I was trying to work out the other day how long it's been since I moved to France and I finally agreed with my stubborn internal child that it's been almost nine years! Gosh, that would mean how many croissants? How many bottles of wine? How many French tics have I developed without knowing it?
On the writing level, it's another concern - if I can say it's a concern. To what degree has my writing or communication skills been affected?
I know something has shifted in my skull because I get the impression that my perception of things has changed. I probably do see things in the same way as before, but I now use a different language or database to assess and describe what's going on. There has almost certainly been a tampering with the brain. The concern is whether it's been a fine-tuning or a kind of sabotage by a devious mechanic.
I once met a neurosurgeon type (he was not exactly a surgeon but someone who studies how the brain ticks) and he informed me that because I'd started learning French at the age of 28, and got my brain to perform all sorts of acrobatics, there would have been a marked shift in some areas. It was something about using parts of the brain that had never been used before, processing information in a different way, breaking almost 30 years of set patterns.
He said the shift might not have been dramatic in my case because I was already a painter and played the piano, so there were certain mechanisms already in place. But, nonetheless, arriving in a new country without the required language skills signalled the start of a brain reformation.
Now, almost nine years later, I speak French all the time. At home I communicate only in French and at work I'm communicating 80 percent of the time in French and 20 percent in English. It has already been a few years since I started unwittingly mixing up French words into my English. I would baffle English speakers by saying that I was "popping down to the piscine to do a few lengths", or "there have been some big manifestations in Paris against a new youth jobs law".
We all just laugh at these little blips, but I do wonder about that shift in my brain. Has it painted in a few nice strokes as far as my writing goes: the turns of phrase, the choice of adjectives, the logic in a way of explaining something? It's interesting to note that I seriously knuckled down to creative writing only a few months after arriving in France, and I honestly felt as though something in my grey matter had lifted, that I had been afforded a new kind of freedom. Nine years later and who knows what is going on in the little writing room at the top of my neck!
I read stuff that I wrote years ago and can't help but notice something very anglosaxon in the tone; now there seems to be something more daring and challenging (this refers to my novels, not necessarily the quality of my blogs!).
I have decided that translating some French books into English might be a nice little path to consider in the future, as well as working on my own novels, because all the tools are settling into place. I'm not going to worry too much about the tampering that's occured in the brain. I've possibly been given something useful and fresh. But only time will tell.
In the end their beauty shined through! The lions are happy to know they are loved and wanted and they will therefore go through with their public appearances on this blog. So, enjoy the 8th lion in my series.
Gosh, where did all those people come from?
I can't believe that in a quick eight weeks, I've already had 1026 visitors to this blog, and the numbers are growing fast. Talk about a readership! And oh the responsibility! People are coming back for regular peeps and I thank every one of you.
I will do my best to keep this blog updated, interesting and revealing. If you follow me, I will follow you. Who knows, you may just be party to the blog of someone who will be incredibly famous one day! You saw the poems and extracts here first! That's why I'm called Shameless.
Let me know what you like and what you don't like! I am open to the pressures of the market - I don't have ratings to keep me comfortable.
Shall I continue with the lions? If 30 people say "yes, we love them", they will continue to make their regular appearances. I know that I could just write and be damned (as I said in an earlier post), but this is a blog, not a book.
If there are no comments to the contrary, I will continue on down the path that just happened to present itself, with no maps or signs to guide me.
I took the photo of this particular path in Queensland, Australia, in 2003.
How do we squeeze it all in? As well as the writing, there's the reading.
It was a buzz to receive the first six books from Macmillan New Writing today. They are bound beautifully - smaller than I expected, but each has a very professional jacket. The photo on the front of Across the Mystic Shore by Suroopa Mukherjee, however, does seem out of focus and washed out; I wonder if this was the desired effect? The rest of the covers are good , particularly the front of Taking Comfort by Roger Morris. I'm also not sure about having a standard look for the back of the books - each has a white box for the blurb, and the page is covered in the imprint's logo. It was interesting to see that the same person, Richard Evans, designed all the jackets, especially when you consider that they cover very different genres of writing. Now I just have to read the books!
