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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Vale Jan Finder The Wombat!

Yet again fandom has lost a wonderful member, this time Jan Howard Finder, known in fannish circles as the Wombat, because he loved them - he was raising money for, and encouraging awareness of the plight of, the  endangered Northern Hairy-Nosed Wombat. He loved Australia, actually, and what he really enjoyed was to tell Aussies things they didn't know about their own country. He read Australian newspapers on line and kept up with our local fiction. In fact, once when Shane Moloney's new crime novel was being launched here in Melbourne at Trades Hall, I only found out about it because Jan emailed me!

I first met Jan via email, a little before Aussiecon 3, back in 1999. He wanted to talk to someone who knew about Australian children's SF, because he was running a course in it in the US. I made up a list for him and that was the start of a great friendship, even though it was mostly on line and by phone. When he was coming to Aussiecon, he offered me a bed in his hotel room, as his room mate had ducked out on him. I don't normally stay at a hotel when the convention is in my own city, because even if you stay late, it's still cheaper to take a taxi home than to stay at the hotel; it was a habit I developed back when I was still paying a mortgage and every cent counted.

But I was running the children's program and I really had to be there early to set up for the kids, who arrived by nine a.m. And he was offering a very good deal. So I said yes. The two beds in the room were luxuriously wide, a very nice room. I remember I had to get up earlier than he did, so I would slip into the bathroom to dress and gulp down a quick breakfast. These days I eat in the hotel dining room or go down the street to the nearest cafe if the hotel prices are outrageous as they were at my last interstate convention. But I was still not quite at the end of my mortgage back then. I went cheap on myself and trust me, it's no fun to sit on a bathroom floor and hastily eat a bowl of cereal! Later, Jan told me that he'd been awake and thought it very funny.

He came along to the children's program to read "Riddles In The Dark" from The Hobbit to the kids. It was his specialty.

Actually, Tolkien in general was his passion. He had a treasured letter from Tolkien, which he told me about with great pride, and collected such Tolkien mementoes as an article called "The Pleasures Of The Hobbit Table", published long before the Internet made it possible to collect the recipes of dishes mentioned in The Hobbit. He was organising his third Tolkien conference when he died - and had fully intended to be there! He took a trip to New Zealand, a special LOTR pilgrimage with a bunch of  other fans that he helped organise.  After that, he dropped in on Melbourne again and asked Kerry Greenwood, whose work he admired, to show us around the Melbourne CBD, which features in her Corinna Chapman novels. It was a very pleasant afternoon and afterwards we went to Florentino's for lunch, a restaurant which appears under another name in the Chapman novels. It was the last time he came here, but we stayed in touch. He had always hoped she might come to a convention in the US, but it was not to be.

One of his other passions was the writing of Arthur Upfield, Austalian author of the Boney mystery novels, which I believe are available outside Australa, but not here. He actually managed to find and re-print an Upfield novel - not Boney - and sent me a copy.

It's amazing how much he got done in the last years of his life. He knew the cancer would get him some time, but he was blowed if it was going to get him before he had done a lot more!

Even though I knew he was dying, it was still a shock, this morning, to get the email from his friend Lin, who'd been with him right to the end.

But I'm going to call some folk who knew him and have an impromptu wake. Or maybe an afternoon tea, hobbit-style, in his honour. He'd like that.

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