The starter pistol has been fired! The guardians are now accepting votes.
It is time to judge the lions and the poems/pieces of prose produced by the new members of the Shameless Lions Writing Circle. A two-week voting period has opened.
Go HERE to read the entries and see the lions.
If you are a member of the circle, your votes are needed for the Members' Choice Awards.
If you are a reader, there are lots of poems and lions to comment on. The judges deciding on the jury prizes will no doubt read the comments left on the individual member listings.
There are some great prizes at stake. Results will be announced on Friday, July the 13th (what a perfect day to release them!).
I've also had some fun making up the badges that winners will be able to add to their blogs. I'm not very technically minded, or very skilled at computer graphics, but I'm quite proud of what I was able to do here. Check out this EXAMPLE badge:
Spread the word.
Happy reading! Happy roaring!
Minx set us a nice little writing challenge: no more than 500 words inspired by a gorgeous painting by Jack Vettriano. My story didn't get the big gong (congratulations to Canterbury Soul and Mutley), but I thought I would share mine with you here anyway. Check out the painting before reading the piece. I chose picture three.
Her time alone.
It was mother’s time. Every morning between five and seven. No one was allowed to spoil it. Terence, Keith and I had no choice but to obey. We knew that to do anything else would’ve been too painful. She never had to hit us to make us stay in bed; she simply had to cry. Her power had always been in her tears. She would weep with sharp little intakes of breath, just like she did that night the phone rang and all colour seemed to disappear, when people streamed through the house with wide, strained eyes, repeating lots of exaggerated things about my father.
Mysteries for children, though, are unbearable. One summer morning, way before the alarm sounded, I decided that I had to see for myself how mother spent those few hours alone. It had never occurred to me that all I had to do was sneak along the edge of the landing and in behind the statue that my father had brought back from Moscow. Between the smooth legs of some handsome Russian oligarch, I had a splendid view of the living and dining rooms.
At first I didn’t spot her, probably because I had expected to see some kind of obvious activity such as letter writing or the altering of one of her dresses. When I finally spotted her shape by the window, way off to my left, I was surprised at how elegant and relaxed she looked in her dressing gown. My mother was standing before me and nothing looked familiar. I had never seen her chest area so uncovered. I had never seen her with a hand on her hip, actually looking rather sexy. I had to fight the urge to go and wake up Terence and Keith.
I remained in the same position for a good ten minutes, with my knees scrunched up to my chin. I just watched her. It didn’t feel wrong. It didn’t feel like anything. After a while I tried to imagine what her eyes might be fixed on. She hardly moved, except to raise her mug to her lips a few times. I kept looking. She kept looking. I imagined that our breathing shared the same measured, relaxed pace.
Then, without any warning, she put a hand up and started waving. There was something unreal and disturbing about the wave though; the movement was slow and deliberate, as if she weren’t sure if the other person could see her. I immediately understood.
When mother turned around to place her mug on the table, I could tell that she’d been crying: the tears had made her chest all shiny and the skin beneath her eyes was swollen. I desperately wanted to race down the stairs and comfort her, to tell her that things would get easier with time, just as she’d told the three of us. But I didn’t. I dared not move, afraid of how she might react. This was her time alone.
© Copyright, 2007. Seamus Kearney.
LM Noonan has tagged me for a little exercise in "getting to know who we are":
To begin with:
1. I have to post these rules before I give you the facts.
2. Each player starts with eight random facts/habits about themselves.
3. People who are tagged need to write their own post about their eight things and display these rules.
4. At the end of your post, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names.
5. Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged, and to read your blog.
So, here are my eight little titbits:
1. I don't eat meat. I stopped eating red meat when I was about 20, limiting myself to chicken and fish. When I moved to Europe at the age of 25 I stopped eating all meat and fish. However, in 2000, after two and a half years in France, and finding it hard to find things to eat in restaurants etc, I started eating fish again - but not chicken. I only eat fish that doesn't really taste to me like fish (salmon, tuna). It's not a natural instinct for me to want to cook, chew and swallow meat, and I never liked the taste of it.
2. I used to have a mild stammer and a stutter when I was a child, probably caused by the fact that I had so much to say and spoke too fast. It became less severe as I got older but I still had some terrible times in my teenage years. I avoided words starting with k, m, s, r, among others, and always had alternatives up my sleeve if a word refused to leave my mouth (good vocabulary skills). I had a breakthrough in high school though: I discovered I didn't have any problem when speaking in front of large groups doing speeches, debating etc. I tried to emulate this 'public speaking' style in my everyday speech and things ended up improving dramatically. I went on to work as a radio reporter/presenter (and later television), which probably surprised those who remembered me as the poor kid who stammered.
