the m john harrison blog

how late is yr train

London by train: that metaphysical condition or stupid limbo which sucks in your life and jellies it and doesn’t get you anywhere, even if you fetch up somewhere in the end–late, full of rage, depressed, encircled by people whose casual shoes cost more than your car. Then the same meeting as you’ve been having the last forty or fifty years, at which you learn that nothing is possible. You’ll wish you never came. Still, you made your choices long ago. You rediscover that by the end of day. You come out the other side. You decide to cope. You even see the advantages–which means you can begin to maximise them, or so you hope. At Euston station you look up at the How Late Is Your Train indicator. The thing is, you tell yourself, not to wait too long. Wait too long and eventually, if you aren’t careful, you’re going to end up looking really quite threadbare.

Originally blogged late 2015.

hide & go seek

Learn to exactly mimic having written a story, an ageing science fiction hack once advised me: then learn to write a story in a way that exactly mimics having written a different one. Write each separate sentence, paragraph & chapter of every book as if they’re mimicking some other sentence, paragraph or chapter. Soon there’s this odd, constant sense of implication in the text. It seems loaded. It seems like the alienated echo of something else. That something else is your gift to the reader. Your gift to the reader isn’t a lot of words. It’s to have a grasp of syntax & inflexion that lets you load more into the text than it seems to be able to accomodate. He’s dead now of course, his books passed over as ragtime & illiterate, but I’ve taken up where he left off.

Originally blogged as paragraph from a manuscript found in room 121, the Ambiente Hotel, 2012


For a moment, in Blanes, on the Costa Brava, Rob Doyle entertains the idea that the mysterious writer who set out on the Roberto Bolano Literary Trail before him might actually be himself, “a double, flickering in some eerie glitch in the space-time continuum”; or perhaps “an emissary from the future, seeking to warn me of danger”. But then he decides it’s perhaps only John Banville, Anne Enright or Roddy Doyle, “fleeing whatever demons tormented them”. In the end, in fact, it turns out to be someone with the fantastical name of “Turtle Bunbury”. Between outings like this one, he considers suicide. But the only painless method, he concludes, would be to shoot himself in the head, and the only place he could easily come by a gun would be America, a country he will never, ever live in again. “I would rather kill myself.” Prime stand-up from Doyle’s new book.
DSC00381 My review of Threshold in the Guardian.


Always look for a way to express a thing, not sum it up glibly in a couple of words and then smile and mic drop as if labelling it that way has dealt with it. My whole life, genre seems to have been committed to the latter, especially in the conversation about itself, especially in its encounters with human behaviour and perception, and especially if it can imply that to express a thing is to repeat a trope. The struggle should always be to say–to distinguish an experience from all the other experiences that might, to the reader, or to another writer, seem similar; not to encapsulate–and thereby categorise–and move along.

Politics after the disaster. Plenty of old hobby horses at the show, no new ones yet. Same old dreams, rationales & limiting assumptions; same old wish-fulfilment metaphors & rhetorical patches that became foundational assumptions & policy statements overnight & have never been dislodged. I love their little chipped & dented faces. If they were mine I wouldn’t want to let go of them either. Now this has all gone wrong, it’s time to start writing down exactly what you see & hear. If you must make fiction, make it out of that. Nothing else will do. The pursuit of fantasy in every single cultural, political, corporate & media arena since the mid 1970s is what led us all here; and fantasy is not, whatever absurd rationale you’re tempted to use to wriggle out from under, an antidote to itself.

hidden behind the events

Another attempt to describe The Sunken Land Begins To Rise Again, from this new interview (scroll down for the English version): Genetic material from another species has long ago introduced itself into the genome of human beings. From what species I won’t say here; and the assumption itself is hidden behind the events of the story. On the surface, two emotionally incompetent people struggle to make a relationship while a world-changing conspiracy gathers unnoticed in the shadows around them. It has the frame of a horror novel, the ambience of the Weird, and the (broken) structure of a romance; it quietly mimics and parodies the structures and tropes of “folk horror” and the psychogeographical novel. So I can’t really call it science fiction. Or to put it another way, I doubt if any dedicated science fiction reader would call it science fiction. It’s also an oblique satire of Brexit, especially of the middle class’s blindness to the emergence of populism; and of the almost unnoticed end of “liquid modernity”.

(The photo, from around 2002, first appeared in Locus. I loved that César Manrique T shirt & wore it until it fell to bits some years later. I still have the jacket.)

Just to remind you that the decent world has been an eighty year blip. You’ll all be glad to know that things are getting back on an even keel. The right people are in charge again and the wrong people are beginning to be taught their proper place. It was good you did your duty and voted for the Lovable Rogue on Votey McVoteface Day, thanks. Now fuck off to the beetfields or wherever & make us some more money there’s a love. By the way, your prescription’s going to be costing you a bit more, just so you know.


two for one (2)

1. in back of the furniture

Once you’re in the secret garden, you never leave: you only think you do. Acquisition and subsequent loss permanently modify the way you get knowledge about gardens. There’s no cure for your situation because there isn’t a garden to lose. The act of having a relationship with it, which includes its loss, is the secret garden.

The House on the Borderland is a disguised secret garden novel.

2. nothing nice

Fiction: nothing nice, funny or comforting to face the situations we are in. No, “The people deserve a wryly good time because things are nasty, we as a caring, empathetic industry owe them positive things.”

Because that attitude is not new & has always made its small but definite contribution to the disaster.