I once saw a video of the great rapid chess player Vlad Tkachiev talking about his hobbies. To my surprise, he liked to relax by writing screenplays. He said writing a screenplay is a bit like playing a chess game because you’re dealing with patterns and structures. You are constantly moving scenes around in your head, visualising what would happen if you took something out here or added something else over there.
He had just watched the film Vidocq and, by coincidence, so had I, so his words really made an impact. I started to imagine Vidocq as a chess game. I even wrote a short story about Vlad and Vidocq.
A little bit crazy, perhaps, but not as crazy as Vlad, who said he imagines his daily routine as a chess game — get out of bed, pawn to e4; move to the kitchen, knight to f3; go out onto the street, bishop to c4; see a pretty girl, bishop to g5 check!
Medical experts have said that playing blindfold chess against more than three opponents simultaneously can make you insane. Vlad should know; this picture was taken when he was playing against 12 players simultaneously in Cannes. (He won 11 and drew 1.)
The interview was in English even though Vlad was born in Moscow and is a French-Russian-Kazakhstani chess player. He talks, like he plays, very fast and he’s a delight to listen to and watch.
When asked for his tips on learning languages, he said singing helps. When you sing, you remember.
I thought of Vlad while I was restructuring my novel today. I’ve taken Lanying out of it. I’ve had to rewrite dozens of scenes as she ran through the story like a thread.
The story is a lot tighter and shorter now but Lanying did wonder why I was watching TV wearing a blindfold and singing in bad Chinese with chess pieces stuck up my nose. She hates it when I even talk to myself so I think I’m lucky to have come out of this rewrite still married.