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Chaz'z Blog

Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Every now and then, generally at the end of a book, I get overtaken by a sudden hopeless urge to resist entropy. In my case, this might mean cleaning kitchen surfaces, but itís more likely to be tackling the papers on my desk, trying to discover where there still is a surface beneath the mayhem. Iíve been at this in a dilatory way for the last month or so, and I am now down to the base stratum, beneath which is nothing but fake leather and exhausted wood. I do of course want a new desk, but not till I have a new office to put around it, a new house to put around that...

Anyway, thereís always a little light fun to be had, rediscovering stuff that I once thought worth keeping (or often just not quite worth the effort of throwing away). Todayís favourite is a leaflet from the firefightersí strike of two years ago (good dating evidence of how rarely I actually do this). Itís issued by the Tyne & Wear Fire Authority, signed by the Chief Fire Officer, and I do not think he can actually have read it. I do not think anyone can actually have read it; even the person who wrote it canít have read it. As soon as I saw it, I remembered that there was something joyful here, and this is it. Thereís lots of good advice (notably about candles, ĎDonít leave candles to burn unattendedí - which is relevant this morning, because Iíve just discovered a candle burning in my bathroom, and last nightís bath was a fairly quick affair without candlelight, so itís been going for two days without my noticing...), and then it gets to the ĎCookingí section. For those of you who lack the benefit of being British, a chip pan is an open saucepan with a wire basket, filled with oil and used first for deep frying and then for setting the house on fire. Me, I use a wok; but this is the advice, and I love it.

Take special care when cooking
Never leave cooking unattended
Do not fill a chip pan more than one-third full
Never put food in a chip pan.

Posted by Chaz at 06:29 PM GMT [Link]

Friday, August 27, 2004

I should, I am sure, have more faith. Or less. perhaps: it may be that I put too much faith in propaganda, I let people persuade me that we live in a throwaway world with obsolescence built in, whereas in fact most things are most likely fixable. Well, most machinery, at least. I'm not sure about damaged people or fractured relationships, but my sick TV has been to hospital and come home all better, and quite cheaply so.

Meanwhile in its absence I've been cooking and spending time with unexpected friends and having business meetings disguised as dinner parties, unless it was the other way around. A while ago mífriend Sean OíBrien suggested that we might write ghost stories, for an evening of readings. A succession of chance encounters and bright ideas, largely in pubs, has inflated this into a performance, publication and sound recording extravaganza, with its concomitant funding application, which has of course thrown me into utter panic-mode. So we needed to spend time with the prospective publisher and my new application-guru. So we cooked food (a mushroom risotto, with dried ceps and girolles and fresh wild mushrooms, and a wine-and-chocolate cream to follow) and ate it together, and talked of budgets, and I came away feeling much calmer. Until I confronted the paperwork this morning, and am now once again like unto a nest of wild monkeys, if monkeys make nests. Gail would know. But I do hate paperwork, all forms and proposals and such. I think someone should just hand me a cap of gold and tell me to get on with it. That, I could work with; this renders me inoperative.

So does cheap music being pumped through my windows at volume. The park over the road is having a community fun-day,which Iím sure is great fun for the community. For me, itís signal interference on the precise wavelength of my brain. I made a nice roasted-cherry-tomato-and-garlic soup, but thatís about the most productive thing Iíve done today. Iím supposed to be working on rewrites of Selling Water, but work is simply out of reach.

Still, the story for the Durham Literature Festival website has gone live, which is a good thing. Itís called Absent Friends, and itís a part of that suite of stories Iíve been writing about Aids carers. You can find it here.

Posted by Chaz at 05:09 PM GMT [Link]

Sunday, August 22, 2004

Well, I nearly did it. Shopped town for televisions, I did, and found - of course! this is my gift - the bargain of the city, a Sony Wega much reduced, display model but still with a full guarantee. Nearly bought it on the spot, but the young man was so startled by my cavalier attitude that I decided he was right, I probably should see it working. So I got him to plug it in and link it up - and then I didn't buy it, because I wasn't impressed by the picture quality. He was distinctly disgruntled, but it was his own fault; all he needed to do was tell me that it looked a little rough because the signal was being split between half a dozen sets and they didn't have a booster. Look, I can even blind myself with science; I'd have believed him in a moment. It's a Sony, damn it, they make good TVs. I was so ready to be persuaded, but he didn't even try.

