Monthly Archives: July 2011

Getting Into Your Characters

Have you ever faced the age old issue of ‘what comes first?’

No, not the chicken or the egg … but the book and the film!

Now, obviously, in 99% of cases, the film will be based on a book.  But I’m not talking release dates.  I’m talking about which came first for YOU!  Did you watch the movie Twilight, and then decide to read the books, to then have Edward Cullen forever depicted as Robert Pattinson in your mind?  Or did you conjure your own wolves and vampires, only to be disappointed the moment you took your seat in the audience? It’s a particularly pertinent question for the YA world, with books like ‘The Hunger Games‘ and ‘City of Bones’ being made into films, and the actors portraying famous roles being announced months prior to the films, as if to ask ‘did we get it right?’.

As an author, characterisation, and how detailed the physical attributes you give a character can be a difficult tightrope to tread.

Personally, as a reader, I prefer to read the book before I see the film.  I LOVE to conjure characters in my mind.  To attribute the leading man with unmentioned details which I’m personally attracted, to see aspects of myself in the lead female, if she’s likeable, or perhaps characteristics of people I dislike, in her if she’s not!  My mind becomes a playground, the words on the page simply forming the framework for my games.  It’s my imagination which fills the gaps, populating a world which has been carefully crafted not just to suck me in, but to keep me there by allowing me to combine my own imagination with the authors.

If only we could take a snapshot into the mind of a reader.  A hundred readers.  To see what Hermione Granger, or Matilda, or Prince Caspian ever looked like before the characters appeared on the silver screen.

I say snapshot, because my memory is visual.  I read a book as a series of pictures, which flash through my mind as my eyes see the words.  But not every reader attributes a physical image to a person.  He or she might instead associate a smell, or a sound, or even just a sense.

And because of all that … because I know as a reader I like to colour in the lines, rather than be presented with a fully completed paint by numbers, I’ve noticed something in my writing.

I very seldom describe my characters in great detail!

The reason I’ve even touched upon this topic, is that last month I was very lucky to win Elli Writes’ June writing competition, and my prize is a portrait of one of my characters!  An amazing prize for an author whose artistic talents at school lay more in sketching still life drawings of apples, than bringing a vivid character to life.

But the prize begged the question – which character should I choose?

I’ve now completed three novels, and have the start of three other novels on the go.  That’s seven books worth of characters.  Seven books worth of people, who in my mind are as vivid as the day, and yet, who on paper, I have always been reticent to describe in too much detail.

But I’m not a lazy author.  I just want to give the reader a sense of the character.  A vague physical outline, which hopefully the emotions, and dialogue, and situations will allow the reader to colour with his or her own ideas.

Interestingly, if I squeeze my eyes shut and try to describe the snapshots in my head, I can see figures.  I can see scenes, and situations.  But the people in those scenes are fixed like mannequins, their faces indistinct.  And yet I feel like I know these characters inside out.  I mean, after all, I created them.  I understand their fears, their passions, their ideas.  They are my friends …. My favourite people.  Neat combinations of reality and fiction, some of them spliced together from people I know, others simply conjured out of necessity or situation.

And yet, for me, they’re all faceless!  As if, as an author this time, rather than a reader, I was hoping the readers themselves would fill in the gaps, and see the face of Ellody Rose, or Felicity Firestone for themselves.

So, how exactly do I choose a character for my prize?  How do I tell Liz, the editor of Elli Writes, how to draw a person who for me has no face, just a mass of emotions, decisions, and reactions?

The answer is, I didn’t.

Because in all of my books, it turns out there is always at least one character who has a face!  And these characters always tend to be male!!!

No, they’re not my ideal men, or physical embodiments of my ex boyfriends!  And no, they’re not film stars, or pin-ups  … (Though it is sometimes quite a cool game to play, coming up with who would play your lead men in the movie of your book!)

No, interestingly, the characters who I have the most clear visual impressions of, are the ones who are the most guarded.  The ones who share little with the reader, and likewise with me.  The ones I don’t understand, or don’t want to understand.  The two-timing lady player.  The emo/punk misunderstood Dream Navigator, who spends his days lashing out at those around him ….

(I won’t tell you too much more about those characters, as I don’t want to spoil it for any of you who have been reading the excerpts of Flicker and The Dream Navigator on the blog)

But what I will tell you, is that I’ve made a decision who I would love Liz to draw for me …

In The Dream Navigator there’s a character called Raye.  He’s dark, and perplexing, and only begins to open up towards the very end of the book.  But from Day One, I had the most vivid image of him.  A Korean Adam Lambert.  His hair blue black, his nails painted with black varnish, and his eyes ringed with kohl.

He fascinates me, because I don’t know or understand him, and so writing about him proved both frustrating, and really exciting.  In my head, he was the most visually distinct, and yet the hardest for me to understand!

