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New Start to Flicker!!!

So I promised to return to ‘Flicker’ … and that’s exactly what I’ve done 🙂  Those of you who regularly read the blog will know the original first few chapters can be found HERE, but after a year away from the story, I’ve decided to edit it again.  Here’s the ‘new’ opening scenes!! 

As ever, it’s great to hear what you think!

Cheers, C-C xx

Flash Forward

Jets of hot white steam plumed violently into the air, and the open wounds in the landscape belched thick black mud. The island hissed and fizzed, a volatile volcanic wasteland. At the flick of the old man’s hand a wall of flames appeared above the acid-filled lake. Flic stared up at him, no longer able to fight the instinct that somehow he was answering questions she hadn’t even realised she was asking.

‘Tell me you haven’t looked into the heart of a fire and felt its very soul?’ he asked. ‘I know you Felicity Firestone, in the same way I knew your mother, and this is your destiny! It’s in your blood!’

1. Fugitive

December 2009

Flic frowned up at the departures board, struggling under the weight of her backpack. All around her Heathrow Airport buzzed with excitement, happy holidaymakers eagerly anticipating life on the other side of the departure lounge. She shifted her gaze at the itinerary in her hand – an open return trip to Australia of all places! And yet Flic was feeling anything but excited. She didn’t want to go away. She wanted to go home! Not that she even knew where that was any more …

The house she’d grown up in was still there of course, but it was no longer hers. And even if it had been, all it would have been was a shell. Just one more thing back in Bath to remind her of everything she had lost. All the people who mattered were gone.

Flic gripped the page tightly. She was making the right decision. In fact, Mum had made the right decision for her … without even knowing the half of it! She stared around the airport one last time, immediately chiding herself for looking. Ally wasn’t going to come. No matter how much she wanted it, no matter how many times she prayed, he wasn’t going to magically appear at the check-in desk and beg her to stay. He wasn’t going to tell her what she wanted to hear. That this had all just been a big mistake. He wasn’t going to do any of those things, because he’d already had three months to run back to her side, and he hadn’t come.

Hugging her day-sack close to her chest, Flic stepped reluctantly in the direction of the check-in desks, and tried to push her doubts to one side. She wanted to go home … but maybe that was actually where she was going. After all, her mother had been born in Australia, and had always promised to take Flic there one day. Flic had just never expected that when she did visit her mother’s homeland, Amelia would only be with her in spirit.

An unruly tear escaped her eye all of a sudden, and Flic brushed it aside, angrily gritting her teeth. This wasn’t how all this was meant to begin. This was her gap year, an adventure. Her time to see the world, experience new things, meet new people. Her opportunity to make a new life for herself … one to replace the life that she had so suddenly lost. And she wasn’t going to be able to do any of those things if she stood around crying and moping.

With a newfound sense of purpose, she marched determinedly towards the Qantas check-in counter, but her determination was short-lived, as she took a step too far and slammed right into the last person in the line. Flic flushed red and mumbled an apology. The man shrugged easily and caught her eye, his gaze lingering ever so slightly. Flic looked hurriedly down at her hands, embarrassed by the foreign attention. If it really was attention? She frowned at herself, all too aware that she’d never been in this situation before.

Flic glanced awkwardly up at the man again. He was classically good-looking – his jaw chiselled, and hair jet-black. As he turned back to face the front of the queue, she could make out the well-defined muscles of his wide shoulders and back beneath his thin t-shirt, broad arms held casually at his sides. It seemed to take her a moment to realise exactly how attractive he was. It had just been so long since she was last single! With Ally at her side she’d never had any reason to look at other guys. But Ally wasn’t at her side any more. Times had changed. And it was time for Flic to change along with them.

This was the right thing to do. Going to Australia. This was where Amelia had wanted her to be, just three months on from her death. The will had spelled that out in no uncertain terms. Tickets had been booked, research secretly carried out, and a place on a two-month tour reserved in her name. Her mother’s last actions. Her very final wish. It seemed Australia was where Flic was meant to be. Thousands of miles away from the funeral, the ex-boyfriend, and her stale university dreams.

Flic shifted the weight of her rucksack on her shoulders, grudgingly acknowledging the realities of the past that she would soon be leaving behind. She’d been carrying so much for so long. Not just since her mother’s death, but long before it, watching, futile, as breast-cancer wrecked and ravaged her vibrant young mother. Seeing Amelia suffer had been quite literally soul-destroying. And yet she had packed it all away, memories to face at a later date, and instead busied herself nursing her mother, and trying to savour the painful last days with the woman who had been her entire family. She knew she ought to begin to deal with it all. It had been three months. Perhaps now, as she embarked on a new adventure, away from the stresses of university, and everyday life, this was her opportunity to begin to come to terms with everything?

She frowned, and looked resolutely over at the check-in counter. One step at a time.

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‘Good Evening Miss Firestone!’ The air hostess beamed as Flic finally stepped aboard her flight and handed over her boarding pass. Flic nodded grudgingly. The past three hours had been an uncomfortable waiting game, wedged between impatient businessmen and excitable children in the security cattle queues. Finally past the scanners, the departure gate had changed three times, each one located at a different end of the airport. Flic had been left beyond flustered – out of breath, sweating from every pore, and utterly amazed that she’d actually found the plane on time!

