Thursday, May 25, 2006
Well, I dunno. You spend all day cleaning the house and laying in alcohol, putting the fizz in the fridge and twiglets in bowls - and then everybody buggers off straight after the restaurant, except for Jean & Roger who came back for coffee and Barry-fussing. Honestly, my friends are all getting so middle-aged, muttering about jobs and up-earlyness and knackeredness and such. And me too, not even opening a bottle of wine, content just to drink coffee with my friends...
Or, in other words, the book launch went just fine, thanks. We had forty-odd people turn up in the end, and it really didn't matter if I knew them all by name. I read a bit, because I like reading to people (indeed, I think I'm beginning to design the opening pages of a book to be read aloud, for exactly this reason: which is shocking, but useful too), and then Gail-Nina asked me some questions in a sort of mock-interview way, with people heckling from the audience (rabble, they're all rabble). We shifted a couple of dozen books after, with my lovely assistant Stephen acting as bookseller, and so off for a curry with that dozen or so who could be roped in for company.
I really enjoyed the evening, once people started turning up and so chased my nerves away. It's a confession, I suppose, but I do like an audience. So long as it's friendly. A roomful of people I know pretty well, all of them listening to Me: what could be nicer...?
Posted by Chaz at 03:56 PM GMT [Link]
First day for ages, I haven't gone near the novel. It's probably good for me. Better, at least, to have a day off than to have a day of trying and failing, of ekeing out half a page and hating it.
Instead, I've been cleaning the house. Yes, yes, the words 'displacement activity' do mean something to me; but in this instance, they're inappropriate. Point is, it's launch-night tonight, and I'm nervous. So (a) it's good to have something to do (that is not sitting here and scowling at a book and feeling the deadline crash through the undergrowth behind me) and (b) my plan for the evening includes the possibility of people ending up here, so it had better be clean, or at least cleanish. The plan in detail is to gather up the willing and go from book launch to my favourite Indian restaurant, just round the corner from my house; and then to sweep up the residues and fetch 'em down here for champagne and nibbles. I haven't cooked, I haven't had time to cook, so the least I can do is pop a cork or two.
Or, of course, something entirely other may happen instead. That's okay, fizz keeps. It's a pity that cleanness doesn't, but Barry may enjoy it for a day or two.
So: Carly's on the stereo, pumping anthematically ('You're So Vain' is actually playing as I type, which is nice, as I have always asserted that fiction is an act of vanity, and if that's true then by God so is keeping a public diary), because I cannot hoover nor scrub without something resonant happening in my head, and resonance in this case is consonant with 'the music of my teenage years', by and large; and I have hoovered and scrubbed and tidied and cleared space and thrown stuff into corners (when Chaz cleans the house, it's kinda like a lick and a promise, that's all I can manage, the whole thorough spring-cleaning thing is just beyond me; it's the promise I never keep), and now I am waiting for good people to come and collect me and several boxes of books which I am pretending to be optimistic about selling.
I hate waiting. Hate it, hate it with a passion. Especially in my own house, where I'm just reduced to helpless pacing and peering through windows, utterly unable to believe that people have not arrived exactly at my convenience. How can this be...?
Posted by Chaz at 03:54 PM GMT [Link]
Tuesday, May 23, 2006
There is any number of recipes out there for fish pie, and I've never felt much inclined to join in, largely because my fish pie is not at all sophisticated. I'm not (you should have gathered by now) scared of elaboration in the kitchen, but to me this is comfort food, and I don't want it elaborate. Fond as I am of shellfish, I don't want prawns or clams or - for crying out loud! - lobster in it. I certainly don't want salmon. I don't particularly want varieties of flavour or texture, that's not what it's about. I want a crispy top, smooth mash underneath, and creamy fishiness at the bottom, and that's all. Sometimes I put mushrooms in with the fish, but even that feels unnecessary, indulgent, inappropriate.
So why am I writing about it now? Only because I made fish pie last night and did the mash half-and-half with potato and celeriac, and it's really nice.
Not fussing with quantities, but peel potato and celeriac, cut into chunks and boil till tender. Mash together, any method you prefer (me, I use a ricer, because I don't want lumps), then mix in butter, salt & pepper.
Meanwhile, melt butter in a pan and add flour - plus mustard flour if liked - to make a roux [NB - you can do this with mean quantities of butter and supermarket flour, but your sauce will be coarse; lots of butter and a fine-grade flour - I use Italian OO - will give a better result], add milk a little at a time until simmering & thickened. Cook out the flour for ten minutes; add mushrooms if wanted. Meanwhile, skin & cube a fillet of cod or other white fish, and a fillet of naturally smoked cod or haddock. Add the smoked fish to the pan, stir it in and bring back to the boil; then add the fresh fish, stir it in and remove instantly from the stove.
