On Monday I had a phone call telling me the sad news that my writing friend and former teacher, Jo Powell had died suddenly. I think Jo's students and colleagues are aware of the news now, so I feel it's okay to write the following...
Jo was my workshop supervisor during the second semester of my MA. In the early part of that semester, I workshopped a story called 'Sinking' that will be published shortly in the Black Market Review. After the workshop, Jo advised me to read Helen Simpson's short stories. The next time I saw her she handed me a battered, and obviously much loved copy of 'Hey Yeh Right Get a Life'. I gobbled that book. There wasn't a sentence or a word out of place. The prose was gorgeous, luscious - absolutely perfect and the stories spoke to me, a mum of four whose life had been heavily 'domestic' for more than a decade. The book made me realise that I could write about ordinary things, things I understood; like old ladies who can't remember where they put stuff, mothers who despise parenting books and children who don't understand the permanence of death. Jo's thoughtfulness (and her kindness in lending books - something I rarely ever do, particularly favourite ones) opened a whole new world of reading and writing to me.
When I finished my MA I joined a writing group. Jo was also a member of that group. She was workshopping her third novel. I looked forward to receiving her chapters each month before we met to discuss them. Jo's novel is a haunting story about memory and loss. Alix, the novel's detective, is eminently likable and professional; she exists in my imagination as another version of Jo: dark haired, intuitive and capable. Last time we met, 2 weeks ago, I wrote 'I can't wait to find out what happens with Alix and Jack' on the bottom of Jo's manuscript: it's hard to accept that I won't find out.
Jo was funny, clever and kind. She was generous with herself - when I was struggling to make a decision about son number two's schooling, she told me about a similar experience she'd had and reassured me that I would make the right choice. Her writing was understated and elegant (like her). She was modest about her considerable achievements and always gracious: she accepted feedback from an unpublished novice (me) and offered thoughtful advice and encouragement in return. She had a wicked laugh, she had a messy car (yet another reason to like her - whose car smells like upholstery shampoo and air freshener anyway?), she had great legs (I haven't had pins like hers since I was about twelve) and she always looked gorgeous: Jo was a lovely person, an excellent writer, a pleasure to be around, and I will miss her.