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

The Magical Ship

This is not A Pause For A Poem. I wrote this one to deliver some news, a message.

I stared up at that wonderful, marble deck
saw myself standing up beside the captain
felt my skin tingle with the salt of adventure
a heavy suitcase but a light and stirred heart
they called out names and cheers went up
the lucky ones slipped on the shiny gangway
then the engines panted, billowing smoke
the brief list was left to ride on the breeze
the magical ship is setting sail without me
the wrong money? few cabins? no skills?
a gentle man turned to offer some comfort
look over there, breaking out of the horizon
it's another big ship, on a different voyage
with just as much space in its golden cabins
and if it's not that one, there will be another
there's no shortage of these magical ships

If you haven't guessed already, I had a response today from Macmillan New Writing. Needless to say that that particular magical ship has set sail without me. I had to mention this here because I'd built you all up to expect an answer. But hey, as the poem says, just over there is something else breaking out of the horizon. I've already sent off a mail to another possible publisher and I will now crank up the approaches.
I've decided to publish here, in full, the nice rejection letter that MNW sent me. It is a standard one, but better than most that publishers or agents send out. It also attempts to make you feel that maybe it wasn't your fault. Nice touch.


Thank you for sending us your novel. This has now been read and given due consideration, however I regret we are unable to accept the work you sent us for publication.

Macmillan receive many thousands of manuscripts every year so unfortunately it is not possible to respond personally to every author.

Because we receive so many mss and are able to publish only a small percentage, rejection does not automatically imply anything about the quality of the work we are unable to use.

There are many reasons why a book may not suit our lists. We may have other, similar material in production, we may be oversubscribed with good submissions during this season, we may have decided not to publish books on certain themes, etc.

Unless you have asked us to return a typescript manuscript to you, we will now permanently delete any electronic files we have relating to your book.

Thank you for contacting us, and good luck with your writing.

Michael Barnard
Publisher, Macmillan New Writing

I will be back on the wharf tomorrow, bright and early, waiting for that next gangway!

A Pause For A Poem

acting the goat

he reminded me that I was 90, the bugger, looking at me all funny, as if he understood what that should mean, how a woman of my era and standing should act when in public.

I told him, young man, I've kept the lid on for far too long, and no one ever explained to me why; they've all gone now anyway, no one left to care that I was able to manage it.

I told him to laugh, take risks, be who he really wants to be, but he just passed me a basket full of wool and needles, weakly suggesting that I could make him a nice hat.

give me that thing, you poor devil, I hooted, I've got eight decades of acting the goat to catch up on, and with that I pulled the darn thing over my pretty young girl's head!

© Copyright, 2006. Shameless Words.

A Shameless Book Review

I have just finished reading the second of six books that launched the Macmillan New Writing imprint.

The Manuscript, by Michael Stephen Fuchs, is a rough and tumble story that will appeal to anyone who loves an intelligent mix of the thriller/mystery format, chases, gun battles, gangsters and computers. This man knows his craft.

The blurb says: Two million dollars in a black bag. The meaning of life hidden on a deviously encrypted web site. And several dozen heavily-armed guys with serious existential issues.

I must admit that this kind of story is not usually on my reading list; I have just never been one for thrillers in which guns and violence feature heavily. However, for me, the writing here sets this book apart from that genre.

There is a refreshing voice that narrates this - the writing is crisp, interesting and not at all served up with the lowest common denominator in mind. I found it very easy to get swept up in the story, despite the action-packed stuff that I normally don't get excited about. The characters are interesting and developed. There is insight behind the action. 348 pages seemed like nothing!

It has to be said that one really needs to concentrate in the first part of the book to keep tabs on who's who and who's doing what. Things do become clear later on, but some, like me, may find themselves having to reread earlier parts to keep the global picture. The chapters are divided up into easy-to-digest bits though, and this seems to help everything hang together.

I would not be surprised at all to see this turned into a film: the characters are very easy to visualise and the plot is cleverly constructed. Easy to see why this was chosen for the 3 for 2 promotions in the UK.

A Lesson In the Silence

If my blog has been a bit quiet this past week, there is a very good reason: my computer crashed!