Assemble in a grillproof dish - fish on the bottom, mash above, smooth it off and run a fork over to make little ridges, and dot with extra butter if you were mean in the mash - and then grill until dark & crispy.
So why am I feeling the need for comfort eating? Because it's my book launch tomorrow, and I'd be nervous enough anyway, but I just discovered last night that an unknown number of people and organisations didn't get the e-mail invitation I sent out, and obviously it's too late now. So half my friends don't know it's happening, it hasn't been broadcast through mailing lists or on relevant literary sites, it's not even on the Lit & Phil's own site. Nobody will come. So I'm getting my depression in, in advance, so as not to be too grumpy on the night. Gloom, gloom...
Posted by Chaz at 05:00 PM GMT [Link]
Sunday, May 21, 2006
Last week, it was the simplest conceivable dish (well, nearly): boiled noodles with soy sauce and chilli oil. Best fast food ever.
This week, we're being a little more complex, but it's still fast and simple. Boil a kettleful of water, and pour it over rice vermicelli in a bowl. Leave it to sit, and meanwhile finely chop a couple of spring onions, garlic greens if you have them, fresh garlic and chillies to taste. Heat a glug of oil in a wok, and sizzle all the above. Add a scatter of dried shrimps and some finely sliced beef (or chicken, or prawns, or tofu, and/or other vegetables, etc etc), then some mushrooms (whole if small, sliced or torn apart otherwise). Stir fry for a couple of minutes, then add beansprouts and a teaspoonful of curry powder (whatever strength you like, if you like it). Drain the noodles and toss them into the wok quickly, before the last of the water has dripped off. Toss all together for a couple of minutes with some soy sauce, and serve.
Also good with omelette on top, as per the rice I talked about a few days back.
Posted by Chaz at 02:24 PM GMT [Link]
Still catching up...
So it's eight in the morning, and I'm sitting there watching a rerun of Keith Floyd cooking in a boat in Bangkok (hey, look, it's Saturday morning: I'm allowed a little gastroporn before work), and suddenly Barry comes in with his coat entirely covered with - well, something. I don't know what. It's grainy and clearly dried, except for being slightly damp, and brief and unworthy thoughts do flit through my bewildered mind ("oh God, don't tell me you've been rolling in the litter-tray," and like that). So I go to investigate, and he comes strutting with to show me - this is after he's rolled around all over the living-room carpet in an ecstasy of long black beauty: his self-content knows no bounds - and there is this stuff all over the kitchen floor. It looks like he's spilled one of the spice-jars, but I can't identify it and it doesn't smell spicy. Herbal, perhaps. A lot of dried herb, it might well be, only I don't keep dried herbs, having a yardful of fresh...
And then I find the packet. As Baz clearly had before me. Light dawns, and a question is answered: oh, so he does like catnip, then. See, I'd bought this bag of it a year ago, meaning it as a present for a new kitten in a friend's life; only to learn that she was to be a clean kitten, undrugged-up, so I wasn't allowed to give it her. My Misha-cat wasn't interested by then, she'd outgrown her druggy phase (when we used to play a game where I grew catnip and would go out into the yard to hide it; she'd come out to find it; then she'd eat it; then she'd go back indoors to be sick. Great game). So it had just been lying around - not quite sure where; on top of the fridge, I think - and I had meant to hunt it out and see if Bazza liked it.
So Bazza did the hunting, and yup. He likes it. Unfortunately, he's used it all at once, but hey.
Right now he's out in the back yard, leaping and massacring cherry-blossoms as they drift in over the wall. I can't actually work out if this is still hyperactive nipped-up Barry, or if it's just regular frantic Barryness: a distinction without a difference, perhaps.
Posted by Chaz at 02:23 PM GMT [Link]
Catching up again...
I was just listening to the major evening news bulletin on the BBC, and after the piece on John Norman (yes, honestly - a nest of Goreans has been dug up in Darlington, and even Radio 4 has noticed), they had a piece on Bhutan. Where, quite genuinely, rather than pursuing Gross National Product, the government has a policy of pursuing Gross National Happiness. It is Utilitarianism, as near as it's ever been tried on earth. I had no idea that John Stuart Mill had reached so far.
Mind you, of course Mill also wrote on the Subjection of Women, and how this was a Bad Thing: "it ought to be replaced by a principle of perfect equality, admitting no power or privilege on the one side, nor disability on the other." I guess we can be fairly sure he hasn't reached as far as John Norman.
