Joel Lane (1963-2013)

IMG_1681 joel lane 2008b

I read Joel Lane’s short story “Ragged Claws” (in Astrologica) on Monday. In it, the protagonist is being consumed by an illness, a cancer-like disease, until he dies. Then the following day, yesterday, I received two emails telling me the God-awful news: my friend of 30 years had died – he was found in his bed, apparently dying in his sleep. That story suddenly became prophetic (I must stress that at the moment the cause of his death is unknown).

I first encountered Joel through his fiction – I think it was probably in the pages of Dark Horizons, edited by David Sutton. I then met him in person – it was Dave who introduced us. I have to admit that at that meeting I failed to recognise his name and when I asked if he had written anything Dave put me to rights. Joel was amused by ignorance, but never held it against me. We became good friends, part of the Brum Balti Boys (Joel, David, Mike Chinn, John Howard, Stan Nicholls and I and later James Brogden), meeting semi-regularly for a few drinks and then a meal in one of the numerous Balti houses in Sparkhill (after buying our beverages in the Off Licence, of course). In fact we were in the process of trying to arrange a meal before this Christmas…

When I edited Winter Chills (later Chills) for the BFS I included two of Joel’s stories, and a poem, in its ten-issue run, including the astounding “The Earth Wire” (in WC3). Then when he proposed a themed anthology for The Alchemy Press, I jumped at the idea: Beneath the Ground appeared in 2002. A story of his, from Swords Against the Millennium (co-published by The Alchemy Press and Mike Chinn’s Saladoth Productions), “The Hunger of the Leaves” was selected for two Best Of annuals: for best horror and best fantasy.

Joel was an incredibly bright and perspicacious devotee of horror and weird fiction. He saw things in stories that most of us lesser mortals would take an age to spot. Yet conversely I suggested that a particular story of his which I had just read was packed with autobiographical elements, but elements he hadn’t seen for himself. His fiction had many levels, although often rooted in Birmingham and the Black Country. Reading them was like reading a map of the tragedy of that city and its environs.

But Joel was more than a colleague in the fantasy/horror arena. He was a good, empathic friend. When my first marriage was breaking down I told Joel before anyone else. He offered not just sympathy but support, helping me through a difficult time. And as many of you know, Joel often suffered ill health himself, had his own emotional burdens. Then Jan Edwards and I would have him round to our house for dinner and an evening of conversation (we lived about a ten minute walk apart – five minutes if you walked like Joel did). When Jan and I moved away from Birmingham and couldn’t meet up so frequently, and his ill health and ill-luck increased (his father died, his mother’s ailments) I felt as though I was letting him down. Several times he tried to come visit us but that just didn’t happen. Now it never will…

What else? We shared a passion for music, swapping compilation cassettes of our favourite songs trying to convert each other, although our tastes overlapped for the most part. We went to gigs – sometimes with Jan and Mike, sometimes just us – seeing the likes of dEUS, Flaming Lips, Drugstore, Only Ones, Tindersticks, Sparklehorse … and all the way to some of the icons of rock music: Nick Cave, Lou Reed and especially Richard Thompson. But he never converted me into a Bruce Springsteen fan.

If Joel had a weakness it was in his modesty – he didn’t tell us about a major poetry award he won, for example. But that was part of his charm. I am privileged to count Joel as a good friend and I am so depressed at his passing. He was only 50, for God’s sake! If there is an afterlife then he is in the company of his favourite writers, chewing the fat with HP Lovecraft, Robert E Howard, William Hope Hodgson and Clark Aston Smith. RIP Joel.

