Tag Archives: writer blog

Just the Advice I Needed …

As regular readers of The Elementary Circle will know, in recent months I’ve been getting rather jaded about the waiting game.  I’m an ‘almost-there’ author.  I’ve finished three novels, and have heaps of ideas for others, but now I have to sit back, and wait to see if there’s an editor at a publishing house who believes in my work as much as my agent does.  The problem is, I’m rather impatient, and after a good three years of hard slog, can’t wait for some return on my efforts, even if that return is simply the recognition that comes with a bona fide book deal.

If you’ve read my blog before, you might also know that I’m an orphan.  I lost both my parents back in 2003, when I was just nineteen.  Since Mum and Dad died, I’ve spent five years at university, and three years travelling the world, only to come back ‘home’ at the end of April.  When Mum died, my sister and I were forced to sell our family home almost immediately in order to put ourselves through school and university, and simply live. At Christmas 2003, over the space of three weeks I lost both my Mum and my home, with thirty years of my parents’ marriage relinquished to boxes which went almost straight into storage, scattered across the lofts of various family friends, where they have remained ever since.  I moved into a friend’s family home, and have called their house home ever since.

I was always a Daddy’s girl.  A tomboy as a child, my Dad was the one who taught me to play cricket, who took me skiing, introduced me to Scouting, and sat up late at night reading me tales by Roald Dahl, Enid Blyton, C.S. Lewis and Lewis Carroll.  My Dad was my idol, my role model.  Don’t get me wrong, I loved my Mum dearly, but when my Dad died, I lost my best friend.

I grew up surrounded by my father’s stories.  He had spent his twenties travelling the world, a natural-born linguist, and I not only inherited Dad’s talent for languages but also his desire to travel.  When I finished my Masters and still had  some of my inheritance from the house left over, it seemed natural to spend the money on seeing the world, because if Dad had been given the money at 24, that’s exactly what he would have done with it!  In fact, my Dad actually met my Mum (who was Romanian) when he was travelling around the world.

But travel wasn’t the only thing me and my Dad have in common.  My Dad was a writer.  When he died, I actually remember an old RAF pal of his sending Mum a package with an old story they had written together inside, and last week, when I was feeling particularly down, I went in search of it.

Two hours later I gave up, empty handed.

The whole writing business had just got me so down.  After months of trying to stay upbeat, and trying to keep inspired and active, I was defeated.  Fed up with not even getting rejections from publishers, just total radio silence, and beginning to doubt both myself and my talent, I needed my Dad.  I needed the one person who knew me inside out, which he always did, because I was the female version of him!  I needed his advice.  Dad had been the one who had helped me with A Level options.  He had planned my Gap Year with me, and not just chosen Cambridge colleges with me, but walked me to the gates of my university interview.  Unlike other Dads, mine hadn’t just stood on the sideline of my cricket matches, but had been out on the pitch alongside me – the umpire, the coach, the facilitator of the match.  My biggest fan.

I needed my biggest fan again.  Writing had become such a lonely pursuit, and without Dad around it just felt even lonelier …

And then on Sunday I got a message from one of my closest school friends.  Katherine now lives in London, but her parents still live just twenty minutes away from my old family home, and this weekend just gone, they had tidied out their loft, only to find several boxes of things from my parents house.  Things I hadn’t seen for eight years.

I assumed the boxes would be full of Dad’s photo albums, or old clothes we hadn’t been able to part with so soon after Mum’s death, but last night when I went round to Katherine’s house, I was in for a surprise.

The boxes are full of my father’s projects.  Thirty years of his work.   Pages and pages of notes.  Poems, letters, postcards to Mum, letters, songs, books, research.  Loose-leaf folders packed with handwritten sheets, and boxes full of type-written stories.  Ideas, opinions, connections.  My Dad’s brain boxed.