And so now I will be handing over the gauntlet to Elli Writes 🙂 Will she understand him any better than me?  Will she be able to turn my words into a picture, and see the same boy I see in my mind every time I flick through my manuscript?

Or will she be waiting for the movie (God I really hope some day I write a movie!!!!), to see the actor who gets cast as Raye?

What do you see when you read a book?  Is it different when you’re writing?  Do your characters resemble real life people?  Do you prefer to watch a film before you read the book?  Or would you rather have your own character in your mind, and then shun the director’s presentation of that person?

As ever, please let me know what you think, either in the comments box below, or on Twitter.

C-C xxx

9 Comments

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

Emotional Jump-starts

One of the things I’ve struggled slightly with when writing this blog is the personal / professional balance.  As a reader I’m not overly interested in reading what a blogger ate for breakfast, or the exact number of words he or she has managed to write that day, but equally I like to know the person behind the words.  The unique quality of blogging is that to some degree, it’s a journal.  Unedited.  From the heart.

And whilst, as those of you who regularly read my blog will know, I’m a big advocate of keeping your personal life separate from your writing – letting it influence sentiments and scenarios, but not completely take over, so that fiction remains fiction and not an autobiography – when it comes to blogging, the lines are blurred.  The rules more fluid.

Just flicking through the offerings of the Word Press ‘writing’ tab is a good enough example of this.  Some bloggers are historians, writing blog posts like school assignments.  Others literally use their blog as a computerized diary, including information of little interest to anyone other than their closes friends.

And yet, in my experience, my most successful posts on The Elementary Circle have been those which have come from the heart.  Tales of my background – My Crazy Unorthodox Life – my aspirations as a writer – J.K Raises the Bar – my career ‘solutions’ as I endeavour to become a career author, – Don’t Forget Your Day Job – and even my internal debate as to whether I can ‘officially’ call myself an author still – So Am I an Author Yet? 

So, with all that in mind, I HAD planned to write a post about ‘Emotional Jump-starts’.  The various triggers that have kicked me into action with my writing over the years.  The things which have driven me to put pen to paper with definite passion.  Ironically one of the biggest jump starts I had in writing was a really big break-up.  I say ironic, because yesterday I was dumped!  And that’s where the good old personal/ professional line comes in, because it’s not something I particularly want to talk about, and yet in some ways it’s very pertinent to this post.

I’m a Comfort Writer.  When I’m upset, I WRITE! It’s a pattern I know, and understand, and to be honest, it’s the very reason I’m typing right now.  I kept a diary from the age of 14, and whenever I was upset or feeling down about something, I would write.  Over the years, I kept the diaries almost daily, right up to the time I began to write Flicker in Australia.  And when my journal-keeping disappeared into insignificance, it was my fiction which took it’s place – using up all my desire to write each day, but remaining my emotional outlet.

And whilst obviously a journal is hugely different to fiction, and it wouldn’t be fair to anyone to simply narrate your life day by day, for some reason it’s actually more cathartic to write about other people’s fictitious lives than it is to wallow in your own sad tales.

Writing is my chocolate.  My Bridget Jones bowlful of ice-cream.  It’s how I forget my troubles, and gain perspective on issues, whether my characters are facing those very same issues as I am, or whether I’m writing about something completely unrelated.  Writing is another world, a world where you’re not a girlfriend, or an ex-girlfriend, or a troubled employee, crap best-friend, or over-burdened mother.  It’s a world where you hold all the reigns.  You’re in total control, and you can completely craft the outcomes without having to encounter the variables of other people.

Writing isn’t just a retreat for heartbreak.  It’s an escape from grief, and from whatever else causes your pain.  Or rather, that’s what I’ve realised writing has become for me.  I tend to write something each day.  Not because I’m forcing myself to write (Check out my views on that here! – ‘Falling into the Forced Writing Trap’) but because for me it’s a necessary wind-down to the day – whether that writing is on this blog, or a book, or editing, or even just planning out a story.  But the thing I’ve noticed is that my writing behaviour changes according to my emotional state of mind.  And if I’m stressed or upset about something, not only does the writing help me organise my own personal headspace, but the calibre of what I produce is genuinely better.

‘Flicker’ was a book written from heartbreak, and grief – so much so that I spent a LONG time editting out the more journalistic sections of the novel, until I felt happy that I had skimmed out the ‘Charly’ elements from the book, and that Felicity Firestone, the main character, wasn’t simply an image of myself.

However, ‘The Dream Navigator’, my second book, and the one which is currently with publishers, was formed from a different passionate reaction.  Those of you who have been reading my blog for some time will know that I had a different agent at PFD before I was represented by the lovely Lucy Dundas, and that other agent actually asked me to sideline Flicker after about 6 months of editing, the most major edit being cutting the word count from 180,000 words down to 90,000.  I’m sure any writers reading can imagine my sentiments, when I was told to forget a book which I had spent a year and a half writing and perfecting.

