the m john harrison blog

Month: June, 2020

the retreat to metaphor

I thought I might describe every single step of this staircase, every crack, flaw and grain in the oak as if it were a landscape. But if I can’t describe what’s outside the window–the way the winter sunshine falls on houses half a mile away while the High Street lies in shadow–how can I attempt something that much more complex? Close up, as far as language is concerned, the stairs exist off the edge of resolution. I continue to be an observer who was never much good at observation, stuck with a means of communication which can’t carry enough information. No wonder there’s this constant retreat to metaphor. The attempt to push through into something else is always a failed attempt to be in the real.

Originally posted 2014, as “I would give you the world if I could”

we are not here at all

1. Pinkish and surrounded by brand new wire netting, the surface of the tennis court is already sinking into the mud, so that the drainage channels around it, which are still to be filled in, look more like the remains of a half-hearted rescue attempt.
2. Someone has scratched the mileage off the nearby road signs, as if to hide the town or perhaps deny its existence. Self-abnegation, a complex act of defiance: we are not here for you. We are not here at all. 3. Looking through the lacework of a broken wall you see a man standing in the sun at a baking road junction, holding a pane of glass which has broken directly across, half in each hand, while he stares emptily into the distance through the heavy summer traffic. A woman with a buggy stands near him but ignores him. She might be with him or not.
4. Complete the following sentences: (a) They had once been nice little houses, half-timbered and with tall, elegant, steeply-pitched roofs. Now, trapped between the sewage works and the railway line, they… (b) New build was going up all around them. Soon they would be encysted. People would look at their Queen Anne chimneys and wonder what things had been like before…

Originally posted 2011

opening for an unwritten story

For maybe five decades, maybe more, I didn’t want my life to be what it was. It was perfectly ordinary but I didn’t want to be in it. I found escape routes from some of it in writing and climbing; I developed a bad memory to deal with the rest. Only now, after I’ve spent a few years in a life I want, do I see what an odd admission that is to make. People seem quite horrified by it; but I wouldn’t want to live among people who aren’t. How do you write about a life like that, legacy of your own poor management of childhood & adolescence, except veiled in concepts such as “haunting”, “navigation failure” or ”behaviour after a disaster”? I wouldn’t know where to begin. Living is the endless discovery that you’re weirder than you thought, & you’ll never retrieve any of it except via the metaphors you’ve had all along. That seems to have been the advantage of genre fiction for me.

Sure, sex is ok. & Viriconium’s fine–

–But this dog knows where things are really at. The new novel at your trusted outlets from June 25th.


Photo: Will O’Mullane