Like many of you, I was very sad to learn this morning that Christopher Priest has died at the age of 80. I first met him on the printed page, as a teenager in Belfast, where his novels were one of my main escape routes from the Northern Ireland of the day. Inverted World and Fugue for a Darkening Island were favourites then, and the former is a favourite still. Later, when I first started bookblogging, The Separation was the best of the books that I read in the closing months of 2003. I very much enjoyed his Guest of Honour speech and other presentations at Interaction, the 2005 Worldcon in Glasgow. Nineteen years on, we are preparing another Glasgow Worldcon and we’ll be thinking of him.
In 2007, we became friends. We met in person at the 2007 Beneluxcon which was conveniently for me in Leuven, and started a correspondence which continued for a decade and a half. He filled me in on the story of how he didn’t write for Doctor Who, and we reflected on Brexit and other political disasters together. And I continued to enjoy his writing, both new and old.
In August 2016 I happened to be passing through Devon, and we met up in Burrington, where he and Nina Allan were living at the time, and went for a very pleasant lunch in The Grove Inn, the only pub in the area, in the next door village of Kings Nympton. He and Nina loaded me with books to take away. (They subsequently moved to Scotland.)
The last time we saw each other was at Novacon in Buxton in 2021, where as it turned out I contracted COVID (but he fortunately did not). Fanboyishly (if that is a word) I brought over a small part of my Chris Priest collection, and he signed them all for me after breakfast. (He had already signed the ones he gave me in 2016.)
He was funny, passionate, incisive and (I have to be honest) not always kind. He was hugely entertaining to spend time with and I felt that my teenage enthusiasm for a writer I never expected to meet was ripely repaid a quarter to a third of a century later. Paul Kincaid’s brilliant book, The Unstable Realities of Christopher Priest, will give you a very good idea of what he was like and what he was trying to achieve as a writer. I feel privileged that I knew him as a person as well. My condolences to Nina, and to the rest of their families.