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Chaz'z Blog

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Ah, days like these - you've gotta love 'em. Friends for dinner yesterday, so I woke into chaos (those of you who don't know my house or my lovable lifestyle will just have to take my word for this, but the detritus covered every surface in the kitchen, including the floor; I did leave a pathway for Misha to get from bedbox to supper bowl to kittylitter, but it was a narrow one). I never do mind this, though, because it lays out an entirely legitimate shape to the day, which we call Cleaning Up and involves serious sessions at the kitchen sink, with music playing, interspersed by sessions of other stuff while that load drains & dries. Today the Other Stuff included reading, which is always welcome; but this being Monday, and all the displacement makework having been (temporarily) finished or shelves or otherwise got out of the way, I could finally get back to my real work, my novel. First time in three weeks - yikes!

So I went into town to do some necessary posting and delivering applications and such, and shopped a bit, and came home and did some more washing-up, and had lunch, and then I phoned the bad double glazing people about the lousy job they did in ill-fitting my windows (and I've been putting that off for a month, which only goes to show how eager I was to get back to my novel) - and they said that someone would phone me back, so then I couldn't go out again, and I'd pretty much finished the washing-up, and...

And to cut a long story short, I did start work on the novel, and wrote another fifteen hundred words. Eventually. It's taken most of the day, including a late-night session to finish off; but all of that is good, that's fine, and when it's lined up with everything else I've done today - well, you've just got to love it, really. Busy and fruitful and pleasurable and all good things. There should be more such days; perhaps there will be. Who can tell?

Posted by Chaz at 12:12 AM GMT [Link]

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Went to St Helens this week (y'know, it is just so hard to type that without an apostrophe...) for a TWF gig with m'friend'n'colleague Juliet. That's four hours on the train, plus hanging around on a v cold station waiting to be picked up, in order for the two of us to talk to eight people in a library, and one of them was - well, let's say eccentric. Sometimes I wonder why they do this. Not us, I know why we do it, we do it for the compensations; but why the library would pay out all that money - fees and travel and two rooms in the Hilton, it ain't cheap - and judge the result worthwhile. That's assuming that they do, of course; but they did seem pleased, and they did invite us back.

Mind you, they should have been pleased; it was a good gig. Jules and I spark off each other very nicely. Which is one of the aforementioned compensations; it's always worth travelling to do a session with Jules. And the travelling is another, for me at least, because I actively enjoy being on trains. Not 'cos I'm a train buff, because I'm not; but it's like flying, once you're aboard there's really nothing you can do, except just sit quietly and read. I like reading, and I don't often get the opportunity to read that intensively, undisturbed and at length. Just now, I have a lot of urgent reading to get through; it's a consequence of having said yes to editing an issue of that online magazine. They have a big review section, so Iíve scrounged some books from my favourite crime & fantasy editors. Most I'm parcelling out to reliable & critical friends, but one in particular I'm keeping to myself: viz A Feast for Crows, vol 4 of George R R Martin's massive, spectacular, Shakespearean fantasy sequence. Trouble is, I hadn't actually read vol 3 yet, so I have nine hundred pages of that to absorb before I can tackle the one that's up for review. Not a problem, rather an absolute pleasure - but I was glad to have eight hours of sitting on trains, with the prospect of more travel upcoming.

After the gig, we asked the librarians where was good to eat in St Helens. They sent us to Mr Chan's, &quo;the best Chinese in town" - which turned out to be another of the compensations, and not only for the food. That was excellent, but the craic was better yet. Mr Chan - Charlie, as it happens - came over himself to apologise that he didn't have the bottle of wine we'd asked for; he talked us through the rest of the wine list, but actually recommended the house red, and gave us half a glass each to try. That was fine, so we got a bottle - and then when weíd finished eating he came over for a chat, and took an open bottle from the bar and topped us up; and we talked of martial arts and Chinese history and books and other stuff, and before we left we'd finished that bottle too, all on the house. If you're ever in St Helens, look him up - Mr Chanís, on North Road.

And all of this good Chinoiserie reminded me that it's Chinese New Year today (Sunday), and this year coming is the Year of the Dog. I am myself a dog, as it happens, so this is my year, and will obviously be full of good luck all twelve months long. So I thought it needed celebrating, so a few friends are coming round to eat, which means that I get to spend all weekend cooking. That's what I call a compensation.

Posted by Chaz at 12:36 AM GMT [Link]

Friday, January 20, 2006

Ah, money stuff...

Gentlemen, of course, never discuss financial matters in the open. Writers, on the other hand, seldom talk about anything else. I guess it's because we see so little money, and less with every year that passes; we're like birders, mournfully watching the species dwindle until even the common sparrow is a rare, rare sight.

