Tag Archives: readership

J.K. Raises the Bar

It’s been said a thousand times how J.K. Rowling and her seven Harry Potter novels have rejuvenated children’s literature and young people’s desire to read.  But what’s not talked about enough is the effect J.K. Rowling has had on authors.

Look at the events last week in London.  Fans camped out for three days to catch a glimpse of their favourite author, and the cast of the record-breaking franchise.  For the first time ever, a film premiere was held in Trafalgar Square, truly marking Rowling’s unique achievement.  Harry Potter is huge.  Beyond huge.  But it’s more than action films, and an excuse to dress up in long black robes.  The story is amazing.  Say what you will about Rowling, and her unorthodox interactions with the world and the media, but in my opinion the woman is a genius.  The stories themselves are so intricately layered, neatly-crafted jigsaws, with key pieces scattered right the way across the series.  On coffee shop napkins, and in council houses without central heating, Jo Rowling invented a world, and filled it with every intricate detail.  She created an incredible, over-arching story, but also managed to segment that story with individual all-encompassing adventures.  She penned characters who have become household names, icons, ‘Gods’ even if you believe the current Twitter trends!

Today the final movie in the franchise officially opened, and I returned home from seeing it, to notice that 4 different characters from the film are trending on Twitter.  (Interestingly, not one of them Harry himself, begging the question, has that name been removed from the trends because it’s just too popular and obvious?!)

And as I return home, having left behind a world where wands have opinions, and stone statues form a guard of honour, what I feel is INSPIRED!  For so long now, my ‘end goal’ has been getting published.  To be quite honest, as soon as the hurdle of getting myself represented by an agent was conquered, publication has been the next obstacle ahead.  And the longer it’s been there, the more it’s seemed like ‘the end’.  Getting published seemed so hard, that I felt like it was my finish line, the thing in the distance I will always be aiming for.

And yet, that really shouldn’t be the case.  Because I ought to be looking for more.  As an author growing up in this day and age, J.K. Rowling should be my inspiration.  I’m proud to be British, and I’m proud to be an author, and I guess for a long time J.K. has been raising the bar for British authors.  Asking us to look to her and truly see what we are all potentially capable of.  We can create worlds that people won’t just buy, but love.  Worlds they will conjure in their heads, and revisit time and time again.  Characters who will grow to be as beloved as family.  As familiar as their closest friends.

But J.K.’s bar isn’t just appreciation.  Look at the legacy Trafalgar Square.  Her bar, her legacy, is world domination.  A story that can change millions of lives.  A tale that can touch people young and old, from every background.  A tale which has seen her become the world’s first billionaire as a result of literature.

Today shouldn’t make the end.  It should mark the beginning.  Because for us authors, J.K. Rowling has been the flagship.  She’s blazed the way into people’s hearts, and reminded the world that even in this day and age, when a book is no longer necessarily made up of separate pages, a story CAN capture the world.

The world needs more Potters.  More Hogwarts.  The stories don’t need to be about wizards, and the settings don’t need to be schools, but that should be where we take our personal inspiration.  Our desire to suceed.

So … today I am an unpublished author.  But my goal is publication … or rather, my goal isn’t JUST publication.  My goal is to BE that person that everyone always mentions when you say you’re trying to become an author.

‘Oh, so you’re trying to become the next J.K. Rowling?’

‘Hmm … well, yes actually, I am!’    After all, that scene last week in Trafalgar Square was pretty bloody cool 😉

C-C xxx

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Getting Over The Writing Hurdle

I’m constantly thinking up stories.  As in literally every day.  If I’m working on a book, then that story plays out in my head throughout my day.  It’s there in the background, so that whenever I have a solitary moment – working out at the gym, or walking for the bus – the story picks back up in my head, and I carry it on.

If I’m not working on a project at the time, I find my head filling with new ideas.  I’ll toy with an idea for an hour or two, a day maybe … and if it sticks, write it down … if not, I start again.

