This weekend I found myself at a bit of a loose end. Having rain-checked my social life for a weekend of (paid) overtime (as opposed to the currently unpaid writing kind!) my employers decided in the eleventh hour on Friday that weekend work was no longer necessary, and so, rather than go creeping back to my friends, in an attempt to convince them their company IS more important than my non-existent bank balance, I opted for an uncharacteristic weekend at home.
Now. those of you who ‘know’ me, or at least a bit of my background, will know that I was orphaned in my teens. At the time I had to sell my family home asap, and ended up moving in with the family of a close friend. I’ve now lived with my ‘second family’ for the best part of eight years, on and off, between uni and travels, and having just returned from three years abroad, I’m back playing teenager in a family home.
So, in an attempt not to outstay my welcome, and in preparation for the day when I actually become a fully-fledged adult, I decided on Sunday that the time had come to sort out my stuff … Now when I say my stuff, what I mean is the vast majority of my family possessions, which have ended up in the attic at my second home. I was orphaned in the holidays of my first term at university, and desperate to return to ‘normal life’ as soon as possible, we sold the house in a whirlwind … leaving the loft full of boxes I literally haven’t looked at in eight years.
Cue a day full of inevitable tears, as I sifted through photos and clothes, and trinkets, and bereavement cards, trying to work out which things were vital to my memories of my parents and which other things no longer were.
But the day wasn’t just full of sadness … in fact a number of laughs were had at the expense of ‘teenage me’, as I fished out notes sent in class, ranking systems of all the boys I knew at 15 (an amusing number of whom are still in my adult life!) and a series of emails and MSN conversations which I had printed off the computer ten or so years ago (God, could you imagine printing off every single one of your emails these days??? Rather worryingly said emails had been arranged in binders with individual plastic sleeves … teenage me clearly had WAY too much time on her hands!!)
But anyway … I digress … because aside from the memories, and the laughs and tears … I found something else in my attic on Sunday. Yes, it’s gonna be a corny one … INSPIRATION.
It’s easy, at this limbo stage in writing, where some people believe in you, and you’ve achieved some small successes, but where the literary world often appears like an insurmountable mountain on the horizon, to give up. To doubt yourself, and your abilities. To give yourself a shake, and ask yourself if this really is your dream, your destiny. Is it just a whim? Are you having a laugh at your own expense? Is it time to acknowledge that you have a decent law degree, and go and use it, rather than babysitting professionally, in the name of ‘creativity’. Ok, ok, so that last one is just me 😉
But honestly, it can be really really tough, day in day out, to find not just the inspiration to write, but the inspiration to believe in yourself. To believe in your dream. To see the light at the end of the writing’s tunnel of purgatory, and know that if you keep putting in the hours, eventually it really will pay off.
And so sometimes you need to rummage in the attic, and find the things that remind you of the writer you’ve always been.
As I rifled through boxes I hadn’t touched since I was a young teenager, time after time I fell upon notebooks. Scraps of paper. Stationery I’d half-inched from law firms where I’d done work experience
And every single one of those scraps contained a story. An idea. Not for a law degree, or a career in medicine, or life as a banker … But ideas for stories. Tales I concocted in my head, and had to get onto paper, regardless of who read them.
Rummaging through those boxes, I realised something. C-C Lester : Author, isn’t someone I’ve simply become in the past three years, after finishing my first novel. It’s someone I’ve always been.
About a month ago my primary school closed down. For the first time in almost twenty years, I tip-toed around a miniature school which had once seemed so large, marveling over the difference perspective can make on memories. As part of the Farewell event, one of the classrooms had been filled with albums from over the years. Photos, programs, notes. Snippets of time stuffed into scrapbooks.
Now if you asked me what I had been like at primary school, I’d have called myself a swot. Top of the class, too loud for my own good, but good at sports too. Undoubtedly a rather annoying all-rounder. And yet as I flicked through the albums documenting my years at the tiny school, it was interesting where I found my name. There was no record of my academic achievements, or of my sports day wins. And yet every single one of my short story prizes could be found in one of the albums. It seemed, even at seven, I was an unwitting writer in the making. And even the primary school historian had understood which of my achievements were of most important.
The inspiration doesn’t stop there. I guess I’ve always liked images. Whether I’m writing a novel, or a legal essay, I like to string together the pieces, to chart the flow of an idea or an image throughout the work. Like linking beads with a string. And so I guess this past month, the beads I keep seeing are the ones my mind wants me to see.
Because those boxes I turfed through from the loft didn’t JUST contain stories. They contained photos, and clothes, and hundreds and hundreds of pounds worth of Backstreet Boys memorabilia (please don’t judge me!). But it was the writing which caught my attention. The writing which peeked my downtrodden heart and made me remember who I am. Who I’ve always been. Who I can be…
And so, one final note on inspiration. I always call Flicker my ‘first novel’. The first book I saw through from start to finish. But technically that’s not true. When I was fourteen I wrote a book called ‘Waking Fran’. It was about a girl in a coma, who is visited by her friends and family, and every time she gets a new visitor, the person’s arrival triggers a new memory inside her dreamlike coma world. God knows if it’s any good, I’m pretty sure the manuscript is actually in one of the three boxes I’m yet to rifle through … if you’re lucky, perhaps one day I’ll even include an excerpt or two on the blog! But the story itself isn’t the important part. Because despite probably only scratching 20,000 words, if that. Fourteen year-old me posted that story to a publisher!
And in the loft on Sunday, I discovered my first rejection letter.
Now, this was 1998 remember. And so this wasn’t a slick email response to a query by an agent, but a pre-printed compliments slip, where the only words written in pen were the date ‘8th October 1998’, my name (spelled wrong), and ‘The Editor’ (because whoever signed it wouldn’t even put his or her name to the standard rejection note pad slip!!!!).
Walker Books have since rejected one of my ‘adult’ novels … ironically I think they didn’t even grace my agent with a response to her query (don’t even get me started on that aspect of editor ettiquette) – surely it makes the pre-printed rejection compliments slip seem rather classy??
But that isn’t the point … the point is I have a bit between my teeth. I wasn’t just rejected last week or last month. I was rejected thirteen years ago. And I’ve bloody well kept writing … and finished three novels and some since getting that first rejection.
The rejection letter in question now has pride of place on the pinboard above my bed. Because THAT is my inspiration. In years to come, when I’m the next J.K. Rowling, maybe I’ll even get my own rejection notepad printed up, and audatiously sign off rejection notes TO EDITORS with nothing but the moniker ‘The Author’ … or maybe, back out of dreamland, I’ll just score my first book deal, and be able to frame that first ever rejection alongside my first ever acceptance 🙂