At the 2013 World Fantasy Convention, held in Brighton, Joel Lane’s Where Furnaces Burn won the World Fantasy Award for Best Collection. Due to personal problems Joel wasn’t able to collect the award in person. I had intended to visit Joel soon after, meet up for one of our irregular balti meals with mutual friends Dave Sutton, James Brogden, John Howard, Mike Chinn and Stan Nicholls, and to toast Joel for the win. Sadly, that visit to Birmingham didn’t materialise in time – for not long after the convention Joel passed away in his sleep. His death left a huge cavity in my life.
Last year, after months of sorting out the detritus of his life (in other words, clearing his house in preparation for its sale) Pauline Morgan mentioned the wealth of notes Joel had left behind. The notes were penned in his immaculate handwriting on all manner of pieces of paper; some were bullet points, some long detailed pages – all preliminary to unwritten stories and poems. It occurred to us that these notes should not be lost, that they should form the basis of a book of stories completed by Joel’s friends and colleagues. Pauline and I read through dozens and dozens and dozens of notes, finally honing them down to a score or two.
It was a trip down memory lane, yesterday. I first met Adrian Cole, Jim Pitts, Jon Harvey and Mike Chinn in Birmingham in the second half of the 1970s. In a bar. (Specifically, that of the Imperial Hotel – now long demolished – venue of the early British Fantasy Conventions.) So it was appropriate that we should meet up again in a Brummie bar. Fond memories were sparked and we all felt as though we hadn’t grown up – mentally, at least.
John Howard and Jan Edwards were also present but, alas, were not captured on my camera’s memory card.
Saturday 12 April. Jan and I left North Staffs at around 8.00 a.m., popped into the petrol station, filled the tank, collected Misha Herwin in Newcastle-under-Lyme, and headed for the M6, on our way to The Birmingham Independent Book Fair. Despite miles of road works with 50 mph speed limits we arrived in central Birmingham in just over an hour. Driving on the inner ring road, negotiating the Paradise Circus one-way system, all brought back memories of living in the city for twenty-plus years.
At the Ikon Gallery we unloaded the car, and within thirty minutes the Alchemy Press display was sorted and we were ready to welcome visitors. A good start to the day.