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Mike, what are your thoughts on M. John Harrison?

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  • Mike, what are your thoughts on M. John Harrison?

    Hello! I recently interviewed M. John Harrison for PH-UK, and he seems a very similar mind to yourself. An extremely smart, and wonderful writer, if I may say so myself. Do you two go back or anything?

    If you're interested, here is the link to the interview: http://www.ph-uk.co.uk/post/EEFpFkuZkEhNhcyQAO.shtml
    Call me cockey, but if there\'s an alien I can\'t kill, I haven\'t met him and killed him yet!

  • #2
    Great interview man; I enjoyed it!

    Comment


    • #3
      M.John Harrison wrote Jerry Cornelius stories back in the 60's, actually, I think it was him who coined the term 'English Assassin.'

      Comment


      • #4
        I was privileged to publish Mike Harrison's first story in New Worlds and soon after that he not only became a regular and valued contributor but the Literary Editor of the magazine. He continued to appear in New Worlds pretty much up to the last issues I edited in the late 1970s. I remain a huge admirer of his work (see Wizardry and Wild Romance, for instance) though we've drifted apart in recent years. He is a fine writer and a generous friend.

        Pre-order or Buy my latest titles in Europe:
        The Whispering Swarm: Book One of the Sanctuary of the White Friars - The Laughter of Carthage - Byzantium Endures - London Peculiar and Other Nonfiction
        Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles - Kizuna: Fiction for Japan - Modem Times 2.0 - The Sunday Books - The Sundered Worlds


        Pre-order or Buy my latest titles in the USA:
        The Laughter of Carthage - Byzantium Endures - London Peculiar and Other Nonfiction - The Sunday Books - Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles
        Kizuna: Fiction for Japan - The Sundered Worlds - The Winds of Limbo - Modem Times 2.0 - Elric: Swords and Roses

        Comment


        • #5
          I got to thinking about publishing MJH's first story and recalled that I was probably wrong, that another short had been published by Bonfiglioli in Science Fantasy. Anyway, a friend found this bit of Harrison autobiography which is, I think, a good encapsulation of his career.


          M John Harrison Biography




          Education


          Rugby was an engineering town. My father and grandfather worked for English Electric, which still supplied steam turbines to power stations, and hadn't yet become GEC, or moved laterally into money, or been mismanaged out of existence.


          I was expected to be an engineer too.


          At school I studied technical drawing but preferred to look out of the window. My favourite book was W H Davies' Autobiography of a Super-Tramp. Asked to write an essay about the fastest thing I had ever seen, I surprised the class by not choosing the fastest thing they could think of: thus demonstrating an early tendency to privilege my own experience in the face of someone else's discourse.


          Out of the classroom window I saw the pictures in my head. They featured sex, insects, motorcycles, and a mixture of characters from T S Eliot and Alfred Bester; and ran to a soundtrack of Bob Dylan's second album. I could not play the guitar, though I had a denim jacket and a copy of On The Road, and would recite large parts of Ginsberg's "Howl". At the same time I managed to keep reading the C S Lewis Narnia stories. I had already written my first book. It was a thriller in the idiom of Mike Hammer and does not survive.




          New Worlds


          My first short story was published in 1966 by Kyril Bonfiglioli at Science Fantasy. He paid me two pounds three shillings and sixpence for it. On the back of that I went to London and grew my hair really long.


          At that time Michael Moorcock's New Worlds was the hottest thing in the shop, and we all wanted to write for it. Moorcock was already a legend. I can still remember him coming to my house in 1967. I couldn't believe it. There he was, drinking a cup of tea.


          In fact, it was less a house than a double bedsit on Anson Road in Tufnell Park, later the site of The East. In the room next door lived a sex worker who entertained her clients to the tune of a single called Simple Simon Says, which she only ever had to play twice. I never managed to write about that. I was too busy trying to write something New Worlds would accept.


          I threw my second novel in the bin. A friend took it out again, and hid it in case I hurt it, and it later became The Committed Men, a phrase modified from the blurb on the back of a Graham Greene novel. I wrote a structurally-challenged piece called "The Orgasm Band", which would give me my first mainstream publication, in Transatlantic Review. I wrote "Lamia Mutable", the original Viriconium story, and sold it to Harlan Ellison.