So the stories are always there … and yet that doesn’t mean they automatically translate onto my computer screen.  Because sometimes I take my stories too far …

This has been my writing hurdle with my current book ‘Mercury’s Child‘.

I spent too much time thinking about the story before I began to write.  And I got too far along the story!

You see, I write books in the same way I read them.  I want to know what happens next.  I invest in my characters, and want to know where they’re going … and so the problem with thinking up too much of a story before you get it down on paper, is that you don’t want to be writing the first part of the story.  You want to be writing the later parts!

With Mercury’s Child I laid all the groundwork in my head, and couldn’t bring myself to write it all down, because I was worried that my impatience to get to the newer parts of the story – they parts I didn’t know yet – would translate into my written word.

And so for months and months I dawdled.  At first I had excuses – it was the end of my ski season in Whistler, and I wanted to make the most of the skiing and socialising.  Then I returned home, and there was the obvious excuse of catching up with friends and family who I hadn’t seen for years.

But now I have no excuse.  I’ve been back home exactly 1 month, and I’m still yet to start work.  I’m spending weekday after weekday waiting for my grown-up friends with their grown-up adult jobs, to leave work and come and play with me, and I’m getting bored.  Now, if I’m really an author, I ought to be using all this spare time productively.  And there are only so many magazine writing competitions I can enter in one month!

So I finally got started.  I’m happy to admit that the first couple of days were a struggle – trying to make sure the start of my book remained as exciting and full of promise as the idea had when I first came up with it, despite my desire to fast-forward through the story until I got to a point where I felt like I was still being creative.

But the reason I’m writing is that I got over my hump!  I got over the writing hurdle, and I’m back in a zone where I feel like I’m using my imagination again.  And once I got the first three chapters of Mercury’s Child down, I could go back over them with fresh eyes, and actually add in new snippets.  New ideas, which made me feel like I was actually using my imagination, and that I was injecting those things that I had been worried would no longer be present in the first parts of my story – excitement and intrigue – properly into it.

Obviously whether I’ve been successful is a subjective judgment, but in just four days, I’ve managed to pen twelve thousand, five hundred words.  The first of my six chapters is on the blog – have a read, and let me know what you think.  And if you want to read more, let me know, and I’ll post another chapter 🙂

So I guess my message today is that everyone has their hurdles, and for every writer, the challenges present themselves in different ways.  But from my experience, the only way you get over a hurdle is by gritting your teeth, and hitting it face on.  At first it might be tough, but once you’ve got something on the page, you’ve created a framework that you can go back and tweak.  And trust me, the tweaking stage is far easier, and far more fun, than the initial ‘laying the framework’ phase – so just get that first part over and done with!

C-C xx

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I’m an Honorary Chick!

Huge thanks to 4 Chicks and a Muse, for finding the story behind how I got into writing inspiring enough to make me an honorary Chick on their blog! You might remember that a few weeks ago the Chicks wrote a response, ‘An Author, A Writer, What Am I?’ to my post ‘So Am I an Author Yet?!‘.

Each week the girls post a personal  ‘Chick Story’, focussing on how women in the arts discovered their passion, and I feel very privileged to be the focus of this week’s story.  Thank you girls 🙂

Check out my story HERE, and feel free to tell me, and all the Elementary Circle readers, how you discovered your passion in a comment below 🙂

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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Blog Etiquette

In the words of fellow blogger Jennifer Aaventura I’m doing my ‘homework’.

It’s Saturday night, and technically, I’m at work.  As I’ve mentioned many a time, at night I may masquerade as an ‘author‘, but by day, I’m very much a nanny! And tonight I’m babysitting … So with my two wards safely tucked up in bed, I’m doing some blog homework.

I’m very new to the world of blogging, but it doesn’t take a genius to realise that true membership of this international club is two-way.  You can’t just receive comments, subscriptions and ‘likes’ … you have to give them too.

And so every couple of evenings I try to take a few hours to read the work of fellow bloggers.

Like I said, I’m very new to all this … but I’ve already begun to form some blog etiquette, which I think I would recommend to other bloggers.

