Tag Archives: literary agent

The Ladder to the Top

Following on from my post about The Author Brand, I thought it might be an inspiration to others to collate some information about some of the world’s most famous authors, and their paths to success.   Today I’ve focussed on rejections by agents and publishers.

The ladder to the top can be a long and treacherous one, and it seems not even the most successful authors made it to the summit unscathed!

J.K. Rowling

‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’ was rejected by twelve different publishers before Bloomsbury finally took it on, and only then on the advice of the CEO’s eight-year old daughter!

John Grisham

Grisham penned his first novel, the iconic ‘A Time to Kill’ whilst legally representing a 12 year-old rape victim.  After three years writing the famous tale, Grisham was rejected by over thirty publishing houses before Wynwood Press finally cut him a break.

Stephen King

Stephen King took the rejection of his first novel ‘The Long Walk’ so badly, even though he only submitted it to one publisher, that he gave up on the story all together.

Meg Cabot

The bestselling author of ‘The Princess Diaries’ faced rejection after rejection for three years before finding a publisher.   She admits to having kept every single rejection letter in a giant U.S. postal bag which is so heavy she can’t even lift it!   And editors didn’t hold back with their criticism… one particularly scathing review stated that ‘The Princess Diaries’ wasn’t suitable for children.  Try telling that to the millions of children who have since bought the books and watched the movies!

William Golding

‘Lord of The Flies’ was rejected twenty times before being published.  One editor actually described it as ‘an absurd and uninteresting fantasy which was rubbish and dull’!  Oops!

(The Diary of )Anne Frank

One publisher rejected the iconic journal because ‘The girl doesn’t, it seems to me, have a special perception or feeling which would lift the book above the ‘curiosity’ level.’

Joseph Heller

Apparently Catch-22 was originally entitled ‘Catch-18’ but Heller increased the number with each rejection letter! One of the ‘best rejection’ it received said ‘Apparently the author intends it to be funny – possibly even satire – but it is really not funny on any intellectual level …’

George Orwell

Four publishers rejected the iconic ‘Animal Farm’, including famous poet T.S. Elliot.  Elliot criticised Orwell’s ‘Trotskyite politics’, whilst another editor simply stated ‘It is impossible to sell animal stories in the USA’!

Harper Lee

‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, one of my favourite novels, was rejected by J.B. Lippincott Company because it ‘had too many short stories strung together, and needed to be rewritten’.

On a similar note, a few years ago the director of the Jane Austen Festival decided to find out what sort of reception Jane herself might get, had she been an author in this day and age.  With only a few minor changes, David Lassman submitted the opening chapters and plot synopses to three of Austen’s most famous books – Pride and Prejudice, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion – to publishers and agents. He submitted the books under early titles which Austen had once considered, and used the pen name ‘Alison Laydee’, a play on Austen’s nom de plume ‘ A Lady’.

Despite not even changing the opening line of Pride & Prejudice – one of the most famous lines in literature – only one editor noticed the plagiarism!  And EVERYONE else rejected ALL of Austen’s work.

I realise that possibly says more about the lack of education of those we’re pinning our hopes to at the moment, than anything else … but it also shows that even literary genius can go unnoticed in today’s harsh market!  So don’t get too disheartened by the rejection emails … we’ll get there in the end 😉

As another of my favourite childhood authors, C.S. Lewis, once said … ‘Failures are fingerposts on the road to achievement.’

C-C xx

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Inspired ….

A number of your comments on this blog have thanked me for ‘inspiring’ you.

Which is lovely … and something I’m extremely proud of.

However, I have to admit to feeling increasingly uninspired in recent months.

Just to recap my situation for those of you who haven’t read my entire blog … I’m a 27 year-old Cambridge law graduate.  I passed up a career in law for a Masters in Broadcast Journalism, and then disappeared off around the world on a rather extended second gap ‘year’.  Two and a bit years later, and I’ve written three novels, got myself an agent … but am still not published.

Of my two and a half years away, I spent a year travelling across Australasia and South and Central America, all by myself, before installing myself in Whistler, Canada, where I have worked as a live-in and live-out nanny.

But that time is coming to an end … fast!

My plane ticket home is booked for April 27th, and whilst I’ve had an agent for over a year, getting signed to PFD feels like my last tangible writing achievement.  I finished my first novel Flicker almost two years ago.  I know it’s a slow process, and those two years haven’t been without major developments, but still … I’m a month from going home, and if I’m honest I guess I’d always imagined returning home with my first book deal firmly under my belt.

Flicker was sent to publishers last November.  And over half are yet to reply.  Whilst all of the rejections I’ve received so far, have been rather positive and encouraging … they were still rejections.  And I’m not feeling overly heartened by the fact that the other six publishers are in no rush to respond …

My second book, The Dream Navigator, will be sent to publishers in the next few days, but it’s hard not to feel despondent. after getting my hopes up when I heard Flicker was finally being sent off.

So … I’m returning home unsigned.  And unemployed!

Uninspired.

I’ve spent the past few weeks, wincing at job pages.  Trying to find a day job that inspires me, recognises my academic background, but that forgives my lack of professional expertise.  Easier said than done … And while I may have been happy working as a nanny on the other side of the world, being back home and babysitting for a living seems like selling myself short.