          I wrote two things that Moorcock liked, and they were published in the same issue of the magazine in late 1968. Not long later I was NW literary editor, which I read as "hired gun", with all the equivocality packed into that concept by spaghetti westerns, Jerry Cornelius stories and novels by Gavin Lyall. I was twenty four. I had a pain in my lower back, and when I went to the GP he said, "We usually see this in older people." It was sciatica.


          Nothing wrecks you quite like writing. It's the combination of bad posture and imposture. For the next five or six years I sat in front of secondhand typewriters smoking fifty cigarettes a day, or in weird fucked-up rooms in West London arguing about the contents of the next issue of NW and listening to other people's music. I was writing until five in the morning and sleeping until six at night. I was throwing most of it away. I weighed about seven and a half stone because I never ate. I met William Burroughs at a party.


          "Have some of these cakes," he said. "They're really good."


          I was terrified. Was he being ironic ? Were they cakes ? Was he even William Burroughs? Since reading The Final Programme, I lived with a raw, flayed awareness of irony. But I wouldn't have missed that time for anything. We were offensive: it was official: questions had been asked in the House. We knew people in rock bands, or Moorcock did. That in itself made us feel invulnerable. I was massively impressed by everything that happened to me. I moved to two rooms in Camden on the back of The Committed Men and The Pastel City. I adopted a cat.


          From the review pages of the magazine I offended everyone I could. In a sarcastic rage--and against the advice of Tom Disch, who argued with me an entire train journey to the Lake District--I wrote The Centauri Device. Suddenly it was 1975. I was bored. I could see that sarcasm wasn't enough. I had written one ambitious novel and two really indifferent ones. I was thirty.
          I was frightened witless.




          Rock Climbing


          I thought: I can't keep doing this, I have to learn to write about something real. I walked up and down the canal towpath in a panic and thought: what the fuck am I going to do ? I couldn't admit this to anyone on the magazine: irony didn't allow for problems like that. One day the phone rang and it was Libby Houston, poet, widow of the extraordinary Mal Dean, a sure, quiet, beautiful woman with two young children.


          She said, "You're always going on about climbing."


          I was.


          "Well I've signed up for a course," Libby said, "and you're coming too."


          I was an armchair climber from way back. I read a lot of books about it. My favourite was an illustrated guide to British climbs called Hard Rock, which had come out in 1974. My hands sweated up when I looked at the pictures. It was early adreno-porn, fifteen years ahead of its time. When we looked up at the Sobell Centre climbing wall, Libby & me, our hands sweated up even more. It was about thirty feet of greyish fibreglass, already slick as snot from all the traffic it got.


          I tied on to the rope. Halfway up, I fell off. Until then, I realised, I hadn't enjoyed it much. But the moment I fell I knew life wasn't ever going to be the same again.


          "Reel him in," someone said. Laughs all round.


          Libby took her kids to the Himalayas. We went round the London climbing shops trying to get cheap sleeping bags for them, cheap boots, cheap everything. There wasn't enough money but she wouldn't give up. Everyone was helpful, everyone respected her because she knew nothing but she was determined. I saw the guys behind the counters looking at her with a kind of wariness which wasn't entirely sexual. She was already one of them. I was hooked through the side of the mouth but I had a long way to go.




          Savoy


          I left London and went to Manchester. I could see the moors from my bedroom window. I could smell the crags waiting for me out there, just as "Mike" tells you at the beginning of Climbers.
          I didn't write anything for two years except "The Incalling", and something that later became "The Ice Monkey", and I put both of them in a drawer. I didn't want to write unless it could be something worthwhile. I didn't want to be in the business. I was sick of the disappointment of it. Eventually I signed up for a second Viriconium novel because I had to eat.


          I was ripe for outrage. Luckily I had met Dave Britton.


