I’ve struggled how to begin this post…

My friend, mentor and inspiration – Tanith Lee – died on Sunday. I got the news today (Tuesday). I knew she’d been ill for a while. She sent me a letter some weeks ago – we usually talked on the phone regularly, but her cancer treatment had affected her voice, so we could no longer do that. In the letter she told me she was dying. I sat there, the paper in my hand, unable to take it in, not sure what to feel or to think. This was a woman who’d inspired me all my writing life and had eventually – through luck and circumstance – become a dear friend. How do you reply to a letter like that without sounding clichéd or over sentimental? It was difficult. I was under the impression that although her prognosis was poor, she’d still have some time with us. Only last week, she was working on the edits I’d sent for her latest book with Immanion Press. I had no idea the end would be so close.

But while it’s in the hearts of all those who loved Tanith to grieve and mourn, we should also remember all that was wonderful about her, the way she touched our lives.

I remember being in W H Smiths and seeing the newly released ‘The Birthgrave’ on the fantasy shelves. I picked it up, browsed the pages a little, and was immediately taken with Tanith’s engaging first person narrative. I bought it, devoured it, and subsequently bought everything else she ever wrote, in some cases tracking down very hard to find small press titles in the days before the Internet made such searches less difficult.

At that time, Tanith was the same age I was when I first got published – around 26. There was a 10 years age gap between us. I wrote her a fan letter after reading a few of her books, and she replied, sending me a photo. I still have that letter.  Over the years, my collection of her books grew, and then I reached the stage in my life when my own writing began to be published. I asked people in the industry about Tanith, curious about her, but at that time she didn’t attend conventions and was regarded as rather retiring. This changed in 1988 when I met her at a Worldcon in Brighton.  She was charming, not at all the terrifying creature I’d been given to believe she was.

It has to be said that many reports I’d been given about Tanith over the years painted her as a ‘difficult’ author. This was from editors who’d worked with her. She was regarded as rather fearsome. But I have to say that when I eventually had the privilege of working with her as an editor, I never had one difficult moment with her. I think this was because I respected her work and didn’t try to change it. When I was editing, I’d mark things I thought were typos, and query them, but I’d never try to meddle with her ‘voice’. Sometimes, her sentences were unconventional, but they were hers – her voice – which I recognised, because I’d read everything she’ d ever written. So I didn’t interfere. When we began working together, I saw it as a partnership. I provided the publishing, but we worked together on the appearance of the books and their covers, most often incorporating artwork from her husband, John Kaiine (a wonderful artist) or even drawings or ideas from Tanith herself. I let Tanith have free rein with the content.  This was an enjoyable experience for the three of us.

When Tanith first asked if Immanion Press would be interested in taking some of her work, I was – as you can imagine – over the moon about it. She wanted to publish a series of books that didn’t fit into any particular genre. These were the Colouring Book series, which are thrillers, mysteries, supernatural stories and even one spy story. Sad to say, Tanith didn’t finish this series. She still had a couple of colours she wanted to write about, but even so, we published seven of these titles. Her other interest was in publishing themed collections of her stories, which we’d just begun working on, with the Ghosteria collection, and latterly with Legenda Maris, stories of the sea. Tanith had other titles she planned to do involving werewolves, vampires and dragons, but sadly these will not see light of day now, since she always included unpublished stories in her collections and wasn’t able to write any before she died.  We had an arrangement: whatever she wanted to publish, Immanion  Press would see to it. This enabled her to produce titles that otherwise might not have been published, although to be fair, I think any of the independent presses who supported her would have been happy to help out.  People like Ian Whates, Vera Navarian and Craig Gidney, along with myself, (and others whose names unfortunately I don’t know), were eager to publish and promote Tanith’s work, in a time when big publishers just weren’t interested in it. This was unforgiveable by them. So much trash gets published, and we see constantly the lesser writers who are launched into success and prominence. It’s not about what’s good, but about spin and PR. So many excellent authors, who were active when I was first published, fell by the wayside – and they shouldn’t have done. They gave up in the face of great indifference from the major publishers. The only reason I’ve survived is because I took the bit between my teeth and created my own publishing house. It’s interesting that nearly all the independent presses who’ve supported Tanith in recent years are run by people who are writers themselves. We’ve never had any sense of competition between us, because we all loved and respected Tanith, and she was respectful of us all too. There was plenty of her to go around. In fact, in some cases she brought us together. I wouldn’t know Craig and Vera if it wasn’t for Tanith making the introductions.

I was also lucky to republish John Kaiine’s remarkable novel ‘Fossil Circus’. I wish he’d write more! This would never have happened if I’d not met the pair of them.

So, apart from our professional connections, what was Tanith like as a person? To me, she was wry, wise and magical. If I had a problem, talking to her would make sense of it. She was the archetypal British eccentric – a dying breed, sadly. When I was down, she would lift me up. She’d enable me to see things from a different perspective, always with a touch of humour.  We’d bitch about things we didn’t like and applaud films, books and writers we both adored. It’s only now, once she’s gone, I realise how much a part of my life she had become. I took her for granted, but in a good way. Now I’ll never get those lovely phone calls in the afternoons, when we’d fritter away an hour or so just nattering.

In a way, Tanith will never be gone, because her work lives on and is eternal. This evening, I felt tired and lay down on the sofa in my work room. Cats joined me, as they tend to do. I dreamed of Tanith, and in that dream, we were both on the sofa, surrounded by cats – more than I actually live with. She was warm and breathing, and even in my dream I marvelled at that, because I knew she was dead. She didn’t say anything ponderous to me; we just chatted as we always did. What are dreams? Wishful thinking, a glimpse of another reality, or something else? I don’t know, but the dream comforted me, and I awoke from it feeling less distraught than I was when I went to sleep.

I don’t want Tanith to Rest In Peace, as is always said of someone who leaves this life. I want her to be soaring somewhere else, somewhere amazing, beyond our comprehension. I’m glad to have known her, and glad also that her work will always be there for me. Such are the brightest stars that shine upon us.

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