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Chaz'z Blog

Thursday, March 30, 2006

The cable guy is coming tomorrow, to fit me out with corporate accessibility; so I have to make myself - or, more specifically, my home - fit for the corporation.

Actually what this means is making vague gestures at bringing order to some of the worst chaos, where they're going to have to run their cables along skirting-boards that have been hidden for ten years behind bookcases that have gradually become swamped with too many books and more, all the accumulations of clutter that can be stacked on top of books or squeezed between or in front because there is just nowhere else for them to go (well, where else do you put a plastic clockwork owl, or a variety of old lighters & matchboxes, or a tin of paperclips, or...?).

So here I am listening to Tom Waits (Rain Dogs, since you ask - sangalonga Gun Street Girl and are now into Blind Love, so Union Square must've gone past all unnoticed - ain't it weird how that happens? I was probably singing all the way, and have forgot it instanter) and shuffling books around, trying at least to reach a condition where there is nothing on the bookshelves except books that can be whipped off quickly and stacked up somewhere else, and I'm on the edge of opening a bottle of wine to see me through it although I'm going out in an hour and ought not to drink beforehand, and I come across a piece of paper, a paragraph that I have clearly written, sometime in the last ten years. I have no idea when, or why, or what it meant; all it is now is writing, the pure thing. And as I will never find a use for it now, and because writing is for sharing, because it's communication or else it's nothing (and because it no longer communicates anything to me except its own self), here it is:

'At first she was warm, and welcome. Then she was all-encompassing: all, that is, except for a slim, bitter thread of myself that still wished she was somebody - oh, some body! - else.'

That's all. I do kind of like this about myself, that I scatter fragments of my creativity meaninglessly about me as I go. Sometimes I wish that I followed through more often, finished more - but hey, then we wouldn't have the fragments, the tease of them, shards of everlost tales. Somebody is going to have such fun, going through all my papers when I'm gone; there are scraps like this all over. Unless they just pitch all my papers into a skip, of course, unwanted and unread. That could happen too. Maybe I'll cybersky them all as I come across 'em, chuck 'em into interorbit and get them out where something might seed something else, sometime...

Meanwhile, when I've done this and that and the other thing, I have to go down to Baltic to hear who's won this year's Northern Rock Foundation award (large sums of money, three years' support for a writer in this region). We have our speculations, but all we actually know at the moment is that it isn't me. So I'll go and drink strange cocktails and chat happily with friends, because I will know almost everybody there, and I will cheerfully congratulate the winner and commiserate with all my other friends who are losers as much as I am, and in short I will smile and smile and be a villain, because there will still and always be this slim, bitter thread of myself that thinks it should've been me.

Posted by Chaz at 04:36 PM GMT [Link]

Monday, March 27, 2006

Okay, let's have a log with all good news in it, shall we? Enough of being anxious and gloomy and ill, let us celebrate the day.

The cat has discovered eating; he has been eating for several days consecutively, and as m'friend Gail says, he may well go on doing so now for some considerable time to come. Yesterday I had people for curry, and he ate considerable quantities of chicken. Fond of spicy foods, apparently; fond of cartilage. Oh, and neck-of-mutton bones. (I've just been reading Mapp & Lucia, and Georgie says he wouldnít eat neck of mutton if his life depended on it; fond as I am, as one must be, of Georgie, I have to say he's wrong about this. A neck-of-mutton curry, despite sounding just ultimately British Raj, is really rather a wonderful thing, for all that I made it up.)

More good news: I have had my first review for Bridge of Dreams, and it's a corker. In Emerald City, edited and largely written by the wonderful Cheryl Morgan -, should you be interested (and yes, you should). I worry a little that it may be premature, as the book won't be out even in the States for another six weeks or so, but maybe it'll encourage early orders. (I said this to my editor, and she sounded a little cynical about the usefulness of online reviews; and then Cheryl e-mailed to say that someone had undertaken to buy the book already, on the strength of the review, so that's my first real sale, and the third good news of this report.)

