the m john harrison blog

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transcript of an interview

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Photo: Cath Phillips

states of play

Available: Viriconium, The Centauri Device, Climbers, Light, Nova Swing, Empty Space, “Babies from Sand”, “Cave & Julia” and “Fourth Domain”. Out of print: The Course of the Heart, Signs of Life, Things That Never Happen. Unlikely ever to be reprinted, although a couple of the stories in it turn out to be not quite as bad as I remembered: The Machine in Shaft Ten. Forthcoming: “Yummie” (The Weight of Words, ed McKean & Schafer, 2017), You Should Come With Me Now (short stories, Comma Press 2017). In progress: “English Heritage”, a ghost story, and “Autotelian Journey”; and two novels, The Water House, very odd, and The Future, a shadowy & bizarre post-apocalypse with sturdy links to the 2014 short story “The Crisis”.

What’s happening about the Signs of Life, Course of the Heart and Things That Never Happen reprint schedule seems as shadowy & bizarre as any of the Beige Ops in this notorious programme; but I’m hoping they’ll see the light again, one way or another, before I cough it.

The Clocks In This House All Tell Different Times

“It’s 1923. Lucy Marsh and her friend Winifred, mid-teenagers from an enclave of dying pubs and dead industries in north-east London, find themselves effectively sold into prostitution by their families. Once a week in Epping Forest they meet with and service four bizarrely wounded ex‑servicemen who have given arms, legs, hands and faces for their country in the recent world war. Lucy isn’t sure if they’re named after Dorothy’s companions in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, or if the characters in the story were named after them. The “funny men” seem as decent as they are damaged, puzzled to the point of inarticulacy by the things that have happened to them. But though they’re shy they know what they’ve lost – homes, wives, children, physical comfort, any sense of themselves as welcome in the society that sent them to fight – and they know what they want, at least from Lucy and Winifred.”

–Read the rest of my review of Xan Brooks’ dark & politically timely debut novel at the Guardian, here.

the pellicci tract

“Stop here,” Aschemann ordered “We can have a nice breakfast here.” They swept into the kerb outside E Pellicci. A notorious cholesterol venue halfway down Neutrino, Pellici’s offered deco walls and cafe electrique. More important, Aschemann said, you could hear the food smoking in the animal fat. At that time of the morning Pellici’s was full of rickshaw girls in pink and black lycra gorging themselves on simple carbs. They stood awkwardly up to the counter, unable to use the seating, ducking their heads needlessly, embarrassed to be among people of ordinary size. Aschemann smiled around at them, one or two smiled back. Once he was eating he seemed to forget both his wife and the murders.

–Nova Swing, 2007

last transmissions

From 2013–

I’m saying we didn’t have command of the vast fictions of the day … The city wasn’t, in the end, where those of us who lived there thought it was. We had already lost it in all senses of that word … All we knew about this place was the news … preferring the past’s acknowledgment of humanity, we remained uninterested by the watertightness of the plot … the halls are aware that–in the end–they can never know what, exactly, the plot was. It’s only silence after that. Back at the beginning there’s the tapping sound, like metal on stone … then the call signs, several of them, very amplified and confused … cries in the halls … a cruel few words and then, “We no longer know which way to face.” The halls are still aware … What if nothing “fell”? Nothing was lost but existed just alongside everything else, fifty years later in the rubble by a farm at the flat end of nowhere … who could write this … everyone has a different story to sell … call signatures in rooks, fresh plough, old silence: “We don’t know what to do. Everything is the alongside of something else.” –Minor players gesture helplessly … signals hard to make out in the chaos as the big institutions go down … everyone desperate now.

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notes for a debriefing

Don’t say: “Riding my intelligent cool-looking polar bear to do battle with evil.”
Do say: “The arctic sea-ice isn’t freezing this year.”

Don’t say: “Dog with head-balancing skills becomes star.”
Do say: “We blew antibiotics.”

Don’t say: “Swipe it straight into your mouth.”
Do say: “Pence at Hamilton was theatre in the theatre, a deft, clinical reframing of the opposition’s theatrical space, utilising the media as proscenium.

on the white road to carleon

In 1923 Arthur Machen calculates that writing has earned him six hundred and thirty-five pounds in forty two years. “That is, I have been paid at the rate of fifteen pounds and a few shillings per annum.” So he wasn’t writing for the money. As for the rest of what the trade might be about, you never really write what you hoped you would, not so much in terms of quality as in terms of content and structure: in the end, he admits, it’s never quite the story you intended to tell. Why do it, then? Well, to provide interest in a bland life, much the way mountaineers “expose themselves to horrors, miseries and the instant risk of death on the most desperate mountains of the world”. Life is “cold mutton”, he says, intolerable without sauce. If this seems to us quite a bland response in itself, not to mention (especially given what we know about the single-minded ambition and sheer personality disorder of mountaineers) an evasion or cover-up, well Machen isn’t going to show any more of his cards. Except of course to suggest that perhaps what we call life isn’t really life at all. My review of Machen’s Things Near & Far and Catherine Fisher’s Machen’s Gwent: A country hardly to be known in the TLS today (£).

late style

Late style arrives when you realise that you are: competent enough to write those things you wanted to write when you were twenty five; impatient enough to have one more go at going all the way; angry enough not to allow anyone else to persuade you to do something else. At the same time late style is cold, amused, contemptuous and savage about everyone you have been or ever tried to be. Late style is when the monster down there has finally had enough. Late style is when the people who have all your life jumped in front of you–waving their arms No! Careful!–jump out one more time to encourage you to run them down.