Might go back on Monday, mind, see if it's still there. Meantime, there are advantages to being without. This evening, I listened to a three-hour special on Kenneth Horne, which I just wouldn't have committed myself to if there had been rival attractions. First and last episodes of 'Beyond our Ken' and 'Round the Horne', with surviving-cast interviews and original memos read out between. Fascinating, it was, as well as deeply funny. And it ended with a fistfight between Eric Merriman's son and Barry Took's widow, over whether RtH was just a rip-off of BoK. They were both being terribly sweet and mutually supportive about it, but oh, there was some needle underneath. I'm with the Merriman camp, relunctantly; same voices with different names, same humour with different jokes, this is not my definition of original. But both shows are still utterly joyous.

Posted by Chaz at 12:27 AM GMT [Link]

Saturday, August 21, 2004

My television has been flickering and jumping all week, and so has my mood. The two are not related, but - of course! - I see patterns, intimations, omens. That's my job, to draw inferences and infer significance.

It's been a grey week. I'm doing quick cuts and rewrites on the novel, and I'm okay when I'm working; this particular stage is highly focused but only superficially demanding, which makes it popular with me, those being the two conditions under which I thrive. Seriously, I do like playing with text at this level, largely letting the story stand but weighing every word for its value. But I can't do that for long without a break (once I could, my first novel I proofread in a single sitting, all night long; but that was, ooh, twenty-one years ago and I was nearly half my age and fizzing with excitement). So when I break, mostly I slump in front of the TV and watch Olympics when I can't watch cricket; and as I say, the TV has been increasingly sick, and so have I. I feel like a caryatid, fallen beneath her stone; I can see everything that I have to do in the next year, and it's too much for me. I'm tired, and I want to stop; and I can't, so I am gloomy.

And tonight I had done as much work as I wanted to, so I was back in front of the TV - and it popped and died altogether. And I am trying so, so hard not to see this as a portent. What does my TV know about my state of mind? It's a machine, damn it, and it just went wrong...

See how hard I'm trying?

But the real question is what to do about it. Repairs are unpredictably expensive and untrustworthy; a new TV is extravagant and I can ill afford it. Probably the better notion would be to do without. I've done that before, for ten years together. Books and radio and music are actually enough, no one needs pictures; I generally multitask anyway when the TV's on, cooking or reading a book or whatever. And I know that I work harder without.

But that, of course, is because I am an addict. Can I give it up? Again? I don't know. Not sure if I want to. I have always enjoyed my addictions. Most likely I'll go into town tomorrow and find some special offer that is absurdly costly but cheaper than the list price, and go 'Mm, bargain,' and come home with some giant multichannel monstrosity with added gimmicks. I like gimmicks.

Posted by Chaz at 12:31 AM GMT [Link]

Sunday, August 15, 2004

Well, lookit. Chaz had the weekend off. And like any unattached summer city male, he spent it partly in the pub, and partly watching sports on TV. The Premiership has opened and the Olympics have just kicked off - I'm sorry, those should be the other way around - but they are incidental, frankly. This was also the weekend of the Hungarian Grand Prix, and the intimate middle days of the third test (for those of you not keeping up, that's cars and cricket, that way round). In such a weekend, what's a man to do? Not work, for sure.

Actually, to be fair to myself, I have been thinking quite hard about work-stuff all weekend; and my forays into a pub were at least work-related. I went to meet Ann Cleeves, one of my fellow murder-squaddies, in order to pick up my copies of the CD the Squad has recorded, of readings from our work. That we then did a lunchtime's drinking with her daughter and associated boyfriend means that I don't really count it as work, but hey... And then today I went to the pub to read, a book that I've been asked to support with some nice quotes; which again doesn't quite count as work, but hey again, stop counting...

