you’re in London and want a more unofficial way to mark the end of the
Tate’s William Blake exhibition, the South London Arts Lab are
organising a ‘Blake Off’ tomorrow (Feb 2nd). Billed as a day of ‘music,
poetry, drones and ceremony’, the plan is to meet in the free Blake
legacy room (not the exhibition) at Tate Britain at 4pm, before moving
to upstairs at the Morpeth Arms from 5pm. Hope to see you there!
that the Tate event is done, my plan is to take a bit of a breather
from doing talks this year, although I fully expect to be all over the
shop in 2021. That said, I have agreed to do a talk on Blake at
Sheffield Library on March 9th because (a) Sheffield, (b) libraries, (c)
Blake and (d) full moon. The event is free and I’d advise registering for a ticket sooner rather than later.
I’ve also agreed to an ‘in conversation’ event with Robin Ince at Berkhamsted Book Festival on May 10th because no one can say no to Robin Ince, it is not physically possible. But that should be it for talks this year.
That said – I do have one date you might want to put in your diaries.
written a play called HG Wells & the Spiders From Mars. It’s a
one-man play (well, one visible man) and it stars Oliver Senton, who
played Robert Anton Wilson in the Cosmic Trigger play. It’s being
directed by Daisy Campbell.
Here’s the blurb:
collide when an invisible muse ‘Ziggy’ crash lands into the Edwardian
living room reality of the ‘Godfather of Science Fiction’ HG Wells,
inspiring him to write his greatest works: but can H.G. surrender to his
muse and help provoke an evolutionary leap in the collective
imagination? What can myth-making genius teach us about the urgent need
to alter our cultural narrative. Could we be heroes?
A time-traveling one-man fusion of theatre, music-hall magic & Bowie-inspired songs, with razor sharp digital sets.
It’s still in development, but it will be presented as a
work-in-progress at the Cockpit Theatre on April 3rd. This will be
partly fully staged and partly a readthrough, and I’ll be doing a
Q&A. More on this next time but for now, if you’re likely to be
around London on Friday April 3rd, keep the date free.
Speaking of Daisy Campbell, I’m hella proud to have written the introduction to the book edition of her one-woman show Pigspurt’s Daughter.
This presents as being an examination of her relationship with her late
father Ken Campbell but is, of course, considerably more than that.
If you heard Conor Garrett’s terrific Radio 4 documentary
on the attempts of the KLF/JAMMs to become undertakers and wondered how
this came to be, then Pigspurt’s Daughter will explain a lot. You can
think of it as the missing link between the story detailed in my KLF
book and what’s going on now.
Here’s how my introduction begins:
are two types of magical people. The first group are those who want to
be magical. They feel drawn to the magical life and they read plenty of
books to find out about it. They study hard and discuss arcane subjects
with like-minded wizards and witches. Magic is a vocation and something
to be nurtured, and they apply themselves.
The second type are
people who just are magical and there’s not a damn thing that they can
do about it. Their lives are a constant parade of unbelievable and
impossible situations. Synchronicities compete for their attention. The
world bends itself into unnatural positions in order to better reflect
their own mental landscape. Their lives are constantly, intensely
magical, and they just put up with it as best they can.
The author of this play, Daisy Campbell, is this second type of person.
is happening and the year, as you’ve no doubt noticed, has got off to a
determined start. That strange nameless decade we’ve left behind was a
vague, unsettled thing where probabilities were malleable and
certainties vulnerable. We were able to imagine wonderful ways forward,
but the shifting ground underneath our feet did not want to be built on.
have landed on settled ground now. It is not an ideal world, to put it
mildly, but at least we no longer fool ourselves about its true
character. We know the score and there is much to do, but our decade in
the mists has orientated us well. It is time – to quote Tom Waits – to
get behind the mule, and plough.
Good luck! I’ll write again further down the road. jhx
A six-and-a-bit-weekly newsletter from author John Higgs. If you haven’t already subscribed, you can do so here. This is the edition that was sent on 22 December 2019.
Winter Solstice 2019
THE ISLAND OF GREAT BEDLAM
The phrase ‘the island of Great Bedlam’ isn’t used much these days. It
was coined by the seventeenth century Seeker and near-Ranter William
Erbery in his 1653 book The Mad Man’s Plea which, I confess, is
a pretty obscure reference, even for me. The coming 2020s seems the
ideal time for a comeback, though, and if you get a chance to drop the
phrase into conversation go for it – it may be your last chance.
Back in spring I wrote about how the UK had finally come out of the closet
and stopped pretending that it was sane – and that the question now
was, what type of madman was it? If there had been any doubters back
then, they seem pretty silent now. If you think about what’s going to
happen politically, on issues like Brexit, food banks, the NHS,
homelessness, climate change, trust, corruption, the Far Right and so
on, you can do so safe in the knowledge that this is what the British
public – well, the Welsh and English public – have chosen. Thanks to all
those who went out and voted for it, and all those who didn’t bother
leaving the house to vote against, what is coming is entirely on the
people, for good or for ill.
