Lee Halpin: 1986-2013
He was, as always, working on a project. Lee Halpin, 26 years old, asked his Facebook and Twitter friends on March 31st if someone could loan him a sleeping bag. And when you know everyone in Newcastle, and everyone knows and likes you, people respond. Instead of one sleeping bag, within 10 minutes Halpin was offered two.
Halpin, a friend of JesmondLocal, was in the middle of filming a documentary on Newcastle’s homeless when he died on the evening of April 3rd. The sleeping bag was to help him immerse himself in the story he was reporting; if his subjects were sleeping rough, so would he. That project typified his drive and his desire as a journalist to find a story that could change the world and correct an injustice. If there was a way for words, pictures or video to make a change and do some good, Halpin would be first in line reporting it.
Antsy fingers and a desire to help others
He was a mainstay in the region’s media and cultural scene, making friends wherever he went. With Kerry Kitchin, Halpin helped establish and grow Novel Magazine, an outlet for north east creatives that brought some of the vibrant independent press so typical of large cities such as London to Newcastle. It was born out of antsy fingers and a desire to help others.
“So many people on my [Creative Writing MA] course were producing writing of a brilliant standard and yet it remained stuck on their hard drives or tucked away in desk drawers,” he told the Newcastle Centre for the Literary Arts in 2011. “My hope is that people use this experience to go on and establish themselves a career.”
Running a magazine is no easy job, even with all the time in the world. Halpin managed to juggle it with a busy social life, a job at Northumbria University Student Union, and a weekly radio show at Radio Tyneside. Even then he managed to find extra time in the day to help out JesmondLocal as it produced Turnaround, its 48-hour magazine, at BALTIC in November 2011. But that was Halpin: always busy, always on a project, always there to help, always able to meet.
“Fictional worlds of tranquillity”
It had been that way since he was eight years old. In their childhood bedrooms, he and a friend created “fictional worlds of tranquillity”, an escape from the hectic life around them. And from that day on he kept writing, and didn’t stop: “if you don’t have the passion to find those extra hours, in the evening, or at the weekend, or at silly o’clock in the morning to churn out your writing,” he once said, “then I think you need to assess how serious you really are about being a writer.”
The writing helped him, too. In the editor’s foreword to the Autumn 2012 issue of Novel, Halpin admitted that reading and writing “has taught me much about myself and my own vanity. It has even led me to make significant changes.” For some writing is a means to an end; a way to make money. Halpin took it as a way to improve oneself, and the lives of those around him.
“A gentleman and a creative visionary”
“A gentleman and a creative visionary, when Lee wasn’t on Newcastle’s social circuit, or buried in his Moleskine, you could generally find him procrastinating on Facebook – a wordy wonderland when he was online,” says Dan Howarth, formerly of JesmondLocal. He was, Howarth explains, “a callipygian raconteur with a penchant for the sesquipedalian. The standard of Lee’s lexicon was rivalled only by his triceps – both of which I personally strive to emulate.”
Halpin’s drive, determination and creative energy played a big part in the success of JesmondLocal’s Turnaround, says Howarth. He was, to borrow a phrase from Hunter S. Thompson, “one of God’s own prototypes; too weird to live, too rare to die.”
Empathy and heart
Earlier this week, Halpin sat down in front of a camera. It was the night before embarking on his homelessness project. His aims were clear: he wanted to “immerse myself in that lifestyle as deeply as I can. I hope that you perceive this to be a fearless approach to a story. It certainly feels brave from where I’m sat right now.”
He looked off camera and paused for a moment before summing up. “That’s the impression I want to leave you with about my willingness to get to the heart of a story.”
As evidenced by his written work, and the people and causes he chose to highlight, Halpin knew the power of short sentences to make a big difference. We hope these few words of ours help his friends and family at this difficult time.
Lee Halpin: October 1st 1986 – April 3rd 2013