Still breathing heavily, Flic followed the air hostess’s directions and made her way despondently towards the seat which would be her prison-cell for the next night and day. As her eyes skimmed the crowds of other passengers settling down in their own seats, something inside her flipped unexpectedly, and she found herself wondering where the man from the queue might be. For a second she wavered with the idea that perhaps she should have put on some make-up in the airport toilets, but immediately chided herself for the thought, looking down at the baggy tracksuit and greying t-shirt which she’d thrown on without so much of a thought that morning. It was going to take more than make-up to cover up the realities of the past three months. No, Flic was best off burrowing herself into her seat, and hiding beneath the airline sleep mask for the duration of the flight. At least that way, if the handsome stranger was anywhere nearby, on this crowded flight of hundreds, she wouldn’t embarrass herself any more than she already had.

Carefully she took her gaze away from her fellow passengers and instead concentrated on the seat numbers, searching out her vacant seat. ‘Twenty One, Twenty Two, Twenty Three …’ She mentally ticked off the rows, and finding her place, reached straight for the overhead locker, untangling Ally’s water-polo hoodie from around herself with one hand. It had been the only item of his clothing that she hadn’t been able to part with. With a frown at all it symbolised, she shoved the jumper into the locker, and slammed it shut with a rather unnecessary bang.

As promised, she sank defeatedly down into the aeroplane seat, and began fishing around in her daysack for her sleeping mask.

‘Woah girl … what did it ever do to you?’ came the voice beside her. Flic turned confused, ‘I’m sorry what …?’ She asked, stopping short at the sight of her next-door neighbour. It was the same man she had crashed into in the check-in queue. The same gorgeous man who Flic had crashed straight into just a few hours beforehand. ‘The overhead locker!’ He continued. ‘Hang on …’ he smiled, a flicker of recognition in his eye. ‘You were the one in the queue earlier!’ He grinned, an easy grin, which revealed teeth so perfect they could only have been achieved with the help of serious metal work. ‘Bad day?’ he asked simply, raising a cheeky eyebrow.

She took a deep breath, registering her sweaty, thoughtless appearance. Bad day was beyond an understatement! Even if she hadn’t just run circles around Heathrow, this situation would have been a nightmare. Since the funeral Flic had barely eaten, let alone brushed her hair or opened a make-up bag, and yet suddenly she was waking up to concerns that hadn’t entered her consciousness for months. She was a shadow of herself. And for the first time since Amelia’s death, she cared enough not to want to be.

She shot the guy a sideways glance, carefully noting the absence of any girlfriend beside him. Tucked in the window seat, a grumpy-looking old man fiddled with his seatbelt. Flic focussed her attention on the friendly stranger, gritting her teeth nervously and wondering how she’d been able to look at him so impassively before. Neat black locks framed a pair of cool grey eyes that had a definite sparkle. His angular jaw was speckled with dark stubble, cropped to a designer length. And his clothes were casual, and yet perfectly selected. He could have stepped right off the page of a magazine. She frowned inwardly. What was she doing? He was being polite! Nothing more! She ought to be happy that her head and heart seemed to finally be waking up after lying dormant for so long. It was a start. She shouldn’t ruin it by over-thinking anything. Sensing the natural end of the polite conversation, Flic leaned forward, deciding to give him an easy out. She leafed through the contents of the seat-back pocket, settling on the in-flight movie schedule, and then settled back to pretend to read, her heart still racing from the novelty of it all.

‘I’m Daniel’ the man continued, ignoring her attempts at silence, and extending a firm hand across her magazine. A proper introduction. His voice was a neat mix of South African and English boarding school. Flic flinched, startled. ‘Felicity … Flic’ she stumbled, awkwardly grasping his fingers.

Her unease seemed to amuse him. He raised a confident eyebrow, ‘So, ‘Felicity-Flic’ what takes you to Australia?’ He had introduced himself to her! He had initiated conversation! She had given him an out, and yet he had initiated a conversation. All to aware of the flip of unexpected lust in her chest, Flic tried to still her excitement, but allowed herself to turn properly to face him. Daniel. Distracted immediately by the intensity of his cool eyes, Flic looked quickly down and tried to focus on what he was asking. What a question! She opted for the simplest answer. ‘I’m on my Gap Year. I’ve got a two-month adventure tour booked, starting in Cairns.’

‘An adventure tour?’ his eyes sparkled with interest. At least she hoped it was interest, and he wasn’t just humouring her. Something about his manner put her ever-so-slightly on guard, as if she were the butt of an unknown joke. He was just so slick. Flic couldn’t help wondering, why someone so attractive would make this much effort to speak to her? Or was it just her imagination? Just another facet of her insecurity? Why did he have any reason to be anything other than polite and friendly? They would be sharing neighbouring seats for the best part of twenty-four hours.

‘An adventure tour?’ he continued, showing a genuine interest in her words. ‘ So you’re a bit of an adrenaline junkie then?’ Flic decided to ignore the nagging suspicion that he was mocking her, and trust his apparent sincerity.

‘I guess you could say that! Though I’m into endurance sports too,’ she heard herself babble. Flirt-mode! She registered in utter surprise. This was her flirt-mode! Flic had been so young when she’d first begun dating Ally, she couldn’t even remember ever having had to flirt! It had just been so easy – they’d been school friends, and their friendship had taken what felt like its natural course, gradually developing into a relationship. Looking back she couldn’t remember even attempting to flirt before. She waited nervously for his response, wondering if she sounded too cheesy.