Eight years after his death, it’s the closest thing I will ever get to a new conversation with my Dad … and it genuinely couldn’t have come at a better time!  There I was literally a week ago wondering if I might have access to one single story Dad had written, and now I’ve been presented by boxes full of his life’s work.  Notebook after notebook, one project after the other, it seems like nothing had been thrown away since the early seventies.  I could never be so grateful to discover a closet hoarder in the family!

I sat in tears, surrounded by my Dad’s work.  By songs, and poems, and sketches, and ditties, and family tree research, and research into Greek mythology, church names, and World War One.  Every intrigue, every interest had been documented.  In a world where most of my possessions have been bought post-Mum and Dad’s death, here were pages and notebooks that my Dad had physically touched!  Line after line of his handwriting, word after word of his own.

But that wasn’t the only way Dad spoke to me last night …

Because amongst those boxes of projects, were letters from publishers.  Letters very similar to the ones I’ve spent the past six months receiving.  Rejection letters, and alongside them frustrated queries from my Dad to other publishers, months after submitting manuscripts, asking why he had heard nothing.

In a world before the internet, in an era where literary agents were scarce, and  in a time when stories weren’t written on computers, but arduously typed, page after page, on a type writer, my dad had been a frustrated almost-there author too!

And you know what, his stories have survived!  He may never have gotten published, or seen his name on the spine of a book, but his stories have still survived him.  And now, his stories sit on my book shelves. This time I’m his number one fan.  Because whenever I feel down, whenever I miss my Dad, not only can I reach for one of his stories, and have him speak directly to me once again, but I can remember that Dad was in this place too, and that if he were here now, he’d be telling me about the time he submitted a book called ‘The Michael Enigma’ about the position of churches called St Michael around Great Britain (??? Yes really!) to publishers, and waited 11 months to hear anything back.  And while my Dad isn’t here to tell me those stories, the stories themselves still are.

Dad’s stories live on, on my bookshelf and in my heart, and you know what, even if my stories never get printed, I’ll make sure that I keep every single one of them, so that one day, my daughter, or my grand-daughter, will be able to pick them up, and hear my voice when I’m no longer able to use it any more.

I love you Dad,

C-C xxx

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

Finding Inspiration in Strange Places!

This weekend I found myself at a bit of a loose end.  Having rain-checked my social life for a weekend of (paid) overtime (as opposed to the currently unpaid writing kind!) my employers decided in the eleventh hour on Friday that weekend work was no longer necessary, and so, rather than go creeping back to my friends, in an attempt to convince them their company IS more important than my non-existent bank balance, I opted for an uncharacteristic weekend at home.

Now. those of you who ‘know’ me, or at least a bit of my background, will know that I was orphaned in my teens.  At the time I had to sell my family home asap, and ended up moving in with the family of a close friend.  I’ve now lived with my ‘second family’ for the best part of eight years, on and off, between uni and travels, and having just returned from three years abroad, I’m back playing teenager in a family home.

So, in an attempt not to outstay my welcome, and in preparation for the day when I actually become a fully-fledged adult, I decided on Sunday that the time had come to sort out my stuff … Now when I say my stuff, what I mean is the vast majority of my family possessions, which have ended up in the attic at my second home.  I was orphaned in the holidays of my first term at university, and desperate to return to ‘normal life’ as soon as possible, we sold the house in a whirlwind … leaving the loft full of boxes I literally haven’t looked at in eight years.

Cue a day full of inevitable tears, as I sifted through photos and clothes, and trinkets, and bereavement cards, trying to work out which things were vital to my memories of my parents and which other things no longer were.

But the day wasn’t just full of sadness … in fact a number of laughs were had at the expense of ‘teenage me’, as I fished out notes sent in class, ranking systems of all the boys I knew at 15 (an amusing number of whom are still in my adult life!) and a series of emails and MSN conversations which I had printed off the computer ten or so years ago (God, could you imagine printing off every single one of your emails these days??? Rather worryingly said emails had been arranged in binders with individual plastic sleeves … teenage me clearly had WAY too much time on her hands!!)

But anyway … I digress … because aside from the memories, and the laughs and tears … I found something else in my attic on Sunday.  Yes, it’s gonna be a corny one … INSPIRATION.

