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Chaz'z Blog

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

It's interesting, I think, how sometimes one thing can come to straddle everything you do. Grief can do this; so can passion; so of course can pain. Specifically, just now, so can my spine.

I can't remember if I said, that a couple of weeks ago I fell down the stairs? I was watering my chillies, which are all on windowsills up the staircase; and I was going down sideways, for better control of the watering, and I must have sidestepped a stair, because next thing I knew I was hanging in mid-air, only waiting for permission to fall. Which in the end I gave, as I had to; and so fell, and so wrenched my back appallingly.

And since then, everything has been governed by my back. It doesn't stop me, I haven't changed my chosen rounds, I'm just constantly aware that all those rounds are mediated by degrees of pain. I worked hard and diligently on my copy-edit, as you know, but that was unaccustomed hours of unbroken sitting at a desk (it's one of the healthier - hah! - aspects of my ordinary working day, that it is much broken up by little walks hither and yon, which keep my spine mobile; not so when I'm checking a manuscript), and that hurt. M'friends Val and Kelly invited me to Thanksgiving dinner, and please could I bring a pumpkin pie; this necessitated a swift appeal for recipes (my US editor's grandmother's was good enough for me - thanks, Susan) and a couple of practice runs; but my pastry-rolling table is not quite the right height for me to work on, so that hurt. And then on the day I dropped the first and best pie on the carpet, and had to dash off a second, which wasn't good; and then there was a train ride, and a strange bed at the end of it, and it's all hurt. And the RSC is in town, which means a lot of theatre-going, a lot of ouch in narrow rows of seats; and then at the weekend I had to spend my time shifting everything I own away from all the windows, so that nice men could come and rip out those windows in a blizzard on Monday and a freeze today. Admittedly they are replacing them with lovely double-glazing, but fuck, my house is cold just now; and the shifting hurt, and the cold ain't good, and I'm going to go and have a deep hot bath right now, as soon as I've moved the chilli-plants out of the tub. Which is where they've been sheltering from the nice men, keeping warm; but the gaffer was in there this afternoon replacing my bathroom window, and he asked how long I've been growing chillies, because he does the same thing, so now we're swapping seeds and fruits and tips and such. Which is more or less where I came in, with the chilli-growing thing; and so a sore goodnight...

Posted by Chaz at 10:59 PM GMT [Link]

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Hereís a rare thing, a unique thing indeed, never before recorded in the annals: I have received a copy-edit back from a publisher, and I'm actually happy with it.

For those not in the trade, a copy-edit is the nit-picking, the detailed going-over where somebody is paid to quibble over punctuation and hyphens and you've-used-the-same-word-twice-in-the-same-paragraph, that sort of thing. All of which is fine and dandy and potentially useful, only the generic experience is that copy-editors are all writers-manqué, and they overrun their briefs; what you tend to get back is a manuscript that's been partially and almost randomly rewritten, anywhere where they felt their own words sounded better than yours. I have unequivocally hated almost every copy-edit I've ever had, and have spent days and sometimes weeks trying to undo the damage, put things back the way they were, the way they ought to be. [Well, that's my version. Friends of mine who have had the misfortune to copy-edit me just tell me Iím a nightmare to work with. You choose.]

Anyway, Bridge of Dreams has just come back from its copy-edit, which I had been dreading, because Americans have a reputation for ruthless interference; and it's actually the lightest, most sensitive, most sympathetic edit I've ever had. He's hardly changed a word, except for clarity, where it's really quite hard to argue with him and I'm not inclined to bother.

Nevertheless, the whole typescript has to be read through, to the same degree of detail that he gave it. Not only so's I can quibble with his quibbles, as I must; this is the last chance I get to do serious reworking of my own. That's a slightly odd experience itself, because of the way this particular book was made, with radical rewrites of certain sections; some of it has been honed and polished to a high degree, while some is still quite rough and needs hard pruning.

The really odd thing, though, is that almost no one will notice how patchwork an achievement it is. I could claim to be really good at disguising the joins, but actually it's common currency for any writer; there are always sections where the words have flowed like honey, and always sections where we've had to dig 'em out with our bare hands, and even we can't spot which was which by the time the book is published. Something about consistency of voice, I guess, which overrides the little local difficulties, the day-to-day processes and halts. But it is odd, youíd think a hard dayís work would glare out against an easy, and it really doesn't. Usually.

Posted by Chaz at 07:35 PM GMT [Link]

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Okay, here's an exercise in contrast, in how or how not to conduct media relations. Watch and learn.

It is one of the perks of the little local celebrity that I enjoy (and oh, I do enjoy it) that I tend to get invited to press events: previews, opening nights, launches, that sort of thing. These invitations are generally reckoned to be unconditional.