So there I was … uninspired, and panicking that my dreams of becoming a writer are all for nothing … Worrying that my only chance to make it as a writer involves making coffee for editors, and working eighty hour weeks for literally nothing … (more on that later!).

The problem with my background is that writing isn’t my only option.  Every now and again the sensible voice inside me reminds me that I don’t have to completely turn my back on my academic background … that the Magic Circle Law firms are still there, and that I have the gift of the gab to glaze over my four year ‘sabbatical’ ….

But I don’t want to be a lawyer!  I dismissed that career years ago … and found a vocation that I love … and truly believe I can succeed in.

I just have to keep working at it.  Like all of you, who have read my blog … I’m almost there … but not quite.  And I need to believe in myself to continue  on that path.

Where did my inspiration come from?  What was it that made me realise I’m not ready to give up on my dream just yet, and that just because I’m leaving the protective bubble of my gap year, and returning back into the harsh light of my ‘real world’, doesn’t mean I have to abandon the thing I’ve spent the past two years working towards?

Last night I watched the Adjustment Bureau.  Easily the best film I’ve watched since Inception.  I love films that make me think, and stretch my imagination.  Partly because that’s the kind of fiction I like to write.  And partly because I just love stories.  Stories are my life.  Whether books, movies, or trashy American TV … I love stories!  And as I sat in the cinema last night, watching an amazingly well-told and thought-provoking story, and at the same time watching the rest of the audience enjoying that story … I was inspired.  I wanted my stories to touch people like that!  I want to sit in a cinema, and know the story inspiring and captivating every member of the audience, started in my head!

I want to share stories with the world!  I like to write … whether fiction or non-fiction, a journal, a blog, a news article  … but it’s the stories that are my passion.  And I want to dedicate my life to telling those stories …  In novels, and screenplays … and maybe even in good old trashy American TV!

Nut the Adjustment Bureau inspired me for another reason.  The film focusses on the idea of destiny, and having a pre-ordained path in life.  And it’s message is a positive one of taking hold of your own life, and determining your own destiny with your own actions.  Truly writing your own story.

What better message for uninspired me, than to be told to take the reigns of my life, and make things happen?

Ok, so Flicker has been at publishers for a few months …  Who cares? It’s my first novel!  And not only did it get me signed to an agent, but she thought it was good enough to submit to some of the world’s biggest publishers!  And in not one of my rejection letters, did those publishers question why Lucy thought it good enough to send to them!

I’m 27 years young … as I observed in The Life/Writing Balance most authors are in their mid-thirties when they write their first novels.  The past two years haven’t been my writing career … they have been my first steps on a path which will hopefully last my entire life.  And I shouldn’t abandon that path just because the first steps are turning out to be a little tougher, or longer than my impatient excitement can handle!

So I am writing my own story, and determining my own destiny … by believing and investing in my ability.

I go home in a month’s time.  But that isn’t the end of my dream.  It’s the start of a new chapter.  Where to next?  Well I’m thinking a screen-writing course in the States so that I can turn My Ten Future Lives into a screenplay …  and hopefully one day sit in a cinema, and stare up at my own story.  And more importantly, stare around at the people touched and moved by that story!

C-C xx

 

 

 

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Getting Represented

In my first proper blog post, ‘So Am I an Author Yet?!’ I brushed over the process of getting an agent.

No, it wasn’t painless … but a year and a bit on, I think of it like I do my driving test.  Something which felt impossible at the time, but which, once successfully achieved, you push to the back of your mind, eclipsed by new worries and challenges … like REALLY learning to parallel park, and getting your first novel published.

However, I am very aware that a lot of the people reading this blog are yet to be able to refer to themselves as ‘represented’, and many of you have asked me exactly how I went about finding my lovely agent Lucy.

In order to properly answer this question and give it some ‘expert’ clout … rather than it simply being my own personal anecdote, I asked my agent Lucy Dundas, of Peters Fraser and Dunlop to chip in with some comments on how to get your work noticed in the slush pile.

So let’s start with Lucy’s comments …

Number 1 – Research.  The biggest thing as an agent is to be addressed directly. Letters sent to “Dear Sir or Madam” or “To Whom it may Concern” drive us mad. If an author isn’t intelligent enough to find a name within a company, then we don’t hold out much hope. If someone has done their research, found out who to direct their letter to, it just proves how much you want it.’

Number 2 – Give us what we ask for. If an agency website says we only accept 3 chapters, synopsis and covering letter, please please please don’t send a letter asking us if we want to read your full mss….please don’t send us your full mss and PLEASE don’t send three random chapters from different parts of your book. Make it the first 3 sequential chapters with a synopsis saying where the book goes from there.

Buy the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook – it has loads more information on agents, publishers, newspapers, foreign rights etc etc and is a great insight into our world.’

So those are Lucy’s main points.  Mine really stem from there.

Adding to Lucy’s point about research, make sure the agencies you are approaching, and the particular agents at each agency, specialise in your kind of writing.  Look at the other authors they represent, and the other books they have worked on.  There’s no point sending an amazing adult book to a children’s agent, etc, because they wont bother with it, no matter how amazing it is.

Secondly, be professional.  That obviously includes the ‘knowing who you’re writing to’ point that Lucy made.  But in my opinion, if you want to come across as a good client, do so right from the beginning.  Be organised with your work.  Present it well – footers with your name, and the name of the book.  Page numbers.  Make it easy for them to print out and read.  You want to encourage them to read it, not confuse them.

