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Chaz'z Blog

Monday, November 29, 2004

I have been preserving, this weekend. Partly the ongoing, never-ending struggle to preserve my career: Iíve just written a rough synopsis for the young-adult fantasy, and my US agent is coming to London next week (the way I tell it, it sounds wonderfully as though she is coming to London to see me, and for no observable purpose else), so I fired that down to her hotel, to give us something to talk about over lunch.

And felt madly loose-endish since, entirely unable to settle to any other work, so I started preserving mushrooms.

Thing is, about this time last year, when I was building up to all my Xmas cooking, I read an article about an Italian tradition, a Xmas Eve meatless feast with 33 courses, one for every year of Christís life. Too fabulous for words (almost literally so: I canít find either the original article or any other reference on the net. Seven and nine and thirteen courses, yes, but 33? Uh-uh. Maybe I dreamed it, maybe I slipped momentarily into a parallel universe, maybe some dangerous clown has been playing with a time-machine and the concomitant ripples in the continuum have expunged it from history). So I mustíve gone on about it a bit, because my friend Gail-Nina has remembered; and she and I shall be cooking such a feast this Xmas Eve. Every time we talk about it, we talk a lot about how to keep it simple, how much we can prepare in advance, etc.

Hence preserved mushrooms, mushrooms ŗ la grecque I suppose. Iím not sure how these first attempts will turn out, itíll be a week or two before I know, but this is how I made them:

Put a pound or so of good clean button mushrooms in a bowl, add a couple of bay leaves and a sprig of thyme, a few crushed black peppercorns and a scatter of crunchy sea salt, and pour over a glass of white wine and the same quantity of olive oil. Squeeze a couple of lemons over all, and cover. Leave for three or four hours, stirring it up every now and then.

Bring to the boil the same quantities of liquid again in a large pan, and add the contents of the bowl. Simmer for six minutes or so, till the mushrooms are tender but not soft. Drain and leave to cool. Dry the mushrooms on kitchen paper and pack into a sterile preserving jar with a couple of fresh bay leaves and some slices of lemon. Leave a half-inch gap at the top, and fill to the top with olive oil. Seal, and leave a week or two.

Then, if youíre parsimonious like me, return to all that lovely liquid you drained off the mushrooms, add a couple of chillies and some more lemon juice and repeat the process with the same quantity of fresh mushrooms.

Iíll report back later, how it all turns out.

Posted by Chaz at 10:57 AM GMT [Link]

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Where have I been? Well, down to London for my agentís party, and then immediately up to Fife, where I spent a happy night drinking with strangers in the hotel bar (and selling them a copy of Blood Waters as we went) and then a happy Readersí Day in Glenrothes. This is a library enterprise, where a number of readersí groups are brought together to spend the day with authors, talking about books (our own and other peopleís). Those who had opted to be with me, Iíd asked them to read Manda Scottís Boudica: Dreaming the Eagle, which is one of my Books of the Decade at least. Which of course meant I had to reread it too, which actually I had been rather dreading. I adore it, but I also find it achingly sad, and had been really anxious about immersing myself in that degree of loss & grief again. In fact, though, I guess the first time inoculated me, or else I was just able to read through that this time, to find the nuggets of hope that are buried at the bookís core. Fabulous stuff.

And apart from that, I have been at the theatre. The Royal Shakespeare Company season is still rolling on, and I have found myself shockingly unable to find a spare evening to go drinking with friends. Even though I need to go drinking, itís becoming a matter of urgency. My publishers and my students have both found new ways to depress & infuriate me, just when I thought there was nowhere further to go in either direction; this is why pubs & ale were invented, to allow the physical and emotional space to grouch, to rant, to apostrophise. (Hint, to my US readers: if you were thinking about investing in a set of the Outremer books, do it now. Swiftly. Before they disappear.)

And apart from that, I have been working. Despite everything, this year the stories just roll on. I never write this much, this long, without some form of literary breakdown. I must be building up to a massive crisis, but there is no sign of it yet. Not grumbling, you understand - but it is getting a bit like San Francisco or Tokyo, waiting for the big one...

Posted by Chaz at 03:46 PM GMT [Link]

Sunday, November 7, 2004

This is a clothing label from a small American company that sells their product in France. It reads: Laver à l'eau tiètde. Savon doux. Etendre pour sécher. Ne pas javelliser. Ne pas secher ŗ la machine. Ne pas repasser. Nous sommes désol&eacutes que notre président soit un idiot. Nous n'avons pas voté pour lui.

Posted by Jean at 08:54 PM GMT [Link]

Been a busy week. Loads of university stuff (including that favourite of all pastimes, The Student Who Doesnít Turn Up; with a curious twist on it this time, The Student Who Insists That He Did Turn Up. Not at my office, he didnít. Parallel universes, anyone?), a US Election Gloom party (only to be recovered from by the thought that this means my friend Peg wonít be going back for at least another four years, hurrah), lots of theatre (the Royal Shakespeare Company is in town for their annual visit: a monthís culture-fest, I love it) and squeezing a little writing in between all.

And between all that, thereís been a lot of activity associated with the ghost-story gigs Iím supposed to be organising next month. It is now gigs in the plural, because the first one booked up inside a week, before any of us were ready for it; thatís on the 13th Dec (auspicious date, I fancy), and weíve now arranged a second performance for the 16th. If youíre reading this and want to go, book now (0191 232 0192). Itís at the Lit & Phil in Newcastle, itís free, and itís filling up fast. New stories by me, Sean OíBrien and Gail-Nina Anderson. Plus the main attraction, mulled wine and mince pies and spooky music. Maybe even candlelight. Itís gonna be fab.

Weíve got an Arts Council grant for this (itís a complex project, including recording the event, printing the stories and selling book-plus-CD afterwards; if youíre interested, let me know), and to keep the monies separate and the finances transparent, Iíve set up my enterprise arm. Northern Gothic is no longer just a website and a phrase in the critical lexicon, it is now a legal entity with bank account and a constitution. I am Pendragon-for-Life. Itís interesting, suddenly to discover that one does have a megalomaniac streak after all. This is my baby, damn it, and no boardroom coup is going to take it away from me...

The other interesting thing is to find that I might have a taste for this impresario/entrepreneur kind of role. Iíll wait and see how this first gig actually pans out (and I am already having the sweaty sleepless nights and the panic attacks one would expect, being how famously crap I am at organising anything, ever), but there are various other rogue thoughts in my head, including the highly personal & occasional limited-edition magazine Iíve been thinking about for the better part of my life now...

Posted by Chaz at 06:17 PM GMT [Link]

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