Please welcome Chaz Brenchley to The Qwillery. “Afterparty” will be published in GENIUS LOCI: Tales of the Spirit of Place from Ragnarok Publications.
This is the third in a series of interviews with many of the authors and the artists involved in GENIUS LOCI. I hope you enjoy meeting them here at The Qwillery as much as I am!
I am a backer of GENIUS LOCI which is edited by Jaym Gates. You may check out the Kickstarter here.
TQ: Welcome to The Qwillery. What are the challenges in writing in the short form as opposed to the novel length? Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Chaz: I’m totally a pantser, at any length. I like to start with a title, a first line and preferably a last line too; between those points, the story is the journey and the author and the reader take the same path at the same pace, hand in hand. For me, the challenges of the short story all hinge around that seductive weasel-word “short”. The briefest of encounters has implicit back-stories the length of the characters’ lives; I always want to explore more than the space allows. Which means that I overwrite, every time, and have to cut back: which means (a) that I’m really good at cutting, and (b) that my stories are almost always at the maximum length for any given publication.
TQ: Which question about your writing do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!
Chaz: “Chaz, when are you going to write a cookbook?” - oh, no, wait. People ask me that all the time. Similarly, when am I going to write the third Ben Macallan book (in either iteration, as novelist or character). Actually what I’d really like right now would be for someone to ask “Chaz, have you finally stopped writing about Quin? Now that you’ve described his dying, his death, his funeral and what came after? Frequently more than once?”
Because then I could say “When I wrote ‘Afterparty’, I did actually think it might be the last of the Quin stories. Except... I have this novel in my head. I have always had a novel in my head, to be honest, that all these stories were preludes to; but now I have it fairly solidly fixed, and I would quite like the chance to write that. No hurry, though.”
TQ: Describe “Afterparty”, which will be published in Genius Loci, in 140 characters or less.
Chaz: In 140 characters or fewer [he corrected, smugly]: “Afterparty” is a disconcertingly hopeful story set in the aftermath of a death long awaited and the break-up of a household. It’s all about continuity and survival. [And that - more smugly still! - is 139 characters, and I didn’t have to cut a single letter. Maybe I’m getting the hang of this writing-to-length, after 38 years in the trade...?]
TQ: Tell us something about “Afterparty” that will not give away the story.
Chaz: There’s always another boy, coming out of the wood. And always someone there for him to find, a house to find his way to. Is that too cryptic? Let’s take another angle: Quin has died and been buried, that story’s over; and now his partner is selling up and moving on, another story over, and the team of friends who nursed Quin through his last illness has gathered one last time to help Gerard pack up the house and say goodbye. With all that that implies.
TQ: What was your inspiration for “Afterparty”? Have you ever encountered a Genius loci?
Chaz: Twenty years ago I spent a year doing exactly this, helping an old friend die in his own home, and then dealing with the damage afterwards. I’ve been writing about it ever since; there’s a whole sequence of stories about Quin and the people around him. So there’s that.
But all the best stories have more than one source - and I grew up in Oxford, back in the ’60s and ’70s, before it became a London dormitory. Half the city is mediaeval, and in those days you could run in and out of the colleges at will; every other building had its own particular spirit, and not only the buildings. My mother’s best friend lived - in a wheelchair, with her female partner - in a row of houses bordering a park, with a wild wood at the end of the lane. I did a lot of my growing-up in that wood, one way and another; and I totally stole it, for this story.
TQ: Give us one of your favorite non-spoilery lines from “Afterparty”.
Chaz: There’s enough wood there for kids to scare themselves, for teenagers to hang out and hide up, for older men - us - to take a walk, take a break when things got too much with Quin and the park below was just too open and exposed. Trauma nurtures the furtive in all of us; at one time or another we all need to run for cover.
TQ: In which genre or genres does “Afterparty” fit? In your opinion, are genre classifications still useful?
Chaz: Oddly for stories about Quin, it’s really not a ghost story; the dead make no appearance. I’m not sure “packing up and moving on, with echoes” is actually a genre in itself, though maybe it ought to be. But I always have straddled genres rather awkwardly; people used to say that my mysteries were really horror, my horror stories were really fantasy and my fantasies were really mysteries. Me, I just call them all stories; they come from the same place, and speak to the same truths. What would be the point of writing about the supernatural, if not to describe the mundane and everyday?
TQ: You're a "notorious foodie" according to your website. Which dish should be served with "Afterparty"?
Chaz: Easy one. Quin’s one of the men who taught me to cook; the story talks about that. With an example. It’s the first meal I remember his cooking for me, way back when: pork tenderloin and mushrooms, sautéed and then flambéed in brandy, sauced with cream; green beans in butter; a loaf of fresh bread and a bottle of Sancerre. Dead simple, utterly delicious, and I stood in awe.
TQ: What's next?
Chaz: Right now I have two books out: a queer-themed short story collection, Bitter Waters, which includes many of the Quin stories; and a short novel, Being Small, which is again about Quin (and about growing up with a dead twin and a mad mother). But what comes next is Kipling on Mars. That’s actually shorthand for a whole huge project that I’m calling Mars Imperial, which postulates that Mars is a province of the British Empire. Which includes aliens and aetherships and all sorts. The first story will be in Gardner Dozois’ Year’s Best SF anthology; the second will appear shortly; and meanwhile I’m working on the first novel, Mars Beneath. Featuring Rudyard Kipling. But I keep getting interrupted by - ooh, y’know? if Mars were a province of the British Empire, T E Lawrence would so have gone there! And so would Oscar Wilde! And, and, and...
Seriously, I could write this stuff for the rest of my life and not be done.
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
Chaz: Hey, thank you for having me. It’s been fun.
About Chaz Brenchley
Chaz Brenchley has been making a living as a writer since the age of eighteen. He is the author of nine thrillers, most recently Shelter; two fantasy series, The Books of Outremer and Selling Water by the River; and two ghost stories, House of Doors and House of Bells. As Daniel Fox, he has published a Chinese-based fantasy series, beginning with Dragon in Chains; as Ben Macallan an urban fantasy series, beginning with Desdaemona. A British Fantasy Award winner, he has also published books for children and more than 500 short stories in various genres. 2014 saw publication of two new books, a short novel - Being Small - and a collection, Bitter Waters. His time as crimewriter-in-residence on a sculpture project in Sunderland resulted in the earlier collection Blood Waters. His first play, A Cold Coming, premiered and toured in 2007. He is a prizewinning ex-poet, and has been writer in residence at the University of Northumbria. He was Northern Writer of the Year 2000. Chaz has recently married and moved from Newcastle to California, with two squabbling cats and a famous teddy bear.