Thirdly, play the game!  If the agent asks for three ‘random’ chapters, make sure they are your three favourites. Don’t just lazily send off the first three chapters, if you know you have action-packed central chapters which better display your ability.  You want them to read more.  So pick the good’uns, and polish them!  Whilst an agent WILL do edits, and spelling errors aren’t the end of the world, it makes sense to present your manuscript to an agent in the best possible state you can.  It won’t be the finished state, but you may as well do as much work on it as you can.  The agent will only read it once, so make that one time worth it.

Finally, be persistent.  Maybe some people DO get signed the first time they ever send out a manuscript, but I bet you the majority of signed authors approached a fair few different agencies before they found their match.  I happily admit to sending out letters to American and Australian agencies as well as British ones, and to also submitting myself to a couple of publishers which accepted unsolicited manuscripts.  And my persistence paid off.  Publishing isn’t affected by odds.  Your book doesn’t come with a tag saying ‘she contacted 500 agents before it got signed, and 200 publishers before we published it’ … so go for it.  As long as you tailor each letter and application for each agency, and chose agencies who really are likely to want to represent you, then why not cast out your net as wide as you can?  It’s your time, effort and (postage) money!

If you really believe in your work … then commit to it!  You need to be committed to persuade someone else to replicate that commitment.

C-C xx

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The Life / Writing Balance

In my recent post ‘The Writers’ Network’ I explained how blogging can provide a new social network for writers.

Interestingly some of the comments on the post extended this new society to an actual social life.  As if talking to other writers online is the closest thing a writer might have to a life of her own.

The idea of a writer not having a real life of her own angers me.  As I explained in ‘Writing from the Heart’, it’s important to know and understand the things you write about.  So how can a writer convincingly write about the exciting lives of her characters, if she herself lives a rather mundane existence?

For me, becoming a good writer has meant understanding people.  And that involves communicating with, and engaging with, people from all different backgrounds and in all different situations.  In order to have the imagination to create a full range of characters, and empathise properly with those characters, I feel like I need to truly understand the world around me.  As a result I often feel like I’ve lived a hundred lives.  I’ve tried anything and everything … possibly one of the reasons why I’ve adapted so well going from Cambridge Law student to professional babysitter! Every adventure is two-fold.  Not only is it interesting and exciting for me as an individual, it’s also useful for me as a writer.  I’ve stood on both sides of the fence – the served and the server –  and as a result I understand life ‘upstairs’ and ‘downstairs’.

I’ve noticed that a lot of people write their first novel in their mid-thirties.  However I was 25 when I finally committed Flicker to paper, and I think the reason I did so at such a relatively young age, is because I feel I’ve had more than enough life experience.  The adventurous and constantly-changing way in which I live my life has equipped me with the knowledge and empathy to write from various different perspectives on a number of different subjects, which has proved particularly useful, particularly where books like ‘My Ten Future Lives’ where the characters’ situations change with every chapter.

In my opinion the traditional image of an author as a loner, trapped in a room, able only to socialise through her pen is out-dated and unrealistic.  Just because I can write, shouldn’t mean I can’t talk to people … and vice versa.

Personally I like to think of myself as a rather bubbly and sociable person, who also enjoys writing, and I hope that this personality shades my writing rather than hampering it.

The idea of the loner writer is a rather romantic one.  As if she puts her all into the book and has no time for a life of her own.  However, it is more than possible to have a life, and dedicate your time and energy to writing a book … it’s simply a question of understanding your writing.

As I explained in ‘The Author, The Journalist and The Blogger’, everyone writes differently depending on the nature of the task.  I also find that within each ‘discipline’ of writing, I work differently according to the task.

Take, for example, the administrative side of writing a novel.  As I will explain in more detail in a later post, it’s important as an author to present your work in a user-friendly manner.  And this involves headers, footers and page-numbers.  Compare this side of writing to expertly selecting the perfect words for the opening paragraph of your novel, and you can hopefully understand the different mental demands of various tasks.  Labeling my pages uses 2% of my brain power … finding the perfect words, maybe 92%.  And then there’s re-reading and editing.  The more often you have revised a piece of work, the less attention you need to pay it.

And so, with this all in mind … it’s actually possible to be rather sociable, and still find time to write!

When I’m writing prose, I know I need to be alone … whether that privacy is offered by four walls, or simply by my laptop headphones.  Similarly, I need to have relative focus when it comes to my initial edits.  I’ll perhaps play music I know well, or a tv show I’m not captivated with in the background.

But in the later edits, where I’m simply skim-reading for mistakes or repetition, and when it comes to numbering my pages and making everything look neat and tidy, I don’t need anywhere near my full attention on my computer.  And so these activities don’t require me to be a ‘loner’.  In the same way that I’m sitting writing this blog post whilst half-watching a movie with my boyfriend, and contributing (all but half-heartedly) to a conversation with him and one of our friends, a lot of writing tasks don’t require my full attention, and so I have adapted my life to include ‘laptop’ moments.

It’s not gospel, and probably wouldn’t work for everyone, but knowing when I can fulfil tasks in a sociable manner definitely helps me feel a lot less like a loner writer.

