Goodnight and God Bless.

A story broke, today, about a new cure for alzheimer’s. It seems the damage can be reversed using ultrasound. It makes the loss Sir Terry Pratchett yesterday, to the same disease, all the more poignant. Yet I suspect he, of all people, would have appreciated the tragic irony in it.

Terry Pratchett is probably the reason I write. His books – and the outlook in his books – have been a huge influence on me, personally, because he puts the moderate, intelligent viewpoint – especially in his early works – with so much subtle sympathy. To me, the attitude and political viewpoint of his books sums up everything that is good about that moderate, live-and-let-live British view of the world. And if you’re foreign reading this and you want to know what pukka British is well, one aspect is that.

I bought my first Pratchett book when I was about 19 and at university. I think he’d written four disc world books at that point. Even then, I wrote a fair bit of stuff, myself, all of it funny fantasy. I’d never seen a funny fantasy book in a shop and I couldn’t see myself persuading anyone to buy it. In fact, I had resigned myself to writing reams of words which no-one would ever see.

And then I read The Colour of Magic.

And it was a revelation. Because it was exactly what I was trying to do, except it was done properly, down to the last detail.

I remember hoovering it up and just thinking, “I want to write like this.” Except that it’s really, really hard to write like Sir Terry.

Within a couple of months, I’d decided that he was probably going to write all my books for me and I’d never write like that anyway. I put my efforts at novel writing aside and started writing  stand up. But I continued to love the books and admire the man. I loved reading the books as they came out, seeing his style grow and evolve. He had the common touch, too. Remember the book about vampires? I can’t remember which one it is but it’s early – in the first 10. The vampires are complaining that there’s nothing to eat and not even a tampax for a nice cup of tea. I laughed like a drain at that because it’s the kind of joke I’d have with myself but deem to tasteless for the ‘normals’. And he’s put it in a book. I liked that he pricked the hide of the pompous and poked fun at the self important.

It made me feel an affinity with him as someone who, perhaps, might not quite fit. Here was a mind like my own a person like me. Doing well. And that’s the thing about Sir Terry, almost anyone who read and loved his books felt like that about him. He had this way of touching on the unmentioned humour of … well … pretty much everything and for pretty much anyone in a way that made you feel as if he would be a complete gas to go to the pub with.

The late, great, Sir Terry Pratchett

The one time I met him was at a book signing, and he was every bit as lovely as you’d expect, from reading the books. He must have been there about four hours and signed literally hundreds of books. I got there early and queued up the street for that brief few second meeting. He was affable, friendly and chatty. He kept the queue moving without making anyone feel rushed. It was impressive.

18 months or so after meeting the great man in the flesh, I was invited to apply for a job which I then managed to actually not get. I thought someone up there was trying to tell me something: ie that Real Life and Real Work are for the Normals and not for me. So I started writing funny novels again. With a vengeance. Because even if Terry Pratchett had written them all for me, no two people will write the same book right?

Trouble was, I was churning out pages and pages of shockingly piss poor writing that I sincerely wished someone else had written. And I didn’t know how to make it right.

And then a friend found Sir Terry’s e-mail address and I sent him an e-mail. Naturally, writing to the god, whose work I just loved, and I sent a joke, ‘are you the real Terry or a fake terry like terrylene?’ I asked him. And I got a reply saying. ‘I’m the real Terry’ so I sent him another one, which basically said, ‘bloody hell! can I ask you some questions?’ and he sent one back along the lines of ‘now look, it’s all very well but questions only take a minute to ask and a long time to answer, so you can ask me three things.’

So I asked him the first question: if he had to work hard to sell his book or ‘did you just send it in to the first publisher you could think of and they wrote back and said yes please?’ his answer, ‘That’s pretty much the size of it.’

There is no doubt that – after a pause to marvel how anyone could be that good at something  – I asked him a second question. But since a computer crash has long since dispensed with my transcript of the correspondence I can’t remember what I asked or what he said. Clearly I wasted the opportunity but at least, true to M T list making form, it means there is NO THING TWO. Moving on.

The third question I asked was if he had any general advice for myself and a writer friend who were both struggling to make our stuff work. At the time I was doing a creative writing course. The teacher wrote literary fiction and she thought my writing was ‘just stupid’. But Sir Terry, bless him, he bothered to write back. And he this is what he told me.

‘If you want to write, and write well, you have to practise. Write. Write every day…’ he said.

And I can’t remember the exact working of the rest of it – which seems strangely apposite and is entirely typical –  but the gist of it is this.

Write. Write as much as you can. And when you can’t think of anything to write, write about how irritated you are that you can’t think of a bloody thing to write about. Write something. Anything and do whatever it takes to spend some time, every day doing it. Practise and you will gain such an  instinctive grasp of words that expressing your thoughts is effortless, and more to the point, accurate. And when you learn that… that’s when you will learn how to say the difficult things and your words will have power.

That doesn’t read very well because the hard disk crash ate the words Sir Terry wrote, which I no longer remember and my words lack the power of his – although I’m working on that – but the essence is burned into my soul*.

