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Flic’s New Conflict (and my personal conflict with Breaking Dawn!)

So, I’m back in the Big Apple – New York, one of my favourite cities in the world.  And as I’ve said before, one of the reasons I love New York so much is the inspiration it offers.

The Arts are there at every turn, and this week I’ve been enjoying a very cultured week of Broadway and off-Broadways shows.

But rather ironically, it’s not the musicals which have got me writing… it’s the (rather awful, dare I say) movie that I watched last night!

Now, I happily admit to being a Twilight fan.  One of my main motivations for finally committing Flicker to paper was reading the four part series in a matter of days and wanting to craft something like that myself.  I LOVED the first film, and devoured the books one after the other, but frankly, Breaking Dawn Part One left me rather cynical in my cinema seat.  The whole film seemed like a cash-cow.  By stretching the preamble of the last book out to make an entire film, it seemed the movie moguls were simply trying to double their revenue from the final film, knowing full well that all the Twi-eny boppers out there will happily put their hand in their pocket twice.

I don’t want to turn this blog post into a film review, and I did have numerous issues with the movie, but the main thing that left me unfulfilled as a fan was the total lack of action in the film.  It dragged, and dragged and dragged.  If I think back to the first movie, my favourite scene was the baseball scene.  High Voltage, loud, fast, superhuman baseball, with thunder and lightning, and the appearance of murderers, and a kick-ass sound track to boot.  It was awesome.

Flash forward to Breaking Dawn Part One, and you have two hours of troubled emotional music, montages of old footage, and dragged out romantic scenes.  Now, I’m a girl, and a self-confessed romantic … but give me a sick bag! I WANT SOME ACTION!

 

Now, those of you following my work will know I’m currently back to square one, re-editting my first novel Flicker.  It’s been rejected by a handful of publishers, and when I first got rejected, I buried myself in a second, very different, book, however I’m back to Flicker – a story I crafted, and loved, for a very long time.  But I know it’s not perfect, and I think one of the greatest skills as an artist, is being able to recognise when you’re own work is flawed.

One of the issues I have with Flicker is it’s an introduction.  The whole book is the preamble to a series of five adrenaline filled novels which will take place around the globe.  I want to ease the reader in gently, revealing facets of my new imaginary world piece by piece, rather than throwing him or her into the book and just saying ‘here’s a bunch of teenagers with super powers!’  But the problem is, I don’t want it to be too tame.  I don’t want to keep the reader waiting too long for the big kick-ass super human baseball scene, because in reality, without an international franchise and teenagers declaring themselves in Teams behind my two main male characters, it’s unlikely anyone is gonna wait around too long.

 

Like me in the cinema at Times Square last night, the reader needs action.  As soon as the story can possibly warrant it … and that … is hopefully what the reader has got!

 

Check out the new scene …

For those of you not familiar with Flicker yet – please check out the first chapter

This scene takes place mid way through the second chapter, just after Flic has introduced herself properly to Toby, and watched Isabelle telling her cousin Anthony that being afraid of the water isn’t cowardly, people will understand ….

Flicker

by C-C Lester

Part of Chapter Two – Foundations

‘Camilla the Superior’ had beaten Flic to it, and collected the key to their cabin before her.  Flic frowned, sure that the other girl would have secured the best bunk by now.  She hurried through the narrow corridors of the boat, eager to find their cabin as quickly as possible, only to turn a corner and find Anthony and Isabella blocking her way.

The pair were oblivious to her presence.  Ant was holding his cousin up against the white-washed metal wall by her throat, his face pressed close to hers as he hissed ‘How dare you!  How dare you embarrass me like that in front of everyone!  In front of the others!  You undermined me!  You made me look weak!  You know how important this is to me!’

Isabella whimpered, helpless.  Anthony adjusted his grip on her neck, taking his hand away just long enough for Flic to see the red raw skin beneath his palm.  He was hurting her.  Really hurting her.

Without another thought, Flic bowled headlong into him, taking him by complete surprise and knocking him off his feet.

‘What the Hell are you doing?’ she shouted down at him, as he scrambled to his feet.  ‘Picking on someone barely half your size!  Isabella didn’t make you look weak, you made yourself look like a fool!’

