Tuesday, April 30, 2013

HOW DO YOU WRITE A NOVEL? (TWO: Inventing a character)

I'm not sure we invent characters. They sometimes take on lives of their own. If we write, we use our imaginations - unless we are writing non-fiction.

When writing fiction, my characters are sometimes based on ideas I've had from my own childhood. In some of my original and unpublished work (writing that lives in the many drawers of my cupboard and is probably never going to see the light of day) characters just seem to develop on their own but sometimes a newspaper article or person is going to create a spark in my mind. There is an image I had of a librarian from a film  - sort of generic - that I incorporated in Pride & Princesses. She is not based on a teacher I had at school but on a teacher I imagined from all the different kinds of teachers I met throughout my schooling! Sometimes I make characters do things I would never do in real life - but I know other people might do. For example, I know girls who were very nice at school to people's faces but behind their backs they said mean things. None of us is perfect and sometimes people change when they grow up. So, I try to find something about the not-so-nice character that is good, that might not be obvious and let the reader in on that secret. As a writer, I really like the mean girls in Pride & Princesses even though they are not very nice. Teegan, Tory, Brooke and Freya were so much fun to draw in my mind and they have a desire to improve (sort of) by the middle of Pride & Princesses, so I tried to focus on that element of their personalities.

Some writers say that all the characters they write have some of themselves in them. Maybe that's true, sometimes. Most characters like most people are not all good or all bad. They have different qualities and it's in those differences that we create characters.

When I was writing the modern vampire version of Wuthering Heights, I related far more to the Heathcliffe character than to the Catherine character and I'm not sure why. I tend to relate to female characters (with the exception of Ponyboy Curtis in The Outsiders). Heathcliffe was just a strong character to me in the original novel and I never really understood why Cathy Earnshaw didn't marry him instead of Linton.

That's just me. Writing is very personal and the minute you start to think other people are reading what you write, it becomes tough to write honestly. Because 'other people are reading' becomes 'other people are judging.' You have to be honest with yourself and it helps to have a strong sense of yourself. It's a cliche because it's true, lovelies. Now go to it & keep on writing (or reading... or, like me, sneaking out for a cup of tea and something yummy to eat very soon!)

Monday, April 29, 2013


Lovelies, here are my thoughts:

I start with an idea or a visual image (some girls playing in a school yard - Pride & Princesses - my own school memories), then add some words... (in the beginning, I wrote the story, just a few pages - which became Pride & Princesses and drew some fun sketches).

The language was not 'nice' or 'pretty' the way I ended up publishing some of it in Pride & Princesses. The language was real. It is a bit more fairy story now but P&P became it's own world and has its own language. The original title was also different as were the names of the main characters. I remembered words girls used at school and had to be reminded to leave them out (after all, this is YA and bad language does tend to 'date' a story in its own way!) I hope I found a way to give a sense of some of the meanness and also kindnesses that teenage girls display.

After all that, those characters and words have their own voice, my voice. No one else has my voice but in the end the characters should live on the page and have their own voices... does that make sense? I hope so!

I think 'voice' in writing is the most important thing and I don't know if you are the best writer or reader in the world (you may be) but I know no one else does it like you do. And no one else should. No one else sounds like you and no one has had the exact same experiences you have had.

That said, sometimes it pays to write about things others can relate to. In Pride & Princesses there is this spark of first love that I think all teenagers feel. Mark and Phoebe feel it, even though they don't put it into words very successfully until the end...

After that, ideas, story and characters take over but I usually start with a plan, at least in my mind and sometimes on paper - and I think that is very important. The rough draft starts in your mind then becomes words on paper that lead to a first draft.

What follows is the first plan (more like ideas) I wrote on my laptop for the novel that became Wuthering Nights (although I couldn't think of the title I wanted to use back then...) Often I also scribble notes on paper, but it's harder to reproduce them!

As you can see, this 'plan' is a total mess, terrible spelling and no punctuation - but don't worry about that stuff initially.

I wasn't even sure I would add vampires, but I know I'd thought about it well before I wrote this. I had the images that I wanted to share in my mind on paper as well as the first line:

NOTES: (early draft of Wuthering Nights)

MODERN (High concept!) WUTHERING HEIGHTS NOVEL  - 20 pages a day, just keep writing – plan it on Friday (?)
Possible titles:
Wuthering Bytes
Wuthering Lights
Hareton Hall

When I saw the house in the misty light across the heath, I could barely make out the man’s face in the morning mist.

In sections – first part, walking across the Heath, a stranger. Who is this person? Ha from the department of Social Services (!)
The house, crumbling but perfect in the misty morning.  There are cobwebs on the windows. Across the open common there is another home, also owned by the same person – the Heathcliffe character. What is a good name for this man?  

There are two young teenagers living in the house (18 years old – they are both miserable and home schooled – taken out of boarding school or on their way to be returned there?) when she turns 18 Katrina is gonna run out of there and she convinces Hareton to go with her – she’s teaching him to read…these two characters are messed up – Heath is a real baddie, but he has his reasons…he was in Los Angeles, gonna be a rock star or something when some woman turned him (?) who knows – maybe he was like that as a little child…agrees to gamble with the older brother and fleeces him. Is devastated when he returns to the Heath – to find Kate in the social pages – she has married a really ineffectual bore a money man…
Idea – Heath: – he is a vampire, when he arrives as a frightened little boy, he’s a foster child – the home is abusive, but he is brought there to repay a debt (?) Maybe he’s not yet a vamp (?) maybe he is… little teeth are very pointy in the dark cellar (!) Kate goes to him, puts her arms around him. They have horses in the country house.

Little girl, Kate:

The two children of the neighbours – Edmund and Bella (named after their ancestors – home from boarding school).
Or do we set this off the Kings Road in Chelsea – make the girls go visiting there some days – go to the pictures in the movie house on Fulham road.