His eyes flashed appreciatively down at her t-shirt, ‘Yeah I can see that … the London Marathon … wow!’ She shrugged off his praise, ‘It’s not really that hard. I think the only reason I finished was because I’m so stubborn! Trust me, it had nothing to do with sporting ability!’ ‘Impressive, nonetheless.’ Flic really wasn’t sure how to take him. He was just so self-assured. Ally was a confident guy, but Daniel practically smouldered charm. It was definitely disconcerting, though perhaps being out of her comfort zone was exactly what she needed?

‘So, Daniel’, she grinned, feigning confidence, and stumbling at what could potentially be flirtation. ‘What’s your sport of choice? Or can I guess?’ She grinned cheekily, realising the comment permitted a quick glance at his body. He was muscular, yet streamlined. Daniel lacked the shoulders of a rower … shoulders Ally had … and his thighs were heavy-looking, but not rugby-esque.

‘Go on …’ he nodded encouragingly.

‘Hmm … horse-riding?’ Daniel raised an eyebrow, and she groaned inwardly at her behaviour. He was a twenty year-old guy, not an eight year-old girl! Maybe it was a good thing she hadn’t had to flirt for three years, she was appalling! ‘Sorry, I meant polo,’ she corrected herself, wincing slightly as she waited for his response.

Daniel simply smiled. ‘I guess you could draw some similarities… I ride bikes.’ Flic stared at him out of the corner of her eye. ‘There’s no way you’re a cyclist! Sorry, but you’re way too … stacked!’ She blurted, a hot blush colouring her as she realised what she’d said. ‘Why thank you!’ Daniel laughed easily, and ran a steel tongue-bar between his lips. ‘No you’re right, I ride motorbikes not mountain bikes. I guess I’ve always been into my gadgets, and bikes are the most fun gadget of them all!’

Felicity stared awkwardly down at the magazine in her lap, not really knowing what to say. She was still embarrassed about the horse-riding comment, and the conversation had led to something she knew absolutely nothing about. Her vague bloom of confidence was disappearing almost as quickly as it had appeared.

Daniel filled the silence. ‘So Felicity-Flic, how about you tell me about this adventure tour?’ Flic smiled, glad for the change of subject. ‘Well to be honest, I don’t know a great deal about it! My Mum booked it, and she wanted it to be a surprise. All I really know is that I start in Cairns, and I’m not heading home until at least next February.’

When Daniel didn’t interrupt, Flic carried on, suddenly aware of how nice it was to talk about Amelia with someone who didn’t cry at the mention of her name. At the funeral she’d felt like the responsible adult, consoling each of her mother’s friends in turn.

‘Mum really loved the outdoors. She grew up in Australia, so I guess it was in her blood! Had me camping before I could walk!’ Flic smiled, distracted for a second, and then remembered what they were talking about. ‘Anyway, I’m guessing the tour’ll be pretty basic. No ‘flash-packing’ for me, that’s for sure!’

‘Flash-packing!’ Daniel grinned. ‘I like the sound of that – not heard that before! Your mum sounds pretty special!’ he added kindly.

Flic nodded slowly, ‘Yeah she is … was, I mean …, she stumbled, still not used to the past tense. She took a deep breath. The more often she said this out loud, the easier it would be to come to terms with. ‘Um, actually she died a couple of months ago. I only found out about the trip in her will.’

Something flickered in Daniel’s eyes, an emotion she found hard to read. Maybe it was just awkwardness, a reaction she’d met an awful lot recently. ‘I’m really sorry’, he said quietly. Flic frowned inwardly. Why did everyone do that? Apologise. It wasn’t their fault. No one was to blame. That was the problem.

‘Sorry,’ Daniel said again, and she turned her attention back to him. ‘That was a stupid thing to say. I’m sure you’re already fed up with people apologising for no reason.’ He stumbled, and Flic frowned at him in disbelief. She shook her head, wondering if she had heard him right. ‘How did you ….’

He smiled awkwardly, the strain of the expression showing at the sides of his eyes. ‘I lost my mother too … but she died a very long time ago. I never really knew her … and I’ve spent a lifetime having people apologise the moment they hear she’s gone. And it’s not their fault, they didn’t even know her! It’s not their fault …’ His voice faltered and Flic frowned again, not certain she understood the full meaning of what he was saying. She waited to see if he would continue.

Finally he spoke, his tone changed. ‘So how’s your Dad holding up?’ Flic shrugged, ‘I never knew him. It’s always just been me and Mum. I guess she was more like a friend than a mum in a lot of ways. How about you, are you close to your Dad?’ she asked politely.

The question didn’t produce the reaction she had hoped. He seemed even more uneasy! Finally, more quietly than before, he replied ‘You’d think I ought to be, wouldn’t you? But I guess I reminded him too much of her, Mum …’ Daniel paused, then went to say something and stopped. He looked down the iPod in his hand, idly spinning his index finger around the dial.

He had said nothing, and yet Flic understood that he had said far too much. A few simple sentences had shattered his picture-perfect armour, revealing a lost soul that she understood far too well. Acting before she even had a chance to think, Flic reached across the arm rest and grasped the stranger’s hand.

