More than any other writer, Douglas Adams has influenced the way I write, read and consume entertainment. He is a reference point by which I navigate the world of being a writer and a part of the audience of other artists. His writing defined my sense of the absurd and his gentleness and verbose-without-being-verbose way of writing genuinely thrills me, still does, ten years after he died. As my friend Van would say, he squeezes words.
When famous people die, especially the good ones, people throw themselves into a funk and eulogise them tearily, endlessly and often recreationally. I’ll say, ‘Oh, so and so died, that’s a shame,’ and move on with my day. But Douglas Adams’ death really upset me in a way very few deaths do or have since. I was sad.
Sad because at the time I felt he was underrated and I may even have mourned him more intensely because despite the huge effect he’d had on pop culture, he was not mourned in a way I thought he should have been by the general media. I love Towel Day because it’s something that is deeply connected to Adams’ wonderful world of H2G2 but isn’t mawkish or drippily sentimental.
My iPad features a giant Don’t Panic as its lock screen and I enjoy being part of the club – the knowing smile you get from fellow fans. It’s like owning an old Alfa Romeo – there’s no histrionics from fellow owners, just a nod and a ‘What year is she?’ The Adams ‘What year is she?’ is ‘Which is your favourite?’ and there’s never, ever an argument. Doesn’t matter if it’s Dirk or Hitch, fellow Adams fans just love that you are a fan too.
And I think that says much about the man who in a way led the movement, his fans. I don’t ever remember reading anything where he had been anything other than good-humoured and approachable and just plain nice. I loved the way he, in retrospect, gently skewered his friend Richard Dawkins with the arguing philosophers in H2G2, the computer Deep Thought telling them how much money there is to be made arguing about the meaning of life. On the eternal frustration that his wildly successful books couldn’t be made into films, he wrote:
‘Getting a film made in Hollywood is like trying to cook a steak by having a bunch of people come into the room and breathe on it.’
He was funny, clever and above all, as I say, a gentleman.
I was very privileged to be able to talk about Hitch-Hiker’s on Radio National’s Future Tense. I am absurdly proud of that.
I hope one day to get a book published that I can say was inspired by his great writing, I’ve started it and I hope that people will read it and say, ‘You know, that’s a bit Douglas Adams.’
And that will mean it’s funny and gentle and clever and makes people smile or laugh long after they’ve put the book down.
I still mourn his death and that he could not continue making us all laugh in new ways, appreciate the world around us and write characters like Arthur, Dirk, Zaphod and Janice.
The world is genuinely a poorer place without him. Happy Towel Day.
– This was originally posted on my Tumblr which I abandoned because Tumblr isn’t that good. –