As a result of the election, Scottish independence now looks not just
possible but pretty likely, and so does a united Ireland earlier than
demographic predictions usually predict. All this is a matter for the
people of Scotland and Ireland, of course, and good luck to them. But it
also has implications for folk in Wales and England, because this could
be the last decade we can actually use the phrase ‘Great Bedlam’. Come
the 2030s, the grand-sounding ‘United Kingdom of Great Britain and
Northern Ireland’ may well have been superceeded by the more homely
‘Wales and England’, and phrases like Great Bedlam will be out of date.
Notice I have been saying ‘Wales and England’ rather than ‘England and
Wales’. You can make arguments for both names, of course. ‘Wales and
England’ makes sense in terms of both left-right order and historical
precedence, while ‘England and Wales’ reflects the greater population of
England. What we need to keep an eye on, though, is the argument that
it should be ‘England and Wales’ because of some subconscious assumed
superiority of England, or because an absence of humility vetoes the
ideas of England being second. As I argued a few months back,
if there is a positive side to Brexit it is that the cancer of
British/English Exceptionalism is being ground away into dust, at least
in the eyes of other countries. The question now is whether it is still
strong enough to be a factor in the naming of this potential new
In this issue, initials prove to be oddly symbolic. We’ll need new
initials of course, because both GB and UK will be outdated and gone. If
we go with ‘Wales and England’, our initials will be WE, as in a group
or community. If a lack of humility insists that the name has to be
‘England and Wales’, then our initials will be EW, as in an expression
Right now we are Great Bedlam – that’s our current situation, and we
should make the most of it while we can. But if Scotland rejoins the EU
and Ireland unites, will we become We or Ew? That is, freakishly neatly,
a perfect summation of our situation as we enter this new decade. Who
do we want to be? What shall we become? A coming together like family or
something nasty and repellent?
The answer is, as always, entirely in the hands of the British public. So, that’s all right then.
I’ve already mentioned that I’ll be chairing the Tate Britain Blake Now event on January 31st
– if you are thinking of coming along, please say hello. I’m
particularly thrilled about the rest of the panel, which includes the
artist – and author of the otherworldly Vorrh trilogy – Brian Catling, plus the poet Mr Gee and the musician Nabihah Iqbal. That’s going to be some evening, don’t you think?
I’ve just reached the 50,000 words mark in William Blake Vs The World,
meaning that it is at the exact halfway point, which is as good a time
as any to down tools for the holidays and kick back and relax for the
When I resurface in January we will have a whole new decade to deal
with. Not an unformed, undefined ten years like the last lot – where
much strangeness ran wild due to the lack of a framework – but a named,
rigid decade, the type that time travellers from the future get giddy at
the thought of visiting.
Much will change. We will exit that decade having lost a lot that we
hold dear, including perhaps our surviving Beatles, a number of Doctor
Whos, and many others we should treasure while they are here. We will
also lose a number of unmournables, such as Rupert Murdoch and the
anti-climate science activist Nigel Lawson, because there must always be
balance. We will most likely lose the Queen as well, an event which in
its strange way will help reshape the country. Just as there’s an
increase in deaths when people retire or lose their partners, there will
be an increase following the death of the Queen. There are strange
times ahead, and all those visiting time travellers are salivating.
The stage is set now, and the cast lined up. Based on these, the 2020s
looks like it will be a twisted dark comedy. I have been mostly avoiding
spoilers but it does seem that a generational and cultural divide will
form part of the plot. I hope you have left behind any unnecessary
baggage and are ready to play your part, for the curtain opens in ten
days, whether we are ready or not…
This newsletter is now two years old. Thank you all for being part of
it, and extra thanks to those who have shown it to others and helped it
grow. Your feedback has been wonderful and encourages me to keep on.
Thanks also to those who bought signed books from the online book
cupboard in the last newsletter, and, as always, big love to all those
who bought The Future Starts Here and/or William Blake Now this year, either for yourselves or others.
Thanks, you goddamn heroes. I’m up for another spin round the sun if you are.
previous years I’ve had emails from people wanting to buy signed and
dedicated copies of my books as Christmas presents for their loved ones.
This year I thought I’d try to both encourage and also automate this
practice. So, in my pop-up shop, you can buy personally dedicated copies
of most of my books plus a few rarities – such as the last 10 copies of
the AI-generated Algohiggs book that was only available from my Future talks a few months back – all at cover price or cheaper.
you thinking of gifting one of my books to someone who really should
read it? Is there one of my books that you’ve really meant to get around
to getting at some point, but you’ve just been crazy busy, and perhaps
you should treat yourself now? Are you prepared to hint shamelessly and
blatantly to family members about exactly what they should be getting
you this Christmas? If so, then this is the shop for you.
book cupboard will close when the next newsletter arrives, at the winter
solstice. The stock is limited and is unlikely to be refreshed because I
haven’t really got my head around this shop-running lark. And – each
order comes with a specially designed collectable Higgs-bookmark!
Readers of this newsletter will probably remember the RAF Benevolent Fund logo, aka the Albion roundel, which I talked about recently.
One reader who was totally paying attention was Robin from Bristol, who
came to the last talk I gave in Brighton and gifted me an Albion
roundel riot shield she had made. What a fantastic thing! I am now
totally Brexit-ready, as the adverts advised.
to Cass Sutton for the photo of me heroically auditioning for a role in
Captain Albion (if that’s a thing). Also thanks to Librarian Will for
presenting me with a mask of my own face that evening which, although I
didn’t immediately grasp this, is something of a headfuck.
inspired and beautifully made gifts are examples of the sort of
unexpected, unpredictable things that result from going out and giving
talks. I’m not expecting to do much public stuff in 2020 – aside from
the Tate Britain Blake Now event in January – so I will miss things like this. Rest assured I’m hoping be back doing endless talks in 2021.
