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Chaz'z Blog

Thursday, September 22, 2005

I seem to have invented a new version of bacon & eggs. Not deliberately, only because I was left alone with too much work to do and no time to shop. So come lunchtime, I looked to see what there was in the larder; and there was fresh eggs, and gammon bits, and Japanese subo noodles, and Swiss chard. So I steamed the chard while I boiled the noodles, and made a nest of them both, and added fried gammon-bits, and topped them all with a poached egg, and drizzled a mustard vinaigrette over the top. And you know what? Itís really, really nice.

Posted by Chaz at 06:52 PM GMT [Link]

Monday, September 19, 2005

Ah, the fun we have....

I got up this morning with plans in mind: to check the proofs of the first Phantoms... book (my first co-publication: yikes!) and to revise the first Taiwan novella, to make it fit to show people. This meant printing out the novella, as I'd given my hard copy to Jean last night (her having made it plain that she was ready to read it unfit). While it prunt, I thought I'd start a load through the washing machine. So I filled it up, added detergent, pressed the go button - and it went for about ten seconds, and then died. No real surprise: it was in the house and old already when I moved in ten years ago, and it's been developing cranky habits for a while now. Still, because I am well trained, and because it had died so thoroughly that the little "I am on and working" light had gone out, my first thought was to check the fuse & wiring. But the electric socket is behind the cooker, and when I set hand to the cooker to move it (because I am a shoddy housekeeper) my hand came up all greasy and ick, and I did have all this paperwork to do, so I thought I'd go do that first, spend the morning being professional and the afternoon doing DIY.

So I pack my bag and off I go into town. I post a bunch of stories to a "Yearís Best" anthology, just in case, then I go to the Lit & Phil to do my proofing & revising. In that order. Except that when I come to unpack my bag, I have - in the fluster of the washing-machine catastrophe - forgotten to pack the proofs. Aaargh! I try just swapping things around in my head - do the revisions now, go home, do the DIY, come back into town with proofs this afternoon - but that just feels all wrong all round. So when I do sit down to the revisions, I spend half an hour comparing two different versions of the first dozen pages of the novella (the original full-length draft versus a cut version that Iíve read from a few times) and then flee, unable to make any decisions about anything.

Instead - of course! - I go shopping for a new washing-machine. Because of course I don't really believe the blown-fuse theory, I'm sure the thing is utterly dead; and I'm worried because it's full of my clothes and water and I don't know how to get them out, and I'm worried because I don't know the protocols of buying new washing-machines and I'm suspicious of the practicalities of disposal and connection, I'm not even sure that replacement will be physically possible because the back gate no longer opens and access through the front is conspicuously narrow, so I try to bury all those anxieties under the simple pleasures of shopping. Yes, folks, I really am that superficial.

So I find a couple of candidates, and come home with all my anxieties accumulating on my shoulders, wondering upon which of my smart strong practical friends I should unburden myself (in that "help, come round and sort me out" sort of way, that Iím so good at); and I fuss about for a few minutes and then assemble screwdriver and fuses, clear the cooker, drag it out of the way and address myself to the electric socket behind.

And I don't even get as far as taking the plug out; I just set my finger to the power switch to turn it off, and press - and nothing happens, it doesn't move. So I press harder and still not, it's fixed solid, I would say rusted up except that it's plastic; and after a moment there's a slightly fizzing noise behind it, and suddenly the washing-machine starts up like a little angel that's been sitting there patiently all this time, only waiting for its power to come back.

None of this is any surprise, except that the washing-machine isn't dead after all. That socket has been sitting in all the heat & greasy fumes behind the cooker for, oh, twenty years at least. Maybe longer. And I've always known the electrics were dodgy. The only question is, do I increase that dodginess by replacing the socket myself, or do I get a professional in? Bizarrely, I've done this kind of work before, but only in a strictly dodgy way; I once wired up an entire cottage from a single thirteen-amp plug next door. Hmmm...

Posted by Chaz at 12:54 PM GMT [Link]

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Well, I dunno. I finished Nothing Broken, the first of the Taiwan novellas, yesterday morning; and thought whoop-de-doo, weekend off. Watch sport, read books, go out and get drunk, sleep late, start again...

So yesterday afternoon I wrote a first response to the Canadian academic, and then spent an absurd amount of time cooking a ridiculously large & complicated biryani, with lentils and potatoes and rice and chicken and green beans and saffron and such, it could feed a dozen and there's no one but me to eat it; today I started the second novella, For Filumena Chen. Youíve got to hand it to me, some folks just do know how to have a good time.

