the m john harrison blog

hard boiled

I thought we should put the laundry out despite the weather forecast. After all, I said, it wasn’t going to rain in secret. We could always run out & bring it in back in. I was at that time more worried about the noise the washing machine had started to make. It sounded like an entry-level Mazda coupe being retuned for the son or daughter of a small businessman. No washing machine should make a noise like that, I said. But if I’ve learned anything from life since, it’s that they all make a noise like that in the end.

Solstice in the provinces. It’s hot. There’s no government in the country at the moment. To get the air moving, I have an old black rucksack holding open the study door. Every time I glimpse it out of the corner of my eye I mistake it for a cat I used to have. It’s too big to be a cat, but I never owned a dog. Outside, a man has parked a low-loader so that it blocks the little roundabout at the top of the High Street and left it idling there while he makes some sort of decision more important than anyone else’s that morning. Every so often he returns and moves it ten or twelve yards back or forward, always keeping it on the curve of the roundabout, always blocking as many exits as possible. Then he sits in it with his thick hands on the steering wheel, looking straight ahead while the engine runs. Around him the year tips over into whatever’s coming next.

dream

I was living in a house I didn’t know in a city I didn’t know. The people who lived there were young. They were cheerful, although their faces had a certain toughness, a certain wariness. The house had a lot of rooms. I left objects of mine, including my personal identification and a laptop with new work on it, in various of them. While I was anxious about this I wasn’t worried. I kept track of my things by rehearsing their positions in each room. I visited every room regularly to check that everything remained in its place. Everything was fine until I began to notice that the house was badly built. Living spaces had been constructed out of what had clearly been a condemned building. Then I began to forget where my things were. As I went from room to room looking for them, the house revealed itself as even more badly built. Some of the rooms had collapsing floors. Ceilings and walls seemed solid but were made of draped tarpaulin. The stairs moved under you. First I forgot where my belongings were. Then I realised that I was beginning to forget the layout of the building too. I wasn’t sure which rooms I had visited and which I hadn’t. The structure was increasingly unstable. Lath and rafters showed through. The rooms trembled and wallowed as I moved. My panic increased. I had lost all my objects. I had lost all sense of where I was. I had lost all my identifiers. I didn’t recognise anyone in the house. When I looked out of a window I realised that I had forgotten what country the city was in. I went out there and began to wander about. At first I was absolutely certain where the house was.

transcript of an interview

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Photo: Cath Phillips

states of play

Available: Viriconium, The Centauri Device, Climbers, Light, Nova Swing, Empty Space, “Babies from Sand”, “Cave & Julia” and “Fourth Domain”. Out of print: The Course of the Heart, Signs of Life, Things That Never Happen. Unlikely ever to be reprinted, although a couple of the stories in it turn out to be not quite as bad as I remembered: The Machine in Shaft Ten. Forthcoming: “Yummie” (The Weight of Words, ed McKean & Schafer, 2017), You Should Come With Me Now (short stories, Comma Press 2017). In progress: “English Heritage”, a ghost story, and “Autotelian Journey”; and two novels, The Water House, very odd, and The Future, a shadowy & bizarre post-apocalypse with sturdy links to the 2014 short story “The Crisis”.

What’s happening about the Signs of Life, Course of the Heart and Things That Never Happen reprint schedule seems as shadowy & bizarre as any of the Beige Ops in this notorious programme; but I’m hoping they’ll see the light again, one way or another, before I cough it.

gifco is here

Those who have failed to regulate the self. Those whose behaviours enact a medicating fiction. Those who flew to the Canary Islands on a cheap ticket in December 1991 & left the remains of their personality in the apartment hotel. Those who ran from everything in a zig-zag pattern, so fast they never found the transitional object. The unsoothed. The dysmorphic. The unconditional. Those who were naive enough to take what they needed & thus never got what they wanted & whose dreams are now severe. Those who were amazed by their own hand. The confused. The pliable. Those who look at the sea & immediately suffer a grief unconstrained but inarticulable. Gifco is coming. Gifco you are always with us. Gifco we are here!

Photo: the other Nick Royle.

Originally published here in 2012 as “those who know gifco”

a man walks into a bar

A man walks into a bar and orders a whisky, “Just an ordinary sort of Scotch.” He reads for half an hour, then gets up, and pays his bill in cash. Thereafter he returns once or twice a week. He drinks the Scotch, he reads a book. Kino the barman thinks perhaps that he’s a gangster. In the end that’s not really an issue; it’s Kino’s story we’re going to get anyway…

A cockroach wakes up to discover that he is Gregor Samsa. He is already forgetting he was a cockroach and when he tries to remember, “something like a black column of mosquitos” swirls up inside his head. He decides to give up on that. His first concern, he thinks, should be to get up off the bed, because lying on his back makes him vulnerable to attack by birds…

A woman’s ex-lover gets a phone call from her husband, who tells him she has committed suicide then hangs up. The lover has no idea where she lived after she left him, or who with. He can’t even imagine what her life was like, let alone find a way to reconnect with it. She’s the third woman he’s been with who killed herself…

Murakami’s Men Without Women are self-centred and lonely. They’re rather too puzzled, given their intelligence, as to why those two conditions go hand in hand. They present as tentative but act impulsively; expose histories founded on some early act of self-alienation; then, after jumping their lives inexpertly from one track to another (often from a low energy state to an even lower one), become tentative again at the last. Murakami–alert, relaxed, whimsical–watches them. He’ll tell the story in his own good time. My review for the Guardian here.

pregnant again

Recently began to read Genet again. I couldn’t say why, except that after fifty years he claimed suddenly, from his jail cell Shangri La, that he had something to do with the new book; & more, that he’d already had something to do with the last three. I really don’t get that. But there it is– “Read me now! read me again!”, a voice from a distance, from the dead. Quite a luxurious experience, I have to say, although it makes me wonder how I could have been so sure I’d read him back then–how on earth I could have convinced myself I’d understood more than a fraction of him when I was 21 & at that time about twelve years old. I had no idea what he was offering. Whatever he’s trying to communicate now isn’t coming through yet; neither am I resolving the increased sense I have that there are other survivors from those days in it with him. In it with him yet having so little in common with him or each other that only grammar could ever hold them together in a sentence. These people. These other writers. Vision, content, timbre, whatever:  I am, at this point, the only clue to their commonality. I won’t get them, or my book, until I get why. Maybe it’s just a whim. Maybe I’m just visibly pregnant & want to eat strange meals.

The Clocks In This House All Tell Different Times

“It’s 1923. Lucy Marsh and her friend Winifred, mid-teenagers from an enclave of dying pubs and dead industries in north-east London, find themselves effectively sold into prostitution by their families. Once a week in Epping Forest they meet with and service four bizarrely wounded ex‑servicemen who have given arms, legs, hands and faces for their country in the recent world war. Lucy isn’t sure if they’re named after Dorothy’s companions in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, or if the characters in the story were named after them. The “funny men” seem as decent as they are damaged, puzzled to the point of inarticulacy by the things that have happened to them. But though they’re shy they know what they’ve lost – homes, wives, children, physical comfort, any sense of themselves as welcome in the society that sent them to fight – and they know what they want, at least from Lucy and Winifred.”

–Read the rest of my review of Xan Brooks’ dark & politically timely debut novel at the Guardian, here.