My favorite writer passed away earlier this month.
I am talking, of course, about Sir Terry Pratchett. If, as seems scarcely possible, you are not already acquainted with his works, then I regard you with simultaneous horror (because everyone should have read his books, they are the essential element of any household, before one buys a stove or a mattress) and envy (because you have a whole lot of really outstanding books ahead of you.)
For me, it began in year 7 with Truckers. Our English class took part in a scheme in which every week we got to pick a fresh novel from a selection. For some, it was hell on earth. For me, paradise. The first week, the librarian gave a thumbnail description of all the novels available, and while there were many that sounded awesome, I was drawn to the one about the hundreds of tiny people (nomes) who live in a department store. For them, the store is the whole universe. Then, new nomes come from Outside, and they learn that the store is going to be destroyed. Their only way to escape? They have to steal a truck.
It’s quite, quite brilliant.
I wanted that book with all the want that a twelve year-old is capable of. It burned within me. I was utterly focussed on it. Since I was, like, the third in the queue to pick a book, I was certain it would be mine. It was destiny. The universe had placed me upon the earth to read that book, and who was I to question the will of the universe? It almost killed me when this kid Andrew picked it before me. I was half expecting the universe to smite him for his crime.
To make matters worse, the next week, the second kid picked it before me. When I finally, finally got my hands on that book, I tore through it. I inhaled it. It was funny, and clever, and I loved it. It stood apart from most other books. And then I learned that Pratchett had written sequels, and others, many others, including a bunch in a series called ‘Discworld.’
I was always a voracious reader, but I absolutely devoured the Discworld novels. I didn’t always get all the jokes (at twelve years old, the idea of death as a skeleton with a scythe had somehow not entered my consciousness), but that only made it all the sweeter when I finally did get them. Reading those novels was tremendously exciting – not just because the stories were exciting, but because of the writing. The writing was cool, and clever, and hilarious. They were the first books I’d met that prompted me to go to my parents to read parts out loud to them. I read them, then I re-read them. When a new one came out, I implored my parents for it.
When I found out that Terry Pratchett was actually coming to my local bookshop, I approached him with (highly uncharacteristic) awed silence. I could just about whisper my name before putting down a stack of books for him to sign. He concealed his horror well and signed them all.
In my last year of high school, I played Mort in a production based on his novel.
When I went to university, I took several of his books with me. They were my favoured gifts for people (although the American covers always seemed profoundly wrong to me. Josh Kirby’s work was burned into my mind as the Discworld art).
When Terry Pratchett announced that he had early onset Alzheimer’s disease, it seemed incredibly unjust. This was a man whose intellect and wit burned on the page and ignited in my imagination. He was the kind of writer I wanted to be.
When The Rook was going to be published, the publishers asked me if there were any authors to whom they should send the manuscript, to ask for a blurb or a comment. Of course, Terry Pratchett was at the top of my list. His books meant so much to me, and had inspired me. Word came back that it wouldn’t be possible – his illness and his schedule meant that he couldn’t commit to reading new works. I was disappointed, but it made sense. His work was always boiling with ideas, I could imagine that every spare moment he had would be dedicated to getting new work down on paper. And I still devoured every new book of his that came out.
And now he’s gone. Even though we knew it was coming, it’s been terrifically sad. I’m so grateful that he existed. I’m so grateful that his books exist. His work made such a difference in my life, in the way I look at the world, and the way I think about things.
Thanks a lot, Sir.