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Chaz'z Blog

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Sarah Monette (whose novel Mélusine you really, really need to read - honestly, you do) started a discussion in her LiveJournal a couple of days back (under the heading The Moss-Troll Problem) about the use of analogy in SF and fantasy. A large part of our job consists of comparing things to other things, but we end up often inventing both sides of that equation, because the reader's familiar frame of reference is unavailable: you can't write about the missionary position in a world without missionaries. Etc.

There's a whole lot of stuff that that leads on to, and I'm not going to summarise it here; but I've just hit it again this morning, and I noticed because I've been thinking about it, but it occurs to me that I probably hit it on a daily basis, it's that much a part of this particular job.

Specifically, this morning, I have a boy about to tell a story, and his voice is sliding into that kind of familiar half-chant that storytellers use on the street; and I was going to say 'hypnotic', but paused and thought no, this is a historical fantasy and 'mesmeric' is earlier, which it is - but it's not early enough, in historical terms my story predates Mesmer, and this is in any case a fantasy, a world without Mesmer. So I want to go back to 'hypnotic', but now I'm anxious, because that's a nineteenth-century coinage, from a scientific context that my story really precludes. Which leaves me without a word for it: which is ridiculous, because the thing itself has been around at least as long as magic and religion and ritual have been recorded, and presumably longer. Nevertheless, there seems not to be a legitimate English word that I can legitimately use: 'entrancing' and its synonyms have a whole different list of connotations, which I do not want. Bah, humbug.

And now - what with writing about it and all - I've spent half an hour on this, one adjective in a sentence that can frankly live without it; and people wonder why it takes so long to write a book...

Posted by Chaz at 11:21 AM GMT [Link]

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Ach, here's a disappointment. I've been reading Tolkien's Gown by Rick Gekoski, which is a lovely book about dealing in rare books; and in the chapter about Graham Greene's copy of Nabokov's Lolita (the true first edition and personalised both ways, signed to GG by VN, plus the ritual sketch of a butterfly - that sort of rare book is what we're talking here), Gekoski notes en passant that when the book came out in a popular edition and caused a terrible scandal, the town of Lolita, Texas changed its name to Jackson. It's a wonderful story - such prurient pique! - but alas, it isn't true. Apparently the name-change was discussed, but never happened. Sigh.

Posted by Chaz at 11:35 AM GMT [Link]

Friday, April 28, 2006

Gah, bah, humbug! Never live with children or animals...

We'd been out in the back yard, Barry and I: I was pruning the lavender, while he did foolish-young-cat things that mostly had to do with bouncing a lot and trying to kill birds that were far, far out of his reach. Much fun was had by all.

Then we came indoors (he not being trusted outside by himself, because he'll be over that wall like a shot and far away before I know it), and I came up here to do some work. You know, that stuff that I simply have to do, rapidly and in vast quantities, in order to meet the impossible deadline? My fingers were poised, my mind was prepared - and there was a noise as of great catastrophe occurring, out on the stairs there. Not for the first time.

The first time was when he knocked over & assassinated three of my surviving chilli plants from last year (it was a not-altogether-successful experiment, to see how many I could keep through the winter for a second cropping year: of the fifteen originals, nine still had a breath of life, a leaf or two, despite constant attack by greenfly. Then Barry came, and then there were six, and a great mess on the carpet...).

This time? This time it was the other, the higher windowsill; and another three plants gone (these are big plants, in big pots; it's not deliberate, he just takes flying leaps from carpet-level and then can't control his flying kilograms - a ballistic missile, indeed, in the full sense of being guided only at the start of its course), only these had fallen from a greater height with more energy behind them, and so had strewn themselves and their contents all the way down the stairs.

So I have gathered up the compost for reuse, which has necessarily involved a degree of trampling to and fro through the wreckage; and now I have to go and hoover half the house. Thankfully, Himself is very seriously frightened of the hoover; it makes him go and hide in a very hidey place. That'll larn him...

