10th Anniversary Edition of THE KLF

The KLF 10th anniversary edition

A new edition of The KLF is out now in the UK. You can’t miss it, it’s a bright pink and yellow hardback, to celebrate that book’s 10th anniversary in the entirely appropriate year 2023. I’ve added an author’s commentary – 13,000 words of footnotes, in which I look back at the book after a decade and see what I make of it. You’ll find it at BookshopUK, your local independent book sellers, and all the usual places. An ideal gift for someone who needs to be more confused, and a great replacement if you’ve lent you copy to someone and, lets face it, you’re never getting that back. Find it before it finds you!

Newsletter Housekeeping

I’ve heard from a couple of people who signed up to my newsletter but, for reasons unfathomable, have not been receiving them. This has given me the kick I needed to move my mailing list over to Substack, on the grounds that every other critter out there seems to be favouring Substack. Don’t worry, this isn’t an excuse to start charging for these things – the newsletter will still be free and there’s no plans for that to change.

Now, in theory all this will be entirely painless and nothing can remotely go wrong. I’ll be sending out my next newsletter tomorrow so – we’ll see! If you’re already subscribed, you shouldn’t notice anything different, but do shout if there’s a problem.

This also means that I’ll stop archiving old newsletters here – they’ll be available instead at johnhiggs.substack.com

Newsletter #32

Newsletter #32

A six-and-a-bit-weekly newsletter from author John Higgs. If you haven’t already subscribed, you can do so here.

Shortest Day 2021 

Happy darkest day!

Massive thanks to all of you who donated to my pre-Christmas Shelter appeal – it raised a handsome £1799 for the housing and homelessness charity. 1799 was the year of William Blake’s famous letter to Dr Trussler in which he writes, “As a man is, so he sees”, so you are all impressively on-brand.

As promised, I will thank you all in my next book Love And Let Die, and also pick one person who donated at random to dedicate this book to. All the names were put into the hat this morning and my daughter Lia was tasked with picking one out, on the grounds that she has an honest face.

We did try and get the cat to do it, but he wasn’t having it.

And the name out of the hat was – Jon Smith! Now, Jon Smith did not leave his email address when he donated on JustGiving, so I have no way to get in touch to let him know – so if you’re reading this Jon Smith, please get in touch! I assume from the spelling of ‘Jon’ that this is not Doctor Who using their usual alias, but you can never be totally sure.

The only problem with all this is that I will now feel incredibly guilty dedicating books to people in the future, now I know that this could have been the best part of a couple of grand to a homeless charity. But – that’s a problem for future days. Note though that you can still donate, and any late donations will still get their names in the ‘thanks’ section.

My big news is – I delivered my next book to the publishers yesterday!

This was a huge deal for me, and my brain is now basically mush. I had thought James Bond and the Beatles would be a light, fun thing to do after a few years deeply into Blake, but the book had other ideas. It kept growing and growing. Every time I went to cut bits out and trim it, it somehow ended up longer. It’s currently a third longer than previous books, and I don’t trust it not to expand more when I’m not looking.

Because of the mush-brain I don’t have a huge amount of new words here, but I have yakked plenty in recent podcasts. The following three are well worth a listen:

I returned to I Am The Eggpod to discuss the Beatles’ singles with Chris Shaw. Not that poor Chris was able to get much of a word in – I was deep in the book when it was recorded, and hence had a lot of enthusiasm and ranting to get off my chest. But if you can’t over-enthusiastically rant about the Beatles’ singles, then what can you rant about? The episode works as a prequel to Peter Jackson’s Get Back, and gives context to that month in 1969. The Eggpod, incidentally, will be doing near-daily January episodes for the planned real-time Get Back watchalong, more on that here…

I also really enjoyed talking to Jamie Dodds for the F23 podcast – this was one of those conversations that quickly headed into unexpected areas, which are always the good ones. In this case we talked a lot about forgiveness, before we were interrupted by a much-missed figure. Have a listen here.

And finally – there’s John Higgs’s Unruly Radio. I did my own podcast. Sort of. This was an excuse to play you some winter and Christmas records, using the talk + music thing you can do with Spotify. It’s a Spotify playlist interspersed with talk, readings and thoughts, basically, and as such is only available on the Spotify app. That’s not ideal I know, and if anyone knows of another, legal, way to do something similar, please let me know. But for now – think of it as a surprise audio postcard. I’ve yet to decide if there will be more like this but – we’ll see. Hope you like it.

Here’s something from Magda Knight of Mookychick, which might interest:

“Co-editor Rym Kechacha and I have created and curated Lore & Disorder, a charity anthology of mutated folklore and folk horror fiction featuring 13 wyrd and wonderful tales by 13 authors at the top of their game in digital format. It’s a pay-what-you-can donation system (including free, for those who can’t afford to donate).  All proceeds go to the foodbank charity Fareshare, because too many people are going to have to make a tough choice between heat and food this winter.”

The anthology, with donation link: https://www.mookychick.co.uk/folklore-anthology – worth a look I reckon.

After I wrote about the forthcoming documentary Who Killed The KLF in my last newsletter, I had a call from Bill Drummond’s manager Cally – which is always a pleasure.

He wanted to say that it was not the case that the KLF were against the film, as I had written. Bill and Jimmy are, he tells me, ambivalent about it, and uninterested in it, but not against it. The legal action against it is down to him, he said, on the grounds that this is his job – he is responsible for making sure previously signed contracts are honoured, and that they are “active and watertight”.

So there you go – that’s probably as close to official word as we’ll get: The KLF aren’t ‘against’ the film, so you may now see it with a clear conscience. Just don’t expect to find Cally in the cinema with you.

