This Is The Water

Orbital Operations for 9 June 2024

Hello from out here on the Thames Delta. My hands are all fucked up from construction and digging. I have been drilling screws into slabs of redwood and everything.






Letters about the creative life by Warren Ellis, a writer from England. Was this forwarded to you? Subscribe.


📖 Francis Spufford’s BACKROOM BOYS, a book telling episodes from the 20th Century of British inventors and inventions. I’m two sections into it and we’ve already done the British space programme and Concorde (which also means we’ve already done Germany and France, because, no matter what certain people will want to tell you this summer, this island is part of the world and does not exist in a timeless bubble behind a wall.

(whoops, little bit of politics as we used to say)

🎙️ WAR MILK by Pangea de Futura - one track available right now but it’s a wonderful thing. Eight musicians, including three drummers, proper oceanic classical post-rock.

🎞️ I’m honestly not sure what this is. It claims to be David Lynch’s 1968 short “The Alphabet,” but it seems not to be. It is, however, weirdly fascinating and sparking to the imagination.



These are the weeks I wish I still had help putting together an interesting read for you. I’m across half a dozen things right now, and also redesigning, rebuilding and replanting some of the garden so we have somewhere nice to sit if the sun comes out. At the very least, it will provide somewhere productive for the rain to go. I come from a part of the world where we often don’t know it’s summer until the rain gets warmer.

The next three to four months of my life are pretty much spoken for, unless I put on a burst of speed. But I keep filling in the edges of my days with new projects. An artist friend and I are developing something deliberately weird on the side, and that on its own is two hours of heavy thinking every night.

I’m entering that space I seem to go into once every couple of years where I’m just sort of vanishing into the work. It’s happened two or three times in the last four years alone. I love these times. Making meals or working in the garden are my break times, everything else is nothing but my head in the stories.

In some ways, I’d love to be like Cory Doctorow, who starts each and every day by spending two hours constructing an elaborate blog post before going into his many and various forms of writing. It’s an amazing kind of focus. I’m much foggier and meandering. I’d very much enjoy being able to write on my website in the way I always envisage doing, but when the story energy is with me, stories are all I can write. I don’t have that much control over my brain. I just have to let it go where it wants to go.

In my head, it’s the river. You can’t usefully force any piece of work. You can’t make yourself come up with the new idea. I have to sit and detect which way the river wants to go. Where does the energy want to flow? I mean, sure, the work of writing is putting yourself in the chair and making the words go down, trusting that you can fix the weak stuff in revisions. But I tend to feel that, ultimately, if you’re going against the flow of the river, no rewrites will save dead work.

Follow the river. Go where the energy is. Do what you love.



If you’re following the election over here, by the way, I think it was all over on Thursday, when the Prime Minister rushed back to London for a soft interview to deny he lied multiple times in the first election debate instead of staying at the D-Day memorial to stand with Macron, Scholz and Biden. Because what Prime Minister would not want the pictures of him standing with important international leaders? The Conservative Party machine have clearly given up on the whole thing, to the point where, apparently, some people up there don’t even care if they become the official opposition - the last round of poll analysis I saw suggests they could be squeezed out by the Lib Dems if their targeting and the drain from Reform hit the right way.

I dunno. I watch the US elections for sport - US politics are interesting and I have no real skin in the game other than the geopolitical blowback that rattles our windows over here, and I fully confess all the bad taste that implies. The UK elections are a different matter. Living through the actual governments for the last 14 years have been bad enough.

So, this time around, a lot of you can all take revenge from my using US election politics for sport by watching the next four weeks over here, where a party that’s been in power for 14 years makes what seems to be a conscious choice to set their house alight in front of cameras. To be imminently replaced by something that calls itself Labour but manifestly is not. (But may be more electable, somehow, than its previous Furious Grandad Is Very Disappointed In You phase.)

Sometimes I almost understand why Alan became an anarchist.




A friend sent me this the other day: a clip of the wonderful Marc Bernardin briefly talking about how I influenced him as a writer early on. Obviously, I apologise to Marc. Thankfully, he recovered from this early injury to his work and became a storied graphic novelist, screenwriter, podcaster and producer.

I have to share with you this large piece from Spufford’s BACKROOM BOYS:

Arthur C. Clarke, by now a well-established science-fiction writer as well as author of the pioneering paper on satellite communications, had been growing increasingly irritated by the theological science fiction of C. S. Lewis, who saw space travel as a sinful attempt by fallen humanity to overstep its God-given place. In Reflections on the Psalms (1958), for example, Lewis had described it as learning ‘(which God forbid) to … distribute upon new worlds the vomit of our own corruption’. Clarke contacted Lewis and they arranged to meet in the Eastgate Tavern, Oxford. Clarke brought (rocket engineer) Val Cleaver as his second; Lewis brought along J. R. R. Tolkien. They saw the world so differently that even argument was scarcely possible. As Orwell said about something completely different, their beliefs were as impossible to compare as a sausage and a rose. Clarke and Cleaver could not see any darkness in technology, while Lewis and Tolkien could not see the ways in which a new tool genuinely transforms the possibilities of human awareness. For them, machines at very best were a purely instrumental source of pipe tobacco and transport to the Bodleian. So what could they do?

They all got pissed.

‘I’m sure you are very wicked people,’ said Lewis cheerfully as he staggered away, ‘but how dull it would be if everyone was good.’

THE GUARDIANS. British tv, every now and then, decided it needed a go at a 1984-ish political dystopia. This one went down a memory hole: 13 episodes, all kinds of interesting actors, totally forgotten now, worth a look.

Jonas Hollerup Helle is a visual artist from Copenhagen who, for his degree show, created THE TALK: he recut old episodes of Charlie Rose to have notable people interviewing each other. Bernie Sanders and Slavoj Zizek. A very funny Will Smith/Chris Rock. And a meeting between Philip Seymour Hoffman and Robin Williams that has the strong vibe of being a conversation in the afterlife. It’s kind of charming. However, that piece has a sequel. And it is fucking chilling.



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Right, I’m off to line some planters and weed, hose and scrub the top patio, turn the compost bins and convert more of the garden into a carbon sink. I’m told that inhaling that mix of fresh oxygen and feral dirt microbes is good for me. Go and do something that makes you feel good. You’re actually allowed to. See you next week.

I’m represented by Angela Cheng Caplan at the Cheng Caplan Company, Joel VanderKloot at VanderKloot Law and David Hale Smith at Inkwell Management. Please add [email protected] to your email system’s address book or contacts and move this to your primary folder when you get a minute, thanks.