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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Everything’s Coming Together …

Ok, so those of you who regularly read the blog will know that just over four months ago, I gave up life as a traveling nanny-come-first aid instructor – come author, and have returned home to a more socially acceptable 9-5 job!

After two months waiting to start my new job, the past two months of employment have been quite literally mental, working every hour under the sun to try to claw back all the debt I ran up waiting to start the job! As of today, I’ve had just four days off in nine weeks! Which, as I’m sure you can appreciate, has taken it’s toll on my writing.

I’ve been knackered! After 12+ hours a day staring at a computer screen, quite frankly the last thing I wanted to do every evening when I got home was to spend another couple of hours typing away.

Add to that the increasing general frustrations of being an ‘almost there’ author – something I’ve spoken recently about in ‘Just the Advice I Needed’ and ‘The Writer’s Marathon‘ – and it’s been hard to motivate myself to continue writing.

A few months ago, when I was waiting for my ‘day job’ to start, I began a book called ‘Mercury’s Child’ – a novel for 11-15 year olds about a girl called Halley MacFadden, who discovers eight parallel universes to the one in which she lives, and who, without giving too much away, soon realises that many of the people close to her are actually different versions of the same person.

The book has always felt ‘almost there’ (a phrase all too close to my heart at the moment!). The more I developed the concept, the more excited I got, but I just kept thinking it needed an extra va-va-voom, and I guess this slight apathy towards the story, combined with all the other reasons I’ve been disinclined to write, have meant that Mercury’s Child has sat half-finished, and untouched, on my laptop for the past two months.

Now, for those of you who are regulars, you’ll know, when it comes to writing, I like joining the dots! I write by linking connections, and I get my ideas by drawing connections from things I come across in every day life … (Me vs Me! and ‘Give Yourself an Inspirational Day!’) And you’ll also know that my Dad, who died when I was 19, has been playing on my mind quite a lot – ‘Just the Advice I Needed‘ – so with all that in mind … I think everything’s begun to come together!!!

Mercury’s Child needs some oomph … something that makes me want to write an ending, and also something which makes me believe in my writing again, after nine months of rejections from publishers.

As everyone keeps telling me, the best thing a writer waiting to hear back from publishers can do, is to keep on writing … but you need to be inspired to do that, and you need to believe in your own writing.

As I explained in Just the Advice I Needed, Dad has become the inspiration. My biggest fan might no longer be around, but that doesn’t mean I ought to stop believing in myself. If anything, the amazing feedback I got from all you guys from the blog post I wrote about finding all his old writing should be something that inspires me to believe in my own writing. But I have a feeling Dad can help me out in another way with the writing!

So, as I mentioned above, I’ve been working crazy hours recently – the life of the starving artist!!! And today was my fourth day off in nine weeks! The day off was long overdue, but it also gave me the down time I needed to start joining the dots and finding the connections around me.

Mercury’s Child is the story of a little girl.  Halley, the central character is just 11 years old when she begins travelling between the different parallel worlds. But there’s another major character in the story – her father Robert, and the different versions of the same man that she comes to know. And I think that’s the missing link in the story that I might have just begun to see.

I grew up surrounded by my Dad’s stories. Not the literal box of old stories and projects which now sits under my bed, and decorating my bookshelves, but tales of his weird and wonderful life. Tales of the thirty-odd years he lived before I came into this world. My Dad, a computer programmer by trade, was a hundred other things. He had been an English teacher in Tehran, a lorry driver, an insurance clerk, an RAF translator, a backpacker … And those were the stories which coloured my childhood. Which inspired me to momentarily forget my Cambridge law degree, and become a live-in nanny over in Canada, which inspired me to pack my bags and see the world, which inspired me to do every job from a children’s party entertainer to a first aid instructor.

But Dad’s stories don’t just have to inspire my life, and the way I choose to live it … They can also inspire my writing! Because I have a feeling that Robert MacFadden is missing something that my Dad had in truckloads …

Backstories ….

The man was meant to have discovered the different universes, and lived in different time-z0nes, set 20 years apart. He literally lived tens of different lives …

So now it’s time to add all those back-stories in, and see if I can put the va-va-voom back into the story, and get back my writing mojo

C-C xxx

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Me vs Me!

There are very few similarities between the way I write fiction and the way I write my blog posts.

Fiction work takes me hours, revision after revision, carefully fiddling to find the right adjective, the  right sentence structure … Blog posting is a far speedier process.  I try to approach my blog like I’m talking to a friend.  A chatty discussion as opposed to carefully sketching out a picture.

But there’s something which ties all of my written work together, and that’s finding connections.

