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Chaz'z Blog

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

I made a raita today, to eat with my lunchtime samosas. One of the advantages, one of the many advantages of living where I do, we have the nation’s finest Asian foodstore as my corner-shop; which means I get the world’s best samosas for lunch. Usually I eat them with pickles and straight yoghurt, but so happens I have half an organic cucumber, courtesy of my veg bag, so I thought I’d make a raita.

Now, I have been intimately familiar with raita for a quarter of a century: you chop up cucumber or mint, or sometimes both, and mix them with yoghurt. Maybe you add salt, but that’s it.

Not today. Today, I looked up a recipe (from Yamuna Devi, ‘Lord Krishna’s Cuisine: the art of Indian vegetarian cooking’), and it is a whole different animal. If that’s not an inappropriate metaphor, given the source. I grated the cucumber and sprinkled it with Maldon sea salt, left it half an hour then squeezed all the liquid out of it. I mixed yoghurt with sour cream and added cayenne and lemon zest and applemint from the back yard. I stirred in the cucumber. I heated sesame oil and sizzled black mustard seeds (‘rai’ - hence the name, apparently) in it until they popped, then added them. A little time in the fridge to let the flavours mingle, and behold: kheera raita, and a wonderful thing it is.

What else have I done today? Oh yes, I finished my book. Again. At least, I got to the end of this endless rewrite. ‘Finished’ is of course a bad word, the wrong word. Someone said that no poem is ever finished, it’s only abandoned, and the same is true of novels. Probably more true, because there are so many more words in them, so many constructions and images and ideas to grunt and sweat over and then at last to abandon.

And in fact I have not abandoned it yet. I got to the end in mid-afternoon, and then printed out the beginning and took it straight down to the pub to read through, because of course one must revise one’s revisions before anyone else can see it. But still, this really is the last lap now; and then I can send it off, and then - mirabile dictu! - I can think about something else for a while. Before, obviously, I have to start in on book two. But I’m not doing that until I hear back about this one. If they don’t like it this time - well, I have no way to finish that sentence, so I’m going to abandon it.

Posted by Chaz at 07:57 PM GMT [Link]

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Durn, I missed a bit of my life there; by definition, then, so did you. Unless you were here and observing, of course. Some people are.

Anyway, highlights, memorable moments of the last couple of weeks:

I dropped a fried egg into my boot. Sometimes it is just such fun, being me. Double fun on this occasion, because not only did my lunch go south-west (it was a left boot; actually I almost typed a left-hand boot, but then I thought you’d laugh at me) but then I was faced with the challenge of cleaning out the footware. And I do like my eggs very, very loose...

I had people for dinner, and cooked guineafowl. You’d be surprised, how much meat there can be on a guineafowl. Granted that I’d taken the edges off their appetites with a couple of starter-courses (I do persist in thinking that the starters are the most interesting bit of any meal, so why not have more than one?), and granted that I did serve it with many trimmings, but I don’t think anybody stinted and it fed four of us very happily with enough left on the carcase for me to scavenge a couple of suppers after. Guineafowl-and-spring-cabbage risotto, and very nice too.

I went down to Birmingham, for a twenty-four hour TWF marathon. We started Friday night with talking to the Brum SF group, which was the gig I’d been dreading; we’d been tipped off that there were some real SF fascistas in the group, who would resent fantasy writers even being there and so rip into us all the more. So we went all defensive, but there wasn’t any need; they were welcoming and lovely, interested and challenging to be sure but not argumentative, and I think pretty much everyone went away happy. For sure we did.

And spent the night in the world’s worst hotel (the Britannia, worth a visit for its sheer awfulness: there were five of us, scattered through all its floors, and we all had a disturbed night for five differently awful reasons. Myself, I was clearly sleeping in the room next to the aircraft engines: a muted but enormous noise all night, the rumbling of something vast, an asthmatic whale or a snoring dragon, but what it most reminded me of really was aircraft engines), and then did stock signings at a couple of bookshops before going on to do a gig at the Tolkien Weekend. This was the gig I’d been looking forward to, but in the end it was a bit flat: small audience evincing no great knowledge or interest. I guess all the academics and the geeks are going to the other Tolkien conference in August; this was much more a fun day out for all the family. Still, it was interesting to talk to the other TWFers (hereinafter Thunderbards, which has the virtue of being more euphonious, that at least) about how Tolkien influenced them or otherwise. And they had books too, and mirabile dictu, all three of the signing-sessions that day produced books by all six of us. Never been known before, at mass signings.

Spent Sunday clambering about the countryside with Roger & Jean, which I probably don't do enough of these days. M'friend Simon takes me out sometimes, and threatens to do it more. I was brought up walking, and it always did mean 'walking in the country' (or nearest available alternative, in Oxford), but nowadays it’s elided into 'walking in the city', which is synonymous with shopping.

And yesterday I had a thoroughly memorable day, because I made my first pork pie. Been meaning to do it for years, and never quite ventured. Not sure quite what pushed me over the edge this time, but I was determined. And actually, it's fab. All the way from mincing the meat (m'friend Gail gave me a mincer, years ago, and I've finally got it out of its box, and I loved the process: enormous fun, and reminiscent of my mum mincing at the kitchen table, which is a constant childhood memory, but this was electrified and easy) to sharing the finished product with m’friend Stephen for lunch today. I did have a problem which I thought would be catastrophic - a rip in the casing, an escape of juices & jelly - but actually you wouldn’t know it had happened.

So we ate one end of the pie, and I came over all Edwardian and wrapped the remainder in greaseproof paper rather than clingfilm. Just seemed more appropriate, somehow. If I keep going this way, I shall be my grandfather before I die.

Posted by Chaz at 04:03 PM GMT [Link]

Friday, May 6, 2005

Went to m’friends Stephen and Candy's nuptials last weekend, and then this week down to London to launch The Write Fantastic. A lesser man than I would draw some kind of parallel about moving from death to life, from a season of funerals to a season of new beginnings; happily, I am above such crudities. The world doesn't make a lot of parallels, and it is not the task of art to force - or even foist - such false quantities upon it. [NB - please don’t tell me that a false quantity is an error of pronunciation; I know this. So is the drawing of inappropriate parallels, and other cheap or lazy habits. Bad artists make pronouncements, and then distort the world to prove them true. This is error of the worst kind. Lord, aren’t I pompous tonight?]

Anyway, I have been doing dreary things - tax returns, working on the novel, like that - which is why you haven't heard from me in a while. This week, as I said, the world grew brighter. I swore I would not dance at Stephen & Candy's wedding, I was past such things, excused dancing, I said; and lo, I did dance. And did drink, or vice versa; perhaps it was the drink that danced, and just dragged my body around with it? And then I was spirited away to do other things, but let's not talk about that. I don’t remember much, anyway.

And so to London - or to Henley initially, to spend the night with Helen and Mark (who are also getting married, later in the year; there's a lot of it about) and thence to London in the morning. An hour in Regent's Park, then coffee with a former editor of mine (who shares my own opinion, that what I most need now is a pseudonym; I'd have had one years ago, if not for editors and agents being dead set against it), and so to the pub to meet up with TWF. An afternoon's plotting together, many things, and then the evening event. Seventy-five people came, give or take: old friends and new contacts, all of them welcome and a fine time had by all. It was meant to be a media launch, so a bit of a pity perhaps that no media turned up, but never mind. The name and intentions are firmly lodged now within the genre’s consciousness, which can’t be a bad thing. Wonderful, what buying people free drinks can do...

Posted by Chaz at 11:04 PM GMT [Link]

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© Chaz Brenchley 2002/2006
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