Monthly Archives: October 2011

New Start to Flicker!!!

So I promised to return to ‘Flicker’ … and that’s exactly what I’ve done 🙂  Those of you who regularly read the blog will know the original first few chapters can be found HERE, but after a year away from the story, I’ve decided to edit it again.  Here’s the ‘new’ opening scenes!! 

As ever, it’s great to hear what you think!

Cheers, C-C xx

Flash Forward

Jets of hot white steam plumed violently into the air, and the open wounds in the landscape belched thick black mud. The island hissed and fizzed, a volatile volcanic wasteland. At the flick of the old man’s hand a wall of flames appeared above the acid-filled lake. Flic stared up at him, no longer able to fight the instinct that somehow he was answering questions she hadn’t even realised she was asking.

‘Tell me you haven’t looked into the heart of a fire and felt its very soul?’ he asked. ‘I know you Felicity Firestone, in the same way I knew your mother, and this is your destiny! It’s in your blood!’

1. Fugitive

December 2009

Flic frowned up at the departures board, struggling under the weight of her backpack. All around her Heathrow Airport buzzed with excitement, happy holidaymakers eagerly anticipating life on the other side of the departure lounge. She shifted her gaze at the itinerary in her hand – an open return trip to Australia of all places! And yet Flic was feeling anything but excited. She didn’t want to go away. She wanted to go home! Not that she even knew where that was any more …

The house she’d grown up in was still there of course, but it was no longer hers. And even if it had been, all it would have been was a shell. Just one more thing back in Bath to remind her of everything she had lost. All the people who mattered were gone.

Flic gripped the page tightly. She was making the right decision. In fact, Mum had made the right decision for her … without even knowing the half of it! She stared around the airport one last time, immediately chiding herself for looking. Ally wasn’t going to come. No matter how much she wanted it, no matter how many times she prayed, he wasn’t going to magically appear at the check-in desk and beg her to stay. He wasn’t going to tell her what she wanted to hear. That this had all just been a big mistake. He wasn’t going to do any of those things, because he’d already had three months to run back to her side, and he hadn’t come.

Hugging her day-sack close to her chest, Flic stepped reluctantly in the direction of the check-in desks, and tried to push her doubts to one side. She wanted to go home … but maybe that was actually where she was going. After all, her mother had been born in Australia, and had always promised to take Flic there one day. Flic had just never expected that when she did visit her mother’s homeland, Amelia would only be with her in spirit.

An unruly tear escaped her eye all of a sudden, and Flic brushed it aside, angrily gritting her teeth. This wasn’t how all this was meant to begin. This was her gap year, an adventure. Her time to see the world, experience new things, meet new people. Her opportunity to make a new life for herself … one to replace the life that she had so suddenly lost. And she wasn’t going to be able to do any of those things if she stood around crying and moping.

With a newfound sense of purpose, she marched determinedly towards the Qantas check-in counter, but her determination was short-lived, as she took a step too far and slammed right into the last person in the line. Flic flushed red and mumbled an apology. The man shrugged easily and caught her eye, his gaze lingering ever so slightly. Flic looked hurriedly down at her hands, embarrassed by the foreign attention. If it really was attention? She frowned at herself, all too aware that she’d never been in this situation before.

Flic glanced awkwardly up at the man again. He was classically good-looking – his jaw chiselled, and hair jet-black. As he turned back to face the front of the queue, she could make out the well-defined muscles of his wide shoulders and back beneath his thin t-shirt, broad arms held casually at his sides. It seemed to take her a moment to realise exactly how attractive he was. It had just been so long since she was last single! With Ally at her side she’d never had any reason to look at other guys. But Ally wasn’t at her side any more. Times had changed. And it was time for Flic to change along with them.

This was the right thing to do. Going to Australia. This was where Amelia had wanted her to be, just three months on from her death. The will had spelled that out in no uncertain terms. Tickets had been booked, research secretly carried out, and a place on a two-month tour reserved in her name. Her mother’s last actions. Her very final wish. It seemed Australia was where Flic was meant to be. Thousands of miles away from the funeral, the ex-boyfriend, and her stale university dreams.

Flic shifted the weight of her rucksack on her shoulders, grudgingly acknowledging the realities of the past that she would soon be leaving behind. She’d been carrying so much for so long. Not just since her mother’s death, but long before it, watching, futile, as breast-cancer wrecked and ravaged her vibrant young mother. Seeing Amelia suffer had been quite literally soul-destroying. And yet she had packed it all away, memories to face at a later date, and instead busied herself nursing her mother, and trying to savour the painful last days with the woman who had been her entire family. She knew she ought to begin to deal with it all. It had been three months. Perhaps now, as she embarked on a new adventure, away from the stresses of university, and everyday life, this was her opportunity to begin to come to terms with everything?

