the m john harrison blog

Month: October, 2020

visions two

There are still a few copies left of Mathieu Triay’s beautifully-produced VISIONS 2. In the first issue of the magazine, link-pieces between the themed stories were provided by an AI. For VISIONS 2, I attempted to do the same job, using only a goose quill and ink I made from an old family recipe. How I fared compared to the machine, you’ll have to decide for yourself. The ten microfictional fragments add up, eventually, to a single piece, complementing the other fiction & nonfiction in the magazine.


as if by magic

Magic, communal imaginative baptism and immersive storytelling will explain, solve and salve everything in a life. One thing I look forward to after the virus is the collapse of that complex of ideas–if only because the rediscovery of the real may, paradoxically, by sidelining acts of imagination, reinvigorate and repurpose them. For forty years or so, fantasy made itself the frame through which everything else was visualised and organised. It became the uncontested lingua franca of economics, advertising, media, corporate environmental exploitation and politics; it informed the edutainment of the toddlers who grew into the conspiracy theorists who are now helping to dissolve civil society. It led to the pure Randista-manipulated fantasy in which we’re condemned to live. A bit of fantasy makes life bearable; it can be helpful in making metaphors; but once it becomes your explanatory framework, you are addicted. One narrative’s too many, a million aren’t enough. Someone’s always out there with the Unicorn Brand ice cream van, waiting to take your money and top you up. You’d think that imaginative writers were ideally placed to identify and engage this abuse of their metier–reaffirm and strengthen the distinction between the real and the fantastic to the benefit of both–but somehow they don’t.

“Every newly empowered demographic selects its typical physiology and body-language, the phenotype which will do best under the new conditions. Everyone is sensitised, nervous, ready to take advantage or regret that their own faces don’t fit. For a few weeks, as he settled into his new surroundings, Shaw wandered an uncanny valley filled with bad suits, Edwardian-looking overcoats, sudden gurning smiles and a cheerful vigour which contested with rubbery, fishlike faces and curious hand-movements. It was like living among aliens.” —The Sunken Land Begins To Rise Again.

With fellow Goldsmiths Prize shortlistee Monique Roffey, this time last year at the XR Writers Rebel event in Trafalgar Square–

the news

2020 Goldsmiths Prize shortlist. I’m delighted to find myself on it with The Sunken Land Begins To Rise Again, in the company of such inventive & exciting novelists; & I’m going to need to thank a lot of people, starting with everyone who’s supported me here over the last decade or so. You know who you are. It’s been an eerie, transitional period for me as a writer. I don’t see an end to that now, because–whatever the New Statesman says in its oddly snobbish age- and genre-obsessed announcement–I feel more like a twenty five year old than I did when I was twenty five. The Sunken Land has its own page, here, and you can buy it from all your trusted outlets. Look out for further reviews–including Nina Allan in the LARB & one from the TLS. And news of a new book.

searching under the streetlamp

We can’t help wondering: is the amateur detective rehearsing her own life or actually using it as a model for the crime? Who is she keeping things from–us, or herself? What does she know that she isn’t telling? What doesn’t she know she knows? Is some loop of the epistemic bowel about to split and deluge not just the reader but the narrator? From the off there’s nothing solid here, except a piece of paper with some writing on it, found in the woods while the dog is walked. It could be evidence of something. In and of itself, it isn’t evidence of anything: it’s less than hearsay, it has no provable connection so far to anything in the world. Exactly as it is, with its constant slippage between imaginary events and misinterpretations of real ones–all the delusional threats (the bland police officer, the storekeeper with the shot-up face), the nightmares, the odd behaviour that isn’t–Ottessa Moshfegh’s blackly comic examination of the detective story would make a superb Netflix series. The detective is in her eighties. She never gets further than a quarter of a mile into the pinewoods before a shortness of breath sets in. She suspects an allergen. We suspect some kind of innate oppressiveness, external or internal–the blanket mood of a streaming thriller, French, in which the trees mean something but you’re not sure what because you don’t quite feel you can trust whoever translated the subtitles. I loved it. My review of Death In Her Hands at the TLS, on paper or online here (£).

rue belle image

I crossed the Loire at Pont Aristide Briand & walked downstream. The water was muddy & tidal-looking. I saw an old fashioned boat, painted white. I saw a magpie fly up into a tree. I looked into the sunlight where it dissolved the Rue Alain Barbe Torte & made the world seem both ended & endless. There were yellow leaves everywhere. I felt free. I felt like 1948 in my denim jacket, ready to write what I saw. I saw the neat cobbles & the little cars & the neat French all around. I crossed back by the new metal footbridge. By the river the sun was all over the wet morning air; but in the town the streets were dark and chilly. I walked down the Rue d’Alger to Notre Dame de Son Port, a church with an impressive dome. I observed that there is a lot of dog shit in Nantes, much of it of distinct colours, brick red, yellow ochre, autumn tints. A whole street smelled of petrol. Every street I looked down seemed more interesting than the one I was on. I looked up at the sign “Rue Belle Image” & thought of you. Eventually I entered a cul de sac, with fallen-down walls and buildings that leaned in towards one another, which narrowed to an alley. A cat came out on to the cobbles in the sun to say hello. 10:30 am next morning, it was fog. The aeroplane spent some time waddling to and fro across the airfield like a pregnant duck. We might have been in Britain already: the fields, the little copses brown with autumn and soaked with dew. Finally the duck lurches upwards and the fog proves to be a thin, Atlantic layer. It sprays off the wing like water from a car tyre. We’re in the light that awaits everyone, the real weather of the world.

People strive to preserve the truth of the observed experience, but that’s what locks the material away from you.

a little news

Upcoming this month: reviews in the TLS (Ottessa Moshfegh’s blackly comic meta-mystery Death in Her Hands) and the Guardian (Stuart Turton’s maritime gothic detective romp The Devil and the Dark Water); an appearance on Henry Rothwell’s fascinating Grave Goods, in which I claim I would be happy to walk sandstone heath for eternity, eating humous & pitta; in online conversation with Gary Budden under the auspices of the mighty Housmans bookshop; in online conversation with La Enriquez for FILBA 2020. I updated this. Sure, the 1970s were fun, but for those who prefer to know what I’m writing now, “Doe Lea” is still free to read at Granta.

& here’s a super-short story I wrote for twitter: “George has been known since 1949 for his fascinating stories of rats eating peoples’ faces, so it seems odd to talk about any other concern he might have.”