Literary Affairs

Paul Brandon on Charles de Lint

Any of you who have read Green Man Review or Sleeping Hedgehog know that we are very fond of Charles de Lint. Paul Brandon, friend of de Lint and a fellow musician, in the introduction to the special edition on de Lint explains why this is…

I’m glad there’s no lectern.

When the folks at Green Man asked me to do the introductory kind of speech thing for Charles de Lint, my first thought was ‘I hope there’s not a lectern.’ I dislike public speaking at the best of times, and if I’m coerced into doing it at a festival or a workshop, I nearly always do it from behind a desk or nested in a nice comfy chair. I’m tall, and lecterns come in some kind of standardised ‘normal’ (I’m assuming) height, so I either have to stand upright and not be heard because the microphone is a foot below me, or I slouch and assume a posture that is halfway between casual author arrogance and a severe curvature of the spine. So there you go. I hate lecterns.

So as I shrug out of my heavy coat and cross to the bar, I’m already feeling a bit better. I love the Green Man pub. It’s almost as if it’s a room that’s slipped free from Tamson House, and it knows just what you like. For me, it’s the oak panelling, the low ceilings and beams (though remind me I said that in a few hours after a couple of ales. Tall, remember), the throbbing fire and the truly astonishing array of drink. This is the one place I know where I can still get my beloved Fremlins Kentish Ale and Tasmanian Pepperberry vodka. It’s kind of a shame that Charles doesn’t drink, although I have a sneaking suspicion that somewhere under the bar there’ll be a bag mixed with his own concoction of Starbucks coffees. Probably guarded by Hamish, the resident hedgehog here. Someone’s gone to a lot of effort for this evening. All the of the usual amazing artwork has been taken down and replaced with wonderful framed prints of Charles’s book covers, although the one just to my right of Forests of the Heart looks like it may well be the John Jude Palencar original. There’s also a whole bunch of his own watercolours, and some by his partner, MaryAnn.

It’s almost like being at an Ani diFranco concert here — you swear you can see some of Charles’s characters walking around, drinks in in hand, peeking over shoulders, listening in to conversations with sly smiles on their faces. Charles’s appearances are often like that.

Yep, that’s him over in the corner singing the Fred Eaglesmith song. Impressive isn’t it. The first time I heard him sing was in a hotel room in Montreal, not long after we’d met face to face for the first time, and he damn near blew me off my chair. For such a quiet person he sure can let fly. There are a couple of tracks on the Infinite Jukebox here at Green Man if you’re interested — one of him performing music, one of him conversing on a radio programme about the relationship between two of his passions, music and writing.

That’s MaryAnn on the right, no, the other right. You can’t miss that beautiful wild hair and the sound of the sweet little Gibson mandolin. Out of all the people I’ve ever met, Charles and MaryAnn are the most complete of couples. Partnership doesn’t go far enough to describe their relationship.

I’m just going to lean here a while, sip my beer and soak in the music and memories.

I can clearly recall my first encounter with Charles’s work.

Angel of Darkness. It was in a small bookshop in Bromley, England, in the days when fantasy and science fiction had their own departments, rather than just a few shelves. My dates are sketchy, but it must’ve been sometime around 1984, and I would have been . . . well, younger. The book, of course, was Moonheart, and I clearly remember standing there looking at the beautiful cover (this would have been the Pan edition, with the tall trees, shafting light and the two little chaps standing by the trunk. The print is over . . . there. The frame directly above Don, the fiddler). I know the old adage about a book and its cover, but sometimes the old sayings are wrong. I devoured it.

I was a precocious reader as a young wan, always with a book on the go, and something within Moonheart really got to me. Looking back, I guess it was the beautiful blend of myth and reality, set in a very appealing city (and Ottawa didn’t disappoint when I finally got there many years later), but it was also a little more than that, and I think as I became a writer myself, I understood what it was. Moonheart was written with love, passion, and it rubs off onto you with every page. I think that’s why so many readers list it as their favourite of Charles’s considerable library.

After that came Greenmantle, Yarrow and The Little Country (which is still my favourite, because I know Cornwall and the music so well), then came my Life Upheaval in the form of a move to Australia, and I hit the wall that most fans of Charles would have come across at that time. The mysterious Back Catalogue. This was back in the mid ’90s, before the Internet really took off, and one had to get bibliographical information from books or those extremely limited off-line catalogues in bookstores! I remember somehow getting very lucky and finding an import of Jack of Kinrowan in a local store, and then getting set on the breadcrumb trail of Charles’s myriad shorts and other ‘hidden’ works such as the mysteries he originally wrote under the pseudonym of Samuel. M. Key such as Angel of Darkness.

I did a quick check on ‘urban fantasy’ on Wikipedia just before I walked over here, and Charles’s name is listed as one of the key pioneers, along with the likes of John Crowley, Emma Bull and Jonathan Carroll. Mythic Fiction is probably more of an appropriately broad term, as Charles quite often steps away from his beloved streets of Newford, and over the past number of books, the still of the desert has featured alongside the cathedralling trees of the wildwood.

The explosion of the Internet opened up the ability to find these out of print books, and also brought me in contact with the man himself. I found an online mailing list called Tamson House, and promptly, a bunch of new friends. Mostly it was just general talk, life, love, magic, books, music, but there was also a fair bit of trading and exchanging of Charles’s stuff. Luckily there’s no such problem these days, with most of Charles’s work available online, and the shorts gathered into the two Triskell Tales volumes, Triskell Talesand Triskell Tales Two. I found a bunch of copies of The Wild Wood that were illustrated by Froud, and asked if anyone would like to swap one for something else I didn’t have, and I was quite surprised to find an email from Charles asking about them himself. Well from there we began corresponding, with me sending him musical tidbits from Australia (he’s a big fan of Divinyls, not to mention a bunch of other lesser-known Australian performers) and he’d send me books, CDs, knick-knacks. Over the course of the years we kept up a constant dialogue, until we finally managed to be in the same country at the same time and we could meet. That was the World Fantasy Convention in 2001, and my partner Julie and I were going to be in Montreal. Luckily, the meeting went well. We spent time with them in Ottawa, and Charles and MaryAnn stayed with us in Australia a couple of years ago, despite MaryAnn’s worries about the snakes and spiders.

One thing that has always staggered me about Charles is his amazing workload. Besides being a novelist, he puts out a amazing number of short stories (and I’m including in that simple description all the novellas, novelettes, verse, et al), writes the Books to Look For column for the magazine of F&SF, plays music in a local pub on Thursday nights (and he plays a number of instruments very well), does book tours, listens to an amazing amount of music in every genre known to an iPod, and corresponds with countless people all over the world. I do about a quarter of that and I still moan about the speed of the days. Secretly, a few of us thinks he has one of those little reality folds into the UnderEarth, somewhere in his crowded attic room, a little like the ones described in Someplace to be Flying, and that he nips away for days at a time, only to emerge back in Ottawa five minutes after he finished his last coffee.

So, the future. Well as always there are a lot of people holding out for a movie of one of Charles’s stories (an episode, The Sacred Fire, of The Hunger was made a few years ago from the Dreams Underfoot tale, which was very good), and there are a lot of us holding our breath for an album of some sorts. The musical little tasters we’ve been given over the years at various conventions and signings point to something well worth waiting for. And of course, new stories. I have the new novel, Widdershins and Triskell Tales, Volume 2 sitting on the bedside table back home, positively hollering to be read.

On a personal note, I just want this speech to be over so I can sit and play some tunes with a pair of old friends.

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