Posted by Chaz at 04:02 PM GMT [Link]

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Hah! No wonder Himself seemed curiously unhungry when I came home yesterday. I knew I'd be gone twenty-four hours, so I left him with twenty-four hours' worth of food, which I was confident that he'd eat in an hour and so be desperate by the time I made it back. But he was so very much not desperate, although it had been closer to a day and a half - quite content to eat when I fed him, but actually more interested in huggling and playing and really just following me around - that I did wonder if he was maybe feeling ill.

Not a bit of it. He'd found not one but both of the sacks of spare food I'd laid in, and chewed his way into both of them, and eaten God alone knows how much in my absence. He is now back on a scrupulous diet - except for any nuggets that I've spilled during the clear-up, or that he's secreted away against a future need; I now put nothing past him - but that hasn't begun to bite yet, obviously, and he hasn't lost his air of utter smugness. By tomorrow, hopefully, he'll be back to the lean and hungry look, racing to his bowl every time I go near the kitchen, gazing at me in appalled disbelief every time I don't fill it. Let me have about me cats that are not fat, I say; if he's that hungry, let him eat mice. Or one mouse, anyway, just the one would be good...

Posted by Chaz at 09:44 AM GMT [Link]

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Coo. I just spent the last two days in Sunderland, proofreading Bryan Talbot's new graphic novel, and I feel uniquely privileged. It's called Alice in Sunderland, and it's a remarkable achievement: a kind of meditation on history and other storytelling, via the medium of one city from nowhere to now. It's about Lewis Carroll, and interpretations of Carroll; and Alice, and interpretations of Alice (both the fictional and the fleshly girl); and stories, myths and lies more generally. And Sunderland at the heart of it all. Extraordinary. And I'm in it. I actually am, this isn't a story; rather, I'm involved with one of the stories Bryan tells. Me and Colin Wilbourn, down on the sculpture walk by the river where Colin's work is tricked out with my words, and all about the history of Sunderland.

I've written plenty of comic strips in my time, but I've never been in one before. As I said above, it's a privilege.

And I came home with a couple of chilli plants from Bryan's partner Mary, which she'd grown from seeds from the plants I gave her last year; and in between being very happy to see me and delightfully snuggly and all of that, Barry has already knocked them both off the windowsill in a single almighty calamity, and I have no idea if they'll survive, and they've only been in the house a few hours. He is wickedness incarnate, incarnadine. That'll be why he's so beautiful.

Posted by Chaz at 11:49 PM GMT [Link]

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Some people have suggested I should split this up: have a writing-blog and a cooking-blog, and then a self-indulgence blog for all the cat fancy and the suicide notes. I do take the point, because not everyone is interested in everything that interests me - and I see no reason why anyone should be interested in my tedious domestic doings, nor indeed my anxieties and stress, tho' obviously everybody should be fascinated by the smallest deeds of my cat - but this is meant to be a record of my writing life, which cannot be distinguished from the cooking, nor the gloom, nor the cat. I live this thing undifferentiated, that kind of murky cocktail where everything's shaken up together rather than the neat stripy separated variety; and if the cat didn't wake me and the worry didn't keep me awake then I wouldn't have been up at six and writing.

So nah, not going to do that. This continues to be that curious kind of public diary that sometimes talks direct to you about stuff I hope will interest or amuse; sometimes talks to God, generally in a howl of protest; sometimes, oftentimes, is simply talking to myself, or making notes for the kitchen, or whatever.

As this: if anyone out there boils and glazes hams, as I do, here's a thing to do. Here, indeed, is everything that I do.

