the m john harrison blog

Category: short stories

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.”

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end state

Obviously there should be a place in every town–it’s dark, there’s a steep street, cobbles and shadows; then a corner; a flight of steps, perhaps two; then a single street lamp!–where people are drawn some nights of the year to hear this music played. It’s quite separate from its contemporary origins. You can forget them. You aren’t a child, you can perfectly well strip them away. When you stand there you will. Because it will be repurposing itself in front of you, or–more likely–revealing some purpose it had before there were people, or even the bandoneon, if you can imagine anything that distant. I’m not promising you this–I’m not promising anything–but that’s where it promises itself, and you would be a fool not to go there, however long it takes, & see.

You Should Come With Me Now

update: you should come with me now

YSCWMN is now in galleys, ready to be pimped up for concourse d’elegance day, which will be sometime at the beginning of October. It’s a strange bit of work, short fiction wrapped in shorter fictions, developing all the usual themes, for instance grimness, grimness and grimness. I wouldn’t call it a collection if I could think of a name for something with dimension-&-a-half between a collection and a novel. I mean: it’s a book. So we have some readings and bookshop events arranged–including a conversation at Housmans in London with Lara Pawson, shortlisted for this year’s Gordon Burn Prize for her extraordinary anti-memoir This Is The Place To Be–who in her other career interviewed weirder & more interesting people than me. Readings will include an evening at Warwick U, an institution which kindly adopted me a year or so ago, with perhaps a visit from a known Tsar of the Weird. Meanwhile I’m looking forward to the cover draft, and cover copy that will feature quotes from real writers Will Eaves, Olivia Laing and Rob Macfarlane, endorsements so persuasive that I would buy the book myself if I didn’t already know what was in it. Updates here, at Comma Press & on Twitter, @mjohnharrison, @commapress.

some news

My new collection will be published later this year by Comma Press. It’s taken a while to get this sorted, and I want to thank everyone involved–also apologise to everyone else for the wait. Details as they arrive, here and from the Comma team. The book features eighteen short stories–five of which are original, unpublished & unavailable anywhere else and a further half dozen that will be new to most readers–and some flash fiction, much of which will be recognisable to habitues of the Ambiente Hotel. Contents include: a distributed sword & sorcery trilogy; two or three full-size sci-fi novels, one of which is two sentences and forty eight words long (fifty if you count the title); several visits to Autotelia, some that identify as such and some that don’t; and two final dispatches from Viriconium, neither of which would get house-room in an anthology of epic fantasy.

More details here.

The bedlam on the roof at ten past seven this morning reminded me of this–

Aliens arrive on Earth after a long journey, only to find that humanity has died out. They’ve never used writing or paper, so they don’t get books; they’ve never stored data digitally, so they don’t get computers. They recycle the books for fuel & the internet servers for chemicals. But their own typical data storage system looks & acts very much like a jackdaw, so they value the jackdaws & put them in beautiful jackdaw-friendly environments & spend the next 500 years reverently trying to decode the messages of hope they’re sure humanity left encoded in jackdaw behaviour. Jackdaws can’t believe their luck.

–posted as “Jackdaw Bingo”, October 11th 2013.

who’s dead & who’s alive

Disconnected memories. Uncertainty of events and entities in their “relationship” with reality. The author positioned like Maxwell’s demon, feeling able to claim that this is the inside & that is the outside (the conscious & unconscious, the forgotten & remembered, the admissible & the inadmissible). Calculatedly inefficient filters will be placed at points of transition represented as boundaries and edgelands. The hiatus or glitch, the dropped catch or stitch between the living & the written.

