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8 April 2003

Q: What's brown and sticky?
A: A stick.

As it happens, this is my all-time favourite joke. I think it should be the patron joke of all writers in English. Obviously, it wouldn't translate. Robert Frost said that what is lost in translation is the poetry; in this case, because it's a joke you can't call it poetry, but what would be lost would be the self-same thing, that sense of turning the language against itself, so that a simple and straightforward word suddenly means something entirely other. Which is half the job of writing, it's a joke that acts as a paradigm for poetry and fiction and a lot else besides.

Besides which, it's really funny. Cracks me up every time I hear it, which is often, because a lot of kids like it too.

It's on my mind this afternoon because of the weather. Bizarrely, we're having a really good spell, weeks of clear skies and sunshine and barely a spit of rain. So there I was out in the back yard watering my herbs, and thinking 'What's warm and springy? The spring!' and feeling altogether too pleased with myself. Good weather doesn't always equate to good moods, but good work usually does, especially when it's nearly over. I'm in my last week of tutorials for the university, one this lunchtime and one this evening, one more tomorrow and I'm done; the proposal for the next fantasy novel is back with my agents, and this time I'm fairly sure it's finished (been working on that fairly solidly for the last few weeks, but I haven't really been able to discuss it here, on account of one of my editors is known to read this weblog...); most of my booked gigs are behind me now, which leaves me free to work on the novella for PS Publishing. Technically I haven't written much yet, just a few thousand words; but because it's a novella, I can think of it in terms of 'not far to go now, then'. Another twenty thousand words, give or take; and hey, I can write a thousand words a day, easy, get it finished by the end of the month...

Actually, that won't happen. Work emerges at a rate disproportionate to its length; a thousand words a day is bottom dollar for a novel, but quite rare for a short story, and a novella is much more a long short story than it is a short novel. Besides which, I'm deliberately taking my time; Pete said 'I don't care what you write, as long as it's the best thing you've ever written', and I don't want to disappoint him. Slow and careful, then, and try to keep on loving it as I am doing at the moment. Technically it's a ghost story, but I said from the start that I thought it might turn out to be one of those ghost stories that don't actually have a ghost in them. What it is, or what it seems to be at the moment, is a book about being haunted. Different people, haunted by different things: memories, loss, dreams, regret. And a homunculus in a jar, we don't want to be too metaphysical here. Metaphorical, absolutely (it's called 'Being Small', and it has half a dozen sections and each of those is also called 'Being Small', just to underline how laden with meaning and subtext it all is) and metafictional, undoubtedly (it has a dedication, like all my books - but in this case the dedication is written by the narrator, not by me) but the only proper response to metaphysics is not to talk about it. My old English teacher once asked us for an essay on the subject, and I declined to do it, and saved my skin with a half-hour argument in class about how inappropriate it would be. One of those few petty triumphs that I cling to, from the slough of despond that was my schooldays. I still have trouble understanding anyone who actually enjoyed school. And yet, of course, some of my favourite reading is old school stories, from Tom Brown to Stalky to the Chalet School. I guess there's still a part of me that wants to go back and get it right next time; we call this living in fiction, and eschew it, and do it anyway.

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© Chaz Brenchley 2003
Reproduced here by permission of Chaz Brenchley, who asserts his moral right to be identified as the author of this work.