Finally, the other thing which keeps me sane is knowing when NOT to write.  As I mentioned in The Writers’ Network, I’m between books.  And three novels into my writing career, I understand my habits well enough to know that I need to take a decent break in between projects.  I need to switch character perspectives, in order to write convincingly from that new point of view … and whilst I’m not exactly lazy during the gaps (as perhaps best evidenced by this blog!!) I definitely take a proper break.  Which leaves more time for that life part of the life/writing balance …

Two years in, and it seems to be working for me … what about you?  Have you found the perfect balance?  Are your coping methods different to mine?  Or are you the stereotypical loner writer?

As ever … discuss!! That’s the whole point of the blog 🙂 Get social with the rest of the internet’s aspiring authors!

C-C xxx

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Flicker continued …

Thanks to all of you who have checked out the three pages of this blog containing my fiction work –

Flicker, My Ten Future Lives and The Dream Navigator.

After a number of your requests, I thought it might be time to post a little more of ‘Flicker’, my first novel, which is currently being considered by publishers.

Thanks again for your time, and as ever, I would LOVE to hear your feedback,

C-C xxx

CLICK HERE FOR FIRST SECTION!!

Chapter One – Fugitive (continued)

Flic had never known twenty-four hours go by so quickly.  She and Daniel talked about everything and nothing.  He told her about his childhood in South Africa, his father’s mining company, and boarding school in England.  He explained how he was meant to be in his third year at Oxford University studying Engineering, but that his father had insisted he take a year’s sabbatical to travel and work in Australia.  In turn Flic told him about her mother, the little she knew of her Australian background, and her childhood in England.

She knew she oughtn’t, but Flic couldn’t help comparing him to Ally.  Whilst Ally was just as intelligent, about to finish his first term at Cambridge, the two boys were markedly different.  Ally was arty; his way was with words.  He was studying Law, and had this ability to make any idea convincing.  He could paint a scene so lyrically from his own perspective that often Flic would forget her own point of view by the end of a debate! Daniel, however, was almost mechanical.  His language was simple and unemotional about everything apart from his mother and his relationship with his father.  When he talked about his parents it was as if the chink in his armour suddenly appeared.  He was logical, his intelligence not in his eloquence, but in his thought processes.

To be honest it was quite refreshing.  Flic had always had difficulty rivalling Ally’s ideas.  Whilst she could be persuasive when she wanted to, she could also be quite emotional and, with it, irrational.  Her passion was a quality, which she treasured.  Some of her most successful ideas came from the less rational side of her brain.  In fact, she’d originally wanted to study English at university, a subject that she saw as the perfect combination of logic and passion.  But ironically Ally had managed to persuade her otherwise, insisting that she apply to study Law alongside him.  It wasn’t that she couldn’t study Law.  She was perfectly capable.  It was just that she knew that she didn’t think in completely the same way Ally did.

Daniel was just so different, so accepting.  He understood that she thought differently on certain subjects, and simply seemed interested in those differences, rather than determined to drown out her alternative thoughts.

*                                  *                                  *

In Bangkok airport they sat snuggled together on a bench, Flic resting her head tiredly on Daniel’s knee as he checked his Blackberry.  It felt so nice to have simple human contact again, that she didn’t even question the fact she’d known him less than a day.  She couldn’t remember the last time she’d even been hugged.  All of her closest friends at school had really been Ally’s friends, and so once they’d split up everyone had vanished, leaving her to deal with her grief alone.

One of Daniel’s arms rested gently across her shoulder and chest, and she curled in towards its comfortable weight, succumbing to a sleep she hadn’t known for months.

When Daniel shook her awake an hour later she was burning up, heat flooding from her cheeks, her throat dry and scratchy.  Realising where she was, Flic bolted upright, her hands rushing to her tangled hair and roasting cheeks.  Daniel jumped up to join her, and coolly tucked back the fronds of russet hair that licked her face.

‘Hey, where’s the fire?! We’ve still got ages.’ he continued, calmly. ‘There’s no need to rush! Sorry, you were getting all hot and bothered, so I thought perhaps I ought to wake you.  I hope you don’t mind.’

Flic tried to catch hold of her dreams, the strangely familiar sensations of heat and light, which had stormed through her while she slept, but they evaporated as she stared up at Daniel, confused.

Daniel paused for a second, and then all of a sudden cupped her face in his hands.  His eyes searched her for a reaction.

Flic smiled back at him, fully back in the present.  She took in his height, the depth of the darkness in his eyes, and the gentle coolness of his palms. ‘Thank you’.  She placed her hands around his waist.

It was weird.  His waist was wider than Ally’s, his back thicker. Holding him wasn’t uncomfortable, just unknown.  Flic looked into his eyes, sensing that somewhere in the silver-grey swirl was the intent to kiss her.  And at that moment, she realised she wasn’t ready.  While she knew she needed to put emotional miles between her heart and her love for Ally, the geographic miles had to come first.  Gently, she took both of Daniel’s hands in her own, and moved them from her face down to her waist.  Tucking her head beneath his chin, she slipped her own hands up his back, and whispered ‘I’m sorry, I’m just not ready for anything more than this.’

Daniel responded with a strong, tight hug, clamping her in his arms in a manner that made her feel strangely untouchable.

Qantas flight QF 2 now boarding at Gate Seventeen’ came an announcement.

Daniel gave her a reassuring squeeze, and murmured in her ear ‘That’s us’.