Daniel’s hand was so cold it was as if Flic’s body heat drained straight into it. She snatched her hand back, motivated by the shock and by the embarrassment of her actions. He hadn’t even said anything poignant. She had simply read between the lines of his words, clearly reading too much into a few throwaway comments. So his mother had died too, and he didn’t get on with his Dad. There was no cause to think anything more of the situation than what he had said. She focussed upon the attractive man in front of her and reminded herself just how out of her league he was.

But Daniel looked back at her with an expression that was anything but awkward. An expression which seemed to suggest he had different ideas about the league systems. He reached gently back across the divide of the airplane seats, and pulled her hand back down on top of his, placing his other hand over it. He stared down into her eyes. ‘Thank you.’ He said softly. His grey eyes moved like mercury – a rainbow of colours, and yet they were all shades of silver. ‘You know, I think you may just have become my favourite next-door neighbour!’ he winked, his cool exterior returning as he nodded over at the pensioner sat on his other side, who had just begun to snore.

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Filed under C-C Lester, Flicker, Novel Excerpt

Everything’s Coming Together …

Ok, so those of you who regularly read the blog will know that just over four months ago, I gave up life as a traveling nanny-come-first aid instructor – come author, and have returned home to a more socially acceptable 9-5 job!

After two months waiting to start my new job, the past two months of employment have been quite literally mental, working every hour under the sun to try to claw back all the debt I ran up waiting to start the job! As of today, I’ve had just four days off in nine weeks! Which, as I’m sure you can appreciate, has taken it’s toll on my writing.

I’ve been knackered! After 12+ hours a day staring at a computer screen, quite frankly the last thing I wanted to do every evening when I got home was to spend another couple of hours typing away.

Add to that the increasing general frustrations of being an ‘almost there’ author – something I’ve spoken recently about in ‘Just the Advice I Needed’ and ‘The Writer’s Marathon‘ – and it’s been hard to motivate myself to continue writing.

A few months ago, when I was waiting for my ‘day job’ to start, I began a book called ‘Mercury’s Child’ – a novel for 11-15 year olds about a girl called Halley MacFadden, who discovers eight parallel universes to the one in which she lives, and who, without giving too much away, soon realises that many of the people close to her are actually different versions of the same person.

The book has always felt ‘almost there’ (a phrase all too close to my heart at the moment!). The more I developed the concept, the more excited I got, but I just kept thinking it needed an extra va-va-voom, and I guess this slight apathy towards the story, combined with all the other reasons I’ve been disinclined to write, have meant that Mercury’s Child has sat half-finished, and untouched, on my laptop for the past two months.

Now, for those of you who are regulars, you’ll know, when it comes to writing, I like joining the dots! I write by linking connections, and I get my ideas by drawing connections from things I come across in every day life … (Me vs Me! and ‘Give Yourself an Inspirational Day!’) And you’ll also know that my Dad, who died when I was 19, has been playing on my mind quite a lot – ‘Just the Advice I Needed‘ – so with all that in mind … I think everything’s begun to come together!!!

Mercury’s Child needs some oomph … something that makes me want to write an ending, and also something which makes me believe in my writing again, after nine months of rejections from publishers.

As everyone keeps telling me, the best thing a writer waiting to hear back from publishers can do, is to keep on writing … but you need to be inspired to do that, and you need to believe in your own writing.

As I explained in Just the Advice I Needed, Dad has become the inspiration. My biggest fan might no longer be around, but that doesn’t mean I ought to stop believing in myself. If anything, the amazing feedback I got from all you guys from the blog post I wrote about finding all his old writing should be something that inspires me to believe in my own writing. But I have a feeling Dad can help me out in another way with the writing!

So, as I mentioned above, I’ve been working crazy hours recently – the life of the starving artist!!! And today was my fourth day off in nine weeks! The day off was long overdue, but it also gave me the down time I needed to start joining the dots and finding the connections around me.

Mercury’s Child is the story of a little girl.  Halley, the central character is just 11 years old when she begins travelling between the different parallel worlds. But there’s another major character in the story – her father Robert, and the different versions of the same man that she comes to know. And I think that’s the missing link in the story that I might have just begun to see.

I grew up surrounded by my Dad’s stories. Not the literal box of old stories and projects which now sits under my bed, and decorating my bookshelves, but tales of his weird and wonderful life. Tales of the thirty-odd years he lived before I came into this world. My Dad, a computer programmer by trade, was a hundred other things. He had been an English teacher in Tehran, a lorry driver, an insurance clerk, an RAF translator, a backpacker … And those were the stories which coloured my childhood. Which inspired me to momentarily forget my Cambridge law degree, and become a live-in nanny over in Canada, which inspired me to pack my bags and see the world, which inspired me to do every job from a children’s party entertainer to a first aid instructor.

But Dad’s stories don’t just have to inspire my life, and the way I choose to live it … They can also inspire my writing! Because I have a feeling that Robert MacFadden is missing something that my Dad had in truckloads …

Backstories ….

The man was meant to have discovered the different universes, and lived in different time-z0nes, set 20 years apart. He literally lived tens of different lives …

So now it’s time to add all those back-stories in, and see if I can put the va-va-voom back into the story, and get back my writing mojo

C-C xxx

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Filed under Blogging, C-C Lester, Mercury's Child, Unsigned Author Commentary, Writing

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

Don’t Forget the Day Job!!