I’ve only got a couple more talks lined up this year – the Black Box in Belfast on November 24, and Lavenham Literary Festival on
November 16. I’m not saying you should come along with surprise gifts
to those events. Even if I was thinking it, I wouldn’t say it. But do
come along if you can, for who knows what may happen?
unrelated note, if you are unfamiliar with the album Rushes by The
Fireman (aka Paul McCartney and Youth), I will attempt to persuade you
to make it part of your life when you listen to this episode of I Am The Eggpod.
nights are drawing in, it is getting dark and uncertainty is
everywhere. And yet, I keep finding more and more positivity and
optimism sprouting like weeds in our culture of doom. Are the clouds
lifting, and is this becoming a trend? Either way it will do no harm, I
think, to have a quick blast from the optimism hose. Here’s a few links
that are probably tonally at odds with your regular news media intake:
I’ve just read This Could Be Our Future by Yancey Strickler,
the ex-CEO and co-founder of Kickstarter. It’s about the flaws in
making decisions based on short-term financial maximalisation – the
unfortunate default in our culture – and how to avoid thinking like
this. Heartily recommended!
My newsletter gets sent out 8 times a year – you can subscribe here. This is the newsletter that was sent on 23 September 2019…
Higgs’ Blind Octannual Manual #14
A six-and-a-bit-weekly newsletter from author John Higgs
Autumn Equinox 2019
Happy autumn equinox all! The wheel of the year grinds ever on…
Huge thanks to all who came to the launch of my short book William Blake Now at the Social last Monday. Special thanks to Salon London
for organising it at the last minute and to the die-hards who came to
sing and proclaim at the spot where Blake was born afterwards – that was
a real joy.
thanks to Richard Norris for the above photo, in which our gathering is
blessed by a very Blakean thread of golden light. Slightly fewer thanks
to Flinton Chalk for the following picture, of me at Tate Britain’s new
Blake exhibition deep in contemplation of the genitals of the giant
school, Hanif Kureishi was taught that the Beatles did not write their
own songs. Those songs were really composed, his music teacher told him,
by the well-spoken Brian Epstein and George Martin.
teacher was expressing the delusion of class superiority. If you
believe you are automatically superior to a bunch of scruffy Scouse
herberts, then a lot of cognitive dissonance will be created when some
of those Scouse herberts produce work far in advance of anything you or
your peers could ever dream of. In those circumstances the teacher’s
brain took refuge in a conspiracy theory, because this took the pressure
off his model of reality.
Note that the teacher was probably
unaware he was doing this. His belief in class superiority would have
been imprinted upon him as a child. It was buried so deep, and framed so
much of his worldview, that he would have been entirely unaware of it.
It resided in his mind’s blind spot. It is hard to correct delusions
that are invisible to us.
We all have a blind spot. None of us
really know the delusions that lurk there. For all we may want to
condemn Kureishi’s teacher, we are not that different oursleves. In the
forecourt of the temple of the Delphic Oracle was carved the command
‘Know Thyself’, but illuminating the darkest shadows of our reality
tunnels is hard. Often the best we can do is hope that our delusions are
not harming others, and that reality doesn’t intrude to create the
cognitive dissonance that so troubled Kureishi’s teacher.
collision between invisible delusions and reality is typically
expressed as unexpected anger, for which the explanations given seem
irrational and incoherent. As I’m sure you’ve noticed, there is a lot of
this about at the moment in Britain. In many cases, the invisible
delusion in question is British Exceptionalism.
My apologies to
non-UK readers for dwelling on this subject, but this country is working
through some issues at the moment at it seems important to look at
them. For the past year or so, ever since Theresa May brought her EU
deal back to parliament, British Exceptionalism and political reality
have clashed head-on. They have been aggressively grinding against each
other ever since, and while political reality is unaltered, British
Exceptionalism has been shredded beyond repair.
Exceptionalism is, for historical reasons, the polite term for English
exceptionalism. It is the belief that Britishness is by definition best,
and that Britain is automatically superior to other countries. It looks
ridiculous when it is written down and brought into the light, which is
perhaps why this is rarely done. For many, it is imprinted so deeply
into their reality tunnels that it is invisible and unquestioned. It is,
in the words of Lord Victor Adebowale, the Empire of the Mind.
For example, there are many who were appalled that Russian spies took a
nerve agent to Salisbury and killed Sergei Skripal and others, but they
will happily watch James Bond killing people in whatever country he
wants and see this as entirely reasonable.
British Exceptionalism, incidentally, to distinguish it from actual
British exceptional things, which are terrific and worthy of
celebration. The work of J.R.R. Tolkien, Alan Moore or David Bowie, to
give a few random examples, are all British and exceptional. But this is
because of the quality of the work itself – it is not true by default
based on who their parents were.)
