Category Archives: C-C Lester

Just the Advice I Needed …

As regular readers of The Elementary Circle will know, in recent months I’ve been getting rather jaded about the waiting game.  I’m an ‘almost-there’ author.  I’ve finished three novels, and have heaps of ideas for others, but now I have to sit back, and wait to see if there’s an editor at a publishing house who believes in my work as much as my agent does.  The problem is, I’m rather impatient, and after a good three years of hard slog, can’t wait for some return on my efforts, even if that return is simply the recognition that comes with a bona fide book deal.

If you’ve read my blog before, you might also know that I’m an orphan.  I lost both my parents back in 2003, when I was just nineteen.  Since Mum and Dad died, I’ve spent five years at university, and three years travelling the world, only to come back ‘home’ at the end of April.  When Mum died, my sister and I were forced to sell our family home almost immediately in order to put ourselves through school and university, and simply live. At Christmas 2003, over the space of three weeks I lost both my Mum and my home, with thirty years of my parents’ marriage relinquished to boxes which went almost straight into storage, scattered across the lofts of various family friends, where they have remained ever since.  I moved into a friend’s family home, and have called their house home ever since.

I was always a Daddy’s girl.  A tomboy as a child, my Dad was the one who taught me to play cricket, who took me skiing, introduced me to Scouting, and sat up late at night reading me tales by Roald Dahl, Enid Blyton, C.S. Lewis and Lewis Carroll.  My Dad was my idol, my role model.  Don’t get me wrong, I loved my Mum dearly, but when my Dad died, I lost my best friend.

I grew up surrounded by my father’s stories.  He had spent his twenties travelling the world, a natural-born linguist, and I not only inherited Dad’s talent for languages but also his desire to travel.  When I finished my Masters and still had  some of my inheritance from the house left over, it seemed natural to spend the money on seeing the world, because if Dad had been given the money at 24, that’s exactly what he would have done with it!  In fact, my Dad actually met my Mum (who was Romanian) when he was travelling around the world.

But travel wasn’t the only thing me and my Dad have in common.  My Dad was a writer.  When he died, I actually remember an old RAF pal of his sending Mum a package with an old story they had written together inside, and last week, when I was feeling particularly down, I went in search of it.

Two hours later I gave up, empty handed.

The whole writing business had just got me so down.  After months of trying to stay upbeat, and trying to keep inspired and active, I was defeated.  Fed up with not even getting rejections from publishers, just total radio silence, and beginning to doubt both myself and my talent, I needed my Dad.  I needed the one person who knew me inside out, which he always did, because I was the female version of him!  I needed his advice.  Dad had been the one who had helped me with A Level options.  He had planned my Gap Year with me, and not just chosen Cambridge colleges with me, but walked me to the gates of my university interview.  Unlike other Dads, mine hadn’t just stood on the sideline of my cricket matches, but had been out on the pitch alongside me – the umpire, the coach, the facilitator of the match.  My biggest fan.

I needed my biggest fan again.  Writing had become such a lonely pursuit, and without Dad around it just felt even lonelier …

And then on Sunday I got a message from one of my closest school friends.  Katherine now lives in London, but her parents still live just twenty minutes away from my old family home, and this weekend just gone, they had tidied out their loft, only to find several boxes of things from my parents house.  Things I hadn’t seen for eight years.

I assumed the boxes would be full of Dad’s photo albums, or old clothes we hadn’t been able to part with so soon after Mum’s death, but last night when I went round to Katherine’s house, I was in for a surprise.

The boxes are full of my father’s projects.  Thirty years of his work.   Pages and pages of notes.  Poems, letters, postcards to Mum, letters, songs, books, research.  Loose-leaf folders packed with handwritten sheets, and boxes full of type-written stories.  Ideas, opinions, connections.  My Dad’s brain boxed.

Eight years after his death, it’s the closest thing I will ever get to a new conversation with my Dad … and it genuinely couldn’t have come at a better time!  There I was literally a week ago wondering if I might have access to one single story Dad had written, and now I’ve been presented by boxes full of his life’s work.  Notebook after notebook, one project after the other, it seems like nothing had been thrown away since the early seventies.  I could never be so grateful to discover a closet hoarder in the family!

