The Foot Of Our Stairs
Heck was that Christmas screeching by? I heard the squealing of brakes on December 24th, looked out of the window once, glanced back at the calendar and it was Twelfth Night and all over. It was a good one, though I almost hacked off my writing hand sawing at the bottom of the Christmas tree trying to get it into the pot; just steadied the ladder in time before it crashed down as I was fixing pesky fairy lights to the gable of the house; and nearly set fire to the house trying to post the savages' Santa notes up the chimney. The flaming notes kept coming back down until I grabbed the poker and thrust them high and back in an inspired exhibition of swordsmanship, singeing my elbow in the process. The savages approve of all injuries sustained while advancing their causes.
Then the annual grapple with the packaging. Really, you need a safe-cracker's skills, a full set of builder's tools and a few small rounds of explosives to get inside the moulded plastic wrappers these days. By the time you get the things open the savages have moved on. You could sit weeping right into Boxing Day as you hack at the time-capsule-strength seal of your Lego Knights, long after the savages have put on their coats and gloves and gone into the garden scouting for reindeer droppings.
Just before Christmas I mustered to the Century club to join my Xmas quiz team-mates, from the esteemed Gollancz publishing house. And what a running flush of manhood we were. Three fellow authors (the dashing fantasist lothario James Barclay; the brilliant fuckin' know-it-all Adam Roberts; and the splendidly formed irregular humourist & beer-thief Rob Grant) all barrelled into shape by our editor-supremo and whipper-in Simon Spanton. Thank Christ I was there to answer a couple of the questions. Can you believe this mob? Four authors and an editor and I had to insist - yes, insist - that we play our double-points joker card on the language round. We actually managed to disgrace ourselves by knowing answers to questions like: what is an epithalamium . Have you ever seen smugness glow in the dark? You could feel the mounting hostility of the other teams as it became apparent that we also knew where to drop a Welsh Partridge and the gambling odds of a Burlington Bertie. Despite this phenomenal display of erudition we still only came second, though we netted a huge pot of money, which almost covered the drinks bill.
The Limits of Enchantment is out there. Reviews by Josh Lacey in The Guardian
and Roz Kaveney in The Independent
You can also read John Berlyne's critique at SFRevue.
and Cheryl Morgan at Emerald City.
I've been having horse riding lessons again. Go on, laugh. Are you done? Anyway it's been about ten years since I last troubled a horse's back and a couple of things have changed. I used to be able to do that trick of running up to the rear of a horse and vaulting, legs spread, onto the surprised animal's back and directly into the saddle. Not any more. Now I need to use a mounting-block. Maybe next year it will be a hydraulic crane. Meanwhile I dug my old riding boots out of the garage only to find that they had perished and that a mouse had nested in the left boot. So I bought shiny new ones, and, uncertain about my future in the saddle I think I over-economised. Anyway now I can't get the ruddy things off unless I soften them with a hairdryer turned up to full heat. I sit on my threshold in my jodhpurs, training the hairdryer over my instep, scowling at passing neighbours and bemoaning the many small difficulties of life. I wouldn't even bother wearing the sodding jodhpurs and boots but I don't want to disappoint the stable girls. Anyway, you need the boots to make that really satisfying slap sound with the crop.
The vault onto the horse: jus' kidding.
Another book just out is Black Dust and other tales of Interrupted Childhood. This is a special limited-edition publication containing three previously published stories Black Dust, Tiger Moth and Under The Pylon. This is a project to raise money for the Nqabakazulu Secondary School near Durban in South Africa. It has been put together by Bob Wardzinski and his students at Westwood St Thomas' School. Each of the stories in the book has a comment by three terrific writers, namely Jeffrey Ford, Jeff VanderMeer and Mark Chadbourn. The generosity of everyone involved in this fund-raiser has been outstanding. A hardcover limited is £24.95 and the paperback (also limited edition) is £9.95. If you would like to support this project, you can order by emailing:
Speaking of interrupted childhood and of students I was desperately saddened to find out that one my creative writing students at Nottingham Trent University died just a few days ago. Katie Sellers was a bright, smart, vivacious and fun presence in the writing workshop. Only twenty, she died in her sleep. I've never lost one of my students before in this way and I keep filling up thinking about it. I can only guess at what her parents must be feeling. When teaching creative writing you are presented with an insight into your students' lives that perhaps isn't available in tutoring an academic subject. When you teach writing you present a wise face to your students, because the subject is life itself, and yet I have no wisdom at all in the face of death.
Teaching counts for something, though. Being a teacher, sharing knowledge, building up someone else's store of knowledge: that makes sense even when the brevity of life doesn't.
My YA novel, TWOC, is scheduled for publication by Faber here in the UK in June. I've also sold it to German publisher Fischer Verlag and I'm currently having a lot of fun with my translator Thomas Gunkel. The novel is a slangy narrative told in the first-person by a teenager, and some of the vernacular or idiosyncratic speech patterns are proving impervious to translation. A worried Thomas asked me to account for something the kid's father says, namely the expression: Well I'll go to the foot of our stairs! (An expression for which the exclamation mark is crucial.) Not easy, this one. It is something my Dad used to say to me whenever I'd perplexed or annoyed him with yet another display of provocative teenage braggadocio. On the scale of convoluted, double-bottomed ironic phrases this is a good one, but takes some unpacking to render it scrutable to the Teutonic mind.
In the first place, it might be substituted for an expression of surprise such as Well, I'm so surprised I'll walk a hundred miles! But it is said knowingly and in a context where the so-called surprise has been experienced so many times that it only has enough energy to trigger a reduced trip to the foot of the stairs. You might say, Well, I'm still surprised by your antics but I know I shouldn't be. Why the stairs, I hear you asking. Why not the front porch? Okay, I'm still processing that. The thing is whenever my dad used to say this he would always widen his eyes and affect to lean back in his chair, as if blown that way by a sudden high wind.
Think you do better? I'll give you Thomas's email address, dammit. But I do love this language we are born into. I just don't think it has much to do with meaning. We probably communicate despite language, not because of it.
Anyone who's tried to work in Hollywood knows that. Arf arf arf! I'm not trying to tease by mentioning film stuff about the Tooth Fairy, but there is a brand new deal in hand. A contract is currently being negotiated by lawyers, but it does seem to take an awful lot of time. Perhaps they are on a sentence-per-day contract. Good thing writers don't work at that speed is all I can say. I hope to have some exciting news to announce on that front in the next update.
I will be appearing at Borders Bookstore in London on Oxford Street, reading and being interviewed by the fab Pat Cadigan, on the evening of Feb 14th. Usually starts at 6.30pm on one of the upper floors. Come along, be my valentine.
Graham Joyce can be contacted by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org