I won't start the MNW six pack straight away though. I am just a few steps into The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion. This is about how she deals with her grief after the death of her husband, Gregory Dunne, in late 2003, while their only daughter was in a coma in hospital. The start of this book pulls you in straight away and you know you're in for a sober but revealing ride. While the subject matter didn't hugely grab me at first, the reviews of this book seemed fabulous and so I decided to buy it over the Internet. I'll let you know how it goes. Can anyone recommend another Didion book that's essential reading? She's not someone I've been tempted by in the past, but I would like to read one of her novels.
Oooph. As well as the reading there's the writing. I'm in Dublin for six days from next weekend, and hopefully that will be the chance to really go to town on my current project.
My first lines quiz will have to take a jump - someone pointed out that no three words stringed together can ever be search-engine-proof!
Not that I thought you were all naughty cheats - I just know that a couple of people were. They have been sent to the back of the class! The search engine business is good news, by the way, for finding out whether your words have been plagiarised.
I've thought of another kind of quiz. I want people to identify an author from a few simple words that can be linked to that person.
So, here goes.
the english patient
Answer in a few days.
How is this for spooky?
Not long after starting to flirt to get the attention of an agent for the first novel I wrote, I got a phonecall and pleasant demand to follow up the first chapter by sending the entire book.
I was delighted but then quickly gobsmacked.
On a final reading of the work before posting it off, I discovered that buried in the middle of a late chapter was a minor character whose name was exactly the same as the agent asking to see the novel (slightly different spelling but essentially the same first and last names)!
You can imagine my panic and how baffled I was.
Of course, I changed the name. I didn't want the agent to think I was shamelessly trying to sweeten him up by putting his name in my work, and I dared not tell him about the incredible coincidence in case he thought I was a fruit cake!
It was either an amazing coincidence or maybe the agent's name was already in my head when I sat down to write the chapter in question. Had I been looking through a list of agents beforehand and some names had stuck in my conscience?
One of my friends preferred to insist that it was a "sign from the universe", that my book was supposed to be in that agent's hands. That theory was put to sleep when the man in question decided not to take the book any further. My friend, forever the optimist, quickly added, "But you did delete the agent's name from your work, didn't you? If you'd kept it in, instead of getting all freaked out ... '
We will never know.
I am normally a calm, peaceful, balanced person in my ordinary life. Why then does something dark and disturbing come out in my writing? Where do those nasty characters come from and why do I get them to do such despicable things?
I mean, really, I do understand the reasons. I'm letting myself express the stuff that's hidden deep within? Or I'm letting myself go, into territory that is fresh.
When I look back at my writing - I'm attempting my third novel - I notice that I have always added a certain degree of gloom and awful action. It's as though I'm really pushing the boundaries, going for stuff that is not part of my normal life. I do it without thinking about it. It takes a neutral reader to say, "Gee, that person sure is nasty", for me to realise what I've done.
But I am a person who loves the sunshine, really!
Of course, not all characters in novels have to be nice, but I think there has to be some humanity and likeability somewhere, otherwise the reader feels too much of an onslaught. Why do my characters always have to act so badly? Can't they be half bad and half good?
I'm careful now not to let my tendency for nastiness in characters take over. People can be balanced, but gratuitous awfulness doesn't have to rule the day. I take a little time now to see if I can make things more subtle.
Has anyone else experienced this?
beneath branches with wide knuckles, where leaves would normally chatter, a soft breath comes over the green of the lake, calming the pulse of a modern man
a wooden bench to rest on is chosen randomly, to claim a pause from the fury of the world, to watch the stillness that beckons those who just can’t focus
with his own story he stays alone, a dialogue of millennium nonsense, his thoughts skimming across the water, beneath the eyes of a church on the hill
a rumbling from beneath seems to stir the past, inviting old footsteps and shadows to make themselves known, long forgotten moments eager to flicker
room is made for a soldier and his weeping bride, for a mother welcoming home an errant daughter, and for a young lad looking forward to 1900
OK, for the next challenge. The following first line (made search-engine-proof) is from which celebrated novel?
I have never _ _ _ _ anything like _ _ : two little _ _ _ _ _ of _ _ _ _ _ suspended in _ _ _ _ _ of his eyes in _ _ _ _ _ of wire.
Answer in a few days.