Soak the ham overnight, and change the water once or twice. Then bring it to the boil in fresh water again, and while it's heating pierce an orange with many cloves and slip that in alongside. Simmer (don't boil - you barely want to agitate the water) uncovered for 25 minutes per pound; then take the ham out and heat the oven up good and hot. While the oven's heating and the ham is cooling, make the glaze; today I used equal measures of redcurrant jelly, ground English mustard and black treacle. Mix all that together, then carefully cut the rind off the ham, leaving as much of the fat as possible ('possible' in this instance being a flexible term, because I know some people worry; if you can't bear it or your partner won't allow it or your kids will pull faces and peel it off, then by all means don't leave the thick layer of fat that I adore). Reserve the rind. Slash the fat diamondwise, put the ham into a roasting tray, spoon the glaze over and rub it well into the slashes, then slide the tray into the hot oven. After ten minutes, take a look; if it's all dark and caramelised and sizzling, it's ready. If not, give it another five minutes. If you give it another ten minutes, as I did this morning, it'll burn (not really a problem, but hey...).

Now - and this is the point of my sermon today, here is the nub - set the ham somewhere to cool, put the roasting tray to wash (if you've scorched the glaze severely onto the bottom, as I did this morning, pour a kettleful of boiling water into it and leave it to stand. Really it's just burnt caramel, and it will dissolve in water), turn the oven right down low and fetch a baking-tray.

Lay the reserved rind on the tray, rind-side up, and slip into the bottom of the oven. Leave for an hour or so, and it'll crisp up into crackling (or pork scratchings, as we call 'em over here). Take 'em out, scatter 'em with crude salt crystals (or mix your old dried herbs with salt to make, um, a herby salt, and use that, as I do) and they are a snack fit for gods, and for anyone who doesn't worry about eating fat.

Posted by Chaz at 05:25 PM GMT [Link]

Friday, April 21, 2006

I just had a so-kind e-mail from the States, offering me a pre-approved mortgage of $650,000 for $450 a month repayments. Whoo, yes please, I thought, I'd take that like a shot, even if the period of the mortgage was the term of my natural life...

That's what offends me most about spam, I think, it's that way they have of assuming or implying or downright asserting that we are idiots, that we have the intellectual capacity of - well, of a tin of spam.

Mind you, it does work, it has to, or they wouldn't bother; there must be people who respond to this kind of crap, and get themselves into God only knows what trouble as a result.

But then, we know that that is so; in the same way that we know there are people who respond to daytime TV adverts, or again they wouldn't bother. Hell, let me confess, I've just done it myself. I have bought a bottle of Cillit Bang. For those of you who don't know, it's a bathroom cleaner, advertised by a very annoying man who shouts a lot; and I have people coming round on Sunday for tea & cakes, so I have house-cleaning very much on my mind. For those of you who don't know, I am a slovenly housekeeper, and recently I've been so intent on working, even my standards have slipped; my bathroom does stand in need of a lot of cleaning. And I've spent half my life (the adult half) in search of a product that does what it says in the advert, spray and wipe and lo, a clean & sparkly bathroom; so I thought I'd try Cillit Bang, as that is indeed what the advert says.

Surprise, surprise: it's crap. The advert and the product both. Thin and ineffectual and expensive. It is my role in life to warn you of these things; be grateful.

I think this is fairly typical of the current state of Chaz, that he has people coming for tea & cakes and what worries him is the cleaning. These days I can take the cooking in my stride, whether it's recipe'd or improvised; I'm going to do a few old standards (eg Chaz'z Easter Ham, which is exactly the same as Chaz'z Xmas Ham only smaller, on account of not having to stretch so far - one year I even had to do Chaz'z Two Xmas Hams, both legs of the beast, but I suppose that is why they do have two, to accommodate my occasional need), a few recent discoveries (eg Torta di Porri), and some new discoveries (eg chocolate mousse cake - 'nuff said).