          Outrage was Dave's modus. "Look at this fucking lot of wankers," he would shout, glaring down from the room above his shop at two perfectly ordinary people walking along Peter Street. "Someone wants to shake those fuckers out of it. The fucking ordinariness of it all." I stared at him. I was prepared to be excited but I couldn't see what he meant. It didn't matter. In that instant I had the idea for "Egnaro", in which a pornographic bookshop owner sees a vision of the non-quotidian and pursues it obsessionally until the quotidian is revealed at the heart of it. I was beginning to understand obsession.


          I worked at Bookchain for two years, writing A Storm of Wings when trade was slow. As my impatience with fantasy increased, the story became more and more grotesque. Dave encouraged this. "You want gas masks in it," he would advise bluntly, after he had read the latest bit. "More gas masks, Mike. More throwing up." His corrupt chuckle floated out over the heads of the secretaries on Peter Street.


          Dave had his obsession too. It was wrenched but Wellsian, Tono-Bungay for punk Manchester rainwet streets, 1979. It had a pure ironic sweep: Savoy Books, a company which would publish fiction no one else dared touch, financed on the profits of porn. Lunchtimes, we would retire to the upper room, eat fish, chips, mushy peas and gravy, and trade obsessions. I would try and do a circuit of the room without touching the furniture or the floor. Essentially this meant balancey edging moves on the skirting board, which I broke. Meanwhile, Dave would glare down at the crowds.


          "It's all they deserve, Mike. Porn."


          Without Dave's encouragement I would never have finished A Storm of Wings, or begun In Viriconium, my first really achieved book. Without my "job" at the shop, I would never have made it through. But I owe him much more than that. He was one of the brilliant, charged madmen who lit up my life like beacons at that time. He was the key that unlocked my subject matter. In him, I saw the pivot between dream and reality, and realised that “Egnaro� was part of the same story as "The Ice Monkey". I was working on both now, but I knew that they were only testbeds for a book that would actually say something I was sure of: Climbers.




          The Boardman Tasker & After


          As a winner of the Boardman Tasker I was invited to join the Alpine Club. My climbing career didn't meet the standard entrance requirements, let alone match the exploits of people like Steven Venables and Joe Simpson. That felt wrong to me, and rather than creep in under false pretences--writing a book is pretty much the opposite of climbing anything--I regretfully refused the invitation.
          But while I was looking for something interesting to do with the prize money, I thought: Join a club! Why not ? I picked the Chelsea Arts Club, and my puzzlement at finding myself there shows in this journal entry from 1990:


          "In the day I hang about on Thamesmead Estate with the roped-access team, learning how to rip mastic out of expansion slots twelve floors up a tower block in a freezing wind. ('Bet you can't spit on that bulldog, Mike.' I can barely see it. Yesterday I got my trail rope tangled round a sattelite dish and took ten minutes trying to disentangle it while an old dear watched angrily from her kitchen window.) In the evening I go to the CAC to meet P-------- for a drink.


          "P-------- and I always talk about growing old, about feeling your life shorten in front of you. He returns again and again to the subject of Laurie Lee, who is increasingly old, ill, drunk. A few nights ago P-------- followed him home from the club "to make sure he didn't fall down". Earlier he had found Lee in the garden, sitting on the bench behind the statue of Venus, looking frail and bemused, trying to remember, perhaps, all the women who had made his life.


          "I don't want to be attracted by these two--the one using the other as a map by which to steer some meaningful, or at least recognisable, course through a mid-life crisis--even as subject matter. But the place itself is tempting.


          "Cupid, perched on a mossy clamshell between two large terracotta urns, shoots his arrow of water into the air above a little black pond with very green weed floating on it. The flagstones in front of the pond are worn and rippled, scattered tonight with honeysuckle flowers.


          "CAC has retained against the odds a kind of privilege and magic. Faces you almost recognise cluster in the warm summer evening round widely-spaced tables on the lawn. Smoke from a garden down towards Cheyne Walk and the river smells like mild Dutch tobacco. A jet banks silently in the gap between two old roofs.


