the m john harrison blog

Tag: forthcoming

victoria’s gift

They met at a pub on King Street Hammersmith then ate tandoori trout at one of the new upmarket Indians just along from the Premier Hotel. Victoria seemed nervous.

“How do you like my hair?” she said.

Thinned out in some way, centre-parted, chopped off with a kind of calculated incompetence a little above the jawline, it clung lankly to the sides of her face and head, curling out tiredly at the ends. “Neo-bluestocking,” she said. “Very effective from certain angles, though I can see you don’t think so.” Over the evening she drank a bottle of house red– “Nothing to see here. No change here” –and talked about her car. Alex said he would stick to beer. When he said he wasn’t much of a driver, she looked down at the charred tails and dyed red flesh of the remains of their meal, the filmy bones like the fossil imprint of a leaf, and said, “Who is? It’s not really about driving. I go to the coast a lot now.” She laughed and made confused steering wheel motions. “Up and down. Hastings and Rodean. Very slowly. Dungeness, of course.” Then: “I think I’ve grown out of London.” And finally: “I love the little spines of these fishes, don’t you?”

“All I see,” said Alex, “is my dinner.”

He then admitted: “I was in a bit of a state when we last met.”

“You aren’t all that much improved.” She laughed at his expression. “Come on! I should talk! I don’t believe I’ve been entirely sane since I was thirteen–”

Alex filled her glass again. “Is that when you saw the corpse?” he said, hopefully.

“–although I did have a moment of clarity in a sauna in about 2005.” She stared around the restaurant as if expecting to see someone she knew. “Eventually you take what you can get where that’s concerned. You have to feel you’re steadying down.”

“There’s some value to that,” Alex agreed, though he had no idea what she was talking about.

“Actually, I’m not even sure it should be called clarity,” she said.

She was too drunk to drive. They left the car where she had parked it in Hammersmith and walked back to 17 Wharf Terrace along the river. There, she poked around his room as if she was out for a bargain in used furntiure. “The bed’s a bit small,” she said, looking at him brightly. Picking through his books, she found a John Fowles; made a face. “You can’t like any of his stuff. Not really.” Then: “And is this the famous shared wall!” She tapped with one knuckle, as if sounding the ancient plaster for its weaknesses. She put her ear to it. “He seems quite quiet now, your unknown nemesis.” Alex found something else they could drink–the end of a litre of Absolut so old the shoulders of the bottle were sticky with all the condensed grit airs of London–and, sitting on the edge of the bed, unwrapped the housewarming present. “Look at that!” she said, as if their roles were reversed and he had given it to her. It was made of silver, with an articulated body five or six inches long and hinged sidefins. “It’s Peruvian,” she said. “It’s a fish. It’s quite old.”

Alex weighed the fish in his hand, moved one of the fins cautiously. Its scales were tarnished and cold. “Hi fish,” he said.

“See,” Victoria said. “You like it. You like it already.”

contents

The collection:

Lost & Found
In Autotelia
Cries
The Walls
Rockets of the Western Suburbs
Cicisbeo
Imaginary Reviews
Entertaining Angels Unawares
Elf Land: the Lost Palaces
Psychoarcheology
Royal Estate
Last Transmission from the Deep Halls
Places you Didn’t Think to Look for Yourself
Not All Men
Dog People
Jackdaw Bingo
Earth Advengers
Keep Smiling (with Great Minutes)
The Crisis
The Theory Cadre
Recovering the Rites
Anti Promethian
Animals
Here
In the Crime Quarter
The Good Detective
Name This City
Crome
Studio
The Old Fox
Awake Early
Explaining the Undiscovered Continent
Self Storage
A Web
Back to the Island
Cave & Julia
Alternate World
At the Seaside
Getting Out of There

an irregular event

Reading “The Crisis” last Thursday at Irregular Evenings 2, a hidden venue deep in the religio-industrial complex of Stoke Newington, ably organised by Vlatka Horvat and Tim Etchells. Jonathan Burrows and Matteo Fargion were a hard act to follow. A great, mixed audience which included everyone from the #LossLit team to Michael Caines of the TLS and Canongate co-founder Whitney McVeigh. The evening was notable in another way for me, but more of that someB_Xmq6KWYAE2FMOother time. If you couldn’t be there for reasons of because, you can still catch the Warwick University audio of the original reading, online here. It looks as if “The Crisis” will have its first print outing in the short story collection–tentatively entitled Found & Lost–which is working its way up the femoral artery and into publishing’s dark heart etc etc even as we speak. News of that very soon, I hope.