Posted by Chaz at 02:22 PM GMT [Link]
Friday, May 19, 2006
...and this brings you up to date.
I do like Lincoln - largely because every time I go there, I just have a good time. As this week, which was not exactly the perfect gig, but very much my favourite kind of gig, and just so much a contrast to Saturday in Birmingham. I suppose to some extent it's about funds - these people were paying us, and that does make a difference to how they treat you: they're invested, and so they care - but it's mostly organisation.
For those of you who don't know, Lincoln is a small and rather lovely city, flat all around its edges, with one sudden hill at the centre; usefully, this is called Steep Hill, for the benefit of the locals who frankly wouldn't recognise it otherwise, they're so unused to such a thing. At the top of the hill is the famous mediaeval cathedral; pity the poor guys who had to haul the stone up, but of course they did, where else are you going to put it?
Also at the top of the hill is my hotel. Fine view of the cathedral, but you do have to get there. And the railway station, of course, is way down on the flat bit, where trains do like to be.
Never mind. I had plenty of time, half the afternoon; and I'd spent the first half working on the train, so I was feeling thoroughly good about myself. Up the hill I went, found the hotel, registered, giggled a little at my room (very modernist - square toilet, desk built of glass and chickenwire, moulded chairs - but also just a little cheap; and as Dolly Parton said to Janis Ian, 'Honey, it costs a lot of money to look this cheap') and wandered back down the hill. Halfway down my tea-elf has his shop, so I whiled a time away in there; and then on to Ottakar's (a bookshop, and perhaps the last good chain in the country) where there is a coffee concession that I know of old. Some few pages of 'Bridge of Dreams' were written there, and now a few of 'River of the World' also.
Then I stood in the rain for forty minutes, waiting to meet a man who never came. This is always a bind for me: when you're waiting, and they're late, how long do you wait? Too long, always, in my case, but once I've engaged with the waiting process it gets increasingly hard to break away. You wait five minutes, you wait ten; once you've waited ten, you may as well give it a quarter of an hour; and so on, by increments, until I suppose it is finally obvious that he really isn't coming. In this case, it took me half an hour to decide. Then I went to the venue by myself, and there he was. Warm, dry, with coffee in hand. Ooh, I so very much didn't care...
But the gig was good: Juliet and Mark and me, talking about how fantasy isn't all elves and dragons any more. As though it ever was, but hey, you've got to start from somewhere. It was the kind of gig I really enjoy: an informal conversation, very little structure, eventually heading into territory we hadn't discussed before. And sensible input from the audience, and lots of books for sale, and what more do you want? I suppose we could have wished for more people - we had twenty upstairs, while Jilly Cooper had who knows how many downstairs - but then it wouldn't have, couldn't have been that kind of gig.
Then everyone went home, and I idled my evening away in restaurants and pubs, slept so badly I might as well not have bothered, and took my time coming home next day. Did the bookshop run in Lincoln, which can take a long time (it has more secondhand bookshops per square foot than any city I know - and I grew up in Oxford), and found a copy of Joanna Lloyd's 'Jane Runs Away From School'. Now, you all know that I have a fetish for girls' school stories; Joanna Lloyd is exceptional, on account of being genuinely laugh-out-loud funny. There is a famous scene with parsnips that still cracks me up simply at the memory, I don't have to read it. So, happy me.
But shopping for books, I didn't shop for food; nor at this end, either. So I played a rare game, cooking from the store cupboard. Specifically, I fried an onion from the veg basket with a chilli from last year's crop and smoked garlic from the plait hanging up. Into that went spring onions from the fridge, a handful of my own dried mushrooms and another of dried shrimps from a jar (with a judicious scatter onto the floor for Barry, who thinks they're sweeties), and then four big tiger prawns from the freezer. I added boiled rice and soy sauce, stir-fried that for a couple of minutes and then plonked it on a plate and made a quick one-egg omelette in garlic oil in the same wok to top it off. I learned that from my mother, way back thirty years ago, when she first cooked nasi goreng, and it's a taste that adheres.
And the whole assemblage was so nice, I'm going to do it again tonight. With fresh mushrooms, because they were cheap in the market today; and maybe I'll steam-and-soy some broccoli to go with, only because I have some, see what that's like...
Posted by Chaz at 05:28 PM GMT [Link]
...And here is another...
T'other day, in a side-post on someone else's journal, I posited the lovely notion that every book is an open wound, and that reviews act like sticking-plaster, to aid the healing process.