I was pretty bloody angry!  And it was that anger which bred determination, and that determination which saw me put pen to paper and create the first chapter of The Dream Navigator – the section of my writing which has probably received the most critical acclaim.

So, what have I learnt from all of this (apart from that my choice in boyfriends apparently sucks?!) …

I’ve learnt that I’m an emotional writer.  And that when I’m feeling down, or angry, or passionate about something, I ought to put pen to paper.  Because the things I create will not only make me feel ten times better, but they also might turn out to be pretty damn good 🙂

What about you?  What gets you writing?  What makes your writing good?  And what turns it into something you’ll simply delete it the next time you read it?

As ever, please comment below, and feel free to tell me what you think on Twitter – http://twitter.com/#!/CC_Lester

C-C xxx

6 Comments

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

Don’t Forget the Day Job!!

Now, unless you’re J.K. Rowling, the world’s first billionaire author, or one of the lucky few writers who earn enough from advances and royalties to make writing their full-time job, then another PAID job is a necessity.

But, as I’ve realised in the past three years, finding the ideal job to keep you from becoming a starving artist can be a tough feat.

I WAS planning on starting this post with a little bit of information about the new job I’ve just started, but in the eleventh hour, after I Tweeted asking other authors what jobs they currently do, one of my best friends (who also recruited me to said new job!) messaged me to underline I wasn’t to talk about said new job!!!

Hmm … Ok, well first of all, please let me assure you that my current job is NOTHING to do with MI5 or MI6! Cool as that would obviously be!! Am pretty sure my tattoos and tongue piercing prevent me from ever working for them … that and my inherent inability to take orders from people!!!

What I CAN tell you about my new job, is that it’s actually what inspired me to take on the topic of ‘day jobs’. Because as an aspiring author, you tread an awkward tightrope.

You have a career goal in mind, something which you’re slowly working your way towards, however, until others start believing in you, you really have very little to show for your ‘career path’.

I’ve talked frequently about the different hurdles along the way to ‘becoming an author’ – having an idea for a book, starting a novel, finishing a novel, finding an agent, finding a publisher, getting a publishing date, getting a following … and all the other stuff in between.  But as you’ll all know, a lot of those hurdles are mounted out of sight.  Successes are predominantly personal.  You don’t get CV points, or cash bonuses for them.  And yet for many of us, we’ve worked at this career path harder than we’ve worked for anything else in our lives!

But very few people see that.  Very few people understand all the work going on in the background.  The edits, the revisions, the blogging, the tweeting, the endless queries to agents, the rejections … It all goes unseen until you have something physical to show for all the work.  A tangible book!

And until that moment, and for the majority of people for a long time after that first tangible book is published, to the outside world, you’re still NOT following a career path.  Because to the outside world, starter steps in a career are as an intern or as an office junior, not sending letter after letter to agencies, and not receiving a penny for it!

Which means, as a starving artist, the pressure to start a paid career of some description comes not just from your purse strings! Unfortunately, for many people, ‘I’m trying to get a book published’ isn’t an acceptable answer to the ‘what are you doing with yourself these days?’ question! It’s like replying ‘I’ve been doing some painting’ or ‘I’m trying to get into acting.’   Until you can show them actual signs of success, it’s almost judged as laziness.  Which is ironic, knowing how many hours I’ve put into writing over the past three years!

I guess one of the major issues I have, is that I have a very good degree, from a very good University, and because that degree was in Law, people expect me to want to be a lawyer.  To sit behind a desk for the rest of my life, and make far more money that way than I probably ever will from Young Adult fiction!

But anyone who knows me, knows I was never meant to be a lawyer.  I’m a traveller at heart, a people person.  Someone who wants to see the world, experience everything it has to offer, and inspire others to do the same through my writing.

So, if I’m not becoming a lawyer, what can I possibly do to make myself a well-fed artist?!

When I first started writing I was travelling.  I had nine months away from work, and all the time in the world to put electronic pen to paper.  But back in the real world, I soon realised writing is a lot harder when you’re also working 9-5.  When I lived in Canada, I worked as a nanny, probably the best job I could recommend to any aspiring author (if you like kids!!!).  The kids slept 2 hours during the day, and I often babysat in the evening, so there was lots of time to write and edit ‘on the job’, and the very nature of the job, where you are essentially being paid to be a good human being, meant I was never too mentally exhausted at the end of the day to put pen to paper.

However, unfortunately the judgmental eyes of the world (well not really, but probably my own sense of propriety) means I can’t really be a nanny back in my home country!  I’ve spent five long years at university, so I may as well do a day job which represents my educational history.  But what should I do?

Because I don’t need a career!  I don’t want to put my foot on a career ladder, because, at least in my mind, I’m already a couple of steps up another career ladder, and ok, that career hasn’t progressed far enough for me to support myself doing it, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have goals and an aim in mind.

