I had some short stories, poems and photographs to share ... and so here I am

A Pause For A Poem

the young liberators

the fences are down around the northern state zoo
mud splashes across exotic skin, big-teeth wonders shake in huddles
barbed wire lashes dainty hooves, virgin paws desert their cages
they’d dance and grimace but they only stare
they’d sing and scarper but they only quiver

the moon is sole witness to the improvised drama
weary guards dream of hibernation, faded manuals hold their tongues
flashing lights shine on no one, dogs beside themselves whip up the night
they’d eagerly chase but their throats are tight
they’d savagely bark but the wind is clever

the young liberators escape across a shadowy gorge
pamphlets float with heavy words, lungs burn with raging slogans
digital screens madly flicker, blackened faces reek of victory
they’d stay and debate but are needed elsewhere
they’d offer solutions but are just not sure

the rude morning light works magic on the chaos
larger bolts cover thick new wire, flower pots are freed of broken glass
sloppy food is dished up from buckets, small eyes repossess their glaze
they’d be somewhere else but have no idea where
they’d be keen on freedom but don’t know it’s missing

the old-fashioned turnstile resumes its gleeful spinning
hampers and cameras arrive in buses, boys put on their smiles and hats
children point to quirky features, parents recite from baffling signs
no one asks why the monkey is not in a jungle
no one asks why the polar bear is not on ice

Copyright, 2006, Shameless Words.

A Book Cover

In my bid to make sure that there are not just words on this blog, here's one of my paintings.

I've always thought this would make a nice book cover. The title is The First Nine Months, which I suppose could be relevant to many a story.

I will upload other paintings in the future - not that there are oodles, but there are the odd one or two favourites.

This was painted in New Zealand in 2003.

The First Nine Months. Copyright, 2006, Shameless Words.

Reality in Fiction

Frank Wilson, the Book Review Editor at The Inquirer, brought up an interesting point after reading an extract from my new novel.

After saying, very kindly, that the extract was worth a look:


... he wondered about the taxi driver scene within the extract, saying it hadn't been anything like his experience in Ireland.

I replied that I had taken it from a real life experience in Dublin. I had actually arrived at the city's main airport and put myself in the shoes of my character (who also arrives at Dublin airport in the story). The result was a grumpy, xenophobic driver who used the F word a lot. It threw up a whole unexpected scene, and something that you would probably never be able to imagine.

This is always a question I've asked myself when writing: to what extent can I be inspired by snippets of real life?

I find it works to a certain degree and I seem to stick to a rough rule: real life can influence scenes but not plot. It's good when you want scenes to be realistic and not based on a stereotype. I told Frank that I didn't want a "top a the morning to ya" feel to the scene, which is what everybody might expect.

If I read in a novel that a character sits down in front of Trinity College under an Elm tree, and it turns out there is no Elm tree in front of Trinity College (I have been known to visit locations described in novels), I would be disappointed. If a writer talks about a place I know well and explains how ducks are shot during the summer shooting season, when I know it only ever takes place in winter, it makes me slightly annoyed. As I say, it depends to what degree.

But, we are talking about fiction, aren't we?

Why can't we plant a tree where one doesn't exist and rev up the details of a boring city (I'm not talking about Dublin here)? We're obliged to make up names of restaurants and squeeze in hotels that don't exist near the Irish Times (see my extract). It does come down to the importance of the detail. For example, I avoid having real life personalities make appearances in my writing - not only can it lead to legal trouble for a publisher but I think it jars if the rest is made up.

I'm not totally convinced about any of the arguments on this point. I've been to writing classes and talks where the opinion is always divided.

I just know that when I am writing a scene and I have the chance to "walk it through" in real life, it can throw up lots of little pieces of authenticity that add fabric and colour.

Of course, there is the other extreme.

Don't you just hate passages where the author has given you the painful, minute detail of something not very relevant to the story, just to prove that he actually went to a place, spoke to 25 experts, spent three weeks with those involved, and learnt all the big words that only experts would care about?

Pleasure in the Post

There is something strange in my behaviour.

I have discovered a new pleasure, which may be cause for worry for bookshop owners if it can be established that I am typical of any slice of society - some of my friends say I am in a whole different range of beans, so maybe they don't need to worry!

Ian McEwan's Saturday dropped through the slot today, and oh the excitement to open up the package and smell the new pages. Yes, I am worried about this.

My pleasure used to lie in browsing through bookshops - and it still is - but how do I marry that up now with this new flirt that is pressing on my wallet and exploiting my weaknesses?

I am buying an increasing number of books over the Internet, having just discovered that I don't need to click on the first price I see (brand new retail tag) but can opt for a cheaper version (used, something slightly scarred by publishing gremlins).

Is it because there is very little pleasure that comes in the post these days? Don't forget that most of us now communicate on a jovial or amicable level by email, so letterboxes (at least for me) seem to be reserved for the nasty mail. It's nice to have that broken up with something big and pleasurable!

Slash The Slush Piles

I would love to start a campaign - who will join me? - to rid the world of the term "slush pile", which is ugly, inaccurate and tatty. It really is time that we scrubbed this stain of a word from our vocabulary.