It's a very strange business this. It's now been a month since my novel was launched into the reading process at Macmillan New Writing. By all accounts, word should come through any day now about its fate (with MNW at least). This is a good reason for my loyal readers to come back for updates! There's nothing like suspense to build up a strong readership!
It has been a total of nine weeks now since I first contacted MNW about my manuscript, and no one else is getting a look in while I wait for a response. I've worked out that this is the system that agents and publishers like: send the book to one person or company at a time, so they have an exclusive option on the work.
I remember trying to ignite the interest of agents some years back, with the very first book I attempted (it has since gone into a bottom drawer for a rainy day), by sending it off to about 20 agents at once. One London agent who actually phoned me on the strength of what he had seen dropped me like a hot corn on the cob when I told him I had sent the work to lots of other agents as well - it didn't occur to me to be dishonest, as some people said I should've been. It seems I had committed a cardinal sin.
I understand the logic behind this "one approach at a time" policy, but can't help but feel that there must be a better way to manage the precious months that creep by. If I wait two or three months for every submission I make, I could be 98 before anything is published - imagine readings and publicity photos!
What I'm doing during this current waiting period is cracking on with my new project - a novel set in Dublin - and this blog is keeping my fingers busy as well. It's difficult though, like writing in the dark, not sure whether anything will ever see the light of day. It would be so much easier to push on with the chapters if I knew there was a whisky-glass chance of getting published.
As a way of preparing myself for the worst case scenario, I'm also weighing up where my next approach should be directed. My optimistic side says this is not good as I'm leaving room for the possibility that rejection is coming, and it goes against my philosophy that one has to visualise what one wants. Nevertheless, it is only natural that we should want to keep all our options open.
Someone has also asked me to consider posting an extract from the novel that is currently being looked at by MNW. Is that something that publishers worry about? Do they mind if extracts of books they may be interested in appear on the web? Yet another question for the writer who's splashing about in unchartered waters.
The waiting time also leaves room for anxious, tiresome thought. Should I have mentioned that I'm all geared up for a very cunning marketing plan for the book? Should I have mentioned that I would be prepared to chop off the epilogue? Would it have helped to mention that I can get some nice reviews by nice journalist friends? Should I have suggested several titles?
I decide, in the end, to turn this anxiety into something positive: to create a unique character for my new novel, in a situation where one might normally expect to come across somebody mightily dull.
In July, 2005, I visited Salinas in California, the hometown of John Steinbeck. Here I saw the house he grew up in (above), as well as the National Steinbeck Centre. It was a thrill to buy a few of his books here and to have them marked with the museum's official stamp.
It was fascinating to learn more about his life and to read how he wasn't held in high esteem by many of his own people, with accusations that he was against the landowners and keen to write up a storm. The centre built in his name is not all that old.
I also made a tour of the famous Hearst Castle at San Simeon, which is briefly referred to in Steinbeck's book The Grapes of Wrath. The pool in the castle grounds (below) is out of this world.
Of course we also visited Monterey and "Cannery Row"!
Well done, Frank! The first line I was looking for came from The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck.
This is one of those opening lines that is burned into your memory forever:
To the red country and part of the gray country of Oklahoma, the last rains came gently, and they did not cut the scarred earth.
I have a couple of photos I will post later relating to Steinbeck and this book. Stay tuned.
a boy wrapped in velvet
a cranky neighbour uncovered it, one of the queerest cases the crown had ever been involved in – a boy found wrapped in velvet
grand affairs of murder, fraud and bigamy slipped down seven drawers in the inspector’s mahogany desk.
the mayor confirmed the boy was rescued alive, reporters struggled to form their questions – no injuries found on boy in velvet
they wanted to see the room, quiz the witnesses, hold and measure the terrible fabric that bound him.
a quiet woman was cuffed and booked, a blanket fending off the entertainment channels - velvet boy wrapped up for 40 days
a prosecutor’s voice deepened, what were you thinking, how was it going to end, where on earth was the father?
the mother talked about custard and donuts, loving efforts to keep her angel clean and happy – mystery deepens over velvet child
a report explained how she wanted him safe from violence, bullying and the unfairness of life.
a judge said he’d never seen such a thing in 30 years on the bench, and no one could see the reasons – verdict in velvet boy case
it’s decided the child will go into care, protected from the extreme behaviour of an overly-anxious mother.