So how do I support myself in a way which uses my brain and capabilities, but that doesn’t distract me from my career target, which is becoming a successful published author?!

My answer appears to be working as a CONTRACTOR!! (I don’t think I’m going to get into trouble with my friend for telling you guys that much! 😉 )

I’m in a well-paid job, where I use my brain, and need my degree (apparently!) but where I don’t feel mentally-drained at the end of the day, and am still inspired enough to write.  And the great thing is, I’m not expected to be in the job long-term.  As a contractor, I’m not expected to be pursuing a career path, and seeking promotion. In fact, I’m not even expected to be there in five months time!  I just go in, do my job each day, and at the end of the day, leave it in the office!

And then, I can go home every evening and pursue my career 🙂

So, for now at least, it seems I’ve found my ideal day job, to complement my ideal career!  And hopefully by the time this contract ends, I’ll have conquered at least one more hurdle on my path to a personal feeling of success!

How about you guys?  What jobs do you do to help your writing careers?  What jobs don’t work particularly well with your ‘extra-curricular’ habits?!

As ever, tell me what you think!!! Am I right, am I wrong?  Let’s start a dialogue across the global community of writers 🙂 And please let me know if there’s anything else about writing and being an author which you guys would like me to write about!!

C-C xxx

 

16 Comments

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

The Author, The Role Model

Role models is a topic particularly close to my heart.

In my life away from the written word, I’ve been a Brownie Leader for over half my life, and have always felt passionately that children need good role models.  In fact, I felt so passionately about it that I studied Role Models in the Media as part of my Masters Degree, and for some time considered pursuing a career as a children’s television presenter in order to be a role model to younger generations.

But a Young Adult fiction writer, the topic of being a role model is a little more complicated than it is as a Brownie Leader, or kids TV presenter.

As I discussed in my article ‘Sex and Swearing’  teenage readers don’t need to be patronised.  Fiction shouldn’t simply be a guise to project your beliefs on teenagers.  It’s important to know your audience, and write at a level they understand.  Characters should be believable, and their experiences relatable with.

The author must tread a tightrope, because teenagers aren’t reading fiction to hear the amplified views of their parents, or conservative fundamentalists, and yet, as an adult talking to teenagers through her writing, there is a need for some propriety, sensitivity, and an understanding of what is really necessary to the story.

The thing to remember is that Young Adults have minds of their own!  By presenting them with a story, you are not presenting them with a definitive answer, but instead with food for thought.  Ideas, situations and tales for them to process.  Characters for them to dissect, whether consciously or unconsciously, and thus models for them to follow, question and learn from.

Because the interesting part about being an author is that you have the power to create role models, but you also have the power to create anti-role models, and sometimes, if you have a point to make, this is the best way of presenting the issue at question to readers.  Going back to the idea of sex in YA novels, as mentioned in ‘Sex and Swearing’, if you really feel strongly about promiscuity and experimentation in teenagers (please note I’m talking about 17+ year olds, NOT 13 year olds!) then perhaps the best way to combat the issue is by showing a character involved in an ill thought-out one night stand, and touching on the repercussions, yet allowing the reader to make his own judgments, as opposed to only writing about teenagers who are tee-total, God-forsaking, virgins until marriage? (Twilight rant over!!)

Moving on from this discussion of role models and teenage progression into adulthood, a fellow author brought up an interesting issue earlier this week.  She had been running regular writing classes at a local youth club, only for the club to decide that writing and reading didn’t fit with the club’s important focus upon health and fitness.

The problem I have with this, is that it suggests that literature is completely at odds with fitness, exercise and the outdoors.  However in my experience, literature has been anything but that!  And I’m not just talking about reading a book when you’re on the machines in the gym (an act I do with such frequency, I should probably really invest in a Kindle!).

As an author, you present scenarios.  And whilst some of those scenarios may simply cause the reader to contemplate, others will encourage the reader to actively try something out … (and no, conservative cynics, I’m not talking about underage sex 😉 ).

When I was a child, I grew up on Enid Blyton.  Now over the years, her work has faced some controversy, with conspiracy theories that her use of golliwog dolls as characters in her books fostered racism in readers.  But, as if to illustrate the fact that children are not influenced by every single thing they read (or perhaps just to illustrate the fact that most children didn’t even realise a golliwog had anything to do with skin colour?), I didn’t emerge from years of reading Famous Five and Secret Seven as a racist!  I grew up to be a teenager, and then an adult, with a great thirst for adventure.  Because that was what the books were full of  – adventures and the outdoors!  I was fascinated by a world where people slept on heather bushes (which in reality is nowhere near as comfortable as she made it sound!), rowed across lakes and seas, and spent every spare second in the outside world.  And whilst the reader in me wanted to curl up in a chair and never put the books down, the adventurer who those stories conjured, inspired me to head out into the outside world and start out on adventures of my own.