I was not, perhaps, entirely serious; it was really meant as another entry in the O-my-god-see-how-we-suffer game, that writers always play to remind themselves and each other and anyone else out there that this is too a real job, just like coalmining and scrubbing floors and all.
On the other hand, there is a legitimate point there, that every novel is an act of autobiography, of self-exposure, which is not entirely unlike ripping off that skin of social disguise that we use to get us through the days, that regular people get to keep on.
And then last night I discovered a couple of reviews on a website not hitherto encountered, of novels I wrote, oh, half a dozen years back; and one of them was lovely, very positive and insightful and all of that, and I really wish I'd seen it earlier; and the other was the opposite, cold and damning, and I really wish I'd never seen it at all. And guess which one it was that lived with me all night, and has lain in my head ever since...?
Where it has me squirming, of course, is that it probes right down under that skin, into the book and thereby into me; and if every novel is an act of autobiography, and if her analysis is right, then - oh, lord, can I really be like that?
I am hopeful that she is simply wrong, that she took against the book and so misread it; that's all interpretation, and there are no certainties there. What is certain is that I want to withdraw my notion as above, that reviews help healing. Clearly the book is still an open wound, even after all these years (see, see how I suffer...); equally clearly, reviews are nasty steel implements used to dig and pluck, to keep them bleeding.
Readers as vampires, anyone, sucking on our lifeblood...? ["Of course I've got a job, I'm a victim, see my wounds...?"]
And so to the Lincoln book festival today, which I am (desperately) hoping will take the taste of Birmingham out of my mouth. Should do; I like Lincoln. And besides, I have a tea-elf there.
Posted by Chaz at 05:27 PM GMT [Link]
I am a bad person, and haven't been copying my LiveJournal entries through to here. It's not deliberate; I just forget. So, catching up, here is one:
So there I was, and here I am, and here is better than there...
'There' in these terms being defined as the Tolkien Weekend in Birmingham, Saturday morning; 'here' being m'friend Helen's house, Monday morning, on the threshold of going home. Very little is happening here, it's just a slow and drifty morning - coffee, Radio 4, more coffee, 'Chaz, d'you want to go online at all?', you get the picture - but the point is that frankly very little was happening there either, and I was a lot less mellow about that.
Me? Unmellow? Surely not...
It is true, O my beloved 'earers. Thing is, this isn't the first time we of The Write Fantastic had been invited to this gig. It was effectively our first public appearance, this time last year; and there was a tent for performers, with a working PA that meant we could make a joke of the rumbling generator outside, and a well-stocked bookstall with all our titles present, and a general air of a fun event well organised. We didn't get a huge audience, but we were in opposition to archery and swordfights and dressing-up and all sorts of stuff that was a lot more fun than sitting in a tent listening to half a dozen writers, so that was okay too. And there was a really good farmers' market attached to the event, so I was happy all round.
So I was looking forward to this year's anniversary reappearance. I stayed in Birmingham with Stan'n'Anne the night before, and about twenty of us writerly folk went out for a balti, and that was grand; and then Saturday morning off we go to the event.
Where - well, let me be brief. They had us scheduled in the tea-tent, against the rival attractions of a counter selling refreshments and tables full of people who frankly wanted to talk to each other. The PA didn't work, or couldn't be made to work. The generator rendered us inaudible, unamplified. The book table had nobody's books except a few of Stan's, and not the ones that should have been there. There was no publicity for us, nobody knew who we were or why we were there.
All of which added together meant that it was utterly pointless, our being there. We did try to do the gig anyway, bellowing up and down the line, but nobody could hear, so we abandoned it. Mingled a little with those people who had had the generosity to try and hear, but I was spitting nails and better gone, so I went down to the farmers' market. Even that was a disappointment, after last year - but I did buy some asparagus and rhubarb to bring to Helen's.
The rest of the weekend was just up all the way - we met in Reading for a little late shopping, and since then it's been all good food, good alcohol and good company, not much sleep but hey, who cares about that? - but I am still seething over the gig. Just the absolute epitome of how not to organise this kind of event, and we weren't even being paid to be there, all the expenses are coming out of our own funds. Snarrrl..
Posted by Chaz at 05:26 PM GMT [Link]
Friday, May 12, 2006
Didn't manage the 5.30 wake-up this morning; this probably has something to do with the drinking-till-the-pub-closed last night. I am a bad person. But I was with poets, and we novelists have to keep our end up.
It's a pity I wasn't up betimes, because I have to catch a midday train, and I wanted to get some work done first, so that I didn't feel too greatly pressured about working en route: happy now to do it if I can, but if the carriage is crowded & noisy then it won't be possible, and I don't want to sit there for three hours grinding my teeth and cursing my fellow passengers for existing. No more than I normally do, at least. I love trains, in the same way that I love pubs - the emptier the better.