The real nature of Britain is a
politely pagan surreal circus, a fact that is entirely obvious to the
majority of those of us who live here. This is what we like about the
place. Those imprinted with British Exceptionalism had to invent a mask
to put over this – they needed to deny the country’s true character,
because it’s easier to feel superior if you pretend that you’re Downton Abbey rather than acknowledge that you’re Monty Python. The utter inappropriateness of the dutiful, stable, decent Downton Abbey mask is of course extremely funny, which does give some insight into the actual nature of Britain.
The Downton Abbey
mask, however, has been all but destroyed by the Brexit process. Or at
least, it has in the eyes of observers in other countries. Many were
shocked to discover that Britain, which they thought of as being largely
stable, dutiful, competent and decent, is in fact none of those things.
A reputation can be destroyed quickly in the twenty-first century. It
does not tend to recover.
Will British Exceptionalism survive?
One way to check its health is to check the current status of our folk
heroes James Bond and Lara Croft, because both Bond and Croft have
British Exceptionalism embedded in their character.
Lara Croft’s last game Shadow of the Tomb Raider
tackled the issue head on. It made it explicit that she was the bad
guy. Croft uses her wealth and privilege to travel to South America,
damage their heritage and steal a cultural artefact, which triggers a
tsunami and kills thousands. To make amends, Croft offers herself up as a
sacrifice at the end of the game. She willingly lets the ‘Tomb Raider’
be killed. After coming back to life – er, somehow – she vows that she
will change. She will no longer probe the mysteries of the world, but
protect them instead. Quite how this will play out in future games
remains to be seen, but it’s encouraging that the next Tomb Raider film is being made by Ben Wheatley and Amy Jump.
is trickier, as he is essentially British Exceptionalism personified.
If the gossip surrounding the next Bond film is true, the intended
director Danny Boyle was taken off the project after delivering a script
in which Bond died. For producers with a cash-cow to protect, that was
clearly unacceptable. Yet given the current disintegration of British
Exceptionalism, I’d argue that Boyle’s approach was entirely logical.
What else could he have done with the character?
Boyle has now
left the project and the Phoebe Waller-Bridge is now working on the
script. Waller-Bridge’s achievements with Fleabag have been unfairly
overshadowed by debate about her class, but that subject does seem
relevant here. She seems a perfect hire for producers wanting make Bond
relevant in the #MeToo era, but who are afraid of tackling the deeper
and more taboo issue of unquestioned superiority.
from Croft and Bond, there has been a creative surge of work that looks
at English or British identity without being nationalistic, or by being
actively anti-nationalistic. Danny Boyle’s and Frank Cottrell-Boyce’s
opening ceremony to the 2012 London Olympics is an obvious example, as
is Stormzy headlining Glastonbury’s pyramid stage wearing Banky’s union
flag stab vest. You also have artists such as Jeremy Deller and @ColdWar_Steve, musicians including Richard Dawson and Slowthai, comics like Kieron Gillen’s Once and Future and writers such as Jez Butterworth, who gave us both the play Jerusalemand the series Britannia. Looking further afield, you find things like the open-source folk horror project Hookland, the film A Field in England by Lara Croft’s new parents Ben Wheatley and Amy Jump, and the New Weird Britain Movement.
this is a reminder that, creatively, British Exceptionalism is unwanted
baggage. There’s far more interesting stuff being done without it. To
drag it out into the light where it can be dismissed is going to be a
painful process for many, but I doubt the process can be stopped. It
seems to me that life in our politely pagan surreal circus will be all
the better once it is over.
My newsletter gets sent out 8 times a year – you can subscribe here. This is the newsletter that was sent on 21 June 2019…
Higgs’ symbolic Octannual Manual #12
A six-and-a-bit-weekly newsletter from author John Higgs
Summer Solstice 2019
Symbols are tricksy things – their meanings are rarely static. A good example is the RAF roundel. It was designed in 1915 to be clean and easily recognised from the ground, to prevent British planes from being hit by friendly fire. But that is not why Bradley Wiggins uses it on his training kit now.
The RAF roundel was of course adopted by the Mod movement, and by bands
like The Who and The Jam. The initial reason involved cheap, ex-RAF
surplus parka jackets, but that doesn’t explain why the symbol caught
on. Symbols go where they are needed, and this was sharp, clear, very
British pop art – perfect for the Mods.
All this did the RAF no harm at all, but shifting symbols are not always
so benign. Consider the problem we have in Britain – and, particularly,
England – with flags. Every few decades the far-right come along and
ruin the flag for everybody. When this happens, the sight of someone
waving the flag stops meaning “I know where I am from, and I have love
for my home”, and instead means, “I might hit you in the head with a
This happened in the 1970s, thanks to the National Front, and it took a
couple of decades for a generation to emerge who didn’t have these
associations – the Britpop kids. Given the recent rise of white
nationalists, the cycle has inevitably started to repeat. Most people
deal with this by thinking, “Well, I’ll just have nothing to do with the
flag, or symbols of Britain”. But flags and symbols are powerful tools.
Walking away from a powerful tool and leaving them for your enemy to
use is not good strategy.
In the pop-art afterglow of Britpop, sometime around the Millennium, the RAF Benevolent Fund dropped their formal crest and started using this symbol, the heart roundel, as their logo.
It’s a lovely bit of design. A heart can be seen as sentimental or
saccharine, but the Mod sharpness counteracts that beautifully. Being
such a simple design, however, the RAF Benevolent Fund were not the only
ones to think of it. Once a neat, simple idea like that had appeared in
ideaspace, many people stumbled across it independently.