That’s all for 2021. Not a year that anyone liked, let’ s be honest, but I hope it had a few golden personal moments that you’ll look back on and smile. One such moment for me was Kae Tempest agreeing to read the words for the hymn Jerusalem in their original context, as part of the preface to Blake’s Milton. You can see that here – it’s well worth revisiting. A year which had moments like that can’t be all bad.

Merry Christmas!

Newsletter #31

Newsletter #31

A six-and-a-bit-weekly newsletter from author John Higgs. If you haven’t already subscribed, you can do so here.

Nos Calan Gaeaf 2021 


My next book is called LOVE AND LET DIE: BOND, THE BEATLES AND THE BRITISH PSYCHE, and it will be with you in ten months or so. Here’s some of the blurb:

The Beatles are the biggest band there has ever been. James Bond is the single most successful movie character of all time. They are also twins. Dr No, the first Bond film, and Love Me Do, the first Beatles record, were both released on the same day – Friday 5 October 1962. Most countries can only dream of a cultural export becoming a worldwide phenomenon on this scale. For Britain to produce two on the same windy October afternoon is unprecedented.

LOVE AND LET DIE is a story about two opposite aspects of the British psyche exploding into global culture. It is a clash between working class liberation and establishment control, told over a period of sixty dramatic years. It is also an account of our aspirations and fantasies, and of competing visions of male identity. Looking at these cultural touchstones again in this new context will forever change your understanding of the Beatles, the James Bond films, and six decades of British culture.

There’s more about it here.

But I know what you’re thinking – who will this book be dedicated to? Well, it might well be dedicated to you, if that so pleases. It will certainly be dedicated to someone who makes a donation to Shelter ahead of Christmas, and it would be great if that was you.

There’s a page up on JustGiving that has all the details, please click over there and see what you think. Anything you could do to help spread the word would be much apprectiated. Everyone who donates will get thanked in the book.

I mention on that JustGiving page that the person the book will be dedicated to will be drawn from a hat. I thought you might want to see exactly which hat. I know what you’re like for hats. It is this fella here:


Like many, I was hit hard this week by news of the death of Claudia Boulton. Claudia played Eris the Goddess of Chaos and Discord in the play of Cosmic Trigger – and pretty much in real life, also.

I wanted to share this photo, taken by David Bramwell, from the last time I saw her, at the Blame Blake event in Sheffield in August. This was from her ‘Tabletop William Blake’ talk.

I can only describe it as a magnificent shambles that I am lucky to have seen. I can’t quite recall now why putting a box on her head was part of a talk about Blake, but I’m sure there was a reason.

All emotions are mixed, even something like grief. For all its weight, it is mixed up with the awareness that you had that person in your life, so it can never be 100% dark. The huge outpouring of love for Claudia I’ve been seeing these past days is a reminder of how much someone can impact on people, simply by being resolutely and unshakeably themselves. It’s also been an illustration of how loss, just like life, is a communal experience. Much love to all who knew her. She taught us all that, when you get the cosmic joke, it never stops being funny.

For those missing her, and indeed for those who never knew her, a listen to her conversation with Jamie Dodds on the F23 podcast is highly recommended.


I’m being asked a lot about the forthcoming KLF documentary, especially after the Guardian article about it.

I’ve lost track now of the number of times I’ve been approached by filmmakers who wanted to option the rights to my KLF book. It’s still happening in 2021, nearly a decade after that book first appeared. I respond by saying that I’d only agree if the filmmaker (a) had Bill and Jimmy’s approval and (b) the rights to use their music. Typically, I am assured that they will definitely get these things, then I never hear from that filmmaker again.

The one filmmaker who didn’t disappear was Chris Atkins. He was the guy who made Starsuckers, an exposé of how Murdoch and the British tabloid press works, which led to him giving evidence to the Leveson inquiry. He also made Taking Liberties, about the erosion of UK civil liberties after the Iraq war, and UKIP: The First 100 Days, which received more complaints than any other programme that year – the majority from Britain First members.

Atkins, clearly, has a thing for making powerful enemies. It is something you can imagine a therapist would want to talk to him about at length. In his defence he does choose his enemies well.

It had long been clear to me that someone would make a KLF film eventually – because people are still trying to process what it was that they did. The real question was whether that film would do them justice, or catch their spirit. Atkins was not in the slightest bit troubled that Bill and Jimmy did not want him making a KLF film, or that I wouldn’t option the book. He just ploughed ahead and made his film regardless, funding it himself, and delving deep into the technicalities of ‘fair-use’ copyright exceptions. There was something of Ken Campbell about the pig-headed way he ignored the difficulties and just did the work.

It was pretty obvious to me very early on that Atkins was the guy. He was the one filmmaker stubborn enough to see this through. He was also the one filmmaker who seemed to be driven by motivations that were just outside of the rational, like the cast of the wider story in my KLF book.

I still didn’t option him my book, but I wished him well and did an on-camera interview for his film. This was around 2015 or thereabouts, before I started turning down requests for interviews about the KLF. Full disclosure – I got £200 and a sandwich for doing the interview, sadly long spent. And eaten.

And then Atkins went to jail. His crime was falsifying invoices for the funders of Starsuckers. He is open about his guilt here, but it does seem odd to me that a director was jailed for five years because of how a documentary was funded. I do wonder if it would have happened if he hadn’t made quite so many enemies in the British establishment. But that’s probably just my paranoia – it was, after all, a very Chris Atkins-like thing to happen.

In jail, he became a ‘listener’, working with the other prisoners and their problems. When he got out, he wrote a book about this, A Bit Of A Stretch, which is very readable, empathetic and humane. Then he finished his KLF documentary.

