Saturday, 14 March 2015

Remembering Terry Pratchett

Different man, different hat.

It's customary when a brilliant author dies (by which, I mean someone who has something to say and who makes us think) for the great and the good to trot out stories about them. Terry Pratchett didn't just create a whole world; he created an entire universe, complete with its own physics, along with a giant turtle moving through space.

I never met Terry Pratchett, so my stories, though anecdotal, are tangential.

I remember the joyous excitement among my circle of friends when one of us first encountered The Colour of Magic. Not only was it a work of fantasy fiction, but it was also rumoured to contain esoteric references. This was the mid 1980s, when every self-respecting aspirant-on-the-path had at least one set of tarot cards and harboured hopes of reaching enlightenment to make sense of everything (while hooking up with a mystical woman along the way). When it came to The Colour of Magic our expectations were confounded magically and exceeded when it came to the quality of the writing. TP did his own thing and if you enjoyed it that was fine. If you didn't enjoy it, just move along please and go find something else to read. As a developing genre writer, I'm trying to take that on board at the moment.

I enjoyed the Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic, but I loved Mort. Yes, there was the shadow of Piers Anthony's Xanth series (but that had its own shadows to contend with). It takes real talent to make Death both funny and endearing - and I say that both as a writer and as an attendee of 12 funerals.

Okay, let's get back on track. My first almost TP anecdote concerns a woman I was trying to date - all you really need to know was in the first half of the sentence. There we were, both listening to me spouting mystical theories and generally making an ass of myself (though not  a Golden One). She put down her herb tea and nodded to herself. "You remind me of someone." This is it, I thought - recognition at last. She smiled, not unkindly. "That's it - Rincewind, from The Colour of Magic." For those of you unacquainted with the character, which frankly I find hard to believe, you'll find everything you need to know here:

Hekas, Hekas, as we failed maguses are wont to say.

The second almost TP anecdote is electronic. I once saw a short Terry Pratchett interview in a children's supplement of a weekend newspaper. I want to say it was The Sunday Times, but I can't be certain. Anyway, there I was - reading the cartoons - and there he was, talking about his books. There was also an email address to ask him questions. Well, this was too good an opportunity to miss. I fired off an email, asking him which agents he felt were currently both up and coming, and on the look out for fantasy fiction. To his credit, he - or someone very like him - replied within a day or two, advising me that, as he'd never needed an agent (or, perhaps, not recently) he couldn't tell me. Back then I bristled with indignation. Now, I smile and think 'well played, sir'.

Writers are there to write, not to prop up our ideal of what they ought to be. Nor to be the stepping-stone or conduit for every Tom, Dick or Derek who seeks a leg up without earning their dues (or learning their craft).

As I say, TP walked his own path, confounded expectations and cared not a jot what the critics thought. That's a great legacy for the rest of us scribes to try and live up to.