I received the news in an email yesterday evening, and just stared at it for – I don’t know how long. The words didn’t make sense. I spent the rest of the evening in a kind of denial: the universe had made a mistake; there was a glitch in the Matrix. Come the morning the software would have been fixed and we’d all wake up none the wiser. But it didn’t. Joel Lane, a friend for some thirty years, was gone.
I first met Joel in the mid-1980s: a quiet, intense young man with a passion for all things Lovecraftian and Ramsey Campbell. He became part of a tiny band of both genuine and honorary Brummies who met up infrequently – often in the bar of the New Imperial Hotel before they pulled it down – to put the world right and swap gossip. Over the years that bunch grew – becoming, informally, the Birmingham Balti Boys. Joel would always join in any conversation – be it on fiction, politics, TV (he was a great fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer) – with thoughtful insights. Yet he was, typically, more reticent about his own work: more than once he was asked: “Don’t you have a book coming out?” and Joel say yes, then go on to enthuse about the publisher rather than the book itself. If we didn’t live in a world where information is now spread instantaneously, it’s quite possible he would have failed to mention winning a World Fantasy Award.
For a while we were members of the same horror writers group and no matter how crass or rushed a piece might be – dashed off the night before just so there would be something to read out – Joel could always find something positive to say; often finding subtlety and context in the work that made it sound far more worthy than it was. And always, no matter how serious his comments, there was always the trace of a twinkle in his eye; and more often than not, a dry, throwaway gag to leaven the criticism.
Joel’s passion for horror and weird fantasy (and crime fiction) never waned. I published him twice, in anthologies whose subject matter wasn’t obviously Joel material; and in both cases didn’t fail to surprise (his Clark Ashton Smith pastiche “The Hunger of the Leaves” from Swords Against The Millennium was not only selected for a volume of the year's best fantasy, but also best horror – a testament to his talent – but also highlighted a tongue in cheek humour that isn’t obvious elsewhere in his work).
Joel will always be remembered for his enthusiasm and erudition. In a world grown cynical, his genuine passion for horror and fantasy was both refreshing and essential. We are all a little greyer for his passing.