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

The Fish In The Phone Box !



Be jaysus, Doreen! Would ya bleedin’ well listen to me now. I’m tryin' to tell ya there were fish in the phone box. For the sake of heaven! Don’t be an eedjit! Listen to what I’m tellin' ya. Don’t listen to y'ma. Of course I tried to ring y'up. Be jaysus and begorrah! I did. We’ve got photos. We’ve bleedin’ well got some photographs! I was mortified. He was all googly-eyed, see? A right bold little bugger, all cheerful, swimmin' there in that phone box like it were his own bleedin’ fish tank.


What d'ya mean have I been eatin’ some of Declan’s mushrooms? I only ever did that once, Doreen. I swear to God. I went outside to call y'up, to tell ya I'd be staying out for a pint. Well, maybe a couple. That phone box by the pub. You know the one. It’s a bleedin’ ordinary phone box, right? I stumbled there in the dark, spillin' half me pint down me trousers. A stripy fish, Doreen. Blue and green, and bits of bleedin’ orange, starin' straight out and laughin' at me, right? I blinked and blinked, Doreen. Faith and begorrah. I splashed beer in me eyes. A right waste, I know. But it didn’t get rid of them. What an eedjit!


His friends were smaller, right. Moodier lookin'. Hangin' out near the bottom. I would’ve opened the door, to get on the blower t'ya. But the water, Doreen? What about the fish? They would’ve died right there on that bleedin street. Is that what ya would’ve wanted? The bleedin’ water crashin' out? Murder, Doreen. The slaughter of innocent fish. Be jaysus! Those poor little buggers suffocatin' on the street. Murder, Doreen. Bleedin’ murder! Hello? Ya still there? Doreen? We've got photos to prove it! Don't be a bleedin' eedjit!

© Copyright, 2007. Seamus Kearney.

A Shameless Graffito (N°4)


* * *

Oh, this also came into my inbox from The New Yorker poetry section today, after sending in five poems:

Dear Seamus Kearney,

We're sorry to say that this manuscript is not right for us, in spite of its evident merit. Unfortunately, we are receiving so many submissions that it is impossible for us to reply more specifically. We thank you for the chance to consider your work.

The Editors

Now, is that a standard reply or what? Should I be pleased that someone at The New Yorker thought the poems had "evident merit"? I don't think so somehow. A Google search shows that it's not personal at all. Also, it may just be me, but is it not slightly odd to call five poems a manuscript? I do wonder what kick the editors get out of saying "in spite of its evident merit". Ah. Unless of course there are different kinds of rejection letters, and mine was in the pile of those with "merit". Mmmmmmm.

Anyway, I'm smiling. I will let the poems marinate a little longer and then no doubt post them here. Who needs to publish in The New Yorker when we can publish here ourselves, right?

A Short Story



When Thomas arrived at his usual place on the café terrace, he still hadn’t decided whether to say anything to the others about the death of his wife. Why didn’t I ever bring her here? Would it have been such a big effort? My darling, impossible Valerie. Barely able to keep a hold of his frosted-up glass of beer, he sat down opposite Paul and forced a smile. He also acknowledged Bernard, at the next table, with a clipped wave. ‘Nice day for it,’ he said. Some bold sparrows skipped from table to table, attacking plates not yet cleared away. Don’t need to worry about us oldies, eh? Too slow now to be a threat.

‘Nice day for what?’ asked Paul. He had both hands spread around his drink, as if he were hoping for some heat, with his book, keys and cigarettes neatly lined up in front of him.

Thomas sighed. Everything tidy. Everything in its place. He saw that Paul’s long grey hair remained unbrushed and greasy. Forget the tidy piles, my friend; you need to look after yourself.

‘See? You can’t answer,’ said Paul. ‘Just another silly expression people use.’

‘Well, nice day for a beer is the first thing that comes to mind,’ said Thomas. ‘A nice, cold beer in the sun.’ After taking a generous mouthful, letting it rush down in one go, he clasped his hands and let them rest on his belly. His wedding ring glistened in the sun. Was it the second or the third Saturday in August, 1952? Who would’ve thought, eh? All that time together. I always said she’d go first, though.

‘Don’t need nice weather to enjoy a beer,’ said Paul.

