Terry Pratchett

Written many years ago, for a lovely magazine called Byword (click on the word to read the article on their page, and discover amazing essays in it’s new avatar as The Punch Magazine).

For those who have been to Trilogy, you will find Terry Pratchett’s words are in the bones of the place, and in mine too. I cannot tell you how thankful I am for his books, for the strength they gave me when I was losing my Dad and the power his humour has to make you stand up again, to make you rise from your own despair.

I’m always collecting his books, always bookmarking a favourite spot, thinking about Vetinari when I read the news, or about the Feels and Tiffany when I feel helpless.

Well, without further ado, here’s what I wrote eight years ago!

Terry Pratchett: Flight of Fantasy

“There’s this part,” I say, “this part where she has this…”

Less than 18 hours ago, I’d heard that Terry Pratchett had died and after reading my post on Facebook, a member of the library has come in to ask which book she should begin with. I am holding A Hat Full of Sky, the book I love the most, but I can’t find that part in it. That part that was so powerful and taught me what believing in oneself is all about. 

In fact, I can’t find anything, I am clutching at straws, trying to say something to this reader that will make her want to take this book home and fall in love with Pratchett, but all that comes to mind is where I was when I first read the book. The way it had healed a pain I never knew I had been carrying. The cathartic effect of reading an ordinary girl tackle demons, rings of nightmares and seeing how it could be done. And then to feel that rush of confidence, that sense of power that comes with knowing your own old fears are gone for good. And now you can do anything and never feel small again.

Terry Pratchett did that for me, I am proud to say. His words were literary fireworks, he punned like nobody I had ever read and he invented crazy worlds and characters and winked me out of myself. Just reading him was enough to make my thoughts feel more agile. He was able to make you feel like he was drawing you beside him and you were reading (or writing) the book together. His books were more than all clever wordplay and chuckling at stereotypes. There was this overwhelming sense of raw emotion at the heart of every book. There was his deep calm anger against those who were corrupt, an even deeper belief that people could be so much better and so much simpler, and above everything else, there was this reassuring connection with the sky, the land, the trees and your dreams. What is real, what is magic? I guess, each reader, finds something for himself or herself in the Discworld. 

I first met Pratchett in ‘Turntables of the Night’ a short story in an anthology called Hidden Turnings. Suffice to say, I had read nothing like DEATH ever before. Only You Can Save Mankind came next. From then on, I would live inside Discworld on most days, way before Potter and his friends were born.

I read faster than my sister, and both of us were in awe of Terry Pratchett. Back then, there were no online sites to order books from, and the stores in our suburb didn’t know how to spell Pratchett. But we had raddiwalas. I built my collection like this, in no particular order. Book after book, there was so much new material, vampires who taught themselves to like garlic and the sunlight, an enterprising if extremely unhygienic food vendor, a soul-less and overall interesting bad guy Vetinari, and Vimes, the best cop I have ever read. DEATH. Just that right amount of humour and gravitas. The Death of Rats who SQUEAKED. How did he do that? How did he think up all this? 

And then it happened. In the middle of Nation, I snapped the book shut and told my husband, there’s something wrong with him, why isn’t he funny anymore, something is missing. A week later, I heard about the Alzheimer’s and I felt horrible. I picked up Nation again, and read it through. It was there, that red hot heart I’ve come to find in every book. The place where the hero or heroine stands his/her ground and the ground floods their every cell with knowledge. Knowledge of who they are and what they have to do. 

Although I worried it would be harder and harder to find his razor-sharp wit in the books that would come later, I knew I would not let anything stop me from reading them. In fact, I felt outraged, how could he, the wittiest writer I have ever read, how could he be afflicted by this? It wasn’t fair at all. I needed him. His books, especially those with Granny Weatherwax in them felt like medicine. I felt alone already.  

When you read Terry Pratchett for the first time, I cannot guarantee you will like him. He is all over the place, one reader said (I tried to hide my disappointment). Don’t judge me, one young girl said, I know you love him, but I didn’t get him. 

I guess he is a bit overwhelming at first, the riotous Josh Kirby covers are just the start of it, his stories are a bewildering jumble of characters and motives, with sly references to all kinds of everyday things we don’t expect to come across, like banks, post offices, newspapers, Hollywood, Santa Claus, organised crime, all slathered with so much of Discworld’s irreverent humour that it’s hard to not feel swamped.   

When my husband and I first knew we would be able to set up our own library, my first thoughts were, maybe I finally have something to write to Terry Pratchett about. I’ll take a picture of our Discworld collection, call him here, or do a Skype session with him even! Frame his reply when it came! I was damn sure there would be one, and have a regular Terry Pratchett Book Club and send him updates. I wish I had written to him. 

More than a month now since he died, and it is still very hard to put into words the heartbreak and anguish I feel on losing a friend I never met. He was quite simply the sharpest writer I have ever read. And what he did for my self-esteem and confidence no one else could. 

I started the Terry Pratchett Book Club last month, but I still feel quite alone.  

P.S. The Terry Pratchett Book Club is on a break.

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