Now, unless you’re J.K. Rowling, the world’s first billionaire author, or one of the lucky few writers who earn enough from advances and royalties to make writing their full-time job, then another PAID job is a necessity.

But, as I’ve realised in the past three years, finding the ideal job to keep you from becoming a starving artist can be a tough feat.

I WAS planning on starting this post with a little bit of information about the new job I’ve just started, but in the eleventh hour, after I Tweeted asking other authors what jobs they currently do, one of my best friends (who also recruited me to said new job!) messaged me to underline I wasn’t to talk about said new job!!!

Hmm … Ok, well first of all, please let me assure you that my current job is NOTHING to do with MI5 or MI6! Cool as that would obviously be!! Am pretty sure my tattoos and tongue piercing prevent me from ever working for them … that and my inherent inability to take orders from people!!!

What I CAN tell you about my new job, is that it’s actually what inspired me to take on the topic of ‘day jobs’. Because as an aspiring author, you tread an awkward tightrope.

You have a career goal in mind, something which you’re slowly working your way towards, however, until others start believing in you, you really have very little to show for your ‘career path’.

I’ve talked frequently about the different hurdles along the way to ‘becoming an author’ – having an idea for a book, starting a novel, finishing a novel, finding an agent, finding a publisher, getting a publishing date, getting a following … and all the other stuff in between.  But as you’ll all know, a lot of those hurdles are mounted out of sight.  Successes are predominantly personal.  You don’t get CV points, or cash bonuses for them.  And yet for many of us, we’ve worked at this career path harder than we’ve worked for anything else in our lives!

But very few people see that.  Very few people understand all the work going on in the background.  The edits, the revisions, the blogging, the tweeting, the endless queries to agents, the rejections … It all goes unseen until you have something physical to show for all the work.  A tangible book!

And until that moment, and for the majority of people for a long time after that first tangible book is published, to the outside world, you’re still NOT following a career path.  Because to the outside world, starter steps in a career are as an intern or as an office junior, not sending letter after letter to agencies, and not receiving a penny for it!

Which means, as a starving artist, the pressure to start a paid career of some description comes not just from your purse strings! Unfortunately, for many people, ‘I’m trying to get a book published’ isn’t an acceptable answer to the ‘what are you doing with yourself these days?’ question! It’s like replying ‘I’ve been doing some painting’ or ‘I’m trying to get into acting.’   Until you can show them actual signs of success, it’s almost judged as laziness.  Which is ironic, knowing how many hours I’ve put into writing over the past three years!

I guess one of the major issues I have, is that I have a very good degree, from a very good University, and because that degree was in Law, people expect me to want to be a lawyer.  To sit behind a desk for the rest of my life, and make far more money that way than I probably ever will from Young Adult fiction!

But anyone who knows me, knows I was never meant to be a lawyer.  I’m a traveller at heart, a people person.  Someone who wants to see the world, experience everything it has to offer, and inspire others to do the same through my writing.

So, if I’m not becoming a lawyer, what can I possibly do to make myself a well-fed artist?!

When I first started writing I was travelling.  I had nine months away from work, and all the time in the world to put electronic pen to paper.  But back in the real world, I soon realised writing is a lot harder when you’re also working 9-5.  When I lived in Canada, I worked as a nanny, probably the best job I could recommend to any aspiring author (if you like kids!!!).  The kids slept 2 hours during the day, and I often babysat in the evening, so there was lots of time to write and edit ‘on the job’, and the very nature of the job, where you are essentially being paid to be a good human being, meant I was never too mentally exhausted at the end of the day to put pen to paper.

However, unfortunately the judgmental eyes of the world (well not really, but probably my own sense of propriety) means I can’t really be a nanny back in my home country!  I’ve spent five long years at university, so I may as well do a day job which represents my educational history.  But what should I do?

Because I don’t need a career!  I don’t want to put my foot on a career ladder, because, at least in my mind, I’m already a couple of steps up another career ladder, and ok, that career hasn’t progressed far enough for me to support myself doing it, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have goals and an aim in mind.

So how do I support myself in a way which uses my brain and capabilities, but that doesn’t distract me from my career target, which is becoming a successful published author?!

My answer appears to be working as a CONTRACTOR!! (I don’t think I’m going to get into trouble with my friend for telling you guys that much! 😉 )

I’m in a well-paid job, where I use my brain, and need my degree (apparently!) but where I don’t feel mentally-drained at the end of the day, and am still inspired enough to write.  And the great thing is, I’m not expected to be in the job long-term.  As a contractor, I’m not expected to be pursuing a career path, and seeking promotion. In fact, I’m not even expected to be there in five months time!  I just go in, do my job each day, and at the end of the day, leave it in the office!

And then, I can go home every evening and pursue my career 🙂

So, for now at least, it seems I’ve found my ideal day job, to complement my ideal career!  And hopefully by the time this contract ends, I’ll have conquered at least one more hurdle on my path to a personal feeling of success!

How about you guys?  What jobs do you do to help your writing careers?  What jobs don’t work particularly well with your ‘extra-curricular’ habits?!

As ever, tell me what you think!!! Am I right, am I wrong?  Let’s start a dialogue across the global community of writers 🙂 And please let me know if there’s anything else about writing and being an author which you guys would like me to write about!!

C-C xxx

 

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

About the Author – My Crazy Unorthodox Life!