How did writers, who love and celebrate a precise and beautiful use of the language, ever accept the widespread use of this term? What is the origin? Can we as writers at least stop using it, in the hope that publishers and agents also resist?

Here are the other meanings of the word slush, which are terrible bedmates to have: partially melted snow or ice; soft mud; slop; mire; grease or fat discarded from a ship's galley; a greasy compound used as a lubricant for machinery; maudlin speech or writing; sentimental drivel; a drink made of flavored syrup poured over crushed ice.

OK, granted, the last one there doesn't sound so bad, especially when we're sweating it over our keyboards on a heavy, summer day. But really, every time I hear the term slush pile trotted out in the press it just makes me feel sick and tired. Can we not find an alternative such as 'the undiscoverd well', 'the hidden goldmine', or 'the literary hopefuls pile'?

An Original Thought

If that's the way it was, that's the way it was meant to be.

Goodbye Hardbacks?

There's an interesting article in The New York Times, which has been referred to on a few blogs, resparking the old debate about the future of the hardback. Apparently, in the US, an increasing number of 'literary' novels are going straight into softback. This of course has been the norm at a few European publishing houses for a while, and one can see the sense in it (cheaper, more sales etc).

Many new writers, like me, would be happy to go straight into softback, given that people are more likely to spend the cash on it - thereby increasing the chances of staying on the radar. Having to struggle to get good hardback sales has been a debut novelist's nightmare; low figures can often mean that the work never comes out in softback.

I've read comments from authors who say they couldn't bear the thought of not first seeing their work in hardback; they say it truly represents everything they've worked towards - they need to grasp it, knock it, smell it, put the ribbon through the middle. That's all very well when they sell easily and the publisher, agent and writer rings up the sales from the hardbook AND the softback. That is not how many newcomers see it. The hardback represents a battle.

It's also true that readers get frustrated; they want to go out and buy the book they've heard about in the press and by word of mouth only to find the affordable version is not yet available. By the time the cheaper copy comes out they've forgotten about it, already enticed by other books that have appeared straight away in softback. I have many book loving friends who only ever buy softbacks.

A Shameless Extract

Somebody sent me an email with a very blunt question: You're a writer, so where's your real writing? They meant it in the nicest possible way, I'm sure.

My blog's not enough to make me a writer?
I pondered this, and then thought, 'OK. Why not put something out there.'

Here's a bit from the second novel I'm trying to work on (three draft chapters and counting), without even knowing if the first one will ever get published.

Your comments will be most welcome. Sorry the blog format gets rid of paragraph indentations.

Chapter 1

Just a couple of strides away from the main entrance to The
Irish Times - the sight of which made her gut tighten - Myra
Dillon turned to see that her man had stopped and splayed
himself up against a large metal lamppost. His face shone as
crimson as the beetroot that she’d earlier diced up for lunch
and then wept over. She would’ve gone to him to make him lean
forward, so he could find his breath again and stop his
wheezing, but she was too distracted by the fierce hope that
his discomfort might make him change his mind about his two
o’clock appointment.

‘Could you not be slowing yourself down?’ he growled at
her, ‘rushing away in front of me like a thievin’ gypsy.’ He
coughed like it were a murderous yell, spitting a mix of beer
and bile onto the pavement. ‘You’ll be the bleedin’ death of
me, Myra.’ He cut the air with his turnip fingers.

She kept her face still, just so, gently reaching up to
check that her scarf – bought for €1.99 the day before –
hadn’t twisted itself around. She fastened the top button on
her cardigan of baby-blue, and then caught sight of herself in
a pub window.

She decided she wouldn’t answer him. She would
seek refuge there in her reflection, imagining that she had
her knotted hair done, and the cardigan could at last be given
to the Sisters of Mercy. She leant down to scratch the back of
her leg through her stocking, the whole time watching how her
movement looked in the window. Sadly, she saw there was no
going back on the dropping of the shoulders and her mouth had
a sour twist to it. A nice cold glass of scotch came out
through the window and poured itself down into her panting

‘For the sake of heaven,’ he blurted. ‘Myra!’

She looked back towards him and smiled. ‘We’ll be late,
Selwyn, and then you’ll go blaming me. Pick yourself up now.’
She nodded slightly between the smiles, a simple but effective
way to reassure him, to ensure he didn’t kick a real wobbly.

‘We’re almost there now.’

He managed the rest of the distance awkwardly, the weight
of his stomach pulling him forward, almost making him jog, his
feet hitting the pavement at hilarious angles.

Dublin was doing its best to hold on to its miserly ration
of September warmth, but a bitterness was reaching across the
tin-foil sky, trying to rally a wind or a bucketing rain.
Everyone knew it, even the birds. Dash about and get
everything done while things are still clear and dry. The
cheerful colour of the passing buses – vanilla yellow and two
shades of lolly blue - just weren’t working.

Myra said, ‘There Selwyn. We’re there now.’

