the m john harrison blog

Month: April, 2016

This character wants connection with others, he’s just inept at choosing them. He’s led by his own passivity. He ends up on the edges of other people’s lives and relationships, drawn there by the obsessive-compulsive cycles of his own personality. His favourite pretence is that before the story began, before he met you, he had a life. He had momentum, which he lost through no fault of his own. We see right through that. It’s comically self-deceptive. He leans towards the normal, he’s optimistic he can achieve it: what he doesn’t seem to understand is that any context will satisfy him, however grotesque. If he’s lucky he can settle in a temporary unstable orbit around people who don’t need him for anything. He’s of no utility. He’s damaged goods. He’s the drowned man, the text’s corpse looking for somewhere to wash up.

(First published last June as “Any Port In a Storm”.)


IMG_0849This faintly disturbing object appeared on the garden table today. The possible alternatives being unthinkable, threatening and/or grotesque, we’re assuming it was dropped as part of the usual manna of sticks, cigarette butts, string and bits & pieces harder to identify, by a jackdaw. Or perhaps it’s the London Book Fair’s equivalent of the Black Spot, served for my failure to attend for the 40th year running. Other theories welcome, obviously.

Photo: Cath Phillips

coaching the modern game

Scene after scene in which writers try to squeeze life into affects they aren’t really interested in, to prop up characterisations the only purpose of which is to support the plot. In these passages of desperate over-writing, what you hear is the voice of an editor demanding motivation & relatability. But that’s not really what’s missing. What the editors don’t even really know that they want (because they have been coaching the modern game for so long they’ve lost, by erosion &/or denial, any knowledge of what makes character different from characterisation) is neither motivation nor relatability. It’s something–indeed anything–that bears the actual stamp of the human. No one at the book-doctoring level of the business has the slightest idea how to do that. They only feel the mysteriously complete loss of it at the heart of the produce-on-demand text. Still, I’d rather have generic formalism, however glib, outright, & Hitchcockian, than the equally-programmatic litfic/MFA version in which “emotional truth” is evoked as the basis of “strong storytelling” (ie, propping up a plot with affects you appear to have all the feels for).