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

A Decent Rejection ?


Today I feel like this turtle, whose photo I took during a visit to the Auckland Zoo in New Zealand. I feel that I am going along at a painfully slow pace when it comes to the process of trying to sell my manuscript. Months and months are going by with nothing happening. When things do happen, it's inevitably a "no".

Today another "no" came along. It is a rejection. There is no getting away from it! But apart from the feeling of slowness, I was wondering if there is such a thing as a decent rejection? Should we feel miserable after each one that comes along?

Random House in New Zealand sent me a rejection via email, four months after I first sent them my novel. Here's the actual text of the letter:


Thank you for sending us your manuscript of The Olive Tree Manifesto. Unfortunately, we have decided it isn’t for us. I’m afraid that because of the huge quantity of manuscripts we receive, we cannot give you detailed comments as to why it is unsuitable. However, please be assured that we do take every submission seriously and everything goes to at least one reader (often more).

As we publish a limited number of titles each year, we are able to be particularly selective, so although we have decided against taking on your work, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try elsewhere. Another publisher may well think differently, and I recommend you try such places as Penguin, HarperCollins, Reed Publishing or University of Otago Press. There are also some good manuscript assessors available who (for a fee) can give you detailed suggestions for improving your manuscript should you want further advice. See www.elseware.co.nz/NZAMA for more details.

Thank you for considering us.

Yours sincerely


PS – Your novel was certainly better than many we receive but unfortunately we felt the market for this genre would be too small.

Now, I don't know about you but the only line that I really took in was the PS at the bottom. This seems to be an extra line added to a standard letter and it did cheer me up to think that this woman made a special effort to soften the blow. It helps enormously to know that they didn't think the novel was out and out crap!

I must say that I was very impressed with Random House in NZ. First of all they accept the sending of an ENTIRE manuscript from the get go and they promise that everything goes to at least one reader. As I said in an earlier post, I don't think there are many major publishers still working like this. They were also very prompt and efficient with their emails to let me know where things were at.

It's not a great day, to get an email of rejection, but at least it wasn't just the standard one line that usually leaves us thinking that we should throw the whole thing in the bin. So, it's onwards and upwards! The turtle is getting excited! The turtle is hungry! The turtle is done with waiting!

I'm printing out some chapters to send off as we speak!

A Shameless Review


When I get to the end of certain books I find myself wondering: now if that was me sending that off to an agent or publisher, I would rate my chances along with someone wanting to lose weight on a diet of nothing but fast food.

I believe that someone like J.M. Coetzee has earned a kind of carte blanche when it comes to his writing, especially after winning the Nobel prize for literature. Being established, he can afford to take risks and play around with the whole notion of what we expect from a novel. Other lesser-known writers wouldn't have this luxury.

Slow Man is a perfect example of a novel that starts out as a cosy blanket, but then quickly shakes the reader out of bed! Coetzee is playing. I believe he deliberately wanted to sound the alarm clocks at dawn, regardless of how we all react!

This is the story of Paul Rayment, an elderly man who loses a leg in a cycling accident in Adelaide, Australia. Coming across as someone with a no-nonsense, philosophical approach to life, he refuses a prosthesis and tries his best to make the most of his lot. Not surprisingly, however, he finds it difficult to fend off misery and loneliness. Combined into the mix is his attraction towards his Croatian nurse and an overwhelming desire to help her and her children.

The novel, which only runs to 263 pages, starts in a very traditional way and it is very easy to get hooked into the story. The writing is crisp and light, without the folds of fat that most novels have. Then, just when we're feeling cosy with a non-taxing read, we are in for a bit of mental acrobatics: at page 79 a character from one of Coetzee's previous novels knocks on the door, the Australian novelist Elizabeth Costello. She is drawn as a busybody, urging Paul to change his outlook, make decisions, get a grip. He doesn't want this woman around but she stays anyway, saying that he simply came to her and she has no choice in the matter. We understand that Paul is a character in a book she is writing when she quotes to him the opening lines of Slow Man and asks: "Why do I need this man, why not let him be, coasting along peacefully on his bicycle?"