Thomas couldn’t help but feel regret for all those days he’d left Valerie at home. What else did she do, except fuss over household jobs that hadn’t really been necessary for years? He knew that at some point he would have to phone a list of distant people and tell them the news. Perhaps tomorrow. Perhaps in a week. And is it better to say "died" or "passed away"?

‘Paul’s gone all moody because he lost a big whack on the horses,’ said Bernard. He turned on his mischievous look: the little-boy-grin, the gyrating of his chin, his green eyes lost among wavy skin and a silver fringe.

‘The figures were all over the place!’ said Paul. He hunched further over his drink, his nose almost touching the beer. ‘Earlier bloody wins and losses weren’t right. How can I calculate things with dodgy figures?’

Nearby, council workers fought with the remains of the morning market, hosing away the shards of ice that still stunk of fish, scraping up rotten bits of cabbage and cauliflower. Thomas didn't think it was right that the sky hadn't turned grey. How can it remain so bright and still after such an awful event? He wanted to say something about Valerie. He really did. But how does someone just bring up something like that, all of a sudden, in front of men like this?

After a few minutes of silence Bernard said, ‘Where’ve you been the last few days anyway, Thomas?’

Paul nodded and frowned. ‘Yeah, where have you been?’

Thomas thought for a moment. ‘Been having a bit of a time.’ He crushed some leaves about his feet, this time scaring away some of the sparrows.

‘Don’t tell me you’ve found a woman,’ said Paul. ‘You cunning old devil!’

Thomas put his finger on the lip of his glass and made slow circles. ‘I’m a married man.’

‘Oh, yeah, that's right,’ said Paul. ‘Veronica, isn’t it?’

‘My little pixie,’ said Thomas. He quickly put his beer up to his lips, surprised he’d let those words slip out. That was just our secret. Not just for anyone to hear. He then heard Valerie’s light voice calling him her “unicorn” for the very first time. The pixie and the unicorn.

Bernard rolled a cigarette, folding his legs and leaning forward. ‘Little pixie?’ He squinted, suppressing a smile. ‘I don’t think we’ve had the pleasure.’

‘No, I don’t think you have,’ said Thomas.

The spray from the hose came close to the terrace. One of the council workers yelled out, ‘I can refill your drinks if you want! Hold them steady.’

The three men waved and nodded. 'Best to humour him,' said Bernard. 'Poor fellow obviously wasn’t the sprightliest of the litter, coming up with the same joke every Saturday.'

Paul put on an exaggerated frown. ‘You know what, Thomas? It’s not our fault if you never bring your wife along.’

‘I don’t think he said it was our fault,’ said Bernard. He pretended to hit Paul on the back of the head.

Thomas avoided Paul’s gaze. ‘Funny, because I was thinking about that just this morning.’ He downed the rest of his beer in one go. ‘I don’t know why I never considered bringing her along ... and it’s Valerie, by the way.’

Paul slouched back in his chair, his eyes looking red and tired. ‘I knew it started with a V.’

Bernard spat out slightly to get some tobacco off his bottom lip. ‘Better off without the ladies anyway. Better left at home, I say.’

Thomas took off his cardigan, gently touching the leather patches that Valerie had put on the elbows just a few weeks before. He’d worn it to the service that morning, on the other side of the city. Why buy a dark suit just for one day? Valerie would’ve been against it. Anyway, she loved this cardigan, having mended it so many times. He hadn’t chosen the church. He hadn’t chosen anything. Valerie’s sister, Ann, had become the efficient organiser. She'd started crying, though, when he told her that he wouldn’t be staying for the reception after the service. But he didn’t care any more about her tears; Valerie was no longer there to make him apologise. He'd ended up lying, telling Ann that his own friends had organised their own reception in his wife’s honour.

‘How long have we been friends?’ asked Thomas. Is “friends” really the right word, considering the circumstances? He stood up and signalled to the barman that he wanted another beer. His legs felt like slabs of stone.

‘Not all that long,’ said Bernard. ‘You’ve only been here a couple of years, haven’t you?’

‘Must be three,’ said Paul. ‘You came the year we got our kitchen done.’

Bernard took a hold of Paul’s ear. ‘Never seen your bloody kitchen. You go on about it, but we’ve never actually seen it.’