‘Let me get this straight … Flic,’ he hurled her name at her like an insult.  ‘You think you’re a match for me?’  Anthony squared up, rising to his full height of over six foot. ‘Do you have any idea who I am?  Who my family are?’  He looked as if he were about to spit on her.  ‘You’re nothing but a pitiful little orphan.  A charity case!’

The words winded her, so painfully raw and unnecessary.  She gaped up at him in total shock.  No one had ever spoken to her that way before.  She ought to crumble.  To let the flood of tears that seemed to permanently well behind her eyes spring free.

But Flic had done her fair share of mourning over the past three months, and she was done crying.  Instead, Anthony’s vicious and unfounded attack ignited something inside her.

‘You know nothing about my family.  Nothing!’ she spat angrily.

‘Wanna bet?’ Ant leered at her.

Flic glared up at him, and without a second thought, brought her hand slicing through the air and into his jaw.

 

Flic blanched immediately, shocked.  She had never slapped anyone before.  In fact she had never done anything that impulsive before.  Somehow Ant had managed to flick a switch that up until this moment she hadn’t even known existed.   But that wasn’t what had caused her shock.  Hot, violent pain coursed through her palm.  Burning. As her palm connected with Ant’s face, it felt as if she had thrust it right into the heart of a fire.  Adrenaline coursed through her veins, willing her to ignore the pain, but she knew it was far more intense than it ought to be.  This wasn’t the sting of the strike that she was feeling.  Her palm was quite literally burning, bright violent red and radiating heat as if she had placed her hand right on the flat of an iron.  What had she done? She sank down to the ground, clutching her hand to her chest, strangely overwhelmed.

Flic turned her gaze from her scarlet palm, to Ant, staring up at him in disbelief, but he wouldn’t meet her eye.  He simply turned on his heel without a word, and marched off in search of his own cabin, leaving both girls crumpled in his wake.

Flic looked over at Isabella.

‘Are you ok?’ she asked, rising slowly to her feet, and extending her undamaged hand to the British girl.  Isabella accepted it coyly.

‘I’m so sorry …’ she said, shaking her head in disbelief.

‘Trust me, it’s not your fault.’  Flic replied, not quite believing any of the past five minutes.

Isabella’s hand was at her throat, covering the brilliant red welts of Anthony’s grip.

‘How’s your neck?’ Flic asked carefully.  ‘Would you like me to have a look?’

Isabella winced slightly, and then carefully drew her hand away.

Flic examined Isabella’s porcelain skin, gently brushing her fingertips over the spot where Ant had choked his cousin.

She pressed her lips together, a mixture of happiness and concern.  The scarlet flush on Isabella’s skin had disappeared.  And yet she could have sworn her throat had been red raw a few moments ago.

‘How does it look?’ Isabella asked nervously, not sure how to read Flic’s expression.

‘It’s fine!’ Flic replied, surprising even herself.  She shook her head, ‘Sorry, I just thought it was gonna be worse than it is … from further away it looked bright red.’

Isabella shrugged a little awkwardly.  ‘I get pretty bad heat rash when I get emotional, probably just that.’

‘Thank you …’ she added quietly.

Flic shook her head.  ‘Don’t, please I was completely out of order!  I don’t know what came over me … it was totally irrational!  I shouldn’t have hit him.  I’ve never hit anyone before!’  She balked.

Isabella lay her hand on Flic’s.  ‘He provoked you!  That’s what he’s like … He shouldn’t have said those things about you, about your family.  Please don’t feel bad.  You did me a huge favour.’

Flic stared down at her hand, still unconvinced.  Running her thumb along the life line of her palm, she frowned.  The colour of her own skin was almost back to normal too.  The sting of the burn reduced to the tinkle of pins and needles.  Maybe she had been mistaken.  Maybe that was what it felt like when you slapped someone after all.

‘Are you going to be ok?’ Flic asked, turning her concern to Isabella once again.  ‘Rooming with him?  I mean, we could ask for you to swap?  I’m sure there’s space for you in with me and Camilla?’

Isabella shook her head.  ‘Thank you, but I’ll be fine.  I know my cousin … it’s all just hot air.  He’ll be apologising in no time!’ She added with a false brightness.