This happens to all of us and often things are not all that serious; we can nearly always restore things and somehow come back from the edge of that terrible cliff. I always managed to recover from crashes, without any real damage. Nearly always and always are very dangerous concepts.

On Monday the whole computer just gave up the ghost. She was only four-years-old but she decided that Windows would never again see the light of day. She also decided that the system itself wasn't to her liking. The result: black screen and very little else. What I am tapping on now is something new and a tad expensive - the speed though is incredible!

This is a warning to any writer who thinks that his or her work that has been sweated over is safe. Have you got back-up copies of your precious words? If you haven't, go and do it this very minute! If you can't burn to a CD or use a storage facility, then email your documents to yourself. Luckily I had done this for the major things: the book I am currently submitting, the new book I am working on.

What I may have lost, however - I am still waiting for the verdict from the punk rocker computer fixer man - are a few poems and some recent priceless photos. Thank goodness my book had been saved. I had burned it onto a CD and emailed it to myself.

When you have precious writing in your system, you have to always ask the question 'What if?'. You may have burned things onto CDs and think you're safe, but what if the house goes up and everything is melted into the floorboards? Computer files and back-up CDs are lost. Email everything to yourself, because then it's all safe in virtual reality. There are also companies, including music chains and the like, offering online storage space.

Think about all of this before you are very very sorry. Luckily my gorgeous lions were backed up on a CD somewhere - I had feared that they were only living in the computer!

They will be able to continue growling, thanks to just a little bit of forethought.

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Stepping out onto the stage, in all her glory: the warrior!

The Wait

Today is Monday the 22nd of May, which means my book has now been in the oven at Macmillan New Writing for nine weeks! It's either been pulled out and left to go cold (forgotten) or it's been left in to make sure it can burn, or it's been whipped out and taken off to the tasters, to be carved up and enjoyed!

I am writing this in response to those who have kindly asked if I have received any news yet. I also love to build up this element of suspense. Tune in again to find out what happens.

I am, of course, remaining optimistic. One has to see what one wants. If you can't see it, you won't get it.

Nine weeks could be a bad sign, but it could also be a good sign - and that's not counting the five weeks the manuscript was with Macmillan before they told me they couldn't open the file.

I am remaining optimistic, but I am also thinking of my next moves. I have made a list of other addresses to send the MS off to. Rejection slips don't seem to have the same "bang on the head" effect as they used to. I see it as just a part of things. I don't hold my breath. I don't sweat. I just think that if it's meant to be it'll happen.

It's nice that people are asking for updates though. It's nice to have that support. You will all be expected to buy the bloody thing when it's printed!

By the way, what is that glorious smell that's wafting in the window?

Who Is That Masked Man?

Much has been flagged up on the blog radar in recent weeks about whether we should remain anonymous, provoking me to think more about my own situation here at Shameless Words. Do I rest under this dark and elegant cloak of secrecy, or should I break out and put a tag to this face? Why the cloak in the first place? Does it matter?

I have pondered this for weeks. I refer to it in my profile, almost apologising in a way to those who may wonder why there is no name. I haven't ruled it out, I said, for no other reason than this whole blog thing is new and I'm not sure how a life can be changed by a blog.

What does all this mean in reality? For me there are several points to consider:

1) I don't want trouble. This is mainly linked to my job. I am a journalist for a large news organisation. A literary blog shouldn't be a problem for my employers though, as long as I'm not talking about them, my colleagues, or damaging the reputation of the news organisation with my views - controversial views may only arise in book reviews, I think. I need to look into this some more. What are your thoughts?

2) I want some control over who gets to read my posts, and taking away my name makes this a non-issue. Do I really want people who know me to have easy access to my thoughts on this and that. Don't forget that while some people may know me, I wouldn't confide in them in real life, share my poems with them, show them my paintings. It's easy now to search for people on the net, see what kind of presence they have. Old adversaries (not that I think I have many) tracking me down, having a good laugh at my poems and my literary ambitions? Old lovers getting a look in? Crazy people latching on to me and then causing me bother in my real life?

