John only came to our writers group once, and sent an apology for not fully engaging with the group as he was feeling unwell. He emailed a week later to tell me about his cancer diagnosis. I know that if he had been well then he would have been a valued regular at our meetings.
I first met John at another writing group in town, where he told me he had an opportunity to publish his novel. It was an offer from an independent publisher, I was never quite clear whether it was paid-for self publishing or not. The thing is, that didn’t really matter.
John liked to tell the story of how he’d written his novel as an exercise to recover from a stroke. His doctors had not expected him to finish the work, and he delighted in explaining that he’d written his book at a time of recovery to prove something, to himself and perhaps the world. To get that book published seemed like a way of showing his illness who was boss. He got the book finished when a stroke could have stopped him, he got it published when self-doubt would have stopped many. Now you can find it here on Amazon. He penned it under the name Alex J Owen. I always meant to ask why he’d chosen that name.
The majority of writers start a book and won’t get to the end, if they do they send it to a few agents, get rejected, then put it in a drawer and start another. I remember John quietly defending his work from another writer’s criticism, and whoever was right or wrong was irrelevant. John liked his own words on the page, and he went the whole mile to get them out into the world. I respect that decision. He wouldn’t live to see his book’s reception, but I don’t think that was the sole focus for him.
When he announced his book launch party he did it with a, ‘Very excited, my dream has finally come true.’
The book launch was cancelled because he was in hospital.
I know too little of John’s background and family, like many writer friends there is a professional distance ‘we’re only here to talk book notes’ plus some shyness – often on my part. It takes a while to get close. I always wanted to get to know John better, he was a writer friend I admired for his belief that writing is just doing it, loving it, not stressing what others think. If his writing dream came true before he died it’s because he made it so.
John’s funeral is Thursday 15th August, I will be there. I just bought his book on Amazon, because I promised I would get a copy at his launch party – and that isn’t going to get rescheduled.
I like to think his novel will be an inspiration to me to live his kind of practical writer’s life. His book offers a cover picture ‘I found from the internet’ (I didn’t ask!) and it will be real in my hands, not floating in someone’s head or buried as a printout in some drawer. He did what few of us do, John (aka Alex J Owen) was an author.
I’m sorry I didn’t get to know him better in his life, but I am glad there will be something of him in a book package envelope from Amazon. Well done John, for living on the page, and for showing the doctors, and us would-be writers, how best to be immortal.