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Chaz'z Blog

Sunday, October 31, 2004

Ah, me. When things are not going so well for me, I do have this pronounced tendency to panic, to over-react to the small stuff. Itís all about assuming the worst, and not taking time to work things through. Cold sweats, a tremble in the fingers and a magnificent self-contempt. The word panic comes of course from the great god Pan, and so traditionally does the emotion; the original meaning is said to be that sense of irrational terror that can creep over you in a forest, the feeling that youíre being stalked by some creature more powerful than you and not at all kindly disposed. Last weekend, I managed that almost literally: got myself lost in a wood, with time slipping away and people waiting. Another time, perhaps another personality, it could have been fun; for me, now, not.

This week, today, it was the urban version, the metaphoric. The more unhappy I am about other stuff, workwise and otherwise, the more I am enjoying working on the young-adult fantasy; itís good, when your job can also be your displacement activity. So I turned on the computer this morning keen to get back to it, fired up the word processor - and found it gone. The whole file, ten thousand words, thirty-odd pages, simply not there.

Instant hit on the panic button, because my usual cautious habits have slipped, these last couple of months. Thing is, almost all the work Iíve been doing has been rewrites, which means spending days and weeks mucking about in the middle of large files, changing a little here and a little there; which means that I save my work frequently, and make back-ups of course, but I donít print out as I go. So, being out of the habit of it, I havenít been printing Moonshadow either. Which meant that this morning I was looking at a potential loss of twenty pages of redrafts from earlier versions, and ten pages of new material. Howl! I hate, hate, hate losing material. Itís never the same when you try to rewrite from memory; and Iíve only ever lost a page or two before. Ten pages, I couldnít even remember half of what was in them...

Still, never mind. Be soothed. I had at least retained my habit of backing up; last thing I did last night was copy that dayís final version onto a floppy. Should be fine.

So I went to open that file, and could not. Corrupted, it was: presumably by the selfsame problem that had wiped the version off my hard drive.

So I tried opening it in another word processing program, and then in a basic editor, and nothing worked.

By now, panic was in full-on mode, but I thought I was still thinking. There is sometimes an advantage in having two alternative operating systems. Windows is just so baffled by Linux files, it can be persuaded to open even the most corrupted, where Linuxí own sense of security wonít allow it. So I boot up der cursed Windoze, and approach my poor story from hiss-yuck Word.

And yup, weíre in. Weíre into 1300 pages of wild code, with my own lovely paragraphs lurking in the undergrowth, here and there.

Happily, they were lurking in whole paragraphs, so it was actually possible to track them down. Took me half the day, and even then there were two long sections that had been written over by the opening pages repeating themselves twice more, presumably a symptom of the initial malaise, whatever that may have been.

So I was going to have to rewrite a couple of chunks, and that was miserable enough - except that halfway through the hunt, when the panic had receded far enough for me to be at least a little rational, I remembered that of course I had my original word processor set up to make automatic back-ups of the previously saved version. Iíd just forgotten to check it. And being in mid-rescue, I wasnít going to break off a slow and wearisome but successful operation in hopes of something easier, so I carried on. Got to the end of the recovery process, saved it three different ways, printed it out, and quit Windows. Went into Linux, started up the WP, enquired quietly after the back-up - and there it was, perfect in every detail and entirely uncorrupt.

So there went my Sunday. Iíd hoped to finish the new material today, but now? Now Iím going to start drinking.

Posted by Chaz at 06:03 PM GMT [Link]

Friday, October 29, 2004

My editor hates my book.

Actually, no, that isnít fair; she seems quite happy with half of it. But itís a book of two voices, and she is not happy at all with the other one. Which means a couple of months of painful negotiation, hacking rewrites and uncertainties, just at the time when I could really, really do without this. In fact thereís probably no good time for news like this, but - well, now is emphatically a bad time. If this weblog slumps into silence at any time between now & Xmas, I havenít gone away and I am (probably) not dead; only too busy and too miserable to keep it up.

I knew I shouldíve been a merchant banker.

Posted by Chaz at 01:01 PM GMT [Link]

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Ooh, that was a long silence. Sorry, but Iíve hardly been able to get near the computer this last ten days or so, and when I have thereíve been other priorities than the weblog. Shock, horror! But I am frustrated by the way my writing-time is suddenly encroached on, pent up, cribbíd cabined and confined, all of that. Sometimes you just have to bar luxuries.

And such a busy time Iíve been having of it, too. I think this is inherent: that when Iím doing interesting things I canít take the time to write about them, and when I have spare time to blog itís because thereís nothing happening worth talking about.

So Iíve been to London, Henley and Huddersfield; Iíve eaten brains and roasted marrow and chitterlings at St John in Smithfield, which has been an ambition for a while now; Iíve given lectures, seminars, tutorials, workshops and readings; Iíve been in conversation with Iain Banks; Iíve got drunk a lot, and trodden (expensively) on my glasses. Betweentimes Iíve been chipping away (when allowed to) at the young-adult fantasy, which must be about on its fourth draft by now. Still trying to tune in the tone of voice, itís been twenty years since I did this and my agents think Iím asking too much of the target readership. I just think kids have got dumber, or publishersí expectations less demanding.

