the m john harrison blog

Month: January, 2015

involuntary memoir

Boxing day we walked along Stanage Edge, sat eating cheese and lettuce sandwiches in the cold wind and clag. I kept trying to remember the names of the climbs either side of Quietus: failed. That was odd. They weren’t even on the tip of my tongue. I’ve sat under Stanage so many times in the sunshine, trembling from the usual incompetent five-minute adventure and thinking, “I’ll never forget this.” I suppose I haven’t. Still hope I’ll get my ashes scattered there. I could feel snow in the wind but it didn’t fall until later, when we were back in Sheffield. Cheese sandwich, the gritstone madeleine. It was like returning to an old life, but as some other, less convincing person. I miss an identity so clearly defined.

the absent detective

Strange to be researching Barnes, from a distance, for a novel that seemed impossible to write while you were there. Still, those are the breaks. Or at any rate, the abandoned graveyards, pop cultural sites and tales of dismembered murderees. Also I feel a bit too like the central character of this. Author as absentDSCF7362detective. In fact it occurs to me that the point of view carefully delineated in that story, which tries to present its back to (put itself at an equal distance from) every kind of human event, is precisely what made the new novel impossible to write. I went up an alley in the first half of the last decade and then spent far too much time trying to minutely describe the wall I found at the end of it. But what’s new.

Photo: Cath Phillips, 2013


Flowers beneath the surface of a moorland pond. Images a little dulled, star shape, white with just a hint of yellow. A stillness–a brittleness, you suspect–that makes them look as if they’ve been turned to stone by some process which has left them more not less fragile than when they were above the surface. Were they ever above it? I have no idea. Is there some flower that blooms beneath water, 1400 feet up, in Britain in a mild winter? They have their leaves. Except for this curious preservation, except for the incongruity of their position five inches below the perfect cold surface, they look quite ordinary, like any flower in summer. What am I looking at? Does anyone know? Does anyone know if I’m here, or if perhaps I’m down there too, six months preserved or alternatively still alive?

I think I might just repeat this once a year now–

Don’t fauxthenticate. Don’t make a text that begs, “Believe in this, please believe in this.” Rationale is the sound of the stuffing falling out, the sound of the failure of imaginative intensity. This doesn’t build a world: it acts by being present. Whatever is in it is not rationally excused or cognitively substantiated: it is present to the viewer, it is itself.


New Year’s Day. Things are still slow. People walk past coughing. We have almost as many haunted daytime coughs in this town as we have inarticulate cries after dark. When we aren’t making animal noises we’re coughing ourselves to death. It’s eerie but not for the usual reasons. It’s eerie but not at all threatening. “I’ll have another drink now,” I heard someone say musingly this dinnertime, as he turned off suddenly into the open doorway of the workingmen’s club. “You be sure and have one for me, now,” said the woman with him, and shot forward up the High Street as if released from his gravity. (It was rocket science, the mutually accelerating dance of planetary bodies, or at any rate bodies. She was young enough to be his granddaughter, old enough to keep an eye out for him then move off smoothly, with a little added velocity, on adult business of her own.) When she had gone, he came back out to let his cough off the lead for a minute or two, a New Year’s allowance of the sort you might make your small rough dog. It was a cough that knew its way up and down the street, to the workingmen’s club and back, blindfold. “Orright?” he asked me from somewhere in the background of himself, giving me the kind but impartial Midlands smile. “Orright,” I was able to reply. It wasn’t a bad effort and I was pleased with it. I went home and noted: Only ever write when you have something worth writing. Write short stories because you want to. Write short novels because that’s what you want. Always defer or deny closure. Always break the structure. Always undermine or contradict the rationale. Always refuse a conceptually interpretable or comfortable ending. I thought for a bit and then added: You can offer resolution but only at another level. Then, finally: Keep saying no.