Continuing my trio of blog posts this afternoon (see The Author Package, and My Writer Package!) I’ve decided to answer the Apprentice Candidate question, and hopefully also add to my personal ‘Author Package’, by telling you about my crazy, somewhat unorthodox life.

Torres del Paine, Patagonia, Chile at sunrise

 I think the key thing about my life is that I’ve never seen boundaries in the same way other people do.  Running a marathon in another country isn’t a life-long pursuit for me, it’s something I’ll sign up to four weeks beforehand.  I spend my life writing emails, searching out opportunities, taking chances, and generally trying to fill my life with as much excitement as possible.

On the inside of my left wrist I have a tattoo of two words – Carpe Diem.  As a child ‘Dead Poet’s Society’ was my favourite film, and it’s a motto that I’ve tried to apply to my life every single day.  ‘Seize the Day’ insists the Latin translation, and to be honest, I’m one of those people who when I don’t seize it, and look back on what I consider a ‘wasted’ day, I get rather frustrated!

My ACTUAL real wrist! How’s that for sharing? 😉 

I was orphaned at nineteen, which definitely had a profound effect on my attitude to life, however I maintain that deep down I’ve always been this person, the situation with my parents simply amplified this attitude of mine. At primary school I was an over-achiever.  Too young to really understand it, I constantly demanded my teachers attention, resulting in a host of awards and prizes, but rather unflattering school reports like ‘Charlotte needs to learn she’s not the only pebble on the beach!’

Hmm … well, I’m pretty sure I’ve learnt that now, though I’d probably suggest my pebble looks rather different to the norm!

At secondary school I was an all-rounder.  I was still academic, scoring straight As and A*s throughout school, but for me life wasn’t just about studying.  I played various sports, for the school and for the county, won a coveted role as a DJ on a children-run radio station, presenting the Breakfast show, and was sent to Japan to represent Great Britain in an International Schools Forum.  I was chief prosecutor in the county Mock Trial competition, Prime Minister in Youth Parliament and a Millennium Volunteer.  Outside of school I volunteered as a helper with Beaver Scouts, Brownies, Cubs and Guides (organisations I still volunteer with, 15 years on).

I did my Gold Duke of Edinburgh climbing Mt Kilimanjaro, my Queen’s Scout in the Swiss Alps, and saved up for two years to do a World Challenge across Venezuela.  My parents weren’t wealthy at all, and my Dad was often out of work caring for my Mum, who was ill throughout my time at secondary school, so I did a series of part-time jobs, from as young as 13.  I always had an expedition or a trip to be saving for, and so I worked working as a waitress, bowling alley lane host, a children’s entertainer, and then a lifeguard.

Looking back, I was the kind of child who would probably annoy even me now!  I know one close friend of mine, who if they saw 16 year old me, would describe me as ‘that kind of girl!’ with a disparaging roll of the eye!  But all those things were character building, and the more I did, the more I wanted to do.

At nineteen, on my gap year, I took a job teaching English in the middle of nowhere in China.  At a time when the internet was a lot more dubious, I received a random email asking if I was still looking for a teaching job in China, having been turned down by a number of major schools and universities for being too young and inexperienced.  Huaihua College simply asked if I could speak English!  And so, with that requirement fulfilled, I set off for China with my best friend at the time.  We literally weren’t even sure anyone would meet us at Beijing Airport, and had agreed that if that was the case, we’d do two weeks in the capital and then just fly back home.  Someone did meet us, and we took a 27 hour journey to the middle of nowhere.  Huaihua had a population of hundreds of thousands, and yet together with a Canadian girl who was teaching in a local middle school, myself and my friend were two of only three white people in the entire city!  We were literally treated like film stars every time we walked down the street!  I taught in China for six months, before returning to England to take up my studies at Cambridge.

Receiving my Cosmopolitan ‘Fun Fearless Female’ Ultimate Family Girl Award in 2008 from Matt Di Angelo and Gethin Jones

(I didn’t realise I’d won so literally got ready 5 minutes beforehand!)

It was at the end of my first term at Cambridge when I became orphaned.  I lost both of my parents to cancer in 2003, literally starting the year with two ‘healthy’ parents, and ending it with neither of them.  As the oldest sibling, with very little extended family, responsibility fell on me to make funeral arrangements, sell our family home, and see that my younger sister was looked after properly.  Once all the admin had been done, I fell apart.  For about a term I was unrecognisable.  Lazy and uninspired, I had hit rock bottom.  And that was when I remember thinking, ‘are you honestly going to let this take you too?’.  My sister had lost a mother and a father.  It wasn’t right to throw away her sister too.  I ought to be the person my parents had brought me up to be.  The daughter they had known.  And so I guess I got myself back, but in overdrive.

As a child I had become interested in cricket.  At the time it was a sport very few women played, let alone girls, and when the local women’s team was ill-equipped to take on a nine year-old beginner, my Dad became heavily involved in the sport, so as to facilitate me playing.  He took coaching, umpiring and scoring courses, and set up clubs and even county teams simply so that girls my age could play the sport.  I had actually given up cricket at 15, discovering boys and part-time jobs, and other teenage distractions, but Dad’s death kick-started something in me, and I returned to the sport.  I trialed for the Cambridge team in my first year, becoming the only Fresher to play at the Varsity Match at Lord’s that year.  In my second year I became Vice-Captain, and in my third year, I retired from the sport after captaining Cambridge against Oxford at Lord’s, and changing the status of the women’s sport to Full Blue – a huge achievement at the time.