A Nottingham band called Performance, for example, were using a
variation of it in the Noughties. Performance were fronted by the late
Roy Stone, who is much missed by those who knew him, and after whom the Roy Stone Foundation was established, to help musicians with mental health issues.
Or to give another example, I recently bought this card from the website Mikeysart.biz.
The combination of Beatles imagery and this symbol was so entirely in
keeping with my personal head-canon that I couldn’t resist. When the
symbol appears culturally like this – usually with no knowledge of the
RAF Benevolent Fund – it has become known as the Albion Roundel. It is
seen as a symbol of Britain or, perhaps more accurately, a symbol of the
better Britain that we want to build.
I mention all this because the culture clash between the metamodern, networked Generation Z I discuss in The Future Starts Here,
and the Twentieth Century Old Guard, is happening on a fault line
different to the one we’re used to. Previously, the main battleground
was between the left and the right – Labour and Tory. Then Brexit
brought about an entirely different fault line, one which sliced through
both the Labour and Tory parties, possibly fatally.
It can appear as if Remain or Leave is the main fault line now, but I
don’t think that’s quite right. I think the clash is increasingly
occurring between those who are pro-doom and those who are pro-hope –
between those who want to find a better system, and those who are
content with the system we have, even though it dooms us all, because
it’s just easier that way.
Another way to describe this divide is between those who delight in what
they love, and those who focus on what they hate. Pro-hopers want to
make a system that works better for everyone, while pro-doomers are more
interested in sticking it to the other side. This isn’t a clear
left/right, leave/remain thing, as the tweet below illustrates.
Rory Stewart is, as his voting record shows, a very right-wing man. Like
the Billionaire Arron Banks, he is working to leave the EU. But here,
he has used the word ‘love’ in terms of healing divisions, much to the
disbelief and horror of Banks and Banks’ Twitter followers. This is an
example of the pro-doom/pro-hope divide playing out between people who,
under standard anaysis, are nominally on the same side.
Note that Banks does not argue or debate Stewart’s point, he just
responds with an immediate emotional reaction. This reaction is
important, because it tells us that the Albion Roundel is the one
British symbol that people like Banks will never adopt, subvert, or
otherwise ruin for the rest of us. They wouldn’t be seen dead using it.
It’s got a heart on it, for Christ’s sake! Their immediate reaction is
Your reaction to the Albion Roundel symbol immediately shows which side
of the pro-hope/pro-doom divide you are on – would you display and
identify with it, or wouldn’t you? There are shades of the Mitchell and Webb “Are we the baddies?” sketch
in that decision. If you shrink away from the symbol, you might ask
yourself why that is. This is what makes it a potent and useful thing.
I’m seeing more and more appearances of the Albion Roundel in the general culture. This flowered-up XR variation by Dan Sumption
is one example of people putting it to their own personal use – be that
on clothes, flyers, record sleeves, graffiti, online, or whatever.
If you see this symbol out in the wild, or feel inspired to use it
yourself, let me know (just reply to this newsletter). I’m particularly
interested in early usage, but I’m also curious to see how the
culture-side of this symbol develops. Here, for example, is some
subverted coins left around Stockton-on-Tees by Lisa Lovebucket earlier
this week, with art by Danielle Boucher:
What’s great about this is, because the RAF Benevolent Fund have a clear
claim, no-one will be able to exploit the symbol commercially and hence
ruin it for everyone else. There won’t be a ‘Keep Calm and Carry
On’-like tat tsunami. When people use the symbol, or their own
variation, to express the sort of country they want to see and are
trying to build, then that also provides a bit of publicity for a worthy
charity – it’s win-win.
Because let’s be honest, we need all the help we can get at the moment.
Artists, storytellers and musicians are supposed to raise our culture,
but there has been serious dereliction of duty. Pro-doomers have pretty
much got control of the media. The country is about to appoint a
sociopath as Prime Minister, being fully aware that he is a sociopath
who will do to the country what he did to his family and what he did to
his party. This is a situation that most find hard to explain. If you
view it through the frame of the pro-doom/pro-hope divide however, it
suddenly makes sense. It’s the logical expression of the doomer dream
This is also clear evidence that pro-doomers currently have the
pro-hopers on the ropes. The resistance needs all the help, and all the
tools, it can get its hands on. A symbol is not enough by itself, of
course, but it is something.
Just remember – the moment you hit the bottom, that’s when you kick down hard.
THE FUTURE STARTS HERE
I’ve been around the country this past month, talking about my just-released book The Future Starts Here. Huge thanks to everyone who came out to hear me.
If I didn’t come to your town and you would like a signed copy, either
for yourself or as a gift to someone who should read it, I’m making some
signed, first edition hardback copies available (for a limited time,
while stocks last etc). If you want/need one, reply to this newsletter
and let me know who to sign it to and where to send it, and I’ll give
you my PayPal details. Each book costs £15 (which is £5 off the cover
price), plus postage of £3.55 UK, £7.95 EU or £11.65 USA/rest of world.