Thomas slumped down onto his seat again and folded his arms. ‘Suppose I should’ve introduced you to Valerie. Just didn’t think it was urgent. Seems like only yesterday we moved here.’

Paul patted him on the shoulder. ‘Don’t worry. Retirement is a full-time job. Everything in its own time.’

The young barman arrived with the beer. ‘How are things with you lot then?’

‘Could be better,’ said Thomas.

The barman walked on, pushing in chairs and taking away some of the dirty plates. ‘You’re not going to start complaining are you?’

Thomas shook his head. ‘No, that wouldn’t do, would it?’

Bernard and Paul spotted one of their friends from the Irish dancing club. They seemed to come to life as they moved off over the road to greet him, putting on Irish accents, hitting each other on the back. They admired their friend’s new car, a Buick Electra, imported from the States, according to the talk in the pub. Now that’s a car Valerie would’ve loved. Something she never got the chance to ride in.

After finishing his beer in three quick gulps, Thomas decided to leave. He felt sick when he thought about the task that lay ahead: he’d bought large plastic rubbish bags to pack up Valerie’s clothes. The woman from the charity shop had insisted that she would take everything, as long as they were clean, but Thomas knew that Valerie would never have left any dirty clothes in the cupboards. He pictured her standing there complaining about the way he always left his clothes around the house. He didn’t want to cry, not there on the terrace, not in front of the boys, so he made for the exit on the other side of the café.

‘Tell them I’ll see them next week,’ he told the barman.

‘You haven’t had your lunch yet, Thomas.’

‘No. Having lunch with the wife today. Too much time in here has gone and made her all lonely.’

The barman nodded, looking confused. ‘Didn’t even know you had a wife.’

Thomas stepped out into the street and put his head down to avoid the direct sunlight. ‘You and me both, my friend.’ The unicorn forgot about his little pixie. On the walk back to the flat, his tears made it almost impossible to see the way. He had to stop on a bench at one point, overcome with the realisation that Valerie wouldn’t be there with a cheerful greeting when he walked in the door. He sat there for hours, just simply observing all of the couples, young and old, hurrying past.

© Copyright, 2007. Seamus Kearney. "Little Pixie"

Light Up My Life


OK, I'm now ready for Christmas. The festive season kicks off here in Lyon with the annual Festival of Lights, which has just taken place. It's a way of breaking ourselves in gently, with spectacular light and colour. The above photo was taken in a big square in the centre of the city. A large bubble was placed over a giant statue of a former king and fake snow drifted through the coloured lights. Yes, this was supposed to be like one of those water-filled Christmas toys, where snow falls over a picturesque scene when it's shaken or turned upside down. It looked pretty impressive from a distance.


Over a period of four days buildings across Lyon were lit up with the most amazing light displays. I took many photos, but here is an automatic selection of the scenes I loved the most:

There's something nice about a city lighting itself up, with the aim of lighting up the lives of its residents.


A Postcard From The Jungle !


All together now: In the jungle, the blogosphere jungle, the lion's not sleeping tonight!!

I feel like a proud father who's just received a postcard from his first-born, to say that his adventures out in the jungle are going far better than expected.

It's been a month now since I launched A Roar For Powerful Words, an award that sets out to recognize good and powerful writing in the blogosphere. As you can imagine, I've been trying to assess the impact of these pink, blue and purple lions, to find out whether the objective is being achieved - the aim is to celebrate the high quality of the writing that can be found on the Internet, despite what many in the mainstream media would have us believe.

Is it true that this award has been featured or mentioned on more than 14,000 blogs after just four weeks? What? Don't you mean 140? 1,400? My computer friend Stuart has just got back to me after doing some research using fancy search methods that leave me confused. He has left me speechless with this figure, and I'm still wondering whether his machines are telling the truth (nothing personal, Stuart, but it's always good to be sceptical of science, just as you once told me). Does anyone else have a reliable, mathematical way of checking, to be doubly certain? I've been limited to simple search engines, which apparently are not very representative, whereas Stuart has used super-duper university machines that trace and match with long, skinny fingers! Yes, he assures me, he has found traces of the award on more than 14,000 sites, ranging from a simple mention by text to a full post with photo and link. I must say I am very surprised. I am also very humbled.

