So Long, and Thanks for All the Books

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On May 15th of this year—just four days after the fourteenth anniversary of Douglas Adams’ death—I turned forty nine. Just two months later I suffered a major cardiac incident similar to that which brought my hero low.
Mortality is the great leveller. Rich or poor. Happy or sad. None of it ultimately matters in the end, and I still remember the utter shock of the news that one of the most successful authors of the twentieth century had died.
We met, I think, three times—all at events connected to The Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy—one was also vaguely connected to a curry, but the last was perhaps one of only three times that I have stood in a queue to get someone’s autograph. I had my complete set of Hitchhiker novels firmly grasped in my mitts, and when the time came I asked, rather cheekily, if he could dedicate the books to God and family.
At the time he was a radical atheist, while I was an agnostic nihilist which, in my estimation, is the first step on the steep and slippery slope to complete and utter disbelief.

“God and family?” He asked quizzically. “You mean Mary, Joseph and Jesus?”

“Absolutely,” I confirmed, the mischievous twinkle in my eye attracting a broad grin from the grand master.

“You know,” he leaned forwards conspiratorially, “that’s the second most unusual request I’ve ever had.”

I’m sure it wasn’t—I can spot a well-rehearsed anecdote coming a mile away—but those around me leaned in, asking the question I resolutely refrained from asking.

“What’s the first?” They asked in unison.

“To Tim,” he said, pausing for effect. “Spelled T-I-9-M. The nine was silent.”

The crowd burst into laughter as he scribbled his way through my books, his famous Bop Ad sealing their fate as I shuffled away to make room for the next sacrificial lamb.
There was so much I wanted to discuss with him. Not minutiae about his books, but lifestyle things, about the best curry houses in Birmingham, about the next big [IT] thing, about my patented cure for writers’ block, and about all the things we had in common that didn’t involve height or living in Rickmansworth.

Back then writers were celebs, and Douglas Adams was, quite literally, the biggest. I’ve since become quite blasé about famous writers, but none had as much of an impact as DNA.

I was 11 years old when my brother introduced me to the radio show. My first episode was fit the seventh—the Christmas one with all the John Lloyd bits that later disappeared—and I was hooked. I was already a Doctor Who fan, and I’d loved City of Death, but this… Hitchhikers very quickly became my favourite show ever. Within a few short weeks I’d started plotting my own wacky adventures in a desperate attempt to… copy? emulate? pastiche? the style of the show. Indeed, over the next three years I honed my teenage authoring skills so that I could write stories just like his.

Pastiche is a fine thing, and I’ve written my fair share of them, but with the knowledge that The Hitchhikers’ Guide won’t be out of copyright until at least 2076 (ten years after my hundredth birthday), its pretty unlikely that such a skill will ever come in handy. A pity, as I’ve written as many articles for the Guide as Adams himself (not saying much, as he was a very slow writer). That said, my secret ambition is still to be approached to write a new story by the Adams Estate, although I think my literary ambitions would have to climb a very high mountain before such an opportunity might present itself.
It did, however, lead me into the realms of fantasy comedy, which I did consider developing as a favoured genre except… Adams, Pratchett, Holt, Rankin. Big boots to fill at the worst of times.

Perhaps, now I’m confident in my writing, content with my craft, and a 49 year old atheist with a dodgy heart and a fondness for whooshing deadlines, I may dip my toe again.

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adrianmiddle

Adrian’s life in publishing began as a prolific fanzine editor, producing some 300 issues in the early 1990s. His first book was Shelf Life, an anthology published in memory of his friend Craig Hinton. He then spent several years writing strategies and policy documents for the government before establishing an independent press, Fringeworks, which he tries so hard to keep going.

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