Missing people you’ve never met

Years ago, I turned a page in a newspaper and found out that Tove Jansson had died. It made me cry. It didn’t matter that the news was two years old. I loved Tove because I loved, and still love, some of the characters that she created. I know very little about the woman but I had a strong emotional tie to the writer and her creations.

As a reader, I form relationships with imaginary people, and, sometimes, also with authors. Imaginary relationships with very real writers. Writers have a world-building super-power that I cannot help worshiping them for, and when they go, the loss I feel is real.

A few years after I found out that Tove Jansson had passed away, Kurt Vonnegut died.

Again, I knew very little about Kurt. When I really admire someone, I try not to find out too much about them. Writers, musicians, film stars: if I like their art, I’ve learned not to listen too much what they say, in case they say something dumb. Sometimes dumb stuff ruins good things. I just wish my heroes well and hope they’re sensible, decent and wise people.

I think Kurt was all those things. I hope he was. As a writer, Kurt made me think in new ways and made the world a more interesting place. Slaughterhouse 5 change my universe forever. Kurt had the power to make me laugh and to make me sad. He also made me want to be a better person. Finding out that he’d died made me cry again.

And you know, I never met Kurt Vonnegut but sometimes I miss him. I really miss him.

This morning, I found out that Iain Banks is dying from cancer. It’s a horrible thing to know, and it’s deeply sad for Iain and the people who love him. The news hit the sci-fi fan community hard, and Twitter was all abuzz with grief today. Iain is another writer that has meant a lot to me, and one I’ve actually met. (Once. For 60 seconds.) His Culture novels convinced me that sci-fi could be fun, and The Wasp Factory made me excited about Scottish fiction. I finished Stonemouth just last night and was thinking about re-reading Espedair Street, the first of Iain’s books that I ever read. I was planning to revisit books I haven’t read for a long time. Whit, for example, such a laugh. We were going to have an adventure.

And then, this hopelessly sad news.

To stop myself from missing people I don’t really know, but whose characters feel like friends to me, I’m not writing this evening. Nor am I cleaning, doing the laundry or packing for my week in Basingstoke. Or doing any of the other things that I should be doing.

Instead I’m eating grapes and watching Glee. It’s one way of dealing with an unpleasant reality.