She frowned, and looked resolutely over at the check-in counter. One step at a time.

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‘Good Evening Miss Firestone!’ The air hostess beamed as Flic finally stepped aboard her flight and handed over her boarding pass. Flic nodded grudgingly. The past three hours had been an uncomfortable waiting game, wedged between impatient businessmen and excitable children in the security cattle queues. Finally past the scanners, the departure gate had changed three times, each one located at a different end of the airport. Flic had been left beyond flustered – out of breath, sweating from every pore, and utterly amazed that she’d actually found the plane on time!

Still breathing heavily, Flic followed the air hostess’s directions and made her way despondently towards the seat which would be her prison-cell for the next night and day. As her eyes skimmed the crowds of other passengers settling down in their own seats, something inside her flipped unexpectedly, and she found herself wondering where the man from the queue might be. For a second she wavered with the idea that perhaps she should have put on some make-up in the airport toilets, but immediately chided herself for the thought, looking down at the baggy tracksuit and greying t-shirt which she’d thrown on without so much of a thought that morning. It was going to take more than make-up to cover up the realities of the past three months. No, Flic was best off burrowing herself into her seat, and hiding beneath the airline sleep mask for the duration of the flight. At least that way, if the handsome stranger was anywhere nearby, on this crowded flight of hundreds, she wouldn’t embarrass herself any more than she already had.

Carefully she took her gaze away from her fellow passengers and instead concentrated on the seat numbers, searching out her vacant seat. ‘Twenty One, Twenty Two, Twenty Three …’ She mentally ticked off the rows, and finding her place, reached straight for the overhead locker, untangling Ally’s water-polo hoodie from around herself with one hand. It had been the only item of his clothing that she hadn’t been able to part with. With a frown at all it symbolised, she shoved the jumper into the locker, and slammed it shut with a rather unnecessary bang.

As promised, she sank defeatedly down into the aeroplane seat, and began fishing around in her daysack for her sleeping mask.

‘Woah girl … what did it ever do to you?’ came the voice beside her. Flic turned confused, ‘I’m sorry what …?’ She asked, stopping short at the sight of her next-door neighbour. It was the same man she had crashed into in the check-in queue. The same gorgeous man who Flic had crashed straight into just a few hours beforehand. ‘The overhead locker!’ He continued. ‘Hang on …’ he smiled, a flicker of recognition in his eye. ‘You were the one in the queue earlier!’ He grinned, an easy grin, which revealed teeth so perfect they could only have been achieved with the help of serious metal work. ‘Bad day?’ he asked simply, raising a cheeky eyebrow.

She took a deep breath, registering her sweaty, thoughtless appearance. Bad day was beyond an understatement! Even if she hadn’t just run circles around Heathrow, this situation would have been a nightmare. Since the funeral Flic had barely eaten, let alone brushed her hair or opened a make-up bag, and yet suddenly she was waking up to concerns that hadn’t entered her consciousness for months. She was a shadow of herself. And for the first time since Amelia’s death, she cared enough not to want to be.

She shot the guy a sideways glance, carefully noting the absence of any girlfriend beside him. Tucked in the window seat, a grumpy-looking old man fiddled with his seatbelt. Flic focussed her attention on the friendly stranger, gritting her teeth nervously and wondering how she’d been able to look at him so impassively before. Neat black locks framed a pair of cool grey eyes that had a definite sparkle. His angular jaw was speckled with dark stubble, cropped to a designer length. And his clothes were casual, and yet perfectly selected. He could have stepped right off the page of a magazine. She frowned inwardly. What was she doing? He was being polite! Nothing more! She ought to be happy that her head and heart seemed to finally be waking up after lying dormant for so long. It was a start. She shouldn’t ruin it by over-thinking anything. Sensing the natural end of the polite conversation, Flic leaned forward, deciding to give him an easy out. She leafed through the contents of the seat-back pocket, settling on the in-flight movie schedule, and then settled back to pretend to read, her heart still racing from the novelty of it all.

‘I’m Daniel’ the man continued, ignoring her attempts at silence, and extending a firm hand across her magazine. A proper introduction. His voice was a neat mix of South African and English boarding school. Flic flinched, startled. ‘Felicity … Flic’ she stumbled, awkwardly grasping his fingers.

Her unease seemed to amuse him. He raised a confident eyebrow, ‘So, ‘Felicity-Flic’ what takes you to Australia?’ He had introduced himself to her! He had initiated conversation! She had given him an out, and yet he had initiated a conversation. All to aware of the flip of unexpected lust in her chest, Flic tried to still her excitement, but allowed herself to turn properly to face him. Daniel. Distracted immediately by the intensity of his cool eyes, Flic looked quickly down and tried to focus on what he was asking. What a question! She opted for the simplest answer. ‘I’m on my Gap Year. I’ve got a two-month adventure tour booked, starting in Cairns.’