During my time at Cambridge I also became heavily involved in a number of other extra-curricular activities (often to the displeasure of my Director of Studies!).  I ski-raced for the University on dry slopes and snow, edited both my College Magazine, and the Cambridge University Law Review, ran the Paris Marathon, and after two years on the Ospreys Committee for University Sportswomen, held the coveted position of Ospreys President.  I was heavily involved in the Cambridge ‘Drinking Society’ scene (something similar to sororities and fraternities), despite ironically only ever drinking Diet Coke on nights out, and I was President of my College May Ball Committee – a two year position which saw me in charge of a £140,000 budget. I literally crammed my university experience with as much as I possibly could.

My aim was to have the most all-rounded experience I could, something probably best demonstrated in my first year when I took on the role of mascot for the college rugby team, and happily danced around the rugby pitch perimeter in a fluffy cat suit.  For me, university wasn’t just about grades, it was about seizing life and making the most of experiences, and in my four years at Cambridge, my time definitely wasn’t without those things.

Despite my extra-curricular distractions, and probably much to the surprise of my Director of Studies!, I graduated Cambridge with a good degree in Law.  At the time, Oxbridge graduates were being snapped up by Magic Circle Solicitor firms, however behind a desk was not how I saw myself.  The only thing that had every really appealed about the firms was their international offices, and the opportunity to travel, however this was something I now understood I could achieve without a legal job. Inspired by the Children’s TV Show Blue Peter, I decided to pursue a Masters in Broadcast Journalism at University of Westminster.

If I’m honest, the step away from the stringent requirements and administration at Cambridge made me rather carefree, and I found myself literally doing enough to get by in my course, whilst taking every opportunity to travel.  I designed projects for myself which took me to South Africa to report on AIDS orphans, and then to the Philippines to make a documentary about the recent murders of journalists on the island of Mindanao.

I also started my own YouTube Channel, called ‘Challenge Charly’, where I filmed myself doing a series of endurance and extreme sport challenges in Britain and around the world. During my Masters, I climbed to Everest Base Camp, ran the Rome Marathon, did a 42 mile hike in a day, a 100 mile cycle ride in a Day, the London to Brighton cycle ride, visited the jungles of Borneo, learnt to wake board, ice-climb, sail a yacht and fly a plane.  I did air acrobatics, a bushcraft course, several adventure races in the British Isles, and my Advanced Open Water scuba dive course.  I did the Three Peaks Challenge as part of my Queen’s Guide Award, cycled across Cambodia, and ran around London in a gorilla suit for charity.

Basically I spent the inheritance I received from selling our family home to have as many exciting experiences as I possibly could, and documented them all on video.

Inspired by the things I achieved during my Masters, I then decided to carry on traveling after my second graduation.  I fulfilled a life-long dream and booked a ‘Round The World’ plane ticket, to take me to Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and South and Central America.

My first sky dive – Mission Beach, Queensland, Australia

On my own, I spent two months in Australia, doing everything from volunteering on a Scout Camp, to scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef and doing my first sky dive.  In New Zealand I hiked glaciers, faced my fear of heights doing a bungee jump, and read the Twilight series in four days.  It was actually getting so excited by a series of books which inspired me to put pen to paper and begin to write some of the stories I’d had in my head for years.

I spent eight months traveling from Patagonia up to Canada all by my self, and in that time I did some weird and wonderful stuff.  I worked for a month for board and lodging as a groom on a polo farm in Argentina, with about ten words of Spanish to my name!  I climbed Mt Aconcagua (the highest mountain in South America) all by myself – a foolish, foolish move! – and lived with people I met at bustops!  I took 28 hour after 28 hour-long overnight bus journeys and met some incredible people.  I did the Inca Trail, and the Lost City jungle trek, sailed from Colombia to Panama, and did every adventurous activity I had the chance to try along the way.  In Honduras I stopped on Utila, in the Bay Islands, and completed my PADI Rescue Diver.

And then, when I finally came home, a year later, I decided I needed to go away again, and just two weeks later headed to the ski resort of Whistler, Canada, to find a job to begin repaying all the debt I’d wracked up travelling!

Whistler ended up being my base for a year and a half.

I did two ski seasons there, qualifying as both a ski and snowboard instructor during that time, and I used the shoulder seasons (Spring and Autumn) to travel, completing my Dive Master and First Aid Instructor courses back on the island of Utila in Honduras. I came home two months ago, which I guess brings you up to where I am now. I guess the thing about me, is I’ve never seen the world in quite the same way other people do.  I see it as a playing field.  A place for adventures – ours for the taking.  And nothing will stand in my way to have those adventures (whether it’s my bank balance – hence the heaps of debt I then had to pay off!!!! or people’s assumptions of the ‘right career path.’)

Ok, so I have a Law Degree from Cambridge, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I have to be a lawyer.  I know it’s often frowned upon to jump off the bandwagon (trust me I’ve had some interesting comments from peers along the way!) but I just think your life is WHAT YOU MAKE OF IT! And the more I’ve achieved, the more I’ve done … the more I’ve wanted to do.