3) If one day I ever get a book published it may be useful to already have a presence on a blog. I am already a writer with a following - who knows how many hits I will manage after a year of this - and this would be wonderful for marketing, for that crucial word of mouth stuff that debut novelists need. Also, could an agent or publisher stumble across the fact that I have a manuscript available by reading about it on my blog, by being impressed by the presence I have, the obvious commitment I have to the written word and the writing network that can be established. This is a biggie for me. Am I limiting things at the current time by remaining anonymous with this blog? Maybe an agent or publisher checks out the web when they receive a manuscript, to see what kind of presence that person has in the world?

4) There is something nice about the title Shameless Words, as opposed to my real name (the two are not that far apart, by the way). There is the element of mystery, surprise and fun. Would people find it disappointing to know my real identity, to see a photo of me that dashes the image they build up with Shameless Words?

5) When your real name is not used in this kind of thing, you don't tend to worry too much about the content. We let loose and write what we like, without fear of reprisal or ridicule. If there was a name attached, would we be more careful? Would we take less risks? Could the creative process be limited and stifled?

6) There is always the risk we will be busted. It is going to happen. Some of my workmates already log in and read my posts - I confided in some of them because I thought they might be interested in writing and books. My mum logs in and reads the blog and has so far managed to respect the anonymity factor. It's only a matter of time though that someone blows my cover by accident. An old friend in Paris sent me a mail to say he'd worked out that I was the author of the blog, by clues he read in some of my posts. Damn. It's going to happen though. Shameless Words will be shamelessly outed! Why wait for that moment. Why live a double life?

All of those points have played on my mind. It would be dishonest to say that I don't hope that this blog may be useful in defining myself as a writer in the future. Should I get my name out there in the early days though, rather than miss the boat and give up a chance to establish a link with readers and writers on a real, solid footing? I would welcome your thoughts on this. I know that if I were to be offered a book deal I would probably straight away put my name up on this blog, to help increase my profile. So, why wouldn't I do it now? Why don't I think the profile thing is important at this early stage? What are the rest of you anonymous writer-bloggers doing?

I am playing with the buttons on this black cloak, but the hook on which to place it eludes me - and so I keep it on!

Snapshots of Ireland

Here are a few shots I took while visiting Dublin and Belfast.

The first one shows some sculptures that feature in a poem I posted a few days ago called a mammy and her littlin. This can be seen in front of the waterfront centre in Belfast. Read the poem afterwards by scrolling down a few days.

Ah, a bridge over the Liffey. And yes, that is blue sky you can see there!

This is a shot outside the city council building in the centre of Belfast.

The sculpture of Molly Malone, the famous seller of cockles and mussels, located at the bottom of Grafton Street. There is a reference to this in the other poem I wrote from Dublin called the siren of absence. Scroll down a few days to read this.

and here's my favourite shot. The woman was drunk and wouldn't wake up to let me take a picture; then I realised it was perfect. Yes, we all need company! This is located along the Grand Canal.

Creating A Writing Paradise

I know there are always other things to spend money on, and not everyone can just splash out, but ...

With all of those marathons we perform in front of the computer, writing until our heads are turned inside out, we really must take care of ourselves: our posture, our minds, our general well-being.

I spent years writing in bad conditions - using any old chair, a hand-me-down table that slanted, bad lighting, no view out into the world, no care for how I was positioned.

I am glad to say that this has changed. I decided that if I wanted to be serious about being a writer, I had to invest in it, in the same way that I would invest in a decent car, a decent pair of shoes, a decent oven, a decent no-matter-what!

It doesn't mean we have to sell the children or the grandmother. The new desk that I purchased didn't cost the moon. The chair that has arm rests and is more comfortable probably cost the same as the chair in which I was already aching.

We did go slightly rash though ... perhaps. Now it's a mouse and keyboard with no wires, and in the lounge there is a new L-shaped, quicksand sofa (well, what is a boy supposed to do after all that writing - there is a festival of lounging around to be done). Also, don't forget all those books that have to be chewed in a nice, comfortable place.

What I'm saying is that for something that takes up such a big part of our lives, we shouldn't take her out on a cheap date. We shouldn't spend in some areas and not in the one domain that really could do with the boost of a few handsome pennies.

So, forget the new bike, the new pair of skates, the new toaster, the new mirror on the ceiling, take a look at your writing pen and spruce it up. This is your place of love, pain, joy, sadness, adventure, life, death and all sorts of other experiences - make it a great place to be. Make this a place you really want to be. Make this a place to which you would be happily chained.