1) If anyone posts a comment on my blog, I try my best to reply to it personally.

2) I try to check out the blogs of everyone who likes, subscribes or comments …

This second one is proving to be a bit of a slow process, as I’m sure anyone who has ever been Freshly Pressed will tell you … I have over 400 ‘virtual presents’ to write thank you notes for …. and whilst I *think* I’ve now replied to all the comments, I know I still have a lot of blogs to check out.

But the thing to understand, is that neither of these tasks is a chore.

For a start, the ‘blogosphere’ (a word I’m still not too sure I like!) is a sociable place FULL of potential, as I mentioned in my post ‘ The Writers’ Network‘.  What better place to commune with fellow authors, readers, publishers and agents?  What better way to gain tips, insight, inspiration and feedback, from a forum that isn’t just made up of your friends? (see the Writer and Her Sidekicks)

Back when I lived in Vancouver (I now live in a small mountain village) I used to attend a weekly Writers’ Group … and whilst it’s obviously great to have feedback on your own work, I also loved reading and critiquing other peoples’ work … especially when that work was something so departed from anything I would ever write.  It reminded me of uni … in a good way!

Reading other blogs broadens your mind.  I like to think of WordPress as a kind of huge free magazine.  Some of the blogs I have read in the past weeks have been far better than any magazine articles or newspaper reports I have picked up.  And just because none of us are being paid for the stuff we write on here, shouldn’t diminish the value of our words.  The thing with WordPress, is I’m inspired to look at blogs on topics I wouldn’t necessarily pay money to read about … and yet often these are the articles which interest me the most.

Secondly, by taking the time to get to know the readers of your blog, you can begin to understand your readership, and perhaps tailor what you are writing to those readers.  You can join in with discussions, present your take on something, or simply offer them a whole host of new readers by adding a link to their blog on your blog … just like this!  Here is the link to the original post by Jennifer which inspired me to write this – Blog Surfing, One Peace at a Time.

Finally, think of it in dating terms!

When you are getting to know someone, those in the know encourage you to ask questions.  It’s great to talk … but everyone enjoys talking, which means it’s also important to listen!  Which means, in the blogosphere, it’s not just a question of blogging, you also need to read too … otherwise the relationships you forge with your readership will only be a temporary one!

C-C xx

PS If you’d like me to check out, and comment on, your blog – please post the link below!  I’m still struggling to trawl through all the comments on ‘So Am I an Author Yet?!’ so it would be great to have links for reading all in one place!!! Thank you 🙂

 

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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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The Author, The Journalist and The Blogger

Not to be confused with The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe 🙂

In one of my first blog posts, ‘So Am I an Author Yet?’ I discussed what I felt the distinction was between being a writer and being an author … and my conclusion was that it really seemed to simply boil down to self-confidence.  When what you have achieved as a writer, on a personal note, makes you feel like an author.

After all, it’s really just semantics.  As I explained in my response to one of the comments, when I was a law student at university, I was called ‘a lawyer’ and yet I was years away from practicing law.  And so by the same token, ‘author’ is a word, which can be applied to a variety of stages of writer – we simply have a tendency to attach considerable creative weight to it, and so as a writer, the privileged term ‘author’ is a state you hope to attain.

In the various comments made about the post, many people suggested that you only become an author when you are ‘published’.  However, a number of people also noted that because of the role the internet now plays in our lives, being ‘published’ is a far easier and less meritocratic feat.  You simply have to click a button, to have your work out there in the open.  I did so a matter of minutes ago, when I copy and pasted a chapter of my most recent book – The Dream Navigator – into a blog post.

And so, whilst I might be rather liberal in my awarding of the title ‘author’ – in that I personally feel it embodies a personal state of mind rather than being a metaphorical rosette pinned upon your writing, I have to admit to still being rather conservative with the distinction between writing on paper and on the internet.