I've still got a couple of hours, though, so I guess I'll get the story moving on, at least. Not just the moral pressure of a deadline: Issel is about to spit, and I want to see what happens (the Sundain do not spit - ever - for reasons that are apparent, but this is the third time in a book and a half for Issel, who is a bad boy, and it's always devastating one way or another).
Barry is also a bad boy; he has chewed my glasses overnight. Happily only the ear-piece ends, so I can still wear them - indeed, they fit rather more snugly than they did before - but what is this thing with chewing metal? He does it to radio aerials too, and I really wish he wouldn't. He's got lovely strong white teeth - trust me, I am intimate with them - but I worry.
Off to Birmingham today; an evening with writerly friends, and then a Write Fantastic gig at the Tolkien Weekend at Sarehole Mill. This is by way of being a first-anniversary event, as the same gig last year was our first public appearance.
Sarehole Mill is where Tolkien was a child, and it's very Shire-like, so I get to tell my how-I-met-Tolkien story again. Obviously I was a child myself, which is almost the point of the narrative; I was twelve, and my English teacher adapted 'Farmer Giles of Ham' into a play, and I played the king (Augustus Bonifacious Ambrosius Aurelianus Antoninus Pius et Magnificus, Dux, Rex et Tyrannus Mediterranearum Partium. I remembered...). After the first night I was backstage taking my make-up off (scholarship boy, at a posh school; we had a stage, and a backstage, and dressing rooms, and those mirrors with lightbulbs all the way around and everything) and just entirely thrilled with myself for being an actor and having make-up to take off, and in came Mr Gill the English teacher with a little old man. "Oh," he said, "Charles, good," (you can tell this is a true story - he called me Charles, and I'm prepared to admit to it), "here's someone you'll want to meet. Professor Tolkien, this is Charles Brenchley..."
And it was, it was the man himself. I'm sorry, that should have capitals. The Man Himself. And bless him, he took his pipe out of his pocket and fiddled with it but didn't light it, and he sat and talked to me for five minutes, and I have absolutely no idea what he said. For him, I guess it was just another dull conversation with an awestruck schoolboy; for me, it was like meeting God (I'd read LotR first when I was nine, and probably half a dozen times by twelve), and just too potent to register in anything so commonplace as memory. All he left me with was the impression of a man barely in touch with this world, the better part of himself always off in Middle Earth - but that is exactly what I would have wanted and expected to see, and I was twelve years old, and I have never trusted that impression.
And I've been telling that story - with that rider - all my adult life; and now suddenly this week I read this, in Rick Gekoski's "Tolkien's Gown":
"He was a decent, shambling old chap, an unlit pipe in his mouth, his eyes focused inward, so that you never felt he was actually addressing you. Presumably he was internally somewhere in his fictional Middle Earth, lost in epic musings." Etc. Which is exactly the impression that I carry. I have a little more respect for my twelve-year-old self now; I kind of want to go back and apologise, for thirty years of dissing him.
Posted by Chaz at 10:24 AM GMT [Link]
Tuesday, May 9, 2006
I posted a couple of dozen books yesterday, hither and yon (including a cartonload of Outremer to the Fantasy Centre in London, if anyone down there has been looking for the series and not been able to find it...). And it occurred to me en route that I used not to do this (and not only because a couple of dozen books amounts to a considerable weight, and the walk to the post office I use is, oh, a mile and a half, or thereabouts). I used to be quite firm on this, that I was not a bookseller. I'm a novelist, I used to say; I write the books, other people sell them. Not my job.
Then my early books started dropping out of print, and I picked up remainder copies cheap, and for a while I just hung on to them; I am an inveterate hoarder, as anyone who visited would know. But people began to ask, could I sell them a copy of this book or that, and I turned out to be that rare and complex thing, an inveterate hoarder who can't say no.
