the m john harrison blog

Tag: horror

some basically insoluble mystery

Sand came up like a fog from the beach and when I next looked he was gone.

I studied his business card. “Gift Company,” I read.

What had he offered us? I only knew it was unsuitable and wrong. But sometimes, now, when I look through the notebook in which I wrote all this down, and the dust in its creases — just blown from mainland Africa to make a beach in the Atlantic Ocean — I wish we had accepted.

Again, perhaps we did accept. This is how he made you feel. As if there was some residue, some basically insoluble mystery behind or beneath or in some way prior to the rubbishy white hotels, beach bars and endless Cambios. As if even Playa los Americas, one of the trashiest places on earth, had some secret nothing to do with cheap stereos, expensive leather goods and English beer. Something you can sense where a brand new road runs out suddenly in builders’ waste and prickly pear; or at the top of a low hill, in some unfinished concrete building that looks like a multistory car park; or in the amused eyes of the stray dogs of the seafront.

“Gift Company,” we read. Perhaps we did accept.

from “GifCo”, 1997.

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.

a difficult time for everyone

If you’re in London on the evening of the 5th March & you’d like to hear me reading “The Crisis”, leave an email address here, or DM me at @mjohnharrison on Twitter–

Adolescence. West London. You always believed a hidden war was being fought, a war nobody would ever admit to. Lay awake at night, listening to bursts of corporate fireworks that seemed too aggressive to be anything other than a small arms exchange; while by day, ground-attack helicopters clattered suddenly and purposively along the curve of the Thames towards Heathrow. You held your breath in moments of prolonged suspense, imagining the smoke trails of rockets launched from the bed of a builder’s pickup in Richmond or Kingston. These fantasy-engagements, asymmetric and furtive, a kind of secret, personalised Middle East, left you as exhausted as masturbation. There was something narcissistic about them. A decade later, everyone was able to feel a similar confused excitement. With the coming of the iGhetti, everyone had a story to tell but no one could be sure what it was. Information was so hard to come by. Between anecdotal evidence and the spectacular misdirections of the news cycle lay gulfs of supposition, fear, and denial. People didn’t know how to act. One minute they heard the guns, the next they were assured that nothing was happening. One day they were panicking and leaving the city in numbers, the next they were returning but rumour had convinced them to throw their tablet computers in the river. The thing they feared most was contagion. They locked their doors. They severed their broadband connections and tanked their cellars. They avoided a growing list of foods. They clustered round a smartphone every summer evening after dark, eavesdropping on the comings and goings of the local militas as they scoured the railway banks and canalsides for telltale astral jelly. Were the iGhetti here or not? It was a difficult time for everyone.

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.”

what you can expect

Eventually you have to stop using lists of personal objects as indices of alienation and admit instead that they are your objects; that outside of the fiction they have actual emotional value; and that therefore you might have done something unforgivable to your own life, done your life real hurt. Where do you go from there? What can you expect of an admission like that? All you can do is develop a sense of humour.

new story

“The Fourth Domain” is up at Kindle Single now.

Screen Shot 2014-08-12 at 18.40.52

Intrusions on YouTube

The whole of Intrusions, the one-day tribute to Robert Aickman, is now uploaded to YouTube in five segments. John Ballat reads the deeply weird “The Inner Room”, Ray Russel talks about publishing Aickman, and there’s a discussion about the aims & methods of what Aickman called “the strange story”. In Segment 5 I read “Entertaining Angels Unawares”, a strange story which will appear in my new collection, and which begins, “I got two or three weeks’ work with a firm that specialised in high and difficult access jobs in and around Halifax. They needed a labourer, someone to fetch and carry, clean the site up behind them. The job was on the tower of a church about thirty miles northeast of the town. I wasn’t sure what I thought about that. I wondered what I’d say to the vicar if he ever appeared, but he never did.” You might well think, it suddenly occurs to me, that the narrator is wrong about that.

The subsequent question & answer period illustrates one of the things I was trying to suggest in Climbers, which is that fiction’s closest relative is the pub anecdote.

“Every day I was taken to a more terrible region and made to reproduce my error.”

Denis Johnson, The Stars At Noon

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