‘You’ll be the bloody death of me,’ he mumbled. He put a
shaking hand on her shoulder, which unsettled a sleeping
memory: the gesture used to be something affectionate, but now
it was just to make sure he didn’t tip himself over in public.
He looked at the people bustling past him, racing for their
bus at the other end of D’Olier Street. His dark, frightened
eyes grew wider, as though he saw a street full of noisy
convoys of invading troops.

She could tell he was trying to make out if anyone was
staring at him, chuckling at his laughable state. ‘No one’s
interested in you, Selwyn. Let’s get you onto a seat inside.’

A springy, chatty man who introduced himself as Tiny Sung
Sue - or so it sounded - came out to meet Myra and Selwyn at
the reception desk. He kept sticking out his chin and raising
it up like a bucking horse, apparently trying to free his
irritated neck from the noose-like grip of his collar and tie.
Between mouthfuls of his collapsing tuna and mayonnaise
Sandwich (Myra could smell the ingredients) he laughed
awkwardly, shared hard-to-understand anecdotes, looked at his
watch. 'I was in Hong Kong before I came here,' he tweeted,
looking disappointed that Selwyn had taken more interest in
the fancy water cooler by the door. 'I really love this city.
Something's really going off here.'

Myra worried that Selwyn might not answer. 'They say
Dublin’s multi-culture now,' she said gingerly. 'Good for the
young ones, I suppose.' She didn't quite know why she joined
up those two thoughts, but it certainly did the trick in
making Selwyn snap back into focus.

'I just want to know why I wasn’t given a bleedin
interview, let alone a letter or call' he snapped. 'That's
all. A man deserves a bloody explanation.'

'I see,' said Sung Sue. 'Best we all go through to where we
can talk.'

He took them down a long corridor, past chaotic
rooms where trendy young people hugged phones under their
chins or peered into computer screens, looking bewildered or
bored. Myra wondered if she might see someone famous, perhaps
even the nice young fellow who wrote the gardening column.

Sung Sue said, 'I think there's been a misunderstanding, but
we're happy to put things straight.' He biffed the crust of
his sandwich into a bin and picked up a large tray of bulky
mail left on a crowded desk.

Myra was resentful that Selwyn had kept his hand on her
shoulder, pushing her forward as though she were the leader of
the delegation. She knew very well what the nice Tiny Sung Sue
was going to say; she'd been able to figure it out right from
the start. She felt an overwhelming desire to take a risk and
turn on Selwyn there and then, tell him that he was a fool and
once again he was going to cause a scene at which people could
snigger. This latest spectacle, to make things worse, was
going to be performed in the fine corridors of a fine
newspaper, and the young people there on the phone might even
be forced to write something about it. The whole of Dublin
would belly-laugh collectively at the latest shinnanigans
of Selwyn Dillon. She dropped her shoulder so his hand fell
away from her, but that only made him dig her in the middle of
the back with his other hand.

Once they were sitting on the posh leather sofa in a room
that had Assistant Editor on the door, Sung Sue said, 'What
did you think we meant by the term “crime correspondent” when
you saw it in the paper, Mr Dillon?' He played with his watch.

Myra offered Sung Sue a knowing smirk, very discreetly, in
the hope that he wouldn't think she was a halfwit as well. He
just looked blankly at the pair of them. Myra took in his
perfect dimples, his pearl-coated teeth, his appealing long
fringe and green eyes. She normally didn’t find Asian men
appealing, yet there were the odd exceptions. She pulled on a
small curl of hair that loitered down in front of her
face. She crossed her legs and then bounced her suspended foot
up and down, marking the seconds during which Selwyn was
saying a big fat nothing. She folded her arms and then tried
to communicate to Sung Sue with her eyebrows: she was on his
side, not Selwyn’s. If she hadn't agreed to come along and
sit there with her husband, she wanted to tell Sung Sue, then
there would’ve been a scene - and it wouldn't have been

'Are you having me on?' blurted Selwyn, standing up. His
arms rose at the sides, like he might take off for an aerial
attack. 'I'm not a bloody idiot.' He was doing his best to
stop making idiot sound like eejit, having read somewhere that
foreign language students were struggling to understand the
locals. He still hoped he may be able to cash in on the idea
of giving conversation lessons to Asian students, just as his
friend Tom was doing for a kidney-warming nine euros an hour.

Myra squeezed her arms tighter into her chest and looked
down at the carpet. 'Don't get angry now, Selwyn.'

'He's making out I'm a bloody eejit - idiot!'

'Don’t be daft. He is not.'

'He bloody is. Him and his bloody yobs. It's just a rag,
this is. Nothing bloody special about this outfit.'

'I tried to tell you.' Myra kept looking down at the

'What did you say?'

'I tried to tell you what it was. That's all.'

Selwyn was silent for a moment and then said, 'Crime
correspondent? Course I know what that bloody well means.'

Sung Sue carefully slipped in behind his desk, creating
more space between himself and Selwyn. 'You needed to have a
journalism background. We wanted a journalist ... to write

'I knew that,' said Selwyn, suddenly looking vacant.

Myra wanted to yell out that he was lying. He hadn’t known
that at all.

