13 thoughts on “Written By Daylight – John Howard

  1. I reviewed in 2009 the first story (published 2003) in its original context as follows –



    ‘Where Once I Did My Love Beguile’
    A lovely story, but one which I thought faltered when ‘telling’ historical information about the caves (from the point of view of one of the characters) which diverted, I felt, from the main thrust of the plot.
    Can you have a stile in a cave? A question that
    was important. A story that holds a touching relationship between a young boy (from the age of five) and an old man – later telling of the youngster’s awakening sexuality for the opposite sex … to such extent that the cartographical configuration of the caves that he often explores and the word Styx become gynaecological!
    The relationship with the old man was ignited by the latter’s entrancing fob watch which seems to become implicated in the youngster’s yearning for time travel. The caves as a Tardis that is his girl assistant
    in itself? Or as a sort of suicide? Or as travel to a better reality? The ‘Beneath Ground’ in this book’s gestalt is slowly, insidiously becoming something far too deep for me to fathom (which is perhaps the point!). So far, anyway. And I repeat: “If you do not search you will not find.”

  2. I reviewed in 2012 the next story in its original context as follows –


    Westenstrand – John Howard

    “…with effort routes work themselves out.”

    [More often than can be warranted by chance, I feel, when I am carrying out two or three real-time reviews simultaneously, as I am now, one story enlightens or synergises, across-books, with another story.  Here, remarkably, the tone and plot of ‘The Night of His Sister’s Engagement’ that I reviewed here this afternoon, just before reading ‘Westenstrand’, has now become even more highly wrought regarding a watery foolhardy challenge to oneself – and, dare I say, vice versa!] — ‘Westenrand’ itself is a wonderful account of an island off Denmark – subject to Hitler’s contemporary shenanigans, I sense, that also have bearing on the protagonist’s romance with a woman who frowns on his connections, albeit indirect, with that Dictator – an island (a bit like Mersea Island near where I live in Essex, if the latter is in a much smaller way and with shorter intervals) that is one minute an island, the next not an island, as subject to the sea’s effects on a causeway. A bit like history. And economics. In both of which disciplines, routes work themselves out, while human bail-outs often falter. (They often milled coins with ‘reeding’ to prevent shaving off their edges.) (4 Mar 12 – another 3 hours later) {Edit: changed ‘lengthier’ to ‘shorter’ – another hour later}

  3. I reviewed in 2012 the next story in its original context as follows –


    Silver on Green – John Howard
    The congealed moonlight of silver pooled in his hand represented firm value, a bulwark against uncertainty.”
    On the day (in our own real-time) after the latest Greek political haircut and Spanish bonds reaching unsustainable levels, another substantive story emerges, one that treats parthenogenetically — (via fiction locations and corruptive politics/regime changes made true, here, by the “terra incognita” syndrome: cf:”tempus incognita” at the start of the Berguño Bruno story, and by a vision of London around the ‘League of Nations’ era like a ‘fragment of life’ in Machen casting verity upon everything else herein) — with an old yet tantalisingly “Current and Future European situation“. Here by extrapolating any Eden with its own retrocausal ‘serpent’ (cf: St George and the Dragon) – and by a very clever conceit regarding a role-playing game with coins, tantamount to juggling, building that bulwark against uncertainty (and against corruption: a word often used about currencies and the coins that represent them even if their milled metal bears illicit (or blank)  imprimatur), indeed, as our protagonist must surely have discovered for himself if I read this right.  Gives me hope. Or, perhaps, in tune with politics / monarchal hierarchies, hope itself, too, must suffer this story’s “pendulum“. Bruno’s standing at my shoulder. He perhaps typed this. (18 June 2012 – 2.00pm bst)


    “For about the last forty years of his life he couldn’t compose,”

    …. a period even longer than Sibelius’s “Silence of Järvenpää.” Or my own still potential Gestalt period?
    This is not the first time I have caught the strains emanating from this story, or heard its trains as well as strains, above and under the ground (Winter the composer had a passion or proclivity that needed to go underground as it were, especially during much of the period of his life, when such was illegal, his love for a companion and amanuensis like Delius’s Fenby, one called Christopher.)… his love for another Eric called Coates, as I also have a love for Coates, despite my otherwise greater liking for strains more oblique and fractured than nostalgic and light. Indeed, I published this story in my Classical Music Horror anthology in 2012. Having just re-read it, I genuinely feel that, transcending my obvious bias, it is a definite classic in this author’s canon.
    The narrator’s path towards writing an article about the recently deceased octogenarian William Winter, his meeting with William’s surviving younger Christopher, the evocative description of a between the war era and beyond, a nostalgic shrine to London suburbia, a vision of Wembley stadium, the striking circumstances of Winter’s musical archives, his music about railways that Betjeman would have loved as well as Britten, and the hint that earworms still wriggle in the world’s gestalt sounding-box or in the apparently casual whistling (people whistled embarrassment-effacing tunes much more in the past, now as a memory to catch such strains of when I was younger), and much more – all these things hang about in the air around me. A perfect story. Needs anthologising again.