‘An adventure tour?’ his eyes sparkled with interest. At least she hoped it was interest, and he wasn’t just humouring her. Something about his manner put her ever-so-slightly on guard, as if she were the butt of an unknown joke. He was just so slick. Flic couldn’t help wondering, why someone so attractive would make this much effort to speak to her? Or was it just her imagination? Just another facet of her insecurity? Why did he have any reason to be anything other than polite and friendly? They would be sharing neighbouring seats for the best part of twenty-four hours.

‘An adventure tour?’ he continued, showing a genuine interest in her words. ‘ So you’re a bit of an adrenaline junkie then?’ Flic decided to ignore the nagging suspicion that he was mocking her, and trust his apparent sincerity.

‘I guess you could say that! Though I’m into endurance sports too,’ she heard herself babble. Flirt-mode! She registered in utter surprise. This was her flirt-mode! Flic had been so young when she’d first begun dating Ally, she couldn’t even remember ever having had to flirt! It had just been so easy – they’d been school friends, and their friendship had taken what felt like its natural course, gradually developing into a relationship. Looking back she couldn’t remember even attempting to flirt before. She waited nervously for his response, wondering if she sounded too cheesy.

His eyes flashed appreciatively down at her t-shirt, ‘Yeah I can see that … the London Marathon … wow!’ She shrugged off his praise, ‘It’s not really that hard. I think the only reason I finished was because I’m so stubborn! Trust me, it had nothing to do with sporting ability!’ ‘Impressive, nonetheless.’ Flic really wasn’t sure how to take him. He was just so self-assured. Ally was a confident guy, but Daniel practically smouldered charm. It was definitely disconcerting, though perhaps being out of her comfort zone was exactly what she needed?

‘So, Daniel’, she grinned, feigning confidence, and stumbling at what could potentially be flirtation. ‘What’s your sport of choice? Or can I guess?’ She grinned cheekily, realising the comment permitted a quick glance at his body. He was muscular, yet streamlined. Daniel lacked the shoulders of a rower … shoulders Ally had … and his thighs were heavy-looking, but not rugby-esque.

‘Go on …’ he nodded encouragingly.

‘Hmm … horse-riding?’ Daniel raised an eyebrow, and she groaned inwardly at her behaviour. He was a twenty year-old guy, not an eight year-old girl! Maybe it was a good thing she hadn’t had to flirt for three years, she was appalling! ‘Sorry, I meant polo,’ she corrected herself, wincing slightly as she waited for his response.

Daniel simply smiled. ‘I guess you could draw some similarities… I ride bikes.’ Flic stared at him out of the corner of her eye. ‘There’s no way you’re a cyclist! Sorry, but you’re way too … stacked!’ She blurted, a hot blush colouring her as she realised what she’d said. ‘Why thank you!’ Daniel laughed easily, and ran a steel tongue-bar between his lips. ‘No you’re right, I ride motorbikes not mountain bikes. I guess I’ve always been into my gadgets, and bikes are the most fun gadget of them all!’

Felicity stared awkwardly down at the magazine in her lap, not really knowing what to say. She was still embarrassed about the horse-riding comment, and the conversation had led to something she knew absolutely nothing about. Her vague bloom of confidence was disappearing almost as quickly as it had appeared.

Daniel filled the silence. ‘So Felicity-Flic, how about you tell me about this adventure tour?’ Flic smiled, glad for the change of subject. ‘Well to be honest, I don’t know a great deal about it! My Mum booked it, and she wanted it to be a surprise. All I really know is that I start in Cairns, and I’m not heading home until at least next February.’

When Daniel didn’t interrupt, Flic carried on, suddenly aware of how nice it was to talk about Amelia with someone who didn’t cry at the mention of her name. At the funeral she’d felt like the responsible adult, consoling each of her mother’s friends in turn.

‘Mum really loved the outdoors. She grew up in Australia, so I guess it was in her blood! Had me camping before I could walk!’ Flic smiled, distracted for a second, and then remembered what they were talking about. ‘Anyway, I’m guessing the tour’ll be pretty basic. No ‘flash-packing’ for me, that’s for sure!’

‘Flash-packing!’ Daniel grinned. ‘I like the sound of that – not heard that before! Your mum sounds pretty special!’ he added kindly.

Flic nodded slowly, ‘Yeah she is … was, I mean …, she stumbled, still not used to the past tense. She took a deep breath. The more often she said this out loud, the easier it would be to come to terms with. ‘Um, actually she died a couple of months ago. I only found out about the trip in her will.’

