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

Incredible Stories Behind The Fiction

I've always had a real fascination for the extraordinary stories that exist in the real lives of novelists, tales that could never be matched in their own work. Someone recently asked me for an example of this and I was surprised that he hadn't heard about the incredible past of the British murder/mystery writer Anne Perry.

She must have thought her world as a best-selling crime novelist was going to crumble around her in 1994 when she got a call from her baffled agent. A New Zealand journalist had rung to allege that Perry was in fact a certain Juliet Hulme, a 15-year-old schoolgirl who'd been convicted of helping her best friend, 16-year-old Pauline Parker, bludgeon her mother to death with a brick in New Zealand in 1954. Of course, Perry couldn't deny the claims that her agent had initially shrugged off as crazy. The long-held secret was out.

An entry from Pauline's diary titled "The day of the happy event" was produced during the murder trial. The pair had taken Mrs Parker for a walk in a park and then hit her on the head with a brick wrapped inside a stocking. A jury heard how it took 45 blows from both girls to finally kill the woman. The jury rejected a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity and the two were convicted of murder. As they were both under the age of 18 they escaped the death penalty, which was in force at that time. After serving five and a half years in prison in New Zealand, Hulme was given a new identity and ended up living in Scotland. Parker was also given a new name and moved to England. Here's a photo of Hulme back in the 50s:

The revelation about her past came in the same year that a film about the murder was released. Peter Jackson's movie Heavenly Creatures, which starred Kate Winslet, was an international success. It hinted at the commonly held belief that the two girls had committed the murder because of family attempts to break up their supposed lesbian relationship. The prosecution painted the pair as lesbians and told the jury they were "dirty-minded little girls". The jury was told how the two were obssessed with each other, often slept in each others beds and had wild "fantasies" of becoming famous novelists. They had begun trying to raise funds to head overseas to seek their fame and fortune. Pauline feared that her mother would stop her leaving New Zealand with Juliet, whose parents were in the process of divorcing. Juliet was supposed to emigrate to South Africa.

It's strange, isn't it, that Hulme did go on to find that fame and fortune, selling millions of books around the world! Pauline Parker went on to become a devout Catholic and settled in an English village. She first worked as a school director and then as an instructor at a riding school. Perry says she has never had contact with Parker since the trial, which was one of the conditions of their release.

The title for the film came from a line in a poem written by Pauline Parker:

There are living amongst two dutiful daughters
The most glorious beings in creation
And above us these goddesses reign on high
I worship the power of these lovely two
With that adoring love known to so few
'Tis indeed a miracle, one must feel
That two such heavenly creatures are real
And these two wonderful people are you and I

Perry, understandably, has alway been reluctant to talk about her terrible past, but she has given a few interviews over the years. She has denied the claim that she and Parker had been in a lesbian relationship, saying it was more an obsession. She had this to say to a New Zealand paper, The Press, in September, 1994:
"Pauline was very distressed and she desperately wanted to come with us. I felt that I was running out on a person who stood by me when I was in trouble (childhood illness) and that I was betraying her by just leaving and doing nothing. I really believed that if I didn't take her with us that she would take her own life and I made a very, very wrong decision. I didn't have the strength to say no, this is wrong, no matter what, and to just walk away. Pauline was a really good friend. We had all sorts of romantic dreams. I like women very much as friends but for romance give me men."
On the making of the film, she has this to say on her website:
"I have been asked questions occasionally about the film, 'Heavenly Creatures', but I cannot answer them. Neither I nor my family and friends knew anything about it until the day before it was released, and I have preferred not to see it, or comment on the accuracy or otherwise of any part of it. I am very grateful to that vast majority of generous people who allow me to move on and leave that grief behind."
I've always wondered whether some aspects or emotions of the crime, which took place in Christchurch, in the south of New Zealand, have ever crept into Perry's work. On her website she says:
"I began the 'Monk' series in order to explore a different, darker character, and to raise questions about responsibility, particularly that of a person for acts he cannot remember. How much of a person's identity is bound up in memory? All our reactions, decisions, etc. spring from what we know, have experienced. We are in so many ways the sum of all we have been!"
Much to her relief, I can imagine, Perry's career as a novelist doesn't seem to have suffered from the revelations about her grim past. Many New Zealanders, who'd been horrified by the brutality of the crime, were astonished to hear that she had been able to fulfill her "fantasy" of becoming a famous and wealthy novelist - and they were even more astonished to hear that her chosen genre was murder/mystery. Maybe it's just one of the ironies of this complicated and surprising world we live in.