Photo: Aki Schilz.

catch-up

Some reminders & updates: I’m at Totleigh Barton on Thursday (23rd Oct) to read for my supper at Liz Jensen & Simon Ings’ SF course; Birmingham Library on the 30th October, to remember Joel Lane & read from SALT’s Best British Short Stories 2014; Manchester (John Rylands) Library in December with the Curious Tales team. An exciting talk possibility has turned up for next autumn, I’ll keep you informed; and having missed Claire-Jane Carter & Tess Lyons’ Hagglers Corner event in Sheffield (not to say missing the chance to meet the frighteningly determined Nick Bullock) on Saturday (25th October), I’m hoping to contribute to whatever they do next–news on that if & when. If you’d like to pay me to read something, or do some other kind of appearance, leave a comment here or follow @mjohnharrison on Twitter and DM me. New & recently available stories: “The 4th Domain” is up at Kindle Single (where you can still get “Cave & Julia”; if you missed the delightful Night Jar Press edition of “Getting Out of There”, it’s available in the above-mentioned & equally Royle-edited Best British Short Stories 2014, from SALT (both paper and electronic); “Animals”, an untraditional traditional ghost story, will appear at Christmas in the Curious Tales anthology Poor Souls’ Light. I’m thinking of saving “The Crisis”, which I debuted at Warwick U’s Irradiating the Object conference, as a kind of bonus for the new collection, which will contain a couple of other previously unpublished and similarly raw items. There’s progress on that, including a new and I hope final title, but I’m still trying to finish The Last Viriconium Story to go in it, so don’t necessarily hold your breath. The new novel is looking round so many different corners at once that I couldn’t tell you anything about it anyway.

another little taste

Annie Swann had other clients. He never saw anything of them–although he once found a yellow plastic bag of CDs that she said someone must have left under a chair–except at the regular mass seance, which took place in the evening on the second Tuesday of every month. For this event, most of the furniture would be relegated to the kitchen. The curtains were drawn and the sofa dragged in front of the empty fireplace.

“Mass” was perhaps too ambitious a word for what happened. It was formal in an amateur way, as if the participants weren’t really used to being with other people. The downstairs room would fill up from about seven o’ clock with a dozen men wearing business suits or Australian oiled cotton jackets. Collar-length white hair, mustard-yellow corduroy trousers and navy blue Guernsey pullover indicated a retiree. Each of them seemed to have a single prominent defect–a thickened jaw, one eye too large for the other–and while they presented as well-off, they lacked the healthy patina and slightly overfed look you would expect of West London. There were rarely any women. Packed into the tiny front room, forced to regroup every time the door opened to admit a late arrival, they shouted cheerfully enough at each another but lacked confidence. He recognised one or two of them, but he couldn’t think from where.

After perhaps half an hour, during which Annie asked her favourite of the week to hand round glasses of medium dry sherry and Waitrose nibbles, she would take her place on the sofa, smile vaguely around for a minute or two, then slip stage by difficult stage into the mediumistic coma. The men gazed uncomfortably past her at the wall above the fireplace. None of them spoke or moved, although sometimes a quick sideways glance might be exchanged. It was less pleasant, more of an effort, for her to produce anything in these circumstances. She was tired afterwards. There was a prolonged period of disconnection, a shallow delirium in which her legs twitched and shook.

