|photo © Nicholas Royle|
I've written a piece for the archive about a story of Joel's that always haunted me:
The Lost District was the first collection of Joel’s I ever read and the story ‘Like Shattered Stone’ broke my heart. It’s easy to make assumptions about a writer based on their writing (which are frequently wrong), but that particular story’s portrait of a man subconsciously sculpting the soul of a dying city told me something real about the person who’d written it. Joel was a man who knew pain. He knew loneliness and heartache and the healing power of art and music. It was simply too raw and honest to be anything but true.
I had already met him online, where we’d shared some forum chat and a few emails, but I was still intimidated to meet him in person. He’s one of those writers you envy, one of those whose prose seems effortlessly beautiful and yet so devastatingly fragile. But Joel himself never seemed fragile and he was one of the kindest people I’ve ever met. He was a confident and knowledgeable speaker who helped me through my very first panel and he also inspired me to write my very first published story, for the anti-fascist anthology Never Again.
My most enduring image of Joel is from the World Horror convention in Brighton, where John Llewellyn Probert and I both danced with him to cheesy 80s pop. I had never seen Joel so happy. He seemed far, far away from the bleak and damaged characters of his fiction, from the grimy underworld he drew into the unflinching light and that’s how I’ll always remember him. ‘Like Shattered Stone’ is one of those stories you can return to like a painting, seeing something new each time. Joel often wrote about things or people coming apart, and the image of broken glass was ever-present. It’s a story about coldness and betrayal, of abandonment and discovery. Joel’s empathy runs throughout and the prose is scattered with poetic phrases that take my breath away. Snowflakes become “the dead skin of angels” and a snowy street resembles “a sea of broken glass”. Trees drip with light, “melting like chandeliers in a firestorm”. But it’s the emerging sculpture itself that holds the most potent image and it’s one I’ll leave you to discover for yourself.
You can read "Like Shattered Stone" here.
I had to transcribe it myself for the archive, so please forgive any typos. They're more likely to be mine than Joel's!