*                                  *                                  *

They spent the next eight hours entangled in cramped airplane sleep.  The only vaguely comfortable element of it all was Daniel’s arms, which didn’t let go of Flic for the entire flight. It was weird, but somehow, in his arms she definitely felt stronger.  More capable of dealing with what was to come.  Maybe it was just feeling wanted again, feeling protected and understood, but whatever it was, it felt good.

‘Hey Daniel?’ Flic asked as the plane finally began to land. ‘What are your plans for the next few weeks?’

‘Um … Australia?’ he replied blankly.

‘Fancy joining me on my adventure tour?’

‘I’m sure I can fit it into my hectic schedule!’ he grinned, and tightened his grip around her fingers.

*                                  *                                  *

The lift doors opened with a ping to reveal the tour group ready-assembled.  Embarrassment flooded Flic’s cheeks as she realised that she was late, and already drawing unnecessary attention to herself.  Daniel had warned her against sleeping.  It was six in the evening, and she had only just woken up, but she’d barely been able to function when they finally touched down in Sydney, let alone after the connection to Cairns. Luckily getting Daniel onto the supposedly elite bus tour had turned out to be far easier than they’d expected.  Another member of the group had cancelled at the last minute, leaving a spare place that Daniel was happy to fill.

Ten pairs of eyes fell on her and suddenly she was filled with dread. She knew she ought to be more excited about meeting the people she’d be living with for the next two months, but she simply felt drained and inadequate.  How was she going to survive in this newly formed group? If Ally, the person who knew her best of all, could reject her so easily, why should a bunch of strangers accept her?

The tour guide took a step towards her.  ‘And you must be Felicity’, he announced loudly.

‘Yep, sorry I’m late,’ Flic mumbled, not even bothering to correct him.  She stared down at the lobby carpet, suddenly all the more aware of her baggy clothes and lack of make-up.  Her new travel buddies were definitely meeting her in her most elementary state.  Sensing her discomfort, the guide extended a warn hand, and added more quietly, ‘Not to worry, Daniel here explained you were on your way.  I’m Damo by the way.’

He turned to the rest of the group.  ‘Right boys and girls, I don’t know about you, but it’s definitely getting close to beer-o’clock for me! Shall we move to the pub?’

The group filed eagerly out of the hostel lobby. Flic looked around for Daniel, but he was engrossed in a conversation with a beautiful brunette.  Deflated, she stared down at the red patent stilettos of the redhead in front of her, and felt a jealous ache as the girl slipped her hand into the palm of a tall boy with cropped dark hair, and hugged his arm into her chest.  Without even turning, Flic sensed the group pairing off around her, engrossed in introductory conversation.  Once again she was alone, and the fears that she’d pushed aside in Heathrow racked through her.  Was she really doing the right thing?

Cairns wasn’t particularly big, and within a few minutes they were at the pub.  A depressingly smiley hostess greeted Damo with a hug before leading the group upstairs to a large balcony.  Flic gripped the back of her chair nervously and tried to find Daniel.  He had settled himself comfortably beside the slender brunette.  Not wanting to get caught staring at him, Flic flashed her eyes around the table, taking her first proper looks at the group.  Her stomach fell.  She wasn’t sure if it was just her insecurities talking, but they all looked enviously confident and attractive.  She cursed herself for not even bothering to throw on some make-up.  So much for a great first impression …

The rest of the group chattered away, oblivious to her silent awkwardness. She slipped discreetly into her seat, and then finally forced herself to raise her head again.  Gazing cautiously around the table, she hoped her eyes wouldn’t betray the flood of emotion in which she was drowning.  She gulped noiselessly for air, and quelled the flames in her cheeks.

The first pair of eyes to meet hers was kinder than she expected.  The petite redhead with the scarlet shoes was sitting directly in front of her.  She beamed easily across at Flic. ‘Hi, I’m Jules’.   She gestured to the boy at her side, ‘and this is my boyfriend Mark.’

Jules was tiny, and yet there was an intense strength to her features.  She stood no taller than five foot two, minute compared to Flic’s Amazonian stature, however Flic felt immediately dwarfed by her personality.  The girl had such tangible strength.  It was there in both her face and her words, and in a less attractive girl might even be construed as coarse, yet Julia’s delicate beauty seemed to melt the directness of her words.

‘So, I guess we’d better get the standard backpacker questions over and done with!’ Jules sighed, a cheeky sarcasm in her voice. ‘Make a couple more Facebook friends!’ she grinned, and Flic got the impression she cared little what others thought about her.

‘I’m from Camden …’ Jules paused, and then laughed easily as she noticed everyone was suddenly listening to her.  She added ‘that’s in London’ as an afterthought, though Flic was sure that Jules’s broad accent was universally recognisable. ‘I just finished university’, she continued, ‘ and Mark and I have been travelling for about four months.  Plan is to travel until the money runs out, which could be far sooner than expected at the rate we’re going!’

Without a pause, Mark followed his girlfriend.  He was tall, with an athletic build, his brown hair cropped short. ‘Hello everybody! I’m Mark’, he said, raising his pint in greeting.  ‘I’m from Reading, England.  I also just finished my degree, and, unless I find a better model … Ow!’ he winced playfully as Julia elbowed him in the ribs, ‘then I’ll be travelling as long as Jules is!’  He squeezed his girlfriend’s leg affectionately.