Talking of improvisation, though, this is representative, I think, of what I tend to do to recipes. I had a belly of pork, and wanted to roast it. So I found a recipe that recommended rubbing it with smoked paprika and fennel seeds, and I did that; and it said to lay it on a bed of onion, carrot and celery, but I had no celery, so rather than shop I substituted fennel-the-vegetable; and it said to douse all in a given quantity of cider, but I had none, so rather than shop I substituted three-to-one water and cider vinegar (with two tablespoons being the measure of 'one', for the bean-counters amongst you); and it said to cover the roasting-dish with foil and cook at gas mark 4 for two hours, so I turned that round instinctively, gas mark 2 for four hours; and then took the foil off for an hour and turned the heat up to crisp the crackling, and it is absolutely gorgeous. The meat soft and melting, under a snapping-crisp coat; the juices aromatic and flavourful; the vegetables I mungled up with mashed potato and swede and carrot (well, not mashed, exactly - boiled and then crushed with an old masher, so there was still a lot of texture there) and fried in the fat that came off the pork, to make a sort-of bubble and squeak. Same texture again, soft and melting under a crispy crunchy topping. Oh, it is nice. Tonight I'm going to reheat the last of the pork (I know, tut-tut, health & safety, all of that - if I die, remember that I went gloriously) on top of a giant field mushroom, which will bake and absorb the last of its juices; and then I will still have half a dozen more giant field mushrooms left (you'd never guess, would you, that I've been shopping?) and I would make a soup with them, only you can't serve soup at Sunday tea, it would be silly, and there's just no room in the freezer, so God alone knows what I'll do. Advertise them on the internet, perhaps? Spam, spam...

Posted by Chaz at 06:43 PM GMT [Link]

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

...And then, of course, we get the bad news, because the universe must be kept in balance, and Chaz must be Kept Down or he gets Bumptious, which is Bad.

And the shame of it is that it comes at the end of such a good week. I'd done lots of work, which is a goodness; and then I'd been to EasterCon, the British SF & fantasy convention, this year in Glasgow, where I had enjoyed myself thoroughly and survived an impossible panel, given a reading from the new book, talked lots and drunk lots and met lots of people, all of that. Furthermore, the impossible panel had been about alternate US histories, and there were some very sensible & useful comments from the floor, from the only American in the room; and I bumped into her in the bookroom after, and went up just to say thanks, and she turned out to be Elizabeth Bear, who is a fine writer whose work I enjoy mightily. And I kept bumping into her all day, to the point where we were a team in a foolish late-night quiz, so I came away from the con with a new friend nicely cemented into the pack.

And I came home, and Barry is frantically pleased to see me, and I could show you the scars to prove it; I am lacerated. As is my wallpaper. And my books & papers are spilled, and everything is all over, where he has been running entirely wild in my absence. Bless. And he is adorably snuggly, in between being all teeth & claws & fanatical determination to destroy.

So here I am, happily settled back and starting to work again - and then I get an e-mail from the Arts Council, who have turned down my application for funding to publish a few slender volumes of prose. I wanted to commission novellas and produce lovely limited editions, much like the Phantoms book; but I can't do it without support, and they've said no. I wouldn't mind, because of course they can't support everything; but they gave me such spurious reasons which don't stand up to a moment's serious consideration, and I am just so angry, I am going to go to bed and fume and not sleep for hours & hours...

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

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Well, I don't know. I guess I was asleep with the radio on. At any rate, this morning they announced the new appointments to the House of Lords (obscure British political tradition, where people get to have influence by virtue of owning wealth, largely: how unlike the political systems in other democracies...), and I dreamed that m'friend'n'colleague Ann Cleeves was on the list. The first Murder Squaddie so honoured: I was proud. And of course her title would have to be Baroness Ann of Cleeves, and how fab is that? (Obscure British historical reference: ignore at will.)

Meanwhile, the good news of yesterday: Bridge of Dreams is reprinting before publication. This is a rare event, especially these days, when print-runs are tied scrupulously to advance orders; it's only happened to me once before, and never with a hardback. I am trying not to build too much upon it, muttering to my friends that it'll only mean more returns later (almost all books are sold 'sale or return', and vast quantities do get returned and pulped, even of the bestsellers. Bookshops are supermarkets, these days: pile 'em high, sell 'em cheap, send 'em back...). Still, however pessimistic I force myself to be (this Eeyore attitude doesn't come easy, y'know, I'm a bright and hopeful soul at heart), I can't get away from the fact that right now, today, it is undeniably good news.

