the m john harrison blog

Month: January, 2012

characters (2)

This character wakes up with a sense of happiness, all that remains of a dream the content of which she has already forgotten. The dream repeats itself. Soon it’s a nightly event. The dreamer’s delight on waking is increasingly intense. But every so often, even as that intensification occurs, she wakes up a little sad or depressed. The narration speculates: “Some kind of life, or story, was being lived out in the dreams.” Increasingly, the dreamer wonders what that story might be. Because she can’t remember, she begins to invent it. Simultaneously, the dream reaches a pivot & tips over: moments of happiness decrease (though their intensity increases) & are replaced by depressions which become the norm. One day the dream ends. A morning of misery; a morning of joy: then nothing, ever again. The dream life has worked itself out without the dreamer–or the reader–ever knowing what it was.


what he said

John Coulthart on the Weird–

It’s a term that isn’t always easy to define which is one reason I like it. Fantasy, horror and science fiction evolved quite naturally as descriptive terms then ended up being co-opted by the imperatives of marketing. If you drew a Venn diagram you’d find the Weird intersecting with familiar genres, and with the wider literary world, but never quite matching any particular area. Weird Tales magazine used to publish anything that suited its title: this might be horror, sf, heroic fantasy (both CL Moore and Robert E Howard could dip into the weird stuff), and even detective fiction in the case of all those “psychic detectives”. Weird for me defines a quotient of the uncanny or the fantastical that lies beyond the usual stereotypes of the genres. It’s often present in places where there’s no overt generic reference at all: David Lynch’s Eraserhead is a good example.

the implication of form

Lawrence Durrell, Justine: “I would set my own book free to dream… What follows would be a drama freed from the burden of form.” [p66, Faber edn. My ellipsis.]

Important here would be the strength of the form from which the book had been freed ? The input offered by the form would persist like the remains of a vanished civilisation, suddenly offering structure & then denying it, as you moved across the book’s landscape ?

characters (1)

This character took the decision to bury his early hopes under the weight of overexpectation & consequent disappointment then repressed the horror of that as quickly as possible. The effect was of stuffing a live part of himself into a box & shutting the lid. Each time he accomplished the manoeuvre there was less of himself to stuff in. The job seemed easier–was easier in some way–yet the amount of effort he had to put into the procedure increased. More energy needed to be redirected each time to make sure he didn’t hear his own calls for help.


Just to reiterate, because people still turn up here looking for it:

The novel called Pearlant, which was to be published by Gollancz in April 2012, is now entitled Empty Space & will be published by Gollancz in May/June 2012.

Pearlant was the working title. By the time I’d finished, I didn’t like it. No one else liked it either. I thought I’d call it Black Heart. Characters of mine have been drinking Black Heart Rum since “The Gift” in 1987, although they only got going in earnest in 2001. But Gollancz turned out to be publishing another novel called Black Heart in the same month. So I reverted to the working title for Light, which I always liked because space isn’t empty at all.

Empty Space is the third & final book in the Light setting. It suggests that I always had a plan, albeit of the usual mad, half-hidden kind. If you didn’t like Light because of the sex, don’t get Empty Space. If you didn’t like Light because of a perceived “coldness” don’t get Empty Space. If you can’t navigate yourself morally, politically & emotionally without three sentences of direction for every sentence that furthers the action, don’t get Empty Space.

Oh, & we have an outstandingly raw-looking cover design.

paradise & lunch

Next Thursday I’m at Warwick, in conversation with China. A chance to meet Will Eaves again too, one of my favourite writers, with a new book, This Is Paradise, out next month.

this & that

LitFic in crisis, Lars lyer at The White Review (via the always-interesting The Practise of Writing). Owen Hatherly on the “mechanical sublime” in the context of the Lloyds building, with an interesting contribution from Lewism in the comments. I like the term “wilfully spectacular”. Infinite Thought goes deep, “retirement” here being clearly the wrong word.

& in other news, Empty Space is now subtitled “A Haunting” & scheduled for June.

worlds of england

Tom, the central character of Jonathan Raban’s novel Waxwings (2003), is the child of East European immigrants living in Essex. When he reads Swallows and Amazons, he realises that England is “another country”. The street in which he lives is

    not so much a part of it as a colonial dependency inhabited by an inferior people. The England of the books, the real England, began somewhere in London and stretched out westward from the city into a rich, dappled landscape of green hills, brambly footpaths, oak trees, and half timbered Tudor villages… (p127, my ellipsis)

The geographical and cultural interpenetrations of that kind of fiction–its landscapes & the “worlds” they encoded–were always more complex than Raban makes them seem. This is because it was a fantasy not just for its consumers but for many of the authors who wrote it; and in the end even for the very children who lived something like it, out in the brambly Shires. Having said that, Raban comes as close as anyone has come to describing my own relationship with the England of those kinds of children’s books. They informed the world of a quiet, alienated boy (whose family, entry-level middle class, went in awe of fake Tudor, let alone the real thing, & knew they could never aspire to it), not destined for grammar school or university but already trapped by the primacy of the written word & the culture of fantasy, or fantasy of culture. By the end of the 1950s I had already bought into writing as an escape from the housing estate, rather than an honest admission of what I saw & experienced. This gave rise to a set of internal contradictions & literary/political paradoxes which took two decades to resolve.

wish I was here