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Chaz'z Blog

Thursday, July 29, 2004

My producer, director and all-round film guru friend Trevor tells me that The 13th Warrior is one of those v rare examples of a movie being taken away from the director and spoiled by the original novelist - viz by Michael Crichton, who changed the title, changed the story, changed the score. This makes me much happier; I have never rated Crichton (who in any case is not really a novelist at all, he's just a filmwriter whose first drafts come out in prose form: one of those writers who faxes the new book to Hollywood chapter by chapter. Nil respect. Books matter on their own account, or else they don't matter at all), and now I can assume that the original director (John McTiernan, I'm told) got the story right, and all that preparatory stuff was there for its clear purpose, until Crichton screwed around with it.

It does make me happier, but not exactly happy. I think I'm in post-book slump here, restless and a little adrift. My back's been hurting since Cornwall, on and off, and I can't settle. I'm supposed to be writing a story for the Durham LitFest website, and I do have a lovely net-dependent structure for it, something you simply couldn't do on paper; but thatís the trouble, it's all structure, and I really don't do structure. I do narrative, which is all about movement and direction and control; structure is static, and readers move around and within it undirected, and I don't know how to tell a story under those conditions. So I keep running away, to the cricket or the shops or the pub.

Coming home from town this afternoon, I was struck with a rather lovely idea for a novella: a fantasy, probably set in the same Ottoman/Istanbul-type city that I'm working with anyway for the current novels, probably indeed in that little interstice between books one and two, so now would be quite an obvious time to write it. I'm trying to resist, but it is hard.

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

Sunday, July 25, 2004

This is utterly pointless, and you don't have to read it. Why am I bothering to fulminate against the plotting of a movie? It's a waste of my time, and a waste of yours.

And yet, I am just so angry about this... Go pour yourself another drink, while I rail - or no, not rail. I want to go back to fulminating. It's from the Latin for lightning, and it has, oh, I don't know, alchemical aspirations - fulminate of mercury, &c - which rather appeal just now. I want to concoct some hellish steaming brew, and make these people drink it...

I saw a film last night. The 13th Warrior: fairly standard stuff, fantasy/historical where a wandering Arab encounters a boatload of Vikings and is swept off on an adventure. Nothing outstanding about it, nothing outstandingly wrong. Except. Right at the start, the first meeting, they are seeing off their dead chieftain in the traditional manner, the burning boat, with the sacrifice of a beautiful blonde to serve him on his way.

And then at the end, the hero-Viking - having led his men in a Seven Samurai/Magnificent Seven/any one of a hundred imitations rescue of a village against hordes of wicked warriors - understands himself to be dying, and is promised that he shall have a king's burial. Oho, thinks Chaz, we've been told about this already...

Meanwhile, our Arab-hero has been canoodling with a beautiful blonde serving-wench. Aha, thinks Chaz, this is the set-up, the bitter twist to salt the inevitable victory.

And Chaz sits there waiting for it to happen. And the hero-Viking does die, and they do bear him off to bury him, and Chaz waits to chuckle grimly at that moment where our Arab-hero realises that his girl is to be taken from him for the sacrifice, and the only question is whether she will go willingly or drunkenly or druggedly or screaming, and what he will do in response -

- and it never happens. It just doesn't happen. And he sails away, and their only excuse would have been to show her going with him, the sickly-sweet rather than the bittersweet, and that doesn't happen either, and it's an outrage. It's a violation of all known storytelling values. And I know this is Hollywood, and I know they do this as a matter of routine, but they had it all there to do and they just ignored it, it's like watching chessplayers agree a draw when there's an obvious checkmate on the board, it's unforgiveable. It makes a nonsense of the entire piece, it's an utter failure to understand how narrative works and what it's for, and I am so furious about it, still, twenty-four hours later...

Posted by Chaz at 12:23 AM GMT [Link]

Friday, July 23, 2004

Well, that was a week. Since we last spoke, I have inter alia married two friends of mine in a castle, been to my old friend Lel's second funeral and - shock, horror! - visited my mother.

Celebrating the marriage of Jeremy and Apryl

I'm sure I've spoken of all this before, except perhaps my mother; but my friends Jeremy and Apryl got married in a hurry (no, no, not what you're thinking, not a shotgun in sight) and wanted to have a proper ceremony later. So they hired a local castle (a little mediaeval, and a hell of a lot of High Victorian Gothick: I so want that castle...) and told everyone to come in period costume. They asked me to play vicar, and dressed me up in cassock and clerical bands; wrote their own service - complete with thunder and rain on the soundtrack - and we did it all solemn in the chapel. Then to the great hall for food and frolics, and it was a fine day and we were all very happy.

Next day I left home at seven in the morning and stepped out of a taxi at the other end of the country at two minutes to five, for a five o'clock solemn mass to inter Lellie's ashes. My teeth have seldom felt so skinned, but I had to be there, having missed her and her dying and her proper funeral also. I stayed a couple of nights with Jay, whose house she shared, and then went a little further downcountry (this is all Cornwall, for you atlas-hounds: Liskeard and Lower Sticker) to see Mum and my kid sister's family, including the splendid 17-year-old who is doing just what 17-year-olds should do, playing in a punk band and all.

And so home, to find another window broken by another stone. I don't think this is malice, particularly; malice breaks the big windows at the front of the house, and this is just little ones at the back where stones can be thrown from the alley. But it makes me malicious: nervous and angry at the same time, and that ain't good.

Today I signed four hundred sheets of paper, to go in the limited editon of Juliet McKenna's Turns and Chances, which I wrote the introduction for. You get to do odd things sometimes as a writer, they're just not very excitingly odd...