[I took the photo of Joel in September, 2008]

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17 thoughts on “Joel Lane (1963-2013)

  1. Pingback: Joel Lane | The Alchemy Press

  2. Pingback: Joel Lane 1963-2013 | in the pines

  3. Pingback: Joel Lane 1963-2013: “There’s always a link between deprivation and fantasy.” | Rosanne Rabinowitz

  4. Hi,
    just discovered today(27/3/2015) that Joel had died at fifty in 2013 and that his gifts that I was privileged
    to see at the age of 11 at George Dixon School Birmingham blossomed.That was 1975 and I moved on to another school in 1977.I have just read your thoughts on Joel Lane.
    It was my first year of teaching.
    He came to mind today and I just googled him to see what path his life had taken only to be saddened by his death but also delighted to see how his talent had flourished.
    I plan to read his first book soon.
    I remember him being part of the Birmingham Road Safety Quiz team when he was 11 and
    how studious he was in learning the Highway Code inside out.We reached the final and were level on points after the final question with King Edward`s School so there was a tiebreak question that was based on something obscure in the smallprint in the Highway Code.
    All went silent as the distress on the two teams faces was obvious apart from a modest , slim ,frail,freckled,red headed boy called Joel in my team who put his hand up and politely gave the answer and thus became the hero of us all and the boy first to defeat KE in years.
    From the photo and descriptions of him that I have read today I feel almost sure I have the right Joel Lane.
    Not sure if this will reach you but if it does can you confirm if I am right in my thinking please ?
    Kindest regards
    Bernie Smith

    • It could very well be the same Joel Lane. He was born in Exeter in 1963 and was therefore 11 in 1974. I meet him in Birmingham in late 70s/early 80s. Knowing the details in the small print sounds like Joel but, interestingly, school days never came up in our conversations.

  5. Hi Peter and Hi Bernie!!!

    I’m Joel’s brother, Tom.

    I just received an email from Nick Royle informing me of your post, Bernie, and asking if I can verify your question. I can indeed!!

    But before any detail, I’d just like to say to you, Peter…. thank you so much for your wonderful tribute to Joel!! I’m afraid I can’t remember if I’ve already thanked you (I thanked numerous online tribute-posters shortly after Joel’s passing…. and saw several of you at the funeral). Your words were very touching and both my mum and I were greatly comforted by the many lovely words and memories of Joel that friends such as yourself took the time to share. So really… thank you so much!

    And Bernie…. It was really lovely of you to ‘look my brother’ up after all these years, and then to post such a wonderful memory of him on here! I remember well him furiously studying the Highway Code and, as it’s not something I’d thought of for the best part of the 40 years since then, it brought back a lovely memory of him!

    At the time, he was 11 or 12 and I was 7 or 8. Not only that, but you have beautifully enhanced the story that, due to Joel’s modesty, i only knew a little part of. I do remember his George Dixon Quiz Team beating King Edwards, but had no idea he was the ‘tie-break question hero’ as you have described to my utter delight!

    Joel remained at GD to the end of his 6th Form and was always an academic high-flyer, incredibly intelligent, talented and gifted. He obtained 10 ‘O’-Levels (all Grade A) and 5 ‘A’-Levels (all Grade A) and, while doing his A-Levels, he also got 2 A/S Levels (1 Grade A and 1 Grade B). Our Dad asked “What happened?!! He then went to Cambridge where he studied History & Philosophy of Science and got a first class Degree, followed by a Masters in the same subject.
    At that time, I believe it was pretty rare, if not unheard of, for a George Dixon pupil to reach such academic heights and I understand the school (and teachers there) were always very proud of him!!

    Joel worked in publishing all his working life, mostly writing and editing for companies in the fields of education and health. But his love was always reading (he was always the most voracious reader!) and writing. Although he made some money from his writing, it was never enough for him to ‘give up the day job’, but as you have probably surmised, he was both talented and respected as a writer and amongst his peers.

    He wrote poetry, short stories and novels and had numerous works published. He won a number of Awards, including an Eric Gregory Award for poetry in 1993 and two British Fantasy Society Awards in 1994 and 2008. He then won a World Fantasy Society Award in 2013, just a month before his sad passing.

    Some fairly basic details of Joel’s writing and Awards can be found here:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joel_Lane

    Naturally, I have always been intensely proud of Joel (actually, ‘Joel’ always sounds strange to me as I always called him either Joey or ‘Kid’). As I mentioned at the start, it has been lovely to read the numerous online tributes to him, in part because it’s lovely that people loved his writing and held it in such high regard, but moreso because so many people have touched upon how sweet and kind and encouraging and lovely he always was to them. That has really touched me and meant so much to me. Joel could be said to be, in some ways, socially introverted, even awkward at times, and the fact that so many people saw the loveliness in him and appreciated how he had touched their lives is something which makes me both happy and so proud of him.

