There is no easy way to introduce this post. Ten days after it was announced that Sir Terry Pratchett had passed away, book lovers around the world are still reeling from the news, and the Middle Grade Strikes back team are no exception. Suffice to say, a number of our team wanted to voice their thoughts about Sir Terry and his passing.
I owe a massive debt of gratitude to Terry Pratchett. To say he influenced my writing would be an understatement the size of Lancre: I wouldn't be half as funny were it not for the sharp, finely observed wit of his books showing me how to do it. He taught me about characters too - every single one lives through the pages of his books and I had no trouble imagining them going about their business once I'd stopped reading about them. And he exemplified snappy laugh-out-loud dialogue, the kind I can only aspire to write.
Choosing my favourite character is a struggle because they are all so good. It's probably a toss-up between Granny Weatherwax (because she is amazing) and Moist von Lipwig (because he is flawed). But then there's Sam Vimes and CMOT Dibbler and Nobby Nobbs and Nanny Ogg and Tiffany Aching and...I could go on and on and on. That's why Terry Pratchett was such a brilliant writer - his greatest strength was in his characters. So I could randomly open any one of his books and find a perfect moment on any page, because his work is full of exquisitely crafted gems. Thanks to him, I cannot hear the word 'banana' without adding a silent 'nananananana'. And I cannot stand in a grand old library without straining to hear a quiet 'Oook.'
What a gift he gave us. What a legacy for future readers. What an inspiration. I hope he's raising a strawberry daiquiri with Death somewhere.
One of my strongest childhood memories is of walking into the adult section of Oxford City Library for the first time. I must have been about eight, because everything was incredibly tall – the bookshelves and desks and people all stretched up around me like cliffs. I was, frankly, terrified. But I was on a mission, and I refused to give up – and a few minutes later, I had Men at Arms in my hands.
I was almost certainly too young to read it, and I understood about one word in three, but it meant more to me than almost any other book, before or since. The characters felt alive – rude, and funny, and unpredictable, just the way people were in real life – and they did things that I was fascinated by. The Discworld was a completely made-up world that felt real (I’ve spent my whole life since that day gradually discovering just how real), and from that day on it’s affected my way of thinking at every level.
Don’t laugh, but for years of my childhood I said bugger under the impression it was a mild swear to do with insects. Small Gods taught me about religion, the Guards series taught me about justice and the Witches showed me what determined women could do. Bloody Stupid Johnson’s inventions, pork futures, millennium hand and shrimp, one, two, many, lots and I aten’t dead have all gone into the joke-generating part of my mind and made it much weirder, and I spent many lonely teenage years hoping that Captain Carrot would turn up at my door and ask to be my boyfriend.
My books might not seem much like Terry Pratchett’s, but Daisy and Hazel could never have existed without him. He was one of the brightest lights in my life, an author I truly looked up to. I owe him so much, as a reader and as a writer, and his death makes me feel that I have lost not just one friend, but many.
Mort is one of my favourite books of all time. There is something so simple and charming about all of the Discworld novels, however I particularly love the magical tale of Mort. It's comforting to think of Death as a kindly old man, who has mellowed with age to such an extent that he likes cats, he has an adopted family and he takes on an apprentice. In contrast, Mort's transformation from an awkward farm boy to a sword wielding grim reaper creates a wonderful story that has adventure, humour, magic, courage, romance and heart. It amazes me that this brilliant novel has not been made into a major film!
My first encounter with Terry Pratchett was when a friend lent me his copy of Only You Can Save Mankind. A couple of months later he reported me to my dad for holding the book hostage. It wasn’t that I hadn’t got round to reading it yet. Indeed, I was probably halfway reading it for the fourth or fifth time by that stage (not including occasions when I just dipped in and reread my favourite passages). I have my own copy now, but over 20 years later, it’s falling to bits, to be honest. I know Discworld is what Terry Pratchett will be remembered for by most people, but I will always remember him for the Johnny Maxwell books. They were the first books I thought were aimed at kids my age that had swearing in them. Does that make them YA, then? Perhaps the reason he’s enjoyed by people of all ages is because even when he wrote more specifically for older readers, he never lost the spirit of MG – that reading should, first and foremost, be a pleasurable experience.
I read The Colour of Magic in my late teens, shortly after it first came out and I loved it. I recognised the Adams-esque touches, as Terry did for fantasy what Douglas did for sci-fi, namely giving it a swift kick in the goolies and a gentle tweak of the nose, lest it get too pretentious but the affection he clearly felt for the genre always shone through.
Even though it's been three decades, I still remember Twoflower's demon-powered camera, the hilarious luggage and the inventive hovercraft powered by telekinetic hydrophobes. My favourite moment must be the dice rolling in the background as a monster appears - what could be more apt than a Dungeons & Dragons reference in a book gently parodying a fantasy world? Rest in peace, Sir Terry. Your brilliant wit is sorely missed.
Terry once described writing as: "running down a hill with wings on your back and taking flight." During his life as a writer he soared like an eagle, an albatross, a condor, and the many-coloured shadows his wings have cast will remain pure magic for the reading world's soul.
As a great fan of fantasy, I couldn’t get into Discworld at first, and I just couldn't understand why. Then I met Terry at a convention, told him so, and asked him for a recommendation. He looked at me under The Hat, sighed deeply and crossed his eyes.
“Go for the throat, why don’t you, Lucy?” is what he has written in my precious copy of Carpe Jugulum. He hooked me from about page 10 on, and I now adore his books and will fight to the death anyone who says they aren't brilliant. Even though I’m still not SO keen on Rincewind and that blasted Luggage, I wouldn’t have missed any of them for anything. Terry made me laugh, he made me cry, he made (and still makes) me think how damned clever he was and how I wish I could construct the kind of punes he did without looking like a complete fule. In the immortal phrase of Granny Weatherwax: He aten't dead. No. He's just waiting for the rest of us to catch him up.
Terry Prachett was with me when my mother died in 2010. He helped me get through her sudden and unexpected death. It was meant to have been a quick trip to the hospital, she was finding it hard to breathe. I talked to her on a Thursday, just about the same old same old, kissed her and said I'd see her when I was back from my trip to the US.
I never did.
I remember sitting at the airport, hands constantly twitching on the mobile, waiting for that call. That call which would turn me around and send me straight to her bedside. She hung on until I got back, at least I said goodbye even if she couldn't reply. Death could have taken her while I was gone but he didn't so I like to think Death is a gentleman, exactly as Terry Prachett described.
I picked up a Discworld book at the airport, NIGHT WATCH. It had been a while since I'd read any Prachett, but I needed his humour, his wisdom and his faith in what we think is best in ourselves during those days when my mother's life was in the balance.
My favourite book is, and will always be, WYRD SISTERS for that was the book I gave to my girlfriend who, some years later, became my wife and mother of my children. I've given her plenty of gifts, but that stays in my mind as being the first. So Terry Prachett's been there at the arrival and departure of the most important people in my life.
That seems a big deal to me.
Other than Sir Terry I can think of only a small handful of modern authors whose works have made so many people around the world smile and laugh. That legacy will live on and on, as new generations of young people discover his works for the first time. Rest In Peace, Sir Terry, I am sure that Death will be treating you with as much respect as you treated him.