Posted by Chaz at 09:50 PM GMT [Link]

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

I got to use the word gralloch yesterday. This makes me very happy. Itís a word I have loved ever since I first met it (I suspect in John Macnab, say thirty years ago, though I couldnít swear to that; contrary to rumour, you donít always remember the first time).

To save a fair proportion of you the need to go and look it up, I will define. Any decent dictionary will tell you that the noun means a deerís entrails, and the verb to disembowel (deer), but actually itís broader than that. The gralloch is the whole act of disembowelment, there on the field, in the heat of the hunt; it encompasses the huntsmanís cut to open the belly, the spilling of the intestines and the houndsí reward. You will understand, I think, how come I never had the chance to use this word before, in thirty years. Not my field, really.

But the British Fantasy Society is producing a calendar for next year (think Xmas presents, and keep in touch...). Theyíve divided the tale of Gawain and the Green Knight into digestible chunks, and assigned a dozen writer/artist pairs to a portion each. Those of you who know me will know that I usually run shrieking from any Arthurian retelling - havenít these stories been told enough, already? - but itís always nice to be asked, and itís only a hundred words, and there was an obvious opportunity to use the word gralloch, so I did weaken.

Itís an interesting challenge, trying to tell even a portion of a story in a hundred words, without resorting to synopsis. As a rough guide, the paragraph preceding this is 99 words long, so thatís the space I had to play with, to cover a dayís action, two parallel events and consequences. What interested me was that I thought Iíd have to be very direct, straight up and down, but actually the solution was to be unexpectedly oblique in my approach. Not going to say more now, donít want to spoil the object at Xmas, but I may talk about it in detail later. If someone reminds me, and if I remember what I want to say.

Anyway, I was happy. That went off, and I went into town to see Spider-man 2 with friends, leaving my computer quietly printing on its own. I didnít like the film much, but hey, Hollywood has a magnificent talent to disappoint, and Iíve never really got comics anyway.

And so to pub, and then home to replace the toner cartridge and keep on printing; and then when the printing was done I stashed two copies of the revised first draft of Selling Water into padded envelopes and took them to the post office, where it cost me thirty quid to post íem to London and New York. I must, I must write shorter novels...

Then to the pub again, and unexpected friends to drink with, the Liar boys and others; and so home again, and a quiet evening, and bed at midnight because I couldnít stay awake.

And this, this is the thing: it happens every time, and every time it catches me out because I never realise just how strung out I am by the end of a book, or how much release there is when I send it off. For the last few months Iíve been sleeping dreadfully, waking at five thirty and at six and listening to the news at seven and always wide awake, often up before the alarm goes off at eight. This morning, blank unconsciousness till ten; and I am dragging myself around the house, and everything is too much trouble, even reading is hard work and Iím wondering what I can eat out of the freezer because I havenít got the energy to cook, and I never ever do that.

I think Iíve been gralloched.

Posted by Chaz at 11:55 AM GMT [Link]

Saturday, July 3, 2004

Water, water everywhere, but not (deo gratias!) in the wine...

It starts, of course, with the novel. Which has, remarkably, stopped; and not in a bad way. Iíve had a mad week, thirty-three pages by Friday lunchtime, that final sprint for the tape - and itís done, it is done, the book is finished. For now. There will be multiple revisits in the next few months, starting next week indeed, but today we donít care about that. By last night, we really didnít care about anything very much, except where the water went.

It is a very wet book. Deliberately so, to be a contrast with the desert-dry of the Outremer series; itís called Selling Water by the River, and it is all full of rain and steam and water-tanks and wetness. Vol 2 even more so; I suppose a sensible author (the one who I made up, who lives in my head and offers really good advice to wannabes) would start vol 2 today, get it rolling, not to let myself get costive; but nah, stuff that. Shopping and drinking, these are the orders of the days. And getting wet. It has actually been raining all summer, but Iíve been working so it didnít matter. In the day and a half since I finished, Iíve become much more aware of it; I look on it as a tribute to the book (there must be a word, for that psychological state where everything seems relevant, the world is addressing itself entirely to oneself: some subset of paranoia, but itís a very precise feeling, and at times like these I have it in spades. Goes with the territory, all this world-building one does, itís hard to see the real world in other terms - though I actually typed ĎGod with the territoryí there, which I think sums it all up in rather a neat phrase).

Today has been thundershowers and cloudbursts, but I went out anyway, no rain is gonna stop me shopping; and itís been altogether too much for the town drains, there are water mains burst all over, flooded roads and pedestrians laughing at the drowned and sodden cars. One heroic woman in one of those powered wheelchairs, chugging along through six inches of water and grinning manically; I waved, and forebore to tell her that it was going to get worse around the corner.

I was tempted to buy waterglasses, but came home with cutlery and cookery books instead. Yesterday was household linens, black cotton bedding and towels, an end to compromise; itís been years, years since I had a black duvet cover. No wonder Iíve been sleeping so badly. But there are people who shake their heads in sorrow, and ask if thatís really my idea of how to celebrate the end of a novel, by buying domestic things; and the answer, of course, is yes. I like shopping for other things as well, of course, clothes and food and anything at all, but stuff for the house is dandy. If I decide to change my career, I could be very happy outfitting other peopleís kitchens, if thatís a job one can be paid for. Just at the moment, though, I donít want a change of career, Iím very happy with the one Iíve got. This might, of course, be related to the fact that this weekend, I actually do not have to do it...

Now Iím going to pour hot water into a teapot, and then Iím going to have a bath. Splish-splosh.

Posted by Chaz at 04:50 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.