|Anne McCaffrey, 1926-2011. RIP
||[Nov. 23rd, 2011|03:14 pm]
Hugo winner. Nebula winner. The first great female SF writer. SFWA Grand Master. Grand Dame. Grandmother. Mother. Horsewoman. Dragon Lady.
She was the first big name SF writer I ever met to talk to, rather than nod in awe at. It was my second, or maybe third, convention, a smallish affair in Hull. Anne McCaffrey was GoH, so I bought all her books from the Sign of the Dragon bookshop stall and asked her to sign them. I behaved like a fanboy. She bought a copy of The Horse Lord and asked me to sign it. She behaved like a professional.
She'd given me her address, one pro to another, so when The Demon Lord came out I sent her a copy. In her letter of thanks was an invitation to visit, with directions. Unfortunately they were directions for someone who already knew the area, and this was before GPS, or indeed sensibly-sized road signs in Dublin. Sometimes all you could see was the capital letter. That's why I wound up heading for Waterford, or it might be Wexford, rather than Wicklow...
By the time I got my bearings it was nudging midnight, and I couldn't call (this was also before cellphones) because rural phoneboxes were rare as hen's teeth. In addition I'd learned (this still happens) that out in the country late at night, if you don't have exact directions for someone's house then you won't get much help from the locals. "Sure, and if she'd wanted you to find her wouldn't she have told you how herself..."
Finally I realised that Dragonhold - the old one - was down a long driveway between high hedges that looked more like a lane. A lane I'd passed three or four times already. Annie's directions were just fine. My navigation, not so much. So I drove slowly down the lane, wheels crunching on gravel, a car with Northern Irish plates crawling up to an isolated Southern Irish farmhouse at past one in the morning. I got out, backlit by the headlights, one hand raised for a timid I'm-so-late knock.
That was when the door opened and the Dobermanns came out, making noises that suggested I might be crunchy and good with ketchup. Or even without ketchup. I don't usually ignore dogs like that, but this time I did, because I had something else to concentrate on. Have you any idea how big a shotgun looks from the wrong end at that hour of the morning? Like a matched pair of railway tunnels, that's how big.
But the railway tunnels were shaking a bit, because the dressing-gowned, benightied lady at the far end was trying not to laugh. "I wasn't expecting company any more," says Annie, "and since I'm an old lady living alone-" except for the shotgun and the Dobies "-you know how it is." Uh-huh. Yup. "You can put your hands down now." I don't remember them going up. "And come on in. I'm sure you'd like a cup of coffee." There's a twinkle in her eyes. "With a little something in it."
Half an hour later I'm snuggled down on the sofa-bed in the living-room, Saffy the female Dobie has decided to be my friend, there's a peat fire settling into ash behind the guard and I've been assured that the gun wasn't loaded. So what Annie took out of it when she thought I wasn't watching was probably lipstick. BigPaws the cat ambles by, gives me a look and goes about his business. And somewhere down the corridor, beyond two closed doors, I can hear Annie laughing.
I made her laugh a lot, sometimes deliberately, sometimes not. Like the time she persuaded me onto a horse for the first reluctant time in ten years, and I sat there feeling pleased with myself for about two seconds before sliding smooth as a pivot off the other side. Comedians and stuntmen practice that trick for ages. I got it right first time.
Or there was the time when I brought her my mum's Chocolate Gateau of Doom, a cake so alcoholic (the sponge, the cream filling and the dense chocolate icing use up an entire half-bottle of brandy) that it has to be kept in the fridge to prevent evaporation. This one had spent nearly 3 hours on the back seat of my car, sealed in a big round Cadbury's "Roses" tin... Annie's stable manager Derval ambled over and popped the lid in hopes of a nice choccy. The near-visible cloud of brandy vapour that jumped out at her provoked a memorable cry of "Jayzus, does your mammy own a feckin' distillery?" and if she'd been smoking her usual thin roll-up, we'd be looking for her eyebrows yet. But the only explosion that time came from Annie, who laughed until she nearly burst.
Then there was the time when she suggested I meet up with her at Albacon '86, the Easter Convention in Glasgow, where she was one of the guests. And the time after that when she suggested I go to a very small one-day event in London, run by Sign of the Dragon. The same person was there both times, a tall, slender American woman with big glasses and a bigger perm. I'd already bought one of her books. It was called The Door into Fire...
Other people might say that Annie threw Diane and me together until we stuck, but twice is not until. What she did was to put us in proximity and wait to see what happened - whether we would be poles apart and repel, or if she was right about an attraction she'd already noticed and I hadn't, at least not enough to recognise. I recognised it pretty soon, though, and just over a year later her son Todd was my best man. That'll be 25 years ago, come February. Perceptive lady, Anne McCaffrey.
And now you're gone. I'm honoured to say you were my friend. You wrote books that made a lot of people happy. But what you did for me was something special. You made two people happier than any book could do.
I'll never forget you, Annie Mac. Sleep well.
And now we have one more happy reason to remember her with honour!
Thanks for that story. A fine bunch of memories.
rightly says, as long as you remember someone kindly, they're never really
dead. And when that someone was herself kindly, it's so much easier to do.
Good memories. I remember meeting *you* at that one-day DragonCon in Sheen!
My abiding memories of Anne include singing 'The Ash Grove' with her at a Sunday night at a Trek Con - I sang the melody (nobody else seemed to know the words...) and she sang a harmony. Great fun. And seeing her crying when Doreen did a 'Helva' costume. (Doreen, who you probably don't remember, had spina bifida and was about four feet tall (at most), and bent over sideways so far she had only one working lung, FSVO 'working'.)