I know the world is changing.  I know a Kindle can be a thousand books in one, and that words don’t have to physically be inked onto a page to ‘count’.  However, I guess I’m rather romantic in my distinctions between the different classes of writers. Between bloggers, and journalists, and authors.

Don’t get me wrong – all three are valid disciplines.  As a new blogger, a trained journalist, and a wannabe-author, I clearly appreciate all three.

What I am, however, trying to make clear, is that they are all very different things and shouldn’t be confused.  A lot of people seem to define ‘author’dom purely through publication.  But if the internet is a valid source of publication, then the term ‘author’ loses all of its exclusivity.

Maybe I want the best of both worlds.  I want to be able to call myself an author, whilst waiting idly on my hands for a publishing house to acknowledge my talents … but I don’t want anyone who has ever written a word on the internet (does Facebook count? 😉 ) to call themselves authors too!!!

And so, as a writer (the term which I thing encompasses all of the disciplines) I think it’s important to adopt the multiple ‘hats’ metaphor I used in my article ‘The Pen Name’.  It’s not simply a question of recognising exactly what you are writing, but approaching that type of writing with different ambitions, and with a different mindset.

When I write fiction, I write as an ‘author’.  (Or if you don’t think I’m an author yet, because my books aren’t tangible entities, then call me a fiction writer).  I plan methodically (The Secrets to Finishing a Novel), think about the story as a whole matrix, and keep careful track of character development, chronological order, themes and imagery.  As I progress through the story, I feel as if I am carefully tying together the various tassels of a mop, until piece by piece the entire story has intricately come together.

When I write fiction, I am a perfectionist.  I dwell on every word, sound each sentence aloud, and go over and over each and every section.  When I begin a new chapter, I take time to read and edit the chapter that comes before it, and when I eventually send off a ‘first draft’ of a novel to my agent, it has perhaps been edited as many as ten times.

When I have my journalist hat on, my approach is very different.  My word count is normally stricter, and my classical training makes for a more rigid layout.  I focus carefully on my first sentence, rather than my first chapter, and approach each article with a very formulaic need for a start, middle and end.  Whilst these things are obviously just as necessary in a novel, with fiction I am more concerned that the story is constantly moving, rather than rigidly shaping these developments into three clear sections.  I think carefully about words, and keep my tone erudite.

And then there’s blogging.  Now the ‘wordy’ in me, sees the word ‘blog’ and thinks it says it all.  Blogging isn’t an elegant word.  If it conjures any imagery, it’s a little clumsy and unrefined.  And I guess that’s my approach to this discipline of writing.  It’s experimental.  As Carol Rives commented yesterday about my blog post ‘The Writers’ Network’ she uses her blog to develop her writing.

If writing is a sport, then blogging is the training phase.  It’s gym time.  Where you practice that sport outside the comfort of your own home, but still with the safety net of a ‘delete’ button.  You can try out something, and if it doesn’t work, or doesn’t conjure the response you hoped, you can adapt it.  It’s the crash-test dummy phase of writing.

And so my approach to this phase is very different.  I write my blog how I talk.  Obviously I have a slight plan when I begin each post … but generally it’s more just a notion of what I’d like to talk about, and then as I begin to type, my argument, or lack of, begins to form!   Quite often my post names change as the article progresses, and I’m fully aware that none of my entries are overly sculpted or edited.  They are fresh meat in writing terms.  Fodder for debate.

And for me, well I think that’s the perfect use of the internet, and of blogs.  The very nature of a blog allows for change and for constant update.  If you spend too much of your time editing, then you lose out on the immediate nature of it as a form of media, and of the readership you will reap, should you sew enough seeds of wisdom on a regular basis.

I only really noticed the change in my attitude to writing, and acknowledged the reasons for it, when my agent Lucy asked me to adapt my blog post ‘So am I an Author yet?’ for use in a newspaper.  As I copied and pasted my rather spontaneously-written post into a word document, and frowned at the various coloured lines which appeared under the words and sentences, I realised I would never have sent such a document to Lucy if it were fiction!  I wouldn’t let one person read a fiction draft in that state, let alone hundreds or thousands.  And yet the blog post had been read by 5,000 people in 24 hours!  Over the course of an hour I changed the blog post into a newspaper article, reigning in the personal anecdotes and conversational tone, and making my words more precise and efficient.  I turned from blogger to journalist, and thus my words took on a completely different shape.

