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Chaz'z Blog

Monday, February 27, 2006

Ooh, just noticed, I wrote this a few days ago and completely neglected to post it. I think that actually happens quite often, only I wouldn't usually notice, not being in the habit of rereading my own journal. (People often ask me if I read my own books, and then seem surprised when I say no, absolutely not - but why on earth would I?)

Anyway, for what it's worth, here's the missing tablet, which dates from sometime after Misha died, but not long enough:

If the world divides between order and chaos, I am very much of the chaos party, right down at the extreme end of the range. The contents of my head is not ordered, and neither is the contents of my house. Every now and then, though, I take a pick-axe and a bucket to the detritus that has accreted here or there. This week, necessarily, I've been clearing my desk; and among the sheaves of papers I found the beginning of a story. Started it a couple of years back, give or take; haven't finished it, may very well never finish it, don't really remember what it was aiming at; but it's a good strong beginning, with a good strong title. Bring On the Empty Houses, it's called.

It's actually about religious houses, monks and nuns and such, but it has very pointed echoes today. I was actually away from home last night, staying happily with friends; and I stayed till after lunch today, but you can't do that for ever. So I came home.

It's kind of like when a lover moves out. You know they're gone, it's a constant sadness that you just ride over while you busy around with the day; but in the end you have to come home, and their actual physical absence is an unremitting shock. I keep mistaking sounds and shadows, and looking round, and remembering as I turn that Misha really isn't going to be there. Missing-limb syndrome: I seem to be living with a virtual cat. I guess she'll do the Cheshire thing, and fade away in the end.

I'm spending most of my home-time doing deliberately hard-edged cold-hearted techie stuff, as much contrast as I can manage to the warm fluffiness I lack. Trying to make Linux work on new machines, and failing, failing...

[The good news: Linux is now working. More or less. More fiddling required, but it's scary stuff, getting down and dirty in the mechanics of coding. I do keep popping up for air, which means writing fiction; oddly, at the moment that's science fiction, which is a thing I never do...]

Posted by Chaz at 12:06 AM GMT [Link]

You know how I hate to kvetch (uh, you do know that, don't you...?), but there are some days that just set themselves up to be kvetched at, or else I set myself up for a whole damn day of kvetchability (which might perhaps suggest that I don't hate it so much after all - but nah, bugger that, it's the misery thing, I hate being seen to be miserable, and the going on about it which is an inherent part of the state, and and and).

Anyway: up at 6.30 this morning, in order to catch the first of three trains, in order to get to Ilkley for a rather important Murder Squad meeting before eleven, in order to have a couple of hours together before a crimewriting lunch with the whole Northern Chapter. And you know already what I'm going to say, don't you? If not, you don't live in England or you haven't been paying attention. It's a Sunday, and I'm making train journeys; and of course I should've got up at 5.30 to give myself a margin, but that was just a stretch too far.

So my first train was half an hour late on a one-hour journey, due to engineering works on the line (they always do this on Sundays, so that the few trains that actually run are completely buggered about), and I didn't just miss my connection, because the fallback position (I always do have a fallback) which would've got me in late but not hopelessly late was cancelled altogether, or rather converted to a bus which would take three times as long, and so I spend a couple of extra hours sitting on a couple of intermediate platforms and what should've been a two-and-a-half-hour journey turns into five, and I arrive just in time for lunch. And okay, it's a roomful of people whom I like to be among, but I'm in no fit state to enjoy it, being wound up tighter than an armature; and the service is not so much slow as decrepit, and the food is simply dull; and okay, I did actually have to be there for the sake of a new Squad photo, even though I missed the rather-important meeting entirely, but it's a hell of a long way for ten minutes' posing and I hate being photographed at the best of times; and the journey home after is as bad as the journey down, almost to the minute of that five hours; and the whole day has been so damned expensive, both in terms of working-time lost and money spent, not to mention wearing my temper ragged; and all the way home I had to keep remembering that I wasn't coming home to a cuddlesome cat, because I'm just at that stage now where she's not at the forefront of my mind any more so I'm constantly rediscovering her absence, which is kind of worse, I think, a succession of dull shocks rather than the vibrant keening of immediacy.

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

Friday, February 17, 2006

My Misha-cat died this morning.

Dunno what else to say, really. She was a great cat, but they all are. Not the brightest, she never had a little thought in her little head beyond "arenít I cute?" - but she always was, even at the end. She purred at me and went to sleep, and I felt her heart stop beating.

Posted by Chaz at 10:55 AM GMT [Link]

Thursday, February 16, 2006

My Misha-cat is in hospital again, sheís really ill, and this time the vet is not optimistic; sheís got no better after twenty-four hours on a drip, and if she doesnít improve by tomorrow, then all the subtexts suggest that she isnít coming home.

I donít know what to do with myself. Cleaning, tidying, that sort of thing, I suppose; itís times like these that I regret there is no manual element to being a novelist, because I need physical occupation that demands no mental engagement whatsoever.

And I have to go out tonight and be jolly and supportive and professional all three, at mífriend Valís book launch. Sheíll make it easy, she always does; but even so, Iíd rather it was any other night than this.

Unless Misha gets better through the afternoon, of course. Itís always possible.

Posted by Chaz at 11:38 AM GMT [Link]

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

More about the small stuff, which is all I have to work with just at the moment. I am playing with hard- and software this week; just now I have two monitors, two keyboards and two mice on my desk, two boxes on the floor and four different operating systems between them. One of the keyboards (this one, as it happens) is kind of weird; I've been using ergonomic ones for years, but this one slopes in an entirely unexpected direction, as well as being divided and dished and all the rest of it. I rather like it, actually; whether it'll serve my RSI well or ill, we wait to learn.

