I’ve got some good news that I’ve been desperate to share. But it starts with some sad news first.
Graham Joyce was originally commissioned to be one of the writers for Dawn of the Unread. There were many reasons for his inclusion, not least the ridiculous amount of times he won the World Fantasy Award, but because of his keynote speech at the 2010 Writing Industries Conference when he talked about writers having to become more adaptable and writing across mediums if they wanted to make a living as a writer. Dawn of the Unread is a combination of videos, social media, and essays all held together through a graphic novel, made available across media platforms. This made him perfect for the project, in addition to being one of my all-time favourite writers.
Graham passed away from cancer earlier this year and a packed memorial was held for him on Saturday 22 November in Leicester. There wasn’t a dry eye in the building. But now I’m smiling because I can share my happy story, one which I know would make Graham very proud.
A few months ago I was in Leicester for the launch of a poetry collection and a mini graphic novel that was created in collaboration between ourselves, NHS, Bright Sparks and Everybody’s Reading. We took the format of Dawn of the Unread and expanded it to Leicester.
During the break I was stood outside and a woman came up and asked me what Dawn of the Unread was all about. I explained how we were bringing dead writers back to life in support of libraries and bookshops and celebrating Nottingham’s literary history. A young lady overheard the conversation and said ‘my father has just passed away and he was a writer from Leicester. I don’t know if you’ve heard of him but his name was Graham Joyce’. I said ‘of course I’ve heard of Graham Joyce!!!!’ and then told her about how he had been one of the commissioned writers. Her name was Ella.
The lyrics in the above song by Emilie Simon were edits that didn’t make it into Some Kind of Fairy Tale.
We got talking and Ella said she was an artist about to embark on a Foundation Course in Art. At this point my brain started going mad with possibilities. ‘Can I have a look at some of your work?’ I said, and she showed me a book cover she had drawn for one of her dad’s short story collections. It was outstanding. Ella then explained how Graham had submitted the drawing to his publisher but hadn’t said who drew it. They were blown away and accepted it.
I then asked Ella if she would like to be an artist for Dawn of the Unread as this would be a fitting legacy to her father and mean that Graham still had a presence in the project. She burst out crying, we had a quick cuddle, and then began devising a plan.
Ella will be working with David Belbin, who used to share an office with Graham at NTU, to help illustrate the life of Stanley Middleton, the only writer from Nottingham to have won the Booker prize. It is a beautiful, symbolic gesture that has absolutely made this project for me, and the kind of layering of meaning that is so essential to us editors.
We met up again this Monday and David and I took Ella around Nottingham, showed her some key locations in the script, and discussed how to approach illustrating Stanley’s Middleton’s life given that Ella has never worked on a graphic novel before. I’m not going to give anything away here, but Graham will feature in the story.
There was always something special about Graham Joyce. He was one of the most charismatic writers I’ve ever met and someone who absolutely loved life. It is, perhaps, not such a coincidence that his last three books should have been dedicated to his immediate family; this was a man who would leave candles out in his back garden for the fairies before going on holiday, while his wife Sue sorted out the passports and luggage! Graham adored his children and was always very proud that they had turned out to be so creative (his other son plays classical music), not bad for the son of a miner. Graham’s writing always suggested that things weren’t quite as they seem and I like to think that Ella’s commission is testament to this (as well as her immense talent) Like his magical stories, this is turning out to be some kind of fairy tale…
- Stanley Middleton 1919-2099: A Celebration on May 8th 2010 (davidbelbin.com)
- A Perfect Day and the Shocking Clarity of Cancer (grahamjoyce.co.uk)
- We’ve Lost one of the Great Fantasy Writers (io9.com)
- Graham Joyce Memorial Event (leicestermercury.co.uk)
- Graham Joyce by Lynda Clark (leftlion.co.uk)
- Grahm Joyce by Conrad Williams (conradwilliams.wordpress.com)
- Readers are not Strangers (gollancz.co.uk)