'You don't have a journalism background,' said Sung Sue,
quietly, finally looking at Myra for backup.

She could see that Sung Sue was looking upon her with pity.
He was looking at her gloomy-coloured scarf; the thick, plain
dress that looked like carpet underlay; her shoes made famous
by Catholic nuns; the cardigan and its tiny balls of overuse,
which were now too numerous to be successfully culled. The
last time Selwyn had given her money for an item of clothing
he'd insisted on choosing it himself, from the op shop at the
end of their street. She'd pleaded with him to let her go to
Arnotts, but he'd told her he wouldn't let his money be used
to ‘prop up the big conglomerates’ (that was one of the many
things he’d heard on talkback, and he repeated it to whoever
would listen). She hated the way she looked. She dreamed
of the day she could pay for some colour through her hair, or
wear an outfit that hadn't been cleaned out of a dead widow's

She decided to take a risk, to win back some of her dignity
in front of this nice young man from Hong Kong, who might just
be thinking they were both losers. 'Selwyn thought you wanted
someone who grasses on crims,’ she said with conviction, but
then wondered whether it might’ve been too informal to use the
words grasses and crims. ‘He thought you were advertising for
someone who gets paid for tips and things.'

'I thought no such thing,' Selwyn protested, his eyes
bulging to bursting point. 'You can shut it, right?'

She whispered. 'A correspondent’s not the same as a rat,
Selwyn. I tried to tell you. Papers don't go advertising that
as a job.'

'No, we don't,' said Sung Sue.

She went all warm on hearing that, confirmation that he
hadn’t jumbled her up with her husband. Selwyn was standing
out on the stage on his own, his costume coming unstuck,
everything revealed. The warm feeling lasted only a matter of
seconds though; Selwyn's hand came down on the back of her
chair, causing her to jolt forward. It wasn't a hard slap. It
never was. It was the usual warning that boundaries had been
stepped over.

Sung Sue didn't say anything. He stayed behind his desk and
kept his hands together, clearly at a loss to know what to
do. Myra didn't want a scene. Already she'd seen a few faces
popping up in the small glass window in the door, eagerly
curious about the raised voices. She decided she would do her
best to get Selwyn to leave. The point about the advert had
been made - albeit repeated. Selwyn wouldn't want to be
humiliated with further questions and explanations. The
charade had gone on long enough.

Like with all of these situations - when Selwyn embarrassed
her and made her despise him because of his behaviour - it
wasn’t long before she was overcome with an enormous feeling
of compassion for him. As they hobbled towards the reception
in silence, she wanted to tell him she loved him and that he
shouldn’t let himself get upset. She genuinely felt sorry for
him as she watched him stumble into the walls. He muttered to
himself as he tried to right himself.

Out in the street, as they both looked up to see how the
sky had now completely closed over with purple clouds, Selwyn
said he wanted to get a taxi home instead of getting a bus.
She knew he was seriously dejected; he rarely suggested
getting a cab. ‘I just want to be at home,’ he mumbled.

Myra went into automatic mode, wanting to make things
easier for him and jolly him out of the black mood he was
falling into. Out of the corner of her eye though, just as she
was saying something light and irrelevent, she spotted a sign
on a window over the road. Letting Selwyn move off down the
street a bit, she read the words to herself several times, to
make sure she’d understood the meaning of it. The more she
read the words, the stronger her feeling that the sign was
speaking to her. She took in the whole window and the
building, making a mental note of the street number. She
turned to see that Selwyn had already flagged down a taxi. As
she hurried to catch him up, she couldn’t help but let the
words repeat themselves in her head. They seemed to dance at
the front of her mind, everything else in there forced to shut
up, sit down and let the exciting new performance continue
without interruption.