Set first part in 2012

Then go back to 1993 –  What films were around then because these two go to the movies, maybe? Google IMDB – then set most of it in London back then – Hampstead Heath -  what films that were about then (?) google that year: My Own Private Idaho(?) maybe – Withnail and I? – on repeat? – The Rocky Horror Show (also on repeat at the Charles cinema just off Leisester square – around the corner from the ice cream bar. Apparently it would have been cheap nights, where you could go to the pictures for a pound. They eat popcorn etc.

 Heath (guitarist) and Kate (ballet dancer or artist or singer – something artistic – or fashion designer…Heath has been kept from being educated by Kate’s cruel older brother.

Then there are Edmund (Heath’s child with Isabella) /(Hareton- The older brother’s child) and Katrina (Kate’s child?)

In the scene where Kate gives birth to Katrina – Heath goes in desperation…and turns her? Or does she scrape her wrist along the window pane – remember this scene from Wuthering Heights?

So, there you have it - a total mess and the first scribblings of Wuthering Nights which became: 

From the journal of Greta Gardner, February 1978
The boy arrived at night, wrapped in a blanket. He was carried by his adopted father who placed him on the kitchen floor next to me. His big blue eyes stared out from under his wild black hair. He shrank from the fire, he shrank from my touch, yet his skin was cold as ice…
He arrived with a list of instructions tucked into the pocket of his jacket.
Eats - mostly chicken and oranges (likes: roast chicken, blood oranges and plums).
Drinks - mostly water and citrus juice.
 First warning - do not let him go in the sun often as he burns easily.
Second warning - make sure he wears his necklace amulet (a parting gift from his biological mother). He screams if you take it.
Final Warning - do not let him go out at night alone.
As a small boy (just walking) he had a tendency to wander off, and many times staff at the orphanage were unable to find the little fellow for hours. Once, he was found hanging upside down from the roof of the school gymnasium, like a bat. The only giveaway was the drip drip drip of juice as he stuffed his baby face with blood oranges.
His file was then stamped: Special Needs. 

So, while I was waiting it out with various agents and publishers trying to find a publisher for what became Pride & Princesses, (during a prolonged, gruelling and stressful process), I started toying with the idea of writing modern versions of Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre.

Just for myself. Just for fun.

I would say, I knew and had read each of these classic stories, in particular, Wuthering Heights, before I started.

Some readers asked me why I didn't make Pride & Princesses more like Pride and Prejudice (thankyou for that - great question!) Pride and Princesses was always meant to be a  unique story... just the scene at the dance is classic Pride and Prejudice. The Hotness is going to be more of the classic storyline...  On some level writers should aim to please our readers, of course, but first, we must please ourselves. Trust me, if you don't want to read it (over & over again) chances are others may not either!

So, I experimented with Wuthering Nights - adding vampires - but I had been obsessed with the story as a young teenager so, again, I could play around with the story arc quite easily in my mind as I knew it so well.

Anne Eyre (which is based on Jane Eyre - obviously) was a different story entirely. It is very clearly the closest thing I would ever write to fan fiction. It too is an experiment. Anne Eyre follows the original story of Jane Eyre (in a far more #YA manner) because I wanted to see if readers liked that. I don't think I would ever write a modern version so close to the original again and of course the original is much better! That said,  I enjoyed writing Anne Eyre. I like the idea of a two-hander scene stealer - the whole of my story is mainly a back and forth conversation between "Nathanial" and "Anne".

Here is what I know. You have to spend an enormous amount of your days (and nights) working on your work and I don't imagine in a billion years I have perfected mine.

You have to be consistent and you have to keep going! HUGS:)


YOURS TRULY by Summer Day

I've just uploaded TRULY onto my blog. I thought about calling it "Confessions of a Love-Starved Hermit" but I like to keep my titles short and sweet. Anyway, the main character is different by the end of this because even in real life the 'love starved' part never lasts forever. I hope you enjoy reading this teen story as I spent many months writing it. Although it is inspired by Jane Austen's classic novel Persuasion, which is about two people who meet then part then get the chance to 'get together' again, this story is written for young adults and (maybe) new adults. Anyone who is not new or young might also like to read it and they would be most welcome! Writing away in cafes and on kitchen tables can sometimes be a lonely business so it gives me happiness to know that you might be tagging along and reading with me. *Just a note, I've written all the content on my blog and there's more to come! Have a truly great Monday, lovelies...

TRULY (chapter one: "An Introduction to My Existence")

