I never believed in grieving for celebrities. How could you miss someone who’d never truly been present in your life? The belief was, as all beliefs are, inherently flawed.
Presence is more than a physical proximity. It’s more, even, than a direct and personal communication. Presence occurs when your life is influenced, for better or worse, by another being.
But I never truly understood this until the passing of Sir Terry Pratchett.
As I’ve described many times through this blog, I was a strange child. I knew I was strange. I saw the world in weird and colourful ways; I had a habit of looking at situations sideways and that confused my peers. In social constructs where clinging to ‘sameness’ was the method of survival, this left me weak. I was vulnerable for my crime of too much imagination, for my love of learning and stories and for pondering what my beloved cats got up to while I was not around.
I established books as my ‘safe place’ early in life. A book was a whole world you could fall into, cast off the noise of reality and be consumed by a life of adventure and magic. Like Bastian Balthazar Bux in The NeverEnding Story, I escaped to places where I could imagine myself as strong, capable, even heroic. There was a freedom I had between pages that I didn’t have in my primary school life. Stories were a coping mechanism, a joy, a proof that maybe… just maybe there really was a cupboard out there that would turn my toys to life (The Indian in the Cupboard was another key favourite.
Even as indoctrinated in the ordinary magic of books as I was, nothing quite prepared me for my first plunge into Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series.
It happened by accident.
Mum, being the conscientious parent she was, took us to the library as often as possible. I would borrow huge stacks of books to devour, and then return late. We had a strict lights-off time at our house, and after I’d been caught pretending to use the toilet so I would have light to read, I sought a new solution to the ever-increasing problem of so many stories, so little time to read.
I went through dozens before I picked up a brightly coloured cassette cover with the title Interesting Times. I’d never heard of the author. It was read by Tony Robinson, though, who I knew as Baldrick from Blackadder and the Sheriff of Rottingham in Maid Marian and her Merry Men. I liked his voice, so I borrowed it.
I was eleven years old, I had not long changed schools, and I was truly beginning to feel that I was made in the wrong shape for this world. I was weird. Two schools confirmed it. But just four cassettes later (alas, I began with an abridged reading!) I was on a path to change the shape of the world around me.
Delivered in Tony Robinson’s uniquely expressive voice came ideas so marvellously twisted, yet so logical, I might have thought the same if given time. Here was the world as viewed by someone who also saw magic in the mundane, who also pondered the most bizarre ‘what ifs’. Most importantly:
Here was someone who had committed their weird view to paper, and who was not ashamed of it.
This was the first spark of belief that weird could be wonderful. I wasn’t the wrong shape for this world–the world was any damned shape you like, you only had to look to see it. If the people around me were only able to cling to what was safe and acceptable, this didn’t have to be my problem.
It took many more years to be solid in that belief, but this was a beginning. This was proof. It wasn’t the same magic of the fantasy novels I consumed by the dozen, it was something more. I would always be enchanted by magical realms far removed from our own, but I didn’t connect with the authors of those in the way I did with Terry Pratchett.
Pratchett offered me the world I saw. A more colourful and curious version of reality, with characters so fantastical and yet so human (or inhuman as the case often was) that if I squinted through my eyelashes they might almost exist on this plane beside me. He took supermarket trolleys, sports, music, libraries, law enforcement and all manner of other ‘normal’, ‘boring’ things and gave them a twist of magic.
I was not the only person to have looked at an abandoned supermarket trolley, and wonder: how do they all get so far from their stores, and why?
I was not the only person to have thought up a bizarre and entirely unrealistic (yet somehow completely logical) answer.
Through his writing I began to realise that there must be others out there too. Yet more people who cherished the quirky and strange, and the way that the most unreal scenarios could explain us in a very real way. I picked up Pyramids, Guards! Guards!, and Wyrd Sisters. Most books held me spellbound, testing the limits of my sideways thinking, they were more than stories. Some were mental exercises in themselves as his intricate plots twisted together in the most unexpected ways to form a conclusion.
And I wrote. I mimicked his style. In high school I began to truly find others who valued my quirks, and for them I wrote a series of stories in The Bare-footed Princesses series. Mostly they were terrible, full of in-jokes and my attempts to recreate the balance of warped reality, humor and drama that I found in Pratchett’s work. For all the hack-job writing these stories contained at the time, my friends enjoyed them.
My weirdness was appreciated.
His death hit me hard. I woke that morning, readied myself to leave the house–and checked Facebook. After digesting the news, I slowly dressed myself back in my pyjamas, crawled into bed, and resumed sleeping. I suppose part of me hoped that if I started the day again, it wouldn’t be true.
But it was. One of the fundamental building blocks from my childhood and teenage years was gone.
It’s likely I would have found other paths to accepting myself, these things are rarely denied for a lifetime. In this trouser leg, in this timeline, I developed faith in these key parts of myself through the work of Terry Pratchett.
I have most of the books now, and some (one or two) are unread. I may leave them unread for years to come. I rather like the idea that there’s still more pages out there of his that I haven’t consumed. A little bit left for later—whenever later comes.
Grief for an artist is strange, though. I am sad that we’ll never know what other strange and magical ideas he may have had. Perhaps we don’t grieve so much the person, but the impossibility of continued fresh material. What already is, will remain.
What already is, sits in libraries and in book shops. It waits. Not dead, not sleeping. Not even dormant. Each word is still as miraculous as it was the day I first read them, and will be to every reader who sees the world different and feels they are alone for it.
He may be gone, but the words, and his weird, live on.