Hanging in Mid-Air

By Christian Lehmann

It’s 1977, and my cousin Michael Scott Rohan is getting married in Oxford.

It’s 1977, ages ago it seems now, and for the first time in my life, at 19 years of age, I am surrounded by writers, actual writers who write books and even manage to get them published.

It’s 1977, and walking back from the meeting hall to the party, I fall in step with this guy, with the wide grin, the surprisingly soft voice and the infectious laugh.

The guy is Rob Holdstock, and minutes into our first meeting he saves me from being set upon by two drunken fans. Because not only is this guy tall, dark and handsome, he’s also huge, and extremely friendly.

I read his books, send him fan-letters, and over the years we meet at conventions, an endless round of conventions it seems to me now, looking back, Eastercons, Novacons, Worldcons …. It’s always the same: the long agonizing trip from Paris to London through Newhaven-Dieppe, the intoxicating days of friendship, SF talk and booze, and the ghastly trip back in the wake of a post-convention depression.

I remember informal writers’ workshops at the Langfords’ place in 1978, where I sat in awe listening to my friends reading their works in progress.

I remember Rob’s short story: it’s set in a forest and I still have this image of the warrior throwing a spear. I’m not sure what else happens, I’m not sure anything else happens, just this warrior throwing this spear and … I was transfixed. Rob had taken sword and sorcery fantasy and rewritten it as if he were an existentialist New-Wave French author rediscovering the genre. As far as I am concerned, that spear is still being thrown. In that forest, it’s still hanging in mid-air.

Rob saved me because he was serious about his writing but did not treat himself seriously. He showed me that writing could be attempted, that it was worth a try. He also introduced me to Ruddles Real Ale, the connoisseur’s brand. These were the days of high adventure, when we would take dares and write illegible scribblings on Roy Kettle’s forehead or Greg Pickersgill’s midriff as they slept in the middle of the party. Where Birmingham would suddenly flare into light around midnight because someone had fired mortars from the roof of our convention hotel.

And back here, in France, I saw Rob’s books starting to appear, taking more and more shelf-space. We had talked about how, when he goes, an author leaves behind him or her a certain amount of shelf-space, and that, I guess, is in itself a way of life and a eulogy: you hang in there, you write the books, inch by inch you fill that shelf-space. And then sometimes, if you’re blessed, if like Rob you are in touch with everything that’s churning inside and which he said was like a sieve, an idea will come, something will impose itself on you and you will be blessed with the makings of a masterpiece. I am speaking of the Mythago Cycle and what came later. Books that I saw in every bookshop in France, books that earned Rob the Grand Prix de l’Imaginaire. Books that are still on the shelves of bookshops here today, 25 years later, when sell-by-date best-sellers have come and gone.

“This is my friend, see, this is my friend’s book.” I was a published author myself by then, and in salons and literary fairs I’d point out Rob’s books to colleagues, because I was proud to see them translated in my own language, and because along with a very few others they managed to reverse the tide and give fantasy in France a good name.

In 1989, Rob published ‘When the music stopped’ in Other Edens III, a short story Garry Kilworth and I had written together. It’s about this guy who has an impediment, a psychological disability. When people die, they disappear. Photographs get less and less crowded as people die. Portraits just show backgrounds, curtains, empty spaces. Books turn blank when writers die. Records lose the sound of piano, clarinet, bass, as individual musicians die. It’s the only collaboration I have ever attempted. Rob loved that story. Well, it was just a story, and nothing like real life.

Because in real life, now, Rob… you’re not disappearing from our photographs, you’re not disappearing from our shelves, you’re not disappearing from our hearts, any time soon.

As far as I am concerned, that spear is still being thrown. In that forest, it’s still hanging in mid-air.