the m john harrison blog

Month: April, 2014

it’s the new pictures: a spiel in medias res

He rang the bell three times & banged the doorknocker twice in the time it took me to get down from the top floor. “We’ve just had the new pictures done,” he said, as if we’d met previously, maybe in some pub, & discussed it all, & I’d asked him to let me know the moment they were ready. I had no idea what he was talking about. He stood bent at the neck a little, as if the doorway was too small for him & he had to peer under the lintel to look inside. He was dressed in a yellow short-sleeved shirt and he sounded a little like George Formby. He was in a rush. It was as if he had rushed to get here & now he was already rushing to get away. At the same time he was insistent. As soon as he saw I was 60-odd, he raised his voice a few decibels & shouted, “The pictures? The new pictures?” At this time I had not had a chance to speak. I had jogged down three flights of stairs at the end of the afternoon, which is not my best time, & I had left behind the last reasonably promising sentence of the day, the upshot of which I knew I would forget if someone encouraged me to take part in a conversation. “I’m sorry?” I said. “The pictures!” he shouted. “It’s the new aerial pictures! Of your house?” “Ah,” I said. “No thanks. Really.” He stood on the doorstep, acting as if I had forced him to look down under the lintel to get a glimpse of me. “Are you going to close the door in my face?” he shouted as I began to close the door. He was appealing not to me but to the street at large. When I got back upstairs I had forgotten not only the ending of the sentence but why I had been writing it in the first place. I was glad to be a man aged 60-odd, because if I had been a woman of that age he would not only have shouted at me as if I was deaf & stupid, he would have got a foot in the door & called me “petal”.


a day in the country

People with a European 4×4. People with an Asian 4×4. People with scarves. People who think they have a sense of direction. People wearing a complete outfit of rural fashion clothing– including identical oiled cotton jackets and hats– and carrying a peculiarly long kind of walking stick, who ask you if you’ve “been through the cattle” as if it’s a crime, or a rite, or the adventure of a lifetime. People with a “working dog” they can’t control. People who are telling each other as you pass, “Of course it’s still very Catholic round here.” People who, in the coming days, will have a wall knocked down in their Richmond home and find a great hoard of household rubbish–broken beds, cheap soiled mattresses, used unpaired shoes stuffed into plastic bags–which has been bricked in by a former owner, and for whom there will be no psychic upshot or metaphysical learning curve, only the end of the story. Or so you expect.

dredge II

This, from 2008–

You have to look at the major transitions of your life with a metaphor that makes aesthetic and emotional sense. That metaphor has to be waiting there in your unconscious to become available to you. You might be offered any number of public metaphors, but only the private one is of use.

What parts of the transition are you prepared to embrace ?

inadvertent prophecies

Shifnal, Ercall, Gnosall, Wergs. It’s all too Viriconium for me. If I hadn’t stolen those West Midlands place names in the 1970s, I wouldn’t be living surrounded by my own fictions now. “Be careful what you write,” Hilary Bailey once warned me, “in case it comes true.” Did I pay any attention then? No. Will I pay any now, even though I know she was right & that you are making some unpredictable, oblique, weirdly successful guess at your own future every time you write up a dream, or tinker with the implications of someone else’s relationships, or push their character until it falls over an edge you believe only you can see? No. But I might soft pedal a little on the kinds of objects people discover in a roof void last opened up during the Victorian period. & at least I never called anywhere Great Bolus.


Christina Scholz found the Light matchbox, @reventrope photoshopped it.

the view from miller

A record of several decades spent successfully deranging a willing audience, The Art of Ian Miller features all the images you remember & some you don’t–


And here’s Henry Farrell at Crooked Timber, talking about Ian’s strong vision of Mammy Vooley as a politically-exhausted Maggie Thatcher.

covering policies

British book covers are improving at last. But they could improve further. Bluemoose Books shows the way with this gorgeous example by Andrew Bannerman Bayles, who can be found here.

Beastings, by Ben Myers: available now from Bluemoose Books.

lug butter

I enjoyed this, so here it is again–

    Lug butter is retrieved by a new process, from the ears of drowning men. Lug butter: lardy, creamy & relaxed about being rich. Lug butter’s everywhere this season. It seeps out while you sleep. Interesting facts about lug butter: it was originally used to make crosses on top of Hot Cross Buns! What’s the better bit of butter that leaves everything looking new? Many answer, “Lug butter’s all we need to know.” Remember our slogan: “Guv loves lug butter.” We all eat lug butter. Eat lug butter now.

anti surrealism

The naive, the unconstructed, the accidental ghost. The ghost from the faded polaroid found in a shoebox of letters from someone else’s life. Things that might not be there; things that have no existence other than possibly not being there; things that can only have your attention drawn to them. Reading should be as close as possible to discovering those letters and seeing something in them that might not be there. The writer should offer the shoebox, or better still the stall at the flea market on which the shoebox might be found. I’m not interested in any other way of writing anyway.