Something flickered in Daniel’s eyes, an emotion she found hard to read. Maybe it was just awkwardness, a reaction she’d met an awful lot recently. ‘I’m really sorry’, he said quietly. Flic frowned inwardly. Why did everyone do that? Apologise. It wasn’t their fault. No one was to blame. That was the problem.

‘Sorry,’ Daniel said again, and she turned her attention back to him. ‘That was a stupid thing to say. I’m sure you’re already fed up with people apologising for no reason.’ He stumbled, and Flic frowned at him in disbelief. She shook her head, wondering if she had heard him right. ‘How did you ….’

He smiled awkwardly, the strain of the expression showing at the sides of his eyes. ‘I lost my mother too … but she died a very long time ago. I never really knew her … and I’ve spent a lifetime having people apologise the moment they hear she’s gone. And it’s not their fault, they didn’t even know her! It’s not their fault …’ His voice faltered and Flic frowned again, not certain she understood the full meaning of what he was saying. She waited to see if he would continue.

Finally he spoke, his tone changed. ‘So how’s your Dad holding up?’ Flic shrugged, ‘I never knew him. It’s always just been me and Mum. I guess she was more like a friend than a mum in a lot of ways. How about you, are you close to your Dad?’ she asked politely.

The question didn’t produce the reaction she had hoped. He seemed even more uneasy! Finally, more quietly than before, he replied ‘You’d think I ought to be, wouldn’t you? But I guess I reminded him too much of her, Mum …’ Daniel paused, then went to say something and stopped. He looked down the iPod in his hand, idly spinning his index finger around the dial.

He had said nothing, and yet Flic understood that he had said far too much. A few simple sentences had shattered his picture-perfect armour, revealing a lost soul that she understood far too well. Acting before she even had a chance to think, Flic reached across the arm rest and grasped the stranger’s hand.

Daniel’s hand was so cold it was as if Flic’s body heat drained straight into it. She snatched her hand back, motivated by the shock and by the embarrassment of her actions. He hadn’t even said anything poignant. She had simply read between the lines of his words, clearly reading too much into a few throwaway comments. So his mother had died too, and he didn’t get on with his Dad. There was no cause to think anything more of the situation than what he had said. She focussed upon the attractive man in front of her and reminded herself just how out of her league he was.

But Daniel looked back at her with an expression that was anything but awkward. An expression which seemed to suggest he had different ideas about the league systems. He reached gently back across the divide of the airplane seats, and pulled her hand back down on top of his, placing his other hand over it. He stared down into her eyes. ‘Thank you.’ He said softly. His grey eyes moved like mercury – a rainbow of colours, and yet they were all shades of silver. ‘You know, I think you may just have become my favourite next-door neighbour!’ he winked, his cool exterior returning as he nodded over at the pensioner sat on his other side, who had just begun to snore.

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Filed under C-C Lester, Flicker, Novel Excerpt

The Ferry Crossing

I wrote this short story a while back for a competition in Woman&Health magazine.  The only requirements were the length, and that your story was about ‘a secret’. Anyone familiar with my writing will notice the difference – I figured it needed to be pitched at an older readership.

C-C xxx

The Ferry Crossing

by C-C Lester

I blink back the tears as the border guard approaches our vehicle.  Now is not the time to be showing any weakness.

‘Good afternoon madam!  May I see your documents?’

I wonder if he sees my hand shaking as I pass him the pile of passports.  But then everyone gets scared crossing borders don’t they?  That unsubstantiated feeling of wrongdoing, just because someone in authority is questioning you?

Except this time the feeling isn’t unsubstantiated.  I’m doing wrong.  But in doing wrong, I’m also doing what’s right for me.  What’s right for my family.

‘That’s quite a brood!’ The man nods into the car.

On cue Ruby smiles over at him, a gappy-toothed grin out from under her nest of golden curls.  And in that split-second, I know I’ve done it.  I’ve escaped.  Crossing the border and never having to look back.  All that rehearsals were unnecessary.  Worrying how I’d answer questions about the nature of our trip, or where my husband is.  But I had underestimated the children.  My natural camouflage.  My three little Sirens.  So perfectly beautiful that the moment anyone sees them, they all but forget that I exist.

That was the problem in the first place.  SHE saw my children, and my husband, and both SHE and HE forgot that I existed.

The guard waves us cheerfully on, and Ruby and Lily beam at him through the rear-view window.  I have to stop myself applauding their acting skills.  But then I remember they’re not acting.  As far as they’re concerned, this is just another holiday.  One that Daddy will be joining us on as soon as he finishes work.

