Graham Joyce passed away on the 9 September aged 59. Graham was one of the first writers we approached for Dawn of the Unread and was originally scheduled to write our Gotham Fool chapter. When he became ill we agreed to see how things went and pencil him in for our penultimate chapter if his situation improved.
During his career Graham produced twenty-one novels, numerous short stories and was awarded the British Fantasy Award an incredible seven times. He also won an O. Henry Award for An Ordinary Soldier of the Queen.
Graham was an incredibly charismatic individual and a master at holding court, as entertaining in real life as he was on the page, making him that very rare commodity – a very human writer with a personality! I fondly remember a panel talk he did for LeftLion as part of the British Art Show as well as his key note speech at the Writing Industries Conference in 2010 which talked about how the days of living off one fat commission were over and writers had to adapt to different markets in order to survive. At the time, that included his recent foray into writing for computer games such as Doom. I remember joking with him afterwards that ‘jump, duck, left, right’ shouldn’t be too difficult to master.
In this sense he offered a more practical guide to making a living as a writer than say Will Self’s recent lament for the death of the literary novel. This may partly be due to him coming to writing later on his career after working as a youth officer for the National Association of Youth Clubs until 1988.
The thing I love most about his writing is the sense of life and joy on every page and the magical environments that whisper to characters. He made fantasy seem real. It’s hard to pick a favourite but I think I would plump for The Silent Land, winner of the Inspiration Award. It opens with “It was snowing again. Gentle six-pointed flakes from a picture book, settling on her jacket sleeve” In this a young couple are on a skiing holiday: “Everywhere was snow and silence. Snow and silence; the complete arrest of life; a rehearsal for and a pre-echo of death. But her breath was warm and it said no to any premature thought of death. She pointed her skis down the hill. The tips of her skis looked like weird talons of brilliant red and gold in the powder snow as she waited, ready to swoop.”
It’s a beautiful story that I interpreted as a love letter to Graham’s family, a request for forgiveness as well as a celebration of life. The couple are trapped in a liminal space (I won’t ruin it – just read it) but it is classic Joyce in that a tragic situation is rendered beautiful and fate something that cannot be avoided.
Goodbye, you crazy diamond.
RELATED READINGGraham Joyce’s website (grahamjoyce.co.uk)