon Matthew was back standing in front of me.  I focussed on the space beside him.  I’d been able to conjure Matthew from what had been left behind … could I really create Rachel out of nothing?  I thought hard about my next door neighbour, the friendly young mum who had taken me under her wing like a little sister just a few days after she and Matthew moved in next door.  I thought about her smile, the way her mouth crinkled at the sides, and her carefree blonde curls.  I focussed on her laugh and how at home she always made me feel, and just like that, my hand filled with putty.  Or rather, more precisely, with Rachel’s calf.  My other next-door neighbour literally sprouted to life before my eyes.

‘Mummy!  Daddy!’ came Quincy’s narrator voice. ‘You came!’

‘Of course we came,’ I mouthed, but the words came from the putty parents’ lips.  ‘We love you!’  The colour of the dream changed into a warm, comforting purple, and I woke up with a jolt.

I’ve been tweaking now for four years, and over that time my skills have definitely come along. Using my own memories I conjure things, people and places – anything I can think of to change the scene and lighten the mood, and the colour, of the dream.  I can make people speak, or do things, and I can make other things disappear.  Basically the only person I can’t affect in a dream is the Forecaster himself.  But hopefully my changes will affect his real life instead.

I’ve used tweaking to do everything from making a mother feel more comfortable around her newborn baby, to removing the clothes off a dream audience so that a little boy felt more confident giving a speech at school.  I’ve vanquished monsters and demons and muggers and thieves, and given children wings, A-grades in tests, and football skills.

And while I do see it as a duty, you can also see how it might be a lot of fun at the same time!  How I might withdraw into a world I can control, rather than live in one I don’t particularly understand…

But the problem is it isn’t just children who dream.

And not all dreams are as easily solved as erasing a monster.

© C-C Lester 2011

CARRY ON TO CHAPTER FOUR HERE

 

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