* * * * *

In the customs hall at Dublin Airport, Father Xavier Duval
reset his watch, in exact synchronisation with the large
electronic clock on the wall. He felt ropy after his easyJet
flight from France, but prepared himself for another big
effort, pumping up his chest with the soggy, conditioned air
that he wasn’t used to. He headed for the baggage carousel,
all of a sudden nervous about what he was doing and why he was
doing it. He was also anxious to avoid a very loud girl from
Galway, named Pinky, who’d sat next to him on the plane. She’d
talked non-stop in frightening decibels about her summer
escapade with a ‘beefy’ Frenchman on the shore of the big lake
at Annecy. Father Xavier regretted that he’d taken off his
white collar, black shirt and pants at the airport in Lyon. He
figured that if she’d known she was talking to a priest she
might’ve tamed herself; then he wondered if that might’ve just
made her worse. Her nose studs and exposed beer belly had
troubled him, to say the least.
‘Hope you have a grand time in Dublin,’ she yelled out from
behind her backpack. ‘Be sure to climb the Guiness Storehouse,
over there on the wall.’ She pointed to a large tourist photo.
‘Thank you very much,’ he said. He knew his spoken English
was too forced, too controlled. He hadn’t spoken it for such a
long time, and he worried the words wouldn’t come out in the
right order. ‘Good bye. Enchanted to meet you.’
She offered him a warrior’s roar, as her rugged Celtic
ancestors had probably done in many a battle, and made
exaggerated OK signs with both of her chubby hands. He saw
then that a g-string rose up above the back of her baggy
trousers. He worried about where Pinky had come from and where
she was headed.
After flashing his passport under the nose of a
disinterested customs officer, he was out in front of the
airport trying to find a cab. He was advised by a man with a
black cap to take what sounded like ‘an irreparable carrier’,
and make his way to the official taxi rank. It was only after
a few minutes standing in a breeze full of dust and fumes from
passing buses that he realised he’d misheard the word
Father Xavier put his bag onto the back seat of a large
London-style cab and said, ‘Would it please be possible to be
taken to the centre of the city.’ He knew he sounded uptight.
‘I’ll take ya whereever ya fuckin well like.’
In the awkward silence that followed, Father Xavier thought
about the madness of the past few days, the ducking and diving
to avoid members of his parish at Fregny, near Saint Etienne,
and the attempt to pretend that everything had been as it
should be. His housekeeper would arrive at the presbytery the
following day and discover his absence. She would know
something was amiss; he’d always informed her of his small
trips to visit family in Paris, or down to the coast for short
stays at the church retreat at Cassis.
He sighed heavily, a colossal feeling of tiredness pushing
down on his shoulders and a sharp headache pressing into the
back of his eyes. He thought about the massive number of trips
he’d been forced to make to neighbouring villages and towns
over the previous months, becoming the sole priest in a
forever expanding diocese of sinners and needy people. Paris
kept saying that new recruits were on the way; no one would
swear to it on the bible though. Priests were being taken out
of small towns to go elsewhere, with parishes in a constant
state of merging, and those who’d become used to small flocks
that could be easily managed were suddenly the leaders of
thousands of people who were hostile to the loss of intimacy.
Father Xavier thought it no wonder that the pews were starting
to ring with increasing silence. No cook in kitchen, no
The cab driver came to life, his grey eyes searching in the
rear vision mirror, a suspicious and mean look about him.
‘Are ya one a these bleedin foreigners comin in ta take Irish
‘I beg your pardon?’
‘We got loads a you lot coming in an pushing up the
Father Xavier noticed that the man’s neck was purple and
his voice shaky. ‘I’m just visiting,’ he said, hoping to end
the conversation there and then.
‘Loads a them eastern Europeans here now.’ He turned off
the radio that had been playing pleasantly in the background.
‘Romanians, Poles, Turks, Hungarians. You name it, we got em.
We’ll be speaking their fuckin lingo before ya know it.’
‘I’m sorry. I don’t know too much about that.’
The driver grunted and then looked dreamily at the way
ahead. Father Xavier imagined the driver thinking back to his
happier times on those streets, when he used to laugh and kick
cans with his friends, and perhaps make a few bob selling
broken eggs in a wooden cart. He probably never imagined he
would be driving so many foreigners around the streets of his
beloved city.
About 20 minutes later the driver swung his cab over to the
side of the road and said, ’Can’t get more fuckin central
than this.’
Father Xavier walked around for a while with his duffle bag
over his shoulder and tried to get his bearings. The last time
he’d walked the streets of Dublin had been in 1990, just
before he’d gone into the seminary. Instead of looking for all
the likely changes though, he decided he would find a
hotel for the night, sleep himself into a state of fitness,
and then set his mind to finding his dear friend Soloman. That
thought made him nervous. It’d been such a long time, and
there’d been no correspondence between them for years. Would
he still be there? Would he accept his explanation for why he
was just turning up, and once again lend the sympathetic ear
that he’d offered all of those years earlier?
After looking up to admire the tall, needle-like Monument
of Light in O’Connell Street, which looked sinister against
the backdrop of the brooding sky, he made his way towards
O’Connell bridge, struggling to avoid the mighty rush of
Friday shoppers and people keen to get home. Things weren’t
made easier by the renovation work being carried out on the
sidewalks, with everything fenced off in a chaotic manner, mud
and dust spread everywhere. A couple of times, to avoid the
pushing and shoving, he took a risk and walked on the road.
He eventually stood in front of the main entrance to
Trinity College, wondering which part of town would be best
for finding a cheap hotel. He doubled back slightly and headed
down College Street, in the direction of Pearse Station, with
the distant memory of there being a couple of cheap and
friendly hotels in that area. He knew there was no use walking
up Grafton Street or towards Temple Bar; he’d read in Le Monde
how those areas had boomed in recent years and a tourist had
to have a good wad of euros to even get a look in.
He walked fast, anxious about the build up of clotted
cream-looking clouds. He wondered if he’d ever seen Ireland
under brilliant sunshine, in those student days when he used
to enjoy travelling there on a night bus from London. He’d
once had romantic visions of actually living there, perhaps
not in Dublin itself, but in a stony cottage in some little
fishing village in the west, where even just the lilt of the
language would be enough to sustain him. Life had always taken
him elsewhere though, throwing up safe and more illuminated
He turned into a road with a name that looked surprisingly
French – D’Olier Street – and it wasn’t long before he found a
small hotel that looked cosy and inviting. It was called The
Barker and Conrad, a slim and chic-looking establishment,
stuck in between what looked like a cheap place for
backpackers and a traditional pub on the corner that offered
“divinity” steaks.
There were three stars above the hotel entrance, and a
board that advertised rooms at €75 a night. He felt attracted
to the warm orange of the walls he could see inside (it
reminded him of the colour of his own room back at his
parents’ old house in Mulhouse) and he thought the reception
area looked tidy enough. As he pushed open the door he read
another more prominant sign on one of the windows:
In another wave of pessimism, which he was trying hard to
keep his head above, he wondered if the advertisement meant
that breakfast would be lousy and the shower would remain
uncleaned until the vacancy was filled. He also wondered if
local Irish people would hesitate about applying for the job,
given that they were calling for native English speakers. Did
the Irish consider themselves to be native English speakers.
Would they be happy with such a title? He stepped inside and
was instantly calmed by the musical, log-fire welcome of the
receptionist. He was a bald man the size of a wafer, but his
voice seemed to make the wooden walls vibrate. ‘A very good
evening to you, sir. You’re very welcome here at The Barker
and Conrad.’
Copyright, 2006. Shameless Words.