It’s easy, at this limbo stage in writing, where some people believe in you, and you’ve achieved some small successes, but where the literary world often appears like an insurmountable mountain on the horizon, to give up.  To doubt yourself, and your abilities.  To give yourself a shake, and ask yourself if this really is your dream, your destiny.  Is it just a whim?  Are you having a laugh at your own expense?  Is it time to acknowledge that you have a decent law degree, and go and use it, rather than babysitting professionally, in the name of ‘creativity’. Ok, ok, so that last one is just me 😉

But honestly, it can be really really tough, day in day out, to find not just the inspiration to write, but the inspiration to believe in yourself.  To believe in your dream.  To see the light at the end of the writing’s tunnel of purgatory, and know that if you keep putting in the hours, eventually it really will pay off.

And so sometimes you need to rummage in the attic, and find the things that remind you of the writer you’ve always been.

As I rifled through boxes I hadn’t touched since I was a young teenager, time after time I fell upon notebooks.  Scraps of paper.  Stationery I’d half-inched from law firms where I’d done work experience

And every single one of those scraps contained a story.  An idea.  Not for a law degree, or a career in medicine, or life as a banker … But ideas for stories.  Tales I concocted in my head, and had to get onto paper, regardless of who read them.

Rummaging through those boxes, I realised something.  C-C Lester : Author, isn’t someone I’ve simply become in the past three years, after finishing my first novel.  It’s someone I’ve always been.

About a month ago my primary school closed down.  For the first time in almost twenty years, I tip-toed around a miniature school which had once seemed so large, marveling over the difference perspective can make on memories.  As part of the Farewell event, one of the classrooms had been filled with albums from over the years.  Photos, programs, notes.  Snippets of time stuffed into scrapbooks.

Now if you asked me what I had been like at primary school, I’d have called myself a swot.  Top of the class, too loud for my own good, but good at sports too.  Undoubtedly a rather annoying all-rounder.   And yet as I flicked through the albums documenting my years at the tiny school, it was interesting where I found my name.  There was no record of my academic achievements, or of my sports day wins.  And yet every single one of my short story prizes could be found in one of the albums.  It seemed, even at seven, I was an unwitting writer in the making.  And even the primary school historian had understood which of my achievements were of most important.

The inspiration doesn’t stop there.  I guess I’ve always liked images.  Whether I’m writing a novel, or a legal essay, I like to string together the pieces, to chart the flow of an idea or an image throughout the work.  Like linking beads with a string.  And so I guess this past month, the beads I keep seeing are the ones my mind wants me to see.

Because those boxes I turfed through from the loft didn’t JUST contain stories.  They contained photos, and clothes, and hundreds and hundreds of pounds worth of Backstreet Boys memorabilia (please don’t judge me!).  But it was the writing which caught my attention.  The writing which peeked my downtrodden heart and made me remember who I am.  Who I’ve always been.   Who I can be…

And so, one final note on inspiration.  I always call Flicker my ‘first novel’.  The first book I saw through from start to finish.  But technically that’s not true.  When I was fourteen I wrote a book called ‘Waking Fran’.  It was about a girl in a coma, who is visited by her friends and family, and every time she gets a new visitor, the person’s arrival triggers a new memory inside her dreamlike coma world.  God knows if it’s any good, I’m pretty sure the manuscript is actually in one of the three boxes I’m yet to rifle through … if you’re lucky, perhaps one day I’ll even include an excerpt or two on the blog!  But the story itself isn’t the important part.  Because despite probably only scratching 20,000 words, if that.  Fourteen year-old me posted that story to a publisher!

And in the loft on Sunday, I discovered my first rejection letter.

Now, this was 1998 remember.  And so this wasn’t a slick email response to a query by an agent, but a pre-printed compliments slip, where the only words written in pen were the date ‘8th October 1998’, my name (spelled wrong), and ‘The Editor’ (because whoever signed it wouldn’t even put his or her name to the standard rejection note pad slip!!!!).

