Introducing our contributors: Harry Man

Get excited. The countdown to launch is approaching. It’s taken us a little while to get to this point, but we’ve wanted to find artists and writers that we truly believe in. Harry Man is one of them. The work he’s producing is groundbreaking, and we couldn’t be happier to be publishing him. Expect big things from Harry in the future.

You write both poetry and prose inspired by science. Do you think there’s a different mindset involved in the writing of these different forms?

Writing is largely about discovery. The next line is the line that thrills. Prose and poetry share that quality, and I still get what is sometimes referred to as the ‘night time mind laundrette’, where an idea, a couple of lines – how ever zany or long-incubated – are tumbling around in my mind. Both get me up and writing at the kitchen table, by the blue light of the laptop screen. It’s often said that “prose denotes, poetry connotes,” but the truth is that they borrow from each other. It’s a Zeno’s paradox relationship, whereby in a race between a tortoise and a hare, each travels half the distance in half the time, and this dividing can disappear into infinity and there’s no point in time where we can say precisely one action overtakes the other – it’s an estimate at best, and the race is, in this analogy, the time it takes to read. We only really consider semantics after the fact. When writing prose or poetry, there can be a similar consideration for plot, but it would be a rare thing for me to write a sparkling piece of prose on the first draft, but very occasionally a poem will arrive like muscle memory – spooky, and without a second thought. 

What inspires you in your creative work?

I read like a maniac and expose myself to as much as I can reasonably take in and I play a few little jokes on myself to keep things interesting, so if you want to write, then spend more time hiding plastic dinosaurs in your cupboards, or trying to get around the kitchen without letting your toes touch the linoleum. A poem is the nearest thing we have to a working teleport, and who doesn’t want to teleport all the time? 

What are the main themes that you like to explore in your writing?

I’m lucky to have a tinder box brain – I rarely go for a walk on a windy day without coming back in with an idea, but then again I’ve been writing for a long time, and I don’t come back with a sonata or inch-long equations. Grayson Perry once said that in order to get inspired, he gets out his crayons in front of the TV to trick his mind into a state of playing, rather than working, and I can see the usefulness in that. When I think I’ve switched off, I find myself writing down verbs that never made the Scrabble dictionary (e.g. to be bus-faced, to outdine, to unteeter etc) and repeat outbursts to myself that I hear from other people (“Will no one stop this foolishness!” and “Shut up you or I’ll chop your arm off and sock you with the soggy end,” which a friend of mine overheard outside a chippy in Liverpool). I stare into empty space a great deal – it’s hard to stick around when your brain is continually whisking you off elsewhere. Daydreaming is a very healthy thing to do.

I try to tread in front of the crossing shadow of ‘beautiful nature’ so that what I’m writing about is vivid and living and three-dimensional – there’s a responsibility to scientific terminology, to try and de-alienate readers from what’s living on the pond in their local park, or even growing on the wheels of a mothballed lorry cab. This is something which has grown out of reading Adrienne Rich, Ted Hughes, Marianne Moore, Michael McKimm, etc, and steadying how I write with more modern formalist poets.

I like to make people laugh, and it’s a depressing subject – talking about the end of all life on Earth by its own hand – so I try to work through that and imagine something brighter, doing something now, and considering what our lifeboat might be. In my story Spare Me there are references to computer monitoring the facial stress of crew members, which is technology currently under development by NASA for their Orion programme to monitor the psychological state of future astronauts.

Are you a science fiction fan? If so, what’s your favourite science fiction book or film?

E M Forster’s ‘The Machine Stops’ is a wonderful short story, and one which seems oddly prescient, given that it was first published in 1909 and in it Forster describes a kind of cyberspace. I’ve always loved H G Wells’ description of the time traveller’s time machine, and a lot of the Amazing Stories era science fiction writers of the 50s and 60s like Clifford Simak, Isaac Asmiov and Ray Bradbury. Lately I’ve been reading a lot of J G Ballard – I think everyone who loved his writing is deeply sad that he’s gone, and we’ve all been left jonesing for another fix ever since. Science fiction in which we tamper with what we don’t fully understand and we must reap the whirlwind of the Frankenstein folly of our curiosity I always feel wrong-foots the layman on scientific method and peer-review. 

Aliens or robots?

Extremophile aliens are the main reason I check bbc.co.uk/news every morning. NASA believes that by 2040 we will have discovered intelligent life somewhere out in space. If they turn out to be right, that will be a beautiful, life-affirming and sobering moment in our time.

You time travel 100 years into the future. What’s it like?

There has been a change of heart. We have developed a more devolved government, putting two-thirds of local decisions on education, local services, healthcare, tax, housing and clean energy in the hands of the people. We have had to alter our genetics to make us more capable to deal with over-stimulation and highly complex social networks. This has now become part of legislation (be altered and get the vote, or stay disconnected and be ostracised). We interact with new ideas through a carefully inter-connected hive mind which is somewhere between wearable technology, the internet and grid computing and in which we volunteer to participate and switch off to sleep. Human 2.0 has evolved, but the software is still buggy, and there are now private surgeons who specialise in human installs and restores. We are confronting a number of highly dangerous problems: overpopulation, hot stormy weather, widespread flooding, widespread starvation, and regular space-exploration disasters on Mars. Nonetheless, enough time has passed that we are no longer frightened by this way of existing, but take it as read that this is now our life, and the condition of our home planet. This condition of crisis has made us more sympathetic to one another, and we are trying to successfully develop nanotechnology to help clean up pollution and grow more on the planet’s surface as well as to pass some pretty hair-raising legislation. We are succeeding in some areas, but progress is slow. Some of you who read this for the first time as twenty-year-olds are still alive.

If you were an emoji, which one would you be? Nick would be ‘Information Desk Person’ and Ella would be ‘Nail Polish’.

I would be Magician Escaping From Sack (sometimes confused for ‘Beefy Arm’).

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What are you working on at the moment?

I’m working on a project to interview conservationists, local residents about endangered species for a forthcoming pamphlet from Sidekick Books. The project is called Finders Keepers and you can find out more about it at www.finderskeepers.org.uk.