An Enchanted Author

The Arts

graham Joyce

One of the first people to be kind to me in the weird nest-of-vipers atmosphere of British Fantasy Society meetings was Graham Joyce, the most unlikely author I’ve ever met. Unlikely because he was the son of a Yorkshire miner, because he seemed like a two-fisted, red-blooded kind of guy who stuck out in the scrum of whey-faced wimps and slightly autistic Goths attracted to the rural convention we were both attending.Unlikely because he often wrote from a feminine perspective and his books were more concerned with moods than plots.

He made me laugh, we bought each other pints and became good festival friends, meaning I would see him three or four times a year at various awards ceremonies, speeches and signings. When asked about why he hadn’t attended one particularly fraught and territorial  gathering of writers, he said, ‘Well, it’s all a load of bollocks, really, isn’t it?’ And of course, he was right.

Graham soon became an award-winning author of novels including ‘The Tooth Fairy’, ‘The Limits of Enchantment’, ‘The Year of the Ladybird’ and ‘Some Kind Of Fairy Tale’. He was unfailingly charming and kind to those awarding him prizes, but seemed bemused about receiving awards at all; I don’t think he saw his books as tales of fantasy but tales of humanity.

Our friendship stretched over twenty years and he dedicated his novel ‘The Tooth Fairy’ to me. As an author he was hard to categorise. There was a touch of Jonathan Carroll and also Christopher Priest in his work, but Graham’s prose was perhaps more grounded in everyday reality. My favourite book of his, ‘The Facts of Life’. Set in war-devastated Coventry, the novel concerns seven daughters, and the idea of female magic being passed from mother to child. Yet it is also about the way in which we experience the world and what it means to be human.

Graham was full of contradictions, a tough-talking Yorkshireman who wrote with great delicacy and elegance about girls and boys, women and hardship, memory, joy and loss, and the roots of Englishness.

Graham was diagnosed with aggressive lymphoma cancer last year. He was 59 when he died this week.

I used to get annoyed that more people didn’t know his work because he simply got on and did what he did best – creating spiderweb enchantments of lasting beauty – and his books will be his public legacy. I think in years to come they will be ever more widely read.

5 comments on “An Enchanted Author”

  1. Bob Low says:

    This is incredibly sad, coming so soon after the loss of Joel Lane. Graham Joyce is-I find it difficult to use the past tense here- one of the greatest, and most neglected, British writers of the last twenty years or so. I first discovered him through a brilliant short story called ‘Under the Pylon’, in one of Stephen Jones’ Years Best Horror anthologies, and then was blown away by ‘The Tooth Fairy’. Didn’t it make the long list for the Booker prize? This is a lovely piece by Admin. It’s great to read that, as well as being such a great writer, he was also a very nice man. I think his books are going to continue to be read for many years to come, and I hope their literary worth will also be recognised. One I can definitely recommend to anyone who hasn’t read any-although his novels are all great-is ‘The Stormwatcher’, which is an absolute master class in mounting dread and tension

  2. J. Folgard says:

    I heard of his death via Johnny Mains’ twitter feed the very day he left us. I had been reading him in my teens, and rediscovered his work for the past couple of years -I had just caught up on ‘the Limits of Enchantment’ last week. This is a beautiful obituary admin, and the humane qualities you speak of really shone through his novels. Memento mori.

  3. Wayne Mook says:

    As a convention goer, but only ever as a fan, I met Graham and can only agree with you admin. He was a wonderful, warm and intelligent man, funny and generous. Even to a misfit like me, a drunk, working class, loud mouth from Manchester. I went to this years FantasyCon hoping he would be there, sadly he wasn’t and then there was this hammer blow.

    Like yourself and many others there, he was generous with his time, and even encouraged me to write, but I never have, well not properly. Maybe one day.

    Bob agreed about Joel, too. Another kind soul and splendid writer.

    I hope he will be more widely read,


  4. Matthew says:

    I am welling up as I write this, and strangely enough I am reading Year of the Ladybird right now. I only met Graham once in about 94, when he came to talk to the sci-fi society at the University of Warwick. I remember him talking about his time living on a Greek Island, and swatting scorpions with a frying pan leaving the scorpion equivalent of flying ducks on the wall. I remember him as a warm, honest and friendly man, who gave us all a wonderful talk.

    I bought some of his books that evening, and have been buying and reading them ever since.

    I hope more people discover his work, as it is a rich catalogue of work that defied genres.

    My deepest condolences to you, and all his Family and Friends.

  5. Donna says:

    Only just read the news of Graham’s death. I had been a fan of his work for a long time before meeting him at a Fantasycon signing. He was extraordinarily pleased to learn I had brought his book “Smoking Poppy” in Thailand. He seemed a really nice guy and is a great loss.

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