    “Why, this is a terrace and not just a balcony!”

    I am so pleased I have bought this book, not only for the chance to read this story that is new to me but also for the prospect I have already glimpsed in this book of visiting two other Howard fictions new to me and yet to be read. This one starts as the most exquisite tribute to the Dream Archipelago ethos started by Christopher Priest (an immanent major highlight in my literary and dreamcatching life) but also it becomes an unparalleled distillation of such an ethos that perhaps Priest himself has yet to distil? This Howard distillation is a blend or personal purging, a Tadzio-like immersion and a heavenly destination.
    Unmissable for those alone and attached alike. Attached to whichever taste of gender opposition or synergy. Whichever wave takes you to whichever island. Yes, unmissable. And now I have not missed the boat. Or will not. Priest or Lover. Dirk or Gradual.


    “, lines knotted together in an encompassing net that could catch anyone who chances to come upon it. That is all.”

    An enrapturing vision – with the help of a collusive and co-constructivist gestalt real-time reviewer called Melas who helps Kayler by putting him under, or above, in some contiguity of city map and city itself. The city is a resplendent one of columns still growing their top statues, and domes, carved and richly mineraled. Only the story will give you this city, its seething retro-exodus of people like the book’s own running ink now frozen as words, stitches deep cut into stone, mechanical systems beyond your imagination unless you read this story, smells, too, sculpture as mechanism, a golden hawling web I shall call it, till the final bifurcation…? Whatever that fractured end, the story of the city vision IS that vision, and having found it in the content and form of this story, you can never lose it. A story I have managed to find for myself, one that can never now escape.

  7. I reviewed the next story in 2012 in its original context as follows:


    The Way of the Sun – John Howard
    A balcony on the Mediterranean: it had become almost an obsession with him.”
    [I had no idea this story was coming up when I chose ‘The Last Balcony’ page of my website to house this part of my review. Also, the author’s own off-piste comment at the bottom of ‘The Defeat of Grief’ review page here takes on a new significance!] — And after my reference to ‘Sad Europe’ (as opposed to ‘Secret Europe’) at the end of my previous entry about ‘A Minor Official’, things seemed ripe for this story of a sunshine trip, in quest of the balcony, threaded with lucid dreaming.  A Defeat of Grief indeed. ‘Mediterranean’ itself – literally – reminds me also of seeking the Earth’s Core of the Nemonymous Night as well as the ultimate balcony, adding a perfectly offsetting tone of oblique dark-lightness,,, yet, we have the Mike Leigh-type (?) married couple, all mouth and trousers, bugging our protagonist, ever turning up with ‘good intentions’ and pointless chatter….not the minor official’s ’emotional’ map as such but a downhill pest-piste. In many ways, I resented them as much as the protagonist did!  A story that can swing in this way is surely a masterpiece.  [A world without a Bill and Joan would be like a world without the gloom under the aegis of which I collect art gallery painting cards by Munch, Bosch et al.] Or am I swayed by the story’s own insistent bugging obessions as well as by my own? No, it is an exquisitely-styled story, with or without any such connections. Surely set to become an all-time favourite story from the viewpoint of the Lewis head.  (7 Mar 12 – 9.20 am gmt)
  8. I reviewed the next story in 2012 in its original context as follows:


    The High Places – John Howard

    The vast pale carpet of London stretched out in front and below us.”

    …seen from the various high places or, I’d say, ‘balconies’ surrounding the centre of  London.  This is the story of Averill Turner the painter.  In mid 20th century London, and here, after the previous story’s mention of it, we enter the London Blitz by the Germans in full narrative reality of someone who knew Averill quite well during those years. [My mother – aged 86 – still tells me about the Blitz first hand, so I should know. Strangely or serendipitously enough, she did so this very morning.] This work is an inspiring essay, a stunning portrait of the panoply of 1930s, 1940s London from the centre out towards its edges, say, at Ealing’s beginning of then accreting concrete: particularly its churches, particularly its City churches [the City of London where I worked in finance in the 1970s: the sort of finance that shamefully was to lead to the sorry pass we’re in today within Secret Europe and I visited St Pauls every lunch time, a cathedral that sometimes looks like a huge sailing clipper with its attendant church-vessels as small churches (as this story attests), St Pauls Cathedral that figured so prominently in much of my own early fiction] – and Averill painted these churches as his specialism, to preserve them for posterity at least on canvas.  But in some sort of collaboration with God, perhaps, I sense, that very act of painting … well you need to read this splendid story to find out! [Soane is mentioned in this story. I have very fond memories of the writer Mark Samuels taking me and others to see Soane’s Museum in the late 1980s]. (8 Mar 12 – 1.45 pm gmt)

  9. I reviewed the next story in 2012 in its original context as follows:


    Wandering Paths – John Howard

    “There were specks swirling in the air – or perhaps they were circling behind his eyes.”

