I am a ghost in my own life: Balance, Ballard and Michell

Lands End Airport

Prompted by the sad death of ‘slipstream’/horror writer Joel Lane late last year, I’ve been determined to read more fiction. I was always aware of how well regarded Lane was, both as a writer of horror in realistic/urban/working-class settings and as a person but am not familiar with his work. I should be, as well as others who are in my peer group, but who all have a higher profile than myself. For the last decade or so, I’ve been very involved in non-fiction writings: local and national archaeology and sacred sites, reference books on demonology and suchlike… Should I be reading more fiction, if nothing else, to keep in touch, both with the writers and with the art form? Following my own path is fine, I think, but I don’t want to go so far down it that my writing becomes inaccessible and ceases to do what I want it to do. So, a couple of forays into local Oxfam bookshops have been useful: I hadn’t read High-Rise by J G Ballard for decades, so was glad of a chance to re-familiarise myself with it. I like Ballard. His characters all seem to have their own personal madness going on, often while they try to survive in the Hell of suburbia. [NB: the ICA in London once organised an event with Ballard being interviewed by the then fresh faced Clive Barker. It must have been in the mid 1980s. Unfortunately, the event was cancelled, with no explanation or rescheduling taking place. A bitter disappointment! It was around the same time that Kathy Acker interviewed William Gibson at the same venue, a fantastic and inspirational event.]  I’m several chapters in to High-Rise and I’ve had to stop reading it: perhaps it’s my frame of mind, but the story is just making me laugh. It feels odd to do so, a little disrespectful, but I was a very different person when I read the book first time round. Another time, perhaps. To complete the failure, I went into Oxfam a few days ago and found a copy of Michellany: A John Michell Reader. I don’t know nearly enough about Michell (to my shame: he was a real authority on sacred sites and Earth energies) and the book – hardcover, signed and numbered by the authors – has a number of previously unpublished essays in it, together with writings on Michell by a number of people. No fiction here! I need to be careful while I browse it: financial pressures mean I need to sell it on as soon as possible, which is a shame, as it’s a beautiful looking book, but such is life. I hope to learn something before I let it go.

After years of missing local record fairs, I went to one last Saturday. I had a feeling there was something there for me, so I went in as soon as it opened, looked around the roomful of cds and records and let my instinct take me to one of the boxes of albums. There, about halfway through, was a copy of the first pressing of Current 93/Sickness of Snakes’ mini-album, Murder Culture (1985). On the back was a dedication, signature and date (1986) by John (as he was known then) Balance. It was the real deal, so I got it – £28 well spent, I think. This one I’m not selling on, unless times get absolutely desperate. I have an item that belonged to Balance, and perhaps it’s his writing on the Zos Kia test pressing I have, but the album’s another connection which I could not walk away from.

Music has always been more of an inspiration/springboard for my writing than other people’s fiction (which may be another reason that I don’t feel the need to read that much), and that continues, with the acquisition, finally, of the first Electric Sewer Age album, Peter Christopherson’s final musical work. It has not been a disappointment, indeed, it has the feel, perhaps the magick, of Coil, something I thought would not be possible without Balance’s (physical) presence.

And as for writing, the two stories I had been working on have had to be put on hold again. For good reason: in the space of a day or so, I’ve sketched out a whole new short story. It’s one of those that has just dropped on to my notebook and I had to get the general idea down as quickly as it appeared. A bit of research and it’ll be all systems go. I would say it’s a subtle, psychological horror story, with a (probably male) Spanish architect as its centre.

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2 thoughts on “I am a ghost in my own life: Balance, Ballard and Michell

  1. You always have the best titles! I’ll have to check out that Christopherson album, am not familiar with it. I would’ve killed to attend that Ballard (or Acker/Gibson) event! One of my favorite stories of his involves an insomniac (or is it a sleepwalker?) who walks in the hills around his house, only to find that the ocean has risen up and deposited shells, etc. – it’s a haunting and unforgettable image; wish I recalled the title. I enjoy how you find inspiration in many places – nature, fiction, nonfiction, music, etc. Important to mix it up, I think; definitely more stimulating for the writer (and I need to take my own advice here). Am intrigued by your story idea about the architect; look forward to reading it!

    • Your comments are always so positive, TLP; many thanks. The Electric Sewer Age album is, of course, readily available to listen to on YouTube…and the musick is for the main part extremely meditative, the kind of thing that gets me into the particular/strange frame of mind that often works best for writing. Personally, I also find it very sad, as I do much of Coil’s works, not least because we have lost both Christopherson and Balance, but much of their work was about Death. But the stuff is certainly not going to be everyone’s cup of tea; you may find it has an altogether different effect.

      I have certainly found a shift in my inspirations since leaving London and living on the coast, which is inevitable I suppose (and your move away from the city will possibly have changed your perspective on some aspects of life?). This is almost 100% for the better – London has a lot going for it but the negative energy there was just sucking the life out of me, and I was lucky enough to be able to leave. I think my writing has more subtlety, more depth, to it now, although hard-core horror fans may not think this a good thing!

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