The other thing I insist on having now is a view outside. Can you see the sky from your desk? Can you see something inspiring? Or are you stuck in the corner of the laundry, staring into the back of a 1000 volt dryer? See if you can drag that desk into a more heavenly space. Make the house move for you. Don't let it be just the toilet that must have a window to the outside world!

Does anyone else have some great tips to improve our writing environments?

Of course there will be those who are writing in terrible conditions and who don't have many options to change their space. Is it possible to take a notebook and go and write outside? Even thinking about how we can improve our space can go a long towards making us happier writers.

Now, where's that lever that makes this thing swivel?

The Lions of Lyon (12)

Talk about getting all cut up about something!

Another Pause For A Poem

a mammy and her littlin

his mammy finds the joy to go out now
her peacock feather hat making its debut
bought for a fiver in Belfast Town in ‘79
the year the littlin went to sleep forever
when the troubles came under the door
a devastating thirst for bright crimson

his mammy’s crackly frame is impatient
her eyes on the new waterfront centre
peace and peace reflected in the glass
a Londonderry songbird smiling on a poster
promising time now for small pleasures
longer breaks in the northern showers

his mammy admires sheep on the road
ragged creations made of dark bronze
hurried along a path by a gentle old man
littlin would’ve adored these, she thinks
how lovely to see something so simple
nothing more than sheep on the road

his mammy spots a noisy armoured jeep
over near the high walls with rolling wire
a compound in which she waited for littlin
where no one could stop her shaking
it’s just a passing bread van though
nothing more sinister than sesame and rye

his mammy smells the tickets in her hands
two places right up below the mighty stage
coloured spotlights warming ashen faces
hearty lyrics exercising many a tired smile
she’s clapping and singing on her own
the cheer of a mammy and her littlin

Copyright, 2006. Shameless Words.

A Shameless Painting

This one is called Father and Son, painted back in 1997. I regret having sold this one, because I had become quite attached to it. It is hanging on someone's wall in England, but I have no idea where.

A Pause For A Poem

the siren of absence

no wonder Dublin can be all grey and misty-eyed sometimes, one far too many sorry farewells causing her fine crockery face to be moistened, more than she ever deserved, soft tears of forgotten legacies. how many sons and daughters does she mourn for?

on heavily-laden ships they departed, dreaming of more than broken eggs in carts and dark-eyed girls selling cockles by the Royal Canal. some famous ones have celebrated her in their musings, but they never returned, their words unable to soften the siren of absence.

sheets of nostalgia sweep over her, in from the sea and along the thick shoulders of the Liffey, but her faded cotton is being exchanged now for lace and silk. finally, her head can be held high above the new pavements of celtic hope, her auburn hair can be left to fall freely.

she takes in the young and the new, in amongst the folds of her generous skirt, treating her new babies to a famous glow and tireless, rich humour. from a grand height she will also steal time to rejoice, pleased to welcome home some of her frail and wandering flock.

her mistiness will always come and go though, her emerald eyes straining back to many generations, the hunger, all the years of missing places at tables. she weeps for the children of Erin, for whom she’s had to brave a goodbye, for whom the siren continues to wail.

© Copyright, 2006. Shameless Words.

The Lions of Lyon (11)

She waited patiently while I was in Ireland, but now she can't wait any longer! Here she is!

A Shameless Review

During my six days in Dublin I read one of the six books that launched the Macmillan New Writing imprint last month. I started with Taking Comfort by Roger Morris - and I wasn't disappointed.

In one of the reviews I saw of this new collection, a newspaper critic complained that there wasn't enough "new writing" in the Macmillan New Writing line-up. I remembered this when I was a few pages into Morris' book and I wanted to say out loud, "if this isn't new, then the Pope isn't Catholic." You'll appreciate that I was in public, in Ireland, and so it just remained a thought.

The protagonist here is Rob, who picks up souvenirs from ghastly events. He is a marketing man, seeking comfort in the material things around him. The author is a marketing man, and so you know you are on solid ground here. The thing about Rob is that you grow to understand his ways and you sympathise with him.