Requests for strange drawings and cryptic messages scrawled inside are
This photo was from our launch event, taken by Peter Chrisp, and it
shows (L-R) Salena Godden, Victor Adebowale, me and, on the right, a
rare appearance in the flesh of AlgoHiggs, as built by Eric Drass and
Matt Pearson. As I mentioned in the last newsletter, we had 100 copies
of AlgoHiggs’ book The Future Has Already Begun printed up, which were available at my talks for a donation to Shelter.
After finishing my run of talks, I can announce that all you kind souls
donated a grand total of £455.82 to that most worthy cause. Huge thanks
to all who contributed.
If you read Watling Street, you’ll recall the story of the late Steve
Moore, moon-worshipping his days away on top of Shooters Hill. You may
know that Steve had spent years working on an academic study of the Greek moon goddess Selene,
and died just as it was more-or-less finished. I ended up editing this
book and am delighted to say it has finally been published by the
ever-fascinating Strange Attractor Press. So Steve has fulfilled his
commission – as if there was any doubt!
On May 4th I took part in an event to launch the book at Brompton
Cemetery, with Alan Moore and Andrew O’Neill (photo by Flavio Pessanha).
Thanks to everyone who came – I think we did Steve proud.
And also – are you a creative soul who struggles to finish things or
never seem able to put in enough work on your projects? What you need to
do is sign up to horror author Jason Arnopp’s Sunday Confession Booth.
Every Sunday, he emails to ask, “How much did you get done this week”,
and you must then confess. If that doesn’t give you a kick up the
jacksy, I don’t know what will.
Before I go, I want to wish you all a very happy midsummer’s day. I
hope you saw the dawn on this, the day of the most light (apologies for
the brag, southern hemisphere readers). I have vague plans for a series
of publications to mark the coming midsummers, but more of that in due
course. I also have an as-yet-unannounced short book coming out in
September. There is much to come.
But be ready – only six months until we hit the 2020s…
My newsletter gets sent out 8 times a year – you can subscribe here. This is the newsletter that was sent on 1 May 2019…
Higgs’ book-heavy Octannual Manual #11
A six-and-a-bit-weekly newsletter from author John Higgs
May Day 2019
Make room on your shelves, good people, it’s coming.
Out in hardback, ebook and audiobook on May 16
is my next book, THE FUTURE STARTS HERE: ADVENTURES IN THE TWENTY-FIRST
CENTURY. It might possibly be the first trad-published hardback to
include the Extinction Rebellion symbol on the cover – it’s hard to be
sure, times are moving fast. When I delivered it to the publishers, it
was an account of the future. By the time it hits the shops, thanks to
things like the school climate strikes, it will be an explanation of the
present. When the paperback drops next year, we will safely be able to
file it under ‘history’.
Read it now, it will help.
I’m launching it with a special, one-off, not to missed night in the
Brighton Fringe, along with a group of mighty guests perfectly curated
to demonstrate the argument of the book. If you can make it, it will be
well worth your time. Tickets are available here (make sure you select ‘May 15’).
If you do read the book and feel moved to mention it online, or leave a
review on Amazon, that would mean a lot – thank you in advance.
The release of this book is the MAIN STORY here, but that’s not going to be the only new book from me this year.
Here’s the situation: I finished The Future Starts Here and
sent it to the publishers. Let’s call it Book 1. I then wrote a proposal
for the book I’m desperate to do next, which we’ll call Book 2. I’m
clued up enough to understand how long it takes from writing a proposal
to signing a contract, so I immediately began writing an unconnected
novel, which is Book 3, to use this time productively. After writing
over a third of that, the publishers responded that they very much liked
Book 2, and could I also write a short, cheap paperback of around
10-15,000 words on the same subject that they could put out in
September, which is what I am currently doing. This is Book 4
(confusingly, in contracts, it is named Book 1). It’s something that I
am buzzing with delight about and which you’ll have in four months or
so. But as for details – you’ll can wait until next time.
Now, extensive research has shown that my head can contain about 80% of a
book before it gets full. This is fine for writing individual chapters,
but tying everything up and editing the book at the end is messy. At
this stage I bumble around drooling and walking into walls. My family
understand this, and looks after me well during these times. Remembering
the details of four books is frankly ridiculous.
As a result, I have been forced to learn the skill of dumping things out of my head when they are not immediately needed. I’ve talked in the past
about the need to Marie-Kondo your mind ahead of the coming 2020s –
what a useful skill this turns out to be! As it happens, many of our
preoccupations in the world of fiction are coming to a natural end this
year – Game of Thrones, Star Wars trilogies, Marvel Avengers cycle etc.
This means we can move on and make brain space for the new stories – and
new types of story – that are coming.
Then there are the large amount of outdated assumptions and beliefs
about how the world works which we keep in our heads out of habit, but
which we really don’t need anymore. The Future Starts Here, I
think, will bring many of these to light. I hope it will convince you to
dump a lot of this baggage. There are a lot of new ideas and
perspectives in the book, of course, but overall I hope it will leave
In The Future Starts Here, I talk about how my strangely-named evil friend Shardcore
has fed all my books into an AI called AlgoHiggs and trained it to
write in my style, in an attempt to replace me. It’s a handy example not
just of what AI can do but, more importantly, what it can’t do.
AlgoHiggs has recently improved massively, and has unexpectedly become
extremely funny. In response, we are printing up 100 copies of The Future Has Already Begun, AlgoHiggs’ attempt to write The Future Starts Here. It also includes a foreword by Shardcore and an afterword by me. This, god help us, is Book 5.