this is late but I’m not apologising

Despite the growing sense that we might have an actual Left again, politically 2015 was one of the darkest years I can remember. Not because of any specific incident, although there have been plenty, but because of the feeling you had of the Tories steadily & blatantly rolling us back on a broad front to our 1850s future–the return of religion, nationalism, militarism, press baronage & deregulated business, first creeping and stealthy, now open & determined. Personally it’s been equally weird. I had a couple of blocked arteries cleared by angioplasty in March, at the London Chest Hospital. That was a trip. You’re awake the whole time & the team wear what appears to be urban-camouflaged radiation protection. Thanks, guys–I’m saying that from the heart. Thanks also to the nurses and physios of the Royal Shrewsbury Cardio Rehab unit, who got me into good enough shape to walk up Snowdon four months later on my 70th birthday (during which I threw a fit of such absurd bad temper I want to apologise deeply to everyone involved). It’s been an interesting experience, a noticeable wake-up call and I got a good little short story out of it. Optimism can lead you up some depressing paths though. Don’t, for instance, look for the short story collection any time soon. I refer you to the publishing industry on that one. As a result, for the next year at least, if you want to actually buy volume fiction, you might be better transferring your attentions to another author. I can heavily recommend Sarah Perry’s After Me Comes the Flood. Indeed, for the best novel I read in 2015, it was a toss-up between Perry’s intriguingly attenuated Gothic and Lucy Wood’s pastoral haunt, Weathering. Running them close, & the best novel I had for review in 2015: A Cure for Suicide, Jesse Ball. I also enjoyed Amy Hempel’s short fiction, scoured out to a whisper in Reasons to Live; Katharine Faw Morris’s equally eroded but blunter short novel, Young God; Bodies of Light by Sara Moss; Mortal Fire by Elizabeth Knox; Dave Hutchinson’s dryly pertinent sequel to Europe in Autumn, Europe at Midnight; the fine, quiet Clade by James Bradley; & Richard Beard’s beautifully engineered Goldsmith’s Prize contender The Acts of the Assassins. Best autobiography, Jonathan Meades’ Museum Without Walls, although if My Brilliant Friend were to be rebadged, Elena Ferrante would leave him in the dust–slow to start, gripping by the end. Best “travel book” (far & away the wrong term but it will have to do): Norman Lewis’s humane, wry Voices of the Old Sea. It was a full year for re-reads, & for catching up on books that everyone else read when they were eight, including the immensely powerful Marianne Dreams by Catherine Storr. I haven’t quite understood why the rediscovery of Lionel Davidson is focussed so specifically on Kolymsky Heights, which always struck me as a bit threadbare compared to his classic thriller The Rose of Tibet. Books I loathed, mainly because their humour seems founded on an unbreakable smugness: 10.04 by Ben Lerner; the whole of David Sedaris. I thought of using Miranda July’s The First Bad Man to bulk out that list of shame, but in the end decided to leave it off because I found its conclusion genuinely upsetting. Nonfiction: disappointed by The World Beyond Your Head, Matthew Crawford, and Susan Neiman’s Why Grow Up?–both of which promised insight into ideas that really interest me but proved superficial. I washed the taste of failure away with George F’s rebarbative and in the end heartbreaking memoir of London squatting, Total Shambles (published by one of the liveliest of the UK’s new small publishers, Influx Press, who also do the comprehensive and mind-blowing Imaginary Cities by Darran Anderson). Nonfiction book of the year, though, would be David Winters’ collection of reviews and essays, Infinite Fictions, the introduction to which alone contains more interesting ideas about writing & reading than most entire books.

incallings

Layout 1Here’s the cover of Edhasa Argentina‘s volume of my short fiction, which in addition to various old favourites like “Egnaro” and “The Incalling”, includes a selection of flash fictions & nonfictions from this very blog, along with first paper publication of a couple of other short pieces. For English readers, some of the same material will be available in my new collection, still temporarily entitled Found & Lost, alongside brand new longer stories: but when that will be published is now uncertain. I’m as much in the dark as you, I’m afraid. So, as they say, don’t ask. Anyway, lovely to go out in such a nice restrained cover, among nice books like these.

contents

The collection:

Lost & Found
In Autotelia
Cries
The Walls
Rockets of the Western Suburbs
Cicisbeo
Imaginary Reviews
Entertaining Angels Unawares
Elf Land: the Lost Palaces
Psychoarcheology
Royal Estate
Last Transmission from the Deep Halls
Places you Didn’t Think to Look for Yourself
Not All Men
Dog People
Jackdaw Bingo
Earth Advengers
Keep Smiling (with Great Minutes)
The Crisis
The Theory Cadre
Recovering the Rites
Anti Promethian
Animals
Here
In the Crime Quarter
The Good Detective
Name This City
Crome
Studio
The Old Fox
Awake Early
Explaining the Undiscovered Continent
Self Storage
A Web
Back to the Island
Cave & Julia
Alternate World
At the Seaside
Getting Out of There

discretion

This post from July 2011 turned out to be describing “Getting Out of There”:

So I’m writing a story set in a generic seaside town, when it decides it is interested in Rottingdean. Rottingdean, that little-known LHC of UK culture, smashing together the Ballardian & the Kiplingesque so we can look for new matter in the resulting fragments! etc. Also, I like its shabbiness & that Enid Bagnold is buried in St Margaret churchyard. But now the story wants me to see Rottingdean through its eyes. It will not cooperate much longer if I don’t use it as a way of looking at Rottingdean, although nothing resembling Rottingdean may ever appear in the final item. This is always an interesting but scary moment. The story also wants me to use it as a way of looking at Vanessa Bell’s garden pond. I’m less sure about that.

Rottingdean was folded discretely into Hastings and I did, in the end, use the story as a way of viewing Vanessa Bell’s pond. Find it in Best British Short Stories 2014, ed Nicholas Royle, from SALT. (You may collect that edition before me, since SALT don’t seem to want to send me one.) Getting Out of There–or perhaps Here–was also going to be the title of the new collection, but now I’m not so sure.