As, for example, last night, when I took a friend to the theatre. The Royal Shakespeare Company is in town, bringing their entire Stratford season, as they do every year; the season is a sell-out, as it is every year; I am going to see everything, as I do every year, and it costs me nothing at all. Ordinarily I go with my friend Gail, who is a bona fide journalist and reviewer; press tickets always come in pairs, and I am her regular pair. Just now, however, Gail is in Egypt. The nice man at the Theatre Royal said, "Of course Chaz must come, even in your absence; and of course he may bring a friend, to occupy your seat."

This, clearly, is how the thing should be managed: with grace, and generosity. There was no direct benefit to them, and they knew it; but they reap a harvest of goodwill from me and Gail both, and reckon that to be worth it.

That was last night. This morning, I went to the press show of the new Harry Potter, and was turned away at the door for lack of press credentials. A Society of Authors membership card didnít cut it; apparently I'd have needed a letter to back that up, confirming that I was genuinely a reviewer. In this instance, of course, Iíd have had to write such a letter to myself, being that it's my own website I'd have been reviewing for.

Happily, I don't much care, either about the indignity (I'm more amused than angry) or about missing the film. I have read most of the Potter books, but the first film bored me. I don't quite remember whether or not I saw the second, tho' I suspect I did; I know I missed number three, and haven't made any effort to catch it since.

Iím not going to rail at length, either against the Potter-paranoids who imposed this kind of security on the screening nor against the cinema (the Odeon at The Gate in Newcastle, since you ask); railing is only useful when it's useful, when you can stir up some kind of retribution. No droves are going to boycott the movie, just because Chaz didn't get to see it for nothing.

What I wonder, though, is quite what the point was in turning me away. I very deliberately didn't take any kind of bag with me, so they knew I wasn't smuggling in piracy equipment; the most I was trying to do, then, was to see it for nothing. Which is true, but if I'd enjoyed it, it would probably have got a happy mention here, which must surely be worth the price of the seat. As it is, they're not going to recoup the price of that seat, because I certainly won't pay to see the film. What have they protected, by keeping me out? Even if I'd been a complete ligger with no access to any media space at all, I don't see how they benefit. The only benefit accrues to me; I came home and worked, and then I watched the 1950 movie of Kipling's Kim, which is one of my favourite novels. I probably enjoyed the movie far more than I would have liked the Potter; it's really not a bad adaptation at all, except that Mahbub Ali is Errol Flynn, and apparently called Ma Boobly. But oh, the scene where heís scrubbing young Dean Stockwell in his bath - oh deary, deary me...

Posted by Chaz at 04:58 PM GMT [Link]

Saturday, November 12, 2005

These last few days, I've had a couple of thoughts very clearly in my head. One of them is 'I really must stop spending money,' and the other is 'I really should stop drinking a bottle of wine before dinner, because one thing does lead so inexorably to another.'

Both of these are good thoughts, and worth acting on. But days conspire, to sabotage the best of thoughts. Like this:

Three nights ago, I made a decision in the dark hours, and carried it through in the daylight: which was this, that I should approach my old mate John Jarrold about his becoming my literary agent. Any new agency relationship is a plunge into unknown waters, but this was more so than usual, in that I might know John already but his agency is exceedingly new and has no reputation yet. John has his own reputation, which is all good as far as I'm concerned - he's been around a long time, he's deeply invested in the SF/F community, he's run several lists for major publishers, he knows everybody and is widely respected, he still does proper publishing lunches - but whether his undoubted skills are transferrable to agency in the current climate, no one actually knows.

Anyway, I decided to ask him if he'd take me on. Partly this is chicken-heartedness on my part - big businesses scare me, so do strangers, and John is the reverse of both of those - but it could also be a really smart decision. Or a really dumb one. Whichever, I did it in an e-mail, and then couldn't conceivably wait around the house to see whether he replied instantly or later or not today, so I went into town. Not shopping, exactly, because there was nothing I needed to buy; but I came home with a stainless steel citrus juicer and a flexible non-stick pie plate. Neither of these was necessary in any sense - I seldom juice citrus, and seldom bake pies, and could manage perfectly well with what I had on those rare occasions when I do - and I really canít spare the space, let alone the money. But they were bargains, much reduced; and I might suddenly feel an urge to make a dozen margaritas and an apple pie, and if I do, I am now equipped. And anyway, spending money makes me feel better...

So home I came, and checked the e-mail, and John, he had spoken. John, he said yes. Hurrah, and trumpets. And so there followed an afternoon of e-mails whizzing back and forth between us, and it was all very celebratory, and so of course I opened a bottle of wine, why not...?

And that was Wednesday; and on Thursday he sent me an e-mail suggesting a line of fiction that I might like to try, and God, it's so good to have someone sussed and proactive and on my side, when I'd started to feel that my previous agents were actually standing as barriers between me and the marketplace.

As it happens, this particular sideline is something I'd been thinking about anyway, it's a very natural place for me to go ('scuse my being coy, but itís all very early stages just now). So I did some more serious thinking, and then I went off to North Shields for lunch with Kate and a gig by Margaret Murphy. This of course involved both drink and spending money. And Jean and Roger came to the gig, and then I went south with them, to Durham and then Hartlepool, for more drinking and eating and then a gig by Martin Carthy and Norma Waterson. Alcohol, money. And so back to Durham for the night (alcohol) and then home by train in the morning (money). Are you seeing a pattern here?

