Goodbye, Paul.

Paul Richard Haines 8 June 1970 – 5 March 2012

If you have any sort of familiarity with the Aussie spec fic scene you have no doubt heard the news that Paul Haines passed away this morning, after a long battle with cancer. He was an incredibly well liked and respected guy, and Facebook and Twitter and the like are filled with messages of grief and condolence. I wasn’t fortunate enough to know Paul as well as some others did, but our (far too) brief acquaintance was enough to make me wish I had known him much better.

I became aware of Paul long before I met him. By the time I joined SuperNOVA, Paul was no longer regularly attending meetings, but he was still a looming presence. Not only would he crop up on the mailing list, but it was a rare meeting that he wouldn’t be mentioned, whether it was some hilarious tale of Clarion shenanigans or a reference to a particularly dark story. His name was even used as an adjective to describe a particular type of writing, most definitely as a form of praise.

Through the mailing list, I became aware that we would be staying at the same hotel in Perth during Swancon and I made a point of seeking him out and introducing myself. It was my first convention as a writer, and I have to admit that I was a bit nervous and even a little in awe of Paul, but he quickly put me at my ease. He was very warm and funny and approachable, and seemed like an incredibly nice guy. It was obvious that his energy levels weren’t great and I don’t think he was able to socialise as much as he would have liked, but he still made time to chat to this wannabe writer.

After meeting him I made a point of picking up his latest collection of stories, The Last Days of Kali Yuga. I had been warned that his writing was disturbing and visceral, but I wasn’t prepared for what I found in those pages. Never have I read anything that made me as uncomfortable as that collection, but I simply could not put it down. His writing was dark, it was revolting, it was deeply personal and it was, above all, brilliant.

When I had finished I sent him an embarrassingly gushing email of praise (in which I also told him I was glad I read Kali Yuga after meeting him and discovering how nice he was, not before, because I probably wouldn’t have slept a wink knowing I was sharing a hotel with the mind that came up with those tales!), and after that we stayed in semi regular contact.

I was conscious of his failing health, and not wanting to impose, but he made it clear he was always happy to receive visitors and talk about writing, so I was privileged enough to be able to catch up with him a few times when work took me down his way. Even sick, Paul was great company, and generous with advice on writing.

The times I saw him he was still reasonably optimistic about his health, and had some exciting projects in the pipeline which would have given him some of the recognition a writer of his ability deserved. He displayed a remarkable amount of stoicism about his illness, and his main concern was that he didn’t want to be isolated because people felt uncomfortable or not sure what to say to him. I sure as hell had no idea what the right things to say were, but his self deprecating humour eased our conversations a great deal.

Sadly, it was obvious from following his blog that his health was continuing to degenerate and eventually it became clear that it was really just a matter of time. But, just because something is expected doesn’t make it any easier to deal with and I know I am not alone in feeling a deep sense of sadness at a life cut off before its time.

There is always a temptation to place the dead on a pedestal, and in our time of grief go overboard in our praise. But, in Paul’s case I don’t think that is a factor, because when people talk about what an amazingly talented writer Paul Haines was they are simply giving him his due. More importantly, though, when they talk about what a wonderful man he was, they are telling the truth. Writing aside, the thing that struck me most about Paul was how fiercely he cared for his family. He fought and raged against that bastard cancer for their sake, to spend as long as he could with them.

The last email I sent to Paul was after writing a story that had made me really uncomfortable, that had made me worry what people might think about me when they read it. I had almost put it aside for good when I thought about the stories Paul had written, how he had refused to compromise his words for fear of what people might think, and I pushed through. I wanted to thank him for that lesson, for inspiring me. I don’t know whether he ever got that email.

When I think of Paul Haines that is what I will remember, his courage and his bravery. Not just the courage he showed in his writing, the way he bared his soul to the world, but the courage with which he faced illness and death. I can only hope that when my time comes I show even half his balls, in the meantime I can only try and be even half as bold in my writing.

As I said, I wasn’t fortunate enough to know Paul as well as many of those in Aussie Spec Fic circles did, and as difficult as it was for me to hear the news I can only imagine how hard it is for them at this time. My thoughts and prayers are with those who are grieving right now, especially for the two he loved above all, Jules and Isla.

Vale, Paul, you were a hell of a guy.

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