This novel is very unique and original, and that's what makes it attractive. Inventive writing has been successfully merged with a page-turning plot, and so there is double pleasure. It is a fast, frenzied ride to the end and you find yourself not wanting to get off.

Some people, when they start this book, might find the writing too clipped, an overdose of short sentences, words repeated, ideas fired home too many times. I had all of these feelings early on. Once you settle into this style, however, you realise that it perfectly suits the story and theme. The novel also really picks up as it nears its shivering denouement.

The constant referral to consumer items, and the sales pitch that comes with it, might be too much for some to bear - again, a comment from another review I saw. I found myself skipping a few of the more detailed sections, especially when they read like adverts, but I wasn't overly bothered. For me it added to the mayhem, to the feeling of being suffocated, bombarded - exactly how Rob started to feel. In the end, however, you are left wondering whether any real lesson has been learnt after the nightmare.

I would recommend this book to those who want something a bit different. The punchy, pruned writing style takes a bit of effort at first, but you are justly rewarded. I'm definitely looking forward to Morris' next book.

Now it's off to read the first few pages of the next book in the collection: The Manuscript by Michael Stephen Fuchs. There are also two Colm Toibin books falling out of my suitcase. So many books, so little time!

Darling Dublin

I am soaking up more than the rain in Dublin during a six-day visit - I don't think I have ever been here when it hasn't rained or showered, even in summer, so I don't think it's a wild, sweeping statement to say that Dublin and Drizzle go hand in hand.

The weather adds a certain charm to the place though, the mistiness giving everything a sheen, and making the vegetation clean and fresh. Rain cleans and clears away, leaving everything fresh for a new direction. This is the place where I don't mind letting the rain soak me through. I leave the drops to build up on my head and run down my face. It's good to embrace the thing that gives a place charm! Also, I couldn't for the life of me find a shop that sold umbrellas! Be jaysus!

Dublin is currently caught up in the 100th anniversary of the birth of Samuel Beckett (pictured above). There are exhibitions and readings, and his face is everywhere. The actual day was back in April, but the celebrations - in true Irish style - carry on for months. It's wonderful to see this joy and pride. The literary magic in this city is really something that makes you want to write. I will share some Dublin-inspired poems on my return to Lyon. I am also jotting down phrases and notes while I'm here, to make sure that the mistiness, magic and lilt make it into the pages of my new novel, which is set here.

Dublin, of course, is not the same city that fed the grey matter of the likes of Beckett and Joyce; this is now a thriving, financially flashy place, where people seem to be on the up. The grief and poverty that has been evident in a lot of literature from here is now not the norm, according to locals who should know. I wonder if the new buzz of the place will result in a different kind of writing from Dublin? Will the economic boom here change the themes and style of the literary class? What will happen to the theory that a country's pain produces wonderful art and literature? Of course, one has to remember that Beckett and Joyce didn't stay here, going off to different shores to release their wonderful musings. Is it easier to get to the truth, the real core of a place by viewing it from afar? Would they have written the same kinds of books if they'd never left?

I'm enjoying going into bookshops and discovering the Irish fiction that is available. There is loads of it, and it shows the world of fiction and publishing here is healthy. You do wonder though when you see unsettling and large doses of marketing for the novels written by the daughter of the Irish Prime Minister, Bertie Ahern. I flicked through the first few pages of one book, but I didn't think it was my kind of thing. Good luck to her though. She's hit the right buttons.

So, getting hold of my Irish roots - I'm visiting family as well - will hopefully shake something up in my sleepy, hidden chambers. I already find myself repeating "to be fair now" and "god willing" when I say goodbye to someone. The adorable turns of phrase are very infectious. They probably think I'm taking the Mickey, but I'm really just letting myself go!

I notice now the showers have scattered, so I will get back onto those cobblestones. To be sure.

The Lions of Lyon (10)

She needs no introduction!

Franz Kafka

Well done, Thomas, who correctly found the answer to my Identify The Author quiz.
Franz Kafka (this is him pictured on the right, not Thomas!) was the famous writer I was looking for.

There were five clues: Berlin, Joseph, Seven, China and Muir.