Chapter One 
An Introduction to My Existence 
I’d been hiding out, planning to summer in the small seaside town of Wentworth; an hour’s drive north of Los Angeles, when I saw him again… Confessions of a Post-Teenage Hermit (A Blog by Jane Elliot)
   Ben returned.
   I love a man in uniform. His blonde hair shone in the afternoon sun as I glanced through the interior windows of my classroom. A trick of light in the hallway created the illusion of stardust and smoke swirling around him as he walked.
   I’d been working as a teaching assistant at the local public school for nearly six months after dropping out of college during my freshman year. The day I saw Ben again was the last day of work before summer vacation. It’s possible his return inspired me to re-enrol in college. Maybe something found always comes from something lost.
    I noticed him first, talking to the preschool teacher and signing a release form on behalf of the small child who looked expectantly towards him. The young boy had his satchel on his back as they walked by. Ben didn’t appear to see me and for that I was grateful. It occurred to me as the child grasped his hand and I watched the love of my life leave that there are no good places to hide in Wentworth Elementary, especially if you’re an adult; well, semi-adult. I’m in my twenties now and I should be completely mature and in control of my life, but I feel kind of stuck somewhere around sixteen. Suddenly I’m in a panic that he could turn to the side at any moment and notice me staring at him.      
    Now, where to go? Standing behind the door of a classroom is a bad idea. Hovering near the entrance of the communal staff room is a possibility, but that connection leads towards the staff lunchroom which requires a lock combination that is changed daily. In my state of inner turmoil, I couldn’t remember it.
    I crouched behind my desk, head immersed in the decorations, listening to the roar of a police siren. Sometimes the cops (the “good guys” as I call them) descend upon our little school in Wentworth. I’m used to it. This is the bad side of a good town. The people who summer here are rich and boring but the locals are generally the opposite. There is a high-school that connects to Wentworth Elementary and Preschool and there’s a lot of, to put it nicely, trouble there. I like to think (if I do my job properly), when my students are old enough, there will be less need for the law to patrol school gates and halls.
    Our six year olds drew a hush as the police car whizzed by. The teacher, Mrs Alves, asked the class to wash up for lunch. I was helping them. Suddenly there was disorder in the hallways, which resembled tunnels. My students who were “special” had a separate exit. It was easier that way. I was used to the bustle, but they couldn’t avoid the crowded lunch rooms.
    The lock on the staffroom door, I never got used to. I hadn’t thought to write down the combination that morning, so I just stood there, numb, pretending to listen to the police car, watching Ben leave. I thought about the difference between hiding and saying “hi” as I watched him glance towards my classroom. He read the sign on the door that advertised “Vacation Care” and barely noticed me. For two weeks over summer the school hosted a day camp where families and children who were staying in Wentworth could come in for organised fun and activities. I’d offered to help out since I would be staying in Los Angeles too. That’s why I was making decorations as the children got ready for lunch.
    Dismissively, Ben walked down the hallway.  At least I’d have something interesting to put on my blog that night. 
    “Are you alright Jane?” The teacher from the class opposite mine asked as she peeped her head in through the doorway.
    “I’m okay,” I smiled. Jessie Tate, who teaches first grade, smiled in return.  I was used to acting around my family, and keeping up the facade at work was just an extension of that. At least my work colleagues mostly show me honest appreciation.
     I assist the Special Needs, reading and music classes in the mornings and help out in accelerated English (gifted and talented) in the afternoon, so it’s like the two extremes. I have a real soft spot for the challenges of my slower readers and my out of tune musicians. I have a mix of ages and children in one room from both classes. Sometimes the students are well-behaved, but it’s always noisy; especially when my hearing impaired children arrive. This morning’s class was general and mixed: Toby has Attention Deficit Disorder; Miles is Dyslexic; George has Broad Spectrum Autism and Lia is teaching me to sign. They’re all preparing to join the midday rush.
    Toby is the one who speaks; he has bright eyes and even brighter, red hair; he’s very smart and seriously wired; he’s jumping up and down and I try to calm him as the bell sounds for lunch.
    Sometimes the children want to sit with me while they eat but I try to give them (and myself) some space; it never works. Toby reluctantly lets go of my hand as he heads to the cafeteria where the lunchroom supervisor waits, to make sure kids don’t throw food or something at him, I suppose. It’s a tough world in there and my students are targets. One of them just had his bag taken and I had to ask the supervisor to intervene before I could go back and start preparing the afternoon’s lesson.
     There are some mean-spirited children who become mean-spirited adults but I’d be surprised if they were born that way.  No one has an equal start in life and although most people try their hardest, we all start with a different set of difficulties and advantages. My Godmother (who is mostly a wise woman) told me that.
