six things: Mark Harding

Mark Harding

Mark Harding

About Mark

Mark Harding is the editor of Music For Another World, a collection of fantasy and science fiction stories on the theme of music that was reviewed by Interzone as “one of the most exciting and original collections in years”. The anthology includes Neil Williamson‘s Arrhythmia, which has made it to the British SF Association’s shortlist of four for the best SF short story of 2010. (Ultimate winner to be announced in April.)

Mark is a new member of the spoken word performance group Writers’ Bloc. He also writes science fiction. Very slowly. His most recent sale is a multiple-worlds, quantum physics time-travel story, which will be published in the anthology Times Of Trouble, slated for the summer.

Mark’s website: Mutation Press

• One thing that’s always worth getting out of bed for

Writing. Although I make no claim on the quality of my output! On the occasions that I have the opportunity to write for several days continuously, at the end of each day I can’t wait to go to sleep so that I can wake up and get back to my desk. If only to see what happens next.

The astounding thing about Nature is that it is so fecund (ask any gardener about weeding). Human creativity seems to me to be equally, crazily extravagant. Just think of all the poems, stories, paintings and sculptures produced every day on our single little planet. Even from the small experience I’ve had as an editor, I know that a lot of work that never sees the light of day is remarkably good. I can’t give any bean-counting economic justification for such an ocean of inventiveness. Except what else are humans for? It really is an everyday miracle.

• One thing about myself that often obstructs me

The classic male reluctance to ask for help, allied with the awful English habit of not wanting to disturb people.

I have a collection of personal heroes who I regularly bring to mind to try and train myself out of these bad habits.

• One thing I’ve learned the hard way

That important decisions aren’t made on a rational basis. There’s a Stoppard character who says if the world were rational we’d be nothing but fields of soya beans.

Once you realise this, you can — paradoxically – analyse in a rational way what is behind your decisions. (And maybe you won’t like what you find!) Be honest and don’t pretend your bad habits are rational policies. At the risk of sounding like I’m using double entendres: don’t use rationality as a fig-leaf; it’s only a tool.

• One thing that gets under my skin

Rhetoric. By which I mean using emotional tricks and distractions to stamp over truth and logic. I still remember the shame and embarrassment of being caught out by Ronald Reagan. I heard him on the radio talking about Perestroika. “I’m no linguist,” he said “but I don’t believe there is a word in Russian for freedom.” Now, I wasn’t so stupid as the American President, to think for a moment that this was true; but the poisonous “I’m no linguist” disarmed and distracted. He’s a stupid old duffer, I thought, but at least he’s modest and knows it. A terrible mistake: I’d just let Reagan insult the whole of Russian civilization; thinkers such as Dostoevsky and Solzjenitsyn, the whole struggle of the emancipation of the serfs, the Revolution inspired by social justice, and all the intellectuals who’d been placed in the Gulag or executed by Stalin. Of course – as his comment showed — he didn’t care a jot about their struggle for freedom, or care about their history or care about truth. (Would it have been that hard to find someone in his White House staff with a Russian dictionary?) This wasn’t just ignorance, this was purposeful ignorance.

My current bête noire for using rhetoric as distraction is Chris Huhne the Lib Dem Energy and Climate Change Secretary.

• One thing I’d love to change

Respect for elders. A pernicious habit. Obviously, as an increasingly old git myself, I’m all for mutual respect, but I really don’t see why ‘elders’ should be accorded special wisdom. Youngsters should be encouraged to judge by results. On the larger societal scale, you’d have to say the record of my generation is mixed, to say the least. In terms of personal relationships, I don’t think the young should let the hang-ups of their elders bother them. (I remember a wise old man telling me that the older people got, the more ‘moral’ they became.) I also remember the rubbish my older colleagues taught me when I started work. Of course, if you’re the junior recruit you may simply have to follow procedures, but it doesn’t mean you have to abandon your private judgement. I’d prefer youngsters to bide their time rather than be brainwashed.

If you believe in social progress (as I do) then you have to allow the next generation to throw over some sacred cows you might be fond of.

• One thing I hope for

That we grow out of looking for pantomime villains. This is tribal behaviour we need to leave behind. Sacking a few bankers or the head of BP makes not a jot of difference to the big picture – there is no ‘Mr Big’ organising global warming, for example. We need to learn to look at institutions, organisations and social structures if we really want to make changes. We avoid doing this because it’s hard intellectual work and doesn’t suit our emotional hard-wiring.

This is one of the things the arts can help us to learn – especially literature. I just wish there were more examples of it.

About six things

‘six things’ is a series of micro-interviews with interesting and creative people, in which they’re asked to respond to a standard set of six prompts. A new ‘six things’ is published on the site each Saturday.