Perhaps this is a huge cliché, but as with a great many “bookish” people I had a very lonely childhood. I didn’t have many friends, I wasn’t good at school, and I never really seemed to fit in anywhere. I found my solace in books, in the school library, tucked away at home on weekends and reading stories about people doing great things and seeing incredible sights. I would open the pages of a book and be transported away from my very dull existence to somewhere infinitely better. One of my favourite escapes was, of course, the Discworld.
It might not surprise a lot of you to know that the very first Terry Pratchett book I read was Equal Rites. I was thirteen (or thereabouts) and I just randomly picked it up at the library because the cover was interesting. I was already very big into fantasy, so anything that mentioned witches or wizards was a sure-fire way to grab my interest, but once actually into the story it was so much more than that.
Even now I find it difficult to explain how I was pulled into the Discword so completely, and so very, very quickly. It was a fantasy book, of course, there’s no denying it, but at the risk of sounding hard on other authors it was also somehow more. Much more. There was a tone to the writing, a humour that I felt kindred to, as well as a dark prod at the human condition I had never seen before. I never have since, either. I believe it was this unique style that captured my imagination, along with the vibrant characters and spectacular world-building, that made me view writing, particularly the fantasy genre, in a very different light.
Terry Pratchett wrote the things I loved, and still love to this day. He wrote about magic and dragons and dwarves and trolls and far-off kingdoms, but very much as his style of writing was, he also wrote more. He wrote about war and prejudice and murder and that very grey area between what is right and what is wrong. What’s more, he did it all in such a way that you didn’t even realise that what you were reading was a satirical commentary even remotely applicable to our own, very real society.
Terry Pratchett made me realise that where so many people had tried to tell me that the dragons flying about my imagination was somehow a sign of foolishness or juvenile interest that would and should fade over time, I could keep them and still have something worth saying. I wanted so much to make a difference in the world, even then, to make people see the evils around us and perhaps make them question their own responses to it. I still want that, and I strive for it in every little thing I write, and I have Terry Pratchett to thank for teaching me with his own work that you can always be more – your writing can always be more than the labels humanity is quick to slap onto anything that dares show its face.
Like millions of others I was deeply saddened to hear of Terry Pratchett’s passing, and even three years on, I still feel as though I have lost a dear friend. Of course, I’m not half the writer he was, and I suspect I never will be. If Sir Terry was Sam Vimes then I would be Nobby Nobbs by comparison. That said, I learnt a great deal from him, and his books will always line both my shelves and my heart.