the m john harrison blog

Month: May, 2018


insects, lawnmowers, dogs. hot cars on the rolling road, running up to 5000rpm then going abruptly off the cliff’s edge into silence. “How do!” “How do!” “How do!” in the street. hot cars in the street, rumbling & banging on the over-run as they square up for the roundabout. the rag & bone man’s cry, which isn’t a cry at all but a four-note bugle call slowed to a gurgle by some kind of ancient ice cream van sound system and which I have been failing to write this five years. sun on the lawn. baked walls. sun in the street. beyonce in hot cars. washing machines that grind away as if at stones. light aircraft nauseously repeat the same pattern across the breadth of this May afternoon. flashes of light from windscreens. “How do!” at the greengrocer’s. “How do!” outside the pub. None of these things are happening in memories from being eight years old except one–light flashing off shallow rippling water in partial roadside shade–and yet they somehow all are.


the shape of the ruins

Bombings, shootings, riots, betrayal, misrepresentation, theft of evidence and, above all, conspiracy: Juan Gabriel Vasquez’s novel The Shape of the Ruins (translated by Anne McLean) contains in 500 pages more plot, more mystery, more action than five ordinary novels. The events it confronts are so complex–so chaotic–that it can’t, in a sense, be reviewed: the only true way to review the Uribe and Gaitan killings, in their national, historical and literary setting, would be to study for a decade or two, then write a further 500 page overview, which would include all the previous views on which Vasquez draws. The reviewer would, in fact–and this is perhaps Vasquez’s point–have to give in to the paranoid, Borgesian terraced-reality of it all, and begin the lonely, obsessive and probably fruitless process of rearranging what Vasquez memorably calls “stickers in a football album”. Evidently there wasn’t time to do that. So here’s my review of the novel, as a deeply enjoyable novel rather than a historical, political or criminal investigation, in the Guardian…

a recent history of bread

In the light of recent events in Edinburgh, it might be worth repeating this:

First the corporate bakers replace bread with a packaged, highly uniform item based on the cheapest ingredients and most cost-efficient production methods. By comparison, old fashioned bread is too slow, too difficult to make; it has a shorter shelf life and can be shown to appeal to fewer customers: they drop it from their repertoire, on the basis of the fall in demand they themselves have stimulated. As a result, perhaps a generation later, there begins to be seen a minor but discernible movement in the population itself towards “real” bread, generally defined as “wholemeal”; a bread which, though it is slower to make and harder to store, has all the qualities manufactured bread now lacks–taste, texture, substance & so on. The corporate bakers ignore this “new” bread until it begins to win publicity & shelf-space, at which point they claim that its entire raison d’etre is baseless: their product adheres fully to the regulations that define bread; it is just as good, just as wholesome, nutritious and fulfilling to eat; and anyway, people prefer its qualities of softness, reproducibility and long shelf-life. They commission advertising around these points. They commission nostalgia advertising. The wholemeal market, though still small, continues to grow. The corporate bakers commission cultural attack advertising, which shows ordinary, decent voters trying to make fish-finger-&-tomato-sauce sandwiches with “difficult” & foreign breads. But while these ads are comedy & rhetorical gold, and work well with the confirmation biases of eighty percent of the bread market, it’s now clear to corporate accountancy that there is in fact money to be made from the other twenty percent. Achieving by political lobby a change in the rules that define the notion of “wholemeal” which allows them to make a cheap, long-life, soft-feel imitation and still call it “real bread”, the corporates begin their move back into the slice of the market they voluntarily vacated a generation before, publicly condemning the “crushing consistency” of their own core product and tempting wholemeal experts away from their start-ups to design & package lines of the new real bread they will move through locally branded outlets set up on the sites of the old high street bakeries. Equilibrium returns. Everyone is safe.

Originally blogged in March last year.

edge hill

You Should Come With Me Now has been longlisted for The 2018 Edge Hill Prize. This is quite an extraordinary thing.

Congratulations to everyone on the list: Kelly Creighton – Bank Holiday Hurricane (Doire Press); Agnieszka Dale – Fox Season (Jantar Publishing); Lucy Durneen – Wild Gestures (MidnightSun Publishing); Tessa Hadley – Bad Dreams (Penguin); Sarah Hall – Madame Zero (Faber & Faber); David Hayden — Darker with the Lights On (Little Island Press); James Kelman – That was a Shiver (Canongate); Alison MacLeod – All the Beloved Ghosts (Bloomsbury); Sean O’Reilly – Levitation (Stinging Fly Press); Adam O’Riordan – The Burning Ground (Bloomsbury); Tom Rachman – Basket Of Deplorables (Riverrun); Leone Ross – Come Let us Sing Anyway (Peepal Tree Press); Nicholas Royle – Ornithology (Confingo); Eley Williams – Attrib (Influx Press). So many small press & independent books here: beautifully & honestly made, beautifully packaged, covers you’d kill for!

Thanks to everyone–including Edge Hill–who has supported & worked on behalf of the short story as a form. Thanks to everyone who supported YSCWMN despite its unlikelihood as a publishing proposition, especially everyone at Comma Press; and to everyone supporting further adventures of mine in these kinds of directions. Sorry I’m not here much at the moment: I’m working hard on the new novel. Stay tuned for further news, & for news about an outrageous, exciting & purely unexpected new project.

You Should Come With Me Now