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

Identify The Author

Time for another literary challange.
Use the five clues to identify a famous author.


Who will be the first to get the answer correct?

The Holidays

Oh, what does a writer do over the summer holidays?

I am dancing off for a month in July, driving down to Nice, then the Basque Country, then along the Portuguese coast. Don't worry, my car has air conditioning and a CD player - as if you really were concerned for me! The problem though is the writing. Words will have to be bashed out. Something will have to be created. There is no question that during the four and a half weeks away I will need to get some writing done, and of course I don't want to leave this blog to dry up and die! My plants will probably suffer that fate.

Now, normally I take my laptop along with me on such trips. Last year I dragged it through California, to the Grand Canyon, across desperate deserts, and then all the way to New Zealand. It was even in my daypack when I visited Universal Studios - stupid, I know - because the motel we stayed in didn't have good enough locks on the windows. They didn't even bother to check that it wasn't something nasty!

Well, yes, you guessed it, the bump and whistle of American life was too harsh on the laptop's floppy and hard parts and she kicked a wobbly. That's probably why she ended up blowing a fuse not long ago.

So, for the Portugal escapade, the laptop - now repaired - is staying home with Muffin, the cat (that's another long story that will hopefully work out!). Cats and laptops have no place in a hot car that'll be parked up in camping grounds, outside hotels, etc. I have French number plates and I don't fancy giving away my goods! I bought the darn laptop for such trips, but now realise that the road is no joy for such fragile things.

Well, I hear you screaming, there's always pen and paper, even though my hand has forgotten what that feels like. When did I last actually write something out by hand? I will take loads of books with me as well, all those novels that are piled up on the bookshelves waiting to dazzle me - I'm currently having a Colm Toibin moment, by the way, and thoroughly enjoying it. I will read read read until that word loses its meaning, while progress on my second novel will come over the summer with a good old fashioned biro. How romantic.

The only question now is what to do with the blog while I'm away. Do I leave it in the hands of people like Minx, Skint Writer or The Wandering Scribe? Can you imagine the fun, trying to keep the post in the same Shameless spirit! Or do I try to find Internet cafés and keep you all posted on my trip? It's true that this writing blog is now like a morning shower: it's essential and I just feel more alive and fresher afterwards. I think I will probably try to keep it going while I'm away, though there won't be the possibility of putting up photos and the like.

Roll on July the 11th! This scribe has got everything sorted!

A Shameless Painting

This is titled Beneath, painted in Paris in 1999.

We Love Statistics

What a joy combing through the statistics!

It's a wonderful thing being able to analyse the traffic to my blog, to see who's coming and going and the more detailed data on offer. To any blogger who doesn't have a counter, and access to these valuable facts and figures, I would say you are seriously missing out.

My blog is now three months old and I've been surprised at how it's grown in that time. I've watched every step by regularly consulting my counter. It has been fascinating to see where my readers are and how they got to connect to me. It's a buzz to see so many coming back for more, to see people staying for a decent amount of time, really taking time out to enjoy something that I've created.

Some people come via other blogs, many come via search engine searches - it's entertaining to see what words are entered in the search line - and many are now coming from their own bookmarks, having added me to their 'favourites' list. People also come via blog listings, to which I have blitzed my details. Being mentioned on the likes of Books, Inq also throws up a whole wave of hits - thank you to the wonderful Frank Wilson!

I rely on three different statistics tools, each of which have unique gems; the ensemble covers every little aspect of what we need to know. I've found it's also useful having more than one counter because they can often go on the blink, and you don't want to be deprived of proof of lovely hits while the engineers are sorting out their server problems! One counter went off for four days once, but luckily the other two shone through.

One thing I have discovered is that most of the people who visit my blog are from the UK and the US, which is understandable I suppose. However, I want to know why other English speaking places are not figuring highly: India, South Africa, Australia? I am going to start a new drive, to get listed on 'writing and book blog' directories in those places. I want to have a broad readership, to welcome in people of all creeds and backgrounds. The more the merrier!

So, thank you to all those who are part of my statistics. Of course you are more than just numbers!

The Lions of Lyon (16)

This is the summer solstice lion!

