The print, beautifully illustrated by the talented Shaun Lynch, shows the heart of a famous rock and roll star and it was originally commissioned to accompany a short story I wrote called ‘Fool’s Gold’: a story that appeared in issue 8 of Novel Magazine.
The magazine existed because of a bold, courageous young man named Lee Halpin who, frustrated by the lack of such a platform for creative people in his region, went into business for himself and created the platform we all needed. After he published my short story, Lee commissioned me to write another piece for the following issue and then invited me to contribute as a regular to the magazine.
I first met Lee, in person, at a launch party for the magazine. I found him to be a charming, delightful man, wise beyond his years and exuding a magnetic cult of personality overflowing with warm, good natured humour. I met up with him several times after this, chatted to him regularly online and was always flattered and humbled by the interest he took in my writing which he used not only in his magazine but also on the radio show he hosted.
I last saw him in early January, just before I left England for Vietnam, at one of the earliest meetings of the fledgling Save Newcastle Libraries group. As ever, he brought energy, organisation and his trademark enthusiasm along with him. Lee lived and breathed Arts and Culture. He loved the North east and he loved writing and literature most of all, so it was no surprise to bump into him at such an event. As the meeting closed, he invited me for a drink to discuss the future of the magazine, something I unfortunately had to decline due to an early appointment the following day. I could never have imagined then that this would be the last time I would see him.
On Saturday morning, five minutes before I was due to teach English to a class of Vietnamese children, I received a message via Facebook informing me that Lee had passed away.
He was 26 years old.
I taught the lesson on auto-pilot, sleepwalking through the motions and then went home to properly absorb and digest the news.
Ever active, I learned that, prior to his death, Lee had been filming a documentary he hoped would highlight the serious problems of homelessness in the North East of England. Ever true to his journalistic beliefs, he had taken a no holds barred approach to reporting not just the story but to embracing the world of the those he was reporting on.
As I write this, it is believed that on his third night of sleeping rough with Tyneside’s homeless community, Lee succumbed to hypothermia in temperatures that had dipped well below zero, and died of the extreme cold.
I have struggled for the best part of the weekend to understand the senselessness of his passing. He was a young man destined for the brightest of futures and moving at light-speed through a career in media and the arts, always engaged in one passionate project after another, with a smile and a warm genuine handshake for everyone he met. Now he is gone I feel empty for his passing but proud to have passed, ever so briefly, through the brilliant flare of his imagination.
Lee, I would love to write for you one last time and I would love even more to go for that drink with you and hear what projects you were planning next. I can never do the latter now, so this is my attempt at the former. I hope I didn't exceed the word limit again, buddy..
I’m proud to have known you, Lee; Proud to have called you my friend and proud to have made art with you.
Rest peacefully, Big Man. Your passion and your friendship will never fade away. Your smile will live forever...
More on the documentary Lee was making before his death can be found here:
Work on the documentary continues as does the important job of highlighting the problem of homelessness that Lee was trying to give exposure to through his final project.