The men, released slowly, as if from a similar psychic bondage, coughed and shifted their feet. They regarded one another as blankly as animals of different species finding themselves in the same field; then, after staring at Annie for a while–in the hope, perhaps, of something more–left the house one by one, letting in the cold evening air. Shaw, who often stayed behind to make her a cup of tea and help drag the sofa back into its usual position, watched them drift away across the graveyard. When they had quite gone, Annie would smile tiredly, pat his forearm, touch his shoulder. If there was a kind of tired flirtatiousness to these gestures, she was, he thought, only trying unconsciously to make a bond with him. It wasn’t something she could see she was doing.

One evening before the mass seance he saw that the map from her brother’s office, or one exactly like it, had appeared on the front room wall.

From “The 4th Domain”, out as Kindle Single in the next couple of weeks.

the fourth domain

Here’s the opening of the new story, “4th Domain”, out as a Kindle Single in the next couple of weeks–

During his thirties, Shaw’s life went through a flat spot. It wasn’t drink or drugs, it was too soon to be a mid-life crisis, it wasn’t any of the predictable things: just a lack of dimension, one of those lapses which, once you come out the other side of it, proves hard to rationalise. Five years of his life were expended on nothing very much. In an attempt to redirect himself, like a delivery that has arrived too late, he moved to a suburb by the Thames and the first night, walking through the graveyard on his way from one pub to the next, discovered a man on his knees in the ground ivy at the base of a wall. Shaw stopped and watched him.

“Are you ok,” he said.

I’ll have a cover image soon.

thinking about the short story collection

I want to include flash fiction from the blog, so if you have any favourites nominate them in the comments here.

poor soul’s light

Further developments at the Curious Tales site. Good to see another tribute to Robert Aickman in this anniversary year. Part of “Animals”, my contribution to the project, was originally told to Lara Pawson, Julian Richards, Dan Jones & Cath Phillips in a spooky house overlooking Treyarnon Bay in Cornwall in, I think, 2005. Or perhaps it was 2006. Lara & Dan told stories too, as a result of which I had difficulty sleeping for the rest of the week. There’s another story–involving kites, Fulham-on-Sea & something called “balsamic cream” –to be made from the same holiday; but at nine years & counting it’s a bit slow in coming together even for me.

I should have added that I’ll be writing a preface for the Gylphi book.

SFF/Weird at Warwick U

I received more input than I could safely process at Irradiating the Object, so I’m looking forward to seeing all those beautifully-argued academic papers in print under the Gylphi logo. Taking it in at my own pace–and with a cup of tea–is likely to reduce the possibility of Explanatory Collapse. Thanks to everyone who gave a paper, to Rhys Williams and Mark Bould, conference organisers; and more on the book as soon as details become available.

Meanwhile here’s a podcast. The usual rants & fevers of the ageing entradista, expertly nursed on this occasion by Rhys Williams.

One of the things I did manage to take in on Thursday was that Rhys is to teach selections from Viriconium as part of Warwick University’s SFF/Weird module next year. Fantastika, he says, consistently estranges us from our own comfortable perspectives, but he’s immediately forced to admit: “it is also the literature of escapism and naivety”. That was certainly one of the things Viriconium was trying to point out, in a climate perhaps even less receptive to new ways of doing things than the one we have now. What can be seen today as a part of a major shift of ideas was experienced then simply as the struggle to get published in the face of snobbery, inverted snobbery and political panic; our rejection letters–both from genre and literary publishers–need to be seen to be believed. It’s strange, so long after the fact, to be acknowledged as an early uptaker of the post-genre fantastic, and to find myself in the company of, among others, Joanna Russ, Nalo Hopkins, William Gibson and Russell Hoban. Not to mention the Flying Strugatsky Brothers.

It’s more than possible that there’ll be a previously-unpublished Viriconium piece in my new short story collection, which is now officially in the publication pipeline. Updates on the collection, here, as things develop. (Don’t expect the Viriconium of 1978 or 1982, by the way. The city moves on with its author, so keep up.)

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