the m john harrison blog

Category: appearances

october

Always a disjointed time of year. Sometimes charming, sometimes ugly. Two and a half chapters remaining of the new novel to write–should be finished around Christmas. All downhill but still no title, although I expect to find one at the last minute. That will be an adventure. Also, “What kind of book is this going to be?” you ask. Reader, I have no idea, nor want one. Maybe it’s a romance. Maybe it’s Weird. Maybe it’s set now. It’s certainly got some peculiar stuff in it. The one rule–written in “spidery” handwriting in red Muji 0.5mm and placed on the desk next to my inspirational Jenny Holtzer postcard, WORDS TEND TO BE INADEQUATE–was “flatten it off”. It’s odd, sad, oppressive, disturbing. It’s strange, but not in Aickman’s sense; maybe a touch eerie, but not necessarily in Mark Fisher’s sense. It’s sly. If you’ve spent time here you’ll know what to expect.

Speaking of which I’m off to Sheffield tomorrow to read some of the previously unperformed blog pieces you chose for my part in Tim Etchells’ Strong Language project, alongside Vlatka Horvat and Courttia Newland. So thanks everyone who put forward their choices for that.

After that, on Wednesday 24th October, I have another gig in Sheffield’s Off the Shelf festival, this time with the revered Iain Sinclair. We’ll be introduced by my friend & climbing partner, physicist Richard Jones.

If you’re new here, why not skim the bio or dip in at random; or if you feel like something longer & more involving, well, obviously, You Should Come With Me Now

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catch up

A few things to look & listen out for:

Twenty Questions author questionnaire up at the TLS today (usual glib & shallow responses on my part). & a nice review from Guy Salvidge here.

On the 24th November, Friday, also at the TLS, a reprint of the short story “The Crisis”, so if you’d like a taster before you buy YOU SHOULD COME WITH ME NOW, and you’d like to support stubbornly high quality literary journalism in a turbulent era, buy a copy. “The Crisis” is a story so full of rage that reading it to an audience in 2015 gave me a small heart attack. You can find a celebration of the consequences of this event in the collection, under the title “Yummie”. What more can you ask of an author in the line of duty?

Also out now, the Guardian Books Podcast, on which you can catch me talking to Richard Lea, who deftly structured his questions round some flash fiction readings.

Speaking of readings, if you aren’t able to attend an event (or if you’re afraid to in case I have another heart attack), you can get some idea of how they go, here, under the auspices of the Northern Fiction Alliance.

A couple of additional gigs are being organised, one in Liverpool, no details yet; and one in Sheffield in January, see here, which will be a conversation with Richard Jones covering everything from physics in Light to bite-size character-building adventures on rainy gritstone. The Sheffield extravaganza is at DINA, a venue which used to be known as The Stardust Bar: this is so Empty Space that I expect to find a deserted corniche, a string of disused beachfront operations, a wooden door banging in the wind, and three old men in white flat caps playing dice for what you & I might call the fate of the universe–

Meanwhile, Irene the mona stared out the portholes and marvelled at all the wonders of space, and you could hear her say:

“Don’t you know, Fat Antoyne, that three old men in white caps throw dice for the fate of the universe ?”

No, Fat Antoyne said, he had never heard that.

“Their names are Kokey Food, Mr Freedom and The Saint. Another thing: these three play not just for the universe’s fate, but the individual fates of every person in it.” They threw the dice, of which, she said, there were a different number according to the day they played on, and at every throw they would say something in a ritual way, such as “Heads over ends!” or “Trent douce” or “Down your side, baby!”, sometimes speaking singly and sometimes all together. One or all of them would clap their hands sarcastically, or blow on their fingers to indicate scorching. Or two of them would smirk at the third and say, “You fucked now, sonny,” which at least could be understood by a normal person.

“So you’ve seen these dice guys ?” Antoyne enquired.

“In dreams I have, Fat Antoyne, yes. And when I say that, you need to stop looking at me, in your precise way you’re about to laugh at me. Because a dream is a kind of truth too.” Antoyne laughed at that, and she pushed him off the bed. “They pay and they play, Fat Antoyne. And if they ever stop ? Why, their faces slacken and crumple. And those old men weep.”

from empty space to stanage edge

I’ve got two slots at Edge Lit in July, it seems. For the GoH “speech” I’ll read a new story & maybe answer questions about the forthcoming short story collection & the novel in progress. For the other one, an item on writing landscape, I’ll probably do something like this–

Landscape in fiction is never just background, or you’re wasting your opportunities. Let the landscape do as much of the work of informing the reader of your intentions as possible. Entangle your ideas & meanings with the setting. Fold them into one another.

