Today I learned that my favourite fantasy author, Hugh Cook, has gone into a hospice.
I was writing a post on lamb roast when I read this. Suddenly, the significance of seasoning and cooking temperatures paled.
Hugh was struck down some time ago by a brain tumour. He fought the cancer and survived, and was told that if it ever came back, there was nothing more that they could do. In December last year, he posted this (Warning - understandably harsh language).
I've posted in more detail about Hugh's Work here, and I suspect I will post again when he has passed away.
But very quickly, I want to consider what legacy Hugh leaves us as writers and readers of the fantasy genre. He published a series of 10 novels which grew increasingly edgy and eccentric as they progressed, which his core of fans loved but which failed to take off commercially. Publishers shied away from his 60-novel vision - much to the chagrin of his fans - due to his non-formulaic story and character developments, as well as his tendency to exploit the medium of the novel as much for its poetic potential as its narrative value.
Hugh told stories that weren't always black and white in language that wasn't always black and white. He challenged the reader to reconsider what they knew of the sf/fantasy convention, and he went places that more prudent (and arguably more financially successful) authors wouldn't dare.
Through the lens of fantasy Cook could strain real concepts, from history to religion to philosophy to politics, and explore the darkness within. And all of this with the dryest and most subtle of wit.
From a teenage reader to an adult writer I have constantly reread these books and reminded myself that they are a benchmark for how not to fall into the bad habits of writing hack. He also provides us with lessons of what not to do, but always to ask if we are pushing ourselves and our writing as far as we're able.
As well as being a champion of E-Books and Publish-On-Demand (he got back the rights to some of his works which his publishers had discontinued and made them available over the Internet) Cook posted this, one of the best creative writing guides you're likely to find on the internet for free.
This is the first time I've seen a photo of Hugh, and it has been more inspiring than his sister, who was kind enough to post it, might have thought it could be. I see a normal guy, sitting at his laptop at a table in the evening, grinning.
Much like I do.
May your final journey be a peaceful one, Hugh.