The timing's really good too, because I've just reached that point in vol two where I'm depressed by what I've done and daunted by what I've still got to do, where the deadline looks impossible and the work-so-far pointless, drab and empty; but no, I'm not breaking my all-good-news rule, because the good news is that a positive review just turns all that around in a moment. Now I can believe in it again, because someone else has believed in it and said so. Sheesh, how frail am I? But these are the crumbs that we live on.

Posted by Chaz at 11:57 PM GMT [Link]

Friday, March 24, 2006

Just walking home in the cold and the bitter rain this morning, from a consultation with the vet (aaargh! cat! food! ne'er the twain shall meet!), and I passed a car with what was clearly a cherished numberplate. EMC 9, it said - which is just so wrong, on such a fundamental level, I can't understand how the machine can work. But on the other hand, it does mean that there is almost certainly another car out there with the registration EMC 2, and just how cool is that...?

Posted by Chaz at 11:51 AM GMT [Link]

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Hah. That'll teach me to worry aloud about my cat getting fat. Yesterday, today, he's back to his old not-eating trick. So I am back to worry and bewilderment, because I really do not know what to do. He seems perfectly well and happy, so I'íll let it ride for a day or two yet, but then I suppose it's the old trek back to the vet again.

I meanwhile am neither well nor happy, but at least I am eating. I invented a new thing yesterday, a taste-combination that made me very proud: eggs & apples. All right, it probably has been done before: certainly as a dessert, but as a savoury? I don't know; I haven't met it myself. And the thing was, I came home with a black pudding, and found I had some apples, which is an old favourite combination; it was the work of moments to figure out what to do. Peel, dice and fry the apple in butter till tender & lightly caramelised but still holding together, chunks is the plan, not purée; then break in a couple of eggs and scramble quickly and loosely in the hot pan, with a scatter of salt and pepper. Eat with fried slices of a good black pudding, and Robert is your mother's brother.

Posted by Chaz at 11:54 AM GMT [Link]

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Another thought on collected things: I have added - hurrah! - to my small but potent collection of books-with-misprints-on-their-covers. I love these, simply because I do not understand, I cannot conceive of the mind-set of someone who would proofread so very casually that the book's jacket could carry a mistake. I don't just mean a typo in the blurb on the back. I have a copy of The Good Soldier by Ford Maddox Ford (count the ds, there's one too many); I have a copy of The Sweeny (count the es, thereís one too few). And now, in the same vein, I have a copy of Michaelmas by Algis Budry (count the ss, thereís one too few [no, no, not in the title - Algis Budrys is his name, or was, before the book club got ahold of him] - but is this a - rare - case for marking a plural with an apostrophe, should I have said s's, for the sake of clarity?).

Meanwhile, I think the Not-So-Idiot Boy has been collecting dinners, in my absence. Granted that he starved himself for a few days when he was with me, but even so, I swear he's put on weight this last week. Which is all very welcome, because he could use it; but if it's true it is unnervingly swift, and I'm so not used to regulating what a cat eats, suddenly I'm scared that I'll look down one day and find he's so fat that the jump onto my lap is defeating him...

At the moment, I have to say, he is grace and power in perfect proportion. And perhaps he is still gracile really, perhaps he's only fluffed his fur out a bit on account of the extreme cold? Because he wasn't here these days I've been away, I turned the central heating right down low, and twenty-four hours of pumping heat still hasn't warmed the bones of the house at all, only its breath. We huddle by its exhaling mouths, my boy and I, and shiver when we have to move away. It really is most unseasonably cold; I understand this is due to global warming. Bah, humbug...

Posted by Chaz at 06:58 PM GMT [Link]

This morning, I have mostly been collecting things. I have collected myself, and restored me to the proper centre of my life, this desk and all that that implies. I have collected prescriptions, which will make me well (see what a touching faith I have?); I have collected Barry, who will make me happy (he is well and heavy and full of bounce, utterly incapable of settling anywhere until he has re-examined every corner of the house and made it all his own again); I have collected a parcel from the post office, which turns out to be the authorís copy of a book I've been waiting for.