Posted by Chaz at 11:53 AM GMT [Link]

Monday, April 10, 2006

Ah. So much for changing the habits of a lifetime. I had this bright plan, whereby I would work myself back and back into the morning, rising earlier and earlier, to make more time for working before the inevitable distractions of the evening cut in. I did it all last week, and had a good weekís work; and so allowed myself to discover the traditional Sunday, the day of rest.

I thought this would be okay, I thought finally I understood it. Because I never have before, Sunday has been a good working day and so not to be wasted, and besides which, if you get up at one time regularly all the week, why would you want to spend hours more in bed on a Sunday when your body-clock must be telling you to get up already? I didnít understand the whole lie-in thing at all, any more than Iíve ever understood the Sunday-lunch thing, where you eat your main meal at entirely the wrong time of day.

But lo, after a week of waking at six am, I did again wake at six, and then I remembered that I had permission not to get up, not to work. So I rolled over and slept again, and woke at half past nine, and thought Iíd cracked it. Weekdays/workdays; Sundays/sleepdays. Easy. And then I got up and idled through the morning, and went to a writersí awards ceremony in the afternoon where several friends and/or former students of mine got money, which was nice; and went off with friends after for drinking and dinner and a DVD, and so home and to bed before midnight.

And wide awake still at one, and at two, and at three, when I got up to read for a while; and this morning when the alarm woke me at six I glowered at it and explained Iíd only just got to sleep and there was just no bloody way I was getting up yet, so would it please shut up? And slept till half-seven, and got up reluctantly, and felt slow and stupid all day, and so much for any experiment - except that actually Iíve done good working all afternoon and have just completed my ration for the day regardless. Not sure there are actually any useful conclusions to be drawn from all of this. Can you make an nightingale into a lark? Case not proven, frankly.

Posted by Chaz at 05:45 PM GMT [Link]

Saturday, April 8, 2006

Two computers, four operating systems between them, and an internet connection that's on-again, off-again, depending on what I've screwed up this time. It's no way to live.

I went over to cable broadband because they said it was just instant-on with Linux, plug it in and there you go. Not if yr Linux distro doesn't recognise yr ethernet card, it isn't. I spent a weekend in Windows - yuck, spit - before my guru got me online in Linux on the new machine; and then after a couple of unsteady days I was trying to steady the ship and managed to turn it turtle instead, lost the connection altogether and can't get it back. For the moment, I've swapped the cable over to the other machine, which is frustrating (slow and a little backward) but functional.

Anyway, all of that is why I haven't been blogging for a week or so. I thought I'd be more regular, with broadband; maybe I will, when my broadband is regular. And/or when I don't have frantic deadlines. At the moment, my alarm goes off at six in the morning. It's an experiment; not entirely sure it's working (tho' I have written, oh, five thousand words in two and a half days, which ain't bad).

Right now, it's snowing, which means that the Idiot Boy is dashing from window to window, trying to assassinate snowflakes. He doesn't quite get the concept of glass, that whole look-don't-touch thing. For those who have been kindly asking about his welfare, he is eating like a train, thank you kindly, and consequently frantic with frustrated energies. He wants to be out in the world killing things, and in lieu of that he tries to disembowel me. Happily, he hasn't yet figured out where my bowels are; it's my arms that carry the scars. He bit Gail's nose last week, in sheer affection. Or hunger, possibly. When last weighed, he was a four-kilo cat; but he's eating enough for a six-kilo cat, and is always eager for more. Maybe he should be a six-kilo cat, and he's just working up to it; or maybe I'm just overfeeding him. How's a man to tell? He was gaunt, and now he's not, but he's not fat yet. That's all I know.

Posted by Chaz at 03:13 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.