          "Out here they are all talking and laughing, waiting lazily for their dinner. Inside, players nose quietly round the two snooker tables, fish in a lighted tank. The men have a way of wearing shabby boat shoes and jeans which makes you feel inelegant, chippy, screwed down tight. The brown colour of the air is so like water that for a moment you could mistake the glasses and bottles above the bar for a stream of silver bubbles rising behind them.


          "CAC is nothing like the other media clubs, over in Soho. Rolling Rock Beer is the only style statement here. The rest is Whistler, Cupid, Aphrodite, fuchsia and climbing roses, ferns and rushes: a terrific calm could creep into you here, if you let it. It's pretty much the opposite of climbing, or ripping mastic, or even writing books. It’s pretty much the opposite of my life."




          Barnes


          I live in "village" Barnes, with a partner who prefers Hackney and a cat who prefers Highgate. Barnes, like the Chelsea Arts Club, is pretty much the opposite of anything I've ever been. It's got a duck pond, and a common. I heard that the legendary Nigel Kneale lives not far from the pond, so I go out in the middle of the day hoping to bump into him. I don't know what I'd say if I did.
          "I hid behind the sofa while my parents watched Quatermass 2, and it gave me the idea for a career."


          My sense of balance has been a bit on-and-off since 1996, so I don't climb much now. Anyway I'm too fat to do it properly any more. So I'm writing a space opera--as you do--while I assemble the material for a novel structurally similar to Climbers, but with completely different subject matter. This will take as long as Climbers to write, so no one should get their hopes up.


          Some days I write in the garden and a blue dragonfly spends all morning hawking for insects off my knee. Dragonfly-jaws seem to work sideways, you can see them, very tiny and active, like a pair of tin-snips. I enjoy Barnes, though I don't fit in. It's good for the river, if a bit short on cheap Vietnamese cafes. I've got quite a nice off-road bike--Marin Palisades Trail--which looks a bit like a dragonfly itself. I take it round Richmond Park for lunch. Once round is OK but twice round means 1 can reward myself with a cup of tea from the hot snacks stall by the Deer Park, while the bike draws an admiring audience of small boys. As its owner--or custodian--I get some transfer of this admiration.


          But only so much, which is right & proper.


          Little girls are a different thing. They stop their bicycles broadside across the track in front of you on the steepest hill they can find and while you are occupied with the brakes think visibly:


          "Well my bike's pink."


          Little girls aren't going to have any nonsense.
          Last edited by David Mosley; 07-01-2007, 05:05 AM. Reason: Typograhical misformattings corrected by Admin

          Pre-order or Buy my latest titles in Europe:
          The Whispering Swarm: Book One of the Sanctuary of the White Friars - The Laughter of Carthage - Byzantium Endures - London Peculiar and Other Nonfiction
          Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles - Kizuna: Fiction for Japan - Modem Times 2.0 - The Sunday Books - The Sundered Worlds


          Pre-order or Buy my latest titles in the USA:
          The Laughter of Carthage - Byzantium Endures - London Peculiar and Other Nonfiction - The Sunday Books - Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles
          Kizuna: Fiction for Japan - The Sundered Worlds - The Winds of Limbo - Modem Times 2.0 - Elric: Swords and Roses

          Comment


          • #6
            :up:
            "A man is no man who cannot have a fried mackerel when he has set his mind on it; and more especially when he has money in his pocket to pay for it." - E.A. Poe's NICHOLAS DUNKS; OR, FRIED MACKEREL FOR DINNER

            Comment


            • #7
              Thanks for that, Mike. An enjoyable read. I've never read any Harrison, I think I might keep an eye out for some, now.
              Dave Britton sounds a scream, too! :tinfoil:
              You see, it's... it's no good, Montag. We've all got to be alike. The only way to be happy is for everyone to be made equal.

              -:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-

              Image Hive :-: Wikiverse :-: Media Hive

              :-: Onsite Offerings :-:


              "I am an observer of life, a non-participant who takes no sides. I am in the regimented society, but not of it." Moondog, 1964

              Comment


              • #8
                Harrison's a great influence on the current generation, especially China Mieville. Dave hasn't changed. Mike's right in that Dave's enthusiasm really did help him kick himself into a higher dimension of achievement, though, of course, he would have got there anyway, I'm sure. Dave's one of those grey eminences, who've done a lot for writers over the years, with very little recognition. I was glad to hear that the book about Savoy (see nearby thread) got a prize this year at the World Fantasy convention. Savoy have kept the faith in a way few others have, in my view.