I actually found a very small on-line photo from the Albacon: if I've got the link thingy right, it's here
Someone may have photos from DragonCon, but for me what came out of it was the push I needed to complete The Dragon Lord
- Diane gave me a long lecture about who was boss in my fictional universe, and it wasn't my test readers. (Every one of them had a different idea of how "the next bit" should go, and since I was doing the rewrites on a typewriter, you can imagine how the book was (not) proceeding.)
The lecture over, we discovered a common interest in Russian folktales, and I proceeded to tell The Tale of Prince Ivan, the Grey Wolf, Mar'ya Morevna, Koshchei the Undying, Baba Yaga...oh yes, and the Little Humpbacked Horse.
In a pub in East Sheen. With funny voices. And sound effects. To this day I don't know why we weren't thrown out - but I did
get a bemused round of applause at the end.
From that came Diane's graphic novel, The Misadventures of Prince Ivan the None-Too-Experienced
(recently republished with a sequel
) and my own Tales of Old Russia
which are graphic in a whole different way. I still remember a con where someone said in a shocked voice, "You slipped a Star Trek Transporter accident into a medieval fantasy and you made it work.
Ew, how you made it work!"
(Annie sent me a note about that one: she complimented my descriptive use of sounds and textures - then confessed she hadn't been able to finish the page...)
Aha, yes, I remember that reading! You had a primitive laptop/WP/typewriter-with-memory thing, and you spent all morning tap-tapping on it, and then proceeded to narrate what I only realised very much later was the beginnings of Prince Ivan. With sound effects. I don't know about 'bemused round of applause', I remember thinking it was excellent!
Edited at 2011-11-23 09:27 pm (UTC)
That would have been Diane's Tandy/Radio Shack "TRS-80/100"
, the first computer apart from our office terminals that I'd ever used. At the time I was doing my serious writing on a Smith-Corona 2200 electric "portable" (as in, anything is "portable" if you're strong enough to lift it!) and the little Trash was quite a revelation.
The bemused applause I remember wasn't from the con attendees, but from the pub regulars, who didn't know quite what was going on - but since we were continually buying beer and not tearing up the place, and since it was Richard and Marion van der Voort's local, they probably decided I was "odd but all right."
That was beautiful. Thanks for telling it.
It was my privilege to have it to tell.
We know how much you and Diane appreciated Anne by the number of tales you told, particularly the bubble jacuzzi one. If someone is alive as long as people remember them fondly, I think she'll be around a while yet.
And for those thinking "Bubble jacuzzi whut...?" it went like this:
I'd never encountered a jacuzzi tub before (provincial and not-well-travelled innocent that I was) and Annie had a beaut, good for the annoying aches and pains that plagued her joints. So I asked to try it out. That was the day I learned something very interesting.
You do not pour Badedas Horse-Chestnut Scented bubble-bath gel into an eight-nozzle jacuzzi, then turn on the pump and walk away "to let the foam build up..."
Because it will.
Oh Lord, how it will.
This foam built up high enough to make the bathroom ceiling Horse-Chestnut Scented, but I never actually found out if it filled the entire room from side to side, because when I opened the door to see how it was getting on, the whole mass of froth, extending well above my head, fell out on top of me like something from The Quatermass Experiment (Horse-Chestnut Scented Division).
We got the corridor dried out quickly enough - it was only foam, after all - but the first four rows of bookshelves were Horse-Chestnut Scented for quite a while afterwards.
For quite a while afterwards, if Annie wanted to make toast, all she had to say was "fancy a jacuzzi, Peter?" and hold the bread up to my face.
And I don't much care for Badedas Horse-Chestnut Scented anything, even now...
Lovely tribute! However...
The first great female SF writer.
Ahem! Mary Godwin Shelley!
Point taken. That should have been something like "The first great female SF writer I got to know."
Can't say that for Mary Shelley, 'cos if she'd pointed a shotgun at me, I'd remember! :->
There's potential for a steampunk time-travel scenario there...!
*smiles* at the music. Seems somehow appropriate: and, in an odd twist, was acquired at a con that she was... supposed... to be at.
I know (it's in the notes) why Kathryns prepared the harp music For Martha but I've got no bad or sad associations about it. It's simply beautiful. Yes, if I'm in the wrong mood it can give me an emotional kicking. This time it seemed right for the moment.
What I can't listen to right now is "Into the West" from Return of the King. Over the summer it's become "Squeak's Song." (I don't know why.) I never appreciated the different feeling between finding a cat dead through illness or accident, and sitting on a sunny morning holding hands with Diane while we watched the vet make our eldest one that way.
I've always loathed needles, even for injections that cure. This needle was... Not good. Not good at all.
*nod* re "For Martha". It's beautiful.
I know how you feel re "Into The West" - I don't think I could manage to play it (we do it with
Phoenix) just at present, knowing it was one of keristor
As for needles - Anne can't and won't do it for our cats when the time comes - she always has to ask a colleague.
This is just beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing it.
I have a memory of her from some con -- but I don't recall which one -- singing 'Carmen Miranda's Ghost' and cracking up the whole room.
I have tears in my eyes, not from sadness, but from the bubble jacuzzi!
A friend of mine had recently suffered a bereavement and had said about their departed:
There are enough funny and heartwarming anecdotes about him to fill a book.
I think the same might also apply to Anne McCaffrey, especially as she seemed to know so many writers. After all it sounds a lovely way to remember someone who has gone.
Peter, thank you so much for these stories. I know many folks for whom Anne meant quite a lot, but for the first time I've gotten to see past the (brilliant) fantasy to the (just as brilliant) reality. You and Diane were quite lucky to have her in your lives.
Here via metaquotes - thank you for sharing your wonderful memories of a wonderful lady.