Empty Space: the Funene Golden Hour, a landscape derived from photography of the Namib coast. Ad-image pseudo-sublime. What is the difference between awe & oh wow? The reification of an aesthetic judgement, a play on the use of the term “landscape porn”. Woven into the trilogy’s general position on neoLiberal postindustrial spectacle–the transformation of real sites into sites of public art, ie leisure heritage.

Climbers: “The moment you step into a landscape it becomes another one.” But also, the gritsone edges as a kinaesthetic abacus on which you “tell” your life. To what degree–& in how many lives–has Stanage served that purpose–emotional touchstone or pivot, hermitage, site of psycho-addiction sought out at points in your life, abandoned at others–but also the sense that the gritstone landscape can in some unforgiving way abandon you & you may never be allowed to go back…

Come prepared to ask: What’s the difference, then, between a real landscape & a fictional one? & its various obvious corollaries.

a good day @ the litfest

Stoke Newington was as weird as ever, but a bit livelier than this. Late on in the afternoon there was some kind of demonstration by children, with whistles, which looked as if it had been organised remotely from a 1940s dystopia (ie, a real one, not some contemporary wank to make the narcissistic target audience feel even more central to everything so they’ll buy the book). At one point I imagined a conga line of women dressed very successfully as Edith Sitwell 1938 passing the beer tent, winding around for a bit, then leaving the way they had come; or that might have been real. Lots of sexual challenge & side-eye there, & let’s face it some very direct looks too. Anyway, in addition I met, as you do, many people I only know from Twitter or email, & was stunned–as one always is–by how real and nice they were, including the dedicated Andy Miller (already looking forward to his Springsteen concert) & one other (they know who they are); much of the Influx Press Lot inc the emergent Kit Caless the redoubtable Gary Budden the spritely Gareth Rees; my as-it-were cohort from the Unreliable Guide to London, Yvette Edwards, Courttia Newlands & never forgetting the steely-eyed Giant Rat of Sumatra, with whom I was able to celebrate briefly the Brent Confluence. The men’s loo had two stalls, labelled 24 & 25. I wondered what had happened to the other twenty three, not to say 26 & on. There could never have been space for them there, so they must be distributed through the building or the continuum, perhaps at random, a kind of concertina of lavatories stretching across empty space etc. After that C & I strolled back across the marshes in the gentle evening warmth etc etc to Walthamstow with Julian Richards & Lara Pawson–whose soon-to-be-available new book is a crushingly honest memoir of war, war correspondence & personal mayhem, This Is the Place to Be, from CB Editions, buy it–to have dinner at their place with Will Eaves and Charles Boyle, two of the most intelligent & entertaining men in publishing as presently constituted.

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I’ll be reading from my contribution to An Unreliable Guide, chatting about never knowing where I am in London & probably asking the audience how I get home, at Stoke Newington LitFest, get your tickets here etc.

october is the weirdest month

17th October I’m at Goldsmiths with Tim Etchells & many another, for the Fiction As Method conference. If time allows I might read a new short fiction presently entitled “Yummie”, written for 2016 publication in an original anthology I’m not sure I’m supposed to talk about yet (story of my life this year). Tim will probably have something more sensible to contribute, which we can then discuss. A week later, on the 25th, I’m back at the uncanny Manchester Rylands Library for Twisted Tales of the Weird–readings & discussions with Timothy Jarvis & the eerie Helen Marshall. What is the weird (& how much longer can it support itself as a category)? You can be sure none of us know the answer to that. Time will be more constrained at the Rylands, so you’ll have to be content with a few hundred words from the novel in progress.

Both events are free but ticketed: order now to be certain of satisfaction.

an irregular event

Reading “The Crisis” last Thursday at Irregular Evenings 2, a hidden venue deep in the religio-industrial complex of Stoke Newington, ably organised by Vlatka Horvat and Tim Etchells. Jonathan Burrows and Matteo Fargion were a hard act to follow. A great, mixed audience which included everyone from the #LossLit team to Michael Caines of the TLS and Canongate co-founder Whitney McVeigh. The evening was notable in another way for me, but more of that someB_Xmq6KWYAE2FMOother time. If you couldn’t be there for reasons of because, you can still catch the Warwick University audio of the original reading, online here. It looks as if “The Crisis” will have its first print outing in the short story collection–tentatively entitled Found & Lost–which is working its way up the femoral artery and into publishing’s dark heart etc etc even as we speak. News of that very soon, I hope.