Now, Bill and Jimmy are very much against this film and have taken legal action to try to stop it being shown at film festivals. Don’t think from that, though, that it’s a hatchet job, or it doesn’t do them justice, or it is in some way unfair or against them. Or at least, it isn’t to my eyes – I saw a nearly complete edit a while back and thought it was really well done. If you think of it as a version of my book for people who don’t read books, you’re probably not that far off.

Bill and Jimmy, of course, are very much against it and don’t want it released. The idea that public figures get to vet who tells their story, however, is not one I’m comfortable with. Perhaps that’s professional bias on my part, and I certainly understand why they were unhappy with the BBC documentary in the 1990s. But when artists do stuff that the wider culture can learn from, people need to talk about it and pass the story on. That’s not a process you can or should control. The KLF did, after all, tour a film of themselves burning a million pounds around the country and asked for reactions. They didn’t ask for reactions only from carefully vetted and approved individuals.

I know some long-term KLF fans are uncomfortable about Warner’s lawyers attempting to ‘protect their copyright’, and the heavy irony involved with that. But as a plot twist, it’s a stance which is so wrong that, in the larger story, it seems entirely right. Together with the whole saga of Atkins going to jail, the story of the KLF documentary is unfolding in a borderline ridiculous, larger-than-life way that seems tonally perfect for the larger myth. To my mind, there was always going to be a film, and it seems right that it’s this one.

The film should appear in the not-to-far future at cinemas in the UK. Unless of course, there are more twists yet to reveal themselves…


Just to say before I go – I’ve you’re curious about the Facebook/Meta rebrand, it’s worth reading chapter 6 of my book The Future Starts Here. Its basic argument is that yes, the whole VR/AR thing is going to happen, but heaven help us if Facebook control it.

Have a great Hallowe’en! If you need a suitable soundtrack for tonight, may I suggest Two Fingers by Sea Power?

See you at Midwinter,


Magical Mystery Tour coach and Aston Martin DB5

My next book – Love And Let Die

I am delighted to finally announce my next book. It is called LOVE AND LET DIE. Here’s how it is described in the official press release:

The Beatles are the biggest band there has ever been. James Bond is the single most successful movie character of all time. They are also twins. Dr No, the first Bond film, and Love Me Do, the first Beatles record, were both released on the same day – Friday 5 October 1962. Most countries can only dream of a cultural export becoming a worldwide phenomenon on this scale. For Britain to produce two on the same windy October afternoon is unprecedented.

LOVE AND LET DIE is a story about two opposite aspects of the British psyche exploding into global culture. It is a clash between working class liberation and establishment control, told over a period of sixty dramatic years. It is also an account of our aspirations and fantasies, and of competing visions of male identity. Looking at these cultural touchstones again in this new context will forever change your understanding of the Beatles, the James Bond films, and six decades of British culture.

When Paul McCartney was asked to sum up the Beatles in the mid-1990s, he said they were about love. “It was all done in the name of love, and about love, and I’m very proud of that,” he explained. From first single Love Me Do to their posthumous final single Real Love, through songs like All You Need Is Love which was the soundtrack to the 1967 Summer of Love, McCartney’s assessment is hard to argue with.

While the Beatles represent love, James Bond films represent death. What makes Bond different from other spies in that he has a license to kill. From films like Live And Let Die to A View To A Kill, Die Another Day or his latest adventure No Time To Die, Bond is an assassin who has official permission to kill anyone he wants.

The Beatles and the Bond films, then, can be seen as cultural representations of love and death playing out in front of a worldwide audience. Freudian psychologists refer to love and death as Eros and Thanatos, the two competing drives behind human behaviour. Physicists will tell you that when a particle is created, an opposite anti-particle is created at the same time, to keep the universe in balance. Love and Death are opposites but, as William Blake tells us, “Without contraries is no progression”.

Putting these two stories together throws up a host of new perspectives on two of the most implausible cultural stories of recent history. There is a larger story playing out here – as those who have staggered out of No Time To Die shocked by the ending, or those trying to reconcile Peter Jackson’s Get Back with the original Let It Be movie, may already suspect.

LOVE AND LET DIE will be published in hardback, ebook and audiobook in September 2022, in time for the 5 October 2022 sixtieth anniversary of Beatles records and James Bond films. Keep an eye on my newsletter for more updates. Oh, and if anyone is thinking of forming a Beatles tribute band that plays Bond themes – called The Bondles – let me know and we’ll talk about the book launch…

Yellow Submarine and underwater Lotus Esprit
Under The Skin podcast

Newsletter #30

A six-and-a-bit-weekly newsletter from author John Higgs. If you haven’t already subscribed, you can do so here.

Autumn equinox 2021   

Hello all – somehow it’s autumn already. Hope this finds you well.

I’ve been thinking recently about the time I met Robert Anton Wilson back in 2004. In particular I was remembering his health, as he was suffering from a flare-up of post-polio syndrome at the time and found it difficult to stand. He had contracted the horrible muscle wasting disease polio as a child in the 1930s, and it was thought that he wouldn’t survive.

I had never met anyone who had had polio before. Talk of the disease seemed a little unreal, as if he had caught leprosy or the Black Death or some other horror which, to those of us in the wealthy west, are found only in history books.

In desperation, Wilson’s parents had him treated by a method developed by the Australian nurse Sister Elizabeth Kenny – who the American Medical Association dismissed as a quack, peddling a ‘cure’ that was little more than snake-oil. Yet despite the perspective of the establishment, the treatment meant that Wilson survived and largely recovered. Sister Kenny’s ideas were eventually developed into the science of physiotherapy.

