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Robert Macfarlane

Warren Ellis is like a Writer’s Henry Rollins…

…only probably with more swearing and more caffeine.

The comics, tv, novel, and essay writer Warren Ellis makes a regular appearance in these blog pages, I guess. Along with China Mieville, Robert Macfarlane, Laurie Penny, Rebecca Solnit, Catherynne M. Valente and others, he’s one of a sort of constant circle of ‘omigod, how did they do that’ writers that I think with. It’s good to find other people playing in the same sandpit as you are – and it’s good, I think, to have living people you can admire. Shows that it can be done, scrobbling this creative life together out of wordscraps and notebooks and long-distance, glitchy Skype calls.

In particular, I’m thinking about his recent experiments with status updates – a daily ‘I AINT’NT DEAD YET!’ which could be pictures or updates or what have you. Short, tiny snapshots of a daily instance. If I were to get my act together to do something similar, these are the reasons wherefore:

  • It’s minimal. Almost like a fake ghost-life. Not the full build out of a virtual life that you have in say, Facebook, but a shadow of the real that recognizes that it is a shadow, if that makes any sense to anyone but me.
  • It’s like a tiny message in the bottle, every day.
  • It’ll keep my singular, regular, and darling Googlecrawlerbot happy.
  • I’d get to be arty. I always used to like the more personal status-y things you got in social media – far more so than the actual writing of the damn diary entries. Y’know the sort of thing: song-of-the-day, current-mood, currently-reading, status, etcetera. Ghosty throwaway stuff maybe, but makes the net seem a little less lonely.
  • Brain attention capacity at 10% only.

So, while I think about it for a bit – here’s a snapshot of the sort of things I could say:

Lateness, Transient Academies, & Mieville’s Monsters


I’ve joked on here before that my ability to be permanently 10 minutes early or late seems to be hereditary, or at least a shared one. My apparent temporal aphasia a.k.a. “Lateness” doesn’t just relate to bus times and work deadlines however, but extends out to include a general cultural ‘huh?’ when I hear people discussing that latest Netflix thing, or Hollywood Scandal, song, twitterstorm, or cultural icon, [nb. I only just found out about that whole Qanon conspiracy thing, and now wish I hadn’t.] partly it surfaces as a pop-cultural blind spot owing largely, I’m sure, on owning neither a twitter or a facehack account.

Being late is usually regarded a civic nuisance;  as a sign of moral ineptitude – a lack of respect for the social strictures that we live by, or a psychic unwillingness to be a ‘team-player’. In this respect tardiness can range from being a sort of disability to a moral sin. Consider the variety of terms used to describe being out-of-step with the modern world: belated, backward, slow, retardation, missed-the-boat, lagging, dawdling, procrastination, filibuster, cunctation. When compared against Modernism’s need for functionality, delay itself is a form of heresy.

But I wonder if delay could be deshackled from the notion of avoidance, to one of emancipatory experience. Jerome K. Jerome, that famous loafer declared that;

It is impossible to enjoy idling thoroughly unless one has plenty of work to do. There is no fun in doing nothing when you have nothing to do. Wasting time is merely an occupation then, and a most exhausting one. Idleness, like kisses, to be sweet must be stolen.

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Sparrow and hawk

little sparrow


A shadow explodes through our garden. A shriek of feathers and noise; and I get a sense of what Robert Macfarlane must have been talking about in The Wild Places. The flaring shape is felt in the heart before the eye, too fast for the brain to make sense of, but an animal instinct makes me duck all the same. For all of the smaller creatures there are really only two defences against aerial predators: run or hide, and for our resident community of house sparrows here in our garden their only option now is to run. What follows is a short-lived but ferocious aerial chase, jet-fighter manoeuvres. Both the Sparrowhawk and the sparrows have short bodies and fatter, fan-like wings than say, the Buzzards or Kites. Neither can glide or gracefully soar like their bigger counterparts, because their wings are both designed for the jigsaw-sharp turns and narrow avenues of low-level terrain.

The exchange is all over in an instant, the sparrow escapes, the hawk vanishes. They call it a ‘flash of the eye’ but it feels more like the thudduduhr of heart-hammer, somehow pre-vision and instinctive. The sparrowhawk that has been piercing our tiny garden is gone, leaving the shattered remains of the small, ornamental paint-your-own bird-table on the floor, seed everywhere. It takes three wire pins and a modded piece of scrap wood to put the table back together again, and now it is hanging once more from it’s hook as if nothing had ever happened. The usually chattering sparrows are silent for a stall but return, wary, to the table. It is early summer, and I guess that neither sparrow nor hawk can afford to be gone long as both are flying ragged to feed hungry chicks.


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