      I have to say the advantages (economically) I was raised with, did not leave me immune to the nature of my family – but you’ll get to hear more about them later, trust me. Once I start oversharing I can’t stop. You’ll hear all about my snobbish father, more on my (sometimes) overbearing Godmother and my selfish sisters. I love them - don’t get me wrong - they’re family; but they are imperfect, like all of us; well, not like all of us. My relations are imperfect in their own particularly selfish ways. Like I said, I am resigned to tell the truth about them. I’m also going to tell you, lovely readers, about me and Ben, why we broke up and how I never got over him.
     I know some smart girls out there will be critical of me for not moving on and may even want to shake me at some point or offer advice (which I’d be glad to hear), but I’m trying, honestly. That’s why I’m re-enrolling in college even though my Godmother has warned me that a college education is about as useful as wearing a potato sack if you ever want to entice the man of your dreams.
     Anyway, you definitely need to read this story before you criticize. It’s easy to tell someone what’s not right or how not to do something but it’s much more difficult to help a person find the path to true happiness. That’s what real friends do. They help. At least, that’s what they should do.
    So, here I am in a nutshell: shy, softly spoken, pushed by my Godmother into becoming a high school cheerleader; I dropped out of college at eighteen after a failed love affair. Not quite the end of my story though, as it turned out; just the beginning.
    Before all of that, I wanted to be a writer or a teacher. I also liked to design and make my own clothes. Bizzare, I know, in this day and age, when it’s easier to buy them, but those fashion shows on TV are, let’s face it, inspirational. Besides, I’m officially broke as of now. It helps if I can make my own clothes. 
     I wasn’t always like this.
     Born rich and pretty, I grew up in an enormous house in Beverly Hills with parents who looked down on everyone else, including our equally rich neighbors. I was told to make the most of my private school education, so I don’t expect anyone to feel sorry for me, nor would I wish them to.
      I try not to complain about my family, but it’s impossible. My Godmother, Eleanor, once warned me about complaining. “Never tell people your problems, Jane, most people aren’t interested and the rest are glad you have them.” That was her advice when I couldn’t get over the losses of my eighteenth year. I’d like to think people are better than that but as with all sage words, there is probably an element of truth to those. That said, it was my Godmother’s advice which added to the drama of my existence in the first place. My father also put in his dollars’ worth of critiques.
    Dad is the director of a huge company. He dabbled in movie production when I was a child and became an entertainment lawyer. His clients are seriously famous.  It was not unusual for me to see heavily made-up and augmented movie stars parading through the halls of our house when I was small. They were glamorous women; I thought they looked like princesses but most of them weren’t very happy and I never envied them.
    My sisters probably did. They would remark that a certain famous actress inspired them, and then make snide comments when the actress left the room. Even so, my sisters are annoying over-achievers. My older sister, Elizabeth (or Liz), is an elegant model who takes pre-law classes at night school (when she’s in Los Angeles) and is studying for her real estate licence. My younger sister, Melissa (sometimes known as Missy), has taken to marrying well (that is to say, rich) and having children, her primary occupation (which is wonderful, don’t get me wrong); it’s just that she’s a year younger than me. Melissa can’t resist letting me know I’m way behind her in the process of growing up and becoming an independent adult. 
    Our family was always in the headlines when I was a child and it was into this world that I was born; lost and imperfect.  I’m quiet, fair-haired, big eyed, (Liz would describe me as “pretty - in a pale and understated way”) and reticent.  Basically, I’m altogether overshadowed by my smart and fashionable older sister Liz and my pushy younger one, Melissa. Sometimes I wonder if there will ever be anything that is truly mine. 
     It was during my teens that I first met Ben, first lost Ben. 
     Now Ben Wentworth (the hottest boy I’ve ever met) has just returned home to California.  He graduated top of his class as an officer at the US Air Force Academy and is about to commence pilot training in Texas after a short vacation with his brother and sister here in Wentworth. Our family have owned a vacation home near the ocean for twenty years. It’s on the right side of town.  We look out over the sparkling beauty of the Pacific Ocean. If you could look far enough from our beach house balcony, you’d see Hawaii – or that’s what my little sister tells everyone. Wentworth was only ever my family’s second favorite spot to vacay – they preferred Maui when I was growing up, but I’ve always loved it here. 
    I learnt all about Ben via another text I just received from my cousin, Keira. Keira has heard all about Ben and me and how we got together and why we broke up. She thinks my father treated him badly and deep down, I think she knows Ben would never forgive me for what happened. Even though Keira is almost a year younger than me, she’s way smart.
    Although I never doubted Ben’s bravery or his brilliance, my immediate family always did. So now he’s home for the summer. He’s probably arrived with his flawless flight attendant wife or girlfriend in tow. The child could have been his son for all I knew. Unless, well, he could have been his nephew… but it was none of my business anymore. I thought I could always ask the teacher, after Ben had left the building. Better yet, I’d text Keira. Just saw him. Tell me everything.
    I paused for a moment then I pressed send.

