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Some thoughts about Joel Lane


I thought I'd stay quiet for a few days to let those who knew Joel best to post their thoughts and reminiscences. WIth the dust settled I can now say a few words of my own.

The loss of a friend is always hard to take, and when it's a friend who has played a part in the lives of so many other friends, it has ripples that travel much further than you expect. I've known Joel for little more than a year, mostly through Birmingham's Grey Lodge (which he regularly attended), and also through his relationships with Steve Green, Theresa Derwin, Dave Holmes, Chrissie Harper and others.

Steve and Joel have been long time friends. Best friends even. The horror scene has always been cosy, and the Birmingham horror scene even more so. Steve and Joel were at the heart of it for many years, and I'd heard of them both long before we met. As well as some common interests, they are of the same time and place. When Steve's wife Ann died, of an illness Joel was all too familiar with, he was there to give support and to help his friend come to terms with such a loss.

Theresa has known Joel since she was sixteen, and his was some of the earliest and staunchest encouragement she received about her writing. Fuelled by such support - which always came naturally to him - he was the first person she turned to to contribute to her first anthology: the very book which launched Fringeworks as a publisher. Amazing really that the lead story of our first book was by such a talented and thought-provoking writer.

Dave, through the Andromeda bookshop and later the Lodge, got to see Joel the teenage anorak turn into the writer's writer. I suppose it's Dave's recommndations to the young Joel that helped introduce him first to Lovecraft and later to Thomas Ligotti. His often bawdy anecdotes (especially relating to the infamous Cape Hill house parties) are in equal measure both fun and embarrassing.

And then there is Chrissie. They bonded quickly (Joel doubtless saw a kindred spirit) and though, like me, she had known him for little more than a year, the friendship came firm and fast and, from what I saw, I believe that Joel had found someone whose dark places rivalled his own, and whose thoughts expressed in prose might well bring a breath of fresh air to the medium. To see him nudge Chrissie in the right direction with a mix of subtlety and faith (where my own attempts had been blunt and clumsy in comparison) left me in awe of his quiet effectiveness. A bit like Matt Smith and David Tennant describing John Hurt's performance as the Doctor (it's all in the eyes).

Of course, all of these people have their own stories, and their own tributes, to make, but these are the lives that I have seen touched by Joel's presence...

A taciturn but nevertheless conscientious and thoughtfully opinionated man, Joel was a wry and cutting socialist who lived by his convictions and who took the time, even at his most stressed, to offer the wisest words of support, encouragement and indignation wherever they were needed. As a writer, while he was never quite assured of the commercial success his peers enjoyed, he was recognized as a benchmark against which they and their successors would be judged.

For my own part I saw Joel as someone whose approval I valued and whose friendship was something I might look forward to. I've not lost twenty years of past memories, but rather twenty years of future experiences that I know I had been looking forward to. I had stories of his to publish, suitably bitchy feedback to process, open support for some of our more... political ventures, and even an offer of some editorial consultancy in return for payment in the form of a quart of vodka. I'm hoping that was to be paid in instalments as an assurance of our future discussions, but alas it was never to be.

There needs, I have no doubt, to be a proper remembrance of Joel. I've never seen so many tribute blogs (perhaps because he was so close to so many that I know, but equally, perhaps, because he was so well respected generally). Already I've heard news of three possible books/anthologies and a website to be hoisted in his honour, and I support them all; but I would offer a word of caution. Joel never quite made the big time. His World Fantasy Award, while long overdue, didn't suddenly spring him into the mainstream in his final month. While I have no doubts that his star will rise after his death, I think that any tributes to his memory should be collaborative. To the BFS, to Peter at PS, Simon at Spectral, Peter and Jan at Alchemy, to Theresa here at Fringeworks, and his friends and any who want to remember him, I say that if there *are* going to be tributes, let's make them collaborative. Let's share formats, announcements, release dates and good causes so that our efforts will shine a light on his memory rather than to scatter them to the four winds. Let's be sure his legacy is real and that his principles and integrity are as well-remembered as his excellent poetry and prose.

[The photograph of Joel is by (and copyright to) Nick Royle, who I hope will forgive its use for the best of purposes.]

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