That's It, Now Chocolate.
Which I will explain in a moment, but first let me say I will be in New York at a reading and signing event on Thursday 7th March at Borders bookshop at on Park Avenue at 57th. The fun begins at 7.00 pm and will no doubt proceed at a brisk pace. Anyone in the New York area reading this is expected to attend. At the moment I plan on a short reading from Smoking Poppy, but the evening could easily run to tap-dancing for favours depending on the type of New Yorker turning up. Anyway, it would be a pleasure for me if any New York readers were to turn up and say hello.
While in the city that never sleeps I will keep my eye open for strange behaviour, because I know how you like to hear it reported here first.
Yes it is February and there was no January column. There is a reason for this. I know that you are all sophisticated and highly intelligent people and I didn't want any of you to think that I would be so banal as to make a New Year's Resolution about religiously keeping up my monthly schedule for writing this column. No. Let it not be said. So fearful was I that you might think this I whiled away all of January, itching to get to my column, but not able to. No-one out there should think that any resolution of such a stripe collapsed along with all the other usual broken promises about exercise, alcohol, cigarettes and Tantric sex.
Meanwhile I have been addressing myself to the business of feeding a three year old. This is a tricky business on the road to assimilating adult values. You do your best to make sure that only good stuff is put in front of the kids and you hide all the fats and sugars. 'Why should I eat when I'm not hungry?' Joe argues. Kinda hard to come back on that. Except that five minutes later he has an insatiable appetite for cakes, potato crisps, chocolate biscuits and everything you know is crap. Well the old kiddie tricks are the best, so it's always >three more mouthfuls of this and then you can have...<
Kiddie tricks eh? I do it myself. Finish this chapter and then you can play a computer game or go for a game of snooker. Finish this scene and then you can look at pictures of Britney Spears on the net. (Nah, she lost it after ditching the jailbait look as far as I'm concerned.) Anyway, you get the idea. I get to read so little at the moment that one of my rewards - see how small my life is? - is not to drink whisky or shoot drugs but to read a novel. Finish this chapter and you can read a chapter of someone else's work. You lucky boy.
So what is my current reward? Ishiguro's A Pale View Of Hills. I'm reading it because someone I respect told me it was good, and it is boring the crap out of me. Neat prose, but not a breath of humour, wry or otherwise. No take. Thoroughly deadpan stuff. But I'm a completist and once started I have to persist. So now I'm saying to myself >Just finish this chapter of Ishiguro and then you can go and write a chapter of your own.< Perhaps this is what is wrong with me after all: I am too much in the camp of levity. Perhaps I should be more like all those other writers who practise earnestness. You know the ones. They sit on panels with their lips compressed like a sphincter muscle.
Let me try it briefly for you.
No no no, it's making my face ache.
Joe's response to all this (to the force-feeding of nutritious victuals, not to the Ishiguru-like earnestness) is also to twist his face, swallow the three designated spoonfuls as if they are ebola-infected monkey-faeces and then shout, >That's it, now chocolate<.
Speaking of earnestness and twisted faces I went on a screenplay-writing course the other week-end, run by American John Truby. And very good it was too. But the earnestness of some of his English audience had the tutor wincing. One man sounding like Hugh Grant with a hernia asked Truby a perfectly tame question, then begged to be "forgiven for his passion in having asked the question". Truby blinked. Is this being English? Is this how others see us? Yes, you may well blink I thought. Forgive me my passion, but sometimes I want to get my compatriots and kick their arses for the full fortnight. English earnestness must be the worst kind in all the world.
Thank goodness some people I know have the decency to throw parties, that's all I can say, or there would be no chocolate for me. I'm too mean to throw parties. The last time I threw a party one of the guests got tangled up a large parlour palm in the hall and he couldn't get out. I admit it was a big potted plant, and he was drunk, but really I ask you. He spent half an hour fighting his way out, and not one of the many guests there offered to help him. In fact - and this is the astonishing thing about parties - they pretended not to see him clawing and scratching his way out of this tangled and by now broken flora. But my old college mucker Pete Williams threw a big party recently and invited lots of people I hadn't seen in twenty years.
Sobering it is. You can walk to the bar and see a face peering at you, through a glass darkly, as it were. There is a dissolve moment, like on film, and the face slowly reforms and emerges from the mist, and within these chiselled, stony features you see the callow youth you remember from college days. Christ if this is what a real reunion is like, count me out. The sins and offences of our youth tossed back at you in an angry pellet, wrapped in party pleasantness. >Ha ha! Do you remember coming into my room?< laughed one nice lady... eek, what follows?... >You looked at my bookcase at slagged off everything you saw there. Then when you'd finished you started on my records and said how bad was my taste in music. Then my clothes. Then my etc ha ha! Do you remember?<
No I didn't, and I don't want to. Did I do that? Surely not? I should hang my head. What a prick! Well if I did that I must have fancied you that's all I can say. In my defence. Your honour.
Not much chocolate there then. Although I did see lots of folk I was inclined to hug, especially after whisky and Guinness. Wouldn't have done that twenty years ago - too cool, too busy being snotty about people's books and music. I blame all the American movies I've seen over the years for this hugging virus. The Hollywood edict: Hug thine enemy. So the slightest flicker of affection for one of these faces from the past brought out the old bear-clinch in me.
But there was one bloke there who looked just like a skull. He hadn't even been ill. Time had just done the nip and tuck on him. He kept grinning at me from across the crowded room until finally I recognised the youth inside the skull. This was disconcerting and a bit like something in one of my books. I had to go and ask several party-goers >Do you think X looks like a skull?< I was kind of glad when they all agreed because this showed scientifically that I wasn't in a state of psychic distress like the characters in my books. I almost wrote it down in a notebook: not in psychic distress. Anyway everyone cheerfully agreed that X more than resembled a skull. H his wife added, raucously, that even his friends called him Skull. Imagine that. Imagine having friends who call you Skull.
Anyway, in defiance of mortality I'll list what's happening with books. The Tooth Fairy is being republished next month in the UK with a much nicer cover. Subterranean Press are bringing out my first collection 'Partial Eclipse And Other Stories' in the summer. My short story Black Dust has found it's way into the always superb Datlow-Windling Year's Best F&H. The Facts of Life is slated for an October release. Finally Nightshade Books are bringing out a limited edition of The Stormwatcher in the US in the Autumn. Ah, those falling leaves.
That's it, now chocolate.