I’m not saying that Enid Blyton is the sole reason I’ve spent most of my life travelling the world and seeking out adventures, but she definitely played an early part in things.

I suppose THIS is where I see the cross-over of being an author and a role-model.  Not to lecture kids about sex, and swearing and all the other things they hear enough lectures about in life, but to show them what the world has to offer, and inspire them to go out and try those things.

I might love to write, but that doesn’t mean I want to spend my life sitting behind a desk, and I share my time between all my passions – writing, reading, sports, fitness, travel, socialising etc …  And as long as characters have well-rounded lives, and are challenged with adventures that the readers themselves want to not only follow, but also take part in, then those readers will go on to have their own adventures.

Yes, children can be impressionable, but don’t underestimate them.  They have their own opinions and thought processes.  So feed them with ideas.  Show them what the world has to offer, and hopefully your characters will become their role models.  Not by preaching, but by inspiring!

Let me know what you think!

C-C xx

3 Comments

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

J.K. Raises the Bar

It’s been said a thousand times how J.K. Rowling and her seven Harry Potter novels have rejuvenated children’s literature and young people’s desire to read.  But what’s not talked about enough is the effect J.K. Rowling has had on authors.

Look at the events last week in London.  Fans camped out for three days to catch a glimpse of their favourite author, and the cast of the record-breaking franchise.  For the first time ever, a film premiere was held in Trafalgar Square, truly marking Rowling’s unique achievement.  Harry Potter is huge.  Beyond huge.  But it’s more than action films, and an excuse to dress up in long black robes.  The story is amazing.  Say what you will about Rowling, and her unorthodox interactions with the world and the media, but in my opinion the woman is a genius.  The stories themselves are so intricately layered, neatly-crafted jigsaws, with key pieces scattered right the way across the series.  On coffee shop napkins, and in council houses without central heating, Jo Rowling invented a world, and filled it with every intricate detail.  She created an incredible, over-arching story, but also managed to segment that story with individual all-encompassing adventures.  She penned characters who have become household names, icons, ‘Gods’ even if you believe the current Twitter trends!

Today the final movie in the franchise officially opened, and I returned home from seeing it, to notice that 4 different characters from the film are trending on Twitter.  (Interestingly, not one of them Harry himself, begging the question, has that name been removed from the trends because it’s just too popular and obvious?!)

And as I return home, having left behind a world where wands have opinions, and stone statues form a guard of honour, what I feel is INSPIRED!  For so long now, my ‘end goal’ has been getting published.  To be quite honest, as soon as the hurdle of getting myself represented by an agent was conquered, publication has been the next obstacle ahead.  And the longer it’s been there, the more it’s seemed like ‘the end’.  Getting published seemed so hard, that I felt like it was my finish line, the thing in the distance I will always be aiming for.

And yet, that really shouldn’t be the case.  Because I ought to be looking for more.  As an author growing up in this day and age, J.K. Rowling should be my inspiration.  I’m proud to be British, and I’m proud to be an author, and I guess for a long time J.K. has been raising the bar for British authors.  Asking us to look to her and truly see what we are all potentially capable of.  We can create worlds that people won’t just buy, but love.  Worlds they will conjure in their heads, and revisit time and time again.  Characters who will grow to be as beloved as family.  As familiar as their closest friends.

But J.K.’s bar isn’t just appreciation.  Look at the legacy Trafalgar Square.  Her bar, her legacy, is world domination.  A story that can change millions of lives.  A tale that can touch people young and old, from every background.  A tale which has seen her become the world’s first billionaire as a result of literature.

Today shouldn’t make the end.  It should mark the beginning.  Because for us authors, J.K. Rowling has been the flagship.  She’s blazed the way into people’s hearts, and reminded the world that even in this day and age, when a book is no longer necessarily made up of separate pages, a story CAN capture the world.

The world needs more Potters.  More Hogwarts.  The stories don’t need to be about wizards, and the settings don’t need to be schools, but that should be where we take our personal inspiration.  Our desire to suceed.

So … today I am an unpublished author.  But my goal is publication … or rather, my goal isn’t JUST publication.  My goal is to BE that person that everyone always mentions when you say you’re trying to become an author.

‘Oh, so you’re trying to become the next J.K. Rowling?’

‘Hmm … well, yes actually, I am!’    After all, that scene last week in Trafalgar Square was pretty bloody cool 😉

C-C xxx

14 Comments

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

About the Author – My Crazy Unorthodox Life!

Continuing my trio of blog posts this afternoon (see The Author Package, and My Writer Package!) I’ve decided to answer the Apprentice Candidate question, and hopefully also add to my personal ‘Author Package’, by telling you about my crazy, somewhat unorthodox life.