I can remember studying English Lit at school and excitedly tracing themes and images through books, to then translate the connections I found into essays.  Years on, and while I don’t have any essays to write any more, I still enjoy joining the literary dots.  Whether I’m writing a blog post or a chapter of a novel, I often find myself making connections between ideas and events, to come up with the final product, and in this way my blog posts tend to write themselves, a collection of themes and ideas that weave together to form an idea loosely linked to writing.

Take today for example.  My day started reading one of many lovely comments on a recent blog post of mine.  In the comment, another writer remarked that writing isn’t a competition. Authors aren’t competing against one another.  We’re colleagues, not competitors, and so we need to work together and share our collective knowledge of an otherwise opaque industry.

Then this afternoon a friend on Facebook had a chain letter-style  status declaring exactly where she was in life several years ago, and asking those who read it to work out where they were that year.

Finally this evening, as I pounded the streets of my home town on yet another Marathon training run, I realised in a lot of ways, I’m right back to where I was in 2002.

That year was my gap year.  I had my first full time job, was newly single, living at home and  running every spare hour of the day.  It was one of the most fun years I had.  Heaps of cash, peak fitness, and an amusing string of hopeless and hilarious dates, many of which have become dinner party annecdotes.

The thing is, nine years on, on paper I’m in the exact same place.  Whilst friends of a similar age are buying their first house, getting married and having babies, as far as a stalk of my Facebook goes, I’m still very much a teenager.  I live at home, just broke up with a not-very-serious boyfriend, and am in a non-career job.

When I look at my life that way, it’s hard not to feel like I’ve failed somehow, or I’m behind the rest of the pack … and yet that isn’t how I feel at all!  I love my life … and to be honest, I loved my life at 19!  But what I’m trying to say ISN”T that it’s great to be single and have no commitments when you’re 27 … (though it can be!) … it’s to say that life isn’t just about what’s on paper.  Life isn’t a snapshot, or a comparison, and to be honest, if you live your life comparing it to other peoples, you’re going to miss out on a lot of fun.

My life isn’t as simple as being single, living at home, running, and working … the parallels I drew between 27 year-old me and 19 year-old me!  In the last eight years I’ve achieved so many things … gone to so many places I could never have dreamed of.  Anyone who regularly reads the blogs will know my life is anything but ordinary, and has had it’s ups and downs, but all in all, if I did the past eight years again, I’d do it all the same.  And I’d end up right back in the same place …. A place I was at 19 too!

The thing is, by comparing myself to other people, I’m only going to make myself miserable … I don’t have a house, or a nice car, or a husband, or kids …. yet.  But that doesn’t mean I’ll never have those things, I just haven’t got there yet.

And yet, if I compare myself to 19 year old me … the me that lived in this village, and pounded the same pavements I pound every night as I train for the Budapest Marathon … well in that case I come out trumps.  19 year old me hadn’t travelled the world, written two novels, done two degrees, or done any of the other weird and wonderful things I’ve done since I was her …

The moral of my story isn’t just about life …

It can also apply to your writing!

As an aspiring author, I’m faced day after day with other peoples’ work.  Other peoples’ successes.  The minute I decided I wanted to become a published author, one of my favourite pastimes – reading – became a reminder that I hadn’t made it yet.

But you can’t think like that while you’re trying to get published.  As all the amazing comments on my blog post ‘Just the Advice I Needed’ reminded me, writing ISN”T a competition, and authors aren’t in competition with one another.  Someone else’s success ISN”T your failure, and you have to remember what a long process getting recognised and published can be!  Instead of measuring yourself up against other writers, measure yourself against a younger you … What have you achieved in YOUR writing over the past few years?  Maybe you finished a chapter, maybe you finished a book? Maybe you came up with a concept?  Maybe you found an agent?  Maybe you touched on my current Holy Grail and secured a publishing deal?  Or maybe you’re JK and just nailed another billion 😉

Set your own goal posts!  And don’t look away from them, coz everyone else is playing on a different pitch! (Mixing my sporting metaphors now, I know 🙂 )

But seriously, the only person you need to compete against is yourself … do the best you can!  And if you concern yourselves with other authors, use them for advice and inspiration, not to make yourself feel worse about your current situation!

 

C-C xxx

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My First Ever Character Sketch!

Following on from my article a few weeks ago about how you imagine your own characters (Getting into Your Characters), a couple of months ago I was lucky enough to win Elli Writes’ monthly writing competition.  My prize, was a character sketch by the very talented Liz Carlton … and here it is 🙂

I asked Liz to draw Raye, a Korean Dream Navigator, who Ellody, the main character in The Dream Navigator encounters during her adventures in Canada.  Without giving too much away, Raye is brash, rude, sarcastic, and driven by money, but as the book progresses, you begin to see a softer side of him …

Here’s what Liz thinks he looks like 🙂

Thanks so much Liz!!!! He’s amazing!!

C-C xxx

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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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