And can only learn by doing, but this kind of experimentation is not suited to serious writing, so I'm knocking off a few easy pieces before I get back to the novel. Including:

A couple of days ago, I had an e-mail asking if I'd like to submit a microstory for the EasterCon programme book. 500 words, and a mention of Glasgow would be nice. I thought it would be fun, I like that kind of challenge; and a useful exercise too, so of course I said yes please. And I wrote it yesterday.

So how do you do that, how do you pluck an idea and ripen it and make a story of it, all in twenty-four hours? Where, indeed, do you get your ideas from? These are the questions that occur; and I can't answer for anyone else, but to some extent I can answer for myself. In this instance, the process went like this:

A couple of weeks ago - very possibly in an E F Benson novel, which I'm studying with an adult education group, under m'friend Gail's tutelage - I came across the phrase 'terrible as an army with banners', which rang vaguely biblical bells but resonated much more deeply. So I looked it up (Song of Solomon, repeated several times throughout), but being me, wondered what changed if you played with the grammar. As it stands, it's just adjectival; add a verb, "Terrible as an army with banners undoubtedly is, ..." and suddenly you're in wholly new territory and you've got a really interesting opening phrase for a story.

Obviously, its source being biblical, the original cultural context is middle eastern; but to me, an army with banners sings of the far east. And of course I'm working on this sequence of oriental fantasies, I've already published one that speaks inter alia of bannermen, my mind turns automatically in that direction...

But that's only a setting and an opening line. Still need a theme, characters, plot, even in a mini-story. To some extent these all go hand in hand, or at least follow each other closely, and with a setting and an opening line you're halfway there already; just finish that line the way it begs to be finished, like a chord-sequence begs to be resolved, "Terrible as an army with banners undoubtedly is, a single man can be worse," and there's your first character, and the baggage he brings with him pretty much sets the theme, and that pretty much defines the plot: a territory is under threat, and its defence against this terrible man will be our story.

But this is the far east, where threat and counterthreat are played out in civil insincerity, over cups of tea; and so happens that I know about tea, and especially white tea. White tea means two different things, according to class and income: first, it's a rare and expensive way to pick and process the leaves to produce a sweet and delicate brew, and I drink it constantly; second, it's a name the peasants have traditionally used for simple hot water, which they drink in lieu of tea they can't afford.

Which all leads ineluctably to thoughts of confidence tricks, the emperor's new clothes, that sort of thing; and then you stir in a dragon, and that familiar oriental ruthlessness, and have the original phrase sing throughout the piece, and there you are: one story, delivered as per. Well, it's not quite within the 500-word limit, but I can shave it back if I'm asked to.

Posted by Chaz at 12:02 PM GMT [Link]

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

It's odd how sometimes the little stuff lives on. Books have - one hopes - endurance built in, but short fiction and articles feel inherently transient, on the newsstands for a month and then gone.

And yet, not so. Not always so. Last year I wrote an article on public funding for literature, which was published in The Author, the in-house magazine of the Society of Authors here in the UK. I've probably had more direct feedback from that than from any story I've ever published; and yesterday another magazine for writers asked if they could reprint it.

And today, this morning the first e-mail in my inbox is from the great Ellen Datlow, wanting my story Going the Jerusalem Mile for the Yearís Best Fantasy & Horror anthology that she edits. This is high kudos, and I am absurdly pleased.

That story has its own tale of endurance anyway, because I wrote it several years ago for a specific anthology, a specific editor. Who rejected it. I don't think I was too hurt - at least, I don't remember if I was - but a little aggrieved, a little tweaked perhaps; at any rate, I went utterly against my own best advice, which is always to send rejected work straight out again, keep it moving. Instead I stashed it, almost forgot about it until last year, some stray inspiration made me dig it out and send it to Andy Cox. He snapped it up for The Third Alternative, and again it's accumulated a lot of positive responses. And now it's reached the pinnacle of short achievement. I'd be singing, if only I could sing.

Posted by Chaz at 10:55 AM GMT [Link]

Wednesday, February 8, 2006

Just back from a trip south. Business? Pleasure? How shall we ever tell, where the two march arm in arm?

I went to stay with m'friends Helen and Mark, which is a phrase redolent of idleness, of alcohol and lots of eating out (mmm - soft-shell crabs...), interspersed with bacon butties in front of the telly. This kind of living just makes me happy, in a very simple, uncomplicated way.

They were base camp, from where I forayed into London to do a library gig with The Write Fantastic. The library was panicking last week, because they'd only had three bookings (and they were charging a fiver a head, which is a total passion-killer for events; we just don't have a tradition here of paying to hear writers promote their work); but we have a policy of not cancelling, so we just slimmed the panel down a little, and in the end there were twenty-odd of them to the five of us, which is fair odds. Really enjoyed the gig, as it happens; we're a good team, lots of contrast, and we work well together. And Helen came down, so I didn't even have to worry about getting home afterwards (I am, you will have gathered by now, a terrible worrier). Chauffeured all the way. Y'know, I really could live like this...

Back into London yesterday for lunch with my agent, which again is all pleasure. Professionally speaking, it's probably a dreadful mistake signing up with a friend, you get all tangled up with issues of loyalty and such - but hey, that's for later. Right now he makes me feel good, like he's opening doors and making things happen. And making me work harder, which is traditional for a new agent, and no bad thing for me.

And so home, late last night, and not entirely sure where all the time went (it definitely was lunch that we met up for...), and I have been tired all day and was glad to spend the morning sitting in Gail's E F Benson class (the Mapp & Lucia novels - go look 'em up if you don't know, they're fabulous) and the evening sitting in the theatre to see The Rivals, which is kind of like an eighteenth-century Mapp & Lucia anyway.

Posted by Chaz at 11:48 PM 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.