the m john harrison blog

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expressionist theatricals

That’s going to be the puzzle, of course: who loved the dead man and who didn’t? And who was Gricey, anyway? The last part he played was Malvolio, that “victim of small minds. Driven half mad and shut up in a dark room.” In her grief, his widow begins first to wear his clothes, then re-tailor them for Frank Stone, the young understudy who perfectly imitates Gricey as the puritanical narcissist of Twelfth Night; and who, attracted to the widow, takes on the dead man’s part in other ways too. To these stories – the doomed romance and the tale of possession by dybbuk – is soon added a third: we’re ushered into the milieu of street politics, antisemitism and continuity-fascism in London after the war. —My review of Patrick McGrath’s The Wardrobe Mistress, up at the Guardian today.

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images from a story abandoned in favour of a change of circumstances

All morning a curious kind of light, in which several colours were represented but only faintly, came and went the other side of the window, tinting the paper I was working on. Later: though the remains of the Roman city were closed, we could park up and enjoy an extensive view of the floods around Buildwas Abbey and Sheinton. Near Plowden at the south end of the Mynd, we were briefly lost in a geomorphology of mysterious wooded lumps in perpetual winter twilight. Who comes out of a place like that unchanged? The path over the Mynd has three names, the best of which, with its implications of commerce to and from some inland quay thirteen hundred feet above and a hundred miles away from the nearest present sea level, is the Port Way. As you shuffle along it in the cold low cloud, little cries and farm noises come up, and you are made aware of the drowned lowland villages off to the west.

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.