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North of the Book

For several years, Chaz wrote a regular column (called North of the Book, a title which he explained in his second column) for Prism, the newsletter of the British Fantasy Society. He has given permission for the collected columns to bearchived here. This page contains a full index to columns on other pages, plus the first of those columns Cooking with Petrol, in which Chaz introduces his approach to the task.

Index of Columns

II North of the Book
III The lower slopes of Mount Literacy
IV Research by Serendipity
V Abolishing the Ten Commandments
VI Sometimes, less is just less
VII What is in a name?
VIII A meditation on beauty, truth and pain
IX Everybody remembers a good teacher
X Dreams and theft
XI The Perfect Bloody Mary
XII Thoughts on not being a Literary Fellow
XIII Chaz'z thoughts on being criticised
XIV Chaz'z thoughts on reviewers
XV Chaz'z thoughts on freebies
XVI People with ideas
XVII Displacement activity
XVIII Deadlines and how to miss them
XIX Is Anything Scary Any More?
XX Spirits of place
XXI Le sale espoir
XXII Industrial injuries
XXIII The Dog & Piano
XXIV Piracy
XXV On being the right length
XXVI Our Man in Korea
XXVII Ode to the Lit & Phil
XXVIII On not giving up the day job


Chaz Brenchley's Third Degree of Separation

Why am I doing this? Why volunteer to walk a mile or two in Nick Royle's moccasins, which frankly are never going to fit (any more than his mud-spattered specs would fix my own myopia) when I too have books to write, and the World Cup is happening all around me, and I did once have a life also, I remember, and I used quite to enjoy it...?

Partly, I'm being pressured by friends; partly it's down to Nick and the World Cup, of which more shortly; mainly because it's midnight and my defences are down, and too many people have been pressing little triggers recently.

So. I've never aspired to the miserablist label, and if I have any kind of a run in this spot we will I promise have fun later; but this once, indulge me. I want to be serious.

When I was young, young and guilty (I've always been good at the guilt thing, the full Catholic je m'accuse, which in itself I've always felt guilty about, given that I am not nor ever was a Catholic), I used to devour columns like this. Writers writing about writing: call it legitimate research into my intended future or call it food for fantasy, I was addicted.

In all those columns, all those divergent lives, there was one constant. Every separate writer insisted that at any public appearance, come question-time, some damned soul would always ask where they got their ideas from. Count on it, they said. It's guaranteed.

I never believed them. I thought it was a joke, an artificial opportunity to spit a little bile on the keys. No one, I thought, could be that crass.

Now, of course, I know better. In my twenty-first year as a pro, after countless talks and panels and workshops, I could count off the number of gigs where that question has not been asked, and still have fingers left to type with.

Everyone deals with it in their own way. I tend to be both flip and truthful simultaneously: there's the poster I saw in a bus-stop, the advertising brochure that dropped through my door one morning, Ramsey talking on the radio while I was in the bath... A couple of easy examples to illustrate, and I slide off into an anecdote and leave the question behind.


But Nick asked me for a story for his anthology of World Cup writings, and I sent him a piece that he didn't understand, and I really, really didn't want to explain it to him.

And a friend in the States recently read my short story collection, and asked why I had this obsession with knives. Which I hadn't realised that I did - or still did - and I didn't want to explain that either.

And then I was in Israel last month, and in mid-gig someone asked if I'd ever actually lost a close friend to violence. Basically, she was asking if I knew what the hell I was talking about; and God forgive me, I told her...

If I can tell a total stranger, I can surely tell my friends. So, Nick: a while back I spent the worst year of my life nursing an old friend, a too-young friend through the final stages of Aids; and ever since I've been trying to write about it - about my own experience, and his, and the wider world's - through these strange, allusive pieces that are probably too personal to publish but fuck that, I'm going to do it anyway.

And sixteen years ago I had a boyfriend who was murdered, stabbed in a car park because I didn't meet him when I'd said I would; and I thought I'd long since stopped writing about that, but apparently I haven't.

And this is a sad and sorry way to talk about it, in a column rather than a couple of phone-calls, and I feel guilty about that too; but this is what I do, this is the real answer to where I get my ideas from. I do take them from posters and brochures and the radio, but I take them also from my own life and my friends' deaths and any damn place else that I can find them. And I do feel guilty about it, but I don't apologise, because that's the job; and if any one thing is certain in this world, it is that I am not going to stop.

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