Or in other words - did you guess it? - I was at the bank yesterday. Went in for a twenty-minute chat, a bow at a venture; came out after an hour and a quarter, with my withers thoroughly wrung and a very heavy bank loan on my back. It does kind of see me secure for the next six or seven months, but it'll take the same in years to pay it off, and I'll have no money in the meantime. No more frivolling my cash away on books, on bottles of wine; no more spending anything, at all, ever.

Still, there must be pleasures to be had from parsimony; I shall seek them out, and report back if I find any. As a first step, a sign of things to come, I had stale bread to my lunch today. Admittedly I did toast it; and I did bedevil mushrooms and chicken-livers (with cream, cayenne, mustard, Worcestershire sauce) to go atop it; but all of that is cheap too, and stale bread is still stale bread, however you blanket it. Conspicuous virtue, I call that: my only luxury hereafter.

Posted by Chaz at 03:39 PM GMT [Link]

Work famously expands to fill the space available. Displacement, clearly, expands somewhat further, in order to force work out. Looking back, it's not so much extraordinary as utterly transparent how, every time I declare the intention to settle down to serious work on the new book, something else trundles along and elbows it out of the way. There have been proposals for other projects, that demanded weeks and took months; there have been cookings and parties and such; there have been proofs, this last week or so (and okay, that one's really not my fault, proofs do have to be checked instanter and I'm not responsible for when they turn up; it's just the spirit of the age that they came at exactly the wrong time); there are various applications for project-funding and awards and so forth that I haven't done yet, but must very shortly; and now there is a whole new thing, one of those offers that I simply can't refuse.

Why didn't I have assertiveness training back in the early eighties, when half my friends were doing it? Why did I never learn to say no?

But then, contrariwise, why would I want to say no to this? (Apart from pressure-of-work, deadlines, boring stuff like that, which we obviously dismiss out of hand.) What it is, I've been asked to guest-edit a special crime-and-fantasy issue of an online lit-crit magazine. I have carte blanche, they tell me, a free hand; so I've been recklessly sending e-mails hither and yon, pleading and bargaining with all my friends for interviews and articles and books. It's huge fun, putting something together in my head; quite beautiful, it is, a beacon of intelligence and art, a light shone upon genre fiction.

So far, I have managed blissfully to ignore my track-record as an editor of various things, from school newspapers to university magazines and beyond. What that track record says is that if you put Chaz in charge of anything, it doesn't actually happen. Great ideas, no ability to organise. Couldn't organise a ghost-story session in a haunted library...

Which may yet be my saving grace, because of course I can do that, I've proved it, and you can buy the book if you like. So maybe I've changed, maybe this is a skill I've acquired. Certainly the world has shifted in my direction, inventing e-mail for me so's I donít actually have to phone anybody. It could happen; it could be good. Keep an eye on, round about April/May - or just watch this space, thereíll be updates, thereíll be a link.

We hope.

Posted by Chaz at 10:27 AM GMT [Link]

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

It is of course a fact universally acknowledged (and is that the best-ever opening to a novel, or just the most-ripped off?) that any hint of worky satisfaction, the slightest suggestion of hey-this-book-is-actually-going-well will immediately be followed by collapse of stout party. My skull is full of catarrh, but you donít want to hear about that; my mind is full of a new project (that I had a meeting about this afternoon, and Iím not going to say another word for three months, till we know the result thereof; are you tantalised or what?); my left arm is full of pins-and-needles, which means a resumption of visits to the physio, which is sickening; my house is full of draughts, from where they didnít seal the new windows properly (snarl...!); and I might have ignored all of this and carried on regardless with the new book, except that the proofs of the last one dropped through the door this morning, and as usual I have negative time to correct them and get them back to the States, so thatís what Iím doing now and for the next few days. Storytelling will just have to chug on subconsciously, while I am preoccupied with punctuation.

Posted by Chaz at 11:39 PM GMT [Link]

Monday, January 9, 2006

Ah, parties. Remind me again, just why it is that we do them? Twenty-four hours ago my house was very full of other people, almost all my favourite people in the neighbourhood, and I got to talk properly with almost none of them. I suppose the good-hostly thing is to provide them the opportunity to talk to each other, which they did seem to do. And they ate almost everything I'd cooked, which was gratifying; and now my house is exceedingly full of empty bottles, which is also gratifying, as I am not one of those modern creatures who believe that you can have just as much fun without getting pissed out of your tiny little mind.

Still, food is more important, if only because it has to be made first; drink arrives in bottles, food comes as ingredients and must be transmogrified. My faves were a pork pie - my third, and they do get better every time, though this one kind of fell apart in the cutting - and a torta di purra (one for the vegetarians, except that the carnivores ate most of it before their feebler brethren could arrive: leeks and rice and cheese, largely, in a filo pastry coat). Last year was officially Year of the Pastry, and it seems to have worked, at least to the point where I have confidence enough to risk it.