We are forced to re-evaluate. Is this about an author starting a story and then getting in touch with the protagonist to find out how he ticks and where the plot should go? It seems Paul is being constructed in the draft of a complex novel, a story that throws up more than the author envisaged and there is no easy conclusion. It triggers debate on how these kinds of "moral" stories are developed and brought to fruition. Is Costello just Coetzee in disguise? There is no doubt we are being sucked into a parallel universe, with all the trappings of a Paul Auster novel. The themes are universal: loneliness, the need to be looked after, sex, lust, parenthood, alienisation, the impact of migration.

The book turns into an interesting exercise in classic fiction being ripped apart and analysed - without spelling things out too much - forcing us to confront some of the deeper questions that good plots ignite: who controls what happens to us? can we be helped and help others without attachment? can we ever really hope to be confident about the decisions we make in life? how does this fit in with the concept of fiction and the turns that tales take?

I ended up loving this book for its weirdness, for its bold take on the writer's quest. This won't please all readers, especially those familiar with Coetzee's previous books and those who want a logical, pleasurable experience. But I am one of those who walked away from this book with a certain buzz, ruminating on what Coetzee was trying to get across. We can read it on two different levels. There is the simple story of Paul and his predicament, with a strange woman coming to share his home. But there is also a feast on a deeper level, with the various elements of the story representing issues we all face and how these are dealt with in literature.

Now, I am off to find out more about this annoying woman Elizabeth, who is the star of Coetzee's previous book Elizabeth Costello.

11 Moments I Would Rather Forget !


Why, you may be asking, do I have a photo of former British Prime Minister John Major on my blog?

I've never done one of these "meme" things on Shameless Words before, but I thought this theme could be fun. I also thought I would list 11 things! Why is it always 10?

1. In my very first week in France, back in 1997, I had a gun held to my stomach in a supermarket robbery. With terrible French, there was much suffering trying to explain everything to the police and my landlady afterwards. That week the same gang is supposed to have shot dead a shopkeeper in Cannes. I almost fled back to Britain!

2. It was only at the age of eight that I realised that one is supposed to put money in the collection plate at church and not take money out. I really innocently believed the church was being generous and sharing out its wealth!

3. At a dinner party, with mostly strangers, I raved about how someone I worked with was a royal pain in the butt. A very quiet woman opposite later introduced herself as my colleague's WIFE! She said, "That's funny, he's only ever said good things about you." I don't think she ever told him though; he didn't change towards me.

4. Not long after arriving in the UK I got lost and drove the wrong way down a motorway, in a car with no insurance! Coming in the other direction was a police van full of officers. I was sent on my way with friendly waves after a passionate discussion about rugby and New Zealand; a brother of one of the officers had just moved there! (I'm actually not a rugby fan but can be if my life depends on it!)

5. When I was a boy I walked into a bathroom where a rather large, naked nun was about to climb into a hot bath. She screamed, dived in, caused a flood - and slapped me afterwards for good measure. I never made eye contact with her again!

6. I caused a stir when I joined the BBC in 1994 by wearing an earring to work, a small ring that I hadn't worn to the job interview. I ended up agreeing to take it out when doing interviews with the likes of war veterans and police officers!

7. I had a stutter and stammer as a child and teenager, but I was pleased to discover it went away when I spoke in front of crowds (school speeches, debates). I slowly adopted this new way of talking and went on to have a career in broadcasting.

8. While competing at the age of 10 in a school swimming competition, my togs came off while diving in for a race. With much laughter from the crowd, I had to climb out of the pool with one hand, the students AND teachers refusing to give me a towel!

9. I once went down on my knees in front of John Major when he was the British Prime Minister! I was a reporter at a media scrum and had to quickly duck out of the TV cameras' field of vision. I even got to ask a question from my odd position!

10. In a restaurant where I worked when I was 18, my boss's tirade of anger turned to stunned silence when I managed to drop a large tray of desserts FOUR times in a row. The customers applauded when the desserts finally arrived, and they left me big tips.

11. During a trip to Athens I chose a nice quiet place to take a midnight pee: into a hedge that surrounded a fenced-in palace. I relieved myself with great abandon, taking my time. It was only when I was doing up my fly that I realised a soldier with a machine gun was standing still just off to my left in the hedge, in camouflage, his face blackened! I said a very quick good night!

Yes, I have had some colourful moments ... and this is only just to mention a few! I may write about some of these incidents in more detail at a later date.

Spooky Writing Experiences !


