the m john harrison blog

Month: June, 2013

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the entertainer

I talk quite chirpily to Jonathan Strahan & Gary K Wolfe in Episode 147 of the Coode Street Podcast. Various ground is covered, some of it real, most of it less so; also tantalising reference to enigmas like Empty Space, Climbers and “Cave & Julia” (all three of which are drawing mixed & sometimes comical responses at Amazon: go there, have a laugh, but most importantly, buy something). In similar news, I’ll be reading and talking at Lancaster Literary Festival on either the 16th or 17th of October; and at a warm-up event for the Conference on Weird Fiction at the Horse Hospital in Bloomsbury on 7th November. Details to follow. (Anyone who’d like to pay me to read in similar circumstances, or who’d simply prefer to give me this modified Buell S1 motorcycle so I can keep it in my lounge & worship it as Art, should leave a message below or tweet me @mjohnharrison.)

something in the water

I haven’t cut my nails since we arrived here. They haven’t grown much. Perhaps it’s something in the water.

I wondered if I should cut my nails when we arrived here. But in the subsequent month they’ve hardly grown. Something in the water, perhaps. That’s what F thinks.

I remember looking at my nails the day after we arrived here, and wondering if I should cut them. In the subsequent month, though, they’ve hardly grown. “Something in the water, perhaps,” F suggests when I tell her. She looks down at her own nails.

I looked at my nails the day after we arrived here and wondered if I should cut them. A month later, they’ve hardly grown. “Something in the water,” F suggests when I tell her. She shrugs. She won’t let me look at her nails, but later I catch her examining them carefully.

I remember looking at my nails the day after we arrived and asking F if she thought I should cut them. A month later they’ve hardly grown. F shrugs. “Something in the water,” she suggests. She won’t let me look at her nails, but later I catch her at the bathroom sink, washing her hands, spreading her fingers, washing again. “What’s the matter?”

The day after we arrived, I remember, I asked F if she thought I should cut my nails. A month later they’ve hardly grown. F shrugs. “Something in the water,” she suggests. She won’t let me look at her nails–though I am always up for inspection, F never is. But later, passing the bathroom door, I catch her at the sink, washing her hands, spreading her fingers hands held flat above the water, washing again. “What’s the matter?” I ask. “Nothing,” she says, smiling and closing the door. “Nothing’s the matter.” Then, from inside: “Nothing, nothing, nothing’s the matter.”

The day after we arrived, I remember, I asked F if she thought we should cut our nails. A month later mine have hardly grown. F shrugs. Something in the water, she suggests. She won’t let me look at her nails. I am always up for inspection, F never is. Later, passing the bathroom door, I catch her at the sink, washing her hands; spreading her fingers, hands held flat above the water; washing again. What’s the matter? I ask. Nothing, F says, smiling and closing the door. Nothing’s the matter. Then, from inside: Nothing, nothing, nothing’s the matter.

Nothing will ever be the matter again.

chommie

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“the shop’s closed”

For today’s Guardian books podcast I read a little bit of The Course of the Heart, mined out of this section from Chapter One–

For twenty years he had lived in the same single room above the Atlantis Bookshop. He was reluctant to take me there, I could see, though it was only next door and I had been there before. At first he tried to pretend it would be difficult to get in.

“The shop’s closed,” he said. “We’d have to use the other door.”

Then he admitted:

“I can’t go back there for an hour or two. I did something last night that means it may not be safe.”

He grinned.

“You know the sort of thing I mean,” he said.

I couldn’t get him to explain further. The cuts on his wrists made me remember how panicky Pam and Lucas had been when I last spoke to them. All at once I was determined to see inside the room.

“We could always talk in the Museum,” I suggested.

Researching in the manuscript collection one afternoon a year before, he had turned a page of Jean de Wavrin’s Chroniques d’Angleterre–that oblique history no complete version of which is known–and come upon a miniature depicting in strange, unreal greens and blues the coronation procession of Richard Coeur de Lion.

Part of it had moved; which part, he would never say.

“Why, if it’s a coronation,” he had written almost plaintively to me at the time, “are these four men carrying a coffin ? And who is walking there under the awning–with the bishops yet not a bishop ?”

After that he had avoided the building as much as possible, though he could always see its tall iron railings at the end of the street. He had begun, he told me, to doubt the authenticity of some of the items in the medieval collection. In fact he was frightened of them.

“It would be quieter there,” I insisted.

He sat hunched over the Church Times, staring into the street with his hands clamped violently together in front of him. I could see him thinking.

“That fucking pile of shit!” he said eventually.

He got to his feet.

“Come on then. It’s probably cleared out by now anyway.”

Rain dripped from the blue-and-gold front of the Atlantis. There was a faded notice, CLOSED FOR COMPLETE REFURBISHMENT. The window display had been taken down, but for the look of things they had left a few books on a shelf. I could make out, through the plate glass, W B Yeats’ The Trembling of the Veil–with its lyrical plea for intuited ritual “Hodos Chameliontos” –leaning up against Rilke’s The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge. When I drew Yaxley’s attention to this accidental nexus, he only stared at me contemptuously.