TRULY by Summer Day (chapter two: "Fangirl")

Chapter Two
I remember our summer together like it was yesterday… Confessions of a Post-teenage Hermit
     As a girl, I’d always looked up to Ben, not just because he was a year older than me. Ben was his own person. He didn’t need the approval of others to make a decision. For that, and so much more, I admired him.
    Even so, after all my on paper admiration, you should know that Ben didn’t look up far enough to see me standing there that afternoon. He didn’t meet my eyes and for that I was grateful. My ex-boyfriend didn’t even notice me. He was too busy reading the Vacation Care notice.
      Ben Wentworth had been more than unavailable over the years. The non-emails, the forgotten telephone numbers, the changed addresses, the lack of social networking sites between us weighed heavily on me in that moment.     
      I wore little make up and I was tired. My jeans were faded; my shirt was splashed with paint and a huge glittery star from the stage scenery I’d helped my class finish making that afternoon. I’d brushed my hair from my wan face and tied it in a bunch on the top of my head. I felt more than a decade older than my early twenties. Although I hadn’t seen Ben in almost six years, I had thought of him every day in absentee; his graceful walk, his blonde sun-kissed hair, his warm chest.
    My cell beeped. It was Keira.
    His brother and sister are vacationing with him – that’s all I know… so far!  The child is his nephew – dodged a bullet there. But he has a girlfriend of course… a flight attendant! Keira added in her next text. I blocked out the words and thought of the man.
    All of this flashed before my eyes in that one image I had of him. Boyfriend, first kiss, first love, only love, love lost; a true officer and a gentleman. I was grateful for the silence after that text. It meant I could gather my thoughts.
    His walk was familiar but the secret thrill of seeing him again was tempered by the fact that, once more, I was watching him leave. He was tall and his shoulders were strong, like his face. I recognized his walk long before I saw his smile. His right hand, the large one holding the child’s, was scarred and the way he rubbed his sandy, sticking up fringe with his palm  were all recognizable characteristics of the person I’d loved.
    As he collected the young boy from the classroom opposite mine, I remembered why we’d parted. I saw the younger teenaged faces of our friends from high school: Harley, Jenny, my sisters, even Serena Collins (mean girl extraordinaire). 
     What does his new girlfriend have that I didn’t? I texted.
     Quick as a flash Keira texted back: Familiarity! Plus, her family R probably a LOT nicer to him than yours was! And remember YOU dumped HIM
    Not exactly.
    I thought about the big questions of life. Does true love really wait? The answer was obvious. Is reclaiming love or ever replacing it even possible? I didn’t think so. How do you forgive someone for choosing someone else? 
     You don’t.
     That afternoon, I watched the children leave, one by one, with their backpacks – and their parents. As I packed up the day’s toys and placed them in a box, the hush of the empty school was eerie. The air was quiet and damp. The cleaning staff arrived as I collected my purse, stuffed full with children’s drawings.
    As I got into my car and turned on the ignition, I noticed it was getting dark. I’d had more work to finish for vacation care than I’d realised.
   I had no idea I’d feel this bad the day I saw him again. I switched on the ignition and drove, relieved that I was at least heading to my favorite place on the planet.
   When I arrived at my family’s beach house not far from Wentworth Boulevard, there was a note for me on the front door from Liz, my older sister.
    We’ve finally managed to rent the place at the price we wanted! Don’t panic; Melissa says you can stay with her and you’re always welcome at home with me and Daddy! Talk soon, Liz.
    After her name my older sister added a huge, smiley face.
    Was she kidding?
    There went my summer plans. Keira and I had even planned to go to Mexico for a few days (after vacation care had finished), then hang out at the beach house. Keira wanted to prepare her auditions for an acting course she planned to enrol in and I wanted to work on a piece I was writing for my blog about online dating. Of course, to write about it I’d have to try it and I hadn’t done that yet. Either way, we’d planned a blissful summer to look forward to and now those plans were in ruin. 
     Deep down, I knew there was more to Liz’s note than met the eye. My father was heading downhill financially and all of his properties had to be sold or rented out. Of course they’d decided to start with the property the rest of the family barely used – my current place of residence. It had a sign on the door Kellynch.  Pl-lease. I have no idea which pretentious relative of mine would bother to name a house but somehow just reading the name always brought me comfort. There was more valuable real estate with an even more exquisite view of the ocean higher along the cliff edge, but this place was familiar. This was home.
      I wasn’t sure what I’d do now as I unlocked the door and went inside. I glanced at the unexpectedly formal haul of family photographs (piled on top of the baby grand piano), as I threw off my shoes in the doorway. I’d taken the piano with me from the Bel Air palace I’d been raised in. It was the only keepsake I’d had removed. I looked around the now-shabby but perfectly positioned property and mentally kissed it goodbye. The financial crisis had hit my family hard but how could my father honestly expect sympathy? How could I? Dad had been so rich for so long… all my childhood. He was so entitled even I didn’t feel sorry for him.
    I flicked through the rental notice on the kitchen bench and wondered how I’d managed to screw everything up so badly. As I poured myself some water, I downed it quickly, as if I couldn’t breathe. The fact that I’d allowed my savings to be mixed up with the family’s resources meant that I had no money in reserve. I was flat broke. Well, it was just too bad. No one deserves a free ride, but I’d been caught unawares. I felt choked, and quickly pulled open all the windows in the room to let twilight in.
    Apart from the financial collapse of the family company, I had little to be truly miserable about. Money had never really meant anything to me. If it had, I suppose I would’ve been more career orientated. I’d probably be studying futures trading or something like that.
    I flung open my substantial wardrobe. Already Liz had ‘helpfully’ tagged items of mine that she thought needed to be sold on e-bay or put into storage until I could find a home for them – and myself.
     Thankfully, my pets, Sable and Muffin, had a place to stay. My cat and dog hovered around my feet as I prepared their dinner and took their bowls out to the porch. They were already familiar with the family home in Bel Air which overlooked the gated community of Sunrise. Sable and Muffin had lovely little homes of their own in my father’s back yard.  Since it was obvious my father preferred them to me, he’d always kept their animal houses ready for them.
     It was true, I had barely enough savings for gas let alone a rental, but I’d have my summer job and that would be enough to get by on as long as I moved back home or stayed with Melissa in Venice Beach (a fate that had depressing implications).
    I knew, but dreaded the thought, that if all else failed I’d have to go and stay with Melissa and become weekend babysitter to her three month old twins until I could get on my feet again. As I thought of this possibility, I shuddered. My cousins already had a full house. They’d invited a family they’d summered with in Europe once to stay and “even floor space would be hard to find,” as Lia (my younger cousin) said. “But of course, we could offer you a closet.”
    I laughed.
   Finding sanctuary with my cousins this summer was not the best solution.
     Afternoon turned to evening as I sat in silence on the couch trying to distract myself by re-drafting the first lines of my latest blog entry.
     Lol (short for love of my life) has returned, I typed. He’s practically invaded my town, my school. Head is upside down... meanwhile house is not my own. I’ve just been evicted by my own family. Panic setting in at the thought of returning to a certain sister’s abode…. Must take summer job as waitress, it’s not so bad and the only job I’ll find quickly enough… Goodbye Cabo, hello Wentworth… Night. Confessions of a Post-Teenage Hermit
      Before I hit post, I uploaded a photograph of the view from my window.
A few bloggers clicked Night. I keep my blog semi-anonymous, of course, with just enough information to make it sound real (it is).
     Writing is something I’ve done on afternoons and evenings since I first held a pen and kept a diary. At high school, I was into writing. A few people read my blog, but not too many that I don’t feel I’m just writing notes for myself; a diary with pretty pictures and colorful headings. I guess it makes me feel present in my own world.
    I know there are others like me out there in cyberspace, love starved hermits who care and can’t give up on their first love, even when they know all hope is gone.
    Okay, time for a confession. I’ve only googled Ben a few times over the years. I try to limit myself which is why, although I have the basic information about his life, I didn’t know he was in town until I saw him.
    I shut the lid of my lap top; moonlight streamed weakly through the edge of the curtain. I found what I was looking for in the drawers of my desk and suddenly pulled out an old shoe box, feeling once again like a spoiled teenage girl.
    A faded photograph album, full of tucked away people and inside, the most hidden of all, the one photograph of Ben that I’d found bearable enough to keep. He looked so cool wearing blue jeans and a smile. I touched the film that covered the slightly tacky surface and kissed the image of his face.
   Stuck to the photograph, I found a birthday card he had given me for my sweet sixteenth, “whoever loved that loved not at first sight.” My older sister Liz had made a gag reflex when she found that. It was part Valentine joke; part declaration. I tucked it safely away inside my t-shirt drawer.
    Ben had done everything he said he would. He’d gone to college and graduated as an officer. I admired him for that. I looked around the room. Silently, I said goodbye to all that was familiar. I felt weightless, as if I’d started life a whole human being but slowly, surely, these particles, these molecules inside me, had been taken until there I sat, in a bay window, fragile as a shell.

Truly (chapter three: "How the Great Love Affair Began")