Copyright, 2006. Shameless Words.
OK, to strike while the iron's hot, here's another first lines quiz. Thanks to Rupert for his advice that the first line needs to be "search engine proof", which means the answer can't be obtained by entering the phrase as a google search - hence, some words have been cut out.
The following is the opening sentence of which novel:
To the - - - country and - - - - of the gray - - - - - - - of - - - - - - - -, the - - - - rains came - - - - - -, and they - - - not cut the - - - - - - - earth.
Who will be the first to get it right before Monday?
This is called A Beautiful Compromise, painted in Paris in 2000. It hangs in my sitting room and reminds me that I need to do some more painting. I see this on the front of one of my novels in the future - compromise seems to be a theme that comes up in a lot of writing.
And here she is, in all her splendour, the fourth lion in my series. Don't forget to click on the photo to make her bigger. The lions would also make wonderful wallpaper for your computer. Someone emailed me to say they were going to put 20 of them in a frame. Good idea. And you're very welcome to save these onto your computers, print them, or whatever. They are my own photos, so there's no problem.
Yes, well done Thomas. The answer was Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie. I shall make this a bit harder in the future, and maybe even put in some famous last lines. Stay tuned.
How about starting a regular quiz? Can you tell me what novel this first line comes from? I'll post the answer tomorrow.
I was born in the city of Bombay ... once upon a time. No, that won't do, there's no getting away from the date:
This photo, taken during a trip to Sydney in 2003, makes me think about the fact that as the sun is going down here in Europe, it's coming up in a magnificent way somewhere else. What a nice way to look at things: our darkness is someone else's light!
This image also brings up the whole "the grass is greener" thing.
People here in Europe dream of this scene, while those living under the shadow of this bridge dream of equally iconic things here in Europe. Why do we always wish that we were somewhere else? I'm trying to stop doing that, remembering that the here and now is also worth getting excited about - if we happen to be somewhere, it's for a very good reason.
Here's something that I've never quite got my head around. I've banged it against the wall, but nothing rattles.
Imagine that an author writes a novel that is set in Australia or some other country on the underbelly of the planet - presuming that we really are looking at the universe the right way up!
Now, the author lives in London. Should he or she think about approaching a UK agent or publisher? Or should they restrict themselves to the underbelly country where the story is set.
I only bring this up because I have experienced this. I have been told by some agents and publishers that while they like the story and the writing, the novel should be published in the country being discussed.
Not all would say this, of course, but there are an awul lot who think along these lines.
These are the same agents and publishers who say they are on the lookout for fresh, original ideas that are able to take the reader to new places and experience new things.
Ummm ... hello? Have I missed something here? Should I be restricted to only writing about the part of the world I live in? How do these agents and publishers work out what their "consumers" want to read?
Can someone please explain it to me? At the moment this is in my "too hard to fathom" basket.
I should add that authors who are already published would probably have less of a problem here. Make a name for yourself and you can pull all sorts of locations out of your hat.
I have given myself a timely piece of advice: beware of the rush that leads to the door of the grouchy know-it-alls - sit back, observe and keep your head while those around you are putting their own on platters.
I'm talking about the mountain of contradictory writing advice that confronts us when we log on to the Internet, naturally eager to seek out information on the course we've chosen. (Is my blog included in this pit?).
There is - it seems to me - a danger that we can easily find ourselves in the clutches of bitchy agents or disgruntled industry types who seem to love the feel of power, or a published author who doesn't like the thought that others may follow behind them. They snap: 'This is a club for those who deserve it and quite frankly not everyone who has a book in them should think about writing it.' OK, sorry, we'll leave that to you then, shall we? Of course, how silly of us to forget that people only want to read one kind of writing.
It is true that it's possible to find words that are encouraging, but they can also come from people who would never dream of telling you that you aren't wearing any clothes. Others just don't understand the significance of it all.
There is a galaxy of dos and do nots, with asteroids ready to smash you off course. This is dangerous and unknown territory, in which rules and trends seem to change by the hour.
