When I was twelve years old I made my first attempt at reading Lord of the Rings. After a few too many chapter-long songs and a vague sense of disappointment, I decided to set it down in search of something else that would satisfy my desire to explore any world that I thought might be more interesting than this one.
Eventually I would give Lord of the Rings another chance, reading all three cover to cover several times, but before I was able to appreciate Middle-Earth I found somewhere else, the Discworld. I fell in love almost immediately.
I picked up The Hogfather from my school library because of the fantastic illustration that adorned it and proved to myself that sometimes judging a book by its cover is perfectly acceptable. For the next few years I read nothing but Pratchett. Every trip to the bookstore was brief because I knew exactly where ‘P’ was in the Fantasy section and picking up any of his books that I hadn’t read yet was going to be a safe bet. By the time I was sixteen I knew more about the Discworld’s geography (from the Rim to the Hub and to the other side of the Rim, both turnwise and widdershins), its politics (Vetinari, need I say more?) and its rich history (from the birth of some of its oldest gods to the invention of the printing press, moving pictures and the gonne) than I did of Earth’s.
Pratchett taught me how to read and after a while I started loving and appreciating the works of other authors. Tolkien was next, then Douglas Adams and the rest is a blur. But I could always jump back into the Discworld (and this is important) at any point along its complex chronology that I wanted.
I won’t claim to have read all of his books, some of them have eluded me (In fact, I’ve yet to read anything that takes place outside the Discworld) and as I’ve gotten older my desire to explore other worlds has become a much greater distraction, but that’s okay. It will always be there.
Since I started reading whatever it was that got me hooked on words (my mum insists that it was Spot the Dog when I was two years old) I’ve known that it was okay to get lost in these incredible worlds that people have created and although I’d been writing my own short stories long before I’d discovered him, Terry Pratchett taught me that its okay to get lost in your own world sometimes. Of all the books I’ve read, set on our world or on others, I’ve never come across another writer who was so obviously completely and utterly in love with the world and characters that they had created. The Discworld didn’t just exist and stagnate. It breathed. It lived and it grew. Every book that he wrote added something to the world without diminishing anything else. The magic that he wrote about evolved alongside the characters, even its technology advanced and changed the mechanics of the next book in the series. This is just one of the many reasons that he was such a brilliant writer.
When I heard the news that he had died I was shocked, even though I knew he had been battling Alzheimer’s disease for so long. I was so confused that I had to stop what I was doing and run outside for a cigarette to calm my nerves and attempt to gather myself. This was unfortunate as I was currently serving customers in the café I work in. But never mind. They’ll live, he won’t.
As I was reading about his death I read a quote from my favourite Pratchett book, one of the greatest pieces of fiction I have ever read, Reaper Man. I felt the tears come on almost immediately:
“No one is finally dead until the ripples they cause in the world die away, until the clock wound up winds down, until the wine she made has finished its ferment, until the crop they planted is harvested. The span of someone’s life is only the core of their actual existence.”
I sat in our office while I thought about what the words meant (thank you, Mick, for reminding me of them) and I realised that although that world won’t grow anymore, I’ll still have it to run back to when this one gets too difficult.
All I wanted to do in that moment was read that book. Unfortunately, and obviously, I didn’t have it with me to bring me comfort. I started to write instead. I’ve always written for myself, but always with the hope that someone else might appreciate it someday. I think that’s fine. I think most works of fiction are probably written that way, even the great ones. But these are the first words I will ever show anyone with absolutely no fear of criticism, because they’ve already served their purpose for me. Even if I keep writing them, they’ll keep doing just that; filling a tiny part of the hole that he has left in my life.