The book is Taverns of the Dead (pub Cemetery Dance, ed Kealan Patrick Burke), and I do seem to have been waiting for it for a very long time. I cannot remember a book ever taking quite so long to appear; my story I wrote, what, four years ago? And sent it the day I wrote it, which was New Year's Eve, and went to a party, and came home to find an acceptance in my inbox already, which was fab. And faster than ever heard of, but obviously not to be regarded as a precedent at all, because it has taken from then till now to achieve book-shape.

Still, it is here now, and it's a lovely-looking thing, with some fine names in it. A privilege to share their pages... (And my story is set entirely in the Bodega, which is my pub-of-choice, as it is the pub-of-choice for many regulars, some of whom are even in the story, and chances are that they will never ever know...)

Posted by Chaz at 12:16 PM GMT [Link]

Monday, March 20, 2006

Lawks. Adventures in the South-West: I have been down to Bristol for Left Coast Crime, a traditionally American convention that strayed across the pond this year. It was fun, but inevitably full of writers, old friends, who are all still being published within the genre, so I did suffer pangs of envy and feel really rather out of place. I only went to keep my face in peopleís minds, to remind them that crime is a genre I have occupied in the past and would like to do so again - but it was probably a mistake. Tho' I did sell five copies of Phantoms... on the side. I really should've been an encyclopaedia salesman, if only they still went door-to-door; I'm good at this one-on-one persuasion thing. Unless it's just that the book is so good, it sells itself...?

And then I went further south and further west, to visit family in Cornwall, and that was certainly a mistake. Don't misunderstand me, I love my mother and my sister, my good-brother and my nephew too; but Cornwall always makes me ill. I was wheezing and gasping when I got off the train already, my chest was on fire before bedtime, and this morning my mother sent me home with instructions to see doctor first thing tomorrow.

Trouble with that, of course, is surviving the night in the meantime; but Newcastle always makes me feel better, so I guess I'll make it. People have suggested that this whole I-can't-breathe-in-Cornwall thing is psychosomatic, and no doubt they're right, but it could still kill me. For preference, I'd be tucked up in bed by now with a warm cat to cuddle; only Barry went back to the vets for the period of my absence, and I haven't been able to reclaim him yet.

So it'll just be the bed-on-my-own thing, which isn't half so much fun. These days, you can't even get a buzz off asthma-medicine (they used to give me these extraordinary big horse-pills called Do-Dos, and half a dozen of those was like a serious trip).

But the best thing about sneaking home early is that nobody knows I'm back. I'll have a full five days, free and clear; so long as I can shake off the chest-infection, or at least drug it into submission, that's a bonus week of work, all undisturbed. Shh - anybody asks, you have no idea where I am...

Posted by Chaz at 11:46 PM GMT [Link]

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Okay, so my new life is dominated by my cat. I don't care. If that domination reaches out to annex your time also, I still don't care. I'm in love, I'm allowed to be boring. This is the twenty-first century; you're allowed to be bored. (It seems to me that this is the point that people haven't been making, over the cartoons-of-Mohammed controversy: of course they're offensive to Moslems, but actually that's okay. The freedom to give offence is absolutely inherent in a democracy; so is the freedom to be offended. You are allowed to live in a condition of constant outrage at your neighbour's habits and beliefs; indeed, I think it should probably be encouraged. Given that - in a very literal sense - we're not all singing from the same hymn-sheet [and I've just written a story that deliberately glorifies terrorism, to prove it; more on this at another time], if we're not constantly arguing and being upset with each other, then there is something murky and untrustworthy going on somewhere underneath...)

