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

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

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

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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My Writer Package!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

C-C xxx

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Social Media and the Writer Package

As we all know, being a writer … or really doing any profession, has changed a lot in recent years.

Social media has turned our world upside down, allowing us to share our thoughts with the world immediately, and without censorship.  As fans, or readers, Twitter, Facebook and blogs give us a whole new arena of access to our favourite stars and authors, and as authors we have various new forums in which to broadcast our ideas and showcase our work.

I’ve talked before about the benefits of community offered by social media, but recently I’ve come across some media which has made me question exactly how much, as an unpublished author, I ought to be using the social media.

I guess I’ve become comfortable in my role as is …. I think I can talk in a relatively useful and knowledgeable way about life as an unpublished author, and so that topic has formed the basis of my blog.  Occasionally I’ve used the blog to showcase samples of my writing, and the opening chapters of all three of my complete novels can be found on the site, but other than that, as an unpublished, and currently unsigned, author, I haven’t really felt confident to do much more with the site.

As for my Twitter account, I mainly use Twitter to publicise links to new blog posts, and the only thing I use Facebook for with regards to my writing is to draw my friends’ attention to any new posts I’ve written.  I follow people on Twitter I don’t personally know, and likewise am followed by people I don’t know, but Facebook is a site I use exclusively to communicate with people I know in person, outside of my life as ‘C-C Lester, the author’.

Now, I’m not saying any of this is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, because one of the main things about plotting a career as an author is that there is no ‘set route’ to success.  It’s not a graduate recruitment milk round role.  You don’t have three interviews and a vacation scheme and land a £50k job!  Everyone’s path to publication, success, notoriety, or whatever it is they are craving, is completely different, and I think that’s one of the things which most appealed about the career.  However, having recently come across a fellow Young Adult author , I’ve found myself wondering if I ought to be doing more!

Very recently I stumbled upon another unpublished author in her twenties, however her approach to social media and publicity is very different to mine.  So different, in fact, that I’ve always thought some of the approaches she’s using were better suited to life ‘PBD’ – Post Book Deal!

I guess the question is whether publicity can help you secure a book deal, because as an unpublished author, signed to a well-renowned literary agent, that’s the next hurdle.

Do publishers Google a new author when a manuscript appears on their desks?  Does he or she search out the author’s Twitter, read her blog, and scrutinise how many Facebook fans she has? Or do they just base their decisions on the text itself?

I guess the traditionalist in me assumed all the publisher would be interested in would be my writing, and me ‘as a package’ – ie my age, my background, the story behind my writing, my marketability.

But does my Social Media presence affect all that?

I suppose I’ve always seen social media as an extension of your ‘author package’ – something you apply the package to, rather than a part of the package itself.  But perhaps in today’s society the lines have shifted, and social media can be as much a part of the package as your academic background, background story and general appeal as a person.

If you can write a blog that brings in hundreds of subscribers, and hundreds of thousands of page hits, or update your Twitter regularly and interestingly enough that thousands of strangers follow your ever 140 words, then perhaps this can add to your marketability as an author.  It can help you become the whole package.

The author in question, who I stumbled upon this week, Retweets posts from publishing houses and book devoted websites.  She @mentions publishers and publicists in her comments, drawing their attention to her work, and regularly demands strangers visit her personal website and ‘Fan’ her on Facebook.  She even goes so far as to canvass local schools, promoting her currently unsigned books, and gaining fans before she even has a finished product.

Is this genius, or simply jumping the gun?

As unpublished authors, are we audacious to claim we have ‘fans’, and to actively campaign for readerships?  Are we being intrusive and ignoring etiquette by contacting publishers and publicists so brazenly? And should these be things we ought to wait to do ONCE we have book deals …

Or by sitting on our hands, and thinking all we’re good for are blogs about waiting to get published, are we missing a beat, and stalling in the starting blocks?

 

Let me know what you think!

C-C xxx

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Sex and Swearing!

Right … now that I’ve caught your eye 😉

No, I promise that actually is the topic of today’s post.  Recently I’ve read a lot of different blog posts about the portrayal of sex in teenage fiction.  Admittedly, most of these blog posts seem to have been written from a very religious standpoint.  From my experiences of searching WordPress for fellow author bloggers, there appear to be a LOT of very Christian writers who blog.  When I say very Christian, what I mean is that their religious beliefs colour almost everything that appears on their blog posts.  Now, there are lots of blogs that I read and subscribe to, of which I know nothing of the author’s religious persuasions, and from my opinion I prefer this, because in my opinion an author’s religious beliefs should be kept separate from their fiction.  Now, I realise I may well be opening up a large can of worms with that comment, but unless you are specifically writing a religious story, or the characters in that story clearly adhere to certain beliefs,  then in my opinion your own personal religious beliefs should not colour the fiction.  Because it is just that – fiction.