Anyone regularly reading this blog will know the past two months have been my idea of Hell.  I’ve been sitting around with nothing to do, waiting for a start date on a job.  I live my life for adventures and my list gets ever longer. I think that’s why I originally wanted to be a Blue Peter presenter.  They seemed to have the ideal job – trying every activity and going to every place imaginable – but then I realised those were things I could do alone.  Whilst obviously being a TV presenter is a career where you could do all those things and still be ‘working’, I realised that writing is also a job you can do ‘on the go’.   And that actually, all of this life experience – all of my strange and wacky work experience, and all the people I’ve met along the way, can actually be of use to me in my future career.

Because writing is about understanding.  Understanding people and understanding experiences.  Not everyone is going to run a marathon in their life, or hike up to the top of Mt.  Kilimanjaro, but as an author who HAS done those things, I can relive them for people.  I can help people have those experiences in their minds, and possibly even inspire them to go out and try some of the weird and wonderful things I’ve done – the initial reason for creating Challenge Charly.

I’m sorry this has turned out to be such a long blog post.  It’s not meant to be a CV, or a ‘wow aren’t I amazing’ piece, I’m just trying to explain why I maybe think slightly differently to your average writer, and why I’m so passionate about writing and travelling, and inspiring others.  It’s one of the reasons I most enjoy writing for a teenage audience, because they, in particular, are the ones deciding exactly what they want from life.

Your life is what you make of it!  And I really hope my life story is reams and reams longer than these couple of thousand words.  I hope I have many adventures left ahead of me, and I really hope that I’m writing along the way, and that one day I have the opportunity to share those adventures with thousands of people and hopefully inspire them to try something they currently see as outside the barriers of their own life.

Test the barriers.  Push them.  You’re the only one who put them there!

C-C xxx

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Filed under C-C Lester, Novel Excerpt, The Dream Navigator, Unsigned Author Commentary

No Right of Reply

Before I became a wannabe-author, I was a wannabe-lawyer.  Or rather, I was a law student.  And the reason I became a law student is because I like to argue!  I enjoy a right to reply.  The idea that one person’s opinion might not be the only answer.

And then I became an unpublished author and realised I had no right to reply!

Because my career, my future and my life-plan currently sit in the hands of a selection of faceless editors.  (I say faceless, but nowadays, thanks to LinkedIn and Google, it’s pretty easy to add faces to the names!)  And those editors are unassailable.  THEIR WORD is the law!

These days any book chosen by an editor for their label will become his or her personal project.  He or she will take on your story, and decide how it needs to be edited.  He or she will be responsible for packaging your story as a gift for the reading world.  And so it is essential that he or she likes.  More than that.  He, or she, needs to LOVE IT!

And the obvious problem with that is that liking or even loving something, is subjective.  One person’s decision whether he loves or hates your work … and all the options in between.

These days authors tend not to submit their own work to editors.  Agents act as a middle-man, sifting through the submissions and selecting the ones they deem ‘publisher-worthy’.  After agent-led redrafts, the agent then submits the book to publishers he or she has handpicked (in the same way the author originally submits his manuscript to agents that he or she has handpicked.

So, with this extra level of selection and direction, you’d think that your work is being sent to people who will generally appreciate it.  However, unfortunately, as I’m gradually learning – one rejection at a time, that’s not always the case!

This week I’ve had a particularly bad week – the lowest point being realising I’d written the wrong date down for the Glee concert I bought tickets to, and only realising on the day I thought I was going (the day after the day I had tickets for! DOH!).  So maybe the rejections I received this week weren’t any harsher than the other 8 I’ve received over the past 7 months … but they definitely stung more than normal.  One rejection questioned the ‘strength’ of my writing, whilst the other one found my main character difficult to ‘truly engage’ with my main character.

Obviously those are both opinions.  Subjective analysis.  And completely different analysis to any of the others I’ve received.  Because everyone’s opinion is obviously different.  (And also, less professionally, because apparently some editors send out set rejection responses!)

But the problem I find every time I get one of these rejections, is they kick up the inner lawyer inside me!  I want to DEFEND myself!  I want to DEFEND my writing!

No one likes rejection!  How many of you have been dumped at some point in your life, and itched for the urge to answer back?  To give your side of the story?  To tell your ex their reasons for ending the relationship were wrong!

The obvious problem with this is that feelings are subjectives.  Your feelings can’t be wrong, because they are your feelings.  They are personal to you.  Completely subjective.  And likewise, the reasons why someone rejects your book are subjective.  They’re not wrong.  They’re just how he or she feels.  The editor’s personal feelings.  It’s not a point for debate.  And as such you get no right of reply.

Which is particularly annoying in this day and age, when you can type in a name and a company into Google and very easily arrive at an email address.  A way to actually reply!

Not that being a sane, aspiring author, you ever would, obviously!

But I guess you can always dream 🙂

And so I guess, getting rejected by a publisher is just one of those situations where you have to take the other option to arguing your case.  Taking the moral upper hand.  And to take that upper hand, you keep your mouth shut, and show them you’re wrong NOT with a ranting email highlighting all the reasons why they’re wrong, but by holding your head up high and trying extra hard with everything else you write, so that one day you’ll be the ‘J.K. Rowling story’.  The writer sticking two metaphorical fingers up at all of the editors who have criticised her work and told her she’d never make it as a writer 😉

C-C xxx

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

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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