Flic remained unconvinced, but sensing that the conversation was over, nodded gently in Isabella’s direction and turned away to find her cabin.

*                             *                          *

© C-C Lester, 2011

 

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Me vs Me!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It can also apply to your writing!

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

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

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

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

 

C-C xxx

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Getting Into Your Characters

Have you ever faced the age old issue of ‘what comes first?’

No, not the chicken or the egg … but the book and the film!

Now, obviously, in 99% of cases, the film will be based on a book.  But I’m not talking release dates.  I’m talking about which came first for YOU!  Did you watch the movie Twilight, and then decide to read the books, to then have Edward Cullen forever depicted as Robert Pattinson in your mind?  Or did you conjure your own wolves and vampires, only to be disappointed the moment you took your seat in the audience? It’s a particularly pertinent question for the YA world, with books like ‘The Hunger Games‘ and ‘City of Bones’ being made into films, and the actors portraying famous roles being announced months prior to the films, as if to ask ‘did we get it right?’.

As an author, characterisation, and how detailed the physical attributes you give a character can be a difficult tightrope to tread.

Personally, as a reader, I prefer to read the book before I see the film.  I LOVE to conjure characters in my mind.  To attribute the leading man with unmentioned details which I’m personally attracted, to see aspects of myself in the lead female, if she’s likeable, or perhaps characteristics of people I dislike, in her if she’s not!  My mind becomes a playground, the words on the page simply forming the framework for my games.  It’s my imagination which fills the gaps, populating a world which has been carefully crafted not just to suck me in, but to keep me there by allowing me to combine my own imagination with the authors.

If only we could take a snapshot into the mind of a reader.  A hundred readers.  To see what Hermione Granger, or Matilda, or Prince Caspian ever looked like before the characters appeared on the silver screen.

I say snapshot, because my memory is visual.  I read a book as a series of pictures, which flash through my mind as my eyes see the words.  But not every reader attributes a physical image to a person.  He or she might instead associate a smell, or a sound, or even just a sense.

And because of all that … because I know as a reader I like to colour in the lines, rather than be presented with a fully completed paint by numbers, I’ve noticed something in my writing.

I very seldom describe my characters in great detail!

The reason I’ve even touched upon this topic, is that last month I was very lucky to win Elli Writes’ June writing competition, and my prize is a portrait of one of my characters!  An amazing prize for an author whose artistic talents at school lay more in sketching still life drawings of apples, than bringing a vivid character to life.

But the prize begged the question – which character should I choose?

I’ve now completed three novels, and have the start of three other novels on the go.  That’s seven books worth of characters.  Seven books worth of people, who in my mind are as vivid as the day, and yet, who on paper, I have always been reticent to describe in too much detail.

But I’m not a lazy author.  I just want to give the reader a sense of the character.  A vague physical outline, which hopefully the emotions, and dialogue, and situations will allow the reader to colour with his or her own ideas.

Interestingly, if I squeeze my eyes shut and try to describe the snapshots in my head, I can see figures.  I can see scenes, and situations.  But the people in those scenes are fixed like mannequins, their faces indistinct.  And yet I feel like I know these characters inside out.  I mean, after all, I created them.  I understand their fears, their passions, their ideas.  They are my friends …. My favourite people.  Neat combinations of reality and fiction, some of them spliced together from people I know, others simply conjured out of necessity or situation.

And yet, for me, they’re all faceless!  As if, as an author this time, rather than a reader, I was hoping the readers themselves would fill in the gaps, and see the face of Ellody Rose, or Felicity Firestone for themselves.

So, how exactly do I choose a character for my prize?  How do I tell Liz, the editor of Elli Writes, how to draw a person who for me has no face, just a mass of emotions, decisions, and reactions?

The answer is, I didn’t.

Because in all of my books, it turns out there is always at least one character who has a face!  And these characters always tend to be male!!!

No, they’re not my ideal men, or physical embodiments of my ex boyfriends!  And no, they’re not film stars, or pin-ups  … (Though it is sometimes quite a cool game to play, coming up with who would play your lead men in the movie of your book!)

