Many years ago, while attending Fantasycon, the annual convention of the British Fantasy Convention at the late lamented Imperial Hotel in Birmingham, I met a lovely editor from Methuen, a women called Dot Houghton. She wasn’t part of the circle – not then – but after a weekend hanging out with us, she fell into our group as easily as if she’d always been with us.
It wasn’t long before Dot gave up publishing and moved to the Dark Side – to become a literary agent! – and she soon collected a fine roster of authors covering her own personal tastes – and then some. So amongst the romance and women’s fiction writers, there’s a slew of horror and fantasy writers and editors too, including Stephen Jones (oh, and me . . . she sold a novel of mine before I got sucked into the maw of publishing). I published (or wanted to publish; not always the same thing as I think you now know) a fair few of them.
She married bestselling horror writer Brian Lumley, and though the marriage didn’t last forever, the friendship did, and she’s been Brian’s agent all these years. I’m sure I’m not alone in laying some of Brian’s enormous success over the decades at her door, for she may have come across as a very pleasant, slightly naïve woman when you first started talking about buying one of her authors – but once she started negotiating you were left in no doubt who was in command here. And at the end of it, you never felt beaten, but that you’d worked together to get the best possible deal, for author and publisher. That’s a real art.
Why am I telling you about Dot? Because this weekend she joined the dreadfully large roster of friends we’ve lost this year, and although I knew it was imminent, and I got to say my goodbyes and tell her how much she meant to me, it doesn’t make it any easier.
I know she was thrilled to receive her agent’s copies of Fearie Tales ten days ago. And we’d just concluded a deal for Steve’s new anthology, Horrorology. So she started ringing or writing to first her authors, then her editors and contracts people to say goodbye and to make arrangements for ay necessary handovers so her authors wouldn’t be left in the lurch if she could possibly help it.
I’d actually already been talking to her regularly, so it wasn’t as great a shock to me as some. But I was in awe of her strength: she told me, quite matter-of-factly, that the drugs had stopped working some months before, that she hadn’t eaten for days, that she could no longer walk. And she said that she was ready. That’s true bravery, isn’t it? To lie there knowing that any day – any minute – could be your last, and in the certain knowledge that there are no deals left to be done. Until the beginning of this month she’d still been hoping a last-minute miracle would allow her to come to Brighton, to the World Fantasy Convention, so she could personally say goodbye to the hundreds and hundreds of people she felt had enriched her life.
Instead, the hundreds and hundreds of us who believe she enriched our lives will have to raise a glass in absentia to the wonderful Dot Lumley. We lost Pete Godwin earlier this year; he had a line he used throughout his Arthurian books that I have always loved:
Rest you gentle, sleep you sound.
Dot, I wish that for you.