I sat in tears, surrounded by my Dad’s work.  By songs, and poems, and sketches, and ditties, and family tree research, and research into Greek mythology, church names, and World War One.  Every intrigue, every interest had been documented.  In a world where most of my possessions have been bought post-Mum and Dad’s death, here were pages and notebooks that my Dad had physically touched!  Line after line of his handwriting, word after word of his own.

But that wasn’t the only way Dad spoke to me last night …

Because amongst those boxes of projects, were letters from publishers.  Letters very similar to the ones I’ve spent the past six months receiving.  Rejection letters, and alongside them frustrated queries from my Dad to other publishers, months after submitting manuscripts, asking why he had heard nothing.

In a world before the internet, in an era where literary agents were scarce, and  in a time when stories weren’t written on computers, but arduously typed, page after page, on a type writer, my dad had been a frustrated almost-there author too!

And you know what, his stories have survived!  He may never have gotten published, or seen his name on the spine of a book, but his stories have still survived him.  And now, his stories sit on my book shelves. This time I’m his number one fan.  Because whenever I feel down, whenever I miss my Dad, not only can I reach for one of his stories, and have him speak directly to me once again, but I can remember that Dad was in this place too, and that if he were here now, he’d be telling me about the time he submitted a book called ‘The Michael Enigma’ about the position of churches called St Michael around Great Britain (??? Yes really!) to publishers, and waited 11 months to hear anything back.  And while my Dad isn’t here to tell me those stories, the stories themselves still are.

Dad’s stories live on, on my bookshelf and in my heart, and you know what, even if my stories never get printed, I’ll make sure that I keep every single one of them, so that one day, my daughter, or my grand-daughter, will be able to pick them up, and hear my voice when I’m no longer able to use it any more.

I love you Dad,

C-C xxx

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

Real Life’s Heroes and Villains

I have to admit to being pretty black and white where people are concerned.

Treat me nicely, and I’ll be your friend.  But treat me badly and you’ll get none of my time.  There’s a very definite line between the two, and once you cross it, it’s very hard for me to ever see you in a different light.  I’m not saying it’s the best way to behave, I just know it’s how I feel.  Where my friends and my enemies are concerned, goodies are goodies, baddies are baddies … there are no shades of grey!

And yet it seems I give real people shorter shrift than I give my characters!  Because I know why some of my characters are nice, and other characters are nasty.  Whether wittingly or unwittingly, each character comes with his or her own background story.  And those stories are ones I am far more likely to listen to than those of my real life enemies!

Perhaps the reason for that is obvious.  In real life, I’m directly affected by the baddies’ badness, and the goodies’ goodness.  Their reasons and back-stories are irrelevant if I’m personally being treated badly.  Whereas as an author, and a reader, you’re an observer.  Seeing things unfold from ‘above’, and getting a bigger picture.  You’re interested more in the ‘why’ than you would if the ‘what’ directly affects it.

And so my characters are multi-faceted.  It’s realistic.  People aren’t simply good or bad … even if its often easier to see them that way.  People aren’t born with their morals pre-destined, their actions and moral code are for the most part products of nurture.  And when you’re afforded the distance of an observer, you’re more interested in the nurture process.  The back story.

Which is why, in order for me as a writer to be able to understand why Daniel DeSilva might want to sabotage the Fire Clan’s selection process in Flicker or why Raye Park might treat Ellody Rose with such outright contempt in The Dream Navigator I needed to think long and hard about their motivations.  In fact, warped and twisted motives are what fuel almost the entire plot of my adult novel ‘My Ten Future Lives’

Now, maybe I’m a hopeless romantic, but most of the motivations in my book end up coming down to love, in some way.  Daniel’s actions spring from grief over his mother’s death, and a lifelong need to prove himself to his father, in order to attain his  love.  Raye’s bristly demeanour is simply because his main concern where Dream Navigating is concerned is money.  And whilst on the face of it, that might not sound too loving, Raye’s concern is really his family, who he sends the money back too.  And every part of My Ten Future Lives is the product of twisted, misunderstood love.  Because people aren’t inherently evil, their worst decisions are often made because of love … whether that love is misdirected, unappreciated, or completely and utterly warped.