To better express myself, I’ll use Twilight as an example.  Stephenie Meyer is a Mormon.  And whilst none of the characters in the books are of that faith, the main criticism often hurled at the book is the unrealistic portrayal of teenage romance and sex, an aspect clearly affected by Meyer’s beliefs.  In the books this attitude is explained away as a result of Edward having grown up in a very different era, however, as the high levels of criticism indicate, that explanation didn’t necessarily sit too well with the majority of readers.

This brings me on to an interesting issue of writing teenage fiction.  And that issue is sex.  Now, no matter what religion you adhere to.  No matter what your personal views are on sex before marriage, the stark reality of today’s society is that the vast majority of teenagers ARE sexually active.  Just to clarify – I’m from Britain, where the legal age of consent is 16, and where to my knowledge there is far less support from teenagers for chastity movements as there is in the United States.  Now, that’s obviously not to say that everyone is doing it!  But, from my experiences as a teenager growing up in the United Kingdom (and just to clarify, I went to a selective all girls’ school and grew up in a nice area of affluent South East of England), probably 95% of the people I grew up with lost their virginity before the age of 20.  Those who didn’t, abstained mainly for religious reasons, or because they were extremely shy around the opposite sex.

In my opinion, teenagers have sex!  Something I’m sure teenage pregnancy figures the globe over will support!

Now, I realise that as an author, you have certain responsibilities to your readers, and that particularly as a children’s author, those responsibilities can be rather profound.  You and your characters can act as role models to the people reading your books, and obviously the teenage age bracket is a particularly impressionable.  However, I think as an author, you have to tread a fine line with issues like sex, and swearing.

I guess for a start you have to decide how you personally see your role as an author, and ask yourself what you are trying to achieve with your books.  Are you writing as a Christian for other Christians, are you trying to convert people to a religion, are you trying to be a teacher and teach moral values, or are you trying to be a realist?  Are you trying to be a fantasist?  And how far do you want to push the realism of your book?

They are all questions which you as a teenage bracket author need to decide where issues like sex and swearing are involved.  Because lets be frank now – MOST teenagers are to some degree sexually active (and if they’re not, a fair few want to be!) and MOST teenagers swear.

So where do you draw the line, if you do want to include these things in your books?

Personally, I try to write realistically.  And interestingly, when I first wrote ‘Flicker’, and a male friend of mine (who is 27, swears like a trooper and is not shy about sharing his sex life!) read it for the first time, one of his first comments was ‘do you think you should include a sex scene?’ and he also suggested I remove the swearing.

Now, just to clarify, when I admit to including sex and swearing in my books, I’m not writing porn, nor am I writing the script for Shameless!  When characters get angry I might use the S or the F word, and if the plot requires someone to sleep with someone else, I might mention it happened, or if, as in Flicker, the reader needs to know a little bit more about the situation, expand it to a paragraph or two.

But even this can be seen by some to be overstepping a rather big line!

Obviously it depends on your target audience.  Flicker and The Dream Navigator, are both written with 15+ year old readers in mind, and the central characters are 19 years old.  19 year olds have sex and swear, so these were things which I figure should feature in the plot just like all the other things 19 year old characters might do.  But only where necessary.  For this reason, Ellody, the main character in TDN doesn’t actually have sex, because, as anyone who has read the start of TDN will realise, she’s not a normal 19 year-old.  She’s lived a really socially-repressed life because of her abilities, and struggles with her relationships with other people.  The most the reader might see her do is kiss another character, because for her that’s a really big step.

What I’m trying to say, is that sex and swearing ARE everyday things.  Particularly for older teenagers.  And it seems a shame to censor them from an artform, if you are trying to be realistic.  But, like all other events, actions and devices, they should only be used when necessary. If the situation and the story don’t merit it, or if you are writing for a younger audience – say the 11-14 year-old bracket – then don’t introduce those two things.  Tailor your story to your audience and your purpose!   There’s no need to turn a book into a swearing dictionary or a porno mag just for the sake of it!  But equally, don’t patronise your audience!  Don’t have a nineteen year-old burst into a tirade of ‘Oh fudge!  Golly gosh I’m so angry!’ because you then you will lose your target audience!  Your readers aren’t looking to you to be their religious leader, or their teacher – they already have those things.  They are looking to you as a writer to entertain them, and to tell them about the real world …. or not, in a responsible but realistic manner.   Or at least that’s my opinion!

So I guess it’s down to you to decide exactly what role you want to play!

C-C xx

 

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