‘Are we nearly there yet?’ Ruby asks innocently.  I cackle euphorically at the age-old question.  My sharp laughter is so uncharacteristic, that when I check on my girls in the rear-view mirror, they look shell-shocked.  I really need to get a grip.  I wipe a damp palms through the front of my hair, and then follow the parking attendant’s directions around the ferry car park.

Ruby moans my name three more times before I remember to answer her.

‘Sorry Rubes.  I just have to make sure the car is parked up properly.  Um, no we’re not there just yet … because it’s a really big adventure!  See … we get to travel on this huge boat all the way across the sea, and then when we get to the other side we’ll be in a whole new country!  And guess what, in that other country, they don’t use the same words we do, and they drive on the other side of the road!’

‘Woah, cool!’  Ruby’s eyes are wide with excitement.

Lily leans over to her little sister.  ‘It’s called France,’ she adds authoritatively, ‘And they eat frogs and snails there!’

‘Urgh gross!’  My two little cherubs screw up their faces, just in time for Theo to wake up with a wail.

‘See …’ Ruby giggles.  ‘Theo thinks it’s gross too!’

I freeze my face into the smile I know I would normally be wearing at this point, and usher the girls out of the car, Theo bundled up in my arms.

As we cross the deserted car park, I know I’m being overly protective, shielding the girls futily with my body, and insisting the hold tight to one another, but I’ve come too far to lose them now.  My darling babies.  The idea of handing them over to HER turns my stomach.  SHE can’t have them.  SHE already got HIM!

No.  This is the only way to save my family.

I shake my head at no one, aware of how ironic that sounds.  Here I am trying to save a family which HE was so keen to throw away!  Doing everything in HIS power to dissolve the bonds of our precious little clan.

MacAllister.  The name on those passports.  A name, which used to mean so much.  All those years I aspired to be a MacAllister.  Hoping that he might notice me … Dreaming that somehow the university rugby jock would really see little old me.  And somehow he did!  I used to pinch myself over and over, but it was real as day.

Benjamin MacAllister chose me.  HE chose me!  To be HIS wife.  To be the mother of HIS children.

So why did HE choose HER … when HE already had me?

Lily’s noticed the tears in my eyes, so I brush them quickly away with the back of my hand.

‘What’s the matter Mummy?’

I try to shrug, worried my voice will fail me.

‘Aren’t you happy that we’re going on holiday?’ Ruby chimes in.  ‘I thought adventures were exciting?’

I nod silently, desperately trying to squeeze away the tears.  I need to be strong.  For the girls.  For what remains of my perfect family.

Eventually I catch my voice somewhere inside my dry throat.

‘Mummy’s just a little bit sad at the moment.  But it’s fine.  I’ll be happy soon.  You three make me so happy!’ I smile weakly through the tears and clutch my brood to my chest.

‘Are you sad because of Daddy’s secret?’  Ruby asks quietly.

I stare down at my middle child in surprise.  Where on Earth did she get that from?  But there’s no point asking.  I don’t want to know what she knows.  What she heard.

I nod slowly.  ‘Yes Ruby, I’m a little bit sad because of Daddy’s secret.’

Lily stares indignantly at me and her sister.  ‘What’s Daddy’s secret?  I didn’t know Daddy had a secret!’

I usher the kids to a quiet corner of the ferry as I decide how to answer her question.  Eventually I try the simplest response.  ‘It wouldn’t be a secret if you knew what it was!’

Lily looks unconvinced for a second or two, but then shrugs.  I breathe a sigh of relief.  In all my rehearsals of answers, telling my seven year-old daughter how her father has been having an affair with her dance teacher was definitely not one of them.

‘So …’  Lily carries on eventually.  ‘Do you have secrets too Mummy?’

Her question is so innocent.  So natural, given the circumstances.  And yet equally, so wrong.

I take a deep breath, realising that this is the pivotal moment.

The moment when I move from one reality to another. 

‘Of course I do, my darling.  Everyone has secrets.’

My eldest frowns.  ‘But I don’t have any secrets Mummy!  Ruby knows everything about me!’

Ruby nods in agreement.  ‘I know where she keeps her diary, and the secret name she calls Theo when she gets angry at him!’

I wrap my wing around my fledgling chicks.

‘Don’t worry Lily, those are still secrets from me and Daddy.  We don’t know where you keep your diary, or what you call Theo!’

The use of the word ‘we’ sounds hollow.  Foreign.  Wrong.

‘You see my lovelies,’ I talk quickly, so I don’t have to think too deeply about what I’m saying.  ‘Me and Daddy have some secrets from you three … like what you’re getting for your birthday.  And you guys have secrets that we don’t know … remember when you got that secret Father’s Day card for Daddy?’

