Before I met Graham Joyce I’d stories I’d never submitted anywhere simply because they were set in Leicester. The Midlands, my internal logic ran, aren’t really about anything, have no atmosphere, not in the same way London, the North or Scotland do.
And then I saw Graham speak, and then I immediately bought one of his books, and then I realised you actually *are* allowed to write genre stories set in the Midlands. The only problem now was, any Leicester story I wrote looked like A Graham Joyce knock-off, Go-Bots to his Transformers. Christ, they still do, truth be told.
His writing advice was just like the man: to the point, uncluttered, profoundly practical. ‘You write and then you fix it’; ‘You get nowhere leaning on your spade’; ‘Doesn’t matter if the first novel you write’s awful: it’s your apprentiship’.
And his books. He’s the one author who’s books I’d recommend to anyone who reads fiction. My copy of Smoking Poppy I’ve leant to a Catherine Cookson fan and an English lit PHD and they both adored it. And why wouldn’t they? Graham was a master storyteller, and he understood a good story well told radiates meaning and themes like a dropped stone sends out ripples across a lake.
But, like a lot of friends I’ve seen posting on Facebook, it’s his warm heartedness I’ve missed these last two years, his loveable faux-grumbly swagger that never could obscure his boundless joy at life (in fact it only added to it). I remember seeing him at a Midlands writing conference, calling across the bar to a table full of local poets, saying ‘Ah, ‘ere they bloody are, suckin’ up public funds!’ The poets, I hasten to add, were in hysterics. As were so many of us.
He told us not to lean on our spades. But we can certainly lean on his books. And on his memory. His memory makes me smile.