Sister Elizabeth Kenny

All this taught Wilson that experts and organisations could indeed be wrong, and it helped establish the healthy scepticism that framed his intellectual life. This is a perspective that is easy to accept here in Britain, where we have a system that is notorious for putting people who are not the brightest in positions of authority. Our last three foreign secretaries, for example, have been Jeremy Hunt, Dominic Raab and Liz Truss. This does not inspire confidence.

If you’ve read my book The Future Starts Here, you’ll recall that some of it deals with the collapse in trust we have to deal with now – not just because of the establishment chumocracy, but also because of how the business models of the media and the algorithms of social media work. The book looks at the extent to which our own personal relationships with others – and in particular, meeting people in real life rather than just online – have become increasingly important. This is exactly what we’ve been unable to do during these last 18 months or so. We probably all know people who have gone a bit wrong during this time.

We all went a bit mad during lockdown, of course. We’ve been living with a degree of stress which may have been low-level at times, but which has been constant for a prolonged period. In the circumstances, a bit of crazy is not surprising. What I’m talking about here is when people come to identify with certain beliefs so strongly that they immediately react with anger if people see things differently. This is never a good sign, especially when it leads to people cutting others out of their lives.

I mention this because Wilson’s embrace of scepticism has led to some of his quotes being taken up by the anti-vax movement. As his daughter has stressed, Wilson would not have been an anti-vaxxer. He lived to see the widespread roll out of polio vaccines after the war, which led to children growing up in a country almost entirely devoid of the disease that nearly killed him. He wished he had been able to receive the vaccine himself as a child, instead of enduring the pain caused by the after effects of the illness throughout his life. Wilson was sceptical, but he wasn’t stupid.

xkcd vaccine research

It wasn’t just the polio vaccine that saved countless lives – the disfiguring and frequently fatal smallpox was wiped out by 1980 thanks to a global vaccination programme. Currently, millions are being vaccinated against Yellow Fever in West Africa, and there are hopes for a new vaccine against malaria. If the saving of a human life is a thing to be valued, then vaccinations are one of the greatest of all human healthcare achievements. Even the most committed anti-vaxxer benefits massively from the immunisations taken by previous generations.

The miracle of vaccines, however, is not a story that social media is likely to promote. An issue here is that the success of vaccines is abstract and invisible, which makes them just the sort of thing that our brains are bad at factoring in. We are hardwired to pay more attention to the tale of a friend of a friend who had a funny turn after being vaccinated than we are the tens of thousands of unspecified people who did not die because they had their jabs.

You’ll no doubt be familiar with the way ideas lurk in our brains and seem entirely reasonable until the moment we open our mouths and say them out loud. Only then do we realise how daft they are. This is why speaking to people in real life is very different to typing at people online. The problem is amplified by the way online algorithms connect you with people who already agree with you – and indeed are probably a bit more extreme and committed in these thoughts.

As blind spots go, the massive life saving effects of vaccines is a significant one. We all have blind spots and areas that we fail to factor into our thinking, but the huge falls in death and disease among vaccinated people takes some overlooking. Blind spots like these are exactly the sort of things that friends in real life will point out to you, but which online discourse will keep hidden. A friend in a pub is free to pull a face and say, “I dunno, that sounds like bollocks to me” without causing offence, yet your reaction is very different if someone types that response online.

It’s still not as simple as it was to connect with people in real life, of course. Even protected by vaccines, we have to constantly be aware of the danger we might pose to people with compromised immune systems. But if you know someone who has become isolated – especially if they have isolated themselves to avoid the views of others – then consider reaching out. They may not be ready to connect again just yet, but ultimately we all need to see ourselves reflected in other people.


Since my last newsletter, I’ve been a guest on Russell Brand’s Under The Skin podcast. I think the idea was that I would talk about Blake, but needless to say it ended up being far more random and rambly than that. I think you might enjoy it. You’ll need a Luminary subscription to listen to the full thing, but note that there is a free trial if you want to just nip in to hear this. I’ve also been talking about Blake on the Some Other Sphere podcast, which was lot of fun.

If you missed the Ditto.tv Campfire Blake online event, that is now online for you to watch here. I talk with Daisy Campbell in a portion of this, which is always a joy.

I’m looking forward to the Laugharne Weekender in Wales at the beginning of October – the line-up is stellar. It’s sold out alas but if you have tickets, I’ll be talking about Blake on Sunday 3 October, at “2pm or possibly 1pm”. Hope to see you then.

Here’s a headmashing article about Blake and AI that I wrote for Big Issue North – it includes some freaky Blakean imagery created by Shardcore.

Thanks to International Times – and David Erdos – for reviewing William Blake Vs The World with a poem.


If you are struggling with the issue of purpose in life – the vexing question of what it is that you’re actually supposed to be doing – then I can heartily recommend a new book by my wife Joanne Mallon, which is beautifully designed, very wise, and deals with this exact issue. It is called Find Your Why – and not, as the author keeps insisting, Find Your Wine.

In previous newsletters, you may recall mention of a wild, strange and transformative pilgrimage from the Cerne Abbas Giant in Dorset to the CERN Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland. Accounts of this journey by some of the 69 pilgrims involved have been collected by Jeff Merrifield and form a new book called Immanentizing The Eschaton. It is required reading for those who suspect something important happened on that journey, and also those who were there but who are still trying to get their heads around what happened. Currently you can only get the book from Jeff directly, who you can reach by emailing mythologies23 (at) gmail dot com. His book on the underground temples of Damanhur, however, can be found on Amazon.

And finally – it’s almost time for me to start talking about my next book. I know! There will be more about this in my next newsletter, but I can say that the book will be announced on 5 October, so not long now. Until then, I will leave you with this mockup image of an underwater Lotus Esprit passing a Yellow Submarine. Until next time!