This is a frankly brilliant book of clueless AI gibberish, ideal for
toilet libraries and heartily recommended to all practitioners of
bibliomancy. I’ll have copies with me at my coming events, so coming
along will be the only way to get hold of one. The price is a donation
of your choosing which will go to Shelter, the housing and homelessness
charity. Think of it as doing a good thing and getting a limited edition
Shardcore artwork at the same time.
Today is also the day that Shardcore’s band The Private Sector release their debut album, YOUR MIND, OUR MARKETPLACE, which is now on Spotify and in all usual places. It is everything that is wrong with the modern world, in audio form. Brace yourselves.
Something entirely different to that album is the frankly marvellous
Creative Beast podcast, which is aimed at anyone who enjoys being
creative – and I happen to know for a fact that that includes you. I am interviewed in episode 3 by Jo Neary and Heather Minor, the only interviewers to have written a song about coming to visit me first. Other podcasters may need to up their game.
Before I go, a shout-out to the 69 pilgrims who have just returned from
the Cerne-to-CERN pilgrimage – a journey from the large hard-on to the
large hadron, ie the Dorset hill figure the Rude Man of Cerne to the
Large Hadron Collider in Geneva, via Carl Jung’s house, Damanhur, and
other magical places. If you search for the ‘#Cerne2CERN’ hashtag on
social media, you might get some idea of what this entailed. I talked in
my last newsletter about how Brexit has become a coming-out party for batshit Britain, and this was very much in that spirit. I was at Cerne Abbas at dawn to wave them off, along with these 4 or maybe 5 wizards.
What I find interesting about this thing is that there isn’t – yet – a
name for what it was. It was more than a pilgrimage, it was more than a
ritual, it was more than a 60s-style happening, it included theatre but
it was more than that. That it is yet unnamed makes me suspect that it
is something new, and worth understanding. What we can say is that it
was an effort by a group of people to not passively accept the myths
they are given but to take active control of their stories, rewrite
them, and improve them. The impact that art is supposed to have on
people, but usually doesn’t, was very present here.
The value of this is in the effect it had on those involved – which is
pretty heavy at the moment – and in what those people will go on and
create next. I watch with interest, and with much love and respect.
My newsletter gets sent out 8 times a year – you can subscribe here. This is the newsletter that was sent on 20 March 2019…
Higgs’ Foolish Octannual Manual #10
A six-and-a-bit-weekly newsletter from author John Higgs
Spring Equinox 2019
There’s no avoiding it, politics here in Britain are currently totally nuts.
One side effect of our Brexit delirium is that we’re witnessing the Great British Coming Out Party. Most people on these islands understand that we are not the sanest, and they are pretty comfortable with this. Our history is a long balancing act of keeping things just-about-working whilst we drunkenly freak out on the heath. You can see examples of who we are in work as varied at the @Coldwar_Steve twitter account or the BBC4 art film Arcadia. We are a surrealist, psychedelic mob who howl at the moon as politely as possible.
If you had to distil this complex, irrational and multi-faceted national personality down to a single universal archetype, the closest you can find is the Fool. I’m not being critical here. Being the Fool really isn’t the worst. The Fool traditionally has the right to speak truth to power and is often the only character who can understand the big picture. It is only the Fool who gets the Cosmic Joke, and if you have not seen the humour in something, you have not seen the truth of it. Plus, the Fool is allowed to muck about and arse around, in search of what National Treasure Bob Mortimer calls “daft laffs and that”. This is a pretty good deal. When you’re the fool, different rules apply.
When I say most British people understand that we’re the Fool, I don’t mean everyone. Part of being a really good Fool requires pomposity and arrogance and having no idea at all that you’re the Fool. We have a special section of society who take on that role for us. They genuinely have no idea, because they are sent to different schools to keep the truth from them. They are taught that the ‘Great’ in ‘Great Britain’ is more than just a geographical term and, God love them, even as adults they still believe this. They genuinely have no idea what this country is like. Despite living here, and being occasionally exposed to the people and the culture, they still somehow think we are Downton Abbey.
Unfortunately, they also believe that power is their birthright and sometimes we foolishly support them in this. It’s like a toddler trying to drive a bus; you know it’s not wise, but you want to see it. Alas, one of them got into power and decided to ask the British people in a referendum if they wanted to tell a bunch of politicians to go and fuck themselves, thinking that they would say no. That’s probably worth dwelling on a little. He asked the British people – the British people, that’s the British people – if they wanted to tell some politicians to go fuck themselves, and thought they would say no. During a time of austerity. He genuinely thought that. Those are real thoughts that he had in his head. Such is the extent to which the social niqab of elite education blinds its victims to the actuality of this country.
Oddly, a number of other countries, despite all evidence to the contrary, have also taken the view that we are Downton Abbey. Quite why they did this I know not. I assume they have their own pathologies to deal with. But suddenly, thanks to Brexit, these countries are now sitting up in alarm and crying, ‘My God! Look at Britain! They are not Downton Abbey. They are the Fool!’ As a Dutch Journalist said to Jonathan Coe, ‘We love Monty Python, but we always thought it was comedy, not a reality show.’ You might think, ‘No shit, Sherlock’, but this is significant.