His advice came at a time when I was on the brink of giving up, on writing on work on everything. When I’d resigned myself to a dead end life and a succession of dead end jobs working for a university that paid most of its workers an annual salary equating to less than the average town rent. When, I had been told I was worthless for so long by so many people that, despite the best efforts of those who thought different, I’d begun to believe it. It was tough advice – he didn’t pull any punches – but it made me feel that perhaps there was something I could do, possibly even do well, if I tried really, really hard. And I set out to do it. There are a lot of other factors which turned my life around and switched on my self confidence, but the small ember of resolve I felt after that e-mail was part of the small beginnings.

So thank you, Sir Terry, for making the world lighter and better and wiser for all of us, thank you for 70 books, and thank you for the advice. The world is a quieter, duller place for your passing.

 

* that’s a little melodramatic isn’t it? Never mind.#

# this is a post about Terry Pratchett, people. Footnotes are obligatory.

Since Sir Terry was one of the people who advocated leaving your comfort zone regularly, I scared myself in his honour today by eating two chocolate toffees I found in my drawers (obviously not the drawers I’m wearing but the ones in my desk) which are best before 2008. I am also still wearing my comic relief drawn on face, which should do.

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32 Comments

Filed under General Wittering

32 responses to “Goodnight and God Bless.

  1. What a marvelous, powerful, bittersweet post, my friend MT.
    And what great advice he gave you.

    I’m glad to hear about a possible cure.
    I’m glad Sir Terry wrote.
    And I’m glad you do.

  2. Kev

    Great homage, MT. 🙂

  3. What a fantastic, moving, funny and glorious post MT. You must feel so blessed to have actually met him and conversed with him…I had a similar experience with Lynda La Plante who gave me my first hand in writing by being gracious enough to answer all my questions too. Speaks volumes about the decency of them as individuals, but for Sir Terry, he had a spirit that just shone through in everything he did and said. Thank you so so much for sharing this with us sweetie, I’m so pleased his writing had such a profound influence on you. I hope wherever he is, he’s giving Death hell! 😦 xxx

  4. Yeap, I wrote a letter to her when I was about 15 and sent her a rather detailed and childish questionnaire asking all about her writing process. Not only did she reply but she filled in the whole questionnaire! A busy big lady like that! A real class act and as an aspiring writer at the time, she was such a huge influence on me wanting to be a full time writer myself. Terry Pratchett sounds like a real gem too, such a sad sad loss. 😦

  5. Thank you for this post. I wanted to write something but I knew I could never do justice to what Terry Pratchett and his unique sense of humour have done for me over the years. Between Granny Weatherwax and Agnes Nitt and Tiffany Aching I felt I’d finally found a bunch of women I could actually relate to. He was awesome and I hope he and Death are playing Cripple Mr Onion.

    • Which, of course, they will be. Not chess. What was I thinking of!? I love Granny Weatherwax and Tiffany aching too… And Agnes and Moist Limpwick and Commander Vimes… Pretty much everyone then. 🙂 I hope he died before he got to the point where he wanted to be euthanised.

  6. Viv

    I met him before the mega fame, and he gave me some fad advice about agents. He will be missed.

  7. Utterly brilliant. Very good blog!

  8. Reblogged this on Will Once and commented:
    I can’t say it better than this, so I am not going to try. Enjoy

  9. Lovely story as well as an apt reflection on a wonderful writer. Loved that he answered your three questions.

  10. That was a lovely post about Sir Terry Pratchett, Mary, with your own contact with him. I did laugh about the tampax! It reminded me of when I was young, my boyfriend, (later, husband to be)gave me a camera called a Taron. He had a Pentax. I took my camera to the shop to be cleaned and fixed, and asked for my Tampax back! Realizing my mistake I blushed profusely and asked for the Taron. Tampax were new to me in those days!!

  11. DB9

    Brilliant post Mary, touching, amusing and insightful. But I guess you know that! 🙂

  12. Glad to find out that he was not only a geni-us, but also a geni-e! I still think that DEATH was one of the greatest characters ever written. So sorry to hear about his passing, he was a real class act; I’m sure DEATH would’ve done the honours himself, and Sir Terry would’ve made a few very witty remarks.

    Loved your post, too – what a great story of inspiration. Cheers, M T!

    • It’s a testament to how great a writer he was that we’re all talking about how his characters would react to it all. I’m sure the death of rats was there too, keeping a wary eye on Sir Terry’s cat.

  13. I have enjoyed reading this post very much. Cynthia Reyes’ post today has made me want to find out more about you and I think my younger daughter may enjoy your four-part trilogy. My eldest daughter wants to write and is probably at the giving-up stage you write about in this post. I must point her in your direction.

    • She will get there. It took me about 13 years to write my first book. Tell her not to be disheartened. If she keeps writing and keeps going it will happen in the end. And when she writes something she loves, that she knows is good, she won’t need others to read it and tell her it’s good. She’ll know. Trust me on this.ive been through it too. It’s the apogee of all that is frustrating. 🙂

      Cheers

      MTM

      • Thank-you very much, MTM. She’s a fighter really but lack of funds and no decent job are getting her down.

      • I sympathise. I went to university but came out into a massive recession. It was 2 years before I got a job that wasn’t casual work. It was 8 years before I got an executive job. It’s really hard to adjust your expectations. All of us felt we were washed up before we even began. Tell her to hang in. It does get better, and get easier and it will work out.

      • Thank-you, I will tell her.

  14. Wants to write! Rubbish! She writes and wants to have people read it. She wants to write and doesn’t want to do anything else.

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