the m john harrison blog

Tag: writing

note to self

Signs of Life suffered by presenting its case without a lot of fainting fits about the unacceptability of the characters & their way of life. As a result, many readers made the sign of the cross & looked away. Always be sure to lead the audience in hissing & booing when the bad guy comes on stage.

notional velocity

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you left the door open

Your hands & feet are cold. There’s a certain amount of rain. The dogs are howling in the next garden. Someone in the street says, “Almost everything can be interesting,” & then, “August the first is too late.” You read:

“A few days later Lanny tried the crystal ball again, and there came something new. Blue water, sparkling in sunshine–everything was always bright in that globe, like a technicolour film.”

This leads you to wonder if Upton Sinclair–surfacing from the deep trench of your early teens to bob around 50 years later in a backwater bookshop in Much Wenlock–is, in fact, some sort of forgotten “influence”. Better read on, now you’ve got him home. But perhaps first close the door & find some socks.

from the moon in its flight

Loved this–

In 1948, the whole world seemed beautiful to young people of a certain milieu, or let me say, possible. Yes, it seemed a possible world. This idea persisted until 1950, at which time it died, along with many of the young people who had held it.

So bleak.

Read the whole of Gilbert Sorrentino’s “The Moon in its Flight” here at Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading.

unimmersing

This from 2008:

Larry at OF Blog reproduces–from Darnton’s classic The Great Cat Massacre–the synopsis of a French fairy tale, then adds ruefully: “There’s something about these tales that just seems to be missing from a lot of literature, both mimetic and speculative alike, being published these days…”

Perhaps it’s the startling images, concerns human & social, sly, sinewy humour, structures quotidian but supple? The directness of engagement with the reader? That everyone in the contract knows exactly where they stand, & no one makes any serious attempt to convince anyone else that the events presented are true? (We are here to enjoy this story together, not to pretend it’s happening.) Is it the lack of rationale & semiotic overload which makes them beautiful, the frank, unsophisticated combination of the weird & the matter-of-fact?

As a side issue, The Great Cat Massacre is a book I would recommend to anyone although: trigger warnings for cat lovers.

Original post & comments here.

available soon

Cave & Julia, still doing well as a Kindle Single, will be joined in the autumn by 4th Domain, a 10,000 word short story featuring a map, a medium & some weird human genome shenanigans in the suburban badlands of Barnes & East Sheen. Lovecraft meets Aickman.

Between now & then, the new 4th Estate edition of JG Ballard’s The Drought should be out, with my introduction. In 1965/6 I was stunned & hypnotised by The Four Dimensional Nightmare, The Terminal Beach, The Drowned World & The Drought. I felt like one of the new organisms in “The Voices of Time”, redesigned for life in conditions which hadn’t yet appeared, an environment the parameters of which could only be intuited. I hardly knew what to do with myself. I would have been utterly elated but also rather shocked to know that nearly fifty years later I’d be writing an introduction to The Drought. To tell the truth, I’m still excited.

This intro joins up with similar efforts I’ve written for Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids (Heyne 2012, German only) & The Chrysalids (Penguin Modern Classics) to explore the uses of disaster in the UK in the 50s & 60s.

Analyses

For fun I put some random blog entries through I Write Like, which told me I write like: Jack London, JRR Tolkien, Chuck Palahniuk (twice), Arthur Clarke (for the “Earth Advengers” post), Cory Doctorow, Gertrude Stein, Dan Brown (for the first paragraph of a review of a Peter Ackroyd novel), Ray Bradbury, David Foster Wallace (twice, once for “Keep Smiling With Great Minutes”), and HG Wells. After that, deciding that my samples must have been generally too short to give a consistent result, I tried the whole of “Imaginary Reviews” and got Isaac Asimov; a 4000 word English ghost story, set mainly at the seaside and featuring an ageing middle class woman called Elizabeth, and got Isaac Asimov again; and then “Cave & Julia” & got HG Wells again. For the whole of Empty Space I got Arthur Clarke; but for its final chapter, which ends with that memorable sentence of crawling Cosmic horror, “First she would separate Dominic the pharma from his friends, take him upstairs, and fuck him carefully to a tearful overnight understanding of the life they all led now,” I got HP Lovecraft.

gold/no gold

You go from being very sure about the thing you’re writing to being very unsure about it & thence to being unsure about everything. Some days later you’re so sure again that even you can see you’re in the manic phase. The internal wind is blowing from the Exhibitionist Quarter. You want opinions from everyone. You want them to see. You want them to witness. You’re convinced–as so often–that this is probably the best thing you’ve ever written. This is the exact point at which you know you should keep it to yourself, because where there is mania can depression be far behind? & anyway your judgement, never dependable, is at least now dependably shot: you can go to the bank on that. Whatever decisions you make are going to be wrong decisions but mania sticks you with making them anyway. All is florid, writhing with invention. At the same time confusion reigns. It is like some false dawn phase of the traditional alchemical process. In a week or a month, all will become clear & (probably) disappointing.

inadvertent prophecies

Shifnal, Ercall, Gnosall, Wergs. It’s all too Viriconium for me. If I hadn’t stolen those West Midlands place names in the 1970s, I wouldn’t be living surrounded by my own fictions now. “Be careful what you write,” Hilary Bailey once warned me, “in case it comes true.” Did I pay any attention then? No. Will I pay any now, even though I know she was right & that you are making some unpredictable, oblique, weirdly successful guess at your own future every time you write up a dream, or tinker with the implications of someone else’s relationships, or push their character until it falls over an edge you believe only you can see? No. But I might soft pedal a little on the kinds of objects people discover in a roof void last opened up during the Victorian period. & at least I never called anywhere Great Bolus.

anti surrealism

The naive, the unconstructed, the accidental ghost. The ghost from the faded polaroid found in a shoebox of letters from someone else’s life. Things that might not be there; things that have no existence other than possibly not being there; things that can only have your attention drawn to them. Reading should be as close as possible to discovering those letters and seeing something in them that might not be there. The writer should offer the shoebox, or better still the stall at the flea market on which the shoebox might be found. I’m not interested in any other way of writing anyway.

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