I’m sure lots of people will be talking about Charlie Grant’s fiction, but I’m going to talk about the first time I met him. Turned out it was the last time, too. But that meeting had a profound effect on me, and I often think back to those twenty minutes outside a convention hotel.
It was the World Horror Convention in Chicago, 2002. (For those who remember it was the year of that bus trip to a bookstore signing in the city, which meant I missed that trip to the blues club).
Charlie was there as a guest and to collect his Grandmaster Award (more about that soon). It was my third World Horror, and I still walked around a little starry-eyed. Gene Wolfe and Neil Gaiman were guests, Gahan Wilson was toastmaster, and I was slowly working my way into a writing career, with a few books and a couple of awards under my belt. I already had a good group of friends who attended these conventions––and damn, I really don’t see them anymore as much as I’d like to––and it was a fun time of chats, meals, drinking, and epic room parties.
I was still smoking at the time, and the front of the hotel was the haunt of the smokers, taking regular breaks to feed their habit. Jason Williams from Night Shade Books––my publisher at the time––had supplied me with cigarettes for the weekend, and it was on one of these smoking visits, hanging around outside with no one to talk to, that Charlie exited the hotel, looked around, and came over to chat to me.
I knew who he was, of course. And though I was a little nervous, we hit it off instantly. There I was, a newbie in the writing world with just a few books out there, talking with Charles L Grant. And there he was, a legend attending that convention to collect the Grandmaster Award, asking me for advice! It was an odd moment. Charlie was looking for a home for some of his backlist, and we started talking about the indie publishers I was working with at the time. He had one in mind in particular, and I told him about my experiences with them. He held onto his stick, taking it all in, nodding, listening. Then he said, “Do you trust ’em?”
I’d known him ten minutes and he was asking me something like that.
We chatted a couple more times over that weekend. I’m pretty sure he was at the absinthe party on the Saturday night, but he didn’t partake. (Yes, that absinthe party, where the host was wearing nothing but a rubber chicken over his gentleman’s bits … or maybe that’s just the absinthe addling my brain).
Then at the banquet, the time came for Charlie to collect his Grandmaster award. Most people in the room had had a few drinks and supped some wine with their meal, and the atmopshere was loud and convivial. Noisy, let’s say. Charlie shut them up with just a few words.
I can’t remember the whole of his speech, but I do remember he began, “I’m a writer. That’s all.” He went on to talk about what his writing meant to him, what he hoped it meant to others, and in his humble attempt to lessen his work he made it even more important. He had many people in that audience in tears, me included.
That twenty minutes outside the hotel was the only time I met Charlie with an opportunity to chat, and I still remember it as one of those very special moments from the many conventions I’ve been to.
No one who can have that effect, on me and a whole room full of contemporaries, is just a writer.
(C) Tim Lebbon 2016
TIM LEBBON is a New York Times-bestselling writer from South Wales. He’s had over thirty novels published to date, as well as hundreds of novellas and short stories. His latest novel is the thriller The Family Man, and other recent releases include The Silence The Hunt, and The Rage War trilogy. He has won four British Fantasy Awards, a Bram Stoker Award, and a Scribe Award, and has been a finalist for World Fantasy, International Horror Guild and Shirley Jackson Awards.
The movie of his story Pay the Ghost, starring Nicolas Cage, was released Hallowe’en 2015, and several other novels and screenplays are in development.
Find out more about Tim at his website http://www.timlebbon.net