The rest of the group took Mark’s lead, and introductions began circling the table.  The guy to Mark’s started to speak.  His hair was thick and dark, his skin a dark olive tone.  Flic couldn’t help noticing an uncomfortable air of superiority about him.  ‘Hi everyone, I’m Ant, and I am most definitely not a POME!  Well not unless you count my convict ancestors!’  He chuckled at his own joke, while the girl to his left reeled in horror.

‘Anthony, you know very well our ancestors weren’t convicts!’ she hissed.

Ant ignored her, and carried on, though it was clear her reaction not only amused him, but had been his intention.

‘I’m from Darwin,’ he continued conversationally, ‘though contrary to popular belief, that doesn’t mean I have webbed feet!  There is definitely no chance of inbreeding in our family!’ he guffawed.  ‘I mean, who’d want to get on that?!’ he exclaimed crudely, motioning to the girl beside him, whose face was alternating between furious scarlet and putrid green.  ‘I just finished school, and my dad, Isabella’s uncle, thought it was time I saw the country.’

Isabella slowly composed herself, though she winced as she spoke, as if the echo of her cousin’s words still stung her.  ‘Good evening everyone, I’m Isabella Leiter, Anthony’s cousin.’ Her words were clipped and formal, her voice British and upper class.  She wore her long reddish-brown hair in a neat braid, which coupled with her delicate figure, made her look far younger than eighteen.

‘Our fathers were both born over here, however Papa moved to England before I was born … thank God!  Papa thought it would be nice for me to spend my gap year with family.’ She ended abruptly, looking back at Anthony. The tone of her voice suggested she didn’t necessarily agree with her father.

Flic felt her nerves rise as the focus of the table moved closer towards her. As she looked at the two people set to speak before her, she groaned.  This was going to be even quicker than she’d expected! These two definitely came as a pair.

Jake and Luke were identical twins.  Their hair was such a vivid shade of ginger that it seemed to shine.  Red hair is something so often ridiculed, an automatic assumption of ugliness, but the only word that sprang to mind as Flic eyed the twins was ‘radiant’.  Their skin was the most attractive shade of brown, tanned in a way she’d never thought possible for redheads.  In fact, as she looked around the group once more, she realised that everyone was enviably brown.  Flic assumed it must just be the Australian weather, though she knew that no matter how much time she spent in the country, her pale complexion would never reach such a gorgeous caramel colour.  Luke-warm British summers, with their fleeting snatches of sunlight, had taught Flic at an early age that she wasn’t compatible with the sun.  She had envied Amelia so much.  Her mother had had an almost permanent tan.  While the best Flic could ever hope for was Maybelline summer tone foundation, and even that looked harsh against her pale skin!

The twins were English, but studying at a university in Melbourne.  This was their summer break.  Like Isabella, their slight statures made them look extremely young for their age.  As Flic looked from one to the other, she realised it wasn’t hard to distinguish between them.  Jake’s hair was floppy and unkempt, his appearance far less cultivated than his fashionable twin’s, though as Flic reminded herself, fiddling awkwardly with her dowdy combats under the table, tonight’s appearances shouldn’t be read into too deeply!

Finally it was her turn. She breathed in deeply, and flashed her eyes around the circle.  Daniel was no longer engaged in conversation.  His focus was on her, cool, but encouraging.  As her nerves heightened, her cheeks flamed.  She stared back down at the table, and began.

‘Hi, I’m, uh, Felicity, but everyone calls me Flic.  I, well … to be honest … I’m still pretty jet-lagged and shocked to be here.  I just finished my A-Levels, and had planned to go straight to uni until’, … her voice faltered, but she knew she had to say it.  It was her life now.  ‘Until my Mum died a few months ago.  Mum was Australian, but I’ve never been out here before.  She, uh, she left instructions in her will for me to come here …’ Flic trailed off, lost for anything more to say, her cheeks and chest burning red with embarrassment. Under the table a warm, unfamiliar hand gripped hers, and she flinched.  Before she could react, its owner began to speak, taking the heat of the social spotlight away from her. A cool wave of relief washed over her, and she turned her attention towards her saviour.

Interestingly, her neighbour wasn’t overly confident in the spotlight himself, and yet there he was, taking the heat for her.  Affection for this stranger welled in the back of Flic’s throat, and she squeezed his hand before he drew it away.

‘Hi everyone’, he stuttered nervously, ‘I’m Toby.’

Toby’s voice had a rough quality to it, though it wasn’t because of a regional twang like Jules’s.  While there was a definite Brummie lilt to his voice, the texture went beyond his accent.  His voice was less refined, less polished than anyone else’s.   He stumbled on shyly and Flic wondered if his hesitance was linked to insecurities like the ones she felt as she stared round the table.  Not that he had any need!   And his shy awkwardness only served to make him more attractive.

‘I guess you’ve all heard by now that my brother dropped out.  Max, ah, well Max met a girl while we were in Thailand, and decided to fly to South Africa instead of doing the tour.  I’m so sorry for all the inconvenience this causes … um, with numbers and stuff …’, he directed this towards Damo, who sat at the head of the table.  The tour guide shook his head dismissively, and Toby continued.