And then - well, now - Bridge of Dreams is published in the States but not here, so laying in copies to sell on just seems natural, inevitable. Normal. So I was thinking about that, and about how I spent yesterday going over a friend's story with him, and how I'm going to Birmingham at the end of this week to do a gig at a Tolkien weekend, and I started compiling a list of all those things my current job (novelist, remember) requires or obliges or encourages me to do. Sometimes for money, sometimes not, but always (I hope) professionally, I am:
a bookseller, a lecturer, a tutor, a performer, a panellist, a commentator, an essayist, a Talking Head, a journalist, a tour guide (yes, truly - Chaz Brenchley's Newcastle, where all the bodies are buried...), an impresario, an entrepreneur and a publisher. And probably other things as well, but we'll assume they can be subsumed under one or another of these heads. Possibly one or two of the heads could be amalgamated, but that's less certain than you'd think. "A commentator and a Talking Head? What's the difference?" Only in usage, but I use commentator to refer to professional/occupational matters - "Chaz, come and talk to our listeners about the state of publishing today" - where Talking Head might be mumbling about anything. I get asked because of what I do, because I have a profile, but - well, one time I did a spot on local radio talking about beards. That kind of thing. (As it happens, I'm an expert; I've read Beards by Reginald Reynolds. 'Nuff said, to those who know...)
I always wanted to be a writer; I used to think that when I was, I'd be let write. How young I was, how foolish. The job has changed spectacularly, in the thirty-odd years I've been doing it, but all those changes might as well have been designed to stop me writing. Not just me; I was talking to my mate Ian Rankin a few years back, and he'd counted up the number of days he'd had free to write his latest book, and they amounted to forty-two. Which is, to be frank, not enough. People like us because of this thing we do, and then they conspire to stop us doing it. Bah, humbug. Anyone want to buy a book...?
Posted by Chaz at 12:35 PM GMT [Link]
While he is making the transition from one diary to the other, Chaz intends to duplicate his LiveJournal entries here: but good intentions are not always carried out, so some entries may only appear at the new location.
Archived entries to this diary are not affected; they remain where they have always been.
Posted by Jean at 06:27 PM GMT [Link]
Friday, May 5, 2006
Bizarre - I come out of my office, and there on the landing is a pair of socks. All balled up neatly, the way so many people keep their pairs together, and I don't. These are, definitively, not my socks.
Barry thinks they're his. Which, in a sense, they are; but they were never made for his slender feet, they are a man's socks and I do not recognise them.
All right, it is true, other men do pass through this place, and some do leave intimate articles behind them (it's a rule, apparently not unique to me: if you want to come back to a place, take something from that place away with you, and leave something of your own behind). And it is true that I have a young fetter - sorry, ferret - sorry, cat - in the house, who will keep digging in strange & inaccessible places. It is not inconceivable that he should have turned up a ball of someone else's socks in some remote corner of my house, tho' it is frankly not high on my list of likelihoods or events-to-be-expected.
Even so: it's still a moment of weirdness, appropriate to a weird day. I'm wandering around the house waiting to be picked up, which I hate anyway, it's just dead time; and today I'm waiting to go to a funeral, an old friend who died badly, wrongly, which adds a whole new level of strangeness.
I don't think I'm going to adopt these socks.
Posted by Chaz at 10:09 AM GMT [Link]
[last night's LJ blog, which I forgot to copy over - apologies to anyone still watching this one, but I'm afraid this may happen more often than just the once. I'm not good at routine.]
One Chaz, one vote. Which went Lib Dem, with a deep reluctance. But it is still true that I do still like voting. In person, in a poll-booth, with a pencil on a string. I always have. It's a surviving shred of community, that one moment where you get to feel more like a citizen than a subject. They tried to take it away from me; ran an all-postal ballot last year, as an experiment. And they did get more people voting, and they did also get a lot more fraud, both of which were utterly predictable. There was a mood amongst the politicians to keep it, just to make the figures look better (depressingly few people vote in local elections these days), but thankfully something changed their minds - possibly the court cases. Anyway, I didn't have to trudge the streets in search of the Phantom Pollbooth. Aw, c'mon, you knew that's where this was heading, didn'tcha?
I have a fabulous new photo, of Barry-the-cat heading up my trouser-leg with his eyes on my throat. Tried to upload it here, just for the fun of sharing, but something went horribly wrong with the process. No matter, the photo survived. As does Barry, on pitifully short commons (he thinks). And tries to eat me, to make up the deficit. I worry about his weight (is he too thin? is he too fat? who can say?), but then I worry about everything. It's his own fault. He is the wild adolescent, which means he has cast me entirely as anxious parent, and I play up to that. He's desperate to get out there and kill things; I am desperately anxious about the main road, the traffic, the dogs... (Every time a dog comes by, he's leaping from window to window, wanting to taste its blood. That's all very well with little yappy things, but a Staffordshire terrier? A German shepherd? A Rottweiler? I don't think so. I explain to him about being outweighed & outclassed, but he just sinks his fangs into my arm and says "y'what?" Metaphorically speaking, of course. He does have a vocabulary, but it's not English. Tho' he spooked me wildly this afternoon; we were out in the back yard, I called his name, and he actually came bounding over. Lord knows what was going on in his little catty head...)