3. I discovered a few years ago, via my "better half", that I have what is known as "restless foot syndrome". This means that during the night my feet shake and I sometimes kick out. Not nice for the person beside me. I also don't understand how Miss Muffin is quite happy to keep sleeping at the foot of our bed during the night. I don't think this condition is all that serious and I've never sought medical advice about it. I think it has something to do with circulation and the electrical system "unwinding". I hope so.
4. I am a "born-again" grammar fanatic. I developed a big interest in correct grammar when I started to learn French. Basically, for me, it was important to know English grammar inside out in order to learn how everything worked in French. Before learning French, I had to relearn English. I like the idea of breaking the rules though - deliberately - for effect. I also love introducing new words into the language. I love grammar that makes writing more interesting and breaks things up into more interesting parcels, with more interesting rhythms.
5. I have never been anyone's fan. Right from an early age I hated the whole concept of people idolising someone else: singers, authors, personalities. I have maintained this throughout my life and can never understand the "mania" that surrounds celebrity figures. For me, people are just people. Of course, I wouldn't mind if someone decided to become my fan!
6. I bite my nails. It's a terrible, disgusting habit, which just won't go away. I bite right down to the sensitive skin, until it hurts. I've bitten my nails for as long as I can remember. I tried those nasty-tasting lotions, but I always ended up liking the taste and got right back to chewing. Doctors say I probably have a very strong immune system due to the constant intake of bacteria. On the odd occasion that I have let my nails grow I couldn't bear it; I had the constant sensation that my nails were being dragged down a blackboard.
7. I am a manic checker. I check to see if the front door is locked several times before I'm satisfied that it really is locked. I will often get up out of bed to go and double check. I will often walk back to my car to double check that I've locked it. I always push the button on the remote a few times before I'm satisfied that it's locked. When I'm driving I keep pushing the buttons that operate the electric windows, to make sure that the windows are properly closed, with no little gap at the top. (After a real effort in recent months, I'm happy to say that I now do this less often).
8. I hate it when people talk at the cinema. I need to have total silence during a film and can't bear to be with someone who talks to me during a movie. Even one little comment will drive me crazy. I need to be totally immersed in the universe the film has created and I get irritated if I am taken out of that. I lost a potential friend once when I told him how annoyed I was at his non-stop, banal commentary during a film.
Yes, I know, I am dangerous and unstable! I should be committed!
Now, I tag these people from my sidebar to see what they have to reveal about themselves:
Doors Left Open.
Kat's Random Thoughts.
Once In A Blue Muse.
where are you taking me, lowly members?
awkward and fickle pegs on which I rely,
you could deviate, magic away the risks,
but no, jealously bent on curious paths,
those that our forebears left wide open
advancing casually on the sinking ground,
as if bold hearts were hidden within you,
logic and stamina your stolen compasses,
ignoring my crown’s most urgent appeals,
so far removed from the warmth of reason
when our final journey comes to its end,
down upon you my heavy tears will plunge,
no immunity from the ballad of grieving,
the truth will be plainer than you think,
they will all know that I was easily led
© Copyright, 2007. Seamus Kearney.
By Rory Mulholland.
There were two things she never shut up about. One was the Aum Shinri Kyo sect. The other was the Coen brothers. I’d heard about the Aum cult. They were the crowd who’d done the sarin gas attack in the Tokyo subway. Taeko claimed she’d been a member and had to do a runner after the attack. Judging by her age now she must have been the group’s mascot if she’d ever had any contact with it at all. I humoured her.
As for the Coen brothers, I’d never heard of them. But since she said it was on account of them that she’d come to Minnesota, I pretended I had. I bluffed my way at first and then quickly genned up on the Coens, getting all their movies from a video club downtown and reading stuff about them that I pulled off the net.