Here's An Original Thought

If the world is my oyster, I'd really like to know what arrangements have been made for people like me who can't stand seafood!

Between The Lines

I've decided that every now and then I'm going to publish some of my own photos and paintings on my blog. All that text needs to be broken up, don't you think? And you never know, somebody might spot something nice for a book cover!

I'm going to start with my favourite shots from China, as it's almost a year since I was there. I really wanted to write something about my experiences there, but I just never got around to it.
Also, with such an enormous place and so much to dazzle the senses, where would a poor writer start?

I hope you enjoy the first images in what will be a series - Photos: The Master Story Tellers.

Photos: The Master Story Tellers (3)

Photos: The Master Story Tellers (2)

Photos: The Master Story Tellers (1)

Email From Macmillan New Writing

I took a deep breath before I opened the email, but there was quick relief.

It was just a note from the people at Macmillan New Writing - five weeks after I sent them my manuscript - to ask me to send another copy; apparently the original Word document that I sent couldn't be opened. I suppose they're busy over there, with all the words that must be raining down into their system. How to make sure that your Word files are not corrupted?

Anyway, whew! D-day is put off. It also means I won't have to worry about those infuriating errors that crept into the previous version of the manuscript (see previous posting). It's almost like I get another lucky chance. Of course, I will let you know what happens.

Meanwhile, I'm hunting down the name of a garden bird and a cheap, common beer for my latest novel, which is set in Dublin. I just love the challenge of tracking down all the little bits and pieces that help make the pages come to life!

The hardest part will be the dialogue, which is why I'll take every chance to go there this year. My relatives will be called on to keep me on track and let me know what's genuine and what is not. The way my father spoke - he was born in Dublin - is also coming back to me.

The Truman Show

If I was wearing five hats I would take them all off to Philip Seymour Hoffman for his latest silver screen performance as Truman Capote. What a triumph! How did he manage to get things so spot on?

I happened upon a TV documentary on the life of Capote right after seeing Hoffman's interpretation and I have to tell you that my chin was on the floor!

The film has reminded me to order In Cold Blood - another easy click over the Internet. I've read only extracts of the book before and now is the time to put the film in context.

Capote was such a figure, such a character, and it was sad to watch the unfolding of his life and its tragic end.

Short Chapters, Lots of Breaks

Is it just me and my entourage or is there a growing tendency towards shorter chapters and more breaks in the text of novels? I say this because I have heard - through a very roughly planted grapevine - that editors and publishers are becoming increasingly keen on this. Is that what they're telling you?

Some of the recent books I have been reading would suggest there might be something in this. I have had one agent tell me to put in more space and lose long paragraphs. "Dividing up the text into newspaper-style paragraphs is now the rage," she said, although not very convincingly. I gulped; when I was training to be a journalist there was controversy over the push to get us to write with a reading-age of eleven in mind.

Personally, I must say that shorter chapters and more space makes things easier to read - and, for me, it makes the writing easier. I wouldn't go for newspaper style though. Is there anyone who really likes thick, bunched-up chapters that run into dozens of pages? This must be another consequence of our "fast-food" approach to entertainment and pleasure. It also makes it easier for the film director, no? Easy slices of the story, already divided up into key scenes.

Just One Click

Gosh, Amazon really is clever. Another book arrived in the post today - The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion, which I am really looking forward to. This is another of my recent "one-click" purchases, a crafty way of getting book lovers like me to spend.

I just have to see the cover and then click to order, with all of my details already registered. I will have to be extremely careful with this; I could click and click and click until there was a whole container of books weighing down the ship.

Anyone read Didion's book? What did you think? I love the two lines on the cover: Life changes fast. Life changes in the instant. You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends. I'm also waiting for Saturday by Ian McEwan and A Dry White Season by André Brink, an author I only discovered recently with Before I Forget.