Walker Books have since rejected one of my ‘adult’ novels … ironically I think they didn’t even grace my agent with a response to her query (don’t even get me started on that aspect of editor ettiquette) – surely it makes the pre-printed rejection compliments slip seem rather classy??

But that isn’t the point … the point is I have a bit between my teeth.  I wasn’t just rejected last week or last month.  I was rejected thirteen years ago.  And I’ve bloody well kept writing … and finished three novels and some since getting that first rejection.

The rejection letter in question now has pride of place on the pinboard above my bed.  Because THAT is my inspiration.  In years to come, when I’m the next J.K. Rowling, maybe I’ll even get my own rejection notepad printed up, and audatiously sign off rejection notes TO EDITORS with nothing but the moniker ‘The Author’ … or maybe, back out of dreamland, I’ll just score my first book deal, and be able to frame that first ever rejection alongside my first ever acceptance 🙂

C-C xxx

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

Getting Into Your Characters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I very seldom describe my characters in great detail!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The answer is, I didn’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

C-C xxx

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

Emotional Jump-starts

One of the things I’ve struggled slightly with when writing this blog is the personal / professional balance.  As a reader I’m not overly interested in reading what a blogger ate for breakfast, or the exact number of words he or she has managed to write that day, but equally I like to know the person behind the words.  The unique quality of blogging is that to some degree, it’s a journal.  Unedited.  From the heart.

And whilst, as those of you who regularly read my blog will know, I’m a big advocate of keeping your personal life separate from your writing – letting it influence sentiments and scenarios, but not completely take over, so that fiction remains fiction and not an autobiography – when it comes to blogging, the lines are blurred.  The rules more fluid.

Just flicking through the offerings of the Word Press ‘writing’ tab is a good enough example of this.  Some bloggers are historians, writing blog posts like school assignments.  Others literally use their blog as a computerized diary, including information of little interest to anyone other than their closes friends.

And yet, in my experience, my most successful posts on The Elementary Circle have been those which have come from the heart.  Tales of my background – My Crazy Unorthodox Life – my aspirations as a writer – J.K Raises the Bar – my career ‘solutions’ as I endeavour to become a career author, – Don’t Forget Your Day Job – and even my internal debate as to whether I can ‘officially’ call myself an author still – So Am I an Author Yet? 

So, with all that in mind, I HAD planned to write a post about ‘Emotional Jump-starts’.  The various triggers that have kicked me into action with my writing over the years.  The things which have driven me to put pen to paper with definite passion.  Ironically one of the biggest jump starts I had in writing was a really big break-up.  I say ironic, because yesterday I was dumped!  And that’s where the good old personal/ professional line comes in, because it’s not something I particularly want to talk about, and yet in some ways it’s very pertinent to this post.

I’m a Comfort Writer.  When I’m upset, I WRITE! It’s a pattern I know, and understand, and to be honest, it’s the very reason I’m typing right now.  I kept a diary from the age of 14, and whenever I was upset or feeling down about something, I would write.  Over the years, I kept the diaries almost daily, right up to the time I began to write Flicker in Australia.  And when my journal-keeping disappeared into insignificance, it was my fiction which took it’s place – using up all my desire to write each day, but remaining my emotional outlet.

And whilst obviously a journal is hugely different to fiction, and it wouldn’t be fair to anyone to simply narrate your life day by day, for some reason it’s actually more cathartic to write about other people’s fictitious lives than it is to wallow in your own sad tales.

Writing is my chocolate.  My Bridget Jones bowlful of ice-cream.  It’s how I forget my troubles, and gain perspective on issues, whether my characters are facing those very same issues as I am, or whether I’m writing about something completely unrelated.  Writing is another world, a world where you’re not a girlfriend, or an ex-girlfriend, or a troubled employee, crap best-friend, or over-burdened mother.  It’s a world where you hold all the reigns.  You’re in total control, and you can completely craft the outcomes without having to encounter the variables of other people.