The girls both nod, smiling at the mention of presents and cards.

‘Can we make a new secret?’  Lily asks quietly, falling into a trap I hadn’t even realised I’d set.  Everything is playing out like the script I tried so many times to pen in my mind.

The perfect performance.

‘Of course darling.  Hey, how about us four have a secret of our own?  You, me, Lily and Theo?’  Theo gurgles his assent.

‘Why don’t we play a big game of Hide and Seek from Daddy?  He can come and try to find us?  Because if we don’t tell him where we’re hiding, then that’s a secret!’

The girls’ eyes sparkle wide, and I know I’ve targeted my pitch at the right audience.

‘So …’ Ruby is processing the logistics.  ‘Daddy is going to come and find us in Fu-rance?’

I nod, my smile wide and painful.  ‘You know what the really cool thing is about Europe?  We can go anywhere!  We could stay in France … or we could go further … Germany, Spain, Sweden …. Africa!’  I giggle, a little hysterically.  ‘The world is our oyster!’

Neither of the girls seem too clued up on what an oyster is, but before I can elaborate, Lily turns to her younger sister and clarifies, ‘The world is our secret.’

I clutch Theo tightly to my chest, and nod my agreement.  The world is our secret.  They are my world.  They are my secrets.

When the boat pulls away from Dover, I take the girls to the onboard pharmacy.

‘Let’s play dress-up!’  I exclaim cheerily, rooting through the boxes of hair dye.  ‘We could change the colour of our hair, just like Mummy does!’  I’ve seen the way the girls peer through the crack in the bathroom door as I touch up my grey roots.  I know it won’t be hard to convince them to ‘play’ with the permanent hair colour.  Lily chooses a box of burgundy red dye, and we troop happily off to the bathrooms.  After all, it’s all part of the game.  If we change our hair colour, it’ll make it harder for Daddy to find us.  Make the Hide and Seek more fun.  Make our secret last that much longer.

I’m surprisingly unemotional as I dye my five and seven year-old daughters’ hair.  Their blonde curls have always been so picture perfect … and yet they were always the indicator that they weren’t completely mine.  That their claim to the coveted MacAllister name was stronger than mine.  They were Ben’s for good.  Bright blond hair and blood a far stronger bond than my cheap wedding band.  My maiden name would always be different.  Once a Petty, always a Petty.  My hair would always be mouse brown underneath.

But now we’re all redheads, the girls’ locks such a vibrant shade of burgundy that I barely recognise my own children.  I debate dying Theo’s hair too, but he barely has any hair to speak of, and I can’t help wondering how safe henna really is.

Ruby is the first to notice the ironic fact.  Only now do my own children look like they belong to me.

‘Mummy, we match!’ she says excitedly, tugging at my wet hair.

‘We’re sharing the same hair!’  she smiles, proud of her use of a big word.

Lily turns to her, and narrows her eyes slightly.  Her serious expression.  ‘We’re sharing the same secret!’

But as she turns to me, she’s grinning.  This is all just a game, after all.

‘Now what Mummy?’

I shake my head, still taken aback by their transformation.  I clutch all three of my children to my chest, my face pressed against Lily’s wet curls.  I only break away when Theo starts to moan and Ruby wriggles free.  ‘I’m hungry!’ she moans.

I shake the cobwebs from my mind, too engrossed in thoughts and memories.  SHE had been dancing through my mind again, unwelcome.  With HER lithe twenty year-old body and brilliant blonde hair.  I will never let HER have them.  She will never be their second mother.  No one needs a second mother.  It’s an exclusive role.  Just like wife.  Ben shouldn’t have needed a second woman … HE just did.  But his children most definitely don’t.

‘I’m doing the right thing!’ I mutter to myself as we search the lower deck of the boat for a snack shop.  Lily runs up ahead, still wrapped up in the adventure.  But Ruby insists on clutching my free hand, occasionally staring at me out of the corner of her eye.  She’s always been too perceptive.  I squeeze her little palm, and pretend to be checking on Theo, so that she doesn’t see the fresh wave of tears threatening my eyes.

The minute chocolate is in sight, my strange behaviour is forgotten.  Ruby chases her sister up and down the aisles, exploiting my absent behaviour by filling a basket high with treats I normally wouldn’t dream of buying.

It’s only when we get to the counter that I register the contents of the shopping basket.  Chocolate coins, Curly Wurly’s, Salt and Vinegar Squares, Marshmallows, Creme eggs and Pepperamis.  I wave the cured meat at my daughters.  ‘Girls, who are these for?  You know none of us like them!’

I should have guessed the answer before I even asked it.