I'm in this new phase, reading loads of books, while trying to write at the same time. For a few years I couldn't do this; I worried that what I was reading would influence what I was writing. I had spells of no reading, which only served to leave me listless and imcomplete. I'm still not sure what to think about this. Can my "voice" really be corrupted by someone else's to such a degree, especially if I find it brilliant. Let me know what you think.

Double Checking Without Feline Distractions

She's adorable, but I'm going to blame her. I realise now why a chapter with mistakes got through (see previous post).

Normally all of the chapters I write are in separate Word documents, each carefully proofread over and over. Unfortunately, Macmillan New Writing wanted everything in the same document, in one continuous flow of words.

In my haste, and with my very "untechnical" brain and hands, I embarked on a copy and paste exercise that would drive any ordinary cat to moo. Of course, without realising it, I copied-and-pasted an old version of a chapter into the final draft.

Not only do we have to be writers, but we have to be technical wizards and excellent administrators. I have to blame somebody here, and so I blame my cat, Muffin, for distracting me at that very moment when I was dragging and dropping (she loves to come sniffing and cuddling when I am sitting in front of the computer).

Oh the life of a writer! Mind you, secretly, I suspect that the good vibes from a gorgeous cat can work wonders on a manuscript.

A Writer's Nightmare

It is really one of those things you promise you will never do, especially having done it oodles of times before. No matter how many times you proofread your finished work (it must have been at least 10 times with my finished novel) mistakes slip through. I have just been browsing through the stuff I sent off to Macmillan New Writing, only to come across some glaring inconsistencies and errors in one of the end chapters. I am lashing myself with a greasy chain!

The lead man decides to "lay" down instead of lie down; someone pulls out a scrunched up letter from his pocket, even though it is in the hands of someone beside him (this is the danger of fast, savage editing); someone says something far too evident; there is a full stop missing from the end of a phrase. And this is just in one chapter that I was browsing.

Will this pour cold water on the person who may be reading - perhaps enjoying - my novel. Will they say to themselves: "This is not bad but shame about those little things in that later chapter . This isn't ready, like a cake that's not wrapped or in a tin."

I will flog myself some more, wait for the rejection (of course I'm staying optimistic and hoping that the brilliance of the rest of the material shines through) and will polish it 100 percent for the next potential publisher or agent.

That's what I said the last time though, and still there is always something that gets through. Does anyone know what I'm talking about here? Does anyone send out absolutely perfect manuscripts?

Keeping Me Away From Writing

It's becoming increasingly difficult to find the time to write, to get to the end of chapter three of my new novel - and the clue as to the cause lies in this sentence.

My fingers are tapping here when they should be tapping in my Word document! Mind you, it is good to breathe elsewhere, to give my characters and me a bit of a break. So, I'm not really grumbling. I just have to be better organised about where my focus falls.

Writing this blog is not really the consumer, it's the Internet in general. Everytime I sit down to the keyboard there are now at least six or seven sites that I absolutely MUST log into, otherwise I feel as though I've started the day without a shower. There are my two email accounts, this blog, my private blog for family and friends (to see how many hits I'm getting), the news sites that I like to follow and the books pages of several papers (Guardian, New York Times). There is so much other surfing that could be enjoyed as well, but one has to be strict.

That's not to mention the reading I like to do as well; I always have a book on the go. And today I went off and bought another DVD of a TV series (Les 4400, which I suppose is called The 4400 in English?). I'm looking forward to devouring this, finding myself entirely excited by the blurb. I am already hooked on Nip and Tuck and Six Feet Under and have just finished watching the whole first season of Lost. The story lines and hooking in these programmes make them, in my opinion, compulsory viewing for writers who want to learn more about plotting!

So, that's where I'm at. I am going to log out now and get some of my own writing done. Hopefully, one day, someone will complain that they are hooked on my book and can't get around to writing their own!

Macmillan New Writing

I'm still waiting to hear back from Macmillan New Writing (UK) after submitting a novel, and I wonder if it's a good sign that it has now been five weeks with no news. Someone asked me the other day if this was a good road to go down, given the firm doesn't pay advances and everyone has a standard contract (limited contact between publisher and writer - and limited marketing - to keep costs down). The honest answer is : I don't know.

I've seen a fair amount of debate on this new initiative by Macmillan, which has been promoted as a chance for new writers' work to see the light of day. People have voiced doubts, saying for one thing that Macmillan is hedging its bets, reluctant to spend cash, and just hoping that one of the published will strike gold. Personally, I don't see what all the fuss is about. It is giving writers the chance to get a look in. The submission process is quick and efficient - it is by email and there are no complicated forms to fill in. Agents (who are becoming increasingly difficult to approach) are left out of the picture. Authors take 20 percent of the sale price of a book and it is listed in all of Macmillan's publicity and listings to book sellers.

I will keep this blog posted on what happens to my manuscript, which has been a few years in the polishing stage. I did spark the interest of an agent in London last year, and spent many months revising the book. He recommended changes and seemed to think it might just work. In the end though, after 10 months of exchanging emails, he decided not to take things any further. While he thought the writing was good (and even used the word magnificent at one point), the story didn't develop in the way he would've liked. Still, I've revised even further and think I'm in a stronger position now with all the improvements I made during those 10 months. The advice was valid - and free! If it is ever published (self-publishing would be my last option, but one that I would undertake) I would really have to give that agent credit for the patience and free time he gave me.

