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Phantoms

17 December 2004

Itís a truism, of course, that no one really comes face to face with their own mortality until their parents die. And itís one of the nastier little habits of truisms that they do have a way of turning out true. Me, Iíve been denying this one for twenty years, all through a chain of other peopleís deaths, people I felt much closer to than I did to my parents. But now my father has died, and suddenly - well, yes. Itís like having half a cocoon ripped away. Thereís a gulf there, and no one to stand between me and the edge.

So what do you do? You turn your back on eternity, obviously. Itís scary out there. I have been utterly working, all this week. Thankfully, I had something urgent to do. The first Phantoms at the Phil event was this Monday; my father died the Friday previous, and I had still not finished the story I was due to read.

Deadlines do concentrate the mind, when they are for once absolute, and crucial. I couldnít delay the gig, and I couldnít fail to contribute. So I spent all weekend working, and by Sunday night I had a story. Ten thousand words of story, that would have taken an hour to read. And we had another absolute limit on wordlength, the three of us together, because the three read-aloud stories had to fit onto a CD. So I spent all Monday cutting, when I wasnít tutoring at the university. I cut the story twice, and got it down to six and a half thousand, about thirty-five minutesí reading. Should have cut it one more time, but Iíd run out of time by then.

So down to the Lit & Phil, and actually everything went like a dream. People came, the place was pretty much full, and even the bottled mulled wine was nice. Seanís story was, what, a little bit Poe and a bit more Borges; Gailís was surprisingly light-hearted, even a little bit uplifting; mine (I am told) was brutally bleak, so no surprise there, but people were nice about it none the less. And it did all - just! - fit onto a CD. I have the master in my bag as we speak.

And then Tuesday was all university, the last day of term, and keeping up the fine tradition of students not attending booked tutorials (with the interesting variation this time of his turning up to tell me that he wasnít turning up), and through a talk from Maggie Gee to a dinner for all of us disgruntled creative-writing tutors. That was fun.

Wednesday I was starting to run out of work - except obviously for the rewrite of Selling Water, which is just too big to get started on - so I cooked and shopped and such. And again yesterday, baked a Xmas cake and wrote a column for the British Fantasy Society and so forth until it was time to go to the Lit & Phil for the second Phantoms gig. This was a much more relaxed affair - no microphones, for a start, no time-pressure and we knew the stories worked - and a very different audience. Our personal audiences largely, I think, rather than the Lit-&-Phillers who came on Monday.

And today all of that is behind me, and I really donít know what to do. I ought perhaps to start work on Selling Water anyway, just for that sense of having begun the thing - but I have just been smitten by a rather lovely idea for another story. Does anyone know the Latin equivalent of an elf? Or more specifically, Vivat Regina! for an elf-queen?


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© Chaz Brenchley 2004
Reproduced here by permission of Chaz Brenchley, who asserts his moral right to be identified as the author of this work.