For as long as I can remember, I have loved to read. From Forrest Wilson’s SuperGran to Colin Dann’s Animals of Farthing Wood. From Narnia to Middle Earth.
I guess I was lucky that I went to a secondary school with a well stocked public library attached and, once a week during English lessons, we’d be taken down to the library and given the chance to select some books. When I was around 15, I picked out a book by some author I’d never heard of with this funny, cartoon-ish cover.
The blurb read thus…
There was an eighth son of an eighth son. He was, quite naturally, a wizard. And there it should have ended. However (for reasons we’d better not go into), he had seven sons. And then he had an eighth son… a wizard squared… a source of magic… a Sourcerer.
I thought it seemed like it might be good, so I checked it out, started reading it during the rest of the lesson when we got back to the class room and had “private reading” time (which I now know was just an excuse for the teacher to have a nice quiet lesson once a week). I carried on reading it that evening at home and I’d finished it by the end of the week.
That book changed my life.
I took it back to the library in my own time and got out another by the same author. Then another. Then another.
I just couldn’t get enough of the books by this man.
His name was Terry Pratchett and over the next 25 years I read pretty much everything he wrote. I marvelled at the skill the man had with the written word. The way his stories were so unpredictable, and yet somehow, at the end, you knew that you should have known that’s how they would turn out. He wrote with wit. His characters dispensed wisdom. And his plots left you thinking about the world in ways you never expected.
Terry Pratchett is the reason I write today. I can pay him no higher tribute than that.
It’s hard to explain to people who have never read one of Sir Terry’s books just what it is about them that is so special and what it is about him that is so special. It doesn’t help that you have to start by explaining that the books feature Wizards, Witches, an anthropomorphic personification of Death, Trolls, Dwarves, Elves, Vampires… You get the idea.
Or that they take place on a flat world that rides through space on the backs of four giant elephants who in turn ride on the back of Great A’Tuin, The World Turtle.
That kind of thing tends to put people off. At first. Then they relent and read one and they realise that none of that matters.
The wizards don’t use magic if they can help it—they are much happier living on the campus of Unseen University and teaching students about magic. And if they can avoid the students, so much the better.
The witches don’t use magic either, not unless they really, really have to. They are far happier using “headology”.
Death? He’s the lens through which we, the readers, view the world. And all the rest? They are just the myriad of races that make up the city of Ankh-Morpork, with all the racial tensions that you find in a city of that size with such a cosmopolitan population.
And this is the true genius of Sir Terry Pratchett—he uses this fantastical setting and these wondrous characters, to shine a harsh, satirical light on our own world and he does it with charm and wit and bag full of gags and unless you are looking for it, you don’t even notice the satire is there. Not until it’s too late and you’ve already digested and been affected by it.
All through my late teens, twenties and thirties, Terry Pratchett and the Discworld shaped my world view and moulded me into the man, and the writer, I am today.
And this is why I was so devastated to hear of his passing this afternoon. It felt as if I had lost a friend, someone who’s been talking to me through his books for twenty-five years. I’m not ashamed to say I shed a few tears as I read the hundreds of tributes to Sir Terry on Twitter. It feels a if a piece of my soul has been ripped out of me—as if somehow I’ll never quite be the same again.
That’s a ridiculous thing to say, I know full well it is, but how else can I describe it?
I have spent a large part of this evening in something of a daze, wondering around the house not quite sure of what I was supposed to be doing. I don’t think I’m the only one. The messages on Twitter are testament to that.
Terry Pratchett was loved by his readers. Not just because of what he wrote, but because he was him. The voice that came through in his books, that was the same voice you encountered when you met him—polite, Gentlemanly, friendly, but ever so slightly angry at the world and ready to poke fun at it with his wickedly dry wit.
I met him just the once, when I got the book pictured here signed. Actually, I had a number of books signed that day.
The queue was out the door of the bookshop and all the way down the high street. It was a miserable day, but all of us in the queue were in good spirits. I got to Sir Terry at his desk with an armful of books, not just the new one here was there promoting (The Last Continent), and timidly asked if he’d mind.
He looked behind me at the queue. Then at me. Then at the queue again. Then smiled and held out his hands for me to hand over the books. He signed them all. I will always remember that day. And I will always be grateful to him for indulging a starry-eyed fanboi meeting his literary hero.
Rest in Peace, Sir Terry. Your words, your world and your characters will live on in the hearts and minds of those of us who know, in our hearts, it’s real.
There are so, so many quotes from Terry himself that I could finish this piece with. But really, for those of us who know and love the Discworld, they know I have to leave the last word to this man… er… ape.