We have had a global coming out party. The Downton Abbey spell has shattered. We stand here exposed, butt naked, and our role as the Fool can no longer be denied. This is not something we can undo. This is us for good now. You can’t unring a bell.
We’re in new territory. Exposed as we are, we now have to make the decision we have been able to put off for too long. We are now understood to be the Fool, but exactly what type of Fool are we? There are options.
Are we the timid, fearful, poodle-type Fool, seeking a master to discipline and lead it? We can do that.
Or are we the Arrogant Fool – the boisterous pain in the arse, hitting downwards, putting it about and not caring about our impact on anyone else? We can do that as well.
Perhaps we are the Happy-Go-Lucky Fool, doing our best to have a good time despite everything. There’s a long tradition of this.
Or are we the tell-truth-to-power type Fool? It’s a bit of a thankless task, admitedly, but someone has to do it.
Or could we be the strange surrealist Fool, the Lord of Misrule, odd as all hell and entirely unpredictable? We can definitely do that.
Or, maybe, just maybe, we could be the visionary Fool? The creative, inspired, enthused, uplifted soul, far outside the ‘mind forg’d manacles’ of normal thought like the “unfortunate lunatic” William Blake. As John Balance once said, “Why be bleak when you can be Blake?”
Our politics and culture is, essentially, is a never-ending debate about which of these Fools should be primary. Perhaps we should hold a referendum to vote on it? Only joking! No, the trick is to decide which type of Fool you are, then vote by your actions.
And do it quickly! As I said last time – the 2020s are coming.
My newsletter gets sent out 8 times a year – you can subscribe here. As an experiment, I’m posting each newsletter to the blog as well, to see if this is useful…
Higgs’ chilly Octannual Manual #9
A six-and-a-bit-weekly newsletter from author John Higgs
This newsletter is now one year old! Huge thanks to all of you for subscribing and making it worthwhile. I’ve found writing it to be extremely useful, so I am committing to continuing it throughout 2019.
This will take us up to the mighty 2020s.
The 2020s will be a Golden Age in your life. It will not be the easiest of decades, but it will be the one where you are most fully yourself, when you are most proud of what you create and the period in which you act most in accord with your higher nature. In the far-flung future when people bring you to mind, it will be you in the 2020s they think of. I know this is true because a wee mouse told me.
2019, then, is time to prepare. This brings us to…
ONTOLOGICAL MARIE KONDO
That 2019 is a time to get ready might explain the huge cultural buzz about the Netflix show Tidying Up with Marie Kondo. This applies Shinto ideas to the practice of tidying up and sorting your stuff out. Its success means that somewhere TV executives are trying to format Wiccan Cleaning the Windows and Daoist Brushing Your Teeth.
Marie Kondo advises getting rid of any household clutter and junk that doesn’t ‘spark joy’ when you hold it. This is healthy and liberating, but perhaps we can go further? Marie Kondoing your house is one thing. Marie Kondoing your reality tunnel is where it’s at.
Think about the culture you consume – are those TV shows, bands and websites really working for you? Which ones do you still get anything from, and which do you give them your time just out of habit?
Think about your prejudices – are they of any use? Do they really help explain how the world works, or are they just a shortcut to avoid thinking? For example, for years I’ve nurtured a deep prejudice about people who play golf. Would I be worse off if I took this prejudice down the skip?
Think about your beliefs – are they fit for purpose? Is it the case that some of them are a bit old and rusty? Do you own them or do they own you?
Think about the people in your life. Don’t Marie Kondo them! What are you, a monster? Hell’s teeth! Sure, problems arise, we all make mistakes, but unless someone is truly toxic, give them another chance. The 2020s are coming, remember, we’ll need all the help we can get.
If it helps, think of the 2020s as a more woke 1920s – a wild ride you’ll want to be part of, but not one that is blind to the growing shadows. Let’s all get light and ready and hold hands and dive in together, and see what happens.
DOCS AND PODCASTS
There’s a lot of interesting stuff around for fans of Bill Drummond, Jimmy Cauty and the Justified Ancients of Mu Mu at the moment. Paul Duane’s documentary about the People’s Pyramid and Toxteth Day of the Dead, What Time Is Death, is having its premiere on Feb 26 at the Dublin Film Festival. I was interviewed for this – whether or not I said anything worth including I don’t know.
(Paul Duane, incidentally, has another film starting to appear at festivals which looks interesting. While You Live, Shine is about the oldest music in the Western world. Worth keeping an eye out for – the trailer is here.)
Online now is How To Burn A Million Quid, a surprise podcast from BBC Sounds – a six part comedy recreation/fantasy about the JAMMs money burning. The makers have clearly dived deep into the mythology behind all this, but to my ears they seem to have missed the valuable jewels buried down there. To give one example, The Illuminatus! Trilogy is presented as a book to be believed, rather than a game that teaches you to question beliefs. That may sound like a petty nit-pick, but it is pretty fundamental to the story.
If you prefer your Ken Campbell to be the real deal, then the Seeker! Ken Campbell podcast (iTunes / Google Podcasts / ResonanceFM broadcast) is a must subscribe. It takes the surviving Campbell VHS and audio tape recordings and turns them into a polished archive of his one-man shows, including many performances never previously available.
It’s a major labour of love and you would pay handsomely for it, if it wasn’t free.