There is a post over at Tracing My Way From Birth about the spooky experiences writers can sometimes have, which reminds me of a spooky moment I had once with a manuscript.

I talked about this here on my blog in April last year, but I'll retell the story for those who haven't been following me for that long!

Soon after starting to flirt to get the attention of an agent for my first novel, by sending out numerous copies of the first three chapters, I got a phonecall from an agent who wanted to see the entire book.

I was delighted ... but then quickly gobsmacked!

On a final reading of the work before posting it off, I discovered that buried in the middle of a late chapter was a minor character whose name was exactly the same as the agent asking to see the novel - the same first and last names!

You can imagine my panic and how baffled I was.

Of course, I changed the name. I didn't want the agent to think I was shamelessly trying to sweeten him up by putting his name in my work, and I dared not tell him about the incredible coincidence in case he thought I was a fruit cake!

It was either an amazingly spooky coincidence or maybe the agent's name was already in my head when I sat down to write the chapter in question. Had I been looking through a list of agents beforehand and some names had stuck in my conscience?

One of my friends preferred to insist that it was a "sign from the universe", that my book was supposed to be in that agent's hands. That theory was put to sleep when the man in question decided not to take the book any further. My friend, forever the optimist, quickly added, "But you did delete the agent's name from your work, didn't you? If you'd kept it in, instead of getting all freaked out ... '

We will never know.

But maybe now I should be writing the names Penguin, Macmillan, Faber and Faber and Random House all through my work.

(By the way, I took the spooky picture above at one of the light festivals that take place every year in Lyon.)

A Short Story


Miss Ping

Has anyone actually talked to him? It’s bloody crazy! Anyone called the unions? We must jolly well get a lawyer! Did you see her? Miss Who? Did someone say Chinese black magic? Where are the directors and shareholders? We should bloody well refuse to go! It’s absolutely barking!

* * *

The staff slowly gathered in the conference room, the hush among them most unusual, no one in a state to decide where to sit. Close to the front? Would that prove eagerness and teamwork? Would it be too obvious to stay near the back, ducking direct questions? Some clearly decided to sit along the back wall in protest, maintaining some sensible distance from the madness of the previous 24 hours. Men straightened their ties. Women pushed the hair off their faces. Nervous frowns met.

Mr Gilbert bounced in with the blind Miss Ping on his arm. ‘For goodness sake,’ he said, pausing to take in the faces. ‘There’s no need to worry. I sense panic and hurt, but I want you to know you’re all very talented. We just need to know that your kind of talent is right for us.’

Susan, the staff representative, stood up. ‘We just think it’s very peculiar. It’s … unprecedented.’

Miss Ping, who looked about 70, straightened her hunch and smiled.

‘It’s unprecedented here,’ said Gilbert. ‘But it’s all the rage in places like China … and if we want to expand into those markets, we need to learn from them!’

Susan stared at the floor and said, ‘The unions need more time to …’

Gilbert pointed angrily at her chair, the whites of his eyes becoming more evident. ‘Miss Ping is a very busy woman … not to mention expensive.’

* * *

All 27 workers found themselves stretched out on the floor, no more than three minutes after the meeting began, their arms on their chests, their legs spread apart. Miss Ping, whose grey hair was tied back with what looked like seaweed, edged her way between them, like a cat making its way through unknown grass. She hovered above each person, placing a cold hand on their heads, their hands, their feet. Susan and one or two of the others tried to speak but were cut off mid-sentence with a loud clap from Gilbert - he lay among them, looking around and grinning, obviously pleased that things might just work. Miss Ping hummed a mesmerising lullaby or hymn.

* * *

‘As you all know,’ said Gilbert, flushed and panting with the excitement of what they’d all just witnessed, ‘Miss Ping is going to pick some of you out. I know it sounds crazy, but she really does have the exceptional ability to receive visions, to know who has the right energy to align this planet … our company … with the right people.’

Miss Ping crept forward and closed her eyes. ‘Mr Gilbert. Sorry. Everyone here good. But not you. I see better company without you.’

© Copyright, 2007. Seamus Kearney.

My Writing Haven


The website of the Guardian newspaper in Britain has been featuring the writing rooms of selected authors, publishing some snapshots of where they work. I don't know about you but I just love these little snippets. Yes, call me a voyeur, but I'm always fascinated to see the "habitat" of my favourite writers. I'm probably also quite nosy!

