On Monday, I was sitting in the dappled shade of a park enjoying a lovely late-morning chat at Adelaide Writers Festival with some of my fellows. And then the phones beeped and vibrated, and the word arrived that Paul Haines had died.
Around us, the bon homie continued, and I found myself asking how it could. Where was the silence? The announcement? The respect?
How could the audience — an audience of writers and readers and publishers — not be shaken by this news? Not be struck mute and sombre as were we?
There was no such silence on the internet, which has been carrying tributes on Facebook and Twitter and on blogs, showing just how much impact Paul had in his too-short career. His too-short life.
I knew Paul as a writer of wonderful and daring and confronting fiction. Fearless in fiction, fearless in life. His documentation of his long and brutal fight with cancer, the hopes and the setbacks and the sorrows for the wife and daughter and family to be left behind, have touched hearts and minds well outside the speculative fiction community who proudly claimed him as one of ours. His writing career was just taking off, suggesting the delivery of the wonderful promise that anyone who’s read his short fiction would recognise.
I’m glad I got to know him, however briefly. I’ve drawn strength from his honest, challenging prose and warmth from his company, and I will miss him and lament the stories he might’ve given us. I feel terrible for his family, to have lost such a personality, such a person.
One of my favourite moments: reading his story ‘Doof Doof Doof’ at work and bursting out laughing, chuckling all the way through. I’ll always thank him for that.
The Thirteen O’Clock blog has posted a wonderfully detailed overview of Paul’s work. There is some small comfort in having that legacy. But there are times when this life and death thing seems far too cruel for words.
There’s a memorial service on Saturday and I expect it will be crowded. We will try to remember the good stuff, the Doof Doof Doof, and try not to rail too much at this wolf that is cancer, that has ripped yet another chunk out of our light.