Writing isn’t just a retreat for heartbreak.  It’s an escape from grief, and from whatever else causes your pain.  Or rather, that’s what I’ve realised writing has become for me.  I tend to write something each day.  Not because I’m forcing myself to write (Check out my views on that here! – ‘Falling into the Forced Writing Trap’) but because for me it’s a necessary wind-down to the day – whether that writing is on this blog, or a book, or editing, or even just planning out a story.  But the thing I’ve noticed is that my writing behaviour changes according to my emotional state of mind.  And if I’m stressed or upset about something, not only does the writing help me organise my own personal headspace, but the calibre of what I produce is genuinely better.

‘Flicker’ was a book written from heartbreak, and grief – so much so that I spent a LONG time editting out the more journalistic sections of the novel, until I felt happy that I had skimmed out the ‘Charly’ elements from the book, and that Felicity Firestone, the main character, wasn’t simply an image of myself.

However, ‘The Dream Navigator’, my second book, and the one which is currently with publishers, was formed from a different passionate reaction.  Those of you who have been reading my blog for some time will know that I had a different agent at PFD before I was represented by the lovely Lucy Dundas, and that other agent actually asked me to sideline Flicker after about 6 months of editing, the most major edit being cutting the word count from 180,000 words down to 90,000.  I’m sure any writers reading can imagine my sentiments, when I was told to forget a book which I had spent a year and a half writing and perfecting.

I was pretty bloody angry!  And it was that anger which bred determination, and that determination which saw me put pen to paper and create the first chapter of The Dream Navigator – the section of my writing which has probably received the most critical acclaim.

So, what have I learnt from all of this (apart from that my choice in boyfriends apparently sucks?!) …

I’ve learnt that I’m an emotional writer.  And that when I’m feeling down, or angry, or passionate about something, I ought to put pen to paper.  Because the things I create will not only make me feel ten times better, but they also might turn out to be pretty damn good 🙂

What about you?  What gets you writing?  What makes your writing good?  And what turns it into something you’ll simply delete it the next time you read it?

As ever, please comment below, and feel free to tell me what you think on Twitter – http://twitter.com/#!/CC_Lester

C-C xxx

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

The Author, The Role Model

Role models is a topic particularly close to my heart.

In my life away from the written word, I’ve been a Brownie Leader for over half my life, and have always felt passionately that children need good role models.  In fact, I felt so passionately about it that I studied Role Models in the Media as part of my Masters Degree, and for some time considered pursuing a career as a children’s television presenter in order to be a role model to younger generations.

But a Young Adult fiction writer, the topic of being a role model is a little more complicated than it is as a Brownie Leader, or kids TV presenter.

As I discussed in my article ‘Sex and Swearing’  teenage readers don’t need to be patronised.  Fiction shouldn’t simply be a guise to project your beliefs on teenagers.  It’s important to know your audience, and write at a level they understand.  Characters should be believable, and their experiences relatable with.

The author must tread a tightrope, because teenagers aren’t reading fiction to hear the amplified views of their parents, or conservative fundamentalists, and yet, as an adult talking to teenagers through her writing, there is a need for some propriety, sensitivity, and an understanding of what is really necessary to the story.

The thing to remember is that Young Adults have minds of their own!  By presenting them with a story, you are not presenting them with a definitive answer, but instead with food for thought.  Ideas, situations and tales for them to process.  Characters for them to dissect, whether consciously or unconsciously, and thus models for them to follow, question and learn from.

Because the interesting part about being an author is that you have the power to create role models, but you also have the power to create anti-role models, and sometimes, if you have a point to make, this is the best way of presenting the issue at question to readers.  Going back to the idea of sex in YA novels, as mentioned in ‘Sex and Swearing’, if you really feel strongly about promiscuity and experimentation in teenagers (please note I’m talking about 17+ year olds, NOT 13 year olds!) then perhaps the best way to combat the issue is by showing a character involved in an ill thought-out one night stand, and touching on the repercussions, yet allowing the reader to make his own judgments, as opposed to only writing about teenagers who are tee-total, God-forsaking, virgins until marriage? (Twilight rant over!!)

