Saturday, 4 January 2014

The death of a newshound

  It is with a sad heart, I find myself writing this article; at approximately 04:00 GMT our colleague Paul Smart passed away after suffering a series of health problems relating to his EDS and HCM which made breathing almost impossible in the end. His situation worsened over time, one of the main causes was COPD aka "Smoker's cough," although he gave up his pipe nearly nineteen years ago, the damage was established a long time before then through inhaling second hand smoke from his parents -- something he never forgave them for -- as he had repeatedly told them of the effects on his health.

 During the last week, Paul asked me to do an interview so he had a chance to tell his readers some things about his writing, this request I granted both as a close friend and a fellow journalist.

As usual with Paul, there was no way of knowing where the talks would lead and this was one reason his stories were liked so much -- even if none sold -- in the end readers were all he wanted.

 The week before he called for the interview our paths crossed and I noticed he had great trouble breathing, it was at this point he realised the end might be closer than he thought, for he confided with a few close friends that during the previous night he almost died in his sleep as he fought for breath for over two hours and only will power and the desire to say a final farewell to those close to him kept him alive.

  One of the first questions I asked was "How does it feel to be compared to Poe, Lefanu and M R James?"
  Typically, he was reluctant to receive praise to the end and replied, "I am honoured beyond words, but Clyde do you know the one question nobody asked me?"
  I was intrigued to find the answer to the unasked question and asked him, "Who do you think your style is like?"
  He gave one of those cheeky laughs he was known for and replied, "A little known Chicago reporter from a TV series of the 1970's -- Karl Kolchak -- he was always down with the action and yet at the end of everything either he destroyed the evidence in staying alive or a cover-up hid the evidence."
 This new information intrigued me and the chat continued with another revealing question and answer session over coffees and sandwiches at Maddie's -- he couldn't drink beer -- but he loved his morning coffee to get the tubes free. 
 I next asked, "Did any of Kolchak's style come through in your work?"
 He sipped the coffee he held and replied, "Quite a lot, Phil Moore -- Mark Johnson's friend -- is based on his style and dressing for business rather than show and the ground level reporting style Karl used, I used for Carol Caitlin in "Zombiewatch."
He paused for a sip of coffee and continued, "I had hoped to write a story about Carol's early days and how she got the job at KAZTV, this was designed to give the readers a face to recognise as Carol."

 One of the things which never ceased to amazed him was his growing popularity -- he never sought out popularity as others did -- which was probably why he became so popular and as with many new and raw talented people he became the target for those who sought popularity; to the point he was almost forced to quit writing to keep the daily on line attacks at bay.

 When I asked him about the settings for Chronicles, he replied, "I set the stories on the Yorkshire coast -- near to where I was born -- I grew up around the Scarborough/Whitby area and my family were fishermen, so, I can sense the sea swell and know their respect and fear of the sea. I did make one last trip home, but regret not having had the funds to see a play in the Stephen Joseph theatre, which was a life-long wish."

 I asked about his new novel "A Sailor's Love" and did he feel he was trying something new?
  He replied, "I wouldn't say it's new, as the original ghost stories I wrote about the area were partially romantic, but this is the first time I have tried to write a romance from the beginning."

The truly sad part of his passing is that this year he thought might have been a break-through year for him after years of struggling, he has a story in a big Sci-Fi contest running in Toronto and a top six spot would have given his work the creditability he had sought after a period of severe personal doubt. Such a shame that if this story was too succeed, he will never realise one of his dreams.

 Paul was known for not calling a spade a digging implement made of metal with a curved edge and it is this short and punchy style for which he'll be remembered as much as his generosity to others -- it was a shame few shared his big heart -- generous and kind to the end.

 His final message to me, came at about 02:50 and typically it was short and to the point, all it said was "Meat stuck, can't breathe."
 I dashed to the car and drove to meet him at his house, but in the short time it took he was gone and the doctor had pronounced the cause as heart failure brought on by MCH and complications -- in everyday language -- his big heart finally gave up giving and he died.

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