Obituary by Maurice Leitch The Guardian, Thursday 23 September 2004
Ian Cochrane, who has died aged 62 from a heart attack, produced a critically acclaimed stream of six unusual, darkly comic novels through the 1970s and early 1980s.
Each title attested to the author’s surreal and mischievous sense of humour, such as Gone In The Head (1975), which was runner-up for the 1974 Guardian Fiction Prize, Jesus On A Stick (1975) and Ladybird In A Loony Bin (1978). His first novel, A Streak Of Madness, was published by Allen Lane when he was 32 and hailed as “the creation of an extraordinarily gifted artist”. Earlier, there were stories in Faber & Faber’s Introductions Four and Penguin Modern Stories.
Born in a two-roomed cottage in a remote, rural part of Mid-Antrim, Ian and his three brothers and a sister, like most others at that period in Ulster, went through some lean and hungry times. However, as he often said, it gave him a taste for writing; it also provided an abundance of source material for his work, most of which is set in that territory of one-street villages, pub back-rooms and country roads after dark where burgeoning sexuality and crazed evangelism come together in a heady mix. No wonder his favourite writers were William Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor.
At 14, he left school and two years later his grandfather - perhaps his closest family tie - died, and he suffered a severe illness which caused him total sensory deprivation. During this time, he learned to read and write in braille, and when his senses were restored he had to learn to walk again.
In 1959 he arrived in London, where for a brief period, because of his poor eyesight, he trained as a piano tuner, followed by jobs including working with drug addicts, cleaning flats, as a lift attendant and at the Ministry of Public Buildings.
Shortly after this, he became a full-time writer. Literary life in London seemed far more intimate, more manageably sociable then, shuttling as we did between the Museum Tavern to meet Tim O’Keefe and Martin Green at the publishers MacGibbon & Kee, then to the George in Mortimer Street to ingest some BBC hospitality.
By this time Ian had become an instantly recognisable figure on the London scene, sporting long flowing woollen scarves and a tiny child-sized seafaring cap, nimble and neat-footed in his flamenco dancer’s shoes.
In 1972 he and Maggie Ogilvy were married, and for a time lived in the tiny Kent village of Goodneston, but the big city seemed to be his natural adult habitat.
After their parting, they remained close friends, while Charlotte Manicom, Maggie’s daughter, became like the one he never had himself. But then everyone who came to know Ian felt the same protective regard for the neat little man in the sailor’s cap who made every celebration and occasion so joyous with his sayings, his songs and recitations, and above all his droll, salty take on life.
From: Ian Cochrane: Obituary Independent
Novelist of dark humour and tragic endings
Saturday, 18 September 2004
On one occasion, in 1987, he was in Oxford Street underground station late at night when he saw a group of eight to ten men beating up two others:
They were punching and kicking one in particular, really laying into him. There were a lot of other people around but everyone else was just letting it happen. They probably would have killed that bloke if I hadn’t stepped in.
The rewards for his public-spirited intervention were severe and lasting injuries, which badly affected his ability to write and caused him to become involved in protracted and largely fruitless proceedings with the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board.
His resilience kept him going despite ill-health and increasing blindness, and he continued to write novels even when a change in the climate of publishing made it increasingly difficult to get anyone to take on anything quirky and original.
Though out of print now, all Cochrane’s novels were well received by the critics and there must be a case for bringing some at least of his work back into the public domain.
· Ian Cochrane, novelist, born November 7 1941; died September 9 2004
Streak of Madness (Allen Lane 1973)
Gone in the Head (Routledge & Kegan Paul 1974)
Jesus on a Stick (Routledge & Kegan Paul 1975)
F for Ferg (Gollancz 1980)
Ladybird in a Loony Bin (1978)
The Slipstream (David & Charles Publishers 1983)