Photo: Aki Schilz.

a difficult time for everyone

If you’re in London on the evening of the 5th March & you’d like to hear me reading “The Crisis”, leave an email address here, or DM me at @mjohnharrison on Twitter–

Adolescence. West London. You always believed a hidden war was being fought, a war nobody would ever admit to. Lay awake at night, listening to bursts of corporate fireworks that seemed too aggressive to be anything other than a small arms exchange; while by day, ground-attack helicopters clattered suddenly and purposively along the curve of the Thames towards Heathrow. You held your breath in moments of prolonged suspense, imagining the smoke trails of rockets launched from the bed of a builder’s pickup in Richmond or Kingston. These fantasy-engagements, asymmetric and furtive, a kind of secret, personalised Middle East, left you as exhausted as masturbation. There was something narcissistic about them. A decade later, everyone was able to feel a similar confused excitement. With the coming of the iGhetti, everyone had a story to tell but no one could be sure what it was. Information was so hard to come by. Between anecdotal evidence and the spectacular misdirections of the news cycle lay gulfs of supposition, fear, and denial. People didn’t know how to act. One minute they heard the guns, the next they were assured that nothing was happening. One day they were panicking and leaving the city in numbers, the next they were returning but rumour had convinced them to throw their tablet computers in the river. The thing they feared most was contagion. They locked their doors. They severed their broadband connections and tanked their cellars. They avoided a growing list of foods. They clustered round a smartphone every summer evening after dark, eavesdropping on the comings and goings of the local militas as they scoured the railway banks and canalsides for telltale astral jelly. Were the iGhetti here or not? It was a difficult time for everyone.

curiouser & curiouser

Poor souls blundered helplessly around in the remains of their lives in the atrium of Manchester John Rylands Library yesterday evening. It was a curious tale, indeed it was two of them. The Rylands would be a fantastic place to read anything, let alone a ghost story. Spotted in the audience: John Coulthart & the fabled Michael Butterworth. Nick Royle took this picture in the modern annexe afterwards–B5KeYHLIUAAfHqu-1Left to right: Alison Moore, Tom Fletcher, Beth Ward & AN Other. Curious Tales: Poor Souls’ Light.

news, various

Gollancz have produced some exciting packages for their three remaining reprints from my backlist, The Course of the Heart, Signs of Life and Things That Never Happen: these covers acknowledge & echo the textuality of the texts, and remind me very much of the fatal book in “The Gift”. I went to see them on a dark wet December afternoon in London: they lit it up. More on that soon.

Meanwhile, the new short story collection has emerged relatively unscathed from its beta read (thanks to Sara Sarre, Julian Richards, Mic Cheetham and Nina Allan). I’ll be tinkering with it for a while yet–and titling has become the usual nightmare. I see no rush. Soon I’ll blog a full contents list, including the flash fiction, most of which appeared here. (Thanks for everyone’s help on that.) Previously unpublished stories include “The Crisis” which you may have heard me read at Warwick U or at Totleigh Barton; “The Old Fox”, so technical & emotionally citrus it gives me toothache to read it now; the final Viriconium story, “Crome”; and others. Previously published stories that may have been off your radar include: “Entertaining Angels Unawares” and “Cicisbeo”. A story that won’t be reprinted in this collection, or anywhere else, is “The 4th Domain”, which will only ever be available in that form as a Kindle Single: so buy one now (etc etc).

Speaking of Viriconium, it’s nice to have Eric Germani’s exhaustive study, “The Killing Bottle”, here (useful for anyone taking Warwick U’s F/SF course); I’m very much looking forward to his forthcoming analysis of Light. I suspect my tribute to Forced Entertainment is now up among all the other 365s, at the FE site; I was late, mea culpa. The Poor Souls’ Light anthology of original Christmas ghost stories is mailing as I speak, but I think there may be some copies left if you haven’t yet ordered; I’ll be at Birmingham College of Art next Friday (12th), reading from my contribution, “Animals”, alongside Alison Moore and Jenn Ashworth. There is other news, but I am deliberately keeping it from you–partly in case nothing comes of it & partly because I am such a tart.