Readers Are Not Strangers: The Physics Of Love

Some Kind Of Fairy Tale won the British Fantasy Award for Best Novel in Brighton this week-end. The event was the World Fantasy Convention, attended by 1000 people, some of whom were long term friends of mind – writers, editors, colleagues in the business. I was truly stunned to get a standing ovation when I went to collect the award. It was as surprising as it was uplifting and it left me – a burly miner’s son with an outstanding chip on his shoulder -with a heart fit to burst.

Gerroff me wi’ your hugs and your kisses.

Now then, this is something I haven’t felt able to write about before today. It was a bit too much to talk about. Six months ago my skin was turning blue and I was flat-lining in a hospital bed in Leicester after having a terrible reaction to my first dose of chemotherapy. Pretty soon into the chemo I was finding it hard to breathe at all. The next thing I knew was that the curtains were whipped around my bed and the space around me was filling up with bodies – doctors, nurses and now an emergency resuscitation team that had been summoned from another building. A monitor was wheeled in and my chest had to be quickly shaved to get the electrodes in place.

It was a scene we’ve all watched too often on TV and in the movies. I knew the situation was urgent because the eyes of the doctors and nurses were bulging as they performed that curious ballet of efficiency and anxiety around my bed, stepping out of each other’s way to do what they had to do. All this time I couldn’t breathe. I was sat upright, biting at the air trying to get some oxygen, totally aware of everything that was going on around me. I felt like I was drowning, but in air instead of water.

It was terrifying.

And I thought my time was up. I was slipping into shadow and it distressed me deeply to think I was going to die without being able to say a last goodbye to my wife and children. I was going to die amongst strangers who were doing their best to save me, but were failing. Yes, I wondered if this were the moment when I would encounter my dead grandmother, beckoning from a sphere of light and saying, ‘Over here, Graham, come and have a seat with us.’ Or whatever your dead grandmother is supposed to say on these occasions. But there was nothing like that. Only a cool, inviting blue shadow to slip into. Or to resist.

But with adrenaline from a syringe big enough to dope a horse, and with pethidine (Demerol in the US) & anti-histamine & goodness knows what else these wonderful NHS doctors and nurses brought me back. So to be standing there holding the award and searching for words that didn’t want to come while so many people looked on was of course the real award. I always think that being on an awards short-list pretty usually sets you up for a bit of disappointment. But to anyone on any awards shortlist anywhere – and to anyone not on any awards shortlist – let me say you would gladly surrender all of that for the gift of life.

The World Fantasy Convention in Brighton was my first public appearance since the diagnosis. Plus I had a brand new wispy white chin-puff beard and moustache to help advertise my sagacity. I was very much looking forward to going. Though conventions are exhausting even when you are in good health so I didn’t know how I was going to hold up.

I got off to a poor start. Sue and I packed the car for Brighton and went to fill up at the fuel station. I guess to save a few seconds, she went in to pay while I pumped the petrol. Now then, I’ve had the same type of vehicle for nine years. Plus I even used to pump petrol as an after-school job in my youth. I don’t know whether it was the early buzz of going to the convention or whether the chemotherapy has fried my brain but I quickly realised I’d been pumping unleaded petrol into my diesel engine.

Well, that’s bolloxed that then. No Brighton for me, I thought.

But Sue bless her bells and whistles, is made of sterner stuff. She had me call the garage who sent out a recovery vehicle. Two hours sitting in a petrol station is not very entertaining. ‘We’ve all done it,’ said the lady in the kiosk. ‘We’ve all done it,’ said another customer. Then a chipper recovery man arrived to tow the car. ‘We’ve all done it,’ he said. ‘And there are lots of worse things that could happen.’

‘Oh, I know,’ I said. ‘I know.’

At the garage the lady behind the reception desk said, ‘We’ve all done it.’ We sat around for another couple of hours while they drained the tank and flushed it. Three hundred sobs later and lighter we were back on our way.

I missed a couple of appointments and a book-signing event but we did make the Gollancz/Braggelone party. Hurrah! The first person I saw wanted to know what had happened so I told him. ‘We’ve all done it,’ he said.

I was able to stay quite late because I was getting numerous warm hugs & kisses from various old pals. If energy level (E) can be expressed over time (T) as a formula, then if a hug (H) and a kiss (K) as a counterforce (CF) to entropy(Ey), therefore:

95H + 72K over T3x 60mins = CF wherein Ey fails to manifest.

Fuckin’ Einstein I am. This is the physics of love. Who knows it?

I caught up with lots of very dear friends and regret missing several others in the hurly-burly of the convention. I would very much like to be well enough to go again next year. Not for an award, wonderful though it is to be given one; but for the sunlight of all the hugs and kisses.