the m john harrison blog

Tag: autobiographical notes

in real life

Along with the imminent publication of Rob Macfarlane’s masterpiece Underland, this retweet by Andrew Male reminded me of something. I’ve always been fascinated by the praxis and professionalism of cavers. Especially cave divers. A friend of mine gave up climbing to do that activity for a while. He supplied me with some fine anecdotal material. In the late 1970s I had written part of a sci-fi/horror novel in which a team of contemporary cavers and climbers, prospecting the Irish karst for new routes in their separate disciplines, rediscovered the remains of William Hope Hodgson’s The House on the Borderland. Their subsequent exploration of the associated geology would have had all the predictable results and in addition allowed me to make a critique both of the Hodgson novel and Lovecraft’s “The Rats in the Walls”. It was also my idea to catch the reader up with contemporary caving and climbing techniques and attitudes. (The “exploratory value” would be seen being absorbed into the new values of risk sport, for instance, a transition later touched on in Nova Swing and Empty Space.) I dropped the idea because it seemed too ordinary, too direct and too glib. All that’s left, apart from perhaps ten thousand words of yellowing draft, is the short story “The Ice Monkey”, which I cut out of it. “The Ice Monkey” started me off in a completely different direction and led to Climbers. I stopped trying to literalistically incorporate my real-life interests and experiences into fantasy fiction (see Tomb the Dwarf’s solo of the first pitch of Medusa, Ravensdale, or Alstath Fulthor’s trail-run up from Hadfield via Yellow Slacks up on to Bleaklow, across the Woodhead and then down by Tintwhistle Low Moor in A Storm of Wings) and instead began to let the two kinds of content and technique blur together, in search of what the result could tell me. You can see that immediately you look at the stuff. You can also see that I became happier and more comfortable with the way I was doing things. You can call these very self-aware metafictional explorations of the exploratory value and its inevitable structures “the Weird” if you like. I call it being the kind of writer I started to be in 1979.


the way we live now

Stories of lost property. Stories of property lost then found. Stories of property found then lost. Stories of self storage of property. Self storage as self storyage. Stories about property stored by people who are now dead & unable to claim it. Stories of property sold sight-unseen from the self storage bins & units of the recently dead. Stories about people who have inadvertently self stored themselves. Stories of mutilated but curiously unbloodied bodies found in self storage bins & units, the flesh is recorded as being “translucent, whitish” “weighty & substantial” and “falling heavily apart along strong clean cutlines”. Stories of mutilated unbloodied bodies found in self-storage bins & units but without the head. The head is missing. The owner of the head is now dead & unable to reclaim it, but it can’t be sold. Limbs flung into rivers. Self storage in other countries.

not too bad a life

…tretto exercise write read eat write fall over & sleep at four in the afternoon read eat more write crap stand in the doorway 10:30pm & watch rain fall on the deserted street & think how suddenly you can be happy with no more reason than that eat more click aimlessly through TV channels die ris…

vague heart: a science fiction novel of the near future

Project Trap: Project Trap was never completed. Project Soul Gem was a project to collect “evidence-free innuendo”. Soul Gem was wound down in 1945 upon the birth of the resource (see notes). Several similar projects wound down naturally with the resource itself. Eat Cake, a hardened version of Soul Gem 2: the Eat Cake abstract promised abjection, violence, denial. Eat Cake was unlisted. Various other projects: Project 121 (see appended material). Mex Lite, Max Eight & Lite Core were clean product generated during varied initiatives and test runs. “Initiative B” ran successfully until 1978, when it was replaced under the Dark Stork programme. Project Veil Grain was an unsuccessful add-on to the Main Stem series. Vague Heart: Project Vague Heart remains partially operational but is identified under recent initiatives as “2014”. Resource appears to have retained motility & limited function.

