the m john harrison blog


Some loved writers you detach yourself from, perhaps quite gently, but determinedly too, because they’re like parents or teachers you want to outgrow. Some you drift away from then bump into them with a shock of recognition forty years later, buy all their books again & discover that in the interim a hefty but laughable scholarship has grown up around them. Others, it’s a grudge match & even after forty years you wouldn’t piss on them if you found them on fire in Waterstone’s Piccadilly–but then you do & burst into tears for no reason you can understand. The tears aren’t quite enough to put them out.

–reblogged from April 28, 2007

the kidlington visitors

This was my favourite mystery–apart, perhaps, from amputated feet in running shoes washed up on some beach in the Americas–until solutions clustered round like flies and obscured the mystery itself. That people should arrive constantly out of nowhere to take selfies in a pleasant but unexceptional little suburban street. That they should be well-dressed & clearly enjoying their exotic visit. That no one should be able to identify their language, or speak it well enough to ask them why they came. That reports should differ, rumours compound. That it should be a slow, long-running thing. That initially no one seemed puzzled enough, & nothing about it seemed urgent enough to attract media. The moment we try to interact with an event like this by making sense of it, it’s gone. Vanished. Why don’t we see? The moment you explain a situation it’s something else. The actual thing, the thing that happened, retreats shyly and vanishes, decohering into the classical discourse that now stands in for it, and for every other object or event farmed & corralled into reliable useful behaviour by human anxiety. We have our explanation but we spoiled our mystery. It’s just not worth it to know.



When we meet him, Buckmaster has been living in an old barn for a year and some months. He arrived “shoeless, over the moor from the east”. Since then he’s cleaned, repaired, caulked the gaps with anything he could find. He’s made it his own. His intention is “To be open, to be in fear, to be aching with nothingness”. This, he says, is the only life. Nevertheless, he’s not sleeping much. He dreams of a hare with human eyes. Awake, he’s hallucinating. There are patterns on the moor; and when the tourists go home at night, “All the centuries drop away, and I am in the presence of something that does not know time.” Something is coming towards him, he doesn’t know what.

–My review of Paul Kingsnorth’s new novel Beast, in the Guardian.

a word here & there

I wondered what all this was going to mean for the book. I spent yesterday reading back everything including the notes and decided there was no need to worry. Given that it’s about someone so alienated, inturned and obsessed by his own descent that he simply fails to see, let alone understand, the things that are going on around him, I decided I didn’t have to change more than a word here and there. “That was the Brexit summer” will do just as well as “That was the Ukip summer”, if not better.

interesting times

Despite being the definition of selfish, the Tories always know when it’s time to pull together–because if they don’t, nobody will get their snout in the trough. While Labour, despite starting from the assumption that we all should work for the common good, face every crisis by factionalising, falling apart and adamantly refusing to co-operate with one another. This has got to mean something, but I am not clever enough to see what it is. The other noticeable thing about this farrago is explanatory failure. People I admired for their political steadiness reveal themselves to be as changeable–as at a loss and dependent on the gossip of the last minute or two to form a plan–as I am. While outside UKIP and the political journalism industry, you sense, even the bigots no longer know what to think. And of course, everyone’s running for cover in one vomit-inducing fantasyland or another as quickly as they can. In later life, Christopher Isherwood felt it necessary to apologise for manipulating his friends so they made better material for fiction; an entire culture is going to be apologising for itself in a generation’s time.

When the world has gone to hell in a handcart & the muppets are admitting they never had a plan, there’s only one thing to do & that’s watch Jain Kim. There’s a heel hook & rock-on (or whatever they call them nowadays) at about 6 minutes 40 that almost restores your faith in human beings. We’re all desperate for a rest from the shite at the moment, so don’t bother reading me any riot acts about this. Each to their own bottle of scotch & loaded Webley in the study. Best in full screen.

a life in bullet point

This reminded me of this theme in Nova Swing, which at the time seemed like a bit of a punt–

When Emil Bonaventure arrived in Saudade thirty years ago, everyone was writing on paper.

It was one of those things. They loved paper suddenly. The nostalgia shops were full of it, all colours of cream and white, blank or with feint lines, or small pale grey squares, shining softly from the lighted windows which were like religious cubicles or niches. There was every kind of notebook in there, paper between covers you could hardly believe, from wood bark to imitation grey fur to holographic pictures from the narratives of Ancient Earth religious figures, with their fingers and their bovine eyes uplifted, who smiled and raised a cross as you turned the book in your hands in the retro shop light.

As artificial as the textures of the paper itself–an Uncle Zip product franchised out of some chopshop on another planet–these notebooks came in all sizes, fastened any way you could think, with clasps, hasps, magnets, combination locks or bits of hairy string you wrapped around and did up in a beautiful knot. Some were fastened in more contemporary ways, so you could see a little flicker in the air near the edge of the pages–if you’re the wrong person don’t get your fingers near those!

Everyone was buying these books because it was cute to write your thoughts in them–thoughts, a shopping list, those kinds of things.

People wrote, “Who do I want to be today ?”

They wrote diaries.

Everyone suddenly loved paper, no one could say why, and soon they’d love something else.

–and on. (I love the fact that the key to the site doesn’t lie in Emil’s notebooks filled with random data, but in Elizabeth’s achey desperate journal of her unknown self.)

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.

the mort lake

A few days later, Short met Allen at the bottom end of Barnes. It was a Saturday morning, with the sky wide open above the Chiswick shore, more like early spring than summer. Tim presented as vaguely as ever, the sleeves of his yellowish cotton-corduroy jacket rolled to the elbow. The black eye had healed, but now he had done something that left him with a mild rash on the same side. He was staring into the display window of an estate agent, one of the crocodile of a dozen or so that slithers its way up High Street from the river. He had encumbered himself with a couple of damp-looking carrier bags, which he held up for Shaw to see. They were heavy enough to have left red marks across the palms of his hands.

“Always get to the fishmonger early,” he advised.

Then, as though he might buy something if only the property market would act a little more sensibly: “Look at these fucking joke prices.”

Short joined him at the window and they talked for a bit. Then Allen said he had to be in Hammersmith and they walked up as far as Barnes Pond together. Sunlight glittered on the traffic sawing its way round from Church Road into Station Road. Mallards could be heard squabbling on the little island in the middle of the pond, while over in the Essex House car park the Farmers’ Market busied itself inevitably towards lunch–anxious bankers from France and Scandinavia vying for the last of the handmade pasta, free range meats from Somerset doing as well as ever. The Green was full of strolling luvvies, their children and identical chocolate labradors turned out for a walk in the Cotswolds; toddlers crowded out the margins of the pond, shyly offering ends of artisan sourdough to the geese and seagulls in the shallows. “Darling,” someone called, “please don’t let them bully you like that!” Allen eyed this bustle with barely suppressed irritation, a silent tension which expressed itself in sudden small movements of his shoulders or the corners of his mouth.

“The Mort Lake!” he said. “If they knew anything about the history– If they knew the thing John Dee knew about this pool– They’d keep their bloody children at home.”


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