‘So, anyway, well, I’m from Bromsgrove, born and bred.  This is actually only the second time I’ve been abroad.  I’m a sparky,’ he glanced around at the rest of the group, a number of their faces blank, and then corrected himself, ‘an electrician, by trade. I’m over here on a working visa.  Plan is to work out here once the tour’s over.’  He shrugged awkwardly, and Daniel slickly carried on from where he left off.

‘Good evening everyone! So, it looks like I’m Max’s replacement! And, can I just say, I think your bro’s made the right decision about holiday destinations!’ he winked at Toby, the South African part of his accent becoming stronger, as if to accentuate his point.

Toby grinned awkwardly.  In fact it looked more like a grimace, but Daniel didn’t seem to notice, and continued, telling the others the same tale of his life that he’d told Flic on the plane. Thankfully he skipped out her involvement in him joining the group.  She wasn’t sure she wanted the others knowing about … whatever it was that had happened.  The day of jet-lagged sleep since their arrival made the plane journey seem a lifetime away, and suddenly, faced with him in this new environment, Flic was no longer sure how she felt about Daniel, or about leaving everything with Ally behind her.

Finally, the beautiful brunette at Daniel’s side introduced herself.  Her hair was chestnut brown, but with expensive-looking caramel highlights, which glowed autumnally in the light.  Flic sighed.  It was the same look she’d always wanted.  She sometimes imagined that her hair glowed a reddish shade when the sun caught it, the way Amelia’s had, but deep down Flic knew her hair was nothing more than a dull shade of brown.

Camilla had a fragile heart-shaped face and flawless cheekbones reminiscent of a porcelain doll, something that she accentuated with dark rings of eye-liner. Her complexion, however, was by no means pale.

Like the twins, Camilla lived in Melbourne. It surprised Flic to find Australians on the tour.  She’d just assumed the group would comprise of the typical backpacker demographic, a bunch of eighteen year-old English girls, and a sprinkling of pub-crawling Irish lads! Obviously Amelia had selected a slightly more unorthodox trip for her!

Flic wasn’t sure how happy she was about that yet, especially as she gazed at Camilla’s envious curves!  In an age when curvy was synonymous with fat, somehow Camilla managed to pull off a frankly massive bust, and miniscule waist.  Flic groaned inwardly.  She’d always heard that you ‘find yourself’ on your gap year.  So far all Flic seemed to be finding out was how plain and inadequate she was!

‘So guys, this is your family!’ Damo interjected ‘… well, for the next two months at least!’ he continued. ‘What develops between you after that, that’s none of my concern! Though from what I hear, previous tours have had a few marriages and births to answer for … but hopefully no deaths!

‘In all seriousness though, welcome to Discover Australia … or the Disco tour as I like to call it!  I know a lot of you haven’t been told too much about what the next two months have in store, but let me reassure you, you will be challenged.  We like to think of our trip as one of the most extreme and elite that the East Coast has to offer … so fasten your seatbelts … you’re in for one hell of a ride!’

He passed around a tray of shot glasses, and before Flic had even had a chance to sniff at the contents of her glass, Damo had raised a toast.  ‘To new family!’

The tequila burnt Flic’s throat, and she thought ironically of the Firestone family, which was no more.

© C-C Lester 2009

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Filed under C-C Lester, Flicker, Novel Excerpt, Writing

Sharing the Love!

Some of you have messaged me over the past few days to let me know that my Freshly Pressed ‘So am I an Author yet?!’ post struck a chord with you so much that you blogged about it!

Here are some links to and quotes from the blogs I’ve noticed.  If you’ve mentioned the Elementary Circle on your blog, I would love to hear about it!

Thanks C-C xx

An Author? A Writer? What Am I?

4 Chicks & A Muse

I just stumbled upon this great question on the front page of WordPress.com: So Am I An Author Yet?

My natural curiosity just wouldn’t let me continue on with my own task.  I had to follow that link.  Because this is a question we who write struggle with constantly.

(Check out the awesome blog for the rest of the article!)

Anyway, back to that link…At the end of it I found a great post by C-C Lester.  She expressed the writer/author identity struggle eloquently and, ironically, it made me identify with her.  Aha! I thought.  She’s one of us. In C-C, I recognized a kinswoman.  A woman-writer-perhaps-author chasing the muse, who also recently decided to share her story with the world via the blogosphere.   C-C and I, we may not know what to call ourselves, but we know that writing is an inseparable part of who we are.

An author?  A writer?  Who knows?  Who cares?  I write.  Period.

Words under my Eyelids

Mirella Rose

One thing, however, on the freshly pressed page, caught my attention and I keep going back to it ….

Beautiful words there. Truly inspirational and motivational.  They kept coming back to me in a jumbles of ways, especially guilt at the stories I’ve left as barely finished word files on my documents in a special folder titled literature (everyone assumes its English Literature coursework and doesn’t bother to look there for anything juicy- so shhhh!)

So I ask, what keeps you going? What burns and fuels the story onwards? Whats the secret to giving a story a plausible spark of life?

Links We Like

Restless Writers – Restless Lori

The third post on writer C-C Lester’s blog was Freshly Pressed and in it she ponders when she can legitimately (in her mind) put “author” on her immigration forms at the airport. I suspect that time is now.

Who Are You?

Isabella Louise Anderson

Yesterday, I read a blog that really made me wonder about who I am, and what I do.  Am I a writer, or not?  I took some time last night, and thought really hard about it, and the answer is YES!

Here is the link to a very inspiring, honest and heartfelt blog, about the journey of a writer: So am I an Author yet?