Moving on from this discussion of role models and teenage progression into adulthood, a fellow author brought up an interesting issue earlier this week.  She had been running regular writing classes at a local youth club, only for the club to decide that writing and reading didn’t fit with the club’s important focus upon health and fitness.

The problem I have with this, is that it suggests that literature is completely at odds with fitness, exercise and the outdoors.  However in my experience, literature has been anything but that!  And I’m not just talking about reading a book when you’re on the machines in the gym (an act I do with such frequency, I should probably really invest in a Kindle!).

As an author, you present scenarios.  And whilst some of those scenarios may simply cause the reader to contemplate, others will encourage the reader to actively try something out … (and no, conservative cynics, I’m not talking about underage sex 😉 ).

When I was a child, I grew up on Enid Blyton.  Now over the years, her work has faced some controversy, with conspiracy theories that her use of golliwog dolls as characters in her books fostered racism in readers.  But, as if to illustrate the fact that children are not influenced by every single thing they read (or perhaps just to illustrate the fact that most children didn’t even realise a golliwog had anything to do with skin colour?), I didn’t emerge from years of reading Famous Five and Secret Seven as a racist!  I grew up to be a teenager, and then an adult, with a great thirst for adventure.  Because that was what the books were full of  – adventures and the outdoors!  I was fascinated by a world where people slept on heather bushes (which in reality is nowhere near as comfortable as she made it sound!), rowed across lakes and seas, and spent every spare second in the outside world.  And whilst the reader in me wanted to curl up in a chair and never put the books down, the adventurer who those stories conjured, inspired me to head out into the outside world and start out on adventures of my own.

I’m not saying that Enid Blyton is the sole reason I’ve spent most of my life travelling the world and seeking out adventures, but she definitely played an early part in things.

I suppose THIS is where I see the cross-over of being an author and a role-model.  Not to lecture kids about sex, and swearing and all the other things they hear enough lectures about in life, but to show them what the world has to offer, and inspire them to go out and try those things.

I might love to write, but that doesn’t mean I want to spend my life sitting behind a desk, and I share my time between all my passions – writing, reading, sports, fitness, travel, socialising etc …  And as long as characters have well-rounded lives, and are challenged with adventures that the readers themselves want to not only follow, but also take part in, then those readers will go on to have their own adventures.

Yes, children can be impressionable, but don’t underestimate them.  They have their own opinions and thought processes.  So feed them with ideas.  Show them what the world has to offer, and hopefully your characters will become their role models.  Not by preaching, but by inspiring!

Let me know what you think!

C-C xx

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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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The Author Package

In the world we live in today, authors have to be more than just writers.

Readers want to have more than just a name on a book spine.  They want to know more about the person behind the writing.  It’s illustrative of our culture today.  As consumer, readers and viewers, we have access to everything, to everyone.  Even the most elite film stars can’t hide behind billboards anymore – they are papped in the streets, stories told to tabloids about them, and given their say on Twitter.

But consumer-interest isn’t just reserved for film and TV stars any more.  Readers want to know about authors, and the paragraph at the back of the book just doesn’t go dig deep enough!  Readers not only want to know about the author behind the books, they want to communicate with them. And increasing numbers of top authors are bowing to the demand, there are a number of prolific authors who are very candid with their readers.  For example –

Neil Gaiman is an avid tweeter, and a keeps a regularly updated blog.

Maureen Johnson communicates freely and very honestly with her readers and has a beautiful website and blog.

Lauren Kate keeps over 13,000 fans updated on her book tours over Twitter, and a regular and very personal blog with personal photos, annecdotes, and interestingly open polls for tour destinations.

Twitter and blogs are also an increasingly popular way for upcoming authors to advertise their work.  A number of novice authors, self-published authors, and those who have just signed contracts with publishers use social media to make names for themselves, forge fan-bases, and advertise their new work.

