the m john harrison blog

Month: January, 2020

how late is yr train

London by train: that metaphysical condition or stupid limbo which sucks in your life and jellies it and doesn’t get you anywhere, even if you fetch up somewhere in the end–late, full of rage, depressed, encircled by people whose casual shoes cost more than your car. Then the same meeting as you’ve been having the last forty or fifty years, at which you learn that nothing is possible. You’ll wish you never came. Still, you made your choices long ago. You rediscover that by the end of day. You come out the other side. You decide to cope. You even see the advantages–which means you can begin to maximise them, or so you hope. At Euston station you look up at the How Late Is Your Train indicator. The thing is, you tell yourself, not to wait too long. Wait too long and eventually, if you aren’t careful, you’re going to end up looking really quite threadbare.

Originally blogged late 2015.

hide & go seek

Learn to exactly mimic having written a story, an ageing science fiction hack once advised me: then learn to write a story in a way that exactly mimics having written a different one. Write each separate sentence, paragraph & chapter of every book as if they’re mimicking some other sentence, paragraph or chapter. Soon there’s this odd, constant sense of implication in the text. It seems loaded. It seems like the alienated echo of something else. That something else is your gift to the reader. Your gift to the reader isn’t a lot of words. It’s to have a grasp of syntax & inflexion that lets you load more into the text than it seems to be able to accomodate. He’s dead now of course, his books passed over as ragtime & illiterate, but I’ve taken up where he left off.

Originally blogged as paragraph from a manuscript found in room 121, the Ambiente Hotel, 2012


For a moment, in Blanes, on the Costa Brava, Rob Doyle entertains the idea that the mysterious writer who set out on the Roberto Bolano Literary Trail before him might actually be himself, “a double, flickering in some eerie glitch in the space-time continuum”; or perhaps “an emissary from the future, seeking to warn me of danger”. But then he decides it’s perhaps only John Banville, Anne Enright or Roddy Doyle, “fleeing whatever demons tormented them”. In the end, in fact, it turns out to be someone with the fantastical name of “Turtle Bunbury”. Between outings like this one, he considers suicide. But the only painless method, he concludes, would be to shoot himself in the head, and the only place he could easily come by a gun would be America, a country he will never, ever live in again. “I would rather kill myself.” Prime stand-up from Doyle’s new book.
DSC00381 My review of Threshold in the Guardian.


Always look for a way to express a thing, not sum it up glibly in a couple of words and then smile and mic drop as if labelling it that way has dealt with it. My whole life, genre seems to have been committed to the latter, especially in the conversation about itself, especially in its encounters with human behaviour and perception, and especially if it can imply that to express a thing is to repeat a trope. The struggle should always be to say–to distinguish an experience from all the other experiences that might, to the reader, or to another writer, seem similar; not to encapsulate–and thereby categorise–and move along.