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Hugo winner. Nebula winner. The first great female SF writer. SFWA Grand Master. Grand Dame. Grandmother. Mother. Horsewoman. Dragon Lady.

She was the first big name SF writer I ever met to talk to, rather than nod in awe at. It was my second, or maybe third, convention, a smallish affair in Hull. Anne McCaffrey was GoH, so I bought all her books from the Sign of the Dragon bookshop stall and asked her to sign them. I behaved like a fanboy. She bought a copy of The Horse Lord and asked me to sign it. She behaved like a professional.

She'd given me her address, one pro to another, so when The Demon Lord came out I sent her a copy. In her letter of thanks was an invitation to visit, with directions. Unfortunately they were directions for someone who already knew the area, and this was before GPS, or indeed sensibly-sized road signs in Dublin. Sometimes all you could see was the capital letter. That's why I wound up heading for Waterford, or it might be Wexford, rather than Wicklow...

By the time I got my bearings it was nudging midnight, and I couldn't call (this was also before cellphones) because rural phoneboxes were rare as hen's teeth. In addition I'd learned (this still happens) that out in the country late at night, if you don't have exact directions for someone's house then you won't get much help from the locals. "Sure, and if she'd wanted you to find her wouldn't she have told you how herself..."

Finally I realised that Dragonhold - the old one - was down a long driveway between high hedges that looked more like a lane. A lane I'd passed three or four times already. Annie's directions were just fine. My navigation, not so much. So I drove slowly down the lane, wheels crunching on gravel, a car with Northern Irish plates crawling up to an isolated Southern Irish farmhouse at past one in the morning. I got out, backlit by the headlights, one hand raised for a timid I'm-so-late knock.

That was when the door opened and the Dobermanns came out, making noises that suggested I might be crunchy and good with ketchup. Or even without ketchup. I don't usually ignore dogs like that, but this time I did, because I had something else to concentrate on. Have you any idea how big a shotgun looks from the wrong end at that hour of the morning? Like a matched pair of railway tunnels, that's how big.

But the railway tunnels were shaking a bit, because the dressing-gowned, benightied lady at the far end was trying not to laugh. "I wasn't expecting company any more," says Annie, "and since I'm an old lady living alone-" except for the shotgun and the Dobies "-you know how it is." Uh-huh. Yup. "You can put your hands down now." I don't remember them going up. "And come on in. I'm sure you'd like a cup of coffee." There's a twinkle in her eyes. "With a little something in it."

Half an hour later I'm snuggled down on the sofa-bed in the living-room, Saffy the female Dobie has decided to be my friend, there's a peat fire settling into ash behind the guard and I've been assured that the gun wasn't loaded. So what Annie took out of it when she thought I wasn't watching was probably lipstick. BigPaws the cat ambles by, gives me a look and goes about his business. And somewhere down the corridor, beyond two closed doors, I can hear Annie laughing.

I made her laugh a lot, sometimes deliberately, sometimes not. Like the time she persuaded me onto a horse for the first reluctant time in ten years, and I sat there feeling pleased with myself for about two seconds before sliding smooth as a pivot off the other side. Comedians and stuntmen practice that trick for ages. I got it right first time.

Or there was the time when I brought her my mum's Chocolate Gateau of Doom, a cake so alcoholic (the sponge, the cream filling and the dense chocolate icing use up an entire half-bottle of brandy) that it has to be kept in the fridge to prevent evaporation. This one had spent nearly 3 hours on the back seat of my car, sealed in a big round Cadbury's "Roses" tin... Annie's stable manager Derval ambled over and popped the lid in hopes of a nice choccy. The near-visible cloud of brandy vapour that jumped out at her provoked a memorable cry of "Jayzus, does your mammy own a feckin' distillery?" and if she'd been smoking her usual thin roll-up, we'd be looking for her eyebrows yet. But the only explosion that time came from Annie, who laughed until she nearly burst.

Then there was the time when she suggested I meet up with her at Albacon '86, the Easter Convention in Glasgow, where she was one of the guests. And the time after that when she suggested I go to a very small one-day event in London, run by Sign of the Dragon. The same person was there both times, a tall, slender American woman with big glasses and a bigger perm. I'd already bought one of her books. It was called The Door into Fire...

Other people might say that Annie threw Diane and me together until we stuck, but twice is not until. What she did was to put us in proximity and wait to see what happened - whether we would be poles apart and repel, or if she was right about an attraction she'd already noticed and I hadn't, at least not enough to recognise. I recognised it pretty soon, though, and just over a year later her son Todd was my best man. That'll be 25 years ago, come February. Perceptive lady, Anne McCaffrey.

And now you're gone. I'm honoured to say you were my friend. You wrote books that made a lot of people happy. But what you did for me was something special. You made two people happier than any book could do.

I'll never forget you, Annie Mac. Sleep well.

April 2017



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