Tag Archives: Lucy Dundas

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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Having Some Fun with WordPress

For those of you still finding your way around WordPress, like me, check out something quite fun.

If you click on ‘My Blogs’, then select the blog you want to find out about (if you write more than one).  Scroll across to ‘Stats’.  Not only does this page show you lots of cool info, including your total Page Views ever (not including your own views of your blog), and your Best Day ever, in terms of page views, but there is also a rather cool section called ‘Search Engine Terms’.

Click on ‘This Week‘ which is in blue on the right hand side of the ‘Search Engine Terms’ header, midway down the Stats Page.

Then, when the page changes to a page devoted to Search Engine Terms, click on the ‘All Time’ option – also in underlined blue.

I realise that all sounds a bit complicated, but hopefully what it’s brought up for you, is a rather cool list of all the terms people have entered into Search Engines, to then get to your site.  You’ll probably be rather amused by some of the more random ones –

For example, on my list of searches which led to The Elementary Circle , there are some common ones I might expect to end up at the site – ‘navigator of dreams’, ‘cosmopolitan ultimate woman of the year 2007’, ‘cc lester’, ‘charly lester blog’, and ‘dream navigator’, ‘the elementary circle word press‘ are all things several people have tried to Google.

However, here are some entries I wouldn’t necessarily expect to lead people to my blog!

(NB – All searches are as typed originally and word for word)

  • superman name
  • woman to ski
  • loner writer (NICE!)
  • penis (that one hit my site twice …. pretty sure this is the first time I’ve ever mentioned that particular word on the blog!)
  • bungee
  • ‘i crossing my fingers you get a chance to’ …. (hoping this one means I get some luck!)
  • mercury childs wagon (???? what is this? some kind of pushchair/stroller??? – for anyone reading who doesn’t know, the book I’m currently writing is called Mercury’s Child)
  • similarlymercury wagon child’s (what is this all about??)
  • unspoken words of need of closure (does this make sense to anyone?)
  • sex.girls.xxx.falling i if m singleton (seriously HOW did this bring up my blog???!!)
  • work for free otherwise known as (Haha! kind of sums up my life at the mo!)
  • how do i an 2 above a m (can anyone translate this??)
  • am sikis (DITTO)
  • fat back women maken usen ditto rate xxx (SIC …. what is with these searches.  Are they literally just entering random words?)
  • some time i an read an i cannot
  • weight loss diary (um??? wrong blog me thinks!)
  • +post something anonymously on facebook
  • would sending letters of recommendations help i an immigration case
  • dream interpretation; cant hear me warning her (this one scares me a bit – sounds rather nightmarish!)
  • http://www.thewriter’slife.com/earnaliving (haven’t personally worked that one out myself yet!)
  • literary grandmother names
  • my 18 tens
  • cool names for shields
  • female christian writers blogssorry, defo got the wrong blog here
  • woman 40+ glam shots (I REALLY hope this didnt bring up my front page pic! I was 24 in that picture for frack’s sake!!!!)
  • do not reply email address (why is someone even searching this in the first place?)
  • how to write someone elses thoughts (pretty sure that’s a major part of fiction, and not necessarily something you’ll find cliff notes on!)
  • what english writer used the pen name ella? (was someone at a pub quiz by any chance?!)
  • bored written loads of times in different writing (not too impressed this brings up my blog, if I’m honest!)
  • heels muddy or mud (um WTF?!)
  • swearing screaming sex (coz obviously my blog is full of it! Though possibly slightly more accurate than the Christian writer search!)
There are also a couple of cool, but unexpected ones
  • ЩИТ И МЕЧ ПЕРО И БУМАГА –  Which Babblefish handily tells me means ‘Sword and Shield, Pen and Paper’ in Russian!
  • Flicker Lester (I like!)
  • Felicity Firestone (um AWESOME!!!!! who Googled her?! Now I want to Google her and see what comes up!)
  • Ellody Rose (is someone Google-stalking my heroines?!)
  • my life in ten years (not sure what that person was looking for, probably not my novel ‘My Ten Future Lives’ but I guess you never  know, it might have helped him or her!)
  • glorified slavery (this blatantly came up because it’s the phrase I use to describe unpaid work experience!)
  • i’m the author of my life (um, BOSH!)
  • facebook.com/cclester (eek, someone’s trying to stalk me!)
  • lucy lester flicker (this one made me grin – like a combo of me and my agent all in one – i guess that sums up a year of my life!)
  • elliwrites boyfriendLiz of Elli Writes – SOMEONE FANCIES YOU!!!

Plus, it’s quite cool being able to tell my lovely agent Lucy Dundas, at PFD (and a couple of other friends who have commented on my blog!!) , just how many times her name has been googled in the past few months 😉

Ah the power of the Search Engine Terms!  Give it a go, and let me know if you come up with any particularly funny ones!!!
C-C xxx

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Feature on Elli Writes

Thanks to journalist, author, and fellow blogger Liz Carlton for this lovely feature on her blog ‘Elli Writes‘.