No, interestingly, the characters who I have the most clear visual impressions of, are the ones who are the most guarded.  The ones who share little with the reader, and likewise with me.  The ones I don’t understand, or don’t want to understand.  The two-timing lady player.  The emo/punk misunderstood Dream Navigator, who spends his days lashing out at those around him ….

(I won’t tell you too much more about those characters, as I don’t want to spoil it for any of you who have been reading the excerpts of Flicker and The Dream Navigator on the blog)

But what I will tell you, is that I’ve made a decision who I would love Liz to draw for me …

In The Dream Navigator there’s a character called Raye.  He’s dark, and perplexing, and only begins to open up towards the very end of the book.  But from Day One, I had the most vivid image of him.  A Korean Adam Lambert.  His hair blue black, his nails painted with black varnish, and his eyes ringed with kohl.

He fascinates me, because I don’t know or understand him, and so writing about him proved both frustrating, and really exciting.  In my head, he was the most visually distinct, and yet the hardest for me to understand!

And so now I will be handing over the gauntlet to Elli Writes 🙂 Will she understand him any better than me?  Will she be able to turn my words into a picture, and see the same boy I see in my mind every time I flick through my manuscript?

Or will she be waiting for the movie (God I really hope some day I write a movie!!!!), to see the actor who gets cast as Raye?

What do you see when you read a book?  Is it different when you’re writing?  Do your characters resemble real life people?  Do you prefer to watch a film before you read the book?  Or would you rather have your own character in your mind, and then shun the director’s presentation of that person?

As ever, please let me know what you think, either in the comments box below, or on Twitter.

C-C xxx

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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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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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Anything You Can Do …

As a child, I saw school as a competition.

I wanted to be top of the class, and that meant comparing myself, and my work, to other people.  It’s an attitude which worked as a child, and even through secondary school – GCSEs and A Level exams offered yet another forum for competition.  But, as an adult, studying at one of the best universities in the world, that attitude had to change.  If you try to be the best at Cambridge, you’re inevitably going to be disappointed.  In fact, a number of people I studied with quickly became more than disappointed.  They became defeated, verging on nervous breakdowns because for the first time in their lives they weren’t the best.  They had gone from big fish in small ponds, to tiny fish in an enormous ocean, and they couldn’t handle it.

It was at Cambridge that I realised a change of attitude was necessary, to survive, and to stay sane.  It was no longer about other people, and what they were doing.  I went from being competitive, to being a perfectionist.  I was simply going to do the best that I could do.  Whether that was in my studies, or in my extra-curricular life.  Regardless of how well others were doing, provided I was doing the best I could do, then I was happy.

And for the most part, I think this attitude works as an adult.  If you stop comparing yourself to others, and simply focus on what you want from your own life, then you’re likely to be far happier, and probably far more driven, because you’re doing things you want to do, not things other people want to do.

But there’s a problem with my logic.  Because being an author requires you to constantly be surrounded by the works of other writers.  Most writers start writing because they themselves love to read.  The written word surrounds them, and its not just their own.

I write Young Adult fiction because I enjoy Young Adult fiction.  I love the genre, and so when I pick up a book in a book shop it tends to be a YA fantasy novel.  That’s how I recently discovered the fantastic Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.

But not everything you read is fantastic, by any stretch of the imagination!  And I think this is one of the most difficult parts of being in author-limbo.  After months of crafting words and constructing plot lines and sub-plot lines… After gritting your teeth and bearing subjective rejections from agents, editors and publishing houses … You have in your hands, the one thing you’ve been dreaming of attaining.  A physical published book.  Tangible acknowledgment of someone else’s literary success.  And it’s crap!

Now obviously that’s just my subjective opinion! (Just like all those publishers’ subjective opinions of my manuscripts!)And I’ll spare you from the details of exactly which book it is that has got my shackles up, because it’s not the only time it’s happened, and I don’t really want to turn the blog into a forum to bitch about other YA authors … but what I will say, is that as an unpublished author, who has spent the past three years writing and rewriting sentences – treating creative writing as a craft rather than just an outpouring of words – it’s quite depressing to come across something that really doesn’t read like anywhere near the same amount of work has gone into it.  Maybe it just slipped through the publishing net.  Maybe at times the insurmountable hurdle I feel like I’m facing actually gets a bit lower, and some less-deserving manuscripts make it through the ‘Total Wipeout’-like obstacle course to final publication.  Or maybe that’s just the whole point of opinions – they differ, and not everyone agrees that something is very well written.  To be fair, even highly successful recent ‘greats’ – Harry Potter, Twilight, Eragon, are not without copious critics.