Posted by Chaz at 05:04 PM GMT [Link]

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Hah! Ain't that just typical? As soon as I mention the notion of an interruption - without an expectation in my head, no idea of one's actually arriving - here it comes, chuntering down the track with an imperative where-are-you-Chaz? on its steambox.

Specifically, this is the weekend of the Great North Run: a serious-but-cheerful half-marathon from Newcastle to the coast, which numerous of my friends have competed in over the twenty-five years of its existence. This year, clearly, is the anniversary, so more than usual numbers are coming back; and they are not exactly led by but kind of focused on m'friend Chris, who has run every single one of them (and thus qualifies for a red number, and a place among the elite: there's only 150-odd of such veterans, among 30,000-odd runners), so when people start phoning up and saying "come out for a drink with Chris," one kind of tends to go. The only trouble here is that Chris's idea of training for the Great North Run involves turning up Friday lunchtime and going for drinks, and then drinking more all Friday night, all Saturday, and then - barring only the run itself, on Sunday morning - all Sunday too...

Still 'n'all, I wrote another thousand words today, before I let myself be tempted out; and there can't be more than a page or two more to go, before the story's finished. I'll squeeze out the time this weekend, somewhere between the drinks. And meantime, an academic Canadian wants to write about Outremer, in the context of gay & lesbian fantasy fiction; fine by me, I'm just thrilled that someone has noticed...

Posted by Chaz at 12:39 AM GMT [Link]

Friday, September 16, 2005

...Which I did, I told you I would. Not that the story is finished yet (I must by now have introduced you to Brenchleyís First Law of Everything, which is that Everything Takes Longer), but Iíve written near enough three thousand words today, and barring interruptions or other calamity, I really ought to finish it tomorrow. Thatís Ďfinishí in the sense of Ďgetting the first draft to the end thereof,í of course. While I love this endgame, the final sprint to the line and the sense of achievement after, there is also a great comfort in the certain knowledge that no work is truly finished, itís only ever abandoned. I could go on fiddling forever; these days, I do go on fiddling for as long as Iím allowed. Used not to be so: partly the impatience of youth (he sighed, romantically), wanting always to be throwing this one out into the world and getting on with the next; partly the technological change that has overcome us. Iíve been doing this job so long, I started on typewriters, where rewrites were a very literal and physical pain, because everything had to be typed again, and again, and again. I grew up in a world where change was difficult, time-consuming, costly; now itís cheap and easy. Text has gone from solid to liquid, and thatís not just in a reproductive sense, getting the words down; itís in our heads too, a major change in the relationship between the artist and the work. Thatís fascinating, and I can watch it happening inside my own head.

Anyway, tired now. All worded out. Going to bed, with small loud but thankfully incomprehensible cat. I suppose something must happen inside her head too, but Iíve never figured it out yet.

Posted by Chaz at 12:44 AM GMT [Link]

Monday, September 12, 2005

These last couple of weeks Iíve been working really well, doing a solid thousand words a day and sometimes more. Runs like these, they do of course have to come to an end; generally, though, when youíre as close as this to a finish, they end when the piece ends, and the problem is to start afresh with something new. Thereís a sprint mechanism that cuts in as soon as an ending hoves into sight, just got to get there. In the same way that the journey home is always quicker than the journey out, so the second half of something is always quicker to write than the first, and the final pages are hectic.

So here I am, poised on the very brink of finishing the first Taiwan novella, literally only the ending to write now; and I havenít touched it for days, and that is just so unusual, itís a weird place to stop; and the other unusual thing, Iím not complaining, Iím not blaming anyone, Iím not excoriating myself with self-loathing.

Thing is, I havenít been writing because Iíve been having fun. Simple as that. We went to the garlic festival at Snodís Edge (no, honestly, we did...), and we had a wine-tasting lunch with a dozen of us being far less serious than youíd think over fifteen bottles or so, and like that. And I do like that. And this morning I might have worked, only Iíd promised to go to a press show; so I went and it was cancelled, and I came home thinking Iíd work, but of course there was cricket. The last day of the last test in this Ashes series, and it was dreadfully tense and unpredictable, and it all came down to the last session, and it was all very good in the end. So England has regained the Ashes, a mere matter of eighteen years on, and the Australians are vincible after all, and we vinced them. Hurrah.

I can finish the novella another day. That'll be fine...