                Pre-order or Buy my latest titles in Europe:
                The Whispering Swarm: Book One of the Sanctuary of the White Friars - The Laughter of Carthage - Byzantium Endures - London Peculiar and Other Nonfiction
                Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles - Kizuna: Fiction for Japan - Modem Times 2.0 - The Sunday Books - The Sundered Worlds


                Pre-order or Buy my latest titles in the USA:
                The Laughter of Carthage - Byzantium Endures - London Peculiar and Other Nonfiction - The Sunday Books - Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles
                Kizuna: Fiction for Japan - The Sundered Worlds - The Winds of Limbo - Modem Times 2.0 - Elric: Swords and Roses

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by Michael Moorcock
                  I met William Burroughs at a party. "Have some of these cakes," he said. "They're really good." I was terrified. Was he being ironic ? Were they cakes ? Was he even William Burroughs?
                  :lol: :lol: :lol:

                  But were they cakes? I'm worried now...
                  "That which does not kill us, makes us stranger." - Trevor Goodchild

                  Comment


                  • #11
                    I have a stack of Mike Harrison's work that I have yet to get around to. No surprise there, I have a stack of lots of authors that I never seem to get around to, but reading this thread is making me want to dig out some of Harrison's stuff and read it. I haven't been able to find a reference to a first Harrison story in Science Fantasy, most standard listings (e.g. the encylopedia Of SF by Clute/Nicholls) start with Baa Baa Blocksheep in New Worlds. Be interesting to know what that first story was.

                    There's a listing of Harrison's work here:

                    http://www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/au...n_Harrison.htm

                    Here's a link to his website:

                    http://www.mjohnharrison.com/inprint.htm

                    And a link to another interview from 2001:

                    http://www.infinityplus.co.uk/nonfiction/intmjh.htm

                    Comment


                    • #12
                      Aaargh! Logged out, that was me posting above...

                      And I should add that having recently read a couple of his Cornelius stories in The New Nature Of The Catastrophe, that they are excellent...
                      'You know, I can't keep up with you. If I hadn't met you in person, I quite honestly would NOT believe you really existed. I just COULDN'T. You do so MUCH... if half of what goes into your zines is to be believed, you've read more at the age of 17 than I have at the age of 32 - LOTS more'

                      Archie Mercer to Mike (Burroughsania letters page, 1957)

                      Comment


                      • #13
                        Originally posted by Aral
                        I haven't been able to find a reference to a first Harrison story in Science Fantasy, most standard listings (e.g. the encylopedia Of SF by Clute/Nicholls) start with Baa Baa Blocksheep in New Worlds. Be interesting to know what that first story was.
                        I'd thought Baa Baa Blocksheep was the first, as well; but when I came to do the comments for the New Worlds covers in the image gallery, I found there was indeed an earlier story - though it's taken me a few minutes of Googling to locate it again.

                        It was Marina in Science Fantasy, Feb 1966. See http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/ch.cgi?...ohn%20Harrison
                        Mike H.
                        www.holli.co.uk

                        Comment


                        • #14
                          Well spotted MikeH!

                          Believe it or not, I've just found I have this issue sitting on my bookshelves :P The story is credited simply to 'John Harrison'.
                          'You know, I can't keep up with you. If I hadn't met you in person, I quite honestly would NOT believe you really existed. I just COULDN'T. You do so MUCH... if half of what goes into your zines is to be believed, you've read more at the age of 17 than I have at the age of 32 - LOTS more'

                          Archie Mercer to Mike (Burroughsania letters page, 1957)

                          Comment


                          • #15
                            Mike, what are your thoughts on M.John Harrison?

                            Harrison is effing brilliant. He used to like my artwork too, which was a terrific ego-boost.

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