15 May 2003
I'm currently on a strict pharmaceutical regime, have to eat before I can get drugged up and I'm supposed to do it regularly, three times a day. This leads to difficulties, like breakfast time (don't eat breakfast; what am I to do? What I do at the moment is take a handful of grapes and pretend that's food) and sometimes evenings too. I made this curry that I meant to eat tonight, lamb simmered in an almond cream with lots of sweet spices but absolutely no chilli at all, shock horror; so I knocked up a chilli relish to go with, a couple of Scotch Bonnets with a couple of red peppers, an onion, some garlic, that's about it, all whizzed up together. Fierce, and fun. But I got home too late to be faffing around heating stuff up and cooking rice or bread or whatever, when I needed to catch up with my medication; so I threw an omelette together, a couple of softened shallots and a spoonful of this relish in a pair of really good eggs, hot pan, lump of butter, there you go. With a handful of cherry tomatoes, taste and texture and nourishment too, doubtless a vitamin or two, all put together in five minutes and what more do you want?
I was late back because I spent the evening in Sunderland, and if God had meant us to go to Sunderland he would never have given us the Metro. I swear the journey used to take twenty minutes on the train; tonight I slipped away from the event at half-past eight and still didn't get home till ten.
I seem to be telling this story backwards, but sometimes that's just the way it goes. I was in Sunderland to see a play, Flight Paths by Kathleen McCreery. Political, exhortatory, issue-driven drama about racism and asylum seekers: the sort of thing I used to lap up when I was younger (loved Brecht, loved polemic: strip the stage, strip the issue and nail your colours to the bare mast) but have tended to avoid in recent years. I guess I'm growing comfortable in my middle age, I know where I stand and I'm happy there and I don't want to be challenged any more. Tonight might have changed my mind, I'm not sure yet; at the least it was a reminder of what I used to love and why, the strengths and potency of the form.
It also helped me sort something out in my head, on the interminable journey back. It's become a commonplace these days to advertise dramas, particularly on TV, as "based on a true story" or words to that effect. Clearly, this is supposed to attract viewers; on me it has the opposite effect, it's an immediate reason not to watch. Just as I don't watch "docu-dramas", and I try to avoid straight documentaries if they feature "reconstructions", which generally means amateur enthusiasts in home-made costumes (much cheaper than actors professionally dressed) waving weapons around in smoke and trying to look authentic. That avoidance has become almost impossible, even the science programmes these days will have a fake Galileo or whoever rather than a straightforward talking head, so I just watch with half an eye and read a book during the longueurs; but I think what it is, I'm anti-entropic, I like categories and I resent this general blurring towards an indeterminate mid-point where a thing is neither fish nor fowl nor good red herring (as witness my insistence on good organic free-range eggs, with yolks bright as childhood; there is no reason for an egg to taste of fishmeal). I like my documentaries to be factual, and I like my fiction to be imaginative. Of course there's a need for contemporary drama, as well-researched as you like; but what I like is flights of fancy, metaphor riding invention, talking about this world in terms of something other. There's a novel called Sabriel by Garth Nix, just out in paperback, a fine novel, I'd recommend it to anyone - but it's got a puff from Philip Pullman, who calls it "a fantasy that reads like realism". Excuse me, that's supposed to be a compliment? When I write a fantasy, however much it speaks of the world as is, I still want it to read like I made it up.
Which - as we are in retrograde motion here - brings me to yesterday, and the good news. The nice people at Ace Books in the US want to commission my next fantasy, a two-book series called Selling Water by the River. It's been, I don't know, how long, five or six years since a publisher actually said yes to a new proposal; this is kind of like discovering that I do still have a career after all, and the relief is mighty.
© Chaz Brenchley 2003
Reproduced here by permission of Chaz Brenchley, who asserts his moral right to be identified as the author of this work.