A Pause For A Poem

a baby’s blessing

stop, harsh world, don’t even think about taking this one as your own, leave his hand soft and still, his eyes wide to the marvels that are opened up with every turning of the wheel

read nothing into those kaleidoscope cheeks, the colours are not familiar to you, no markings of an ideal recruit, it’s just the freshness and joy for which even you must now crave

move on from this place, enough black roses have been planted here, give an aching mother a chance to hear the music of peace, to sit without a hand on her heart

in this small room, just a tiny corner of your realm, may you at last understand that the raging fires need to be calmed, that you’ve been taking far too many and giving nothing back

listen for just a second to that delicious sound of innocence, untainted hope that even you could bathe in, a newborn magic that might just wash away your own harshness

© Copyright, 2006. Shameless Words.

A Shameless Review

I have just finished the third of the six books that launched the Macmillan New Writing imprint in April.

North by Brian Martin is a deliciously disturbing story set in Oxford, with morality and sex under the spotlight. North is the name of the central character, a suave lad in his late teens who manipulates his way into a relationship with two of his teachers: a married Christian man and a young woman.

What makes this novel work for me is the fact that it's narrated by another member of the staff who gets to know North. We are never quite sure about the narration, whether we're being told everything, whether everything is as it seems. The story cuts along at a crisp pace, with no padding or extra detail that would otherwise hold things up. The darkness of the subject matter is never too much that you withdraw from the story.

There are some weaknesses, but they aren't enough to knock the book off its perch. We are told, for example, too many times how different and grown-up North is, that he's not like any ordinary teen. We get the message loud and clear and sometimes it was irritating to have this fact repeated. The dialogue was also a bit problematic: sometimes it didn't ring true, or was too banal, and there wasn't enough of a difference between the way the various characters spoke. It also has to be said - and this goes for the other two MNW titles that I have read - that more diligent proofreading would've cleaned out some of the annoying typos that pop up from time to time.

As I say, though, the thrust of the story keeps things going to its very satisfying and clever finale. I would recommend this to anyone who loves something a bit waspish and delightfully evil. I thought of Alan Hollinghurst when reading parts of this book.

A Writer's Retreat

I think I've found the perfect place for a writer's retreat. These shots are from a hillside village called Cocconato, near Asti, in the Piedmont region of northwestern Italy. I was here for a wedding the weekend before last. This tower, overlooking the village had my name written all over it. I wonder if it's for sale.

Oh, those rooftops! Everything was so calm and inspiring. It was only a four hour drive from Lyon. I must come to these parts more often.

The landscape took my breath away. It was very different to the beautiful French landscape, somehow greener and fresher. The rolling hills and defined fields also make a nice tapestry.

So, I know where to go when I need a couple of weeks to recharge, find peace, be inspired. The trouble is that my list of writing retreats is now so long that I'll never get back to all of them!

Three Corners

It's been very difficult trying to work out which agents or publishers would be interested in taking a look at the novel I am trying to sell. More importantly though, deciding on which country they should live in is proving to be the real "fish on a bicycle".

There is a uniqueness to my situation. I am a New Zealander (and Irish), writing in British English, living in France. My book is about a troubled NZ Prime Minister who disappears during an official trip to Hungary, amid a crisis about ambition, sex and love. The story moves from Auckland to Budapest to Nice.

Now, there are some people who think it makes more sense to target New Zealand publishers because that is where the main character comes from. One British agent who saw the manuscript recently said the writing was very good, but indicated that it would be difficult to sell it in the UK. Can you start with a NZ publisher and see how it goes? he said.

Is that really the case? Would UK publishers not see this as something they could market? Of course there would be rights to be had in Australasia and France, which is a very big consumer of books. Another UK agent seemed to take to the idea and my writing, but after 10 months of email exchanges and revisions ended up not liking the way the story developed. (Changes have since been made to address some of his concerns, which I ended up sharing.)

I would prefer to have my book published near where I live. Marketing is very important and life would be a whole lot easier being close to the bubbling pot! I would travel, of course, if I had to, but it seems a shame to have that constraint (if it really exists).

The other market, of course, is the US. This seems like it could be a happy middle road to take. Would Americans want to read about this? The issues are universal, surely.