Douceur du Crépuscule


This is another painting that lights up our flat, produced in 2003 by my partner. The English translation would be "The Sweetness of Dawn" or "Dawn's Sweetness".

It is perhaps a good time to show this; a new dawn is about to emerge in France, with the second round of a tight presidential race due on May the 6th. Will the country get its first ever woman president, the Socialist candidate Ségolène Royal, or will it end up with the Conservative Nicolas Sarkozy? The latest polls show it will be extremely close. Whatever the outcome, France is in for a big change. Both candidates are considered to be part of the "new political generation": they are younger, plain talkers, not steeped in pomp and ceremony. Both of them are promising a "firm break" with the past.

So, which name will be easily falling off our tongues in years to come? Which name will be sprinkled into our literature, media, psyche? What suspense!

The Lions of Lyon (28) + Odd Thoughts


This one makes me feel energetic for some reason, kind of all geared up to go to a nightclub or something! I feel a bit strange about my lions; today I finally lined up the entire series, which will run to 48. It means there's an end in sight, and that always make me a feel a little sad! But there are some crackers left to come, for those who've been following the series. As we speak, I am putting up a Shameless Lions blog, so you can see what beauties came before. It will also be useful for when I call on you, dear reader, to help me choose the best five.

* * *

There are lots of good entries flooding in to the flash fiction contest happening over at Clarity of Night. What I find interesting, and I'm not sure if it's good or bad, is that many people have gone for murder, violence or something grim. It's fascinating to see how writers take an image and see something bad. Mmmmmmmmmm. I wonder. It's what the writer wants to say, but it must be hard for some readers. I've had to take breaks after reading some, finding it heavy going. It must be a sign of our times.

* * *

I wonder whether anyone would be interested in reading my finished novel in instalments on a blog? Many people seem to be doing it. I could set up a separate blog and post a short chapter a week, enabling comments at the end of each chapter, just as Mr Pundy did over at his blog. I could also publicise the fact on those sites that talk about free online novels. Is it a good idea? Would a possible future publisher mind? Would there be a market? Would you take the time to read it? Do let me know. I'm in that ideas stage re what to do with my work.

* * *

It's official, and I knew it. On Tuesday Lyon had its warmest April day since 1922 - 29 degrees, which is a middle-of-summer temperature! (UPDATE: today, Wednesday, it got up to 32 degress celsius, which is 89.6 fahrenheit!). It's great, even though I do fear for the planet. What it does mean is that I can take off outside to read and write (yes, pen and paper writing!). Our city fathers have made Lyon so much more people-friendly over the past year. Ugly carparks that clogged up the banks of one of the two beautiful rivers that flow through here - the Rhône and the Saône - have been ripped up and replaced with grass, cycle paths and benches!  

Now there are more pleasant places to get away from our crazy pace of life! A bloke with a book on a bench! Yes! This is turning more and more into my idea of a perfect city! Where do you read when you're not at home?

A Shameless Short Story


What a wonderful distraction on the day that France goes to the polls in the first round of its presidential election. Jason at Clarity of Night has organised another short story contest, with this photo as the inspiration.

Given that I don't have the right to vote in this presidential election - here non-French nationals can only vote in municipal and European polls - I really needed something to focus on. Jason's contest was perfect. I was also down to work this weekend on the elections, but I've been forced to stay at home with a bout of laryngitis! Talk about frustrating!

So, this is what I've sent off to Jason's contest, which had a word limit of 250:

Marble Point.

Not long after the smell of the date and walnut loaf had sulked away into the woods, the majority of the group made their awkward farewells and headed off along the mud track. Flo joined her dear friend, Tim, on the veranda, aware that the decision to put Marble Point on the market had hit him the hardest. She put an arm around him.

‘I thought we’d be coming here every year until we died,’ he whispered.

She avoided the view in front of them, the velvet valley that had seduced her and her eight university chums some 30 years earlier. ‘We’re the only ones who’ve really made use of the place.’