So I guess there are several ways, as an unpublished author, that you can deal with reading a published book, which has (if you think competitively) beaten you over the publishing hurdles, and successfully come to print.

1) Accept that everyone thinks different things are good.  That’s why your agent might rave about your manuscript, but it doesn’t immediately get fought over by every publishing house it’s sent to!

2) Sometimes crap stuff gets through the filter – and if you start to see a pattern, and are beginning to lose self-belief, maybe try sending your manuscript to the publisher happily printing all the crap?! (This is a joke … kind of 🙂 )

3) Take on the positive message I always try to convey in my posts – that everything works out in the end, you just have to believe in yourself and your writing, and work your writing butt off … so use the annoyance at someone else’s success to power your own success

4) Use the book as an exercise to improve your own writing – don’t just bin it for being ‘bad’, but really think about why you don’t think the book works, and then try to apply that reasoning, and those criticisms to your own work.  That way your own work can become stronger directly as a result of the poorer work!

 

I think the important thing to underline, is whilst you do need some competitive spirit, or at least some desire to win in this publishing business, that shouldn’t mean you

a) shun all other writing all together, or

b) shun all other writers!

 

Being an author is a lonely enough profession in itself.  Unless you have the luxury of a co-author, you work alone, and the only way to get things done is by spending long hours in front of a lonely computer screen or blank page.  So your own quest for success, shouldn’t result in you losing a sense of author community.  I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, as blogging authors, we’re have a very real opportunity to create a writer community – published or unpublished – and social media will allow us to communicate in that community.  Don’t become so bitter and twisted because you think your own work is being overlooked, that you shut yourself away from your peers.  Often their feedback and criticism will be the most useful.

For example, I very recently discovered another author, of a similar age, represented by my agency, who not only also writes YA, but is also unpublished and lives within an hour of me.  So now, my plan is to see how many other writers I can find fitting those rough credentials – signed, but not yet published – so that perhaps we can form our own kind of writers’ group.  A forum for discussion, reading, and most of all growth.

And as for stopping reading altogether?  Well that should NEVER happen!  Because, like I said earlier, most writers get into writing a particular genre, because it is THAT genre which he or she loves to read.  So stopping reading a genre, simply because you don’t enjoy comparing the work to your own, is a really sad bi-product of choosing to become a writer.

 

C-C xxx

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The Deadline (Grazia Writing Competition)

Kate Mosse started the story (below in italics) and the task was to finish it  …  My effort is below 🙂  C-C xx

She stood looking up at the house. At the blank grey walls, the shuttered windows with empty boxes on the concrete sills, the stern front door. The house said nothing about what it was or what took place inside, it was unassuming and nondescript and uninviting.  She’d come here several times before, but never got the courage to go in.  Now, there was no choice. The deadline was today, no last chance of a reprieve or change of heart. If she was going to do it, it had to be now.  She shivered, chill from the sudden drop in temperature now the light was fading, or from excitement or from fear, she didn’t know.  Also, the sense of possibility that, by pressing this suburban doorbell, her life could – would – alter for good. But still she lingered on the unwashed step, picking at a thread of wool come loose from her glove, caught between the girl she was and the woman she might be. A deadline she never thought she would face…

It was nine am.  Which meant she had just fifteen hours.  Fifteen hours to convince a man, who all the world thought was dead, to return to the living.

She gritted her teeth, reminding herself for the hundredth time, that this wasn’t her deadline.  It was his.  She had nothing to lose from the situation and everything to gain.  As if to acknowledge the fact, she yanked at the errant thread, ripping it clean off the glove, but leaving a gaping hole in the wool.  She frowned down at her palm and without further thought stabbed angrily at the doorbell.  Taken aback by her own decisiveness, she held her breath and waited for the sound of footsteps behind the front door.  She checked her watch again, all too aware that every moment mattered.  Why hadn’t she done this sooner?  Why had she started down the garden path so many times, but never made it all the way to the front door before?