Yellow Submarine Lotus Esprit
Newsletter #29

Newsletter #29

A six-and-a-bit-weekly newsletter from author John Higgs. If you haven’t already subscribed, you can do so here.

Lammas 2021 

How are you all doing? Since my last newsletter, I’ve mostly been hanging out with Puppet William Blake.

The idea of Puppet William Blake is, of course, very very wrong. Blake was absolutely noboddy’s puppet. But at the same time, the existing representations we have of Blake – such as his portrait, the Epstein bust and his death mask – are all static, and this is equally wrong. Blake needs to be thought of as active, for as he said, “energy is eternal delight”.

Puppet William Blake was designed as an older version of Blake, and he looks not unlike Statler or Waldorf from the Muppets. This was because older Blake would, I suspect, have been delighted to become a puppet. Middle-aged Blake, perhaps not so much. 

Puppet William Blake was created by Myra Stuart, and Myra will be performing with him at the Blame Blake event in Sheffield on 30 August. Come along and see him in action. He likes taking selfies with people, so don’t be shy. The event also features me, David Bramwell, and a whole load of Hove Space Programme, Sheffield Arts Lab and Teesside Arts Lab folk. A most celebratory day is guaranteed.

Huge thanks to Nick Tucker for coming over to Brighton and taking these photos. He at least had one model to work with who sat still and didn’t give him any grief.

  One of the things I’ve most enjoyed doing recently was going on the Backlisted podcast to discuss the brain-melting work of Steve Aylett, and in particular his book Heart Of The Original. This talk took us to some strange places – I recall I spent some time discussing how someone could be as worried as “a shaved lion in a rental car”. I heartily recommend that you have a listen.

If that podcast hooks you, know that Steve Aylett has a new project out after a five year silence – the presumably incomprehensible comic Hyperthick.

Something else to look out for is David Keenan’s cathedral-like new novel Monument Maker. This 800+ page novel was ten years in the writing and it scares the bejesus out of all my other books, which refuse to sit next to it on my shelves. I shall be diving in soon and, if I make it back out again, will report back.

I’m part of the line-up of folk celebrating its release at The Social in London on 23 August – this could well be one of those events that people in the future pretend they were at, so why not give in to the inevitable and come along? Tickets are available here.

Meanwhile, Tom Jackson at RAWIllumination.net asked why Robert Anton Wilson is still relevant, and I think his answer is spot on. Have a read.


Like a good multiple-model agnostic, I make a point of reading both a left-wing and right-wing newspaper. In doing so I’ve been repeatedly struck this year about how the British right appear to be having a nervous breakdown. This is strange, because with their man in power, an 80-seat majority and the hardest of Brexits, you’d think they would be triumphant – or even happy.

On the contrary, they are writing endless columns attempting to start – or complain about – a ‘culture war’ taking place mainly inside their own social circles. In a few short months they’ve gone from agonising over non-gendered Potato Head toys to attacking dangerous subversives like the National Trust and the RNLI for doing what they exist to do. Disturbingly, they seem convinced that the wider country gives a shit about these things. People even funded GB News in the belief that there would be an audience for it.

This is what made that brief moment of clarity at the end of the Euro 2020s so interesting. Suddenly, for a few days at least, Tory MPs who refused to watch the games because the English team took the knee saw how out of touch they were from the rest of the country.

What happened was that for the first time, the voices of the young had weight. The English team had to be listened to and, because of their achievements, they couldn’t be patronised or dismissed. And it is amazing how young that team is – Saka is still 19, for example. He was born within a week of the attack on the Twin Towers in New York.

As I’ve discussed elsewhere, I see a fundamental shift in the worldviews of those raised by television in the twentieth century and those raised online in the twenty-first. This comes from people now understanding themselves as fundamentaly connected to others, rather than as isolated individuals. It makes sense therefore that the current squad see themselves as a team, rather than a collection of stars focused on their individual careers. As Southgate said when people attempted to blame individuals after the penalty shoot-out, they win as a team and they lose as a team.

When members of the team are attacked or racially abused, there’s no question that they come together in support of each other. That they take the knee to protest about the continued presence of racism in football is a no-brainer to members of their generation.

That the great majority of the country supported them was what shocked the British right. Suddenly, they had a glimpse at the Britain that was coming, which simple demographic shift makes inevitable. No wonder they are cracking up. It was a glimpse not just of where we are going but, crucially, how they would be remembered. And that can be a hard thing to live with.


I am hopefully emerging from Blake promotion world soon, but we’re not out yet. 

If your interest in William Blake has been ignited by my book and you were wondering where to go next, I heartily recommend the coming series of London Blake walks led by Niall McDevitt. Niall is a poet with the gift of bringing both the man and his work to light and if anyone can help you see London as Jerusalem, it is him. The first walk – on Blake and Thomas Paine – is today, but if you’ve missed that one they take place every Sunday in August.

The Art Newspaper ran an extract from William Blake Vs The World, concerning Blake’s one solo exhibition. That’s online here.

I’ve been talking about the book on various podcasts, and two that I particularly enjoyed were with the How To Academy, and also with Aug Stone – it’s always fun to talk to Aug.

I spoke to Mental Health Today about Blake, here’s what they had to say.

Great to see that being dead hasn’t stopped Alexander McQueen. Here’s his William Blake-inspired 2022 collection. Certain members of my family are unconvinced that I could pull off the flouncy man-dress, which is hurtful, but I reckon I would look dapper in the white Divine Comedy suit.  

Hyper-productive poet David Erdos has an album coming out called Between Bright Worlds, which includes his ‘Overseer (for William Blake)’ – have a listen to that here.