I do know that my own Google alerts went bananas from the start, and they definitely weren't sending me all of the links. I quickly realised that with such exponential growth in the number of awards being passed on (every recipient hands it on to five others) I had no chance of keeping up with where the award has gone. Someone in the writing circle suggested that we keep a list of all the recipients, so we could all check out the sites being honoured, but I'm so glad now that I didn't promise to do that. I wouldn't have time to sleep!

But statistics aside, it's absolutely wonderful that this award has been able to honour blogs that are providing people with enormous reading pleasure. It is still spreading as we speak, giving a big thumbs-up to people who produce blogs that others can't live without. There is absolutely no doubt that good and powerful writing is not the exception in the blogosphere. The biggest problem for me, and for many others, is finding the time to read all of the wonderful, exciting material that is out there.

It's been a real pleasure in these past few weeks to randomly visit blogs I've never been to/never heard mentioned before, only to see a big pink, purple or blue lion staring out at me! I've seen the award on many different sites: general blogs, writing blogs and news-related blogs. I even got an email out of the blue from a guy I used to work with years ago, who saw my name mentioned along with the award on someone's site. That is what makes blogging so amazing.

So, to everyone who's taken part in this, a big thank you! The roar has definitely been heard, loud and clear, and it's still spreading along wires and microchips right around the globe! (Gosh, that's a scary thought, when it's put like that!). Let's hope it will encourage people to keep on down this new, exciting communications highway. Now, Stuart, are you sure of those figures?

A Crash Of Symbols


Lorna sat down on the beach, failing to grasp the significance of her husband's words. I'm leaving. I want a divorce. We can talk about the kids. We can avoid a court case, can't we? She looked over at the family playing nearby and couldn't help but notice that the tide had now come in and started to demolish their sandcastle, the loving home the little girl had spent so many hours creating.
Oh yes, that complicated subject in writing: symbolism. It can make a piece of writing sail, but it can also bring it crashing to the ground! It depends how it's used, and that's the difficult part. I prefer symbolism that hides beneath the surface, stuff that we often miss on a first reading. I don't like to get the feeling that the writer has deliberately put the symbolism in. Do you know what I mean?

The above example of symbolism, featuring Lorna on the beach, is far too obvious to my liking. I wrote it especially for this post, to demonstrate how I don't like to write. (That's a sandcastle we made on the beach in Greece over the summer, by the way). Did the text strike you as grating though? I ask this because stuff that annoys me will often be described as "beautiful" by a friend who's read the same piece. Yes, my friends, the reading experience is a very personal thing.

This is what Robie Macauley and George Lanning said about symbolism in their book Technique in Fiction:

“Symbols are not bright devices to be hung on the tree of the story. Nor can they be fabricated in an attempt to give the fiction an air of deep significance. They are serious and useful only when they are born from the narrative itself, when they come from the same well of imagination as the story.”

I tend to agree with this. Look at these other examples and tell me whether you agree with me that there is a "crash of symbols". I've made up these excerpts to help illustrate my point:

1) Tina told him she felt much better about her life. The sun suddenly came out from behind the stubborn clouds as they walked into the park. Later, near the fountain, he dropped and smashed the bottle of wine he'd been carrying. She knew then what he was about to announce.
2) The terrible news of the killing had come on a Friday morning. Mr Panguy had opened the letter from the consulate with a butter knife that had been left on the breakfast table. He'd noticed the droplet of jam on the blade as he sliced open the top of the envelope, and had been careful to ensure it didn't touch the contents.
3) He didn't want to fight her anymore. He decided he needed to be with her, in every sense of the word. Yes, she was right: commitment was everything. The vines they lay next to seemed to be on top of them all of sudden, the feelers actually now wrapped around his legs, around his arms, even curling up around his groin.
So, tell me what you think of those passages. I'd be interested to see whether you think they work or not.

In the meantime, for perhaps THE BEST LAUGH you will have this month, and while you meditate further on the question of symbolism, I invite you to watch this excellent video that a journalist friend sent me a few months back. I really encourage you to watch it right to the very end! It's one of the best videos I've seen on YouTube. It puts the whole question of symbolism right into context. Click twice on the play button.