So, to cut a long story short, I have decided to target three corners of the globe - the fourth will be an option for later. I am putting myself out there in NZ, the UK and the US. The Blitz is underway! I just have to hope the fish are biting all over the place, and that not everyone is looking at their belly buttons! Of course the novel has to be good, no matter where one lives, and I am ready to be judged.

Meanwhile, I am cracking on with the new book, which is set in Dublin. A Frenchman in Dublin. Very European. One of the UK agents who saw the NZ story invited me to get back to her with the Dublin book when it's finished, saying she thought that would be easier to sell. Hopefully I will already have an agent or publisher by then.

Wilkie Collins

Well done to Frank Wilson at Books, Inq for correctly identifying the author: Wilkie Collins (1824-1889), who wrote The Moonstone and The Woman in White, among others. Frank says the clues were easy, but I will explain them for those who aren't familiar with Collins.

tea: he spent some years in the tea business before going into law and eventually deciding on writing.

koh-i-Noor: he says he was inspired by this giant diamond in his book, The Moonstone. The Koh-i-Noor is a gem that was taken from India and set into a crown for England's Queen Mother. It is considered one of the world's biggest diamonds and is still in the Tower of London, despite numerous campaigns by Indian officials to have it returned.

Rachel: this is one of the main characters in The Moonstone.

rheumatic gout: Collins suffered from this. In the preface to the 1871 edition of The Moonstone, he wrote:

The circumstances under which The Moonstone was originally written, have invested the book - in the author's mind - with an interest peculiarly its own. While this work was still in course of periodical publication in England, and in the US, and when not more than one third of it was completed, the bitterest affliction of my life and the severest illness from which I have ever suffered, fell on me together. At the time when my mother lay dying in her little cottage in the country, I was struck prostrate, in London; crippled in every limb by the torture of rheumatic gout. Under the weight of this double calamity, I had my duty to the public still to bear in mind. My good readers in England and in America, whom I had never yet disappointed, were expecting their regular weekly instalments of the new story. I held to the story - for my own sake, as well as for theirs. In the intervals of grief, in the occasional
remissions of pain, I dictated from my bed ...

(this must be the pain that writers are supposed to suffer if they really want to be worthy of calling themselves writers, according to a certain writer at The Guardian newspaper.)

two mistresses: he wasn't married but lived with one mistress and maintained another in a separate place, which went right against the strict morals of the time.

Watch this space for the next literary challenge, which won't be easy!

Identify The Author

It is time for another literary challenge, I feel.

Use the following clues to work out the identity of a famous author.

rheumatic gout
two mistresses

Who will be the first to get it right?

The Lions of Lyon (15)

This must be the "techno" lion among them!

The Blitz

It's decision time in the corner of my house where a laser head is eagerly awaiting the "print" command, to give life to my undiscovered book.

Do I do a big blitz, sending my manuscript off to one place at a time, or do I respect what seems to be the "desired protocol" of publishers and agents: only send one proposal at a time and wait for a reply before sending off the next? This seems to be a case of "have the cake and eat it too". If they really like it and want to publish it, I am sure they'll be able to deal with the fact that it might also be on someone else's desk.

If I was to send off just one copy of the book at a time, with perhaps a two or three-month wait in between, I may just be able to publish at 104! What joy I would have going to book signings! And oh what a glorious photo for the jacket!

So, I think I am going to charge ahead with The Blitz. I am not willing to sit around and wait for others. I will hit the print key so many times that the laser head may just smoke!

I will send off to publishers to start with, to those who happily accept submissions, to those who seem to be encouraging and optimistic in their call for submissions. I'm tired of agents and publishers who have gone all sour, who have decided to begin their first contact - their 'information for authors' columns- on the negative, with terse messages of warning and gloom. That's not the way to begin what may turn out to be a great, mutually beneficial relationship.

I may just post my novel on the Internet as well, inspired by the actions of a gallant few. If it's out there, it seems there is more of a chance it may be spotted. It could also be good for feedback. It might just be read. This is also something that is threatening the cosy set-up of traditional publishers and agents, and it's about time there was a change.

The Lions of Lyon (14)

You just have to see both sides of this one - she is blazoned with the symbols of the city of Lyon.