the m john harrison blog

who I’m calling on

Deep in enemy territory, where even the help’s clothes are more fashionable and expensive than your own, and an overcoat costs more than your car, someone says–

“He’s just back from the laundry.”

“Is that code for something?”

You follow the lights dancing on the surface of the coffee in your cup, and they mean as much to you as what you’re hearing. They’re blue, lilac, pink and green.

“Hey kid,” someone now declares, “everyone’s got their photograph of a pair of shoes. What you need is to move up past that.”

Turn your head: you won’t see who it was. It might anyway be you.

“Ten past three. No, ten past three. And can you leave the key at the church.”

Later, from the window of the train, everything–fields, hills, buildings, hedges, trees, warehouses and distribution centres–will look shadowy but at the same time palely-lit. It’s a strange light, that you might see in a picture but never in the world. The train races to meet the wind. Leaves are blown everywhere. Birds are blown across the sky. The wheels on the rails–or perhaps it is the motors themselves–sound like a sung mass performed by some famous university college choir. Modern music, but full of echoes of earlier settings, earlier ways of listening.

“As it shall be,” you hear, “in Earth as in Heaven.”

Container trucks: YANG MING, HAPLAG-LLOYD, DONG FANG. “For some reason I always think it’s the end of the week.”

Nice review here of You Should Come With Me Now.


seasons greetings

Seasons Greetings to all our customers from the staff of the back bar at the Ambiente Hotel. Photo: Alyssia Fignall, from the archives.

the ghost of Christmas past

This character–having stripped himself of all now-impossible futures, thus stripping off all now-impossible future selves, and recognising belatedly that in doing so he has accidentally stripped out the possible self he believed himself to have inhabited prior to and during the act of stripping–now realises that he must begin to act from a place of maximum self-haunting: that is, he clearly has no existence except as the ghost of all the now-impossible hauntings of himself which previously provided him with the sense of self itself. Since he has no self, this decision must be taken unconsciously. (Articulated as possible, it would anyway open itself to the condition of being, at some point in the future, now-impossible.) Faced by the difficulty of this, [someone] decides to decorate the Christmas tree & play Ring Out Solstice Bells at very low volume, thus commemorating all the hauntings and self-hauntings of the now-impossible past.

neon hearts at vouts

Operation Not Such A Surprise wound down at Sophie Parkin’s cryptic but welcoming venue Vout-O-Reenee’s, 7th December 2017. They came from all over town & from other towns too. The weather was cold but the club was hot. At a crucial point someone stuck their head out the proceedings and called into the lobby, “Half my Twitter feed’s in here!” Half of my Twitter feed was in there too. Was it statistically possible that half of everyone in there’s Twitter feed was in there? Some chose to believe it was. Anyway, thanks to everyone who came to celebrate; and especially to everyone who subscribed to my lovely, lovely Tim Etchells neon YOU SHOULD COME WITH ME NOW, which presently lies in its box in the upstairs front room dreaming of mounting a pure white wall etc etc: Richard Ashcroft, Katy Attfield, Geoffrey Bilder, Deb Chadbourn, Eileen Evans, Forced Entertainment, Hugo Glendinning, Sarah Guy, Vlatka Horvat, Simon Ings, Dan Jones, Jerry Killick, Richard Lowdon, Claire Marshall, Philippa McEwan, Cathy Naden, Terry O’Connor, Ian Patterson, Lara Pawson, Cath Phillips, Julian Richards and Penny Schenk. Special thanks, obviously, to Tim for the neon, Hugo for the photography and Sophie for the space; Will Eaves who, though he couldn’t be there, was absolutely present; and Lara, whose energy kept the party project rolling.

recovering the rites

The last time I went there it was a late Friday afternoon in October, coming on dark. The key took time going in the lock. As soon as I was up in the room I could see something had been there before me. As I entered it was still disappearing, like an oily residue mixing in water. The air was almost as cold as the street outside.
I went to the window and pulled the blind. People were leaving work, walking quickly past with their heads down. Up and down the road the neon signs were going on one by one. October totters into November. London draws round itself for a second or two and seems comforting. I looked along the street at the smear of light under the railway bridge. It was a place I would now do anything to avoid. It was a signal from the dead. It was all they had to say. They remembered being alive, they remembered a slick of light on old tiles on a wet day, the pavement becoming wetter and blacker as people tracked the rain into it. They remembered the cold draughts under the bridge there. I rang the first number I could think of and said, “We live in the thinnest of worlds, between the past and the future. They occupy more space than that. We never see the whole of them.” The voice at the other end said, “Jake, is it happening again ?” Everything becomes more itself, or what people have understood it to be. Under the bridge the dead are a cultural force. “Even when they’re perfectly still,” I said, “they seem to us to be moving. We only see them moving through.” “Jake?