Torres del Paine, Patagonia, Chile at sunrise

 I think the key thing about my life is that I’ve never seen boundaries in the same way other people do.  Running a marathon in another country isn’t a life-long pursuit for me, it’s something I’ll sign up to four weeks beforehand.  I spend my life writing emails, searching out opportunities, taking chances, and generally trying to fill my life with as much excitement as possible.

On the inside of my left wrist I have a tattoo of two words – Carpe Diem.  As a child ‘Dead Poet’s Society’ was my favourite film, and it’s a motto that I’ve tried to apply to my life every single day.  ‘Seize the Day’ insists the Latin translation, and to be honest, I’m one of those people who when I don’t seize it, and look back on what I consider a ‘wasted’ day, I get rather frustrated!

My ACTUAL real wrist! How’s that for sharing? 😉 

I was orphaned at nineteen, which definitely had a profound effect on my attitude to life, however I maintain that deep down I’ve always been this person, the situation with my parents simply amplified this attitude of mine. At primary school I was an over-achiever.  Too young to really understand it, I constantly demanded my teachers attention, resulting in a host of awards and prizes, but rather unflattering school reports like ‘Charlotte needs to learn she’s not the only pebble on the beach!’

Hmm … well, I’m pretty sure I’ve learnt that now, though I’d probably suggest my pebble looks rather different to the norm!

At secondary school I was an all-rounder.  I was still academic, scoring straight As and A*s throughout school, but for me life wasn’t just about studying.  I played various sports, for the school and for the county, won a coveted role as a DJ on a children-run radio station, presenting the Breakfast show, and was sent to Japan to represent Great Britain in an International Schools Forum.  I was chief prosecutor in the county Mock Trial competition, Prime Minister in Youth Parliament and a Millennium Volunteer.  Outside of school I volunteered as a helper with Beaver Scouts, Brownies, Cubs and Guides (organisations I still volunteer with, 15 years on).

I did my Gold Duke of Edinburgh climbing Mt Kilimanjaro, my Queen’s Scout in the Swiss Alps, and saved up for two years to do a World Challenge across Venezuela.  My parents weren’t wealthy at all, and my Dad was often out of work caring for my Mum, who was ill throughout my time at secondary school, so I did a series of part-time jobs, from as young as 13.  I always had an expedition or a trip to be saving for, and so I worked working as a waitress, bowling alley lane host, a children’s entertainer, and then a lifeguard.

Looking back, I was the kind of child who would probably annoy even me now!  I know one close friend of mine, who if they saw 16 year old me, would describe me as ‘that kind of girl!’ with a disparaging roll of the eye!  But all those things were character building, and the more I did, the more I wanted to do.

At nineteen, on my gap year, I took a job teaching English in the middle of nowhere in China.  At a time when the internet was a lot more dubious, I received a random email asking if I was still looking for a teaching job in China, having been turned down by a number of major schools and universities for being too young and inexperienced.  Huaihua College simply asked if I could speak English!  And so, with that requirement fulfilled, I set off for China with my best friend at the time.  We literally weren’t even sure anyone would meet us at Beijing Airport, and had agreed that if that was the case, we’d do two weeks in the capital and then just fly back home.  Someone did meet us, and we took a 27 hour journey to the middle of nowhere.  Huaihua had a population of hundreds of thousands, and yet together with a Canadian girl who was teaching in a local middle school, myself and my friend were two of only three white people in the entire city!  We were literally treated like film stars every time we walked down the street!  I taught in China for six months, before returning to England to take up my studies at Cambridge.

Receiving my Cosmopolitan ‘Fun Fearless Female’ Ultimate Family Girl Award in 2008 from Matt Di Angelo and Gethin Jones

(I didn’t realise I’d won so literally got ready 5 minutes beforehand!)

It was at the end of my first term at Cambridge when I became orphaned.  I lost both of my parents to cancer in 2003, literally starting the year with two ‘healthy’ parents, and ending it with neither of them.  As the oldest sibling, with very little extended family, responsibility fell on me to make funeral arrangements, sell our family home, and see that my younger sister was looked after properly.  Once all the admin had been done, I fell apart.  For about a term I was unrecognisable.  Lazy and uninspired, I had hit rock bottom.  And that was when I remember thinking, ‘are you honestly going to let this take you too?’.  My sister had lost a mother and a father.  It wasn’t right to throw away her sister too.  I ought to be the person my parents had brought me up to be.  The daughter they had known.  And so I guess I got myself back, but in overdrive.

As a child I had become interested in cricket.  At the time it was a sport very few women played, let alone girls, and when the local women’s team was ill-equipped to take on a nine year-old beginner, my Dad became heavily involved in the sport, so as to facilitate me playing.  He took coaching, umpiring and scoring courses, and set up clubs and even county teams simply so that girls my age could play the sport.  I had actually given up cricket at 15, discovering boys and part-time jobs, and other teenage distractions, but Dad’s death kick-started something in me, and I returned to the sport.  I trialed for the Cambridge team in my first year, becoming the only Fresher to play at the Varsity Match at Lord’s that year.  In my second year I became Vice-Captain, and in my third year, I retired from the sport after captaining Cambridge against Oxford at Lord’s, and changing the status of the women’s sport to Full Blue – a huge achievement at the time.