Project 92 is the shadow of something much larger. 

fat mickey wants to wish you a happy new year


photo copyright Paul Murphy

a pretty weird year

rief, it was a pretty weird year in brief, it was a pretty weird year, in brief it was a pretty weird year in brief, it was a pretty weird year in brief, it was a pretty weird year in brief it was a pretty weird year, in brief it was a pretty weird year, in brief it was a pretty, weird year in brief it was a pretty wierd year in brief it was a prety, werd year in brif, it was a prety werd yar in brief it were a yaer in b

a few rules of breathing

When I was ten my father, who worked all his life in the middle management of the aspiration game, said to me: “The compass knows the map, son, it knows when the map is near. Let the compass direct you to the map but whatever else you do in this stained forsaken world keep them apart. Else there won’t be sufficient salt water in the oceans to quench the soles of yr burning heart. See this tattoo? It says the fix is in with all that hidden treasure shit.” Sound advice, though I never took it & now I work the aspiration game too only I’m out here all weathers.

plant & proust

In the early 80s I stayed for a few weeks with some friends who lived in Ealing. The girlfriend of one of them was a fan of Robert Plant. She had dreams in which, returning to the flat after work, she discovered Robert Plant there, doing the ironing in his shorts; she also went flying and tobogganing with Robert Plant. In another dream she visited the house of a wealthy friend only to find her sister already there, trying to chain a muddy bicycle to a street lamp in the middle of the lounge. “You can’t leave your bike here!” She didn’t seem to like finding me in the kitchen, especially in the mornings, and later complained that I had been using her milk. Despite this, we exchanged letters for a while after I went back to Yorkshire. In one letter she quoted Proust quoting Wilde’s, “Before the Lake poets there were no fogs on the Thames.” I read this as “no frogs on the Thames”, which seemed even cleverer, if a bit of an overstatement. “Somebody I can’t remember,” I wrote in return, “described Proust as sitting in his own lukewarm bathwater occasionally tasting a handful of it.” She thought that unkind. “Sometimes he’s very good,” she said, then admitted, “but sometimes he reads like a middlingly successful 1970s fantasy writer trying to imitate Colette.” The only other thing I remember about that flat was the cheap plastic veneer lifting from the edges of the kitchen surfaces, which in some places made the drawers difficult to open and close.

a full day

Note made in 1983: “E’s husband is an economics lecturer with a boyish face which has begun its imperceptible slide into age without any intervening stage of maturity. ‘Washing up!’ he exclaims with a laugh. ‘Sometimes I wake up sweating in the night thinking of it!’ He wears a grey cardigan with dull suede trimmings. It is stretched and a bit thin and hangs loosely, emphasising the academic droop of his shoulders. Is this a game he is playing?” Happily, I never used this, and can’t now remember who “E” was. A bit lower down the page, after some stuff about the difficulty of describing people whose presentational style was formed two generations ago (“we only have the cliches we inherited from them”), I have written, in capitals, in red ink: “Observe facts, exhibit implications. The meaning runs in balance over the surface of the prose; the prose runs in balance from scene to scene; scenes dissolve one into the next in balance over the meaning. Invent your own ancestors. Be brief.” And then: “Sometimes I think that continuity, or the urge to it, the basic flaw of the human character.” Finally, from a letter of Zola’s, “‘What a terrible trade, where you are always beginning again, and always with the same problems…'” It seems to have been a full day in terms of self-invention, but back then I rarely had an empty one.

explaining the undiscovered continent

All things metal tapping together in the wind. Bleached fishbones one thousand miles from the sea. Sheds where you can get directions & diving apparatus. The inevitable airstream trailer. The inevitable rusty boiler. The inevitable graffito of a coelacanth. The highline of the last tide strewn with yellowish swim bladders of unknown animals like condoms inflated then varnished into fragility. Kilometer upon kilometer of unravelled polypropylene rope. Tin signs. Tied knots. A sense of petrol. Then the cliffs! with their abandoned funicular slicing up through maroon sandstone “to the plateau above”. Windows of static ice cream parlours. Buildings filled to the fourth storey with the grey flock from old padded bags. “This is where we’ll dive.” As far as anyone can tell, they lived in threes or fives, odd numbers anyway. Each household kept a small allosaur on a bit of coloured string. We have no idea who they were or when they were here or what they wanted out of life. That’s the attraction. (& afterwards to sit in the boat, tired, happy, washing a small blue item in the most gentle solvent: no one will ever know what it is.)