Ruby looks up at me, with HIS eyes.  Brilliant as sapphires, deep as wells.  The same eyes which stole my heart all those years ago.  The eyes, which must have also stolen HER heart.  The eyes which tried to steal my children from me.  My three new hearts.  All as vital to me as the one beating in my chest.

‘It’s for Daddy … for when he finds us!’  She explains excitedly.

I turn away from the eyes, and begin to walk.  The shop assistant is calling after me.  Theo is crying again, wailing up at me from my arms.  And yet I barely register his weight, let alone his cries.  I can vaguely feel the girls tugging at the hem of my skirt.  I know I ought to pay.  I know they want their chocolate.  I know they’re hungry.  When did I last feed them?  When did I last eat?  When did I last sleep?

Questions and demands fill my mind. But all I can do is stare out to sea, glad for the distraction that the view offers.

On this side of the glass panel, it feels like wave after wave swamps the boat, each one swallowing the one before it.  Slowly I count to ten, aware that nothing I’m looking at now was the same as it was ten seconds ago.  A whole new world.  A constantly clean slate.

Just what I need.

I needed a new world.  And I got it.  A world with no Ben.  A world where my girls are redheads.   But that world didn’t need to be France.  In fact … I didn’t even need to leave Manchester.  Because Ben isn’t there any more.  He isn’t here any more.

No, the reason I had to leave Manchester was HER.  Because when SHE finally fully invades my nest, opening up my home with a key I know HE’s given HER …or when the neighbours notice the mail mounting up, and the girls’ teachers start to wonder  why they’re not at school..… the Police will storm our lovely semi-detached home.

And they’ll find HIM.  They’ll find HIM where I left HIM.

In the bath with the bread knife straight through HIS heart.

And then they’ll give them to HER.  They’ll give MY children to HER.  And SHE’ll have taken everything.

MY entire life.

And that’s how Ben’s little secret has become MY little secret.

© C-C Lester, 2011

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Take the Reigns

It’s funny how you can be inspired by the most random of things …

As I’ve said time and time again, I write, and am inspired, by making connections.  Drawing the lines between dots I handpick from life.

And I guess a couple of the lines this week have given me a kick-start to revisit my first book.

‘Flicker’, which some of you may have read samples of on the blog, is my first novel, a teenage fantasy book about an orphaned girl setting off on her gap year travels.  After several edits of the book, my agent submitted it to a around ten publishers this time last year, unfortunately to no avail.  After a few months, the book was shelved, and my second book ‘The Dream Navigator’ was made publisher-ready, and then did the rounds.

And that, a year on, is where I’m at.  Having edited and re-edited two different books for publisher submission, I’ve then had to pass on the baton to my agent, and wait for the news to roll in.

As any of you in the same situation will know, whilst it’s a necessary part of the process, it can be rather frustrating!  And at first, whilst the frustration of not hearing anything back from ‘Flicker’ lead me to pile all my energy into ‘The Dream Navigator’, a year on, no matter my best intentions, I’m finding it far too easy to sit on my hands, and make excuses.

If I’m completely honest, it’s very hard to finish another book, knowing nothing so far has come of the others.  When I think of the hours I spent on the other two books, I feel drained, and back in the real world (I wrote the books whilst travelling) I feel too tired from everyday work to sit back in front of the computer at the end of the day, when I haven’t seen any return for all the other work.

But this is an attitude which needs to stop.  If I’m to become an author – a real, bonafide, published author – then I need to get my head back in the game.  And whilst the ball is heavily still in my agent’s court, that doesn’t mean I can’t be doing something to help.

I think what I’ve been doing wrong is trying to push forward with all the other ideas I’ve had since Flicker, when instead, there is something there in that story – there must have been to have got noticed in the first place – I just need to polish it!

So where has this change of heart sprung from? What were the dots that joined together to lead to that conclusion?

Last week I saw a friend I haven’t seen since I left to go travelling, and it turns out he reads my blog, and, despite being a 30 year old man … he read, AND LOVED!!! … the excerpts of Flicker which I put up on it!!  I guess hearing his enthusiasm for the book reminded me how enthusiastic I had once been about the story.

Then last night, I was at a friend’s birthday drinks, and it turned out a number of his friends had heard that I was aspiring author.  When, in turn, they asked me how it was going, I shrugged, disheartened, and said the same thing over and over again ‘it’s in the hands of my agent … I’m not really doing much at the moment … I work for a bank …’

And I listened to myself, and thought, if you’d asked 14 year-old me what I wanted to do at 28, the last thing I would have said was ‘work for a bank’.  I wanted to be an author … so badly that I sent a shell of a story off to a publisher, and received my first mass mailshot rejection letter!!  And you know what, I STILL want to be an author … so why the hell have I stopped working for it??