The answers:

Berlin - while he was born in Prague, he settled in Berlin.
Joseph - the name of the main character in the novel The Trial.
Seven - the number of works he had published in his lifetime.
China - refers to his selection of shorter fiction printed in 1931: The Great Wall of China.
Muir - refers to Willa and Edwin Muir who translated his work from the German.

Stay tuned for my next literary challenge.

A Short Story


Sleep Soft

Luke tries to breathe calmly, but it is hopeless. Poisonous blood races past his eyes. This night they are definitely more savage. They are seeking out the prey. They want relief. They are now demanding unconditional relief. There is dramatic pounding within, but he tells himself that internal percussion is probably crucial. There is no external sound except the distant murmur of a water pump on a neighbouring property. A little concentration though can make it easy to block out any distractions and keep the mind focused. Reality does not have much of a presence. Reality does not figure in any of this.

Stained white sheets. Tangled together in a heap near the foot of his father’s sad single bed. Incredibly pale feet. Toes curled upwards and yellow corns visible on the side. Somehow they remind Luke of his father’s fragility and hopelessness. The inkling, however, fails to trigger any feeling of sympathy.

Suddenly there is snoring. The trumpeting of blissful unawareness. No perception of the pain he creates. No understanding of the blurred connections with his family. The old man’s mouth is dropped open, as if he were staring in wonder at something in his dream. The apparent indulgence stirs bitter resentment. Luke thinks to himself that his father probably has pleasant dreams, when all that he deserves are the most disturbing and hellish nightmares.

Grey sweaty hair that looks like it has been haphazardly pasted to the back of his bald head. Matted and stuck out in all directions. An ugly faded rag doll that has not been looked after. The thick tattooed arms are placed firmly by his side. They are rigid and belong to someone who enjoys control. A bloated grey face, puffed out with skin that looks leathery. The rest of him though is flaccid. It has been said that his emerald coloured eyes are an asset. Luke has not noticed them for a very long time.

Once he would have been very handsome. His mother would have nurtured him and kissed him. He would have been treasured and people would have savoured his company. He was probably the very definition of altruistic and congenial. He would have taken the time to revel in his surroundings. At some stage he must have used the words I love you. Those days are now too difficult to imagine. It was once said that he sang like one of the Irish Rovers. All Luke remembers are empty beer bottles and soul destroying drunken laughter.

Pinned to the drab, faded, smoke-stained wallpaper, just above the old man’s head, is a scrap piece of paper with an Irish proverb on it. It mentions something about a happy home. Luke no longer cares to read it.

Two wooden beer crates, full of empty bottles, are boldly placed beside the bed. They are normally kept out of sight, under the writing desk near the window, but now there is no attempt to hide something he was once ashamed of. The desk is littered with copious amounts of paper: unopened letters, junk mail, bills, sheets covered in doodling. There has only ever been clutter on the desk. Luke remembers his father once saying that a person surrounded by clutter is a person with a cluttered mind. On the other side of the room, the wardrobe door can no longer be shut properly because of all the junk piled into it. In another corner, the old man’s work clothes, clean and dirty, are piled up on the floor.

It is half an hour away from midnight, barely enough time for the old man to get himself ready for his nightshift. The big mug of milky sweet tea that Luke had earlier placed on the small bedside table will be going cold. To allow that to happen signals the beginning of the long-awaited final scene.

There is no going back. The realisation is bitterly cold. Every thought is linked to the act. It has been played over in his mind, time and again. It is no longer his own thought process. It is an evil orchestration that automatically projects itself onto a large screen deep within his conscience. He no longer controls the inevitable. He does not want to control it.

Luke imagines how there will be no emotion as he slowly places a pillow over his father’s face. It will be nothing dramatic, just quiet and quick simplicity. Brahms will help ease the pain. Humming. Gentle humming. The beginning of the intermezzi for the piano, Opus 117.

“Sleep soft, my bairn, now sweetly sleep, my heart is wae to see thee weep.”

Luke will refuse to release the pressure, despite the old man’s attempts to break free. He will then marvel at how easy it was to extinguish a sad life. The drunken dunderhead, as someone once called him, will not have the slightest ounce of strength.

He takes a few more steps towards the bed, which now seems strangely prominent, as if it were an altar. His eyes are closed. The unanswerable questions begin to nag. He focuses on the most important. The three young ones need their guardian angel. No solution. It will have to wait. The present solution is the most important.

