Celebrating Graham Joyce

I found out that Graham died just before I headed off to Poland. Stuck in the Warsaw airport for seven unexpected and very long hours, I found it impossible to put away the thought that I was living in a world without Graham Joyce. I’m sure the sight of a woman bursting into tears is not at all uncommon in that airport, or so my two lengthy experiences lead me to believe. He was ailing for a long time so I suppose we should have all braced ourselves for the worst and yet — how can you?

I have continued a terrible lifelong habit of having my last words to friends be bad jokes, kidding him about the frighteningly huge scar from his last surgery by suggesting they’d left the zipper off. But he liked it. He always had that wit. I remember first meeting him at Necon of all places. I can’t remember when I first read Requiem but I know it’s the first one I read. He was among those telling ghost stories in the first night tradition and I recognised the folk tale he was telling anew so I paid more attention to how he told it, the delight and the timing. I was too much in awe to talk to him much but we ended up opposite each other at a meal and chatted away quite naturally because he was always so direct. He was surprised to find me an Arsenal fan.

I find it hard to sort out timing. I am pretty sure that I wrote the essay on Memoirs of a Master Forger [never mind the terrible American name for it] for the 21st Century Gothic collection before we read together at my first Alt-Fiction. I was nervous. What if he hated what I wrote? Of course I loved the book. I love fakes and hoaxes especially when you try to make them true and there’s a heart-breaking honesty that lying allows you to be truthful about. The forger William Heaney at the end of the book realises the irony of this:

What an odd group. I loved them all. I fancied that I could see myself in the shining brilliance of their eyes. They reflected back at me, which was appropriate because the biggest demon I faced was the one I saw in the mirror. Because he was the master of all the others. What should I say? I had lived in the shadow of a wrong I didn’t commit and in doing so made a counterfeit of my own life. Faked my own death in a way… You let go. No one needs to hang on to a first edition.” (307)

We sat at opposite ends of a big table and read from our books. People sat in between — people who were almost surely all there to hear him. He read from The Silent Land and I don’t know what I read from, Owl Stretching maybe. And we talked after it and I was delighted to find that he had read the essay and was pleased that I saw the strands of Yeats running through the book and understood what he meant to capture in those pages.

I never lost my awe of him. He was a writer I admire and yearn to be like — to slip between genres and make everything so very real especially when it seemed fantastical. I remember the shocked wonder of reading the ARC I got of Some Kind of Fairy Tale in the Russell Square Hotel, that rare feeling of this book has been written especially for me! Thousands may feel the same but you think it anyway. And then we were on the panel together at another Alt-Fiction talking about the Extremely Dangerous Fairy Folk and how people misunderstand them. I don’t remember what all we said but it was one of my best panels ever because we were just delighting in the conversation and other people happened to be there.

Grief in the social media era is still a weird thing. Dead friends appear in my timeline on Facebook unexpectedly, due to whatever mystical metrics. Depending on how my day is going I smile to see them or cry again to know they’re gone. Phil will forever have Gene Hunt’s face; Jack will forever have the Facebook default picture, a gap of white in blue. Mostly they’re all writers, so you mourn all the things they will never write.

But they will live forever as long as we read their books and that is a great comfort. The pages spring to life again and a voice like Graham’s is as vivid as breath all over again. It’s not enough, but it is much to celebrate.

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