All this Blake book promotion began with the online British Library launch, which featured me, Robin Ince, Salena Godden, Kae Tempest, Neil Gaiman and Blake’s own notebook. If you missed it, the British Library has now put it online for all to see. Of particular note is Kae Tempest’s scorching reading of the lyrics to Jerusalem in their original context, which brings out the radical and revolutionary nature of those words. That’s at this point here – if you only watch one Blake related thing, make sure it is this.

But enough about William Blake Vs The World – for now, at least. It can’t be too much longer before I start to talk about my next book, can it? We shall find out soon enough…

Until then!


Puppet William Blake

Newsletter #28

A six-and-a-bit-weekly newsletter from author John Higgs. If you haven’t already subscribed, you can do so here.

Summer Solstice 2021

Happy longest day! It has to be this long, here in Britain at least, so that we can fit all the rain in.

Thank you all for your support for William Blake Vs The World. Books live and die depending on whether people talk about them, recommend them, share them on social media etc. I have seen many subscribers to this newsletter doing just that, and am hugely grateful. I’m blown away by the reactions and how this launch has gone – not least by the fact that a second run of the book had to be printed less than two weeks after launch, that’s got to be a good sign!

(This means that – due to the online nature of much of the launch – signed first editions are rare as hen’s teeth, so keep hold if you have one, or get me to sign yours should our paths cross).

There have been many delights with this launch. Seeing the book in the window of Waterstones was one – that’s an honour none of my other books have achieved. I also took a pilgrimage to Blake’s cottage at Felpham, for reasons I explain in this launch-day video. But the ultimate has to be the arrival of Puppet William Blake in our lives, built by the massively talented Myra Stuart.

Now, I’ll probably write more about Puppet William Blake next time – it’s so wrong it has to be right – but for now note that he will accompany me to the ALSO Festival (2nd-4th July), where I am talking on the Sunday. And even better, he will be performed for the first time by Myra at the Blame Blake event at Airy Fairy in Sheffield. The date for this has now changed, due to the postponement of COVID restrictions being lifted. It will now take place on the Bank Holiday of Monday August 30th – hope to see you there. Tickets can be found here.

If you missed my comparison of Prince and Blake in The Quietus, it’s worth a read I think. At the time of writing not a single Blake scholar has taken issue with my claim that Blake was hip to the rare housequake. That means it is definitely true.

There’s also a clip from the audiobook on today’s edition of the mighty Backlisted podcast. Being reviewed by CJ Stone was also an honour, as I doubt I would have written about Blake had it not been for him.


My next Zoom talk is with the How To Academy this evening – Monday, from 6:30pm – tickets are here if you read this in time and want to join us.

Because most of the promotion I’ve been able to do for the book has been online, much of it is still available for anyone who wants to rediscover it. Here’s an overview of what’s out there.

Podcast-wise, I got to talk about Blake on the BBC History Extra Podcast, as well as the William Ramsey Investigates pod – these were both a lot of fun to do, as was chatting to the Rough Trade folk on Soho Radio’s Rough Trade Book Club. and talking live in Brighton on Slack City Radio to Chris Thorpe-Tracey.

Over on YouTube, I very much enjoyed doing a talk for the London Philosophy Club – the Q&A in the second half was particularly fun here, and you’ll notice that what philosophers want to know about most is sex and drugs. It was an honour to do a talk for The Blake Society, where I was in conversation with John Riordan, the illustrator behind William Blake Taxi Driver. And see how much I joyfully geek out about Blake with Jason Whittaker, the author of the wonderful Blake book Divine Images and the man behind the Zoamorphosis.com blog.

If you watch and listen to all those you will (a) go mad and (b) realise how much I repeat myself, so I don’t advise it. But hopefully one will take your interest.


Over on Instagram, the artist Brandon Hrycyk has been illustrating my KLF book, and the results are great. I heartily recommend you give him a follow, or check out his website.

And finally – I was asked to write a review of any book I wanted for the glossy arts lab magazine MU. I wrote about Hallie Rubenhold’s book on the victims of the ‘Jack the Ripper’ murders, The Five. I’ve done so much hawking of my own book this month that it seems right to shout about something else, so I’ll paste that review here. Let me know if reviews like this are of interest, as I’m probably be going to write more about books that I think are excellent.


This is a book about the women killed by Jack the Ripper. It is not a book about Jack the Ripper himself. That character is largely absent from its pages.

When I first heard about The Five, I feared it would be a book that commits the great crime of being worthy, but dull. Surely the interesting thing about the squalid Ripper melodrama was the Grand Guignol of mysterious Jack himself – with his cape, cane and top hat vanishing into the dark thick fog of Hammer Horror Whitechapel before he can be nicked by the baffled and inept Victorian police? In this, of course, I was entirely wrong. Rubenhold’s brilliantly written book is a far more vivid and engrossing read than any ‘true crime’ examinations of the murders.

In most accounts of the Ripper murders, the lives of the victims are almost entirely absent. Their bodies are present like props or set dressing, existing only to hold much-studied knife wounds or, potentially, vital clues to the mystery. The locations of where there were dumped are typically considered to be more interesting than the lives that brought them there. Often, they are inaccurately described as sex workers.

It is a shock, then, when these background props come to life in Rubenhold’s book – and you realise that the only stories of any value in this pathological tragedy belong to them. In Rubenhold’s telling, their hugely varied lives immediately eclipse the ephemeral phantom that had previously held the narrative, making you bewildered as to how you could ever have seen it differently. There is darkness and horror in this story of course, often brought about by the realities of Victorian poverty and alcohol, but crucially, there is also life.