He tiptoes forward. Suddenly, in the imaginary minefield, the floor lets out a penetrating creak. He squeezes his eyes shut and waits.

'Luke, is that you?’

The old man stirs from his slumber and begins to rub his face. He doesn’t look around, but keeps his eyes closed.

'Ah, yeah, it’s gone eleven.’

Those simple words have cut the spiralling ribbon of fantasy. The slightly blurred edge that everything had possessed, and the echo that had been ringing with every thought, have suddenly vanished. Luke’s heart is beating so loud and so fast that he thinks it must be audible.

'Fix me a few eggs. I’m starved.’

The red velvet curtain, which has appeared in so many of Luke’s dreams, has come crashing down. It has fallen dramatically, unannounced, just moments before the well rehearsed final scene. He has lost count of how many failed attempts there have been. The sick, helpless feeling erupts once again in his stomach.

  Copyright, 2006. Seamus Kearney.

A Shameless Book Verdict

I've just finished reading The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion.

She describes how she dealt with her grief after the death of her husband, the writer John Gregory Dunne, and how the whole thing was complicated by the fact that their daughter was seriously ill in hospital at the same time.

Didion writes very clearly and pulls no punches. You follow her willingly, even when you feel as though she goes forward and then reverses and you slightly miss the thread. You are not off course for long though. She pulls you into her world of confusion, the magic she refers to in the title.

There is some startling insight into what happens to someone when they suffer this kind of loss - one understands that the case is made more unique because we're talking about a woman who's had a certain life and dealt with things in her famously cool, direct way. The whole wretched story is compounded by the illness of their daughter, Quintana.

Some of the lines you read in this book you will jot down, hoping to remember to dig them out when the need arises. Some of the thought processes are unique and spot on. This would be recommended reading for anyone who has experienced loss. For anyone who wants to be ready.

There are some weak points for me, however.

There is a tendency towards repetition. The nail is hit on the head far too many times. We understand the points made. Sometimes we are told again and again what connection to make. This may be part of the magical thinking. Little lines come back throughout the book - it works well in some places but a nerve is scraped in others.

I also wanted to know more about Quintana. How did she cope? What exactly happened to her in the end? She is referred to in some detail and then there is nothing. I understand the book is from Joan Didion's perspective, but the uniqueness of that situation were the terrible circumstances that drew in Quintana. It wouldn't have needed much. A few lines here and there to give her a small voice in amongst everything.

I believe the good reviews were warranted. I would recommend this, but I wouldn't say it takes your breath away.

Identify The Author

Time for another literary challenge.
Use the four clues to identify a famous author.


Who will be the first to get the answer right?

The Lions of Lyon (9)

Go on! Roar at your day! Get your claws out and leap!

What's Needed To Get Cracking

Luckily for me, Paris - that darling of a city - is just two hours away on the fast but unsettling TGV trains (I don't even want to know how fast they go). It's an easy chance though to fill my cup with what's needed to get cracking.

I am here for the long weekend, catching up with old friends and remembering back to those glorious times I enjoyed here from 1998 to 2002. It was during this time that I was given that crucial boost we all need, when an extract of a novel I was working on was published in a literary review.

Yesterday I went into the same bookshop where, almost seven years ago, I met the man who went on to make sure that my extract was published. It was an unexpected encounter and one that opened me up to the possibilities of writing and publishing.

I need to remember that moment and the promise that came with it.

I am now two novels down the track - trying to work out how to get into print - and stepping into that bookshop reminded me of the need to get cracking, to make sure that I take this thing as far as I can push it. How time slips and slides away when we're working on a long work of fiction! And oh how the time blows away even faster while we're waiting for verdicts from the inundated!

This week I will put that extract, which stands as a kind of short story, up on my blog. The novel it came from is on a high shelf, waiting for the day when it can be cleaned up and reworked. I learnt a lot from that first effort, which I saw as a practise run. It set me up for my second novel, which is now hopefully thrilling a reader somewhere.

The visit to that Paris bookshop- once again - encouraged me to train my eyes and hands on my third novel. We have to visualise what we want. If we can't see it, we won't get it.