Basically, we're all trying to get inside the heads of those who can make things happen for us: what do you like now, what will you like in the future, what is next year's big seller, what turns you off, what shouldn't I do, how should I write that, what do you prefer, what do publishers like, how should I approach you, what won't make you hate me, will a self-addressed envelope make you love me, how long should my book be, do you like more than one point-of-view, is historical fiction still a goer, what will improve this, how can I make you like this?
It's very exhausting attempting to squeeze yourself into someone else's head, especially when there is little room! I, for one, prefer to sit in my corner and leave the grouchy ones to do their grouching, and let the wise ones carry on giving out words of advice. It can be good sometimes to just stay in your own head.
The other thing I try to remember is to simply imagine the inside of a reader's head, the person who may just read the words I'm writing. How is that done? Well, I'm already a writer and I'm already a reader, so that's a good start. Maybe it really is about getting inside my own head, asking myself what I want to say, what I want to do. Then I could try the people who have no conflicts of interest in all of this: the people who like to read and discover new ideas and ways of expressing things. The experts can come in when it's all ready.
If at the end of the day my words link up with the right pairs of eyes, all the better. If not, at least they linked up with my own eyes. At least I wasn't rooting around inside someone else's head, desperate for someone else's vision of things. It's time to write and be damned. It's time to write, send it off into the universe and be confident that the asteroids won't smash things off course. Let's write what we would want to read, and trust what our own internal reader says might be interesting. Now, there's a novel idea!
There's also a line doing the rounds: there are more people wanting to write novels than there are wanting to read them. Is this true? Do the statistics add up? I don't believe it. Aren't these writers also readers? Isn't that good news? Why should these two things be mutually exclusive. Isn't it possible that more writing might bring on more reading? Isn't it good that readers are becoming writers? Why hold back and put off a writer who might just have the power to bring enormous pleasure to thousands of readers/writers.
Enough of the grouchiness. Let everyone go and do whatever it is that tickles their senses.
P.S I hope that my blog is not included in this grouchy, lecturing club that writers seeking inspiration may stumble across. If it is, my apologies. If it helps, I think you have what it takes and I will buy your book. Now, get tapping!
this lion of life
look at this lion of life
in need of constant feeding
her strange desires to roar at the day
forlorn and endearing yet violent and pouncing
an innocent head is beautifully hovered
between her trembling, unstable jaw
the drips of savage teeth on the skin
panting breath, burning tongue
her game of irresistible danger
Copyright, 2006. Shameless Words.
I suddenly feel as though I need to be more aware of my 'valve' and monitor how it can be affected by my daily life. Anyone who has read A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole will know what I mean.
I have just finished this book - one of those I always meant to get round to reading - and I find it very difficult to put into a category. I have very mixed feelings after reading it; at times I floated on its brilliance, other times I was skipping pages. Did anyone else have a similar experience on reading this novel?
The characterisation is what makes this book stand out for me; the plot comes in and out of focus, and on its own it wouldn't have been enough to keep me reading.
Ignatius - the name alone makes you ready to welcome this character in - is worth getting to know. He's unique in literature but someone you can easily imagine. His rants were very entertaining, even though they did tend to slant towards the tedious every now and then.
The attempt to write the dialogue in the way it would sound in New Orleans was also less than consistent and distracting at times. I felt that the direction of the book goes a bit astray about two thirds in, and I was left feeling a bit lost, only to be swept back onto the path for the very satisfying end - although I did want more for Ignatius' mother.
I don't like reviews that give away a plot, so I won't do that here. Suffice to say that this book is worth reading for its originality and its place in literature is definitely earned. It's also very funny in places, and that can be very welcome in a society that is creating more and more pressure on our valves.
The Irish Go For Euro, Not Euros.
Here's a quirky titbit that a writer needs to be aware of when penning something about Ireland. The Irish (politicians and media included) have adopted a unique way of referring to the new European currency. They don't put an "s" on the end of the word euro when talking about prices and the like, as we all do with dollars, pounds etc. "That will be 65 euro," they will say with a grin.
Of course, with Britain not yet in the Eurozone, Ireland was the first English-speaking country in the European Union to test how the currency should be used in written and spoken English. Somewhere along the line the "s" never made it. Other English speakers in the Eurozone (including European media organisations that publish and broadcast in English) insist on putting the "s" on euro. "The government has approved a loan of 65,000 euros," they will report.