During my time at Cambridge I also became heavily involved in a number of other extra-curricular activities (often to the displeasure of my Director of Studies!).  I ski-raced for the University on dry slopes and snow, edited both my College Magazine, and the Cambridge University Law Review, ran the Paris Marathon, and after two years on the Ospreys Committee for University Sportswomen, held the coveted position of Ospreys President.  I was heavily involved in the Cambridge ‘Drinking Society’ scene (something similar to sororities and fraternities), despite ironically only ever drinking Diet Coke on nights out, and I was President of my College May Ball Committee – a two year position which saw me in charge of a £140,000 budget. I literally crammed my university experience with as much as I possibly could.

My aim was to have the most all-rounded experience I could, something probably best demonstrated in my first year when I took on the role of mascot for the college rugby team, and happily danced around the rugby pitch perimeter in a fluffy cat suit.  For me, university wasn’t just about grades, it was about seizing life and making the most of experiences, and in my four years at Cambridge, my time definitely wasn’t without those things.

Despite my extra-curricular distractions, and probably much to the surprise of my Director of Studies!, I graduated Cambridge with a good degree in Law.  At the time, Oxbridge graduates were being snapped up by Magic Circle Solicitor firms, however behind a desk was not how I saw myself.  The only thing that had every really appealed about the firms was their international offices, and the opportunity to travel, however this was something I now understood I could achieve without a legal job. Inspired by the Children’s TV Show Blue Peter, I decided to pursue a Masters in Broadcast Journalism at University of Westminster.

If I’m honest, the step away from the stringent requirements and administration at Cambridge made me rather carefree, and I found myself literally doing enough to get by in my course, whilst taking every opportunity to travel.  I designed projects for myself which took me to South Africa to report on AIDS orphans, and then to the Philippines to make a documentary about the recent murders of journalists on the island of Mindanao.

I also started my own YouTube Channel, called ‘Challenge Charly’, where I filmed myself doing a series of endurance and extreme sport challenges in Britain and around the world. During my Masters, I climbed to Everest Base Camp, ran the Rome Marathon, did a 42 mile hike in a day, a 100 mile cycle ride in a Day, the London to Brighton cycle ride, visited the jungles of Borneo, learnt to wake board, ice-climb, sail a yacht and fly a plane.  I did air acrobatics, a bushcraft course, several adventure races in the British Isles, and my Advanced Open Water scuba dive course.  I did the Three Peaks Challenge as part of my Queen’s Guide Award, cycled across Cambodia, and ran around London in a gorilla suit for charity.

Basically I spent the inheritance I received from selling our family home to have as many exciting experiences as I possibly could, and documented them all on video.

Inspired by the things I achieved during my Masters, I then decided to carry on traveling after my second graduation.  I fulfilled a life-long dream and booked a ‘Round The World’ plane ticket, to take me to Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and South and Central America.

My first sky dive – Mission Beach, Queensland, Australia

On my own, I spent two months in Australia, doing everything from volunteering on a Scout Camp, to scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef and doing my first sky dive.  In New Zealand I hiked glaciers, faced my fear of heights doing a bungee jump, and read the Twilight series in four days.  It was actually getting so excited by a series of books which inspired me to put pen to paper and begin to write some of the stories I’d had in my head for years.

I spent eight months traveling from Patagonia up to Canada all by my self, and in that time I did some weird and wonderful stuff.  I worked for a month for board and lodging as a groom on a polo farm in Argentina, with about ten words of Spanish to my name!  I climbed Mt Aconcagua (the highest mountain in South America) all by myself – a foolish, foolish move! – and lived with people I met at bustops!  I took 28 hour after 28 hour-long overnight bus journeys and met some incredible people.  I did the Inca Trail, and the Lost City jungle trek, sailed from Colombia to Panama, and did every adventurous activity I had the chance to try along the way.  In Honduras I stopped on Utila, in the Bay Islands, and completed my PADI Rescue Diver.

And then, when I finally came home, a year later, I decided I needed to go away again, and just two weeks later headed to the ski resort of Whistler, Canada, to find a job to begin repaying all the debt I’d wracked up travelling!

Whistler ended up being my base for a year and a half.

I did two ski seasons there, qualifying as both a ski and snowboard instructor during that time, and I used the shoulder seasons (Spring and Autumn) to travel, completing my Dive Master and First Aid Instructor courses back on the island of Utila in Honduras. I came home two months ago, which I guess brings you up to where I am now. I guess the thing about me, is I’ve never seen the world in quite the same way other people do.  I see it as a playing field.  A place for adventures – ours for the taking.  And nothing will stand in my way to have those adventures (whether it’s my bank balance – hence the heaps of debt I then had to pay off!!!! or people’s assumptions of the ‘right career path.’)