He folded his arms. ‘We all promised we’d never sell it.’

She pictured that summer of ’74: living in tents for two months, everyone chipping in to build their “castle”, starting the tradition of the date and walnut loaf. But that was before the weddings, the kids, the break-ups, the sickness.

He said, ‘Maybe we should’ve agreed to the access road, electricity, an indoor loo.’

‘We let them hook up the water! That was compromise enough … though we were the only ones who ever did the washing up.’

He almost smiled. ‘I’ll boil the water, and then we can take our last hike down to the waterfall.’

At that very moment Flo made a decision: yes, she would tell him about her divorce and the huge settlement, news that had been eclipsed by all the emotional exchanges.

© Copyright, 2007. Seamus Kearney.

A Taste Of French Cabaret !

I know it's been two weeks, but I did promise that I'd provide a taste of some of the songs I wrote and performed for a comedy recently staged here in Lyon. Bear in mind that the music won't be to everyone's liking. The songs were written for a performance that was intended to be a cross between a theatre play, French cabaret and a comedy. The singer is supposed to come across as "past it". So, free yourselves of any expectation of something along the lines of Cold Play or Robbie Williams! Click twice on the play button!

This was a wonderful experience and I really hope I can take part in similar projects in the future. Being involved in a performance in French was a real thrill, taking me closer to my goal of wanting to feel fully integrated here on all levels. One day I might even do some creative writing in French!

Il y a trois petits chiens qui dansent et boivent sur ma tête brillante, en parlant d'une longue nuit à la chasse!

The Inspiration Of Erin

After a week in Ireland I'm all fired up to crack on with my current writing project set in Dublin, having bathed in the inspiration of Erin! We had a few days in Dublin and then headed west to Galway. Here are some of the photos I took:

By the way, Erin - the poetic name for Ireland - used to be my first name, but I switched to Seamus when I was 21. (Yes, Erin is often used as a girl's name!) My full name became Seamus Erin Anthony Kearney. Creating some potential confusion is the fact that I have an uncle and a cousin in Dublin who are also called Seamus! It's also interesting that my family over there pronounces our surname differently: I say Kerr-nee, they say Car-nee. Somehow the name was transformed when my father emigrated to New Zealand in the 50s.

During our week in Ireland we ate traditional food (including Irish salmon), drank a fair amount of guinness and listened to traditional music. But we also got the chance to see an excellent up-and-coming Dublin band. The Immediate performed in the famous Roisin Dubh pub in Galway while we were there. Here's what they look like:

I was very impressed with this group, who all have a go at vocals and the different instruments. I have a hunch this band is going to hit the big time and it felt an honour to see them live in their launch-pad stage. You can listen to some of their more popular songs - A Ghost in the House, Big Sad Eyes and In Towers and Clouds - here. They also have a website you can check out. I bought their debut CD after the concert and got them to sign it - one of them very sweetly wrote "I love you". This will be a precious possession when the band becomes an international success, which I predict will be the case. Because I had to wait a wee bit while they signed my CD cover (I didn't mind waiting), they very kindly gave me a collector's 45 rpm vinyl disc. I wish them all the success they deserve.

So, now it's back to work and my reading and writing - until the summer holidays! Hang on, Seamus! Live in the moment! Stop planning all these escapes! Yes, you're right. It's gorgeous outside. Spring can be magical. There is a lot to enjoy before the summer. Someone asked me in a recent email if I ever work and whether I'm rich. Let's just say that I work to live, I don't live to work. And rich? I wish. I don't smoke, don't drink too much and don't blow money on unnecessary luxuries, so there is more of a chance of getting out and seeing this planet of ours. I have also made it a priority in my life that I have plenty of time for creativity.

Now then, back to my poor characters in Dublin, who've been standing in the same spot for weeks!

The Land Of Brilliant Moods

You have to hand it to the Irish; is there another population that is in such a warm, friendly collective mood? I'm just back from a week in the country where my father was born and the nation's amiable little fingers are still tickling me all over. Yes, despite its less than happy history, this is the land of brilliant moods. Take this for example:

"Oh, great, a monument to explain the significance of this wonderful spot! Was there a famous battle here? Did the first Irish king live in these parts?"

"Let's get a closer look and read the plaque! All will be explained."

