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These things we do

9 May 2006

I posted a couple of dozen books yesterday, hither and yon (including a cartonload of Outremer to the Fantasy Centre in London, if anyone down there has been looking for the series and not been able to find it...). And it occurred to me en route that I used not to do this (and not only because a couple of dozen books amounts to a considerable weight, and the walk to the post office I use is, oh, a mile and a half, or thereabouts). I used to be quite firm on this, that I was not a bookseller. I'm a novelist, I used to say; I write the books, other people sell them. Not my job.

Then my early books started dropping out of print, and I picked up remainder copies cheap, and for a while I just hung on to them; I am an inveterate hoarder, as anyone who visited would know. But people began to ask, could I sell them a copy of this book or that, and I turned out to be that rare and complex thing, an inveterate hoarder who can't say no.

And then - well, now - Bridge of Dreams is published in the States but not here, so laying in copies to sell on just seems natural, inevitable. Normal. So I was thinking about that, and about how I spent yesterday going over a friend's story with him, and how I'm going to Birmingham at the end of this week to do a gig at a Tolkien weekend, and I started compiling a list of all those things my current job (novelist, remember) requires or obliges or encourages me to do. Sometimes for money, sometimes not, but always (I hope) professionally, I am:

a bookseller, a lecturer, a tutor, a performer, a panellist, a commentator, an essayist, a Talking Head, a journalist, a tour guide (yes, truly - Chaz Brenchley's Newcastle, where all the bodies are buried...), an impresario, an entrepreneur and a publisher. And probably other things as well, but we'll assume they can be subsumed under one or another of these heads. Possibly one or two of the heads could be amalgamated, but that's less certain than you'd think. "A commentator and a Talking Head? What's the difference?" Only in usage, but I use commentator to refer to professional/occupational matters - "Chaz, come and talk to our listeners about the state of publishing today" - where Talking Head might be mumbling about anything. I get asked because of what I do, because I have a profile, but - well, one time I did a spot on local radio talking about beards. That kind of thing. (As it happens, I'm an expert; I've read Beards by Reginald Reynolds. 'Nuff said, to those who know...)

I always wanted to be a writer; I used to think that when I was, I'd be let write. How young I was, how foolish. The job has changed spectacularly, in the thirty-odd years I've been doing it, but all those changes might as well have been designed to stop me writing. Not just me; I was talking to my mate Ian Rankin a few years back, and he'd counted up the number of days he'd had free to write his latest book, and they amounted to forty-two. Which is, to be frank, not enough. People like us because of this thing we do, and then they conspire to stop us doing it. Bah, humbug. Anyone want to buy a book...?

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© Chaz Brenchley 2006
Reproduced here by permission of Chaz Brenchley, who asserts his moral right to be identified as the author of this work.