“Why can’t our job here on earth be simply to inspire each other?” wrote Graham Joyce
Just like Trent Reznor wrote, and then Johnny Cash owned with his version of the “Nine Inch Nails” song “Hurt”, “everyone I know goes away in the end.”
And it’s started to happen already for just like memories of the World Fantasy Convention of 2013 are twinged with sadness because Joel Lane won the World Fantasy Award for best collection with “Where Furnaces Burn” and died a few weeks later; memories of this year’s Fantasycon are also twinged with sadness with the passing of Graham Joyce, who was going to be the convention’s master of ceremonies, sadly, he couldn’t attend and died after a long battle with lymphatic cancer the day after the convention finished.
This week, Graham would have been sixty.
I remember the first time I saw him at Fantasycon at a panel consisting of first-time novelists after his novel “Dreamside” was published, apart from Graham, one of the other panellists was the science fiction writer, Stephen Baxter, but for the life of me I can’t remember who the others were. Fast forward to over twenty years later and the last time I saw him at the award ceremony for the World Fantasy Awards where the audience as one got to their feet when he appeared, and roared their approval. We knew he was very ill, and we didn’t know he was going to be there, but there he was right before our eyes, cause for joy. Afterwards he stood waiting for the inevitable photos to be taken as he had won another British Fantasy Award for best novel for “Some Kind of Fairy Tale” and I said to him “there’s a lot of love in the room and a lot of it is for you” and he smiled and nodded.
If you have never heard of him, or even read any of his work, then in the words of Stephen King “you’ve missed a treat”. King also wrote on hearing that Graham had died, he wrote"Very sad to hear that Graham Joyce, a truly great novelist, has passed away. Too soon. Far too soon."
He wrote nineteen novels for adults and young adults and one short story collection, and PS Publishing launched a 25 year retrospective of his best short stories at Fantasycon called “25 Years in the Word Mines” with artwork by his daughter, Ella. He was nominated for the British Fantasy Award ten times and won the best novel award an amazing seven times, likewise he was nominated four times for a World Fantasy Award and won with his novel “The Facts of Life”. He also won an O. Henry Award for “An Ordinary Soldier of the Queen,” which was published in The Paris Review in 2009. He was a football fan and a player and like Vladimir Nabokov before him, he was also a goalie, playing for England Writers, otherwise known to him as "a bunch of chronically unskilled middle-aged no-hopers". His exploits with them inspired a book, “Simple Goalkeeping Made Spectacular”, which was a runner-up in the William Hill sports book of the year. It’s a pity he didn’t win, I can envisage the quiz question now about the award-winning fantasy writer who won a sports writing award.
Every book, he wrote was different – dark fantasy, supernatural war memoir, magic realism, coming of age drama, fairy story, ghost story – all written in a wonderful naturalistic style. I’d recommend “Dreamside”, “The Tooth Fairy”, the wonderful “Indigo” (no spoilers here, but read it and see if you “get it”), “The Facts of Life”, “The Limits of Enchantment”, two young adult books – “TWOC”, and “Do The Creepy Thing” (and the creepiness is right up there with the best shuddering works of Ramsey Campbell and Charlie Grant”), “Memoirs of a Master Forger”, “The Silent Land” and “Some Kind of Fairy Tale”.
Maybe, like he said, his lean writing style came from his working class upbringing in a family of coal miners. Despite failing his 11-plus he graduated with a degree in education was training and development officer for the National Association for many years, but he yearned to write and took a year out to produce “Dreamside” in 1991, and the rest as they say is history when he combined a career in writing with getting a master’s in Modern English and American literature and submitted two of novels for consideration to gain his PhD, something which was commented on in “Private Eye” believe it or not. He famously took on Jeanette Winterson over her criticism of the 2011 Man Booker Prize shortlist and this year managed to gather almost 150000 signatures for a petition to sack Michael Give as Education Secretary for “wrecking havoc on the morale and practise of school learning.”
The members of the British Fantasy got to know and love him over the years and he loved us back, especially after a period of turmoil when he stepped into the breach and became our temporary Chair Person because he knew how important the society was. I remember attending an E.G.M. he had called when he hammered through much-needed changes We were “a family” as he often said, although he did hate the Fantasycon raffles for some reason, maybe because they took forever and he didn’t want another “Blue Thunder” hat!
My words can't do justice to what a great writer Graham was, but his words certainly do, here: http://www.grahamjoyce.co.uk/?p=409