    I just looked you up, Bernie! (Whilst I was always playing sport when he was reading, I do have a small fraction of his thirst for knowledge!) I read about you on bxlworks.org.uk. I’d just like to say that you are clearly a wonderful and dedicated teacher (and now Headteacher) and Joey would have loved to hear from you had he still been with us.

    So thank you for your years of dedication to the teaching profession! Thank you for remembering Joey…. and thank you for your post on here with such a wonderful memory of him!

    One final thing…. Joey has been very much in my thoughts for the past few days after a dream I had of him. I’ve had a couple of days feeling sad and missing him. Thankfully, I have the most wonderful friend who I shared this with just today and who made me feel happier again. It’s a quite amazing coincidence that your message was brought to my attention tonight… and your message has also cheered me up no end! So as a final thank you…. thank you for that!!

    With my very best wishes and gratitude!

    Tom

  6. Hi
    I have no idea why, but I just thought of Joel and Googled his name to see what he had happened to him. He was an absolute star at school and we are both very saddened by Joel’s death.
    Fifty is no age, but he has obviously achieved much in his life.

    My name is Phil Harris and I was Joel’s Physics teacher at George Dixon School (1975 to 1996). I also married Julie Bowen, who taught RE at the school (1978 to 1994) and we both have very fond memories of an exceptional young man who we knew was going to go far.

    Joel was always an original thinker who soaked up information like a sponge and it was a real pleasure to teach him. He loved Science so much that he wrote a song to the words of Captain Beaky which started ‘The greatest teachers in the land are Captain Berry and his band…………..’
    it was brilliantly crafted and funny. I think I still have the original stored safely somewhere.

    We are sure you must be all saddened by his passing, but it may be some comfort to know that in the time we knew him during his years at GD he made such an impact that even 40 years later, my subconscious prompted me to look up his name.

    Julie and Phil Harris (20 April 2016)

    • Hi Julie and Phil!

      Thank you sooooo much for your lovely message and for thinking of my brother some forty years on from teaching him!

      I hope you’ve seen the comment from Bernie Smith (above) and my reply.

      I am incredibly fortunate and honoured to have had such a wonderful, intelligent, gifted and loving brother and will always unbelievably proud of his achievements and of the kind of person he was.

      It really is touching and lovely for me to read/receive such lovely messages and to know that people think of, and remember Joey so fondly.

      Perhaps you’d be good enough to just leave another quick response – just so I know you’ve seen this.

      With my sincere thanks and very best wishes to you both!

      Tom

      PS Thanks again to Peter!! (I have a notification for any new comments on here and appreciate it!!)

      • Hi Tom

        We have received your comments and we can understand why you are justifiably proud of Joel.
        Of course we know Bernie Smith from our early teaching days at GD (although we lost track of each other years ago) and it was his comments that confirmed we had the right Joel Lane.

        Regards
        Julie and Phil

  7. Hi Julie and Phil!

    Thank you sooooo much for your lovely message and for thinking of my brother some forty years on from teaching him!

    I hope you’ve seen the comment from Bernie Smith (above) and my reply.

    I am incredibly fortunate and honoured to have had such a wonderful, intelligent, gifted and loving brother and will always unbelievably proud of his achievements and of the kind of person he was.

    It really is touching and lovely for me to read/receive such lovely messages and to know that people think of, and remember Joey so fondly.

    Perhaps you’d be good enough to just leave another quick response – just so I know you’ve seen this.

    With my sincere thanks and very best wishes to you both!

    Tom

    PS Thanks again to Peter!! (I have a notification for any new comments on here and appreciate it!!)

  8. Hi Julie and Phil!

    Thank you for posting another message and happy you saw my response. It really is so lovely and special of you to have taken the time to write on this page.

    Please know that it means a lot to me to have read your lovely comments.

    With my thanks and very best wishes

    Tom Lane

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