What is interesting about this is that the book could have been written ten years ago, or thirty years ago, or a century ago – but it wasn’t. The information it is built from has been sitting around, ignored, since the nineteenth century. It needed, of course, the right author to come along who could see the potential in the story and who also had the talent to pull it off. But it also needed a publisher who could see it as a commercial prospect, and for that it needed an audience of book buyers for whom the lives of the five obscured women are more relevant and interesting than hysterical fantasies about an unknown psychopath. Until fairly recently, few booksellers would have had confidence that such an audience existed.

The book, therefore, is an illustration of how our society is changing. The very existence of it shows that we are becoming a culture with a greater sense of empathy, and with less tolerance of cruelty and abuse. We saw another illustration of this when the murderer Peter Sutcliffe died of COVID-19 in 2020, and the media coverage of his death focused on the South Yorkshire Police and their apology for how they had viewed and talked about his victims back in the 1970s. The deep shift in public attitudes which caused these changes is easy to miss, because it does not make headlines or excite social media algorithms. The more we pay attention to books like The Five, however, the more apparent it becomes.

If that has tempted you, the book is available from my Bookshop UK shop (affiliate link) and all the usual places.

Until next time!

Newsletter #27

Newsletter #27

A six-and-a-bit-weekly newsletter from author John Higgs. If you haven’t already subscribed, you can do so here.

May Day 2021

It’s nearly time for my new book WILLIAM BLAKE VS THE WORLD to be released into the world. The pandemic has meant that normal book launches aren’t possible, but we’ve come up with an alternative which is, I think it’s fair to say, pretty damn special.

The online launch will be on May 27th at 7:30pm, and is hosted by the British Library. It features me being interviewed by Robin Ince, readings from Salena Godden as the Voice of Blake, a look at original Blake manuscripts with the British Library curator Alexandra Ault, and an extra special reading from the shining soul that is the poet, rapper and President of the Blake Society Kae Tempest.

If that’s not enough, there will also be contributions from those imagination-soaked authors Neil Gaiman (in New Zealand) and David Keenan, talking about what Blake means to them.

When you are dealing with Blake there is always the pressure to go the extra mile and make something worthy of his name. As online book launches go, this is something well worth your time and I hope you’ll join us. It’s free for British Library members and people who buy the book, and a fiver for everyone else. You can book tickets and find more details here.

The day we spent filming all this at the British Library was an absolute joy for many reasons, and being able to see Blake’s notebook was certainly one of them. This is the book that originally belonged to his beloved late brother Robert, which William went on to use for three decades. It contains sketches and versions of some of his most famous poems. It’s one of the treasures of the British Library – and indeed the world, as I see it. I love this rare self portrait, alongside the sentence ’23 May 1810 found the world golden’.

And look, it also includes a little sketch by Blake which appears to be a man taking a piss:

It was a wonderful day and fortunately things didn’t get out of hand, unlike that other time I had access to Blake originals.

Huge thanks to Jon Fawcett at the British Library for making all this possible. The online launch is on the original release date of May 27th, although printer-woes have meant that the book itself is delayed. Only by 5 days, though, so it will be with you on 1st June. I can’t wait for you all to see it. I’ve been blown away by early reactions to it – here are some of the quotes you’ll find on the back:

It’s available for pre-order here and if you read it, it would help massively if you talked about it, shared it on social media or left an Amazon review – anything like that would be hugely appreciated, you hero.


An online launch is all well and good, but an important aspect of Blake’s philosophy was people getting together and having a jolly. So there’s another event planed in Sheffield in July in order to do just that. It’s a day called Blame Blake, and here’s the poster with all the details:

There’s also an event in the Brighton Spiegeltent on June 15 to look forward to. This is with Jennifer Lucy Allan, whose book The Foghorn’s Lament is a delight. It is, as the name suggests, a book about her obsession with foghorns. So Brighton folk, come along to an evening of foghorns and Blake – it’s so right it hurts. As the event promoter David Bramwell has pointed out, “no-one else is doing Foghorns and William Blake, we’re well ahead of the curve.”

There’s more events coming – including an online Blake Society talk on June 16th. When there are links for these, you’ll find them on the events page on my website, so keep an eye on that.

Another book which is highly recommended is Richard Blandford’s new novel, Whatever You Are Is Beautiful, a terrific novel that heartily embraces the absurdity of superhero culture. It’s ebook only but only 99p for a brief period, so well worth a punt.

My evil friend Shardcore – who you may remember being behind the AI-generated version of The Future Starts Here – has finally got access to the GPT3 text generation AI, and he naturally asked it to generate the story of The KLF as if it was written by William Blake. Now, I realise that AI-generated Blakean KLF histories is a bit of a niche interest, but I also know that if there are people out there who are into this, then they subscribe to this newsletter.

So I’ll leave you with this – hope you can make it to the launch and that you’ll have the book in your hands soon. Until next time!

The story of The KLF by William Blake

When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?

And he answered, “I am the First and the Last. I am He who liveth, and was dead; and behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death.”

And he laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, “Fear not; I am the first and the last: I am he that liveth, and was dead; and behold I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death.”

And with these words came a great light. And as it grew brighter still I beheld two figures standing before me. One was robed in white, shining like a star in a cloudless sky. The other was robed in black. His face was hidden from me by a mask fashioned from a human skull. In his hand he held an object that glowed like fire but gave off no heat. It seemed to be made from gold but it was not gold. It seemed to be made from glass but it was not glass. It seemed to be made from crystal but it was not crystal. It seemed to be made from stone but it was not stone. It seemed to be made from water but it was not water. And yet it did seem to be all these things at once…and more besides!

“The time has come,” said the man in white robes, “for you to choose between good and evil.”

“The time has come,” said the man in black robes, “for you to choose between life or death.”