Oh, and I did at least write three pages today. That's a sort of bare minimum, not enough but not catastrophic, a basis to build on. Something of a relief, after the last couple of days and ahead of what will be a very blank weekend; I haven't lost it altogether. Tho' I wish I liked it more, what I've been writing. "Don't get it right, get it written" is a fine motto and will cover a lot of ground, but there's a building pressure inherent in wrongness, in a growing pile of pages that you know will have to be reworked from the ground up. The self-same ground, as it happens.
Now I'm going to watch election results until I fall asleep. Then I'll move upstairs to bed and listen to more election results until I fall asleep again. You can't call it entertainment, exactly, but I'm a slave to input.
Posted by Chaz at 09:47 AM GMT [Link]
Thursday, May 4, 2006
For every upside, there is necessarily a down, or we would live in a two-dimensional world and that would be no fun.
Publication-day good; launch-party good; making these things happen as they ought - designing and printing flyers for the launch, posting books to people, glancing at Amazon and going "Ooh, look, a customer review already - and she loved it, five stars, that's fabby - oh, but it says 0 of 1 people found that review useful, and what on earth was that person's problem? Look, it's a five star review and it tells you a lot about the book; how is this not helpful, one way or the other, to buy or not to buy? What did the idiot want...?" - all of this is good.
Writing only three pages in these two days, this is not good. And this, of course, is the engine that drives the whole damn juggernaut that is my career, that is my life; and when the engine splutters, I get nervous. In mid-charge with the deadline looming, I get seriously anxious. And then I get depressed, I lose confidence, I lose concentration, I lose my way.
It's only two days, and the whole month is ahead of me; but I have to go to the dentist tomorrow morning (I'm British, of course my teeth are awful), and the funeral of an old friend on Friday; Saturday/Sunday I'm in Derby for a big SF/F/H event, so it's more like five or six days already where the focus is broken. I can't afford 'em, but I can't evade 'em. Where are those ivory towers, when you want them? Someone go slaughter me some elephants...
While we're waiting, here's a thing: in about forty-five minutes from now, at three seconds past two minutes past one o'clock this morning, it will be 01:02:03, 04/05/06. I intend to be clockwatching at that time. The man on the TV said that it wouldn't come around again for four hundred generations, which was a tediously unspecific number for such a very specific and number-based event - and I'm not entirely clear why it won't happen again in a hundred years' time; what am I missing here? - but whatever, I want to see the figures flick over.
Posted by Chaz at 12:24 AM GMT [Link]
Wednesday, May 3, 2006
Okay, this is official, this is confirmed: the launch party for 'Bridge of Dreams' will be at the Lit & Phil in Newcastle on Wednesday 24th May at 7pm. British Summer Time.
And why am I announcing this, you ask, what is the point, in an environment so global that I even feel moved to record the time-zone?
Partly for the fun of it, because I can; I haven't had a launch for a while, so I'm talking about it everywhere, all the time. And there is always the chance that somebody out there is within striking distance of Newcastle and will want to come (if this is you: you are officially invited, and it will be lovely to see you, but do please phone the library to reserve a place: 0191 232 0192). And I'm neurotic, because this is the first launch party I've ever actually organised for myself, I've imported books and everything, I'll be buying wine and Turkish sweets, and wouldn't it be awful if nobody came?
But I do think that's significant even beyond the neurosis, because it represents in miniature the changes that have overswept the whole books business during the time that I've been publishing books. Twenty years ago, bookstores used to host launch parties, as a matter of course; it kept them in good odour with publishers and their local literary community, and these things mattered. Ten years ago, power had shifted; the party was still in the bookstore, but the publisher was probably paying for it. These days, my local bookstores (big city Waterstone's) aren't allowed to host a launch without central office approval, which for a local writer they simply don't get. Add the cost of a venue to the cost of the wine etc, and publishers don't think it's worth it going solo.
Uniquely in this country, we have an Arts Council-funded agency that exists to support new writing in this region; for some star writers, they will take over the organisation of a launch, liaise with publishers and run the event. And they do it very well. When I approached them, though, they fretted about the logistics and expense of dealing with an American publisher, to the point where I didn't pursue it.
Instead, I'm doing it myself. I have the venue - not exactly in my pocket, tho' I do like to pretend so: the Lit & Phil is a beautiful 18th-century private library, where I'm actively involved in the literary programming - and I have the books. All I need now is the people. Yikes...