And so, as if to illustrate my point, this is where the blog post ends.  Not with a neat summary, as if it were a newspaper article, but with the natural course of conversation, as if I were explaining this all to you out loud!

Let me know what you think – is writing a ‘sport’ made up of different disciplines, or is the writer of a blog post as bona fide an author as he who pens a 600 page novel?

C-C xx

 

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The Writers’ Network

When I first started this blog, just two short weeks ago, there were two reasons.

Firstly I’m currently ‘between books’.

As I explained in ‘The Secrets to Finishing a Novel’, I’m quite an organised writer, and like to have a rough matrix of a novel planned out before I start writing.  I also find I need a bit of breathing space between books to get out of the head of one character and into the head of another.  And so, as I shed the mantle of Ellody Rose, The Dream Navigator, and prepare myself to follow Halley Macleod, Mercury’s Child, I found myself with extra time before bed when I would normally be writing.  I needed something to occupy myself with, and writing a blog seemed a sensible use of my time.

Secondly, one of the major messages I took from my Masters degree was the need for an online presence.

My Masters was in Broadcast Journalism, and at the time I wrote a commentary style blog about my area of interest – children’s tv – and video blogged – my Challenge Charly work.  Whilst writing is only narrowly removed from journalism, in my first two years of writing fiction I never really placed any importance on using the web.  My goals were clear – finish the book, get an agent, get it published.  It was only recently, as I sat twiddling my thumbs, waiting to hear back from publishers, that I realised that the internet could really be of use to an aspiring author.  You simply have to google ‘writing blog’ to realise the vast amounts of information and opinion on starting out as a writer and getting published.  This time last week, I felt I had been inducted into a whole new world.

In fact, when my third ever blog post became Freshly Pressed, and 5,000 people in 24 hours checked out my post ‘So Am I an Author Yet?’ it became something of a baptism of fire! However, having had time to read all the comments posted on my blog and to look at some of the blogs of those of you who posted, I definitely understood a third important reason, for me, for writing a blog.

To connect with other aspiring writers.

As I’ve said before, writing is a lonely profession.

Don’t get me wrong.  It’s my ideal career.  However, as well as being someone who loves to spend hours at my laptop creating characters, I’m also someone who enjoys my time in the real world, communicating with ‘real people’.

And so it’s nice to be able to ‘socialise’ whilst still wearing my ‘author hat’. (see The Pen Name: A Shield to accompany the Literary Sword?)

For me, the comments bar isn’t just a one-way street – it facilitates dialogue, and lets writers communicate directly with other writers, and with a whole host of new readers.

Social Media has changed the world as we know it.  Everyone knows that.  However, as writers, it can also revolutionise our (aspiring) profession.

Now writers can sit at their computer screen, and not only communicate through characters of their own making, but also communicate with other writers.  We can have crash-test-dummy readers on the other side of the globe, and receive real criticism on work from people whose close personal relationships with us cloud their reading judgment.

Just last week, I received my first bona-fide teenage reader!  Most of my work is aimed at teenage girls, and yet, to date, almost all of my readers have been in their late twenties, and most of them are male!  So to have someone from my target audience read and appreciate my work has been fantastic, and something which, as a 27 year-old woman with no teenage siblings, would have been pretty hard for me to find outside of the web.

And so there’s a third reason – The Writers’ Network.  A web of words, rather different to the one Charlotte wove in my personal favourite children’s book.  And I’m only now beginning to enjoy the real benefits of it!

Thank you everyone who has read the blog, and especially those of you who have commented.  I try to reply personally to every comment, and will try my best to check out any blogs you have asked me to look at – apologies for the delay (and the 5 day ‘radio silence’) I’ve had flu for the past week.

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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