I’ve also noticed the baddies in my books tend to have parent issues.  Maybe that’s just because I grew up with such a solid parental base, and felt like me and my sister were brought up with our heads screwed on right …  Maybe it’s because I spent too long as a nanny in Canada, analysing the effects absent parenting was having on the rich kids I looked after! Or maybe it’s because the nastiest ‘characters’ I’ve met in real life were the result of some rather questionable parenting …  For example, whilst at university I was at university, I was treated appallingly by a girl who freely admitted that her mother had ‘done cocaine with her at seventeen’!  Hmmm ….

Anyway, I digress! But what I’m trying to say, is no matter how black and white I view peoples’ actions in real life … I do understand the paths that have led to those consequences, paths which I’ve attributed in different ways, and with differing amounts of pity and empathy, to the ‘baddies’ in my books.

However, last week’s events in England put me in a strange position.  The riots were real life, happening in real time on national news stations, and yet I felt like a viewer.  Like I was watching something fictional.

And so rather than seeing things in black and white terms – good and bad – because I wasn’t personally being affected by the ‘badness’, I found myself approaching the situation as a reader.  As an author …  Sad as it is that I was actually reading a newspaper, not reading a book!

What was motivating these people?  What were their back story?  What could possibly explain the mindless violence, and mob rule which spread senselessly across a nation and left thousands of completely innocent people the victims?

Teachers, journalists, aspiring soldiers and Olympic ambassadors have all been arrested in relation to the riots … and frankly, it just doesn’t make any sense!  What possible back-story could even begin to validate what they did?  What possibly act of ‘love’ or lack of love, or poor parenting results in someone thinking it’s openly OK to torch people’s houses, kick in random cars, loot stores, mug injured people, break into charity shops and steal charity tins?  How do you justify that with a back-story?  How do you even begin to understand why someone thinks it’s ‘OK’ because other people are getting away with it?

I don’t think you can …

Ok so there were people involved who might have been homeless or starving (though if there were, I’ve heard little of their situations) but for the most part it just seemed like one big act of greed and thuggery.

Which brings me back to a world of black and white.  NOT races, just to make that clear.  But a world with no shades of grey.  A world where people are just good or bad!  A world where someone gets away with doing something inherently awful, and it’s so well-publicised, that it seems to flick some kind of switch inside random members of the community … a Bad Switch, which only Bad people have inside them … and then suddenly the world goes crazy!!!

I know that’s not real.  That people don’t have Bad Switches, and that shades of grey DO exist … but if that’s really the case, then how the hell do you justify the riots that hit my country last week!

As an author, I like to think I understand people.  That I write well because I know people and understand how they interact.  But maybe that’s not the case!  Maybe I’ve been too generous giving my characters back stories, and maybe I ought just equip my characters with bad switches instead … so that next time my characters are in an emotionally conflicting situation, instead of acting like normal human beings, they simply decide to run through the streets burning down houses and looting shops … Because they can!

C-C xxx

 

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

Finding Inspiration in Strange Places!

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 🙂

C-C xxx

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Totting up your Author Expenses

Yesterday was the end of my working month, and in my new ‘day job’ (you might want to see ‘Don’t Forget the Day Job!’ for an explanation of my covert top secret financial contractor position 🙂 I have to tally up all my expenses.

Now, for the purposes of HMR&C that’s fuel costs, food and stationery … but, as I spent hour after hour photocopying receipts for countless bottles of Diet Coke and M&S motorway lunches, I began thinking about my ‘other job’.

What expenses have I incurred over the past three years, in my pursuit of becoming an author? What have my gains and losses been? If I had to fill in a reconciliation form at the end of the month, what things would I be claiming for?

At this point, I’d like to throw the question out to you guys – what has your writing career cost you so far? What have you benefitted from, and what have you lost along the way?