Posted by Chaz at 10:45 AM GMT [Link]
Tuesday, May 2, 2006
It's publication day! Technically only in the States, but hey. Territoriality is frankly a thing of the past. So is the publishing industry, of course, which is why it's slow to notice and slower to adjust.
Whatever. You can buy 'Bridge of Dreams' from Amazon, wherever you are; in the States, you could support your local bookstore instead; in the UK you can buy it also from The Aust Gate and (I hope) other specialist dealers. Go on. You know you want to...
Me, I am celebrating publication day by opening a LiveJournal account, which you will find here. It's not that I don't love you here, O my loyal readers; but I will love you just as much over there, if you care to migrate with me, and there we can actually do talking. Have I spoken before, about displacement activity...? (I finished Part Two of the new book yesterday, and should be embarking on Part Three as we speak, and have spent all morning playing with LJ...)
I will be crossposting for a while, at least, so you don't have to come over there if you don't want to. J'y suis, j'y reste. For now.
Posted by Chaz at 11:01 AM GMT [Link]
Monday, May 1, 2006
Eventually, this cat is going to teach me discipline and order. They will be survival traits.
Thing is, he is an uppity cat; he observes anything higher than himself, and he needs to be up there. He is also Spring-Heeled Jack, with coiled steel in his legs.
So all of this house - Victorian high-ceiling'd as it is, with many shelves all heaped high with kipple - is a great adventure playground to him, and he is adventuring all over. Which means that my days are punctuated with reports of his progress, as gravity operates gleefully upon those piles he disturbs (y'know, I used to puzzle over why gravity was defined as a 'weak' force - but here we are, gravity the size of a planet, and it's defied by shelving? In this house? I know how crap those shelves are, I put them up myself...) and all my lovely hoarded Stuff comes crashing down to earth. Especially here, in the office. Papers, books, computer disks, boxes, miscellanea - once they were stacked all higgledy-piggledy and precariously out of the way; now they are all over the floor. I'm leaving them there, partly to avoid the tedium of the same thing happening again, mostly as inducement to perform that mythical act known as Sorting My Life Out. Which will happen in that mythical period known as When I've Got Time. Which is generally asserted to be When The Book Is Finished. Which I do most earnestly hope is not a mythical time; I'm doing my best. But I'm doing it surrounded by an ever-increasing caldera (yes, yes, I know that's not how calderas happen, rather the opposite, indeed; but it was the best instant image I could find, as I sit here in the white-hot stew of my creativity, reluctant to pause till a better one came along...), and if I don't get it done soon I will truly drown in a cat-inspired avalanche of kipple. It's a double-whammy discipline; first he disciplines my working habits, and then he will discipline my house. Someone out there may be grateful.
Posted by Chaz at 05:02 PM GMT [Link]
Traditions observed, this Bank Holiday weekend:
1) A dead mouse on the rug, a self-satisfed cat sharpening claws and carving his first notch on the table-leg. Alas, I don't believe him for a minute, unless he actually scared the poor wee thing to death; there wasn't a mark on the body, and when Barry plays, he leaves scars. Also stains. Believe me, I know.
2) A visit to a garden centre. Yesterday being Sunday, I worked in the morning and then allowed friends to induce me out. Besides, I have withdrawal symptoms. I didn't plant new chilli seeds on Feb 1st because I was still hoping to bring last year's crop through the winter; since then, Barry and greenfly between them have wreaked havoc, and I have nothing worth the keeping. I was vaguely hopeful of finding chilli plants for sale, but there were none; so I bought some seeds instead, and spent some of the evening in front of the TV happily planting up. It's three months late, but we may squeeze a crop in before winter. The rest of the evening, I just watched TV and drank wine. It's a boy thing, a bank holiday thing, I dunno. Lassitude descends, and I can't even be bothered to explain it.
3) This morning, being yer actual bank holiday, I thought I'd follow through on yesterday's good work and go to a DIY store, like every other right-thinking male will. Did some work first, because I am the epitome of virtue, then hiked off. It's, I don't know, a mile and a half, perhaps? Not more than two miles, anyway. And I got there, and found it had become a carpeting warehouse behind my back. Snarl. Walked home again, and have done nothing useful since. Still following the tradition, see. Bank holidays are for wasting.
Fair warning: I am paused on the blink of transferring my allegiance to LiveJournal. Apparently there are complicated ways one can syndicate this to that, but it just seems so much easier to start a new journal at LJ. My current plan is to duplicate entries for a while, there and here, see how that goes. The advantage of there, obviously, is that people can comment. G'wan, y-all know that you want to...
Posted by Chaz at 02:35 PM GMT [Link]
© 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.