For a while there, the food Barry ate on Thursday night/Friday morning looked like a one-off; he didn't eat all Friday, nor Saturday morning. I had conversations with his favourite nurse at the vets; we discussed strategies and agreed to be patient. Then he was sick, and I took him in regardless. The vet gave him generic injections - antibiotics on principle, steroids for appetite - and told me to starve him, as though he weren't already starving himself; the nurses gave him cuddles and cooing. The most popular surgery stray in living memory, they tell me - which kind of puts pressure on me. He doesn't eat, I feel guilty.

Whether it was the cuddles, or the jabs, or the deliberate starvation, who can say? He sulked in the bathroom all afternoon (hot radiator, comfy towels and a dripping tap: he is one of those who likes his water fresh, and may be making an illustrative contribution to any day now), perked up in the evening and played on the bed a little in the night (tho' he doesnít yet sleep with me; I'm not sure he does sleep at night. Lawks, could I have ended up with a nocturnal cat...?).

This morning, he played affectionately with my ankles as I trekked from bedroom to bathroom and back; he followed me neatly downstairs; I gave him food and he ate it. As though it were the most normal thing in the world. Grrr...

Then Idiot Boy sat on the windowsill and tried to assassinate the snowflakes on the other side of the glass. Aww...

And yes, all right, he does seem still to be called Barry. When he's not called Idiot Boy. A new boyfriend moves in, I suppose it's impolite to change his name, first off.

Posted by Chaz at 10:39 AM GMT [Link]

Friday, March 10, 2006

Eek! coupled with phew! produces a bastard child - pheek! or eew!, depending. I think this is a pheek! situation - relief that none the less promises future stress.

In other words, Himself has deigned to eat. Heís eaten lots, I think, tho' it's quite hard to tell: what constitutes 'lots', in terms of dried kibble? I don't know, but anyway, he's eaten it. Now all I have to do is watch over him like an anxious mother-hen to make sure he does it again, and then again after that. Once in three days may be good for lions, but it ain't good for kitty-cats. Nor for me.

At the moment he's sitting in the window, watching the world go by. He does this quite often; indeed, I found him doing it at two in the morning in the moonlight, and played for a while with the thought of calling him Tycho Brahe. Only to abandon it, fairly promptly thereafter: how on earth would I explain that, to the happy nurses who called him Barry?

Besides which, a remarkable number of votes is coming in for the status quo, and Baz seems to work on a day-to-day basis. Thankfully I'm untroubled by the Chaz'n'Baz consonance that seems to disturb other people, I suppose because I so rarely call myself by my name.

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

Thursday, March 9, 2006

On balance, I think perhaps Bazza does like living here; I am typing around him as I type (a process prone to error). He's becoming as omnipresent as the girls used to be; his eyes follow me around the house, with the rest of his body twitching after. He can be full of menace one moment, utterly ridiculous the next - bone-pure cat, in other words. And beautiful, in that same bone-pure way - no frills, nothing fancy, just a lean mean killing machine with all the beauty of line and design. And black, of course, which does help.

What doesn't help, is that he won't eat. Really truly, he will not; barely a mouthful, in a day and a half. If he doesn't pig out overnight, I'm taking him back to the vets tomorrow. Not in a 'this oneís broken, and heís still under guarantee' sort of way - a day and a half and I adore him already, even when he draws blood - but I've spent years anxiously watching over cats who won't eat, and I really didn't expect it of this one, and I need to get him fixed. He's not going to stay lead-in-his-bones heavy if he doesn't eat. So I am fretful and concerned, and it's taking up too much of my time...

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

Tuesday, March 7, 2006

Okay, look, it really was not meant to happen this way. I was going to be so sensible and organised about this: I was going to grieve, and miss my Misha-cat, and clean the house and sort a lot of stuff and do all those useful and pragmatic things you do when you are mourning. And then I was going to go away for a while, and I wasn't even going to think about a new cat until a new cat was imperative and it really was a new cat that I wanted, not just my Mishie back again.

Honestly, that is how it was going to be.