It seems the Irish were instructed to drop the "s" at the time the euro was born, as though some directive had been issued from Brussels. As far as I can tell, no such directive exists. Apparently there were some internal EU memos with advice (these were for EU accountants and marketing people who work in many languages) but there was no clear ruling either way for the general English-speaking public. It might also be related to the fact that in French, for example, the "s" is not pronounced (50 francs became 50 'fron', and so euros is said euro). The way the new European currency was handled by other languages may very well have influenced the Irish.
Who in Ireland spread this no "s" rule? How did an entire country pick up the habit of saying a price with no "s"? One certainly hopes this might get sorted out when Britain finally joins up to the Eurozone. In the meantime, dear writers, don't be surprised if the Irish think you've made a terrible error if you happen to write, "It's possible to find a hotel for the night in Dublin for a mere 70 euros!"
I'm not really one for collecting first edition books, but I couldn't help but be tempted by the first six novels being used this week to launch the Macmillan New Writing imprint.
I have taken advantage of an offer that seems to be quite reasonable: a 50 percent discount when you buy all six books in one go. That means that instead of paying about 77 pounds, I'm paying about 38, not bad considering they are hardbacks. I've also read somewhere that these books are of a high printing quality; I will let you know when they arrive.
As well as supporting some emerging authors, it's a nice chance to take part in the launch of an imprint. Who knows? Maybe these books could be worth a nice little packet in 50 years time!
I wonder if other big publishing houses are watching with interest. Will they consider a similar venture in the future? Will we have Penguin New Writing or Random New Writing?
I will post some reviews of the books once they arrive and once I've read them.
A wonderful treat is in store. I have decided to start a collection of a magnificent art project that took place in Lyon, France, in 2004. Dozens of artists were given plain white models of lions and they were free to transform them into whatever they wanted. They appeared randomly across the city over several months, stunning locals and visitors. There are many of them - as many as 60 - and you will be astounded at some of the results.
Here is the first in this new series: The Lions of Lyon. (Don't forget you can click on images to see a bigger size).
I've only been here a few weeks - doing this blog thing that is - and already I see the benefits.
The thing is I am WRITING. And if I want to be a writer, it's all about actually getting down and doing it.
I've read other blogs by wordsmiths lately where the authors have questioned what they are doing, and whether it's a worthwhile venture. I've seen one or two blogs with a sign up to say they've pulled the plug. One writer said, "I'm going back to my real writing, novels and poems." I can relate to this and maybe it's too early in the piece for me to be saying I'm here for the long haul.
But, what makes it all add up for me is the fact that I'm being read - it's only a small number of people at the moment, but it's growing fast. Thank you to The Grumpy Old Bookman and Books, Inq for their plugs for my site. They have brought readers my way. Thank you to the other sites who have made links to me: Roger Morris, Mostly Books, The View from the Pundy House and Litbitch. Others have mentioned me as well and I am grateful.
Why am I doing this? I basically want to be 'out there', dipping my toes into the surf and feeling what it might be like to write creatively all the time, for a living. I am a journalist, working in news, and creative writing it is not! I want to start putting my writing out there (you know what I mean) and to see what reaction there is. Having some kind of presence here makes me more confident about making submissions and carrying on with my new novel. I am already a writer, in front of the public, and the next glorious step (being published) will be such a natural step.
Writing for the blog (as the writer Minx pointed out to Pundy House) is like a warm up, before you head out on to open road and really go for the sunset. After posting, and getting encouragement from the fact that people are reading what I tap, I find it easier to open up the Word document and imagine what those same people would want to read in a novel.
I must say that I am also keen to keep the photos, paintings and poems coming, because there's been good feedback and because they are also part of my creative process.
I've burnt a few candles here with this lot, but I am more grounded because of it. I look forward to your company for my morning warm ups. I hope I will be able to last the distance.
By the way, to those of you who have asked, I am remaining anonymous for now, until I really need to give my real name for promotional purposes (fingers and toes crossed). Shameless is very fitting, as one day you may discover. Let me know what you like and don't like about this blog and I will obey. The reader is my bread and butter - without giving up my artistic integrity, of course!