Does anyone else have any experience of Macmillan New Writing? Has anyone submitted to them? I would also love to hear from novel fans who would be willing to be one of my readers (early testers of the work) before it is all pasted up and ready to go into print. Notice that I said WHEN it is ready to go into print - there are no ifs or maybes here; one has to be positive and visualise the end result. In the meantime, I'm three chapters into a new novel!

Skiing, Not Writing

When you live so close to the mountains, the French Alps, it is easy to understand why less writing is achieved in winter. I took these photos during a recent visit to the La Clusaz ski resort. I am trying to crack on with a second novel, and trying to get a first one published, but the snow calls out to me - there is nothing more liberating (a sensation I only discovered at the age of 32) than gliding down a dazzling white slope, pretending that I'm flying through the air, looking down into the valleys and villages below. Now I'm back in front of the computer and hoping that the inspiration of these sights will somehow add beauty to the words I create.

The Da Vinci Windfall

One really has to wonder about the trial in London over Dan Brown's book. Presumably the lawyers for the authors of The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail informed their clients that to win the case they would have to point to passages in Dan Brown's book that had been directly copied from their book. The law is clear on this: you can't make a case for copyright when someone has simply stolen your ideas.

I have read both books and I can't say that any passages - word for word - match. Where is the plagiarism? How did the plaintiffs get so far in thinking that they had a valid case to take to court? Let's remember one thing here: Random House publishes both books.

I notice that the publicity has created a windfall - sales of the Holy Blood and the Holy Grail have boomed, reportedly from 350 copies a week to 3,500. It seems that everyone benefits. Is this a real case? Or is it some clever marketing trick?

What a great way to resurrect a bestseller from the past and get some more mileage out of it. Or am I being too cynical here? I would love to see these questions answered by the head of Random house. What kind of meetings did they have before the trial began? Did all sides talk amongst themselves before deciding to go to trial? Whose side is Random House on? They have interests on both sides, surely.

The Fish On The Fridge

This is the first photo taken with my new digital camera, a Canon Power Shot A620 - 7.1 megapixels, which does sound like something to be excited about. Basically, it'll be handy in case I need to have some publishable pics in the future.

The fish is on my fridge, which is white, so that's why there's a slight brightness problem near the mouth of this beautiful creature (made from seashells from New Zealand). In fact there are two of them, given to us as a present by a dear friend who has since passed away. We think of her often.

Fat Advance For A Yawning Read

I love the way The Guardian newspaper in Britain reports the obscene advance that Penguin has paid to retired head of the Federal Reserve Alan Greenspan for an autobiography.

Who, you may ask, would want to read this? Do the publishers really believe this will sell outside of the US? Do they really expect to recover the 8.5 million dollar advance? Will Greenspace actually finish the book, given he's already 80? Here's the opening of The Guardian's article:


BEATNIK (TO GREENSPAN): I dig the way you blow, man.

GREENSPAN: Thanks, man, but this scene's getting to be a drag. (REACHES INTO ZOOT SUIT, PULLS OUT DOG-EARED COPY OF AYN RAND'S THE FOUNTAINHEAD.) Check out what this crazy Russian chick says. Turns out capitalism's the coolest. I'm off to Washington, where in 50 years I shall become the longest-serving chairman of the Federal Reserve and America's most powerful and revered financial guru.

BEATNIK: Bummer!

Historically inaccurate? Yes - it was swing, not jazz. Clunky, as the opening of a movie script? Without doubt. But in how many other ways than a sexed-up biopic can Penguin hope to recoup the mountainous advance it has agreed to pay Alan Greenspan, the recently retired 80-year-old chair of the Fed (the US equivalent of the Bank of England) for his memoirs - in excess of $8.5m (or £5m)?"

A Confederacy of Dunces

I'd been wanting to read this book by John Kennedy Toole for years, but just never found the right time. That time is now though. I've just started, and can't help but feel moved by the story of the author, and how he committed suicide when he couldn't place the novel.

What a tragedy that we have been deprived of this young man's writing. Bravo to the determination of his mother, who succeeded in finding a publisher for the book after the death of her son!

Has there ever been a film or a documentary made about how this story saw the light of day? I think it would make an excellent piece. The writing is different and it takes a bit of effort to fall into the style, but you can't help but fall in love with the central characters. I like the description of the book as a "grand comic fugue".

Nice Ending

Finally got to the end of Life of Pi, and I wasn't disappointed by the finale. I like something that keeps me wondering and an end that stays up in the air. Can we conclude that he imagined the animals, and that he was really with his mother and a savage French cook? This was very clever. I still think, however, that the beginning passages could've been threaded through the book.

I'm now currently reading a book by a friend, Rory Mulholland, on his adventures as an AFP reporter filing stories from Iraq. It is titled "Camp Britney". It is entertaining and a good insight into what happens to reporters when they're posted to cover the news from these places.