Inside, the shop smelled of cut timber, new plaster, paint, but this gave way on the stairs to an odour of cooking. Yaxley fumbled with his key. His bedsitter, which was quite large and on the top floor, had uncurtained sash windows on opposing walls. Nevertheless it didn’t seem well lit. From one window you could see the sodden facades of Museum Street, bright green deposits on the ledges, stucco scrolls and garlands grey with pigeon dung; out of the other, part of the blackened clock tower of St George’s Bloomsbury, a reproduction of the tomb of Mausoleus lowering up against the racing clouds.

“I once heard that clock strike twenty one,” said Yaxley.

“I can believe that,” I said, though I didn’t. “Do you think I could have some tea ?”

He was silent for a minute. Then he laughed.

“I’m not going to help them,” he said. “You know that. I wouldn’t be allowed to. What you do in the Pleroma is irretrievable.”

He fished two cups out of a plastic washing-up bowl and put tea bags in them.

“Don’t tell me you’re frightened too!” he said. “I expected more from you.”

I shook my head. I wasn’t sure whether I was afraid or not. I’m not sure today. The tea, when it came, had a distinctly greasy aftertaste, as if somehow he had fried it. I made myself drink it while Yaxley watched me cynically.

“You ought to sit down,” he said. “You’re worn out.”

When I refused, he shrugged and went on as if we were still at the Tivoli:

“Nobody tricked them, or tried to pretend it would be easy. If you get anything out of an experiment like that, it’s by keeping your head and taking your chance. If you try to move cautiously, you may never be allowed to move at all.”

He looked thoughtful.

“I’ve seen what happens to people who lose their nerve.”

“I’m sure,” I said.

“They were hardly recognisable, some of them.”

I put the teacup down.

“I don’t want to know,” I said.

“I bet you don’t.”

He smiled to himself.

“Oh, they were still alive,” he said softly, “if that’s what you’re worried about.”

“You talked us into this,” I reminded him.

“You talked yourselves into it.”

Most of the light from Museum Street was absorbed as soon as it entered the room, by the dull green wallpaper and sticky-looking yellow veneer of the furniture. The rest leaked eventually into the litter on the floor, pages of crumpled and partly burned typescript, hair clippings, broken chalks which had been used the night before to draw something on the flaking lino: among this stuff, it died. Though I knew Yaxley was playing some sort of game with me, I couldn’t see what it was. I couldn’t make the effort, so in the end he had to make it for me. He waited until I got ready to leave.

“You’ll get sick of all this mess one day,” I said from the door of the bedsit.

He grinned and nodded and advised me:

“Have you ever seen Joan of Arc get down to pray in the ticket office at St Pancras ? And then a small boy comes in leading something that looks like a goat, and it gets on her there and then and fucks her in a ray of sunlight ?

“Come back when you know what you want. Get rid of Lucas Medlar, he’s an amateur. Bring the girl if you must.”

–It isn’t the best reading I ever did. But the interview that follows has its points.

what it really is

Lots of boxes remain unpacked. Mostly books. Lots of lists with nothing crossed off them, as in “finish painting”. Lots of room for improvement & no money. But apart from some problems with the bathroom plumbing & a recognition that we’d rather romanticised the state of the cellars, it’s been a curiously enjoyable move. I can’t quite believe I’ve been here two weeks. Nothing much has happened except for falling off the kitchen. The sense of transition was experienced at the other end, somehow; it was preemptive. I’ve always wanted to live somewhere old-fashioned, with a black & red tiled hall & a foxglove by the back door. & on the edge of fields & woods. Hawthorn. Dog rose. Weather. So in a way it’s like coming home. Also, I suspect, I’m being reminded of a house I lived in when I was too young to lay down anything that could now be called a memory, a big old terrace in the Midlands. I feel a growing relief to be away from London. But life has this eerie edge of dissociation too, because it really isn’t any of the above things–they’re approximations, metaphors, guesses, passing feelings–& as yet I have no idea what it really is.

welcome to the house of fun

My review of Steven King’s Joyland in the Guardian today.

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plant & proust

In the early 80s I stayed for a few weeks with some friends who lived in Ealing. The girlfriend of one of them was a fan of Robert Plant. She had dreams in which, returning to the flat after work, she discovered Robert Plant there, doing the ironing in his shorts; she also went flying and tobogganing with Robert Plant. In another dream she visited the house of a wealthy friend only to find her sister already there, trying to chain a muddy bicycle to a street lamp in the middle of the lounge. “You can’t leave your bike here!” She didn’t seem to like finding me in the kitchen, especially in the mornings, and later complained that I had been using her milk. Despite this, we exchanged letters for a while after I went back to Yorkshire. In one letter she quoted Proust quoting Wilde’s, “Before the Lake poets there were no fogs on the Thames.” I read this as “no frogs on the Thames”, which seemed even cleverer, if a bit of an overstatement. “Somebody I can’t remember,” I wrote in return, “described Proust as sitting in his own lukewarm bathwater occasionally tasting a handful of it.” She thought that unkind. “Sometimes he’s very good,” she said, then admitted, “but sometimes he reads like a middlingly successful 1970s fantasy writer trying to imitate Colette.” The only other thing I remember about that flat was the cheap plastic veneer lifting from the edges of the kitchen surfaces, which in some places made the drawers difficult to open and close.