Obituary: Leon Garfield
Tuesday 04 June 1996
He was a master storyteller: you could give him a page from the telephone directory and he'd weave a plot taking all of the characters - each of them vividly realised - through a series of exciting events to a satisfying resolution.
Supernatural stories are my favourite reading and I know of none more haunting than his The Ghost Downstairs, published in 1972. I don't think it's had the recognition it deserves, perhaps because it's more for adults than for children. In it Mr Dennis Fast, a solicitor's clerk bedevilled by envy, loneliness and dreams of wealth, does a deal with the mysterious Mr Fishbane who lives downstairs. Fast writes a contract in which, for the sum of one million pounds, he sells Fishbane seven years off the end of his life, stipulating cunningly in the small print (unread by Fishbane) that the seven years are to be deducted from the first end of his life, his childhood. From then on Fast is haunted by the ghost of himself as a child and drawn into a desperate pursuit, to the spectral accompaniment of a stick tapping a rusty rolling hoop, of his childhood soul, "his dreams, yearnings and the very springs of his desire".
It is a story, like Leon Garfield, full of darkness, shifting lights and sly humour, not to be forgotten.
Some 30 years ago I wrote to Leon Garfield after reading a story of his that appeared in the same collection as one of my own, writes Helen Cresswell. He immediately telephoned (Leon never, to my knowledge, ever wrote a letter). Soon after that we met and our long friendship began, despite the hundred odd miles that divided us. We shared family holidays and later, as the children grew up, shorter breaks, when we went antique hunting. There was lots of whisky and lots of laughter.
It was his practice, whenever we met, for him to present me with the rough typescript of his work in progress. He would then sit me down with the obligatory Scotch and watch me read. At such times one felt privileged but unnerved.
Leon Garfield was hugely knowledgeable, ranging from opera to old movies and, of course, Dickens and Shakespeare. But he carried his erudition lightly, and was incapable of writing, or uttering, a dull word. He was one of the funniest people I have ever known, as well as the most warmly sympathetic and generous.
I think it was Molly Keane who said that she always divided people into radiators and drains. Leon was unequivocally, and triumphantly, a radiator.
Leon Garfield, writer: born Brighton 14 July 1921; FRSL 1985; married 1949 Vivien Alcock (one daughter); died London 2 June 1996.
- 1 Tourist films plane's descent just metres above packed Caribbean beach
- 3 World Book Day: Boy 'excluded' from school after dressing up as Fifty Shades' Christian Grey
- 4 Bad Jews poster 'censored' on London Tube
- 5 Have sex with your iPad thanks to the new sex toy no-one asked for
Tourist films plane's descent just metres above packed Caribbean beach
Indian woman creates 'Marriage CV' after parents put her on dating site: 'Definitely not marriage material. Won’t grow long hair, ever'
Isis 'bulldozes' Nimrud: UNESCO condemns destruction of ancient Assyrian site as a 'war crime'
Professor Brian Cox brands astrology-believing Tory MP David Tredinnick an 'outlier on the spectrum of reason'
Lynch mob kills suspected rapist in India after dragging him naked for four miles through city
Nearly 100,000 of Britain's poorest children go hungry after parents' benefits are cut
Durham Free School: 'Creationism taught at' free school facing closure
End of the licence fee: BBC to back radical overhaul of how it is funded
Elif Shafak: Turkish author warns against rise of British nationalism
Ex-head of MI6: 'We shouldn't kid ourselves that Russia is on a path to democracy'
Most people think legal tax avoidance is just as wrong as illegal tax evasion, poll suggests
Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Have you been doing a brilliant job in an admi...
£50000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you an innovative, senior H...
£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client, a very well respect...
£25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An HR Consultant is required to join thi...