the m john harrison blog

stories that didn’t quite make the cut (3)

the pivot, january 2012

This character wakes up with a sense of happiness, all that remains of a dream the content of which she has already forgotten. The dream repeats itself. Soon it’s a nightly event. The dreamer’s delight on waking is increasingly intense. But every so often, even as that intensification occurs, she wakes up a little sad or depressed. The narration speculates: “Some kind of life, or story, was being lived out in the dreams.” Increasingly, the dreamer wonders what that story might be. Because she can’t remember, she begins to invent it; an act which proves unsatisfactory both to her and to the reader. Simultaneously, the dream reaches a pivot & tips over: moments of happiness decrease (though their intensity increases) & are replaced by depressions which become the norm. One day the dream ends. A morning of misery; a morning of joy: then nothing, ever again. The dream life has worked itself out without the dreamer–or the reader–ever knowing what it was.

 

You Should Come With Me Now

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stories that didn’t quite make the cut (2)

self promotion, March 2013

In this new story I address the usual themes. People sit on sofas, staring ahead; while at the edges of the room things shift inconclusively from one state to another. They may be real, they may be not. Meanwhile, in another part of the small Midlands village, Ms Suihne the plump medium who runs the hat shop believes she is changing into a bird &, to the accompaniment of rough music, jumps off the roof. Another party is engaged in a relationship with three empty sacks arranged on a pole in his living room. At one point, things will turn sexual. All this might or might not be happening, or somebody might be telling it as a story to someone else, who is not listening. To sum up, the impossibility of knowing other people; or, really, anything. If you like the sound of it, click through to the usual outlets. Or you can catch me reading it from the hill on Barnes Common, most Wednesdays. There’s a review up at Wild Eyed Visionaries & obviously I’ll be tweeting.

You Should Come With Me Now

stories that didn’t quite make the cut (1)

algorithm angels, March 2015

These are the Pharoah’s life & death guys. These are his guys of life & death, the certainty of making his decisions bursts from their skin every second & every second of that second, like: knowledge! brass reflections! water! white of eye & pure smiles of delight of children! These guys are the full beauty of the Pharoah’s decision made. You may die but it will be the perfect call. You may live & it will be the perfect call. Everyone is happier when they pass. Everyone is happier, meeting those guys in the market place. Their tread–light, active, gracile, musical–is a measure. They know the date of birth, they know–within one glowing week, give or take a percentage not even the Pharoah can calculate–the day of death. Some things can not be known, & they glint with the mischief of admitting that. The corner of their eye glints with the delight of the mischief of the residue that can’t be known. No one knows when they die, those angel guys, & they keep that residue of laughter all their days. They are the guys of the Pharoah who lives in the dark in the pyramid, in the liquid actuarial core of all the things of the world.

You Should Come With Me Now

 

come with me now

So I have a brand new author photo for YOU SHOULD COME WITH ME NOW, taken by the brilliant Hugo Glendinning.

Here are two or three readings and an interview I did with Ra Page of Comma Press earlier this year.

In other news, there’s a launch event at Warwick University on the evening of the 23rd of October–please come along, but please also sign in here to let us know you’re coming, as places are limited. Will Eaves will be asking the questions, Tim Leach introducing us.

We’ve got bookshop events through November, including one at Housman’s in London, during which Lara Pawson & I will exchange our deepest fears about how “the truth” is told in memoir, anti-memoir and autofiction: catch up with all those dates at the Comma Press site.

After that, there’ll be a party in London in early December with readings from, among others, Tim Etchells: but more of that, perhaps, later.

 

a little bit of something new

Victoria opened the door to find the waitress’s father standing there. He was four inches shorter than her. He was whistling. His hair curled damply back over the collar of his Castrol jacket. He looked a lot livelier in the sunlight.

“I had a minute,” he said. “So I came.”

Victoria stared at him.

“It’s Chris,” he said. “Chris. Chris from last night.”

“Do you always answer your phone as if you’re someone else?”

“I’ll just step inside,” he said.

They stared at one another. It seemed like an impasse. In the end she let him in;  he held up a plastic sports bag and said, “I’ve got everything I’ll need in here.”

“If I could explain what’s wanted?” Victoria said.

“A cup of tea would be nice since you’re putting the kettle on. Then while you’re making it I’ll have a look round.” He smiled and went off up the stairs as if he owned them, calling back:

“I’ve got everything I need in here. Don’t you worry.”

Victoria boiled the kettle in a rage. She heard him on the first landing and then on the loose floorboards near the bathroom loo. His bag of tools rattled. He hissed and whistled to himself. He was pathetic. He tapped at this and that. A second floor sash ground itself open, then shuddered down again. It all made Victoria feel as if she didn’t belong. “How’s that tea coming on?” he called. When he came down to have it, he sat and ate a biscuit too. He seemed to bring a smell into the kitchen. She couldn’t quite smell it, but she knew it was there.

“I like to sit down to a biscuit,” he said.

She pushed the packet toward him. “Help yourself.”

He smiled to himself, as if he had expected this. “I was born Chris,” he said, “but that lot over at Kinver know me as Ossie.”

