the m john harrison blog

the tale I tell myself

A sort of romance between vague people. Disconnected, surreal. End product of the liquid moderne not as it idealises itself but as it plays out on the ground. Two “lives”, interleaved transparent sets of events, never quite in themselves stories. First one floating on top then the other, so that as you see through one to the other they seem to be linked & completing (to the degree that completion has any meaning in the context). Underneath that the implication of some complex archaic interaction or myth, a default condition or haunting of the past & present which can only point to the future. Glimpses of a past & a future, also mysteriously imbricated, but even more see-through.


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.


note to self

Won’t do to have them separated for the whole thing. Structure would work better if they were given another chance at each other maybe two thirds through. She comes down to London. Semi-alienated encounter–heavily flagged up for the reader but a bit empty of apparent content–in which neither of them seems able to talk about their actual anxieties. (See 2nd meeting for tone.) He’s too preoccupied to pursue her over it. Tell this from his pov, then when you return to hers, have her write him an email in which she takes him to task about it while admitting that she’s also to blame & still not addressing her concerns. He doesn’t answer. When we switch back to his pov later, no mention is made of it. The ending solves this. Or not. (NB: placed right, the third encounter would also amplify the readers’ anxieties about what’s happening to her.)

career path

30 yrs obscurity. Discovery. 1 yr as a cult figure, 9 yrs further obscurity. Rediscovery. 1 yr as a cult figure, 2 yrs an influence, 7 yrs as a political problematic. Rehabilitation. 1 yr as cult figure, some small interest outside the niche audience including unacknowledged influence on well known literary figures. Death. Brief reincarnation. 20 years further obscurity. Full reincarnation, comprising: 1 yr as cult figure, 2 yrs mined as source material by well known literary figures, 7 yrs obscurity…

acts of composition

If To Kill A Mockingbird originated as some sort of back narrative inside the larger structure Go Set A Watchman (and it did, and now we know that we can’t unknow it) then Go Set A Watchman is neither a prequel nor a sequel but part of another kind of structure altogether. When the book appears, the complexities of this distinction, including the possibility that many actual prequels and sequels may have originated in a similar but unrecorded process, might be worth an article in themselves. Distinctions like this undermine generalising terminology and force us to return not just to the individual book but the individual act of composition.

& speaking of imaginary places…

…I keep thinking I’m closer to writing this third Autotelia story–

“Every generation has its intellectual obsession: a new kind of politics, a new kind of science, a new kind of war. My generation was obsessed with Autotelia, a new kind of country. We watched with a tense amazement the grainy video of its capital city, the greyish streets so similar to our own. When the first Autotelians began to arrive on our side of things…etc.” His mother’s tea party for the Autotelians is a farce. After it, when he goes to their house, he sees the men in overcoats smashing the flower pot in the hearth, then a “yawning white face” in the hall. He leaves hurriedly. Work up to the tea party through his mother’s descriptions of the Autotelians; some events of little significance in the square; and his interest in the girl. Later, in Autotelia itself, he is taken to a place where a man who might have been his vanished friend Ashman once “stayed for some time”. The room sordid. Some accident–a small fire perhaps–on the carpet near the tallboy; a faint smell of excrement. “‘There was a lot of crying out,’ the landlord said: ‘Always a lot of crying out.’ And he managed to convey with shrugs, nods and grins that we both knew what that might mean. ‘In the morning he was gone.’ While we talked, I could hear someone pacing about in the room above.”

–then discovering I’m not. These are glimpses from the early 1980s, a couple of which remain fresh and clear, the rest being just sentences someone else might have written. It’s odd how this happens, odder still that you won’t give up on a thing even when you suspect the window of opportunity’s closed. You used to be the writer it needed but now it’s just some old love affair which never quite got going.

DSCF8351Steaming off the woodchip on the top floor landing, C found a handy map of the near future, etched into the old plaster. If you adjust the resolution, and look a little to the left of the fold & near the bottom, you can even see us, paying out more money to have this feature fixed.

slight return

Home: the journey itself broke some kind of continuity necessary for you to use the word. It’s not just Penelope looking a little guilty & at the same time too pleased with herself; or all those suitors finishing their jack & coke & slinking off out the back. It’s not just the dwarf in the Macao silk suit & the shoulder holster. It’s that something put an edge between what you remembered & what was there on your return. The story you told yourself to get you through all the crapdscf4578nights–the constant thankless struggle with the dumb shit crew, the whirlpools, the mad cunt with the one eye, the rocks that turned into kings, the kings who turned into junkies, all that singing & indifferent special effects–wasn’t quite enough. Even the word “return” begins to seem undependable, not the weight-carrier you’re used to. It’s the right house but it’s the wrong place. The distinctions are so subtle they’re fatal. Once you’ve noticed them it doesn’t even look like the same fucking country & the only thing to do is turn right around & leave. Maybe in another twenty years, you tell yourself, you’ll swing by again.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 484 other followers