Only, I was in the vets to pay her final bill and so forth, and they said "Chaz, Chaz, we've got this young cat who urgently needs rehoming, and he's got such a sweet nature we thought of you straight away, and he's all black," as though that might somehow make a difference...

So I asked all sorts of serious & sensible questions, and then we were introduced, and now he's downstairs sniffing his way around the house inch by careful inch. He's been in hospital for a month or more, he smells of hospital (he was a stray with a collar wound under his leg, and so emaciated, they tell me he's doubled his weight since he came in but he still looks scrawny, tho' he's already a tremendous heft after Sophie & Misha, who were a pair of extreme lightweights) and he's covered with shaven places, but he's lean and rangy and exceedingly cat-like (yellow eyes, black whiskers, for those of you who were wondering) and he's here on a week's trial. I told the vet that, and he laughed at me. "Oh yes," he said, "he's coming back in a week. Not." I said we'd see. Well, he might not like living here...


Oh, and at the moment he's called Barry. This is obviously impossible. I am open to suggestions...

Posted by Chaz at 11:30 AM GMT [Link]

Saturday, March 4, 2006

Further to my notes on losing a cat and discovering a mouse: that seems to have become the pattern of my life, just suddenly. Lose a pound and find a penny, and like that.

A publisher who had seemed enthusiastic has flipped over and said no to a pet project, that I was rather counting on - but someone I respect mightily expresses an unexpected enthusiasm for a short story. Doesnít mean sheíll use it, but she enthuses none the less - and thatís science fiction, please note, and the first time I have dipped my toe in that particular pool for, ooh, about thirty years or so.

And I had friends around yesterday who addressed themselves to various issues with my system; and the scanner cannot be made to work at all, and the graphics driver bewilderingly couldnít be configured (and indeed half my software keeps insisting that the hardware is better, smarter, faster than it should be) - but the printer is now working properly, energetically, as eagerly in Linux as in Windows, and thatís all score.

And Iíve spent the last twenty-four hours feeling lousy, and am clearly just at the messiest & most antisocial point of a cold; so have just cancelled all my fun this weekend. I was meant to be off for a sleepover tonight and then out again for lunch tomorrow, and thence to a concert after; but Iíd be disgusting company and unpleasantly infectious, so I shall stay indoors on my own instead. But that does mean that I get the chance to work at least a little through the weekend, on and off; and during the off times it means I get to read more George R R Martin, and to watch a little TV. Like, fírexample, Iíve just been watching ĎGentlemen Prefer Blondesí, and thatís a hundred minutes of happiness, right there...

Posted by Chaz at 03:45 PM GMT [Link]

Friday, March 3, 2006

Happy World Book Day!

This was absolutely my definition of a good day. For a start I slept okay last night, and didnít have to get up before seven (as has been my wearisome habit in recent days). Then I spent the morning at the desk, working & doing admin stuff and such. Lunchtime I went to North Shields, for a WBD gig at the library with m'friend'n'colleague Carol Clewlow. Weíve spent years working on the MA at Northumbria together, but never actually done a gig before, and it worked really well: enough consonance and enough disagreement to make an interesting conversation. Booked for an hour, went on for ninety minutes and the audience stayed with us: good gig.

Thence to a cafe on the beach with Jean & Roger, to stare out through glass at idiot surfers in wild waves and bitter weather; and so home, to write another couple of pages before calling it a night. Twelve hundred words and a gig: would that every day was so productive.

Oh, and I have a mouse. It seems to be living under my cooker, and I suspect it of being an escaped pet - very likely from the students next door - as itís black & white, bold, and quite cute. I think it's exploiting my sudden catlessness, which is impertinent (not that Mishie would have perpetrated violence at all - too old, too stiff, sand-blind and sleepy), but I can't even think of killing it. On the other hand, if I catch it in a livetrap, what do I do with it? Leave it on next door's step with a little note, Please Look After This Mouse...?

Posted by Chaz at 12:18 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.