And then finally, this afternoon I sat down to watch the film ‘Chalet Girl’.  Of all the ‘inspirations’ this is probably the most off the wall and silly … but bare with me 🙂

So ‘Chalet Girl’ is a teenage British chick flick – the story of a girl who goes to the Austrian alps, falls in love with a hot posh guy and becomes a snowboard champ – total cheese … but I’ve always loved cheesy tv 🙂 Now, if anything, I was expecting to finish the film and simply be dying to head back to Whistler … and don’t get me wrong, after 2 winters as a seasonaire it was impossible not to watch the film and yearn for snow … but there was a stronger compulsion that came from the film, and that was to revisit Flicker.  Because years ago, when I day-dreamed about Flicker as a book, I put actors faces to some of the characters, imagining what it might be like to see my book on the big screen.  And in that day dream, Ed Westwick was Daniel DeSilva, to Felicity Jones’s ‘Flic Firstone’ – the two young British actors starring opposite one another in Chalet Girl.

And I guess I don’t want that daydream to die.  I want Flicker to still be an option.  I want it to become a name synonymous with a book, not just a horse and an online photo sharing site!  I want to be an author.  I want to be a scriptwriter.  I want to see books on shelves, with my name on the spine, and films and tv on the screen, underpinned by stories I’ve written.  And I’m not gonna achieve that by sitting on my hands!  I’m gonna do it by gritting my teeth, peeling the plaster off, and looking at a text I haven’t looked at for a year, because no matter how much I don’t want to acknowledge it, it is ‘damaged’ in some way … it’s not finished … and the only way someone is going to love it enough to publish it, is if I can fix it …

This is my challenge.  This is my part of the baton-passing process ….

To make my manuscript as kick-ass brilliant as I possibly can, so that next time my agent submits it to publishers, someone snaps it up 🙂

C-C xx

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The Writer, The Entrepreneur

Firstly, apologies to those of you who are regulars to the blog for my absence …  September was a pretty crazy month, culminating in the Budapest Marathon on Sunday, which I’m very proud to say, I finished, in a pretty respectable time of 4 hrs, 28 minutes.  Thanks so much to everybody who sponsored me, all the money went to Cancer Research UK.

 But enough with the excuses! Back to the writing …

On my way back from work today I was listening to Radio 4 … not necessarily something I’d admit too often, but a debate about entrepreneurship caught my attention.  As the guests – including the head of Google UK – discussed how to become a successful entrepreneur, I began to realise how similar life as an aspiring author must be to life as a fledgling entrepreneur.

Suddenly the advice the experts were offering wasn’t just entertaining background noise, but pertinent to my ideal career.  Because as a writer you’re self-employed … a freelancer … a creative thinker … a gambler of sorts.  And the same tips someone selling a new invention or service might benefit to, can also help someone promoting a story.

The first tip the experts agreed on was confidence.  Self-belief.  You need to be a gambler, and one who sees the gain over the risk.  The more positive your approach, the more positive the feedback.  You don’t get something for nothing, so whatever your area of expertise, you need to put in the effort, and not worry about the pitfalls along the way.  Reach for the stars, and try not to worry about all the space in between!!!

Next of all, rather pertinently, the experts talked about using the internet as a cheap and relatively painless way of testing your product.  The analogy they used was setting up a website as opposed to going the whole hog and renting a shop, only to find there wasn’t a market for your product.  In a writing sense, testing the water could be posting excerpts of a story on a blog as opposed to going the whole hog and paying to publish your own book, only to discover the story wasn’t quite right.  Blogs are an awesome way of finding out if something works, or if it doesn’t … And if it doesn’t, they’re a great forum for development and debate!

The entrepreneurs talked about investors … including business angels.  Friends and family willing to invest in your idea before you have the financial weight to approach banks.  Angels don’t just exist in business.  When it comes to writing, friends and family are your first line of support.  The litmus test.  A biased bunch of readers who can ease you into a world of criticism until your writing has enough weight to gather criticism from strangers.

The final piece of advice which stood out in my mind was ‘knowing your product’.  Understanding what works, and fine-tuning it so that it’s the best ‘form’ of your product.  A woman who owned a company which specialised in hotel bathroom supplies talked about recognising her most profitable market, and tailoring her business plan to that market.  How she had changed a company which supplied every kind of hotel into one which specialised in luxury hotels … Likewise, as a writer, it’s key to know your strengths, and understand what genre and readership your writing style best suits.  Identify your writing strengths, and hone them.

Know your product … Know your writing … and SELL it 🙂

I know I’ll definitely be watching the Apprentice more keenly in future 😉

C-C xxx

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