I liked them. It seemed that every single movie they made looked like it had an entirely different director. Fargo was my favourite, and hers too. But I didn’t believe, like she did, God bless her oriental soul, that it was a true story like it said it was before the credits finally rolled over the snowy flatness of rural Minnesota. I didn’t believe it because I’d read that it was just another of the Coens’ little jokes. Nor did I think, like she did, that the buried dollars were there for the taking by whomsoever made the effort to find them. I just liked the flick because it was a great yarn, its small-time crooks were pretty true to life (I didn’t like to dwell on the fact that their criminal incompetence had some uncomfortable personal parallels), and it reminded me how ridiculous the Swedish lilt makes the Minnesota accent. But the thing I liked most about it was seeing Steve Buscemi’s leg sticking out of the wood grinder after the rest of him had been neatly minced.
* * *
I needed Taeko for a job. I owed a lot of money to someone it wasn’t good to owe money to for long. I couldn’t do the job on my own and, given my less than glittering criminal career, nobody worthwhile would do it with me. It was an easy job but it needed two people.
She didn’t take much persuading. Apart from being a Coens freak she was also obsessed with American crime movies. Put her in front of any screen showing violent transgression of US legislation and she would almost wet her pants with excitement. She told me that violence in Japanese films just didn’t do it for her. Also, the thought of bourgeois little mum and dad back in Yokohama finding out their daughter was a bank robber turned her on no end.
It was mid-October. I’d decided December was the best time for our adventure. By then the days would be short and there would be snow. The intervening weeks we spent on her learning to fire a gun, working out an escape route, casing the bank, and doing a lot of fucking. We’d usually do this after a trip to the bar where we’d first met, that evening when, to my bold “I’m hung like a horse” gambit, she politely replied, “A horse? No thank you, I take a beer.”
Taeko may have misunderstood that particular bon mot, but her English was pretty good. She used it mostly to bemoan the stifling middle-class conventions and restrictions of life in Japan. She did tend, however, to omit the definite article. I would tease her by saying she’d end up inside the bank, gun in hand, screaming: “Give me fucking money!” or “Open fucking vault!”
I suppose I was in love with her. Sometimes I’d feel bad about what I was going to do. Then I’d think about the man I owed the money to and would quickly shut down any thoughts of a romantic future with this particular girl.
After a while I told her I’d finally been able to find out where the money in the Coen film was hidden. She swallowed the ridiculous reasons I offered as to why no-one else had ever thought of recovering it before now. We’d go straight there after the bank job, I said, and gave her a hand-drawn map that would lead us to the buried treasure.
* * *
The bank was even easier than I’d imagined. Taeko didn’t even forget the definite article when she put her pistol to the chief teller’s head. Three hours after the job we were far out on the plains. A fence ran along the straight road as far as the eye could see. The white glare of the snow was turning to grey as the light faded. I’d scouted the place before, just to make sure it looked as close as possible to the shot in the closing scene of Fargo. I’d also picked a spot where there was no traffic and no house or town for a very long way in either direction.
The map was in the back pocket of her jeans. The only other thing she had on was a light jersey. The car was warm. I’d turned the heating right up. I pulled over and reached into the back seat to take the champagne out of the cooler. We looked at each other and laughed, drank to our future, and then did some fooling around.
When she pulled her jeans back on I told her we had a long drive ahead, we’d better take a leak now before we got going. As soon as she climbed out of the car – helpfully not bothering to put on her coat – I pulled the door shut and stepped on the gas. The music from the radio drowned out the screams I saw coming from her mouth in the rear-view mirror.
* * *
The bank job was a front-page story in the local papers the next day. The frozen Japanese woman made the news in brief section two days later. But it moved onto page one on the third day when someone realised Taeko was one of the bank robbers. A week later, after a film buff mortuary worker figured out what the map was he had found in Taeko’s pocket, it started to make the national papers. The words “Mystery” and “Deepens” figured in their headlines.
© Copyright, 2007. Rory Mulholland.
(Rory Mulholland is a journalist who lives in Paris. He has translated novels from French into English and has written his own book on his experience as a reporter in Iraq: Camp Britney, Tikrit: The Genteel Art of War Reporting).
Do you want to know where I was at the weekend? Stuck behind my desk? Writing until the letters turned into funny shapes that floated off out the window? No, I decided to give my word machine a rest and take in something else. I went down to Aix-en-Provence, just for a taste of some of the reasons why I moved here. Mmmmmm. I couldn't help but take a few photos. (Click on the shots to see a larger version).
We ate crêpes. We drank wine and cider. We saw an excellent play by some young theatre students. We sang into the night in a charming house in an old village. It means I wasn't writing. But I think these distractions can be good sometimes, like a much-needed dose of the outside world, the real word ... away from fictional characters we create, who become so demanding.
