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Heat is Work and Work's a Curse...

6 November 2002

Ah, work: the cup that cheers but not (alas!) inebriates. Oh lord, take this cup from me...

Well, no, don't. It ain't that bad. There is still actually nothing else I want to do but write, and nothing else that I want to be than a writer. Sometimes, indeed, it still inebriates; I can get seriously high when it's going well.

But - unlike Browning's thrush - I never can recapture that first fine careless rapture. When I was a child, when I was a teenager, no one could stop me writing. 'Work' meant schoolwork, and I had no interest in it; all I wanted to do was write. Stories, poems, plays, unfinished novels - I was positively a fountainhead. Then suddenly I was eighteen and getting paid for it, it had become work, and work was always the thing that I avoided. This is classic, of course: when it was forbidden fruit, it was joyous, but now that it's a duty, it's a pain. After twenty-five years, the fountainhead has dried to a reluctant trickle, and my avoidance strategies are legion and legendary.

Including, of course, this weblog. This isn't work, I don't get paid for it, so it's fun. And I get to play with a new word processor, so it's useful fun. [More of that anon: Linux is another theme, along with throwing rocks through Windows.] And to some extent it will stand as a record of my work this winter, what I'm doing and what I'm trying to do, where I am as a writer and where I hope to go. All of this is, or should be, good. Just so long as it doesn't induce me to neglect the thing itself, the work that this is meant to record.

So where am I, and what am I doing? I've just finished a short story, a foot in the door of a long-term project that will seek to unite contemporary Taiwan, historical China and all the myths and folk tales of that culture. The story has gone in two separate directions, to Norwich as part of an application for a year's fellowship at UEA and to America to see if F&SF will like it. I'm not expecting a positive response from either, but we'll see.

I've also just finished a foreword to a Dr Who novella from Telos. I was originally invited to write one of their novellas, but to be frank I don't know enough about the good Doctor to feel confident in that universe; besides, I've never really seen the fun in working within someone else's creation, I'd rather play with my own ideas. But then this piece turned up with a very Chandleresque feel to it, and David Howe asked if I'd like to introduce it. I really only said yes because I hate saying no, but I am so glad I did, because I love the story, the voice, the whole package.

This month I'm mostly working on the proposal for my next fantasy novel. This is in some senses faute de mieux; I love the idea, I love the characters, I'm really enjoying putting it all together, but privately - just between us, folks - there's another book I'd rather be writing just now. Only that no publisher has yet volunteered to commission it. They'd all be happy to see it when it's finished - but it never will be finished without a commission, because I cannot spend a year working on spec. No courage and no imagination, this current brood (sigh...). So I just have to be a full-blown fantasy writer for the moment, and neglect the other side(s) to my career. Professionally speaking that might be no bad thing, but artistically speaking it's depressing.

I do still have my artistic, my private projects, and I will also be working on one of those this month, before it goes forward as my application for the Northern Rock Writer's Award. Again I don't expect a result, but I think just applying is important. The work is the worst-kept secret in Newcastle, my contemporary novel about FWAs (that's Friends-With-Aids) and their carers. It's called 'unplugged: or, The Physics of Forgetfulness', and it's also about quantum mechanics and our understanding of the world, how that shifts from one generation to the next, so that what I was taught as basic fact is now hokum and baloney. And inevitably it's about love and death and all that other stuff that my work, that any work worth its salt always is about. Why else would we be writers, except to tackle the great themes of life, which are the great themes of literature?

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© Chaz Brenchley 2002
Reproduced here by permission of Chaz Brenchley, who asserts his moral right to be identified as the author of this work.