Finally there’s the third tier of authors – the almost-there crew, much like myself – who are represented, but don’t have book deals yet.  Here I think social media becomes a bit of an experiment.  You don’t have anything concrete to advertise, but social media instead provides a forum for discussion, self-growth, and the opportunity to trial your work on complete strangers.

Interestingly, the only authors who seem to be shying away from providing the ‘full author package’ are those at the very very top.  Those, whose name alone sells.

John Grisham steers clear of both Twitter and blogging, and Stephen King last posted on his blog in 2009.

Whilst ‘Queen Rowling’  as she’s been called this week DOES have an official Twitter account,  4 of the only 6 messages she’s ever tweeted are variations of the same statement – ‘This is the real me, but you won’t be hearing from me often I’m afraid, as pen and paper are my priority at the moment.’

Also Twilight’s Stephenie Meyer has over 50,000 followers on Twitter, but has only ever tweeted twice!

C-C xx

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Sex and Swearing!

Right … now that I’ve caught your eye 😉

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

C-C xx

 

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The Publishing Trap!

I’ve just been catching up on my Subscription reading, and came across a lovely mention on Trainee Writer.  Thank you Kriss!

Anyway, as regular readers of the blog will know, I’ve recently been trying to step out of my comfort zone by entering writing competitions in genres and styles that I’m not used to.  Whilst this is definitely something I would recommend, my experience has come with one caveat – be careful what you publish!

One of the main reasons I started a blog was to get feedback on my writing from people who I don’t know personally – feedback like that lovely comment on The Trainee Writer.  However, the main problem nowadays with putting chapters of your work up on the net is not necessarily what you would expect it to be.  I for one thought the only potential problem with posting writing on the internet was plagiarism, however there is another more legal consideration.

Posting something on the internet can count as publishing, full stop.  It might seem temporary, but it is out there for good, the moment you click on that ‘Publish’ button.  And there could be implications on the future of that piece.  For example, almost every competition I’ve entered this month has insisted that the writing I’m submitting has not been previously published ANYWHERE, and that specifically includes the internet.

Whilst this ought not be a problem for book deals, (I presume provided you don’t post too much of a book?) if you are thinking of using a novel or a short story in a competition, I would suggest erring on the side of caution and not posting it online.  With that in mind I just posted my entry to the Grazia competition as, alas, I didn’t win the £1,000 jackpot!

C-C xxx

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A Change of Approach

Last week I hit a bit of a brick wall with the book I’m writing.  I’ve realised that,  rather ironically considering how much I enjoy travelling, I really don’t enjoy writing the ‘travel’ sections of stories – how characters A and B get to C. Something which you can in some circumstances simply skip altogether.  However, when the story is one about a series of interlinked worlds, it seems rather important to describe those links.  I just get rather impatient and can’t wait to get to the main story again … and that leads me to a bout of good old Writer’s Block.

However, I think I found a solution … or at least it did in my case!  Two week’s (of unemployment!) in, and I’ve now hit 30,000 words.  Obviously, their calibre is still to be decided, but they are words, on a page, and for that I’m proud/

In fact, it was actually words on a page which got me past the infamous Block, because I decided to change my approach to writing for a few days.

I write in  Word documents.  Each chapter is a simple Word document, and then sections are compiled as folders on my laptop.  I spent my life writing on a computer screen.  And so I mixed it up a bit.  I printed out my chapters.

For a start, actually being able to physically touch the pages of my work reminded me of what I had achieved.  30,000 words is about 76 pages of print.  That’s a pretty hefty weight in your palms … even more so if you print it out double-spaced (which is actually something I would recommend if you have a lot of editing to do!)

But also, seeing the writing in a different way – as printed pages, as opposed to a never-ending scrolling computer screen really helped me look at it in a fresh light.  I ended up editing everything I had written, and being inspired enough to go straight to writing another three chapters.

So if you’re struggling with a writing hurdle of some kind – whether it’s a travel section of your novel, or just simply a scene that you still can’t get to sound quite right – why don’t you try looking at it in a different way?  Print it out, type it up, or simply copy it out again … You never know what the results might be!

C-C xxx

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