And to be even more fair to myself, the reason I did no real work is not because there was so much to distract me. Thing is, with the big book behind me and its immediate sequel, the Durham LitFest commission also finished, I'm beset with three or four or five smaller tasks, all of which have to be done, but not necessarily in any given order; so I'm pulled this way and that, and so not actually doing any of them. I am definitely a one-project man, I find multitasking really hard.

I do know the order in which I ought to tackle these new tasks. First the rewrites on the novel, those take priority; then the how-to-write-genre-fiction guide for a website, that has a deadline and a fee; then the various short stories and proposals for new work, the creative stuff, before I get down to writing volume two of Selling Water. But having a task-list sorted is just bureaucracy, it's not engagement; and my mind is scattergunning ideas, snatches of dialogue, moods, opening lines, all for half a dozen different pieces of work. And most of that is getting lost because I'm writing none of it down, I'm watching cars go round in circles and men bash balls with bits of wood.

But this, this is engagement. And this was a fine week to be engaged with Ferrari, the race when they secured their sixth consecutive constructor's championship; andit is now certain that one of their drivers will be individual champion also, as only Barrichello can now catch Schumacher (well, in his dreams, maybe...). I wear my red with pride.

And it's a fine weekend to be a cricket fan also, with the test delightfully poised; tomorrow is the last day, and all four legitimate results are still possible. Actually, I think three of them are highly probable. I think it's highly probable that England will win; I think it's highly probable that England will lose; I think it's highly probable that the match will end in a draw. The only unlikelihood is a tie, and even that has been known.

My rigorous assessment of the probabilities may perhaps help you to understand why I am no gambler. But I really do think each of those outcomes is more likely than either of the other two. I find myself in three minds, which is by no means unusual. "I am large, I contain multitudes" - which is by way of being my quotation of the week.

Posted by Chaz at 11:34 PM GMT [Link]

Thursday, August 12, 2004

As I foretold you, Sunday was a cooking day, and it all seemed to go very well; but it did feel strange, in a way that I hadn't anticipated. It never felt like a thing in itself, a meal that I was cooking for my friends. It was a trial run, a dress rehearsal, and that's fine, I've done that before, often and often; but this was a trial run for a meal that will never happen, for a fiction, getting recipes right for a story on a website. And oh, that is weird. Like making a physical model for a virtual world: if that's a part of the process,then that's what you do, but there's something irredeemably topsy-turvy about it.

Monday was a day of waiting for agents to phone, then finally giving up and phoning them; such is the life of a writer, that whole internal monologue, oh, what's the point, if she had anything to say she'd have called, but in the end you do call her and yes indeed she has plenty to say and God knows why she didn't ring me (better things to do, you suggest, other clients to attend to? Bah humbug, say I) but hey, you get used to this. And my US agent pitched in with a pageful of notes, but nothing drastic, just a few cuts and a bit of reworking and then the novel can go off to publishers both sides of the pond, my agents both sides reckon it'll do (oh, all right, they say that it's fabulous - but you didn't hear it from me, okay?).

Since then, not been doing much; sleeping patterns all shot to hell, so I've been dragging exhaustion through the day like a sodden blanket. Saw M Night Wossname's The Village yesterday: thoroughly enjoyed the first hour, until the oh-gosh-what-a-surprise twist came along. Trouble is, he's known as Mr Twist now, so you know it's got to come; and this time it's just so obvious from about the third minute of the movie, and that wouldn't actually matter if it was incidental to the story but it's not, it is the story, there's nothing else to work with, which makes the last half just a dreadful anticlimax. So you sit there wide open to annoyance and it's suddenly so easy to find irritations in a script that had been working so well up till then ('oh hey, we need to send someone for help, through this wild and trackless wood and then out into a world they know nothing about - I know, let's send the blind girl...'). Grr.

