I’ve been meaning to write this for a long time. It was on one of those lists that you make, along with changing the address on your driving licence and washing the curtains. Now you’ve gone and spoiled it, by dying. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the irony, you yourself might have had a little dialogue with the man himself, I won’t even attempt to write that, I wouldn’t presume to possess the stoical wry humour you managed to find in the darkest moments of the human experience. Still, it was a bit rude not to wait for my letter.
You probably had better things to do than read this, to be honest. What with dealing with Pratchett’s posterior cortical atrophy and all, writing yet more fantastic works, generally reading and learning all the amazing stuff you knew (how did you keep it all in your head?) along with hanging out with your mates. And quaffing. So maybe it’s best you didn’t get to read it after all. The thing is, it turns out you had a pretty profound impact on my life. In fact I didn’t really realise how much until I started crying yesterday when I found out you’d died. I’ve heard of people doing that for people they’ve never met, but I always thought it was a bit lame to be honest. Just the thought of all of your wonderful characters, your lightning wit, that fabulous prose. The idea of it just cutting off. Well, it was emotional. I think people underestimate the power of humour.
I wrote my dissertation about you. I’ve always adored books, but by the time I got to the third year of my degree, I have to say I was getting a little tired of the snobbery surrounding jumped-up ideas of ‘literature.’ Don’t get me wrong, there’s a reason great works are considered great works, but I also get frustrated at the idea that something has to be difficult and arduous to read in order to be ‘worthy,’ that unless I need a thesaurus to wade through it, I’m not learning anything. Luckily, I found a lecturer who shared my absolute conviction that, on the sly, you’d been writing a bit of literature yourself. Sneaky. I can see how you disguised it. You set it in an alternate world (fantasy is obviously not the same as Real Books) and made it funny. Dear Gods, it’s hardly surprising not many people noticed. The thing is, as far as I’m concerned, literature is something that changes the way you see the world a little bit, that leaves you staring out of the window for a good five minutes, thinking about why we do what we do, and how the world works. It also means something different to you each time you come back to it, which is something not all books can achieve. Yours do. I started reading you in my teens, I’m still going now, and am frantically buying up as many Pratchett books as possible to treat myself to that fabulous experience again. To be honest, I found the dissertation again the last time I moved house and it was bloody awful, so I’m glad you didn’t read that. Nothing like a twenty-year-old trying to sound like an academic to ruin some decent ideas, but I’m still so proud I did it. Somewhere, in the University of Southampton (in L-space, in fact) there is a little bit of writing that acknowledges the impact that you’ve had on the world. And I’m not the only one.
I think those Discworld books are brilliant, by the way. My first real exposure to feminism came when I read Wyrd Sisters. Nothing like satire to expose the foibles of representation in the world. You wouldn’t stop there though. Just because it was trolls, doesn’t mean your examination of race relations in Ankh-Morpork had any less resonance in Feet of Clay. In asking questions of the tropes we have saturated ourselves with in the world of fairytale, you kept asking us to look again at the things we do here, in Roundworld, and wonder if things aren’t all that different, and shouldn’t need a bit of a rethink. You know, after a bit of quaffing. Did I mention how funny you are? That’s hard. I went to a stand up night the other day for people just starting out. As expected, it was varied. Some were great, some less so. Genuine humour is difficult. You’ve probably made me laugh out loud more than anyone I’ve ever met. That stuff stays with you. When I was training to be a teacher, we learned how the brain makes much stronger associations with things when they provoke a humorous response. Which is why I could never understand why things that are funny are always dismissed as being trivial. The things I remember from your books have stayed with me far longer than any stuffy professor boring me to tears with his ideas about…stuff (see, can’t even think of anything I learned).
Not just those books though. Two of my favourite books in the whole world (and trust me, I read. A lot.) are Good Omens and Nation. They are simply wonderful. The kind of books that made me sit and stare out the window for, well, a whole afternoon actually, just thinking about that wonderful world, the language, the characters, allowing myself to wallow, to savour the beauty of that experience. That doesn’t happen very often. I want to be a writer, Terry. I wonder if I would have done what I did – quit my job, started an MA, chosen an impoverished life where I agonise over sentences, stare out the window more in frustration than enjoyment sometimes, if you hadn’t made me believe in the power of words. Which is even more of a bugger, because now you’re dead I can’t blame you and ask if you wouldn’t mind sending me a few quid to help with the rent. Like I said, sneaky.
If I were you, I’d think of some sort of wise statement to end this letter on, to allow the camera to zoom out in a lovely metaphorical way, leave us all whimsical and smiling. But I can’t. And I worry that no-one else will be able to do it quite like you. Which is a bit crap, really. You’ll understand why I’m finding it hard to end on a positive note. I’ll give it a go.
Instead of sitting around and feeling a bit bloody miserable, maybe we can imagine all those people, literally millions, who have had the great fortune to lose themselves in one of your amazing books. And let’s imagine how they’re all writing letters, just like this, maybe in their head, maybe out loud (although that’s riskier, socially) but they’re doing it, all the same. I think they’d all sign it off in the same way.
#writing #sciencefiction #literature #creativity #article #humour #comment #terrypratchett #fantasy