This week, Iíve also had to deal twice with the death of an icon. Charles Shaar Murray reviewed Banksieís new book in ĎThe Independentí, and mentioned en passant Ďthe late Brian Aldissí. Which was a shock, as Iíve been reading Brian for thirty years or more, and talking to him on and off for twenty-five. Interestingly, I never did believe it; as soon as I read the words, I assumed it was a cock-up, and a quick e-mail confirmed that.

Alas, though, John Peel really is dead. It was the lead story in all the media all day yesterday, and theyíre still talking about it today, in a busy week of news; I think heíd have been quite shocked. Like every decent right-thinking radio fan in this country and beyond - planet-wide, indeed, what with the World Service and the internet - Iím beyond shocked. I never did subscribe to that mass hysteria that sweeps through this culture when a celebrity dies, but Peel wasnít a celebrity, he was just this bloke we listened to, ever since we first got a radio and a set of headphones. In my case, again, thatís thirty years or more; I have friends whoíve known him longer. I used to hate half the music that he played, but he was still and always the only DJ worth listening to on the BBC, a genuine and independent voice against the plastic playlists of his colleagues. Now heís gone, I guess the plastic will subsume that last little corner, because who else is there to take it over? I detest nostalgia as a principle, but some losses are irretrievable; thereís a thread broken that cannot be replaced, and the world is measurably poorer for it.

Posted by Chaz at 04:57 PM GMT [Link]

Friday, October 15, 2004

There is, of course, always a price to be paid. These days, as often as not it's physical. I said I had a good time at the gig last night, and it's true. And the good people of Cramlington Library had arranged a lift home for me, which was kind; but that did mean waiting while they put all the chairs away, and it is of course impossible to stand around watching other people work as though one were of a different class of beings, so of course I too lugged big squishy chairs around, even while I thought "I should not be doing this."

And today of course my back is bad again, and my leg hurts quite severely in a sciatic way that I really thought we were over by now. The only good thing about being decrepit is the word itself (which bizarrely means noiseless, which is not my experience at all; I creak, I groan, I announce my decay all over).

However, the dayís good news is that Andy Cox of The Third Alternative wants to publish the story I was rescuing a few days back. I love Andy and all his works (as well as TTA, which is a sort of dark/horror/slipstream zine, he publishes Crimewave, which is the best crime zine in the country, and now Interzone, the best-and-only professional SF zine in the country. They're never less than interesting and they look lovely, they feel great in the fingers; it's just quality all the way). The story is called Going the Jerusalem Mile, and it's set in a cathedral of my imagination, which I hope to revisit in later pieces.

Posted by Chaz at 12:38 PM GMT [Link]

Hoop-de-doo, I get to stay in tomorrow night.

And why, you wonder, is that well-known party animal Chaz celebrating the staying in of a Friday night? Canít be because itís the first day of Ramadan, he is not known to fast...

No, really, all it is, is that itíll be my first & only night in all week, and I do actually like being in my house with my cat and all. Monday, I went to the launch of a short-story project, and was read to by poets (please note, am resisting any temptation to say they were slumming; actually, I thoroughly enjoyed their work. But when is someone going to finance a project to encourage prose writers to turn to poetry?). Tuesday was Cosi Fan Tutte, and Wednesday was Manon Lescaut (the Puccini, not the Massenet of that ilk), for lovely Opera North is in town. I do adore being sung to. I was actually quite late coming to opera, and didnít get there till my twenties - not sure where that antipathy came from; given my family, teenage rebellion should have driven me straight into the arms of high art - but musicals have been a passion since I could first walk to a cinema.

Tonight I was in Cramlington, which is not quite the same (uh, itís a small satellite town, ten minutes on the train from Newcastle). They asked me to give them a talk on crime fiction, so they got an hour and a half of Chaz in his anecdotage, rambling in and out and around the subject vaguely. They seemed happy; I would have been entirely happy too (I will get paid, and actually I thoroughly enjoyed myself), but that there were only half a dozen punters there, along with a handful of library staff. That doesnít in itself depress me - Iím used to it, and it was a foul night to be out - but it set me thinking, or trying to think, trying to remember the last time I did a gig with a decent turn-out, more people than expected turning up. You know what? I canít remember one. Not one, in twenty-some years of public appearances. Granted that my memory is suspect, but it does seem to me that my entire career as a performer has been played out in front of disappointing houses. On a par with my book sales, really: just never quite meeting expectations. Hey-ho.

Tomorrow, as I say, I get to stay in and nurse my sorrows. Well, I would, if my cat didnít demand so much nursing. Sorrows may be small and black, but I doubt theyíre furry and Iím damn sure they donít purr. Then Saturday is Orfeo and Eurydice, with a party after, and on Sunday Iím reading an old favourite story of mine at Live Theatre, with Matt Thorne and the gorgeous Chrissie Glazebrook. And this is only the first week in a run of weeks like this, with stuff happening almost every night, and I am tired already...