Ah, humour here is always way out in front, softening many hard roads, melting moments that might otherwise be too tough.

I have some beautiful photos to post here when my holiday is done (I'm getting in some skiing in the French Alps over the weekend, just to remind myself that it's such a hard life!) We spent a few days in Dublin and then travelled out to explore the countryside around Galway, including Connemara. I am returning home full of inspiration and all fired up with that amazing Celtic spirit, which really does help pull my creative handles.

I was very amused, by the way, to see that my "licking the shamrock" comment caused small ripples (see previous post). Minx was right in saying that this is just my weird take on the tried and tested "kissing the blarney"! Let's just say that many a shamrock has now been licked - and there are grins all round!

Licking The Shamrock !

I'm in Ireland, visiting Dublin and Galway for a week. The sky is blue, the people are friendly, the air is filled with inspiration. I'll leave you with my short story below, for those who haven't had the chance to read it yet. Meanwhile, I'm licking the shamrock!

A Short Story


The Broken Bubbles

The absence of the bubbles hadn't been on that day’s list of priorities, so when the doorbell shook the house and a man with an accent yelled out - not even giving her a chance to respond to the bell - Elizabeth Carraway was more than a little annoyed.

‘Mrs Carway? Sorry I late. Wife have baby.’ He had a grin that refused to let its style be cramped by bad teeth.

‘What?’ She buttoned up her apricot-coloured cardigan, which her husband said should never be worn outside the house. ‘It’s Carraway.’

He came up two more steps, seemingly keen to bring himself to her level. ‘The spa. I come to fix.’ He flipped over a small badge that hung from his jumper, revealing the name Heavenly Hot Tubs.

‘Oh, yes, yes. Well, you’ll need to be quick. Through there ... under the glass patio.'

‘I’m late because baby born,’ he gushed, shaking his head as if he found the words too incredible to believe. ‘My wife have baby boy.’

‘Yes, yes. Never mind.’

She walked briskly through to the patio after sensing in a flash that he wouldn't be able to find it quickly enough on his own. With her mind on the iron upstairs and the new sesame bread about to burn in the oven, she waved her hand at the tub that hadn't been producing bubbles for months. Her husband, Alistair, had vaguely mentioned an appointment when he was last home but she'd forgotten to make a note.

With a less cheerful face than before he said, ‘First baby in England. We very happy.’

‘Oh? Very nice.’ She looked at her watch. ‘The bubbles stopped over Christmas and so we drained it. Do you have the right tools? Do you know these kinds of tubs?’

She didn't like the look of him, his clothes too baggy and scruffy, a long scar on his bony cheek. There were also patches of pink skin amongst his stubble, which she found particularly troubling; she wondered if he might be harbouring some kind of contagious disease from his wretched homeland. She warned herself not to get too close. She could also smell the bread.

‘My wife names him after my dead papa. My family killed in war.’ He put his duffle bag down on the tiles, taking in a quick breath, as though to stifle a hidden pain.

‘Splendid. What? Oh.’ She wondered if the bag was greasy and whether her tiles might need cleaning afterwards. She leaned on the edge of the spa and looked down at the bottom, noticing with alarm that Alistair hadn't yet cleaned out the leaves from the old indoor tree that had died from a lack of water. ‘I'm sorry ... I mean ... that's nice. Well, sorry for your father but nice for the baby.’

‘All my family killed.’ He put his hands over his eyes and stood still.

‘Oh.’ She cupped her hands into the praying position, a spontaneous gesture that she hadn't decided on. ‘Goodness. Are you alright?’

He didn't answer. He lowered his head and brought his feet together, like a prisoner waiting for a sentence to be pronounced.

She looked back into the spa. ‘It may just be the leaves stopping the bubbles. It may be something quite silly. What do you think?’

‘Baby is new hope, Mrs Carway. New life in family.’

‘Oh dear. Are you crying?’ It was a silly question because she could see he was crying, his tears streaming down between his fingers, like he’d just splashed his face with water.

‘We come for peace. Too many die.’

She reached down into the spa and picked up one or two of the dried leaves that lay there, gently crushing them in her fingers. The little pieces scattered over the tiles. The iron was getting hotter. The bread needed to be taken out. Alistair’s suits needed collecting. She had to ring the boys to see if they were still coming home from university for the Easter break - she'd heard from their meddling grandmother that they had voiced a preference for a trip to France with their friends.

