John Higgs talks with John Wisniewski
John Higgs (Author photo nicked from the official website, johnhiggs.com).
One of my favorite writers, John Higgs, gives an update on his writing and answers questions about many of his books in this new interview with John Wisniewski.
John Higgs' nonfiction books are William Blake Now: Why He Matters More Than Ever (a longer book about Blake will be out soon), The Future Starts Here: Adventures in the Twenty-First Century, Watling Street: Travels Through Britain and Its Ever-Present Past, Stranger Than We Can Imagine: Making Sense of the Twentieth Century, 2000 TC: Standing On the Verge of Getting It On, Our Pet Queen: A New Perspective on Monarchy, KLF: Chaos, Magic and the Band Who Burned a Million Pounds and I Have America Surrounded: The Life of Timothy Leary.
He also is the author of two works of fiction, The First Church on the Moon and The Brandy of the Damned.
I love all of his stuff, and many of his books are of particular interest to Robert Anton Wilson fans; all RAW fans should read the Leary biography, the KLF tome (almost as much about Wilson as its actual subject, a book so offbeat Higgs hesitated at first to publish it) and Stranger Than We Can Imagine, which covers many topics Wilson also wrote about.
Mr. Higgs also wrote the introduction for the Hilaritas Press edition of Cosmic Trigger, and in the interview he mentions the related Starseed Signals, the new "lost" Robert Anton Wilson book the rest of us are waiting to buy, out soon from Hilaritas Press. He lives in Brighton, England, with his lovely wife and their two children.
John Wisniewski has done other interviews for this blog, see also his interview with UFO author and retired professor of religious studies David Halperin, his 2015 interview with Mr. Higgs, and his interview in 2014 with Adam Gorightly, John Wisniewski is a freelance writer who has written for L.A. Review of Books, Paraphilia magazine, Toronto Review of Books, Urban Graffiti magazine and other publications. He lives in West Babylon NY.
John, could you tell us about writing The Future Starts Here?
JOHN HIGGS: Writing The Future Starts Here began back in 2017, if you can still remember that strange, long gone time. It was prompted by the blanket of pessimism that then dominated the media and the culture back. This was after Trump, Brexit, populist nationalism and the rise in racism, along with the absence of political action on climate change. There was a general election in Britain in 2017, for example, and climate change was simply not mentioned during the campaign. There was just nothing but pessimism in the culture, even from those I look up to and learn from. And, having read a lot of RAW and Leary in my time, this set off alarm bells. There are always good and bad things happening and when you can't see both, you're not seeing the full picture.
So that was the background for the book. Other factors were the rut that mainstream sci-fi had fallen in, which had become reliant on tropes such as time travel, visiting alien planets and self-aware AI, which no longer seemed plausible, and the huge generational difference between the Millennials and Generation Z, which is talked about a lot now but which was overlooked then. The book was based on the awareness that by 2050 people would approach our problems differently to how they did back in 2017, and they wouldn't be looking at the world through quite the same shit-coloured glasses.
You have written about William Blake, John, and why he is important to this century. Could you tell us about writing this?
JOHN HIGGS: That one took me by surprise a little. I had a bunch of other books developing in my head, in various states of readiness, but the Blake books just barged in and demanded to be written ahead of them. Blake is and will always be an enigma, but it felt like the right time to look at him afresh with twenty-first century eyes, and see if we are in a better position to understand his level of consciousness or what he meant when he talked of Eternity, visions and the imagination. Also, British identity has been in a period of collapse over the past years, and when something new is built out of its ruins, it seems important that Blake is included.
John, how did you get interested in the writing of Robert Anton Wilson?
JOHN HIGGS: I first heard of him when I was living in Liverpool in the early 90s. Liverpool is a pretty psychedelic city and he was one of the common touchstones, a writer that would get mentioned a lot. I bought the Illuminatus! trilogy around then, but didn't get very far with it. My real introduction to him was over a decade later when the late and much missed Beat writer Brian Barritt lent me his copy of Cosmic Trigger, which I still have. In the lost-but-soon-to-be-published 1975 RAW book The Starseed Signals there are four or five references to Brian -- usually Tim Leary insisting that it is vital for RAW's understanding of the world that he gets in touch with him. That RAW didn't do this is such a shame -- who knows where we'd be now if those two had put their heads together?
Could you tell us about writing your book about the KLF, John? (The KLF: Magic, chaos and the band who burned a million pounds).
JOHN HIGGS: Well, it needed doing, that was the main thing about that book. It was a story that needed to be told. The big mystery which I’m still fascinated by is why, in the 17 years or so after Bill and Jimmy of the KLF burned a million pounds in a boathouse on the Isle of Jura, nobody came along and wrote about it. It was obviously a fascinating story and you would have thought that somebody would have picked it up and ran with it, and yet nobody did. The story spent all that time waiting patiently in one of society’s many cultural blind spots.
If nothing else it’s a reminder to keep an eye on those cultural blind spots, they tend to be where the gold is.
You wrote a Timothy Leary biography, I Have America Surrounded: The Life of Timothy Leary. Why was Timothy the "most dangerous man in America?"
JOHN HIGGS: As Leary himself used to explain it – “you get the Timothy Leary you deserve." If a few paranoid members of the Nixon government in the mid-1970s wanted to see Leary in those terms, that was absolutely their right and their choice. It tells us more about them than it tells us about Leary, but that is always the case.
You also wrote Stranger Than We Can Imagine: Making Sense of the Twentieth Century. How has technology changed us and is it for the better?
JOHN HIGGS: I wouldn’t want to go back to the technology we had at the beginning of the twentieth century, so in my eyes it’s better. Neither would I want to go back to the technology we had at the beginning of the twenty-first century, although I’m sure many would be happy about the un-invention of smartphones.
Technology can and will be used for either good or ill and that becomes more apparent the more powerful the technology is. So it’s important to remember that technology is a tool, and the whoever utilises that tool is morally responsible for the consequences of it being used. That tends to be a useful maxim to remember when looking at effect of technology on society.
What will your next book be about?
JOHN HIGGS: The book after William Blake Vs The World is one I'm actually keeping quiet about, for once. It is publicly referred to only as Project Monastery. This is partly because I have accidentally come up with something that could well be commercial. It's not that I think anyone would run away with the idea, but there's no harm in it being in less minds and it being a little quieter in Ideaspace, for now at least.