He had a jauntiness you couldn’t explain; at the same time he wanted your sympathy. After you had watched him for a minute or two, you saw that he held himself oddly and walked with the suspicion of a limp; he was always wiping his eyes. “Poor health,” he said, with a kind of satisfaction. “A lifetime of it.” He’d had bowel cancer, which they fixed; they thought his cough was asbestosis. In addition his left wrist didn’t articulate, which he’d let himself in for in 1999 when he fell off the town Christmas tree. “I was setting up the lights,” he said. “They didn’t take the decorations down in time that year. We’ve all suffered as a result.” He could just about use a screwdriver. “There’s a lot of perished rubber in those lighting circuits,” he said, after he had eaten half a packet of chocolate digestives “It only needs a touch to flake off.” It would mean a rewire. She had expected as much. “MInd you,” he concluded, “there’s plenty of good new neoprene in there too.”

“You aren’t going to fall off a ladder while you’re here, are you?” Victoria said.

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.

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.

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.

at the see-not gate

Waking out of a foul dream to gently hectoring telephone calls from her daughter, Anna Waterman allowed herself to be persuaded into one last session with Helen Alpert.

The doctor had spent much of the morning arguing with a Citroen parts supplier in Richmond and was pleasantly surprised when her client arrived carrying take-out lattes and almond croissants for them both. Had Anna lost weight since her previous visit ? Perhaps not, Helen Alpert decided; perhaps it was in fact a postural change. “That’s very thoughtful of you, Anna,” she said, though she never drank coffee after eight in the morning.

On her part, Anna felt ashamed of herself. It was like being the one to break up a relationship. Prior to buying the coffee she had spent half an hour on Hammersmith Bridge, gazing down at the brown water at some people learning to scull, miserably trying to bring herself to face the doctor. After that, the consulting room, with its cut flowers and tranquil light, seemed such a zone of peace, and Helen Alpert so welcoming, that she didn’t know where to begin. For years, she explained, she had lived in a kind of suspended animation. That seemed to be over now. During the last few months, life had been waking her out of a sleep she didn’t want to relinquish, forcing her to take part again.

“That’s what I haven’t liked about it.”

“No one likes that,” the doctor agreed.

“No. But they want it anyway.”

“Anna, I’m interested in the way you put it, life ‘forcing’ you to take part again. What sort of thing do you mean ?”

“For example, Marnie’s not well.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.”

“I found that I welcomed it. I know that sounds odd.” Having admitted Marnie to the negotiation, Anna became unsure how much space to allow her. “Anyway, it’s time someone looked after her for a change.”

“You feel she’s been the parent for too long ?”

“And something else has happened,” Anna said, “which I’d rather not talk about.”

The doctor smiled. “Your business is your business.”

Given their circumstances, Anna considered this the cheapest of jibes. “Actually I just want to live my life,” she heard herself say, with somewhat more emphasis than she had intended.

“Everyone wants that. What exactly is wrong with Marnie ?”

“She’s having tests.”

There followed a silence, during which Dr Alpert played with one of her gel pens and made it clear that she was expecting more. Anna considered describing the visit to St Narcissus–the women shackled to their symptoms by the hospital system and to their lives by mobile phone; the fatuous receptionist; the cancer-shaped stain on the ceiling–but preferring to avoid the interpretive bout that would inevitably follow, in which she would feel compelled to take part out of simple courtesy, said instead, “I never wanted to examine my life, I just wanted to be inside it.” This had the nature of a bid or gambit, she realised. “Not,” she qualified, before Helen Alpert could take it up, “that I never had a point of view on myself. Of course I did. Look,” she said. “The fact is, Helen–you’ll understand me, I know you will–I’ve met someone. A man.” She laughed. “Well, more of a boy, really. Is that awful ? Michael is dead, but I feel alive again, and that’s what I want to be. Alive.”

This much denial filled the doctor’s heart with rueful admiration. “I’m delighted,” she said, though it must have been clear that she was not. She wondered why she bothered. She reached across the desk and put her hands over Anna’s. “Tell me what you dreamed last night,” she said, “and I’ll tell you why you mustn’t stop coming here. Not yet.”

“Do you know, I didn’t dream at all last night,” Anna said. “Isn’t that odd ?”

–from Empty Space, final book of the K-Tract trilogy, 2012

frost & fog

“This mite’s sins are nothing to some I’ve had to swallow,” boasted the sin eater. He was a dark, energetic man of middle height and years, always nodding his head, rubbing his hands or shifting his weight from one foot to the other, anxious to put the family at their ease. “They’ll taste of vanilla and honey compared to some.” No-one answered him, and he seemed to accept this readily enough–he had, after all, been privy in his life to a great deal of grief. He looked out of the window. The tide was ebbing, and the air was full of fog which had blown in from the sea. All along Henrietta Street, out of courtesy to the bereaved family, the doors and windows were open, the mirrors covered and the fires extinguished. Frost and fog, and the smell of the distant shore: not much to occupy him. The sin-eater breathed into his cupped hands, coughed suddenly, yawned. “I like a wind that blows off the land myself,” he said.

–from “The Sin Eater”, 1983.