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Tributes & MessagesPaul Magrs

She sent me her book of stories. She must have popped it in the post at dawn in Newcastle, right before she flew off to Africa. I spent the next few days eating those stories like sweets.

That was July 2001 and I’d been at the proudWORDS festival, doing workshops and readings, being whizzed around the city and put up in a swanky hotel on the river. Julia met me at the station in a tie-dye tee shirt and a green hat. ‘I’m wearing my Bubble hat!’ (Bubble was one of the best characters in that year’s Big Brother.) We’d never met before, but straight away we were onto how great Primark is, and then all about the new buildings on the river. She pointed out the new bridge and the Baltic Flour Mill, covered with scaffolding. Soon it would be stuffed full of new art.

She was interested in everything and she was indefatigable. She was there at breakfast, to take me to my workshop. She dashed off to photocopy pages from a thousand and one charity shop novels, which the whole group then set about doing cut-ups with. Between us we created a vast surrealist fantasy about Jane Austen on Mars. Then we had a huge pot of tea together and talked about writing and topiary and cancer and Africa. And then there was the performance in the theatre that night: a mammoth night and a proper jamboree in which everyone got up to do their party piece. Everyone got the limelight – that was the thing. And then Julia was up with all the women in her band, all with guitars doing Marlene Dietrich songs. I remember, even then it wasn’t over — it was a night that didn’t want to be over. Before the houselights went up, the café tables went back and it was disco time. Jeremy had driven up from Manchester – he’d only just met Julia, too and the two of them were bopping round to Madonna.

It was a quick trip north — a frantic, fantastic weekend — and all of it was an event. It was like living in one big work of art.

Paul Magrs