Grave Goods – M. John Harrison
Grave Goods is a series of interviews in which the participant is invited to choose an item to accompany them to the afterlife from the following categories: Tools of the Trade – a tool/implement without which you’d be lost, whether it’s a pen, trowel, notepad, bottle-opener or scanning electron microscope. Food for the Journey – a favourite portable snack, or a portion of something from your funeral feast. Memento Vivere – a memento of a companion/event to bring you cheer (can be an image). Ex Libris – the book or text you are least likely to tire of reading. Lucky Deposition – a bonus selection chosen by the guest – can include transport. A Message from Beyond the Grave – an entirely discretionary option – leave a note for a future generation to find.
This week it’s M. John Harrison’s turn to choose. M. John Harrison is the author of a number of influential novels including Viriconium, Settling the World: Selected Stories 1970-2020, and has recently released The Sunken Land Begins to Rise Again, which has been received extremely enthusiastically. He also reviews for the Guardian and the TLS. He lives in Shropshire, and can be found on Twitter.
I don’t think I’d like to take a favourite book, just as I don’t think I’d choose any records for Desert Island Discs. Imagine being confined on an island with something you’d already listened to seven million times. I might take JG Ballard’s short story “The Voices of Time”, just to reassure myself about the real time in the universe. I also imagine the journey as being in itself morally, aesthetically & structurally similar to the journey depicted in Ali Smith’s “Text of the Day”, in which the central character reads as she goes and tears out each page as she finishes it. If your journey is like that, you don’t need an actual book.
Food for the Journey
Lou Reed: “Maybe there’s something over there/Some other world that we don’t know about.” If there is I hope the journey’s an endless walk, sunny but not too warm, on well-worn but empty paths along little ridges of sandstone heath. It’s often a morning in early June. Sea in the distance sometimes, off to one side, perhaps every now and then you come down to a harbour on a rocky coast. Food: hummous & pitta; cheese; a bottle of mid-range claret that would remain mysteriously half-full.
Tools of the Trade
My lovely Mac Air. I haven’t been able to work without cut & paste since 1987. But also: maybe there’s wi fi over there, some broadband thing that we don’t know about. and if there is, it might catch faint traces of the living, much the way it does in our world–every afternoon, you’d find me huddled over the Mac, like a valve radio operator in some WW2 backwater, ignoring my call sign but combing the bandwidth for their fragmentary but enchanting attempts to communicate with each other.
In late night convos about death & burial, I used to quote Alberto y Lost Trios Paranoias’ classic line, ‘Just shove me in a plastic bag and leave me on the pavement’. But when my cat died a few years ago, and I received his ashes in a little cylindrical container, I lost confidence. If I scattered the cat in the garden, I might move house and he’d be lonely; if I took him along and buried him in some new place, he’d hate that too. So I kept the ashes and they’re still on top of the bookcase. I’ll bring them with me on the journey to remind me that somewhere back in life, someone might be having a similar problem with me.
A fold of paper. On it someone’s written me something nice, which I will never look at. Although sometimes I might think about doing that.
Message from Beyond the Grave
‘See you soon.’
Here follows a selection of Mike Harrison’s novels and stories.