Don't forget, you have to visualise the thing you want. If you can't see it, you won't get it.
it’s not exactly the most fetching plait, one in which an ebony pin would shine, but at least it has some form, a sign that somewhere in the rough morning a hand reached back to say I’m still in this life, not everything is abandoned
her windows are clear, with a spirit to connect, her palms move forward with vigour, and behind the dirt one can see grace and gold, the queen of a tiny and manageable kingdom where there is not one reason to think about leaving
they come in white vans, offering warmth and food, called by citizens who think of their own mothers and grandmothers, but she doesn’t remember the sunday roast, or the trips to the seaside, or her beautiful daughters’ holy communions
she keeps moving from coffee to coffee, from doorway to doorway, from one donated bun to another, but every now and then she looks at herself in the shine of a metal receptacle, remembering that once she was attractive and so in love
© Copyright, 2006. Seamus Kearney.
This is another piece of my work, inspired by a trip in 1994 to Frogner Park (Vigeland Sculpture Park) in Oslo. I was so blown away by the genius of Gustav Vigeland that I wanted to capture one of the sculptures in a drawing. This sits serenely above my piano, reminding me of that glorious time. It is a mix of charcoal and pastels on canvas.
Copyright, 2006. Shameless Words.
I have yet to read anything from a Macmillan New Writer that is not positive and full of praise for the new imprint in terms of treatment, attention, contact with editors and contracts.
With all the fuss about what were supposed to be bad conditions and dodgy contracts, you'd think there'd be a flood of nasty experiences to read about.
I hear some of you say 'Yes, but they would be nice about their publisher, wouldn't they? They want more books published.' True, except that you wouldn't get big long essays on how well they've been treated. Roger Morris, Matt Curran and Michael Stephen Fuchs have talked about their experiences - Fuchs posted a long piece on my site (see below) and you can see the views of the others on their blogs (see my links on the right).
As someone who has sent a novel to Macmillan (fingers crossed), it is reassuring to hear from those happy writers. And, remember, we have all read pieces from other authors who have not been happy with their publishers.
My own experience as a prospective author has been good as well. It was a pleasure to be able to just send in the entire manuscript as one Word document. No hassle and middle people to deal with. No going backwards and forwards on a nervous wire. The book is what matters.
I should also add that Macmillan New Writing has an important personal touch (at least in my own case). The first time I sent the book I sent each individual chapter as a separate Word document. They wrote back and asked me, nicely, to resend as one single document. I was even more impressed when I got a second email some time later to say there was a problem opening the file and would I care to send the whole thing again.
How many other agents or publishers would have done this? MNW must be inundated with files, and yet they found the time to be decent and fair. Even if I don't become one of their authors (sister of fate, please don't read that line!) I will know that at least I was given a good shot. Isn't that what we all expect?
I had to smile when I saw this in The Times, an extract of the new introduction Salman Rushdie has written for Midnight's Children, 25 years after its first publication:
"I reached the end of Midnight’s Children in mid-1979 and sent it to my friend and editor Liz Calder at Jonathan Cape. I afterwards learned that the first reader’s report had been brief and forbiddingly negative. “The author should concentrate on short stories until he has mastered the novel form.” Liz asked for a second report, and this time I was luckier, because the second reader, Susannah Clapp, was enthusiastic; as, after her, was another eminent publishing figure, the editor Catherine Carver."
Just imagine how many wonderful novels and Salman Rushdie types have been drowned by powerful first readers.
Do I take seriously an email I got today from New York: How much do I want for the painting? Yes it's acrylic and yes it would travel OK; it's not stapled to a frame. But, really? Do I reply with a price? I've decided - probably - not to. Even if it were a genuine request, I'm not ready to part with it. Thank you though for the interest. P.S Are you someone famous? Would it hang in some amazing place? You've got me thinking.
I was pleased to discover that I am living in the same building where the late French author Françoise Sagan (Bonjour Tristesse) spent part of her childhood. Wow. I certainly hope there's something true about being able to tune into the vibes of people who've gone before us. Will I benefit on a literary level? Will I be able to soak up some kind of wordsmith power? I certainly hope so.