Paul Richard Haines 8 June 1970 – 5 March 2012

I’m writing this with tears running down my cheeks, and they’re tears of impotent fucking rage as much as sadness. I may make very little sense over the next few paragraphs, but I can’t do anything else, so I’m writing this down. Excuse me if I rant and ramble, feel free to ignore this. Today my friend and writing inspiration, Paul Haines, died of cancer, after a battle of incredible determination and will. I can’t express enough my sympathy and condolences to his wife, Jules, and their little girl, Isla, as well as to the rest of their family.

Seriously, FUCK CANCER. Paul was a brilliant writer, as his plethora of awards testifies. He was a fearless and powerful writer, who addressed every aspect of humanity in his stories. Nothing was out of bounds for Paul, and his work got under the skin of everyone who read it. And it will stay there. He wrote one of the single best stories I have ever read, or probably ever will, Wives – originally published in X6 and reprinted in his latest collection.

And Paul was one of the nicest people you could ever meet. Generous, friendly and funny as fuck, we laughed a lot in the times we spent together. Foul, crass, hilarious and sharply clever. He shared of himself and his time so generously. I am a better writer now than I might ever have been thanks to Paul’s help. The story being serialised right now is one he helped me with. He tore that sucker to shreds and helped me turn an okay story into what I think is one of the best things I’ve ever written. Because of Paul.

When he offered to crit that story for me, I expected a read-through and an email or phone call with a handful of suggestions and areas to look at. He sent me an email with dozens of bullet points, a full breakdown of issues he had and things I could improve on, with this 18,000 word novelette.

That email exchange ended up being over twenty messages back and forth to get that story where it is today. That’s how generous a friend Paul was.

My latest novel, not published yet, was something else Paul helped me with. Even struggling with cancer, hardly able to do anything with his own writing, he offered to read my latest manuscript and crit it for me. He asked me to print it out and post it down, so he could read it while lying on the couch resting, as he wasn’t able to spend long periods in front of his computer. He sent it back a few weeks later, covered in scribbled notes and accompanied by a thirteen page typed up critique. This is the kind of friend Paul was – someone who would do something like that while he was fucking dying and could, even should, have saved his energy. But he wanted to do it, because that’s the kind of friend and writer he was.

Throughout Paul’s fight against his cancer he was his open, candid self. He posted every stage of his illness on his blog, posted all about the highs and lows and the effect it was having on him, with no punches pulled or gruesome details gently couched in euphemism. Just like his writing. I’ve experienced way too much terminal illness in my life and whether you have or haven’t in yours (and I hope you haven’t) go and read Paul’s blog posts to get an idea of what terminal illness is really like. It’s not like the movies, where some beautiful actor gets to have a life like normal right up to the end and then gently whisper from their death bed before slipping away.

It’s real, visceral horror. It’s suffering and pain and rage and it does its best to strip away a person’s dignity. It reduces great people to husks, mere shadows of their former selves. It rips apart the sufferer and their family from the inside and tears the guts out of life for everyone concerned. But if you want any idea of how to cope with the evil, fucked up shit that terminal illness is, read Paul’s account. Anyone who shows a fraction of Paul’s strength and dignity, and that of his family, is doing pretty well for themselves in a situation with no redeeming aspects whatsoever.

I’m not surprised by Paul’s death, we knew it was coming. If anything, what’s surprising is that he lasted this long. Another testament to his strength and determination. His doctors were worried he wouldn’t make Christmas and Paul made it his primary mission to survive that long, to spend one more Christmas with his beautiful wife and child. He did that and more.

When things got that bad, I dropped everything and drove down to visit him, before it was too late, in early December. That was the last time I saw Paul. I regret not being geographically closer, so I might have spent more time with him, but I’m so glad I got to spend that afternoon with him. He was at peace with his situation. Of course he didn’t want to go, of course he was angry and upset and terrified of how his wife and child would cope when he went, but he seemed to have reached an acceptance and only wanted to hang on as long as possible and get as much time with them as he could. And he did a good job of that. He hadn’t given up, would never give up, but his dignity and bravery were inspiring.

And my rage burns on. Incandescent fucking rage that there’s nothing any of us can do against the pervasive evil that is cancer. Rage that someone so kind, generous, loving, clever and talented should be taken so early, so far before his time. Paul’s career was just beginning to really hit its pro stride and it mystifies me to think what he might have achieved. He told me about his new novel idea, and it would have been amazing. But he had no strength or time to write it. Seriously, fuck cancer. Fuck it fuck it fuck it!

There will never be another one like Paul Haines. It hurts so much already, I miss him terribly. I can’t imagine the pain his family are going through now. But at least we’ll always have the amazing things he wrote to remember him by. His influence and contribution to writing, Australian and internationally, is undeniable. His influence on me will never be wasted, I won’t squander that gift.

Vale, Paul. Always loved, always treasured, never forgotten.

Fuck cancer.


EDIT 9th March 2012:

I’ve closed the comments on this post, and deleted all the comments that were posted. Initially I left the comments open – it didn’t occur to me to do anything different – and several comments came in that were very positive and supportive. Then one person posted something offensive and the comment thread quickly degenerated. I won’t remove the post – this was something heartfelt, written for and about Paul on the day he died. But I won’t let this post or his memory be sullied by petty bickering. So all the comments are gone.

“Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rage at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

Dylan Thomas