Sunday, 15 March 2015

Our Terry... RIP

This is a tough one. Maybe the toughest yet - and that includes anything I wrote after my diagnosis.

I finished work here at home on Thursday afternoon, happy that I had achieved all I'd set out to do, and content in the knowledge that even if I can't run (or dance) any more, at least the brain is still working well enough in other ways. I play music while I work at home, but never bother myself with the news channels or social media sites - those are things I open browser sessions for whenever I'm done with the work of the day.

And so it was on Thursday, but far from more news about the woes of the England cricket team or increasingly desperate politicians, my screen filled with the most horrific news. Sir Terry Pratchett, OBE, had died at the age of just 66,

Twitter feeds confirmed it in the most moving, simple and Pratchett-esque way:

Sir Terry - Terry - had been my authorial hero since my twenties when, in 1986 I stumbled across a copy of The Light Fantastic - before almost sprinting back to the bookstore to pick up a copy of The Colour of Magic when I realised that I had started reading a 'sequel'. Little did I realise that the sequel was merely the first of almost forty further Discworld novels. Not one has disappointed me, some have made me laugh aloud in the most inappropriate of places (although you are always forgiven when people see what you're chuckling about).

But on Thursday I was facing the most chilling news imaginable. As Terry himself said in an early Discworld installment, Sourcery, "Death isn't cruel, merely terribly, terribly good at his job." - but I really hadn't wanted that proved to me.

I had, thanks to Terry, grown used to the character of Death, an 'anthropomorphic personification' who spoke in capital letters and who even 'starred' in a couple of the novels, appearing in all but one recent one. He was a character who amused and infuriated, but who never angered - until Thursday that is. Death even appeared in Terry's collaborative work, Good Omens, with Neil Gaiman when the character states that the passing of life is natural and normal - "DON'T THINK OF IT AS DYING," said Death, "JUST THINK OF IT AS LEAVING EARLY TO  AVOID THE RUSH."

Like all Discworld afficionados, I grew to adore many of his quirky, complex, fully-defined characters. In the early days there was Death, of course, Rincewind the hapless 'wizzard' and his luggage on its little legs. Then came the witches - the quietly powerful Esme Weatherwax, the fun-loving family witch, Nanny Ogg and her remarkable cat, Greebo, and... Magrat (spelling checked). There was the cast of the Unseen University's wizards, all of whom were born to rune, and Gaspode the Wonder Dog (and his friend Laddie). There were the beggars, many of whom you sincerely hoped would stay vagrant and pass you by - Coffin Henry, most certainly, Bugg'rit. Oh, and the Guards, of course. Corporal/Captain Carrot a six-foot plus dwarf, Angua who hid more than womanly wiles behind her breast-plate, Nobby Nobbs who was technically (only) human, Fred Colon a career-cop (or more accurately a careering cop). All lead by the indomitable Vimes, a real man.

Oh and then there's the dragons and of course, Lady Sybil. Cohen the barbarian, the Hogfather, Mister Teatime, Guilds full of clowns and assassins - easily confused, and mysterious monks. More recently there was Moist von Lipwig, and then there is Vetinari going back forever. And the trolls - who could forget the trolls, especially if Detritus came knocking?

And so it goes on. On gloriously on.

A wealth of rich, vibrant, often hilarious characters inhabiting a most fabulous world, a Disc perched on the back of four elephants, themselves standing on the back of the Great A'Tuin, a star turtle. And there are turtles all the way down, you know?

Terry was seldom annoyed by anyone or anything, although the lack of regard he received, or rather, failed to receive, from some members of the 'literati' could upset him - "Stories of imagination tend to upset those without one", as he put it. He described fantasy fiction as "An exercise bicycle for the mind. It might not take you anywhere, but it tones up the muscles that can."

His wit was ever apparent in the seemingly endless supply of quotes that have become almost as much a part of the pantheon of the English language as the words of Wilde and even Shakespeare before him. It was Terry, in Mort back in 1987, who first coined the observation that "Scientists have calculated that the chances of something so patently absurd actually existing are millions to one. But magicians have calculated that million-to-one chances crop up nine times out of ten."

He had a highly appropriate quote for such things of course, which he exercised in Hogfather - "Real stupidity beats artificial intelligence every time."

Terry wrote more than forty novels based on (or in) the Discworld - and assisted with countless works associated with his novels such as maps (Mappes), diaries, jigsaw puzzles and even figurines and stamps. But he wrote much more. Aside from the collaboration with Neil Gaiman, he was recently co-authoring the Long Earth series of novels with Stephen Baxter and had even written the ultimate cat bible (The Unadulterated Cat, 1989) - the latter no doubt having been inspired by his observation that "In ancient times cats were worshiped as gods; they have not forgotten this."

He was more than an author, though, taking a more than keen interest in the plight of Orangutans and more recently, those suffering from his own 'embuggerance', Alzheimer's. An early onset version of the disease was diagnosed as affecting him eight years ago and he fought it with a passion.

Just last year he pointed out that "It is possible to live well with dementia and write best-sellers - 'like wot I do'." But for all his light words, the condition affected him greatly - as far back as 2008 he was quoted as saying about the disease: "A cure? I would gnaw a dead mole if there was any science behind it."

A year after the mole he said something which made a lot of people start to think. "If I had been Terry Pratchett the farmer or Terry Pratchett the dentist, nobody would have paid any attention if I had announced I had Alzheimer's. But there is something fascinating about an author losing the power over words."

Terry, though, wasn't 'just' a brilliant author and a humanitarian who cared for more than just humans. He was a loving husband to wife Lynn and father to a real 'chip off the block', his daughter Rhianna, In fact, according to Rhianna "it was like having a full-sized hobbit for a father." Grab a tissue and read her own words about him:

"Dad was like a druid; he taught me how to build watermills in the stream, the names of plants and flowers, and what was edible in nature. It was like growing up in Middle Earth and having a full-sized hobbit for a father."

She recalls when she was very young being woken by him in the middle of the night, wrapped in a blanket and taken outside to see the glow-worms in the hedge. 

(that being with rare thanks to the Telegraph -

But for the vast majority of us, Terry was 'simply' the genius behind some of our most-loved characters and the foundation of so many compelling - and often educational - stories. As he said himself in Going Postal, "... a man is not dead while his name is still spoken", but that doesn't stop me being grudgingly annoyed by the truism behind another of his quotes, this one from Small Gods - "Time is a drug. Too much of it kills you."

I wasn't expecting his demise, no matter that the Alzheimer's made it inevitable at some point. I loved his books and always will - always first(ish) in the queue back in the day when bookshops were the only recourse, always pre-ordering online these days. I've exchanged a thousand quips and quotes with hundreds of other 'TP' fans over the years and that one man is probably responsible for more of my smiles than any other. Than all the others combined, in fact.

An aside which sounds slightly preposterous but is true despite the million-to-one chance (or perhaps because of it). I currently have a loan car while mine is being fixed. It's ancient, even by my standards, built cheaply in '94 and it doesn't have a CD player, but a cassette tape device, something I noticed when I drove it on Wednesday. Knowing that I had to travel in it to the office on Friday, on the Wednesday night I  rooted through the bits and pieces regular readers will know I recently got back from storage in Luxembourg, finally locating a couple of 'books on tape'. I put them in my bag ready for Friday morning. They are Mort and Reaper Man.

I could write so much more about my adoration of Sir Terry, of specific times with specific people or specific places, made memorable by him or his works... but I just can't. This hurts.

I'll leave you with the words of one Nick Mogavero, a member of one of the seemingly countless Facebook sites dedicated to the works of the genius. Cue more tissues.

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