So that was yesterday, lots of cooking (I actually made the pork pie at 2am) and cleaning and then playing hostly; and today was appropriately quiet, but also utterly fabulous. I made vague gestures towards tidying up (I counted the bottles; you don't want to know), and then watched a TV biography of C S Lewis before I trotted down into town and over the river to the Sage, our beautiful new music venue. Where I met mífriend Gail and shared my final birthday treat, a concert given by Willard White with Carl Davis conducting. Someone (someone else, alas) said that listening to Willard was like bathing in chocolate, and itís exact - all that deep, dark richness, and the sense of utter indulgence and wellbeing both at once. His voice turns me to jelly when heís only talking; when he sings... Well. Go figure.

This was a playful concert, all his root material: Jamaican folk songs and spirituals, Broadway hits and tuxedo cocktail songs. I should've disapproved, because I have always asserted that opera voices do not work in the lighter register of popular music, it's all about over-egging the pudding; but there's something about Willard that overrides the rule. Gail says that the transposition works better anyway in the lower ranges of the human voice, that basses can walk where sopranos (soprani?) should fear to tread; this is true, but I think also that he is genuinely connected with this material, he's not just slumming or showing off. He's singing it because it matters to him, not because he thinks he matters to it. My favourite - or least-favourite - example of the converse, there's a late Bernstein recording of West Side Story where heís got te Kanawa and Carreras and such, all operatic voices and it is so utterly wrong, it's unbearable. They may be brilliant with the music, but they lose the narrative utterly, it makes no sense. That never happens with Willard, he inhabits the heart of the song, which is words and music both; and so it was a wonderful, wonderful gig. And I came home wishing I could sing, which is kind of like wishing I was a foot taller and drop-dead gorgeous - but then, I do that too.

Posted by Chaz at 12:05 AM GMT [Link]

Friday, January 6, 2006

Question: What should a man do on his birthday?
Answer: Put all his poetry books into alphabetical order. Obviously.

Oh, all right, I did do a little more than that. This was yesterday - Ramsey Campbell and I are one hundred and seven - and I did do shopping in the morning, and I did go out in the evening and meet friends and do drinking and eating and drinking and watching a movie and drinking and more drinking afterwards, and then I came home, with all that that implies (and no, you donít actually know all that that implies; a man is entitled to his privacies, even from his weblog).

And as a result I have been a little tired, a little quiet today, when I should have been most busy. I made the curious decision a couple of days ago to declare a party this Saturday. Iím not sure quite why we do these things, but there you go. Here you come, I hope; if I forgot to invite you, I'm sorry, and just turn up anyway. Others will. So I need to spend these few days doing busy household things, cooking and cleaning and moving things around; and I have done very little of any of that, except that I did put a ham to soak and marzipan a cake. Oh, and organise my plays, my short stories, my lit crit. What is this with sorting books? People are not coming to scrutinise the order of my books. Itís just a sudden urgent thing I feel, middle age at last. Next thing you know I'll be cataloguing my recipes, so that I know what to find where. God, that would be so useful. Even better would be my other sneaky plan, which is to type up every recipe I use, before I use it. That way I don't have to get the book all greasy and yuck, I can just refer to a paper print-out; and I never need to lose a recipe again, because they'll all be on the computer. And searchable. So I won't be left in the situation I am tonight, knowing what recipe I want and for once actually knowing what book it's in and being entirely unable to find the bloody book. It's a fabulous plan; I explained it to my mother once, and she just snorted in a deeply cynical and I thought rather unmotherly way. And was quite right, of course, because I almost never do it. Maybe now I'm so elderly, I'll come over all bachelor and prissy, and it'll become just the sort of thing I do do.

Posted by Chaz at 12:00 AM GMT [Link]

Tuesday, January 3, 2006

Question: How often do I look at a TV listing, see a four-hour film in the middle of the day and think "oh, bliss..."?

Answer: Every time they show Lawrence of Arabia, basically. Which, thank the lord, they tend to do on public holidays, so itís sort-of okay for me to do the self-indulgence thing, sprawled on the sofa with a cat on my chest, coffee and sandwiches close by and all that overwrought desert magic on the screen. Even the music is magnificent, and I never notice film music unless itís your actual musical.

So: happy Chaz, unworking Chaz today. Take four hours out of the middle, and what can you do that's useful? Besides, I finished & sent off something yesterday, I need to read my way back into the next major piece of work - it's okay to put something aside for a month or two, I can generally pick up the threads again and move it along so that you can't see the join, but I do have to get up to speed, I can't do it from a standing start - and I've scheduled that for tomorrow; I feel no urgency to work today, I have nothing outstandingly urgent to do, I'm entitled to the odd day entirely off...

