When I was seven, I taught myself how to play chess. There was something about the board and the pieces… if I’d known the word at that age, I might have described it as fetishistic. I just liked setting everything up and the way that, after just a few familiar opening moves, you could be into a game like none you’d ever played before. I was so desperate for opposition that I taught my dad to play. And then I entered school tournaments and won quite a few of them. But I didn’t keep it up. Nobody was into it at sixth form, and by the time I got to Bristol, I had other things on my mind, such as beer, girls and writing.
When I moved to London in 1994 and found work that paid better than anything I’d earned before, my head was turned by the beautiful chess sets being sold at the London Chess Centre on Euston Road (recently relocated to Baker Street after 18 years). I bought a breathtakingly expensive weighted wooden set and I’m using it to teach Ethan, my seven-year-old son, how to play.
However, these days, I play most of my games online. There are a number of places to play free chess with people from all over the world. Red Hot Pawn is my favourite. I keep it running in the background and nip in every now and then if I’ve hit the wall with whatever I’m writing. I find something that takes a long time to play (while I was writing The Unblemished in France it was this) helps to subtly unlock the congested bit of my brain that needs to be concentrating on who is doing what to whom and why and how best can I describe that using the medium of words…
If you play chess, and you decide to try out RHP, come and find me and challenge me to a game. I’m Salavaria…
Listened to: Aether by The Necks
Short story written and delivered, I can return to Loss for a while, before I go on holiday on the 24th. Ideally, I’ll get to write each evening after the munchkins have climbed the wooden mountain to Bedfordshire, but there’s every chance I’ll be asleep by then too. I hope to add to the novel while I’m away.
Listened to: The Tired Sounds of… Stars of the Lid
It’s not working. I need to nail this Monday deadline. Apologies for those who have been following my posts, but there are too many pies and I don’t have enough fingers… I’ll try to get back into the groove by mid-June, when I return from holiday. Thanks for your support, and patience…
So now I find out that the short story I need to write for the end of the month has a new deadline date of May 17th. I’m going to have to write both in tandem. I can’t afford to let Blonde slide for another week. Today’s output dealt with something which might, or might not, have happened to my narrator. As you might have guessed, he’s an unreliable narrator. This creates its own little host of problems, especially in a supernatural novel. How far can you go with the ambiguity? Is it all right to show something happening that might, in the end, never have happened? Is this a skilful manipulation of the audience, or blatant deceit? Again, I think it’s a matter of instinct. The danger is that you build an atmosphere on a foundation that doesn’t exist. The story might not be progressing because you’re caught up in the smoke and mirrors of the genre’s special effects. Best to just press on regardless and see what it looks like when you read it back, much later. Well, that’s what I do.
Listened to: Low and Hunky Dory by David Bowie
Another BTGG day, although, for that 40th day, I was hoping for a bigger return. Alas, it was all I could eke out. I’m worried that I might have to take another time out towards the end of the month, as a short story deadline looms. But hopefully, if all goes well, I’ll be able to spin two plates at once.
Listened to: Substrata by Biosphere (listening to this a lot lately… just a wonderful album).
It proved very hard to get back into this novel after a number of weeks away. The edits were completed quite quickly, but then I had to fly to Germany to participate in the Ruhr Lit Cup with the England Writers’ Team, a tournament in which, despite playing well, we finished 6th out of eight teams. At one point we were close to securing a semi-final berth, and were only narrowly beaten by Sweden, the holders. In keeping with England’s fine penalty shoot-out tradition, we lost against Hungary. Upon returning to the UK, it was straight off to Cropton Forest, in North Yorkshire, to spend five days in a log cabin. The boys enjoyed hunting for bats and building an emergency shelter in the woods. My strained, bruised muscles enjoyed the hot tub… and then it was back to Manchester, and Chapter Eleven.
It wasn’t just the effort of returning to writing fiction; rather, it was coming to terms with a story that was completely different in terms of pace, narrative voice, structure and point of view. Blonde on a Stick and Loss of Separation are poles apart, despite both of them being told from the viewpoint of a male in his mid- to late-thirties. I’m hoping to enter the last third of the novel with a good head of steam. It would be nice to finish the book a couple of months in advance so I can let it steep in its own juices for a while, allowing me to give it another pass before delivery in October.
Listened to: The Blackened Air by Nina Nastasia