And wow! – only just saw the front page of her blog, and I’m everywhere … thank you so much Liz, I feel very honoured!!

C-C xx

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The Year Ahead ….

Following on from my post about how you need to be a blog reader as well as a blog writer

I’ve just been reading ‘The Becoming Year’.

Initially I came across the blog post ‘SVP and I, Volume 1‘ a collection of stupid comments from Abigail’s former boss, which I noticed in a link she posted on the very amusing, Freshly Pressed,  ‘Post It Notes from My Idiot Boss‘ both of which have definitely inspired me to write a second installment of my ‘Tales of a Starving Artist‘ very soon, however it was actually the description of The Becoming Year which caught my eye.

Abigail describes her blog as ‘A thirty year-old gal with scraps of creativity and an abundance of judgment, I’ve quit my career as a leadership consultant to pursue my original dream of becoming a published author, becoming thin, and becoming kind. This is my story. This is my year.’

As I explained just a few days ago in ‘Inspired ...’ I’m coming out on the bright side of a bit of a mope-slash-panic about returning home after two and a half years travelling without a book deal, and have to say I found Abigail’s opening paragraph really inspiring.

I LOVE nice ‘neat’ blog frameworks, where you follow a year in someone’s life, or someone completing a specific challenge, from start to finish, and am kind of envious because my own blog has ended up as a bit of a mish-mash of my personal opinion and my fiction writing!

However, I definitely think I can apply some of her thoughts to my own life at the mo.

In just over a month I return back to England.  And I think what’s going to help me feel like I still have some structure in the haphazard unstructured world of being an author, is by giving myself definite targets.  Obviously there are some targets which I can’t have too much input on.  For example, for now at least, with my novels ‘Flicker’ and ‘The Dream Navigator’, I’ve essentially done all I can do.  I wrote, finished, edited and re-edited both novels, until they were in a condition which my wonderful agent, Lucy Dundas at Peters Fraser & Dunlop, deemed publisher-worthy.  And unfortunately (because this is the bit I’m really awful at!) now I just have to sit back and wait!

However, while the ball on those two projects is now firmly in someone else’s court, that doesn’t mean I have to sit around twiddling my thumbs!

And so … I’m going to take a leaf from Abigail and The Becoming Year, and set myself some targets for the year.  Now I know it’s not the start of the year … however I for one definitely need to learn to be a bit less rigid and precise about stuff (as you may have noticed from my extremely strict approach to writing a novel!! – ‘The Secrets to Finishing a Novel‘)

Also, yesterday was my Dad’s 66th Birthday.  (He died just over 8 years ago)  So it’s a particularly memorable day for me …

By my Dad’s 67th Birthday I hope to achieve the following …

  • Obviously I’d love to get a book deal … but that’s one thing I can’t directly influence.  Though I can obviously work as hard as possible to pursue that particular dream.
  • I’m going to take a Screenwriting course (have been looking at 8 week intensive courses at the New York Film Academy … give me a shout if you’ve done one of their courses!)
  • I’m going to turn My Ten Future Lives into a screenplay … because, without revealing too much about the plot, it would work really well as a film … possibly better than a book.  (Characters change from imaginary life to life, so the same actors could play a variety of characters 🙂 )
  • I will finish my new book ‘Mercury’s Child’ … which is currently just a lot of notes!  It looks like I might be having a rather cruisy few months back home over the summer, after a winter working 70 hour weeks as a nanny, so I’m aiming to have MC finished by the start of September … which would be when I’d be flying out to New York.  If all goes to plan, four months seems to be how long it takes me to write a first draft.
  • I’ll still be keeping this blog, and using it to learn about the life of an author, and share my observations with you guys
  • In a year’s time, I’d like to feel more like writing is my ‘career’ … which is a very loose ambition, I know … but I think that embodies how unspecific ‘writing professionally’ really is …

In previous years, when my ‘year’ has been strictly regimented by school and university semesters, I’ve always had very specific aims.  And yet, I think my main aim for the year is just that I feel I’ve truly made the most of it – whether that’s (shock horror!) by taking a third ski season (rather tempting at the mo, when I know how much writing I get done working as a nanny).  I want to look back, this time next year, and feel I’ve made some steps firmly in the right direction.

Only time will tell how large those steps are …. but I guess the main message should be that I haven’t been deterred from my overall aim.

To be a career author –

To be able to look my best friend’s parents (who have been my adoptive family since my parents died when I was 19) in the eye, and tell them them that I don’t need to ‘look for a career’ because I’ve genuinely found one!!!

No doubt over the coming days, weeks and months I’ll find other aims to add to this list, and I’ll keep you posted on them, but right now, these are the things I want to achieve in the coming year 🙂

And as for Abigail’s other aims … what girl wouldn’t want to be a bit thinner in a year’s time 😉

C-C xxx

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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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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

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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