“Why can’t our job here on earth be simply to inspire each other?”
These simple words resonate very strongly in the hearts of many today. I very rarely struggle with words, but today I am having difficulty in finding the right ones. Yesterday, someone I was privileged enough to call a friend who also happened to be a giant among his peers, Graham Joyce, passed from this mortal plane at the age of just 59 due to aggressive lymphoma. The outpouring of grief on Facebook from his many friends and acquaintances stands as testament to just how much he was loved, respected, and admired.
I can’t say I knew him well, but I DID know him well enough to call him a friend. A very gentle man, full of inspiration, humour, and mischief, a twinkle always in his eyes and a smile ready to grace a handsome face. His was an extraordinary talent, able to turn the mundanities of the everyday into something magical and exciting, enabling us to view the world through different, perhaps clearer, eyes. Graham looked beyond the superficial to see the real core of the matter, performing the literary equivalent of alchemy, turning the base material of what he saw around him into the gold of the phantastique. My first encounter with his work was The Silent Land, a tale of a young couple going on a skiing holiday, only to find themselves in a strangely quiet, abandoned ski resort after an avalanche, which they find impossible to leave. The story is told with astounding simplicity, yet the grace and quiet power of the man’s prose is undeniable, leaving one profoundly affected on some primal emotional level. The one over-riding aspect of Graham was that he carried those qualities of simplicity, grace, and quiet power into his everyday life. Once met, never forgotten.
I first met him at alt.fiction in Derby in 2010, long before Spectral had even been thought of. I introduced myself to him (an unusual thing in those days, as I was [and still am] quite shy), and he had the grace to ask me where he’d heard my name before. We struck up a conversation, and his warmth and charm won me over very quickly. There were no pretenses with Graham (as, indeed, I found with all the writers I’ve crossed paths with since): he was a straightforward and principled man, more than ready to support those who were just beginning their journeys within the genre. He would always take the time to talk to me whenever we happened to be in the same room and it was always as an equal: he never let his stature as a writer of the first magnitude get in the way because, I think, he genuinely loved people.
It was because of this love that he often stood for the underdog and those who were downtrodden. He hated bigotry and prejudice of any kind, as all of us within genre do. He simply wanted the best for everybody, regardless of their station in life or their abilities. One of the social issues he railed against was the constant uninformed interference of the former Education Minister Michael Gove, whose ideas he saw as being detrimental to the future education and well-being of children in this country. He was angry enough to start a petition to have Gove removed from office. Gove did go, and many of us would like to think that it was Graham’s hearty opposition to the Minister that helped to shoehorn him out.
I last saw him at the funeral of Joel Lane last December. The ironies and parallels here are not lost on me – Joel was meant to be at FCon 2013 and died shortly afterwards. Graham was meant to MC at this year’s event but was unable to attend, and died after the convention had ended. Both men were behemoths of literature, bringing to genre a breadth of vision and literacy that is often absent from certain quarters of the field. Both men were the epitome of kindness laced with humour and mischief. Both were passionate agitators against in the inadequacies and inequalities of an unfair social system. Both were just great fun to talk to and be with.
I’ve been reading many testaments to Graham on Facebook this morning, all far more eloquent and moving than I could hope to write. Above all, their combined power is to delineate a man of broad cultural and social qualities, someone of immense depth and significance. And none of us should forget that he WAS and IS significant, as a writer, friend, and human being. We are often prone as a species to compare those of extraordinary talent to some celestial phonemenon, such as a comet or meteor: in Graham’s case those are far too transient and ephemeral, totally inadequate to the task at hand. The man was a hypernova, a rare event in the life of the universe, just as Graham was a being of rare qualities and attributes here on earth. His like is very rarely encountered, and the odds of meeting another like him have been considerably diminished.
Graham, I hope that you and Joel are supping a pint of the best celestial nectar up there, and let it be known that you will be sorely missed down here by all those whose lives you touched.
GRAHAM JOYCE – RIP