I've also been busy with the Shameless Lions Writing Circle, which has had an excellent response. Are there really more than 100 messages on that blog post that launched the whole thing? It's been a real pleasure to set this up; now I have to think about the contest for the five best lions and best poems/prose pieces. 42 out of 48 lions have so far been adopted. It's amazing to reach a "full house". I am so thrilled. I'm sorry that I haven't had much time recently to get around and read other blogs, but things should get quieter when the writing circle is full.
Also, I can't believe that I've actually been squeezing in other things over the past few weeks: I went to virtually every session of a week-long book festival; I had a friend visit from NZ; I've just finished a 3500-word short story for the Bridport Prize; and I've also just finished two poems for the same contest. Are you entering?
I do wonder about the worth of taking part in writing contests that charge entry fees, especially the ones that attract a global flood of amazing writing. It is good as an exercise in discipline, I suppose, and I've really enjoyed creating a new world. (I found the idea for the short story while looking around for a name for my lion). If my work gets nowhere in the contest - how many thousands of entries are received? - at least I can share it at some stage here on my blog. I can't put it up just yet because Bridport entries have to be "virgins": never before published, not even on the web!
clink/traffic light stays red/the world’s not waiting/sirens help newborns sleep more soundly/clank/her broken heels/his
bleeding knuckles/night wincing from greasy kebabs/clunk/the fast cars are crawling now/cakes of apricot makeup/executives
eating cold burgers/clonk/dizzy from the cash/in their moon parades/shirtless and feisty/whistle-happy/all sorted/clink
© Copyright, 2007. Seamus Kearney.
Book festivals are funny old things, aren't they? I'm not sure how I feel about the first International Festival Of The Novel, held over the past five days here in Lyon. It was an interesting but rather sober affair, with the authors not really given much of a chance to talk about their books.
Luckily, however, a big part of why we go is to see our favourite authors in person. I don't think I've ever met a famous novelist who was more down to earth than A.S Byatt (above). She was jolly and generous, more than willing to chat with members of the public (myself included) after the formal part of the session was over. She happily posed for this photo as well ... considering it had been my third attempt at getting a shot that wasn't out of focus.
But I go to these things for more than just a signature in a book. The problem with this festival, which had "reality and the novel" as its main theme, was that it was too reliant on prepared speeches. There were numerous round-tables, which included four invited authors and two hosts (literary critics), with debate on an aspect of the main theme. Each author read out a prepared piece of text on the subject; these were dense, thesis-type speeches that often went on far too long. The odd question was then posed by the hosts, some invited literature students and members of the audience, but there was only two hours for the whole thing so nothing was ever adequately examined or properly answered by all of the authors. Apart from the odd reference here and there, the authors didn't really discuss their own work in any great detail.
One of the authors who did light things up though was André Brink (above), the South African novelist. He spoke about the experience of writing his books, which include the fabulous novels A Dry White Season and The Other Side of Silence, during the apartheid era. He answered many questions in perfect French, which surprised me, until I learned that he'd spent some time in France many years ago. Byatt also spoke in superb French, which went down well with the largely French audience.
The other interesting author for me was Russell Banks (above), whose work I don't know very well. He did a public reading early on in the festival from his novel The Darling, which is set mostly in Liberia, and then answered questions on how he went about writing it. I liked it when he said that the author's job is not to speak in a novel but to listen.
I did a bit of book buying while I was there, so obviously some chord was struck. I was pleased to get signatures inside Banks' Cloudsplitter, Brinks' Praying Mantis and The Virgin In The Garden and Still Life by Byatt. It was also great to see John Banville, who won the Booker prize in 2005 with The Sea. He was much shorter than I expected and also came across as a lot friendlier and more humble than how he's painted in the press.
Another positive side to the festival was the chance to discover authors from many different countries. Wei-Wei (above), for example, is a Chinese writer who writes novels in French. She is popular in France, having published three novels. She lives in England but has not yet broken into the English market. I did half-jokingly offer to have a crack at translating one of her novels into English. We'll see.
It was great to have an international book festival take place so close to home; I just wish there had been more informal discussion and less lecturing from prepared notes. I also think it's impossible in two hours to expect four authors and two hosts, who also often had a lot to say, to share the same stage. Next time I think I'd prefer to spend an evening with one author and one interviewer.