    …signs of scrying irises? — The protagonist visits a neighbouring town which he had not visited before, although familiarity is strangely present, I sense. He is there with an arrangement to meet his future wife to save their future marriage (ie which comes first?) – a gentle, almost ‘anti-novel’ feel, of meticulously described wandering, with increasing purposelessness (when she doesn’t turn up) … with a Proustian unrequitedness as part of the highly honed ‘genius loci’  – and I relish such purposelessness and the paths actually being made by an effetely-swishing grass-cutter for our protagonist to follow even before he has decided which direction to follow, or so I sense. This is the way of life, being shadowed or pursuer, shadower or pursued. This is perhaps the way of this book, whatever the answer to the aforementioned questions of collaboration. Who the grass-cutter, who the one one who walks where the grass has been cut? A soporific index-linking to literary sentiments rather than market ones.  ‘Wandering Paths’ is interestingly the exact opposite of ‘The Way of the Sun’ (with its intrusive outsiders) in respect of the condition of (wanting or not wanting) outside forces impinging (to impinge) upon either pre-set or free directionality.  (7 Mar 12 – another three hours later)

  10. I reviewed the next story in 2012 in its original context as follows:


    A Gift for the Emperor – John Howard

    “And millions of marks are poured away like water into our so-called colonies.”

    …like quantitative leasing? Akin to authors allowing their readers to lease each other’s imaginations (reader’s and author’s) for collaborative panoplying, except the authors are tasked with writing it all down later. Thanks, John, for this longest story in the whole book as a gift just to me.  You didn’t have to, you know. Still, in connection with this story’s “…he’d been making notes in the book. There was a pencil resting on the open pages“, the book itself that contains the story is, I’m afraid, lightly salted with my own pencil marks: as if, in hindsight, to change the course of (geo)political history as well as literary history, I guess. Aural geomancy or simply knot-holes in the wood of the desk where I sit. Even the interaction of truth and fiction as a form of New Reality. To grass-cut as well as hair-cut. The story itself, of the “Versailles of East Prussia”, available as visits of residency for whomsoever bears one of the following titles (all the same person at various times of history): “Elector of Brandenburg, Duke of Prussia, King in Prussia, the German Emperor” – today happening to be Wilhelm II. A ‘genius loci’ of a building and grounds, wonderfully adumbrated or hinted.  It is a seriously charming story (with grim undercurrents of foreseeable repercussions that resonate with history as we think we know it) telling of Wilhelm’s planned visit when he sends – by the train he was meant to be travelling on – not himself sitting in the carriage corner but a painting of himself sitting there: and of everything that then derived from – or back towards – a concertina of events … including another book with pencil marks: a book of Kipling’s poetry that may or may not have created alternaties through what was printed in its formal text (the power of the poetry), but also through the possession of it as a handleable book by reader’s marginalia (visible or invisible) as emblems of creative interpretation soaking into the pores of the quality paper. A perfect ending to our perfect book. Thanks for allowing me to share it.

    They are ‘objective correlatives’ and leitmotifs and ‘dying falls’ and ‘disarming strangenesses’, such as that painting, that enrich this book: and all the other props with the power of relics within word-passage reliquaries: quirks inside other quirks: history turned into powerful metaphors: allowing readers like us (with only a modicum of knowledge) to learn more about it through the delight of fiction (a double gift).  But not only more about it, but also perhaps retrocausing it, till we don’t know if history is really as set in stone as it used to be when I was taught it post-prescriptively as a 1950s child. I’m rambling now and probably not expressing things as well as I should: i.e not in the way the authors would. So, I’ll end by simply asking the unaswerable question. Unaskable, too.

    Oh, just one further thought. Fiction is like currency: belief is everything. A painting of a bank-note on the wall of the German Chancellor. (9 Mar 12 – another two and half hours later)

    zENCORE! – Bis-Mark (10 Mar 12)


    “He passed two pillar boxes, touching each lightly as he did so to assure it that it was not forgotten,”

    A man with obsessive routines that either he fears will destroy his way of life if not kept or will create some security of well-being if they are kept, but never sure how important, they really are other than their accretive importance becomes even more important because of that very accretiveness. These routines concern his collection of banknotes and coins from between the two wars, a connection tactilely to various Empires disrupted by such wars and other courses of history. We follow him through the mellowing coolness and golden sunsets of pre-Internet-ordering London suburbia and much else that makes this a wonderful but relatively low-key Machenesque aura, a fragment of life.
    Until, however, during one accidental Brexited evening, his routines go askew….
    Possibly, in the context, the most disturbing glitch in literature, one so disarmingly terrifying, I stared at the page in disbelief. But, then, tutored by this book as a whole, I felt as if I were the aforementioned Melas; I yearned to comfort him, put him under or above, to help recoup the situation and allow him to actually touch, not only those pillar boxes, but also those Empires themselves. Enter them, too.


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