Chapter Three
How the Great Love Affair Began
We met near the crash and burn of the ocean.  Above us, a plane flew across the sky, far away from this place…
Confessions of a Post-teenage Hermit
      Okay, I may have given you a false impression; time to set things straight. No one should feel sorry for me. First of all, I am now officially employed most mornings at The Beach Shack, my favorite café overlooking the sea along the main boulevard of Wentworth. My cousin Keira manages this place. Like me, she’s kind of the black sheep in her family. Unlike me, her family are kind and generous and proud of her. It is from this lofty countertop that I can start to tell you all about the story of my young life, how I met Ben, fell in love with Ben, lost Ben (yes yes yes all of that is included) but also about my family and the picturesque coastline I grew up visiting.
      When I was small, my family owned real estate in a vast connection of Los Angeles streets, but it was the sprawling, ostentatious Bel Air mansion that my father liked most. My mother, on the other hand, enjoyed shifting with the seasons. She was from an old, eccentric European family but liked to roam around Venice Beach on weekends with me and my sisters after she’d finished shopping along Rodeo Drive. We took long trips together and one summer Mom discovered a tiny coastal town called Wentworth, not far from Los Angeles and fell in love with it.
    My parents were polar opposites, so their split, a few years later, was not a total surprise. My Mom liked picnics, markets and the beach, amongst other things. My father preferred expensive restaurants, designer stores and playing tennis at his stuffy country club. He owned an office block near Rodeo Drive and frequented The Hide Out (my sisters and I named the company-owned apartment because it was the place my father’s dalliances with his secretary took place) way out in the Hills. When we were growing up, Dad lived a life of careless disregard for the feelings of others and excessive monetary wealth gave him power he mostly abused. He was also almost as vain as my sisters and never met a mirror he didn’t like. Finally my mother had enough of his philandering and his selfishness; two ‘vices’ as she put it, one in the same.
     My mother returned to New York and my sisters and I became bi-coastal. As I grew up, my older sister Liz was left in charge of Melissa and me (a lot). When we were in our father’s care, his lack of parental supervision allowed me to effectively raise myself. In many ways I was a scholarly and quiet child. I was often found reading and scribbling whilst Melissa and Liz jostled for supremacy in front of the full length mirrors of their adjoining bedrooms, trying on our mom’s discarded designer outfits. There was only a year between us all, so we shared clothes as often as we jostled for parental attention.
     My sisters never showed any interest in the animal shelter I volunteered at when I was growing up and even less interest in the various dogs and cats I adopted and brought home. The good thing about my Dad is that he liked Sable, our part Persian cat; color: cream, coat: long, texture: fluffy and Muffin, our part boxer part something else rescue dog; color: tan, coat: short haired, texture: wrinkly. Most of the dogs are mixed with something else. It’s a sad fact of life but the pure breeds never get left by the roadside. I love my mutts, though. Sable and Muffin are the most gorgeous pets any person could want.
    It’s kind of strange that my Dad has a soft spot for them. I say “strange” because he doesn’t have a soft spot for any other living creature – although he’s quite fond of my older sister Liz. She’s made him proud since my Mom left; she’s sort of taken over. Before the financial crisis my father lived an extravagant life. Let’s face it, my sisters and I were spoiled; just not with any obvious displays of affection.   
    As our carbon footprint grew, so too, did we grow, living in a fancy house with plenty of food to eat and nice manners reserved for important people and lavish dinner parties. The Bel Air mansion where I grew up was effectively a house of women ruled by one man, my father. There were often producers and directors along with the actors wandering into the house in various stages of disrepair.
     Liz, my older sister, has been absent more than present. She only recently returned to LA, after going away to college on the East Coast. Melissa, my sister, younger by one year, had her own ideas and her own set of friends. As we grew up, we grew apart, and we’d never been close to begin with. Melissa married the first rich guy who asked her. She explained to my parents that she was so in love” she couldn’t resist and they approved of her choice, though she was only eighteen.
    The summer house, Kellynch, has been in the family since my great-great-grandfather migrated from England to establish one of the big movie studios California would one day become known for. Over time, the family sold off parts of the land overlooking the beach; land that had been my family’s history, my father told me (my mother was not impressed with American history) for a hundred years. This was forever time in my world. My great-grandfather had married a European heiress to replenish the family fortune after the Depression but the money had long-since been depleted through the decades and divorces (my family was known for divorces and depression problems – “it’s just who we are” my mother informed me) before she went to New York to “fulfil her potential”).
   Anyway, we were still seriously rich up until a few weeks ago. Big deal, as you may have noticed we’ve been poor in most of the things that matter. There were family portraits in the hallway of the Bel Air mansion (I always called it that when I was older) of my great-great-grandparent’s wedding. My great-great-grandmother was pictured in her wedding gown; white lace dripping over her shoulders like she was drowning in snow whilst saying her vows (as if there would ever be snow in Los Angeles!).  As a little girl, I looked at her sepia image and wondered how happy she had been on that day. They never smiled back then.
    At sixteen, I believed in the perfect love. Mostly, I have Ben to thank for that.     
    Ben Wentworth’s family also had some claim on the seaside town that was named after his ancestors. Although Ben’s family had emigrated from war-torn Europe, they had once owned most of the beach side real estate until it was sold up over the years and the family assets were decimated in the same way my family’s assets had been enhanced. 
    One summer, Ben Wentworth was new in town and he volunteered to help the life guards near The Beach Shack on Saturdays. He’d made headline news amongst the summering teenagers because he was nearly famous. Ben had played a role on a children’s television show that filmed along the beach that summer (his aunt was the casting director) and he was officially on his own while he filmed the series. The production paid for him and the rest of the cast to stay in modest accommodation near the beach and on his days off he’d be surfing with his brother Harley and their friends, hanging out on the beach without their on-set chaperone. I’d noticed him loads of times but never had the courage to speak to him.
    I was way too shy to become an actor or a model like my sister Elizabeth; and as my father assured Liz when he thought I was out of earshot, “Jane’s not nearly decorative enough. I mean, she’s pretty but she lacks that certain… star quality. She can barely manage to speak up for herself in company. I’m not sure what I’m going to do with her. Perhaps she has one of those modern conditions…”
    “Aspergers?” my older sister ventured.
    “That’s not funny Liz…. I can hear you…” I yelled from the kitchen as I helped stack the dishwasher.