So, in this spirit of opening up, the photo above shows where I write. It's a room that also serves as the spare bedroom for when people come to stay. There is a view over a private, internal courtyard and the open sky is visible, which is very important for me if I'm to live in the middle of a big city. One of the authors featured in the Guardian talked about how some consider it important to write with their backs to the window. To hell with that! I prefer to take in the view!

You'll notice there are only reference books nearby, which is deliberate. I would find it too distracting to have my full collection of books close to where I write; it would be too tempting to dip in and out of my favourites. My books are in the living room, providing a lifeblood for the household. (Hundreds of my partner's French plays and novels are behind me in the writing room, but they pose less of a threat!)

I also like to keep the surface of the desk free of clutter, so I can begin a new writing session with a feeling of freedom, a clean start. Ideally, I would have a much larger desk - the wide lense on my camera makes it seem overly small in the picture above, by the way - but it's a question of space. I went for a nice bright colour for the desk though, to make sure I'm in the brightest mood possible when I start a writing session.

When we took this apartment, back in 2003, I immediately saw myself sitting by that window, being inspired by the history of the building - this was one of Lyon's first hospitals and it dates back to the 16th century. In the private courtyard downstairs you can still see the original sties they kept pigs in and there is a beautiful old well, which was the main source of water.

Also, I can't forget the door that greets me everyday downstairs, reminding me of the richness of this place! Remember that Lyon is where the guignols began, the punch and judy-type puppets. The theatre on the other side of our courtyard was one of the famous guignol theatres in Lyon (Le Théâtre Guignol-Mourguet) but in the 1970s it was turned into a general theatre. I often hear the clapping and actors' voices when I'm writing. The other interesting thing I discovered when we moved here was that the French writer Françoise Sagan (Bonjour Tristesse) spent part of her childhood in this building in the 1940s. Yes, I do hope that some of her vibes rub off on me. Wouldn't it be great to see her ghost, revisiting her old stomping ground!

Physical comfort is the other biggie for me when it comes to a writing space. I got rid of my old chair and got one that had arm rests, kissing goodbye (touch wood) to a stiff neck and sore shoulders. My keyboard is also at a better level.

We also have decent speakers for the computer now, so I can listen to inspiring music as I tap! The cat, Muffin, is always welcome to join me in the writing room when I'm here for long periods, and there's space on the desk for a bottomless pot of tea!

Voila! That's my writing haven. What about yours? Why not put up a photo of your pad and tell us why it's good for you?

A Pause For A Poem

I thought it would be nice to share this poetically mischievous poem written by a journalist friend in Paris, Laurence Frost. I couldn't resist taking this picture to go with it!


A murmur fell upon my ear,
Far distant now - now growing near
When in a cloud there came and went
A lemming-swarm, destruction-bent

A rat race to the Red Ravine,
They lay in scores, forlorn, serene.
I walked amid the fluffy sea
And picked the plump ones for my tea

© Copyright, 2007. Laurence Frost and Shameless Words.

We Are Absolutely Spoiled !


Doesn't this picture just absolutely stroke the senses? This is from a new blog that I recently came across in Queensland, Australia, by an artist and writer who has just started blogging - this, it seems, prompted by the shamelessness of my blog! The arrival of L.M.Noonan in the blogosphere can only be a wonderful thing, if the quality of these creations are anything to go by. I'm looking forward to her writing now as well - in fact, her partner is also an artist and they are both contributing to another newly created blog.

This is what the blogosphere is all about, isn't it? There is something hugely exciting about the creativity we can all tap into for free, unhindered by the market, by the whims of those in power, by the pressures of state and home. I was only just thinking the other week that Australia must have a lot to offer English-language writing blogs and yet most of my links and hits are from the UK and the US. Then up pops L.M Noonan, aka Failed Painter - yes, the title of the blog is hard to type. We welcome this diversity in the writing blogosphere, no? There's also India, Canada, New Zealand, not to mention the many countries in Africa. There is only up.

The other exciting link that I've just made - I'm sorry that I haven't focused before on announcing my new links, which I now realise is a travesty - is for Word Carving, a new blog by the writer John Ahearn. His poems manage to stir me and blast me in a unique way, and I'm looking forward to devouring everything this blog has to offer.