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

The Secrets to Finishing a Novel

I’m often asked how exactly I went about writing my novels.

Unlike a number of the new writers I’ve spoken to, I have never started writing a novel, only to give up on it part way through.

(With the exception of the sequel to Flicker, which is currently paused on Chapter Five until I find out if the series will be published!)

Of course, this could simply be down to the fact that I’m really rather stubborn!

I’m the type of reader, who even if a book is atrocious, will have to read it to the end, because I have started it. If I start a story, I need to finish it.  And I guess I apply this same attitude to my writing … though hopefully my books aren’t ‘atrocious’!

One blog reader recently commented that her reason for writing was a ‘selfish one’, in that she has to get her stories onto paper for her own sanity.  This is definitely something I can empathise with.  Quite often my head buzzes with a story all day, and I find myself literally racing home in order to commit it to virtual paper.

And so my disciplined writing style might just be the result of stubbornness, or of an unerring need to spill out my day’s plot-developments.

However, I like to think there are two key ‘secrets’ to how I have finished three complete novels, and all the necessary edits, in just two years.

Firstly, I have time.

As an ‘unpublished author’, the main problem is obviously lack of funds.  You’ve found your vocation, but you’re not reaping any of the financial rewards.  Unless you’re being supported by someone else, or are fortunate enough to have saved the funds to take a sabbatical from the more mundane side of life, you need to have a job.

But exactly what your day job is will affect your writing.

At university, when my mind was whirring all day, every day, I found if very hard to concentrate on anything particularly taxing in my ‘spare time’.  I read very little, and the only things I ever wrote were essays.  My time to read and write had always been my holidays.  With my mind free from other distractions, I would not only digest one or two books a day, and also began to pen my own ideas.  The concepts for Flicker and My Ten Future Lives were thought up during a particularly lazy ten days in a Miami Hostel at the end of my third year.

And as I described in ‘So am I an Author Yet?! Flicker went from an idea to a full novel during my year backpacking.  Trapped on twenty-something hour-long bus journeys across South America, I had the time and the inclination to write.

However, no one can travel forever.  And so I ended up in Whistler, Canada, feeling like I was at least a writer, if not an ‘author,’ but knowing that without a book deal, neither of those self descriptions was going to pay the bills.

Anyone who has read my bio will realise I’m a Type A overachiever.  I studied Law at Cambridge, and went on to do a Masters.  If I were back in London, my own conscience would have forced me into a stressful 80-hour week city job, and my writing would have been relegated to the back-burner once again.

However, for the past year and a half, I’ve been living in Whistler – a ski village full of Brits and Australians escaping their high-power jobs to feel sixteen again, and work in basic service industries, in return for a free ski pass.  Everyone in Whistler is over-qualified.  The guys behind the counter at McDonalds have MBAs, and the girls scanning your ski pass every morning have done six years at university to qualify as vets.

Being a nanny with a Cambridge Law Degree is completely acceptable … because everyone else working in Whistler is in the same boat.  And so I unashamedly became a full-time babysitter.

Not only do I love children, but the job is perfect for my writing.  If I am working during the day, the children wil normally nap for at least two hours, and if I’m working in the evening, then I  have plenty of time to write once the kids are in bed.  And when I’m not working, I’m never too mentally-drained to put pen to paper.

So, that is my first ‘secret’.  Time, and a job, which provides it.

My second secret  to efficient writing is the adoption of a writing routine.

I’m not simply talking about writing at the same time each day, though for me this definitely helps.  A time-tested night owl, I know anything that I write in the evening will read far better than something written earlier in the day.  I’ve also worked out, that for the most part, if I have trashy American TV playing on loop in the background, only having half my attention on my own story also seems to work!

But the main part of my routine, which seems to be pivotal in me finishing novels, is the template I have established for writing those books.

First I divide the book into a series of empty Word documents.  One for each chapter.  After planning out the story roughly in my head, I then split up my notes between these documents, working out roughly what ought to go where.  I write my notes in italic font, and add to them liberally.  When the rough outline of the book is down, I then begin with the first chapter.  I brainstorm the section, play it out in my head, and write down anything and everything that comes to mind – phrases, scenes, rough ideas – again all in italics.

Once I’m happy I have the majority of the chapter planned, I then begin to write.  I leave the italic notes at the bottom of the document, and write above them in normal font.  And then, as and when I include something from those notes in the main text, I simply delete the notes.

Finally, while I am writing, I keep other documents related to the book in the same file on my computer.  I have an on-going Excel sheet, which records the number of words in each chapter, and tallies the total word-count as I go.  I also have a separate summary document, where I add the key facts and actions from each chapter, as I write them, so that I can trace different themes and stories throughout my own work.  In this respect, it’s a little like an English Literature assignment, but back-to-front.  Instead of dissecting the novel into its themes and various storylines, I’m working backwards to ensure my own themes and elements are consistent.

I doubt my routine would work for everyone, but I think it’s simply the establishment of a routine, which helps you as an author.

Stubbornness, Necessity, Time (and a Job which provides it) and a Routine.

Those are my secrets!

 

I’m sure other people have others – feel free to share yours in the comments page.  And if you don’t have any secrets yet … well maybe it’s time for some trial and error to create your own!

Keep writing, (and reading!)

C-C xx

 

 

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