    “Ah, she speaks,” my father said, in one of his rare displays of humor
     I was used to the hurtful comments Dad found amusing and usually did my best to ignore them. I’d take off after I’d arrived home to go up to my room and write. I loved that summer in Wentworth and I refused to let my family ruin it. I’d seen Ben for the first time, the weather was almost always clear, the sky a perfect blue.  My aunt and uncle had bought the coffee shop along the boulevard and renamed it The Beach Shack. The place served good coffee. It housed perfect light and benches for me to use while I wrote in my blog.
    Ben had finished filming the television show by then and attended the local high school. My sisters and I were preparing to go to boarding school after summer. We’d previously attended high school in Los Angeles (The Los Angeles High School for Young Ladies or HSYL) with our cousins. HSYL was a notoriously snobbish place filled with stuck up girls from rich families like mine. The difference between our old school and our new school, Hallowed Halls (HH), was that HH was co-educational. My Godmother insisted that Hallowed Halls would be better for forming social connections. Our cousins still attended HSYL but were transferring to Sunrise High – where the notoriously mean Princesses, a social group only comparable to the Socials in our select new boarding school, ruled.
    That summer I religiously took Muffin (who was just a puppy) for his morning walk along the boardwalk from our beach house. I’d stop off at the café to write; anything to get away from my family as breakfast was a noisy affair inevitably resulting in an argument.
     Sometimes I’d meet up with my cousins, Keira, Lia, Hailee, Ella and Kate, and their parents along the way. Keira was the cousin I was closest to and we were so alike we’d become close friends over the years. Together, we’d shop or go to the beach during summer and sometimes all the sisters would join us. It was always fun with them around and for some reason I got along with my cousins way better than my own sisters.
      I tried to write in my blog most days but often I wasn’t sure where to start. Back then, my journal was titled, Confessions of a Teenage Hermit. Original, I know. It was just before freshman year and my sisters and I were in the process of transferring from The Los Angeles High School for Young Ladies to Hallowed Halls. There was a more official sounding name but that was the name we called it. It had an ominous façade and dark lattice work, but a strangely modern, welcoming interior.
      I was excited to be getting out of my immediate area. After all, only summers were spent in Wentworth. The rest of the time I was in Beverly Hills and Bel Air and those streets, though lovely, were as familiar to me as air.
      When I wrote in my blog I usually added a few words and pictures describing the places and people I was acquainted with, “nothing of consequence” my father noted when he found one of my printed posts lying around in the living room of our beach house.  I wrote about meeting this cute boy (Ben) and how I’d probably never see him again.
    “Who’s the boy?” my sister Melissa giggled.
    I snatched the page away from my nosey little sister.
    My father showed less interest.
    I’d met Ben earlier, at The Beach Shack café and way before that when his father had worked for us. Ben was older now. I was fairly sure he’d have plenty of teenage girl admirers. It certainly seemed like he did if the text messages that kept beeping on his cell as he sat with his friends over lunch were anything to go by. I remember chewing the end of my pencil, as I tried to conjure up the structure of a particularly meaningful sentence. I was just looking at him walk out of the room and return.
    “You love to watch him go,” my cousin Lia (who was a year younger than me), added as she wrapped her hands around my face, to surprise me, giggling as she entered The Beach Shack. I blushed and looked away. 
     He’d had a slight smile when we met up again in the coffee shop that summer before my freshman year. 
     I was reading Sense and Sensibility.  It was one of my favorite Austen novels. After reading Little Women and all of the Brontes I’d now set myself the task of reading the complete works of Jane Austen. 
     “Hey, I’ve read that,” Ben said, as he leant over to help me retrieve my papers from the floor. Conveniently, a rare ocean breeze had swept them off my table after my cousins had left. I could not hide my surprise.
     “You’re the first boy I’ve ever met who’s read a Jane Austen novel,” I said, in disbelief. 
     “Well, I’m not exactly typical.” He leant in closer, “My agent was putting me up for a role in some British film, it’s Austen-inspired, so I had to school myself up.”
     “Wow. Did you get the part?”
     “Nah. Would I be hanging out on the beach if I got the part? They said I wasn’t the right type, wanted someone more like a teen Hugh Grant.”
    “And what are you?”
    “The casting agent described me as a teen Channing Tatum.”
    “Oh, please,” I said. It was true. Ben was so buff but I was barely out of middle school and wasn’t going to be the first to tell him. Lack of confidence was not his problem.
    “It’s okay; I’m over all of that. It was my aunt’s idea. She’s the agent. I think I’m going to concentrate on high school now. This acting gig was just a favor to her. All I’ve ever wanted to be is a pilot; a fighter pilot in the Air Force. I need perfect grades for that.” He pulled a crumpled piece of paper out of his pocket in the shape of a paper plane and glided it through the air.
     “Besides, I just got a letter. I’m going to Hallowed Halls in my junior year. I just won a full scholarship.”  
     “Wow. That’s where my sister and I are going to school this fall.”
     He considered my response and nodded.
     “It wasn’t my idea,” he continued, “I didn’t even submit the application, my parents did. But I need to do well at school and… that’s the best place to go… no distractions. They’re not enrolling me until junior year. My parents don’t want me moving away from home until I’m sixteen.”
    I could have told him mine were glad to see me go, but I didn’t. I was disappointed I wouldn’t get to see him again for another two years, if ever. Plans could change. 
    Just then a plane flew overhead beyond the windows of the café. We both stopped and watched it form a tiny blip in the distance.
    “That,” Ben said, “is pure freedom.”
    Wow, actor, waiter, officer-to-be. Was there anything this boy wasn’t or couldn’t be?
    “Rich,” my sister Melissa informed me when I told her about him that night. “I heard about his family. Sure, they founded Wentworth but now they are just poor relations. The Elliots bought up the town about twenty years ago so I don’t think you should tell Dad too much about your new best friend.”
     See what I mean about my family being elitist? I’m totally embarrassed for them, it started way back then.
     That night, as I lay on my bed in the beach house I finished blogging. I remembered Ben’s smile, his tan and his faded t-shirt. He looked like he’d been living outside his whole life. His hair was a blonde streaked, tousled mess. He smelt like flowers and sun. I remembered his parting words…
     “The story was kind of interesting. It’s what girls read, right? I have an older sister so I’ve acquainted myself with the female mind.”
     “Is that a joke?” I mumbled.
     “Just kidding. I’ve got an older sister and she left it lying around.” 
     “Oh, I have sisters too.”
     “Younger or older?”
      And our conversations continued like that, every morning for the next week until he turned up on my porch a month later.
      “Just like one of those strays you insist on bringing home,” my sister Liz noted.