Ok, so I have a Law Degree from Cambridge, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I have to be a lawyer.  I know it’s often frowned upon to jump off the bandwagon (trust me I’ve had some interesting comments from peers along the way!) but I just think your life is WHAT YOU MAKE OF IT! And the more I’ve achieved, the more I’ve done … the more I’ve wanted to do.

Anyone regularly reading this blog will know the past two months have been my idea of Hell.  I’ve been sitting around with nothing to do, waiting for a start date on a job.  I live my life for adventures and my list gets ever longer. I think that’s why I originally wanted to be a Blue Peter presenter.  They seemed to have the ideal job – trying every activity and going to every place imaginable – but then I realised those were things I could do alone.  Whilst obviously being a TV presenter is a career where you could do all those things and still be ‘working’, I realised that writing is also a job you can do ‘on the go’.   And that actually, all of this life experience – all of my strange and wacky work experience, and all the people I’ve met along the way, can actually be of use to me in my future career.

Because writing is about understanding.  Understanding people and understanding experiences.  Not everyone is going to run a marathon in their life, or hike up to the top of Mt.  Kilimanjaro, but as an author who HAS done those things, I can relive them for people.  I can help people have those experiences in their minds, and possibly even inspire them to go out and try some of the weird and wonderful things I’ve done – the initial reason for creating Challenge Charly.

I’m sorry this has turned out to be such a long blog post.  It’s not meant to be a CV, or a ‘wow aren’t I amazing’ piece, I’m just trying to explain why I maybe think slightly differently to your average writer, and why I’m so passionate about writing and travelling, and inspiring others.  It’s one of the reasons I most enjoy writing for a teenage audience, because they, in particular, are the ones deciding exactly what they want from life.

Your life is what you make of it!  And I really hope my life story is reams and reams longer than these couple of thousand words.  I hope I have many adventures left ahead of me, and I really hope that I’m writing along the way, and that one day I have the opportunity to share those adventures with thousands of people and hopefully inspire them to try something they currently see as outside the barriers of their own life.

Test the barriers.  Push them.  You’re the only one who put them there!

C-C xxx

23 Comments

Filed under C-C Lester, Novel Excerpt, The Dream Navigator, Unsigned Author Commentary

My Writer Package!

So, following on from my last post, I think it’s really important as an author writing in 2011 that you’re accessible.  For the most part, writing has moved beyond a mystery solitary figure semi- anonymously penning a novel.  Authors have become social figures, who are recognised in the street, and who have fan bases who are genuinely interested in them as people, not just as writers.

This was actually something which came up when I was first signed to Peters, Fraser & Dunlop.  My agent at the time underlined her interest in other areas of my life.  As a former Broadcast Journalism student, films I had made were readily available on the internet by simply Googling my name, and it seemed this greater package was something which had boosted the appeal of my writing and my novel.

In a similar vein, I decided to apply for the Apprentice UK a few weeks ago.  I’ve been asked to attend an audition on Monday, which I will no longer be able to go to, having FINALLY received a start date on the job I’ve been waiting to start ever since I returned home from Canada two months ago.  However, when I was submitting my application for the show, one of the questions caught my eye.  ‘What’s the most interesting thing about you?’

Not feeling like it was something I could answer myself, I turned to my boyfriend, and asked him to answer on my behalf.  ‘You’re ridiculous!’ he replied. (Cheers boyf!) ‘Your life is ridiculous!’ he clarified.  ‘I’ve never met anyone like you!  Just write down some of the stuff you’ve done in recent years …’.

It’s something I have to admit, I have heard before.  I’ve always lived my life to a slightly different song-sheet to those around me, and often friends’ parents comment that they don’t know people their own age who have done the things I’ve done in my 27 years.  But almost two years has passed since that initial conversation with my agent, and those two years have been taken up with three new novels, and several edits, so it was easy to put that side of my ‘career as an author’ on hold.

However, now, as I explore the value you can add to your role as an author, or a wannabe author, I think it’s important to perhaps share my own story with readers of my blog – my potential future fans! I have alluded to some parts of my life before, when discussing how I came to become an author, but there are lots of things I’ve left out, because I didn’t think they were specific to my writing career.  They are, however, specific to me.  And I think that’s an important point to remember, being an author in 2011.  Anything that’s specific to you, can also be specific to you as an author.  People WANT to see the face behind the writing mask, and to know more about you than which county in England you live in, and how many dogs you own!

I’ve talked before about Google stalking and the privacy barriers of the internet, and that’s something that comes in here too.  Hopefully, if you empower your audience with some information about yourself, they won’t feel the need to more aggressively hunt it down themselves!

Ok without further ado, I guess it’s time to get on and add to My Author Package —>

C-C xxx

1 Comment

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