You Should Come With Me Now, Comma Press

Neon by Tim Etchells

Image: Hugo Glendinning

today’s the day, then

Thanks to everyone involved, especially Ra Page & the Comma Press. I’m going to spend the day wandering about in a dream, it’s what I do best.

Author photo:  Hugo Glendinning

catch up

A few things to look & listen out for:

Twenty Questions author questionnaire up at the TLS today (usual glib & shallow responses on my part). & a nice review from Guy Salvidge here.

On the 24th November, Friday, also at the TLS, a reprint of the short story “The Crisis”, so if you’d like a taster before you buy YOU SHOULD COME WITH ME NOW, and you’d like to support stubbornly high quality literary journalism in a turbulent era, buy a copy. “The Crisis” is a story so full of rage that reading it to an audience in 2015 gave me a small heart attack. You can find a celebration of the consequences of this event in the collection, under the title “Yummie”. What more can you ask of an author in the line of duty?

Also out now, the Guardian Books Podcast, on which you can catch me talking to Richard Lea, who deftly structured his questions round some flash fiction readings.

Speaking of readings, if you aren’t able to attend an event (or if you’re afraid to in case I have another heart attack), you can get some idea of how they go, here, under the auspices of the Northern Fiction Alliance.

A couple of additional gigs are being organised, one in Liverpool, no details yet; and one in Sheffield in January, see here, which will be a conversation with Richard Jones covering everything from physics in Light to bite-size character-building adventures on rainy gritstone. The Sheffield extravaganza is at DINA, a venue which used to be known as The Stardust Bar: this is so Empty Space that I expect to find a deserted corniche, a string of disused beachfront operations, a wooden door banging in the wind, and three old men in white flat caps playing dice for what you & I might call the fate of the universe–

Meanwhile, Irene the mona stared out the portholes and marvelled at all the wonders of space, and you could hear her say:

“Don’t you know, Fat Antoyne, that three old men in white caps throw dice for the fate of the universe ?”

No, Fat Antoyne said, he had never heard that.

“Their names are Kokey Food, Mr Freedom and The Saint. Another thing: these three play not just for the universe’s fate, but the individual fates of every person in it.” They threw the dice, of which, she said, there were a different number according to the day they played on, and at every throw they would say something in a ritual way, such as “Heads over ends!” or “Trent douce” or “Down your side, baby!”, sometimes speaking singly and sometimes all together. One or all of them would clap their hands sarcastically, or blow on their fingers to indicate scorching. Or two of them would smirk at the third and say, “You fucked now, sonny,” which at least could be understood by a normal person.

“So you’ve seen these dice guys ?” Antoyne enquired.

“In dreams I have, Fat Antoyne, yes. And when I say that, you need to stop looking at me, in your precise way you’re about to laugh at me. Because a dream is a kind of truth too.” Antoyne laughed at that, and she pushed him off the bed. “They pay and they play, Fat Antoyne. And if they ever stop ? Why, their faces slacken and crumple. And those old men weep.”

the fact is, I really quite like Carding Mill Valley

photos: Cath Phillips

end state

Obviously there should be a place in every town–it’s dark, there’s a steep street, cobbles and shadows; then a corner; a flight of steps, perhaps two; then a single street lamp!–where people are drawn some nights of the year to hear this music played. It’s quite separate from its contemporary origins. You can forget them. You aren’t a child, you can perfectly well strip them away. When you stand there you will. Because it will be repurposing itself in front of you, or–more likely–revealing some purpose it had before there were people, or even the bandoneon, if you can imagine anything that distant. I’m not promising you this–I’m not promising anything–but that’s where it promises itself, and you would be a fool not to go there, however long it takes, & see.

You Should Come With Me Now

stories that didn’t quite make the cut (7)

passing the sump, 2017

Some ways of being dead are good, some are not so good, X claimed. But admitting you are dead is generally a good thing. When he first entered the sump he found a layer of dense blue “air” which lay at the midpoint between the ceiling and the floor. While this layer was generally twelve to eighteen inches thick, and in some places could be measured at twenty five inches, it once shrank to a millimetre or two, causing him to choke and panic. It looked & behaved more like a liquid than a gas. How was he to pass it? He began work immediately. For two nights in a row he didn’t sleep at all. For six nights in a row, he dreamed of the wrong thing. For a further fourteen nights in a row he dreamed that his lungs had turned inside out and expressed themselves through his mouth, after the use of a home-made SCUBA device–he had failed to pass the sump in all fourteen cases. For eight nights in a row he didn’t dream, although he woke with memories of something moving in darkness. On the next night he passed the sump, but not in a dream. No equipment was required. He was able to breathe normally.

You Should Come With Me Now