She knew the answer.  Because knocking on the door was to speak the unspoken.  To shatter the glass of the snow-globe, in which they had been so happily living all this time.

The house was silent.  Aware she’d been holding her breath too long she inhaled sharply, so that when the door swung open all of a sudden, she happened to be gasping.

‘Evangeline?’

Henry’s eyes were wide with surprise.  Flawless sapphires twinkling out from the dark fuzz of unkempt facial hair, which he wore so well.  He was right to sound startled.  In almost two years, their cosy relationship had never once strayed beyond the acceptable confines of barmaid and patron.  And here she was turning up on his doorstep unannounced.  A doorstep, which she shouldn’t even know belonged to him!

Speechless, and desperately wanting something to focus on away from those eyes,  Evie rummaged through the contents of  her handbag.  Hands trembling, she gestured for him to take the old newspaper.

Henry frowned but freed her from his gaze as he turned the paper silently over in his hands.  The photograph on the front page was unmistakeable.  H.R.H. Prince Theodore.  Younger, clean-shaven, and far more naïve than the man stood before Evie.  But there was no doubting that they were one and the same.

‘It’s you …’ Evie croaked finally.

Henry frown dissolved into an expression which Evie didn’t understand.

‘I guess you’d better come in,’ he sighed.

As he led her through the empty hall and into the living room, Evie couldn’t help wondering where everything was.  Henry had lived in Pembroke for two years, and yet the house looked as if it hadn’t been occupied for more than two days.

He still hadn’t turned to acknowledge her and so Evie shifted awkwardly, trying to take in as much of her surroundings as possible without making it obvious that she was looking.  The living room contained just one piece of furniture.  A threadbare red sofa, with a simple sleeping bag rolled up at one end.  Hardly a bed fit for a future king!

In one corner of the room lay an upturned backpack; the universal emblem of the traveller.  Surely he hadn’t been living out of it the entire time?  Or was it his way of ensuring he could flee at any time?  A ready-made escape route…

Finally Henry turned, though his ambiguous expression remained unchanged.

‘Nice place!’  Evie offered weakly.

Out of nowhere Henry chuckled.  Evie squinted across at him in disbelief.  Was he really laughing?  His laughter grew louder and louder, echoing through the empty house.  Evie shifted her weight from one foot to the other until finally Henry stopped laughing.  He fixed her with his bright blue gaze, and once he had her locked there, he raised his delicate hands in surrender.  ‘You caught me!’ He grinned weakly before shaking his head.  ‘I knew I’d stayed here too long ….’  He muttered to himself.

She eyed him curiously.  It was only now that her suspicions had been confirmed that she allowed herself to properly piece together the things she’d read about Prince Theodore over the years, with what she knew about Henry, her friend.

Prince Theodore had been missing for seven years.  Or rather six years, three hundred and sixty-four days, and nine hours.  And Henry had lived in her village for just two of those years.  Where else had he been?  How often had he moved?

She eyed the backpack again … How many homes had it seen in those seven years?  And why, if he’d really remained on the run all the time, had Henry chosen Pembroke as his home for twenty-four long months?  What was it keeping him here all this time?

‘Hen?’ she said weakly, the uncertainty in her voice not just because she no longer knew what to call him.

Despite her uncertain futility, it was evident that Evie had picked the right thing to say.  Henry’s face quickly softened, and he finally remembered social propriety.

‘Oh dear, please excuse my manners, Evangeline.  You took me rather by surprise.  Here, please do take a seat.’  He gestured to the sofa, noticing the sleeping bag at the last moment and sweeping it onto the floor.  ‘May I offer you a drink?’

Evie automatically followed his request and sank down onto the sofa, and yet she couldn’t help grinning up at Henry and his ingrained civility.  Her Henry.  The man she had known for years.  The man who without fail ordered some combination of ale, cider and black, pork scratching, and steak, egg and chips whenever he came into The Bird in Hand.

She shook her head in disbelief.  ‘Oh Henry!’ she exclaimed, unable to hide the emotion in her voice.  ‘Hen … you’re a prince! And you die in fifteen hours time!’

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Filed under C-C Lester, Writing