“Choose wisely,” said both men together as they turned their backs on me and walked away into the darkness beyond my sight…

Newsletter #26

Newsletter #26

A six-and-a-bit-weekly newsletter from author John Higgs. If you haven’t already subscribed, you can do so here.

Spring equinox 2021

Hello all – here’s hoping Sping is twitching wherever you are.

I’m recording the audiobook of William Blake Vs The World next week. This will involve travelling by train and going into London – my first ‘work’ travel for over a year. Being active again is a strange thing to contemplate – during the long weeks of this last lockdown, it felt like spring would never come, and that the world would never open up again. But suddenly the day arrives when it’s time to come out of your chrysalis and there’s nothing you can really do about it except see how your wings look.

If you were of a mind to pre-order this audiobook before it is recorded, that would make it all the more worthwhile. It’s up on audible now.

Something I wrote for the Big Issue years ago, and which I had completely forgotten about, resurfaced on my Twitter this week. I won’t lie, when I saw the headline I did laugh. The article was light and jokey, because the basic idea was seen as outrageous back then. It was not the sort of notion that was allowed out in polite society. I was just being a mischievous cheeky fella, really, as is sometimes necessary.

I think it’s the inclusion of the word ‘just’ that makes the headline.

If you have a minute, it’s worth a quick read. It’s my argument for a maximum wealth law. I was joking, sort of, at the time. Looking at it again, I realise I was unfairly harsh on Albania and Yemen. But I won’t lie, even with the benefit of hindsight I am not able to find fault with the argument. I wonder now how this idea strikes people a few years later, here in 2021.

Here’s why I ask – For all the woes associated with the networked world, one of the great things about it is that people who have traditionally been denied a voice are now being heard. This has been most evident through campaigns like #MeToo and Black Lives Matter, as well as giving a voice to the trans community.

But there is another group, beyond gender and race, that has not yet broken through or been heard. This concerns issues of privilege and wealth, and the extent to which society is structured to favour the haves over the have-nots. If deeper awareness of this did become the next big wave of cultural change, demographics alone dictate it would be massive.

Our current situation is best illustrated by Netflix’s big hit series Bridgerton. This takes 21st century attitudes to race and gender and paints the eighteenth century with them, to great success. To the young generation it is aimed at, the way it deals with female agency and diverse casting makes complete sense. In terms of attitudes to wealth and privilege, however, there have been no changes made at all. There is no thought for the servants toiling away while the main families live in luxury. The issue of how those families obtained their wealth is never questioned. It is assumed that the audience will identify with the protagonists, when in all likelihood our great-great-great grandparents were those working away below stairs. As such, Bridgerton is, more or less, a fair summation of how cultural attitudes in the twenty-first century have developed, so far.

There is a huge amount of research which shows the negative impact inequality has on society – I won’t rehash these arguments there, but suffice to say they seem pretty convincing. So far, this hasn’t translated into a mass awakening of privilege-based awareness. I wonder, though, if we might be seeing the first shoots of one? The Wall Street Bets/Gamestop saga last month was interesting in this respect. As you’ll recall, a bunch of individual investors ganged up online in order to buy Gamestop stock, with the intention of ruining major hedge funds that had massively bet against the company.

If you’re read my Future Starts Here book (currently only £1.99 on Kindle!), you’ll probably recognise the metamodern way this was done as a joke, whilst simultaneously also being perfectly serious. But more interesting, perhaps, is that those attacking the hedge fund included both right-wing libertarians and left-wing anti-capitalists. Both groups were aware of how the system is structured to favour big investors over little ones, and saw this as unfair. In all the drama, no-one spoke out in support of the hedge funds. No-one attempted to justify their existence or what they do. The left and the right joining together to attack big finance was clearly something new.

Whether this will be the start of something larger, I don’t know. But it might not take much for wealth and privilege to join race and gender as major issues in the great ongoing cultural realignment.

The worldview of the 20th Century was largely Lovecraftian – people were powerless isolated individuals at the mercy of incomprehensible cosmic forces. Lovecraft was famously so racist that he managed to other the entire universe. This made sense to people raised passively in front of television, but it makes little sense to the generation raised online. They understand that they are a valid part of a huge self-regulating network, and as a result feedback loops and consequences make immense inequalities hard to hide and impossible to justify. Those whose privilege does harm to others can expect a reaction. Perhaps all that it will need is for a clear memeable notion to spread – such as the idea that to be a billionaire is unforgivable, or that to hoard excessive wealth is shameful.

As I write this, the following tweet from mighty Lisa Lovebucket of the Teesside Arts Lab just flashed up:

There is a shift in perspective in that tweet that is hard to argue with.

At the moment, elite schools seem to be a flashpoint – Netflix’s docudrama series Operation Varsity Blues about the US Universities admissions scandal is about to launch, and the accounts of rape culture at Westminster and far too many other English public schools are making harrowing reading. It’s getting increasingly difficult to deny the extent to which these elite schools are churning out pupils emotionally unfit for the 21st century.

Whether all these things find the right story to coallesce around and become a mass movement is another matter, of course. But it’s worth keeping an eye on this subject over the next year or so – we’ll see if anything grows.

On April 25th I’m doing an online Journey to Nutopia event, in which I’ll talk about my next book with Michelle Olley and others – there’s no online link for this yet, but hopefully there will be one soon. Tomorrow’s Journey to Nutopia event should be unmissable – RAW Power, a Robert Anton Wilson night with Daisy Campbell and Rasa from Hilaritas Press.

One of the unexpected things I’ve been sent since the last newsletter was a 7″ single by Dreihasenbild – dark ambient Finnish folk, from Texas. I feel that a good number of subscribers to this newsletter have room in their lives for dark ambient Finnish folk (from Texas), so I’ll leave you with this – Verikuu sulkavan yli

Until next time!