Have you also checked out the writing of Jessica Schneider, on her blog and at Cosmoetica. There is first class material here. And Jason's writing gems at The Clarity of Night? We are spoiled for the quality of the stuff that is out there. I could go on and list all of the superb blogs that I link to on the right, but this post would run on for pages! The point is that we need to celebrate what we have here. This is a goldmine! This is the future! Thank goodness someone, somewhere invented WWW and the BLOG. I really believe our lives have all been changed for the better.

Thanks for all this opening up and for having the energy to share! We are absolutely spoiled!

A Year Of Shamelessness !


Hey, my blog is one-year-old today! Yipppeee! So where are the presents and cake and champagne?




Oh, thanks. That was really very sweet.

My very first blogging post was on February the 8th, 2006. I kicked things off with this beautiful picture that I took in the US in 2005:

"Doesn't a scene like this just make you want to write something glorious?" I wrote back then.

The blog wasn't up and running straight away. It took me another month to really pick up my stride. But oh the words that came after that. A whole year of words. Hundreds of posts. Probably enough to fill up a three-book series. It's been great, really. I wouldn't have missed it for the world.

But ...

Now, sadly, it's time to say goodbye.

That's right ... farewell.

It was a pleasure putting all those posts together.

I've had a blast.

We've done lots of writing.

I've done loads of great reading.

We've laughed together.

We've learnt loads.

Don't be sad.

Eat your cake and have a good laugh.

Oh, sorry, let's rewind a bit.

What I meant to say was that it's time to say goodbye ... to all the old posts.

Because we have to look ahead now to another wonderful year at Shameless Words.


Haha. Got you! :)

I always wanted to have a melodramatic moment on my blog. To make you go: "Oh no! Don't go!" It was cruel, I know. How Shameless of me! Some of you - I now realise - may have even been thinking: "About bloody time we got rid of that one. Shameless? There's been nothing remotely Shameless on his blog! Just bloody annoying lions!"

Don't worry. I am definitely hanging around. I wouldn't have wasted all that time stretching my blog skin sideways and making my fonts big and brash!

There are poems to write, short stories to create, books to publish, books to read, new blogging buddies to make, new talent to discover. How I will find the time, I have no idea. But I am here for the next part of the journey.

My visitor clock is now at more than 9,000. Wow. You guys rock! And I really look forward to celebrating this blog's second anniversary with you.

Go forward shamelessly!

The Lions of Lyon (26)

This lion wants to cheer you up by showing off his splendid colours and cheeky face! Don't forget you can click on the images to enlarge them.

It's funny because I thought this one had been posted earlier. How is it possible that I overlooked such a handsome beast?! There is still a handful yet to come, before I call on you to help me pick out the best "Lions of Lyon".

A Splash In My Puddle !


Isn't it funny how life throws things up at just the right time.

I was grumbling only just the other week that I feel a little bit cut off in Lyon when it comes to things literary. It's a great place to be inspired, but I do miss having a direct connection with other English-speaking writing types, festivals and the like.

Then, blow me down, a journalist friend in Paris sent me the wonderful news about an international festival taking place in Lyon from May 30 to June 3: The International Forum on the Novel. Yes! I am beaming! Finally, there is a splash in my puddle!

It's not just any old festival. There are some big names attending. Just to list a few: A.S. Byatt, John Banville, Ian McEwan, Russel Banks, André Brink, Rick Moody, Jonathan Coe, Tobias Hill, Nik Cohn, James Flint, Robert Dessaix, Ying Chen, James Meek, Dmitri Bykov, Jay McInerney, David Albahari, William Vollmann, Wei Wei and Donald Antrim. There are many others, but the list would get too long!

Over five days there will be round-tables, debates and readings involving all of the authors. The theme is "reality and the novel", with discussions on: "the family novel"; "the limits of the novel"; "I as primary matter"; "inventing the real"; "literature and trauma"; "pained soul, pained body"; "social sciences and earth sciences"; "document, inquiry, fiction"; and "confronting the reality of our characters".

The organisers are calling for volunteers to help look after the writers and carry out other chores during the festival, but I'm worried that would mean I wouldn't be free to attend the various events. Also, it would be just my luck to get placed with an absolute bore or someone who has terrible manners - this has happened before at a writing festival, but I won't mention any famous names!