I was shocked and saddened to find out this week of the tragic death of the great British novelist Graham Joyce. For my money he was the best writer working in the field of contemporary Fantasy. I loved the way he weaved the magical into the mundane with such psychological acuity.
With his typical generosity of spirit, he was encouraging to my work and I wish I’d had a chance to meet him in person. I am glad I made his ‘Some Kind of Fairy Tale’ my book of the year, (with it getting listed in the Guardian annual literary roundup). His work lives on.
This obituary from the Guardian has some wonderful quotes from Graham and I hope his family & Alison Flood don’t mind me reblogging it here.
Graham, RIP – you were a great inspiration.
Graham Joyce, much-loved fantasy author, dies aged 59
- theguardian.com, Wednesday 10 September 2014 11.10 BST
Graham Joyce, one of the UK’s best and most respected fantasy authors, died on Tuesday afternoon, his publisher has announced. Joyce, the award-winning English author of novels including The Tooth Fairy, Some Kind of Fairy Tale and The Year of the Ladybird, was diagnosed with aggressive lymphoma cancer last year. He was 59 when he died.
His publisher, Gollancz, made the announcement on Twitter, writing: “Devastated to have to confirm that Graham Joyce died today after a long illness. Our hearts go out to his family and friends.” Joyce, said Gollancz, “was a writer of huge heart. He loved people and his writing celebrated the magic of them. His books are a fitting legacy.”
Joyce’s own Twitter account, on which the writer had, earlier this month, tweeted a pithy response to Will Self’s criticism of George Orwell – “Writing from the thesaurus v writing from the heart” – was also used to give fans the news: “We are so sorry to have to tell everyone that Graham died this afternoon. He was always so good with words so we don’t know what to say.”
Joyce’s dark fantasy novels won him multiple prizes, including the British Fantasy award on many occasions. He also taught a writing course at Nottingham Trent University, and recently spearheaded a petition signed by more than 100,000 people to remove Michael Gove from office over his changes to the English literature GCSE syllabus, telling the Guardian in June: “Michael Gove climbs on tables and gleefully tears the wings from mockingbirds as his coterie of supporters looks on with immobilised grins, knowing there is no one around with the power or the will to stop him.”
“I am less interested in ghosts than in people who see ghosts,” he said of his writing in 2000 . “My story reflexes come less from fantasy or horror than from the darker sort of psychological thriller – not as plot-driven as most, rather more mood-driven.”
Writing on his blog in August, the author described the “perfect day” he had experienced in Wistow, near Leicester, where he lived with his wife and two children. “I put my head down and gazed up at the clouds and thought: why would anyone want to die? Then my old friend the Heron flew up from the river. Did it fly from right to left or from left to right? Oh, let’s not get into that. It’s just beautiful.”
He fell asleep, and dreamed, he wrote, and when he woke up “a dragonfly with a wingspan the size of my hand was buzzing my ear”.
“As I blinked up at the sky that buzzing turned into an aeroplane’s drone, high, high, in the blue. I wondered where those people were going for their summer holidays. Oh this mysterious life, full of cloud formations and dragonfly language and the auguries of herons and aeroplanes and the kingdom of dreams,” Joyce wrote. “Then I got back home to find that another plane, a different plane, had been snatched out of the sky over the Ukraine, carelessly, casually, with the cost of almost 300 lives.”
Joyce said he had “a brilliant team of doctors and nurses, trying to unlock time for me, at great expense, working hard to help me. An NHS system that is the pride of the world in its dedication to helping people to live. And just across the Ukraine someone of unspeakable low instinct can let go a missile and end it all for 300 people, quite casually.”
“This is what I mean by the shocking clarity that cancer brings,” wrote the novelist. “And if a dragonfly buzzes my ear like an aeroplane I’ll still be going, ‘What did it say?‘ Because the screw that has for so long been loose in me hasn’t been tightened by cancer. Actually I know what the dragonfly said. It whispered: ‘I have inhabited this earth for three hundred million years and I can’t answer these mysteries; just cherish it all.’ And in turn the Heron asks, with shocking clarity as it flies from right to left and left to right: ‘Why can’t our job here on earth be simply to inspire each other?’”
His death was immediately marked by his fellow authors. Stephen King called him “a truly great novelist”, adding: “Too soon. Far too soon.” Fellow fantasy writer Guy Gavriel Kay said: “Graham Joyce, a genuinely distinguished author and person has died, far too soon”, and the novelist Joanne Harris tweeted: “What a sad, sad loss. Such a talent, such a nice guy, and with a twinkle to the last … ”
“I was so lucky to be able to count Graham as a friend and utterly proud to have been able to be his publisher. I’m devastated to have lost a friend, devastated that I’ve now edited his last novel,” said Simon Spanton at Gollancz. “As a novelist he bore many of the characteristics that made him such a lovely man: a warm, endless affection for people; an understanding of their troubles; a fierce belief in social justice; a fascination with and acceptance of the numinous and a rich appreciation of the magic and the wonder we can find in the ordinary.
“Little consolation right now to his friends and family as they deal with his loss, but thank goodness he was a writer; his wonderful novels mean that we can continue to share his profound qualities, his generous outlook and pass them on to others.”
A quote from Joyce’s writing, “She said that eventually all the pain falls away, and what’s left behind is only beauty”, was shared many times on Twitter, Gollancz adding: “Thank you for what you left behind Graham Joyce.”