But I have been working also, writing up the recipes from Sunday and reworking the pieces of fiction that fit around the food. Today is the start of the third Test, but it's been raining for days and the pitch is wet, so everything's delayed; in Newcastle it's still raining, indeed itís bucketing down, so I'm less inclined to run away; I am being virtuous, and finishing these pieces.

Posted by Chaz at 11:15 AM GMT [Link]

Friday, August 6, 2004

Both my agents (UK and US) were in touch this morning, in what I am sure is meant as a coordinated assault on my moral fibre. They each said that the new book is okay, and they'll talk to me seriously on Monday. This is clearly meant to prey on my nerves all through the silent weekend; they do these things because they can.

It won't work, though. I am morally fibrous, tougher than they deem; and I've already made arrangements to cook this weekend. The piece I'm writing for the Durham LitFest website is based around a dinner party, complete - of course! - with recipes; so we're having a trial run on Sunday. Which means that this morning I got to shop, hurrah: first at the farmer's market, then at my favourite Italian delicatessen, then at the organic wholefood supermarket. And then I got to carry it all home, across the moor in the sunshine. My back hurts, but it's worth every twinge. Tomorrow I will shop more, and prepare some; Sunday will be all cook cook, drink drink, note down quantities and consequences. I never measure ordinarily, but this time I think I need to. ĎA handful of thisí and Ďthe right amount of thatí may be okay in my regular recipes, but it's hardly fair in a fiction. Or have I got that entirely the wrong way around...?

Posted by Chaz at 03:18 PM GMT [Link]

Tuesday, August 3, 2004

Iíve never much done the weekend thing, that sense of a time apart, a mini-holiday where you do things differently from the working week. Sometimes I share in other peopleís weekends, generally if Iím away from home, but I find it hard to make the distinction on my own account. I couldnít lock myself out of the office for two days out of seven, that would be perverse; and Sunday is often a good working day, and not to be wasted...

Actually, I used to hate Sundays. Twenty-five years ago (sheesh!), when I was a young writer, living off magazine work and dependent on the post. Hoping for a letter, an acceptance, a cheque: this was what got me out of bed every morning. Sundays, no post. And in those days no shops open, no Test cricket (rest day - aaargh!), it was a nightmare. And half a dozen times a year there was a bank holiday to follow, a Monday where all the same absences applied (well, except for the cricket), and those were worse. I must have been terrible to live with, I couldnít bear even living with myself, and most of the time I quite like me.

Anyway, Iím much better now, because the post has become almost meaningless to me; everything that matters is e-mail now, and that comes through even on Sundays. I like my Sundays now, though I still tend not to differentiate. I certainly donít have the day off.

Which is why itís quite nice occasionally to be able to look back at a weekend and think, ĎOh, hey, I had a proper weekend there, like what other people do...í On Saturday I did shopping, and I went to the library, and I went to the pub, and I went to a party. And then - as is becoming traditional - I woke up Sunday morning in my own bed with no memory whatsoever of how I got home; which on the whole I just shrug off these days, but this time itís a little perturbing, because the party was a dozen miles away and I certainly didnít walk it. Which means that either a friend gave me a lift or else someone poured me into a taxi, but in either case youíd really want to remember...

Anyway, I was sitting watching cricket Sunday morning (no rest days any more, hurrah!) and I suspect groaning gently when the phone rang. My defences were down, my always-feeble ability to say no was entirely paralysed; and so an hour later I was off with a friend to take his boy and their dog for a walk. We did the pub lunch thing, then drove out to the upper reaches of the river Tyne. Woods and water, sunshine, splashing: boy & dog got increasingly wet and foolish, while Simon and I were all middle-aged and mature. Sigh. And I at least was increasingly creaky - ooh, my back! - but perhaps less groany by the time they took me home. Heíd said fresh air would be good for me, and he was right, damn his eyes...

So there you have it: a party in town and a walk in the country, and what could be more weekendy than that? I decline to suggest that I have been invigorated for the week ahead, but I am at least back at work, thoí I think I would have been here anyway.

Posted by Chaz at 12:52 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.