TRULY (chapter four: Preparations)

Chapter Four
We got to hang out together while the porch was being built…  Confessions of a Teenage Hermit
    Ben’s dad was the builder hired to extend our beach house and Ben came along to help out. My older sister was too busy socializing (and bossing the decorators hired to restore the inside of the beach house), to notice Ben’s arrival. Later she wondered aloud, “he’s cute but isn’t he too young for a job?”
     “He’s just helping his dad,” I said.
      My sister shrugged, unimpressed.
      Ben’s Dad parked his car on the street and that’s when my father magnanimously stepped up and offered them the guest house to stay in while they were building the porch over the week it took to finish. This saved them the long commute across town and allowed them to start early. 
      I think Dad regretted it when he noticed how well Ben and I got along.
      During that week Ben and I became inseparable. Ben was a year older than me and wore sunglasses to halt the glare which made him look even cooler than he was. His skinny arm muscles were beginning to stand out in the morning sun and he smiled, a lot. Compared to my family, he was warm and friendly and not just because we’d already met at The Beach Shack. Together, we swam in the pool and tanned until my sister went nuts and told us to come inside or else use more suntan lotion.
     Mostly, we’d just hang out together. Ben was my first real friend. Because he also had a sister, he was used to talking to girls. 
     We talked about music and novels we’d read, or novels he said he’d read; he wasn’t really into Austen, he’d just pretended to be “to impress me” he said.
     The dream to fly like a bird was real. It was all he’d ever wanted since he was six. He was just working with his Dad over the summer to help out but he didn’t want to build porches forever. Ben had big dreams; bigger than mine, I thought.
    Being born wealthy made me reflect on what I lacked – the intangibles. The love and loyalty of my father for one thing, changed with the seasons. It seemed obvious that Dad didn’t think I’d amount to much and though I heard him describe me to my older sister as “pretty enough in an understated way,” I could tell my hesitancy in pushing myself forward irritated him. I’d try out for the cheerleading team because my Godmother encouraged me, but my older sister would be captain, if she had her way. She mostly did.
    Liz was already planning to take control of the Socials (a select clique of girls at Hallowed Halls, our new school). My older sister was clearly on the fast track to success. There was no doubt with her drive and all of dad’s contacts; she would rule her new school and go on to attend a prestigious college. My father had set up a kind of competition amongst his daughters and already picked the winner. I refused to play the game.
    Instead, I focused on matters of the heart.
    Already, I liked Ben Wentworth, even though I doubt he thought beyond summer sun and the next plane flying overhead. 
     Inside, I melted every time he spoke to me or asked me to pass him his Dad’s tools. We ate lunch together every day. I brought my notes outside to work on never ending stories. My father and sisters barely noticed the time I spent away from them, “scribbling.”  They were only interested in their own worlds: Dad in his latest “case” and celebrity client; Liz in her high maintenance beauty and study routines; and Melissa in her dolls and their dreams. 
     By the time the porch was finished, summer was almost ending and school was about to start. Hallowed Halls had a junior, middle and high school. All of the Elliot sisters arrived together.
     With mom on the East Coast, one of the most influential people of my life stepped up to take her place, my Godmother. Eleanor Russell was stylish, rich, charming and as luck would have it, also our next door neighbor.
     Before mom went to New York, Eleanor promised to “keep an eye on me.” She became my advisor and confidant and assured me I was, “so much like my mother we’d get on fine.” My mother’s relocation to the East Coast gave Eleanor an opportunity to get to know us as “almost adults.”
     Eleanor also counselled my sisters, but they were less in need of her friendship since they had each other. Eleanor took Liz to modelling classes on Saturdays (Eleanor assured Liz good deportment would help “bring out her personality”) and even enrolled Missy in a “high class” beauty pageant where one of her old sorority sisters was the judge (Missy won). Our Godmother also drove us to dance classes, assuring us that, “cheerleading would make us ‘popular’ if we tried out for the team at Hallowed Halls.”
     While Mom was mostly absent that summer, Eleanor literally became devoted to our upbringing. She listened as my sisters told her their concerns about Mom leaving daddy to “fend for himself.” I remained silent.
   My Godmother came to my room that night as I sat on the edge of my bed in my pyjamas, drinking honey cinnamon milk. Eleanor discarded all of the clothes that I’d chosen from my own wardrobe in favor of the ones that she had chosen for me, more conservative, perhaps fashionable and certainly less comfortable.
   “Never mind, dear,” Eleanor said, “who needs comfort at your age? There are sure to be some suitable friends for you at your new school and you never get a second chance to make a good first impression.”
   Of course she was right.
   I suppose I could have looked more fashionable on my first day at Hallowed Halls but I didn’t think anything would change with Liz the star and Melissa the up and comer. I’d be happiest just blending in with the scenery… or so I thought. 
   “You know, I only imagine the best for you; to be safe and happy. I want you to call me up on any of these numbers if for any reason at all, you need to talk,” Eleanor said.
    I looked at her complacently then leaned in and hugged her. I felt there was something she wanted to tell me, something about my parents maybe, something worth sharing but we remained silent and she patted my hair and left the room.
     Later, I learnt my parents had decided to divorce and thought it best if my sisters and I were out of the house for a while. Perhaps they were right.
     I knew it upset Eleanor to have to send me away but I didn’t complain because a part of me wanted to go. The thought of being sent to a new school gave me mixed feelings. To be banished from the privileged world of my upbringing was almost a relief. I knew there was a secret that lay in wait for me there; Ben. He was sure to arrive by my sophomore year. It wasn’t that long to wait.
      And so I found myself at twelve, a boarding school brat. As the weeks went by, I found more and more excuses not to return home every weekend, especially once my mother left for good. It seemed like I’d wait forever for the boy who never showed.
     Finally, when my sisters packed for a long weekend and there was no one but me left at school, I relented and went with them. I was greeted coldly by my father and I felt, no I was sure; I’d been replaced in whatever was left of his affections.
     Back at school, the following week, my sisters were fully prepared to rule Hallowed Halls (when the time came). They had a “Plan of Action” that included becoming very, very popular to pave the way for Liz to rule the Socials by the time she was a senior. 
     It was kind of funny, at first. Then, they became totally obsessive and of course, wanted to include me in their plans. As Liz said, they could “rely on my vote and my lack of desire to usurp them.” Of course, being two of the richest and prettiest girls, they drew a lot of attention to themselves at Hallowed Halls.  
     That was until Ben and his brother Harley arrived. By then, even I knew what it took to become popular.