the m john harrison blog

Tag: ghosts

curiouser & curiouser

Poor souls blundered helplessly around in the remains of their lives in the atrium of Manchester John Rylands Library yesterday evening. It was a curious tale, indeed it was two of them. The Rylands would be a fantastic place to read anything, let alone a ghost story. Spotted in the audience: John Coulthart & the fabled Michael Butterworth. Nick Royle took this picture in the modern annexe afterwards–B5KeYHLIUAAfHqu-1Left to right: Alison Moore, Tom Fletcher, Beth Ward & AN Other. Curious Tales: Poor Souls’ Light.

a curious tale

Poor Souls’ Light event in Birmingham this evening, with Jenn Ashworth and Alison Moore. Decided to read the first twenty minutes of “Animals”. Thought I’d better try that out. Strange to read aloud for the first time something you wrote nearly a decade ago. There’s already something like a dirty window between you and it. You keep thinking, “Why did I write this? Did I write this to be read out loud? Or just for the page?” Then you begin to to remember who you were back then, and the inevitable huge rift opens up between the two of you. There’s a further complication with “Animals”: it’s assembled from so many layers of my own life that reading it is like reading a maze, like trying to interpret your own geological nonconformities and discontinuities. I feel like a Robert Aickman character, looking for Rosamund’s Bower but without any idea what Rosamund’s Bower might be or at what point you might be said to have found it. Serves me right I expect.

poor souls’ light

6024417 Here’s the first scene of “Animals”, my contribution to the Curious Tales Christmas anthology, Poor Souls’ Light

“In late June, Susan rented a cottage for a fortnight. It was tucked away at the seaward end of a lane; beyond it there was only flat light on the sand dunes and open beach. The paperwork required her to collect the keys from a Mrs Lago, who lived at the other end of the lane where it joined the road. Mrs Lago turned out to be sixtyish, frail-looking but active, with watery blue eyes, bright red lipstick and a selection of cotton print dresses two generations too young for her. During the summer her grassy front garden, across which had been scattered some round white plastic tables, did duty as a cafe. She was in and out all day, carrying trays of cakes, fitting umbrellas into the sockets in the centre of the tables to keep the rain off. In the evening the onshore wind blew everything about, and it lay in the rain looking shabby.

“Susan called as instructed and found the garden full of sparrows. They gathered round her while she waited for the keys, cocking their heads right and left. They ate cake crumbs, first from the ground, then the chairs, then the very edge of the table. Then they took off all at once and one of them flew through the open door into the house, where it fluttered inside the window just above the sill among the china ornaments and little vases. Its panic was terrible. Mrs Lago went inside and after some reckless stumbling about appeared with it in her hands at the door. It was squawking and cheeping miserably. As soon as she let it go it shot off across the garden.

“‘I thought it was going to break my lucky horseshoe,’ she said, looking at Susan in a vague but excited way. ‘It’s been broken once before.’

“’Has it ?’ Susan said.

“You were always the junior partner in a conversation with Mrs Lago, your responses limited to, ‘Yes. No. Isn’t it ?’ and, ‘I did!’ Listening to yourself make them was a bit like listening to one end of a telephone conversation. She had a curious lurching walk. She owned two or three dogs that sometimes got out and ran up and down the lane, surprised by a freedom they couldn’t seriously exploit.”

ghost fictions

Excuse me if I prefer the haunting. The haunting comes layered up in time. It slips about, guilted and dirty. You can’t focus on a thing like that. Locating it to a neurological glitch won’t help: that’s just another place it hides. It’s inherent in the worn out babble of events. You aren’t meant to be able to locate it. “I do not know whether a man or a woman/But who is that on the other side of you?” The inevitable companion is evading itself as hard as it’s evading you.

conversation

“Two capuccinos?”
“Yes please.”
“Mr Whicher. The suspicions of Mr Whicher–”
“–Oh yes, we watch that!”
“Bye dear!”
“–I had a hot sausage roll that nearly choked me–”
“You get the real story, the real story of Mr Whicher–”
“Bye!”
“We’re going! You don’t need to push us out, dear!”
“–because he was a real detective!”
“Bye!”
“You’re having a capuccino? With milk? That’s not like you.”
“Mind the step.”

anima

I sat at the bottom of too many stairs in the 1960s. As a result, like many of us I no longer have any idea where I am. Instead I experience all the young Bob Dylan’s abiding sorrow at finding himself trapped in the body of a 69 year old Midlands bloke. The ghost of eccentricity howls in the bones of his fate. I did not exactly mean for that to happen. It’s not the end I would have wished, because back then he seemed so cruel & clever & vulnerable & I loved every complicated mouthful. Still, here we are. The two of us. Always waiting for her. Perhaps, in the end, Louise would have been the sound-money bet?

make u think

Jackdaws bickering in the air in the tall back corner of the house made me think briefly of Ravensdale, a crag with which I was so obsessed in 1977/8 that I gave it a bit-part in A Storm of Wings, that well-known novel of documentary realism. Watching the “Entertaining Angels Unawares” video on YouTube made me feel old, but also made me think briefly of this, from 1991. Meanwhile, I just stumbled across this, from Neel Mukherjee; & “Cave & Julia” has earned some more money on Kindle, making it one of the more economically productive short stories I’ve published (maybe a lesson there). And, describing the people he claims to speak for as convenor of some mythical Tory “trades union”, David Cameron has accidentally used the word “resent” instead of “represent”.

Generally, it’s been a weirdly mixed day. & only half over.

opening paragraph

Bear with me. I’m exploring some territory here. I’m looking for a password. I thought when I left this town that I was finished being apologetic. But I came back in a different mood, set up an office, waited for business–the things you’ll do when you have to. All anxieties contain their own mirrors. You’re always looking for some space to inhabit between the two. I am, anyway.

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.

photo: s sarre, 2003

photo: s sarre, 2003

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