Posted by Chaz at 12:17 AM GMT [Link]

Saturday, October 9, 2004

Well, this is interesting. I think this is interesting. Iíve been distracted from the ghost story, for the weekend; Iím trying to recover a story that I wrote a few years back, but never did anything with. Thing is, I was using a different word processor then, in a different iteration of Linux; and one of the challenges with Linux is to make legacy software run under later upgrades of the system.

I had already migrated from that word processor through another and so to this (TextMaker, a small German program that I lurve, for all its faults - itís just so fast, astonishingly quick to boot up and then to load my massive text files). The sensible man, planning an upgrade, would have remembered that he still had to run WordPerfect to get at those stories he wrote back then; he would have paused to transfer all his legacy files into this new format, just in case. Sadly, this man did not do that. And behold, WordPerfect does not run under the new dispensation, though I did try to ensure that it would; and of course none of my current programs can read WordPerfect format except in the crudest possible sense, laden with codes and bewilderment.

So thatís what Iím working on, putting back paragraphs and quotation marks and so on, cleaning out weird characters and trying to recover text from gobbledegook.

But whatís interesting is that this WordPerfect file, when viewed in WordPerfect, was a straightforward final-draft text and nothing more. When viewed in TextMaker, a significant portion of that gobbledegook is caused by the reappearance of characters, words, whole sentences that Iíd edited out. If it werenít for the random weirdness in between, it could stand as a useful model, this is what Chaz does to his texts, between first and final drafts. So itís interesting that way - I think - but itís also interesting technically, because I didnít know computers did this. When you saved a new version, Iíd always assumed they just re-saved the whole damn thing, rather than simply marking in the changes and remembering what went before. Maybe itís just WordPerfect does it this way? Somebody must know...

Posted by Chaz at 10:31 PM GMT [Link]

Friday, October 8, 2004

The first ten thousand words of the possible childrenís fantasy went off to my US agent a couple of nights ago; and my US publisher has not yet uttered in re Bridge of Dreams; which-all leaves me with a vague unfocused feeling, as though I suddenly had nothing to do. Obviously this is untrue, but there is certainly now nothing urgent, nothing imperative except a book to read for my Iain Banks interview in a couple of weeks. Itís a classic recipe for sliding into one of those casual depressions that come so easily, especially as non-writing things are starting to plague me (university administration - and I havenít even started teaching yet! - and house insurance issues and stuff like that, the mundanities of staying alive; where is an ivory tower when you need one?). So I thought Iíd be virtuous and keep busy, take advantage of the lull and try to sort out some of the mess within these walls. Little and often, I thought, do a bit here and a bit there and maybe I can make that a habit, keep the place nice without hazarding my back or disrupting my schedule when Iím working again. Like all disingenuities, itís really quite charming. The truth of course is that Iíll do a little for a day or two, and then not.

For the moment, though, itís good; and one of the reasons is that spending my time on inanities always stokes up my imagination. So I cleared up some of the mess in the dining room, made shelf-space for a whole new batch of cookbooks, then came upstairs to check my e-mails. One from the Lit & Phil about the ghost-story gig in December, which reminded me that Iíd started writing that story a few weeks back. I didnít think I liked what Iíd done, but I thought Iíd better check; so I read it through and decided that I like it very much. And then I went off walking to the supermarket (a healthy mile or so across the moor), and by the time I got there my head was entirely abuzz with story. It seems to be about libraries and yachts and mobile phones; I am at least familiar with one out of the three. So I thought I was having a day off, and now Iím sitting here with a complex Bloody Mary at my side, all set to plunge in. This is only throat-clearing, this.

Posted by Chaz at 06:12 PM GMT [Link]

Friday, October 1, 2004

To the launch of the Andrea Badenoch fiction award tonight, down at the Lit & Phil. Andrea was a fine crime writer (and the only irritant this evening was that people kept saying Ď...but she was a literary writer tooí, as though the two genres were mutually exclusive except in a few rare cases - grrr...) and she died too young and we miss her dreadfully, but the award is a good thing. For women writers over the age of forty-two, which was her own age when she sold her first novel; I do think thatís neat. And the award is serious money, enough to make a difference to a writerís life; and some of it is coming from funding bodies, but the bulk is actually coming from us, her family and friends and fellow writers, and that I think is fabulous. Tonight we had food and wine and champagne and toasts and readings, and she would have loved it; and I got to carry my hat around (being the only hatted person in the room) to solicit yet more contributions, and I havenít gone so long hatless in public for decades, but it was worth it to raise another three-figure sum, and largely from people who had contributed already. It occurs to me that if my ghost-story gigs come off, we could pass a hat round there too for Andrea (esp as the gigs will be free). After Chaz the impresario comes Chaz the fund-raiser: oh, itís all so unlikely...

Posted by Chaz at 12:21 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.