Posted by Chaz at 11:16 PM GMT [Link]

Wednesday, September 7, 2005

It still seems to me extraordinary sometimes, that here is this thing that Iíve been doing more or less continuously for forty-odd years, commercially for twenty-eight, and somehow - sometimes - it can still be just so much fun. Iím still working on the Taiwan novella, and Iím having a breeze. A thousand, fifteen hundred words a day; time was, when that was a morningís work and Iíd be looking for three times that before bedtime, but times change and so do people. Iím happy with a thousand.

There are penalties, though, to being happy. It makes everything else feel easier; which means that the purse-strings slacken, because Iím having fun, and half the definition of Ďhaving funí is spending money. So I go to town and buy things: books and batterie, smoked garlic and sea salt, what can I say? And thatís the least of it, the very least. Those of you who know me will not be in the least surprised to learn that my current obsession with eyesight drove me eventually into an opticianís. Well, actually to every optician in town, till I found a pair of (relatively) inexpensive glasses that I thought I could probably live with. And so I had the eye-test that I needed, and hereís something to make the cat laugh: indeed, she hasnít stopped giggling since she heard it. Why does my prescription suddenly feel wrong? Because Iíve reached that age where actually I need two prescriptions. For some years now Iíve been watching friends fumble and curse their way between two separate pairs of specs; now I get the first intimations that I am doomed to join them, or else go varifocal. Not quite yet, the nice optician thought he could probably fudge it one more time and I was happy to go along with this, but itís there, it canít be fudged for ever. Eek.

And meantime - double-eek! - the possibility has arisen of my participation in a TV pilot. Those of you who are crying ĎDisplacement activity!í or simply ĎNooo...!!!í can hold your horses; thereís a selection process, and Iíve barely engaged with it yet. Photos must be sent (hah! thatíll be that, then). But it does sound fun, and right up my street: go to some unnamed European city and solve puzzles, crack codes, decipher clues. All very Da Vinci, and why not...?

Posted by Chaz at 11:52 PM GMT [Link]

Monday, September 5, 2005

Y'know, it's a funny thing: every time I say the universe hates me, people smile indulgently and pat me on the head and say "there, there," and never take me seriously.

And yet, I assert, the evidence is on my side. Take my glasses, f'rexample. My lovely complex engineered frames started to disintegrate at WorldCon - I may have mentioned this? - and so had to go into glasses hospital for a couple of days. Which left me wearing a spare pair of the previous prescription, and so seeing everything a little blurred, a little twisted. When I went to collect my healed pair, while I was waiting for them to be discharged, I wandered around the display cases and fell entirely in love with a new set of frames: Ferrari red they were, and sweetly lensed. But I resisted.

Then I brought my fixed pair home and started wearing them - and because I'd been hypersensitised by knowing that I wasn't seeing things quite straight with the previous pair, became aware that I wasn't seeing things quite straight with this pair either. Something has certainly shifted, in the few years I've been wearing these. So I went back to revisit the Ferrari set, and loved them all the more. And still resisted, because however much I need new glasses, I really can't afford íem.

And yet, and yet: now that I'm aware of a problem (on the one hand) and tempted by a solution (on the other hand), it's just a constant in my head. Every time I look at anything, I know I see it wrong. That's no way to live, in a world where 70% of our interactions are vision-based [that's a statistic I saw recently; I make no guarantees of its dependability, but for sure there is a bias. Sometimes I make my students write a page of prose without a single visual referent in it, and oh, how they struggle...].

So I went back again yesterday, with a credit card and much more serious intent - and you know what? Theyíve gone. And of course I can't remember manufacturer or frame number or anything useful like that. Gone, gone, gone from me.

So I come home trying to feel good about this, trying to think that the world is helping me save money, and if the cost is a little soft-focus for a year or two, so be it.

And today, I know not how, but I have scratched one lens of my glasses monumentally, a Great Barrier Rift of a scratch; and now that I know the frames of my heart are lost to me, nothing less will ever be good enough, and I am condemned to see the world blurry and aslant and scarred, and is it any wonder that I interpret this in a mildly paranoid fashion? I think not...

Meanwhile, Iíve been ill for a fortnight, unable to sleep or breathe; the chest is so bad, I'm even thinking about going to see a doctor. And it's about midnight now, and I was just in the bedroom having an asthma attack, and I had to sit down on the laundry basket and somehow caught the curtains as I sat and pulled 'em down, so now I have no curtains on the window and that's really going to help the sleeping. See above, under the universe hates me...

However, Misha and I do get one silver lining each: me, I've been doing a lot of work, largely on account of being out of commission for anything else; my first Taiwan novella progresses apace. And Misha gets to spend half the night very happily sitting on my chest while I gasp and cough and listen to the radio. She likes this.

Posted by Chaz at 12:17 AM 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.