I had intended to write this post about the British Fantasy Convention in York which I attended a few days ago. There was going to be mention of the different approaches to the writing process described by Joanne Harris and Toby Whithouse and how I felt they applied to my own writing. There was going to be high praise indeed for the fabulous Tea and Jeopardy and their ability to turn a standard interview into an anarchic steampunk riot that would have made Rod Hull and Emu proud. (Because of the sense that anything could happen, not because of a bird. Although there were chickens.) There would probably be something on Larry Rostant, an incredibly modest illustrator and graphic artist who has designed some notable covers over the years, my favourite being Stephen King’s On Writing (not the design he wanted, but King baulked at the idea of a picture of his own house being used) There was going to be a brief muse on how what is always thought of as a relatively small community is actually global and many of these writers we unthinkingly brush shoulders with at such events are icons of the genre. And then I’d probably have finished up with a lame joke about how the whole reason I bought a ticket was because my former tutor and dare I say it, friend, Graham Joyce was due to be Master of Ceremonies, but he’d been too busy swanning around having chemotherapy to attend. One, because Graham was fond of gallows humour and I figured he’d get a kick out of it when he read it, and two because it never, not for one second, occurred to me that he might actually die.
Perhaps that’s why I’m taking this so hard.
One of the reasons I chose Trent for my English degree was the fact they had a World Fantasy Award winner amongst their lecturing team. I’d never read anything by him, but picked up The Tooth Fairy during the Summer holiday prior to starting my degree and was blown away. He wrote what I wanted to write! Books that were fantasy, but not. Books about people and their relationships, where magic and wonder were ever present, but secondary.
Graham was my mentor for my final year of university and again on my MA course the following year, meaning during that time I was able to spend a wonderfully large amount of time talking to him about writing and what dreadful snobby people writers and creative writing students often are. I’m not saying we were close. I know we were friends only in a very loose use of the word. That’s not what this is about. It’s about how someone can have a huge impact (and leave a huge hole) despite only being on the periphery of your life.
After I left university we stayed in touch and met up maybe once a year via conventions and book launches. But Graham left a huge and indelible mark on my writing life. On me. He told me, both verbally and through his own success, that what I wanted to do was possible. (He also told me to get my author photos taken while I was still young, but sorry Graham, that ship has sailed.) He once told me he was a fan of my writing and I have forever clung to that phrase, telling anyone with a vague connection to the fantasy writing or publishing worlds “Graham Joyce is a fan of my writing, you know.” He probably said that to countless students as a means of encouragement, but to me that just emphasises the generosity of the man, it doesn’t diminish the words. The last book launch I physically attended (more on non-physical attendance in a moment) was for Some Kind Of Fairytale. Despite it being more than a year since we last saw him, Graham greeted my husband and me with a great cry of enthusiasm and a huge hug. He signed my copy of the book simply: “Where’s yours?!” With it so close to being finished, it breaks my heart that I will never get to show it to him.
The book launch for Year of the Ladybird was virtual, because Graham was too ill for an actual one. Hundreds of us took to Facebook to ‘drink wine’ and see in this fabulous book. And it is a fabulous book. In light of UKIP’s recent rise, it’s incredibly, painfully relevant. Despite the sad circumstances of the launch, it was great fun. But my favourite launch was the first one I attended, The Limits of Enchantment. I was very intimidated by the whole affair – the fact that it was in London, the fact that all my university peers were very polished and confident and moved easily amongst the gathered literary types while I was awkward and clumsy, the fact that many of them had bought their well-to-do literary parents, while I had only my husband (then fiance) who was there for the free wine and flirted outrageously with the barman to get more. But Graham was so delightfully un-literary, he immediately set us at ease. He boldly handed us a bottle of wine each and told us to ‘enjoy ourselves’, proceeding to do so himself until he was tipsy, effing and blinding pleasantly to all the well-to-do parents, who looked slightly taken aback. Which was exactly what he was aiming at, of course. He couldn’t abide pretension, or art for art’s sake. Everything had to do something, to mean something.
He meant so very much to me, to everyone who met him, as social media and the various other tributes can attest. Cancer has not just robbed each and every one of us, it has robbed those who had yet to know him or to read his work. So I suppose it’s up to us to share those books and those memories. I keep on thinking of The Silent Land, of its underlying message that life goes on and we should be grateful for every moment we have with those we love.
I will remember him explaining that he didn’t know how to end The Tooth Fairy until around the seventh draft, while I thought in horror ‘SEVEN DRAFTS?! SEVEN?!’ I will remember him agreeing how frustrating it could be to be a working class type in what is predominantly a middle-upper class field, using typically emotive, poetic rage. I will remember him leading the charge against Gove. I will remember all the little tips (and insults) he used to send me on Facebook and Twitter. I will remember that he was the one who encouraged me to write for video games due to his own work on Doom, and that it meant he was able to pass off all the hours he spent playing as research, an excuse I now use too. I will remember him harrumphing when I teased that I was disappointed to find out my new discovery, the fantastic William Heaney, was just him in disguise.
I will try to forget how much this hurts.