And so home about midday yesterday, and once I'd fed the cat and given her pills and apologised for absence and so forth, I thought I might sit at the computer and fix the first few paragraphs of this new idea, get the ideas down on paper, that sort of thing.

So I started writing, and didn't really move thereafter till dinner-time, except to open a bottle of wine; and by then I had eight pages, the better part of three thousand words. Whoo, golly. So I ate (black pudding, poached eggs, bubble-and-squeak - I'm starting to sound like a gastropub) and watched a bit of telly, read a book, had a bath - and then went back to the computer and wrote another five pages, to finish the chapter. Less than twelve hours, start to finish. Sheesh, when did I last do that?

So I e-mailed it to John last night and read it through myself this morning, while I was waiting for the computer to warm up. It's very rough, of course, and the significant character changes name halfway through, but hey, I like it anyway, and so does John, who has also read it already; and it was just such fun to write, simple unadulterated pleasure. It would be a joy if we could find a publisher with a commitment to match.

Meantime, I had to go into town this morning for bread and coffee; and being virtuous, I took in a whole load of magazines and junk mail for recycling; and the recycle bin is conveniently close to the Oxfam bookshop, so I nipped in as I do from time to time, and found a Chalet School book as I do from time to time, which is pretty much the sole reason for my nipping in. Not a first edition, but a nice clean copy, with dust-wrapper, twenty quid. Didnít even need thinking about, tho' I think the nice lad behind the till was a little startled. And that was more money, and very likely there will be more wine tonight; and I must stop spending and I really ought not to drink so much, and I can do that, I can cut back on both - but not today...

Posted by Chaz at 12:34 PM GMT [Link]

Tuesday, November 8, 2005

Ah, yesterday. Sometimes a day can just take you by surprise.

I had to be up early, to take the cat to the vet; and that was all good, because she (the cat) was bright and bouncy, and he (the vet) was impressed with the efficacy of his own treatment, which is always an advantage. So we're cutting back on her pill regime, which would please Misha if I thought that she would notice; and she doesn't have to go back for a fortnight, by which time she is expected to be heavier, which will certainly please Misha because I will continue to lay gourmet treats before her, and these days she is at least eating them.

So then I came home, more wide awake than usual at ten in the morning; and I wrote a page of the new novel (it's called River of the World, have I said? Being the sequel to Bridge of Dreams, and the second part of Selling Water by the River) before I remembered that I had to go to town. Fair enough: skip in, skip out, and home in plenty of time to write another page before lunch. I thought.

But one of townís many dangers is that I am not the only one who uses it, either for shopping or for displacement activity (if those are indeed two separate activities, which I doubt). So I ran into another, and one I knew, a fellow writer and a fellow in misfortune (sob! - but neither of us has a publisher in this country at the moment). I hadn't seen Steve properly for a couple of years, so when he said "Drink?" I said "Drink," and so it was that we drank.

By about the third pint, I was more or less giving up on the notion of doing any more work; but I came home regardless, and ate soup and drank tea and so forth, and did eventually wander vaguely up to the computer, just to see. And startled myself by writing a couple of pages, and quite fancied writing more; but opened a bottle of wine instead, and sat down to watch Jonathan Miller on disbelief - and turned him off, shock horror, in order to come back upstairs and work again. And so finished a chapter all unexpectedly, and then the bottle, which was less unexpected but none the less welcome; and the only problem with all this conspicuous virtue is that here I am this morning, trapped in the house by endless chilly rain, and I want to work on the book but I can't because I finished my damn chapter and I have no idea what happens next. So I'm filling in time by doing stuff like this, exercising my fingers on weblog and emails and admin, until I can face the weather and get out there, because I still can't work out the plot of a novel without walking. I blame the dogs we used to keep; it was always made very clear to me that these were my sisters' dogs but it was my duty to walk them, and so I would trudge round South Park thinking about story ideas two or three times a day, and the habit became a part of the process, unbreakable. I cannot think in a chair.

Posted by Chaz at 11:53 AM GMT [Link]

Saturday, November 5, 2005

Guy Fawkes Night, and itís mad out there: streets full of smoke, like living under an artillery barrage. I canít remember when the west end went this wild.

Thankfully, Misha is half deaf and hasnít really twigged that anything worth noting is going on. For those of you whoíve been asking, sheís getting better, thanks: eating well now (thanks to mífriend Simon providing packets of what she clearly thinks is ambrosia; in fact itís past its sell-by date, but then, so I guess is ambrosia) and bumbling around the house like a good íun.

For those of you whoíve been suggesting that even for a man with a sick cat, there must be life beyond the sick cat: well, yes. Iím sure youíre right. It just doesnít hold much value at the moment. When I say Iím tired and emotional tonight, that is not a metaphor.

Posted by Chaz at 10:37 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.