The man dried his eyes with the sleeves of his jumper and then bent down to pick up his bag. ‘I'm sorry, Mrs Carway.’ He slowly started to inspect the spa, but it was clear his mind was elsewhere.

‘I'll leave you to it.’ She pulled on her knuckles, making them crack. ‘Will you be long?’

He nodded and smiled forlornly, reaching down to clear out some of the leaves.

She went back upstairs to the dressing room but felt bothered about something she couldn't grasp. With the iron held loosely in her hand she found herself staring out into the backyard, unable to blink. It seemed only a few years before that the boys had played on the swings and chased the dog across the lawn. She only got one sleeve of her husband's shirt done before she headed down the stairs into the kitchen, where the burnt smell had already built up.

She flicked off the oven but didn't bother opening the door. She slouched and looked at her watch: four o'clock and nothing accomplished. The back lawn suddenly struck her as being as bleak as a graveyard. The man's words came to her then: happy, hope, family. She folded her arms and closed her eyes, allowing a chill to spread through her body. She felt weak and sick. Utterly sick. Sitting down at the table, she gently placed her head on an outstretched arm.

The sound of rushing water startled her some time later. She went to the doorway that led to the patio and saw the man carefully replacing a panel on the side of the tub, wiping away a streak of grease he'd left. The water rose quickly, swirling and frothing like the wild whirlpools they'd seen in Scotland the year before. ‘It’s funny but I’ve never actually been in that tub. Four years it’s been there and I’ve never hopped in … only Alistair and the boys.’ She wasn’t sure if he’d heard her.

She suddenly had visions of the man’s family, bundled into an old lorry by armed thugs, blindfolded, taken away in the dead of night, never to be seen again. She leaned up against the door frame and tried to imagine how it must be for him to visit homes like hers, people who'd never suffered such atrocities, whose only worries were about the functioning of their daily comforts.

‘I didn't even ask your name,’ she said quietly. ‘I didn't even ask your new baby's name.’

‘Oh, I nearly finish, Mrs Carway. Bubbles good now.’

‘My name’s Elizabeth. I feel awful about before, when you were talking about your family. I was in a world of my own. It must have seemed very selfish.’

‘No, I'm sorry. My baby not make you happy news. I am just man for repair.’

She leaned forward and swallowed, desperate not to let the moment pass. ‘I really do want to hear about your baby, about your family, about your thoughts on us and ...’

He frowned, tilting his head to the side. ‘You have good bubbles now. No more broken bubbles. Pump not good. Not leaves. Just bad pumping.’

‘Oh, yes. But I don’t care about the bubbles now. They seem so very low now in the wider scheme of things. Would you like a cup of tea? You could even test the tub if you wanted. Have you ever been in one? You could even bring your wife and new baby over for a spa.’ She felt herself stiffen, standing up straighter. Her face felt flushed but her body seemed cold.

‘Thank you, Mrs Carway, but I meet wife in hospital park. Six o’clock.’

‘Oh. Yes. Of course.’ She pictured the man laughing and walking with his wife and baby through a gorgeous park, determined to put their past horror behind them.

She felt hopeless watching him leave, with an acute sense of bereavement at not having heard his story, about the country he’d come from, about the family he’d lost. She turned and looked down her long, vast hallway, listening to the rush of bubbles from the patio. She sobbed uncontrollably, putting her hands up over her eyes.

© Copyright, 2007. Seamus Kearney.

My Pool Of Words

We all love to try to be original, don't we? The question then for writerly bloggers like you and me is this: which words are our own? The wonderful Caveblogem over at Pretty Good On Paper is in the middle of an interesting experiment, compiling and analysing word data from blogs. He was kind enough to include Shameless Words! Out of his sample of blogs so far, these are the words that only I used here on my blog:

The larger the word is, the more often I used it. Anyone who follows my blog closely doesn't need to be told why the word "lions" is the largest!

The full assessment below shows where I stand in terms of the popular words used by the other blogs. Click on the image to see the balloons in full size!

A big thank you to Caveblogem for this wonderful insight into the pool of words that I swim in!