Here are a few of my ideas –

Expenditures

  • Countless pens, pencils, notepads, napkins, receipts, printer paper, eye liners – basically anything you can write with or on!
  • Two laptop batteries – from writing far too much on the back of buses
  • Surprisingly no coffee (I get my caffeine from Diet Coke), but a fair old amount of chocolate, cheese, Haribo ….
  • LOTS of sleep – I’m a night owl. No matter what time I get through the door, I can’t go to sleep without writing something … and often, thirty minutes turns into four or five hours!
  • My eyesight! I had 20/20 vision until I was 22 … and after two years at uni, I ended up with glasses. Admittedly I only really wear them when I’m driving, but I’m sure if I didn’t spend quite so much time staring at my computer screen, my eyesight would be a lot better!
  • An awful lot of waiting – writing, or rather getting into the writing world, is a game of patience … something that doesn’t necessarily come naturally to me! However I like to think I’m learning.
  • My naivete – I have learned A LOT about the publishing world in my year and a half as a ‘signed’ author. I’m not going to lie, some of those things have been disappointing and frustrating, but, as I’m always saying, authors at my stage of the game need to stay positive … and with that in mind, it shouldn’t just be a case of losing your naivete about getting published, but also gaining perspective and knowledge about your ideal career … So that brings me onto the Profits of this process –

Profits

  • Lack of counseling sessions – who needs a therapist when your characters can have fights with their boyfriends and say everything that sprang to mind fifteen minutes after you had the real fight that inspired the fictional one?! A particularly good example of the cathartic nature of writing was in my first book ‘Flicker’. I myself was orphaned, and when I came to write a letter from the main character Felicity Firestone to her dead mother, to mark her own personal closure, it was probably the hardest chapter of a book I’ve ever written. To date, it’s the only section of a book that my agent has done a line-by-line edit of, because it ended up so lengthy and emotional, I didn’t even know where to start when it came to culling it down!
  • A whole host of friends – both real and fictional! It’s hard not to think of characters like real friends. You create them. You bring them to life, and if you’re writing on a full-time basis, you spend a number of your waking hours with them. It’s impossible not to feel for them in the same way you would friends, because as an author, whether consciously or subconsciously, you invest an awful lot of yourself in them. But writing has brought me a number of friends and acquaintances in the real world … or at least the electronic world. Social networking sites like Twitter, and blogs like this one, have allowed me to communicate with, and create a dialogue with other writers and potential readers. Also, one of my closest friendships developed as a result of a then-acquaintance expressing an interest in my writing, and then eventually becoming my pseudo-editor and rather Dad like figure on the other side of the world!
  • Loads of really interesting conversations! Tell someone you’re writing a book, or aspiring to be an author, and you genuinely never know what the answer might be. Maybe they’ve written a book, maybe they’re published, maybe they always wanted to write, or maybe they just want to hear about your experiences …
  • A steep, but great, learning curve. Every edit creates new ideas and new questions about my characters and stories. Every edit or suggestion is a new perspective, allowing an originally two-dimensional story to grow almost infinitely.

BUT NOT …

  • My fitness. Despite what people might think about writing and reading as pastimes, just because I love literature, doesn’t mean I don’t exercise! To be honest, the more time I spend in front of my laptop, the more important fitness and the outdoors is to me. When I was living in Canada, I actually found Bikram yoga was the perfect way to get ready to write, as after an hour and a half in a hot room with little more than my thoughts for distraction away from the heat and pain, I knew exactly what was coming next in the book I was writing.
  • Cigarettes and crazy fashion … alas I am no Carrie Bradshaw! If I’m not writing on the back of a bus full of backpackers, I’m snuggled up in my grandad PJs in bed or infront of the TV.
  • My hope, and self belief, … just yet. It CAN be a bit of an uphill struggle sometimes, and it’s easy to lose belief in yourself, but it’s a matter of knowing how to tackle your own negative attitude, and inspire yourself again – for me, that’s reading my own stuff. It’s only when I read something that I wrote some time ago that I see it through detached eyes and can actually appreciate how good (or bad!) my own writing is.
Let me know about your own experiences … Is there anything glaring I’ve missed off any of the lists?
C-C xxx

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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

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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

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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

 

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