Etc, etc. And of course I didn't take the day entirely off; I dealt with some e-mails, I wrote a newsletter for the fanbase (does this mean you? Sign up on the front page, do it now...), I restocked with signed copies of the Phantoms book for eager customers - get them while they're hot, , or go to the Phantoms page on this very site and order via PayPal, we're making this as easy as we can so c'mon, guys, why hold back? Itís only £10 or your local equivalent (for now - this price may rise shortly. Get 'em while they're cheap...). 'Restocking' in this instance actually means strolling up the hill to have a chat with my friend Michelle and carry a bagful of books back down, but hey, it's still work.

Oh, and Iíve been reading Kipling - Puck of Pook's Hill, and that's work. No, it is, honest, it's research. That it is also a heightened pleasure is a bonus, nothing more. What's interesting is that I knew I'd read it as a kid, but I didn't remember reading it more than once or twice; and yet I must've done, it must've been one of my constant companions, because I know it to the bones of me. Going back after thirty years or more, it's not just the material that's familiar, it's little twists of phrase, habits that I can see in my own work that I must have found here and just hung on to until needed. Cool. I love Kipling and always have done, even when he was entirely unpopular and scorned by my best beloveds (back in the 'eighties, that was, when he was thought politically repulsive; now I guess he's just not thought about at all. That's okay, opinions shift but the work abides, and he remains one of our finest writers, as well as absolutely a voice of his time).

Posted by Chaz at 01:03 AM GMT [Link]

Monday, January 2, 2006

I wrote a synopsis today, and this is a process that I never will understand. They are an inherent part of the proposal for any new book; like "three acres and a cow!", the common cry of every agent and publisher is "three chapters and a synopsis!" The chapters are to show the style, the voice, the characters, the mood, all the skills of word and rhythm; the synopsis is to show the plot and plotting, the themes, all the skills of structure. Taken together, we call this storytelling.

There are writers and writers, and all of us are different. Some love to plan, to research, to prepare; I have a friend who writes a detailed chapter-by-chapter breakdown of her entire book and then discusses it with agent and publisher before she types a word of the novel. That would drive me frantic; I am of the extreme opposite school, and would rather never plan at all. My ideal is to think of a title and a good first line, start writing and just see what happens. Sadly, I'm seldom allowed to do that (tho' I was once commissioned on the basis of a phone-call where I offered a book about amnesia, she asked for something supernatural so I added a fallen angel and the deal was done; and so I had to write a book about amnesia and a fallen angel. It's called Dispossession, and I still think it works). Even so, approaching any demand for chapters-plus-synopsis, I always write the chapters first, and not just because that's the fun part. It gives me a grip on the book; by the time I've made a good beginning, I generally know what end Iím aiming at. What I donít know - and what I would rather not know, to be honest - is the stuff in between, the journey towards the destination. I like to discover it as we go along, hand-in-hand with the reader. Plot is just what characters do, and I'd always choose to sit back and watch them do it, rather than planning a route for them and forcing them to take it. That's the package-holiday version of fiction, and I would vote for the independent traveller every time. A man - not me, alas - once said that being asked to write a synopsis for a book he hadn't written yet was like being asked to draw a map of a country he hadn't visited, and he was right.

However, we are compelled to do it; so I always leave it till last, and then do it as quick-and-dirty as I can; and I still have no idea how this process works, because logically speaking it ought not to work at all. This morning, genuinely, I had no idea how my characters would get from A (where I had placed them, situation and relationship and threat) to Z (the end of the book, many questions answered, others yet unresolved); by six oíclock this evening it was done. And it all makes sense, at least to me; and some new characters have popped up to complicate matters, and established characters have demonstrated why theyíre in the book, and youíd think Iíd been taking dictation. I have another friend who asserts that books have some kind of independent existence, wafting around in a different dimension until they insinuate themselves whole into the head of their chosen writer; this is obviously bollocks, but there are times when it can feel like that, and synopsis-time is one of them. It always happens to me this way, where mysteries just explain themselves. My Outremer series started as a series of titles, where I had no idea what any of them meant; I wrote a couple of chapters, which only complicated matters further; then I spent three days writing a synopsis, bang bang bang, and it all fell into place like magic.

I donít believe in magic. The practical man I secretly am wants to assert that itís just three decades of practice at putting stories together, and no more mysterious than a carpenter using his skills to make a chair; the psychologist that Iím not murmurs about connection to the subconscious, until I throw a bucket over his head. Most likely, in truth it is magic, and Ďmagicí consists in both of those attributes, plus perhaps some other ingredient I havenít identified yet. But I canít go looking for it, as I donít believe in magic.

Posted by Chaz at 01:05 AM GMT [Link]

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© Chaz Brenchley 2002/2006
Reproduced here by permission of Chaz Brenchley, who asserts his moral right to be identified as the author of this work.