A few weekends ago, I went to the Terry Pratchett Hisworld exhibition at the Salisbury Museum. I’ve been trying to write this post for a while since then, but it’s been a difficult one. You might have seen it pop up in your feed before, with nothing written! ]
The Salisbury Museum is, I imagine, usually a rather quiet and dusty place. It’s got a wonderful view of Salisbury Cathedral and on a day it’s not grey and raining, and you’re not already feeling miserable, I’d recommend it for a picnic!
The exhibition has almost everything you could ask for. The gorgeous, original artwork of Paul Kidby, the second illustrator of the Discworld novels were on every wall. The first illustrator was a man called Josh Kirby, who’s rather psychedelic style had put me off when I was younger. Terry Pratchett’s Blue Peter Badge, a sword he had created after being knighted from iron he had collected himself and one of my favourite, his t-shirt which reads: “Tolkien’s dead. JK Rowling said no. Philip Pullman couldn’t make it. Hi, I’m Terry Pratchett.”
His desk has also been moved to the museum. According to his assistant, Rob Wilkins, they took great pains to set it up exactly how he would have used it. Clutter and all. On the screen, there was a Word document automatically typing as though he were at the keyboard. It took all of a minute for me to realise it was typing out the first pages of Night Watch, one of my favourites.
We ended up chatting with a man there whose friend, after winning a bid at an orangutan charity auction had become a character in one of the author’s novels. Pratchett had asked the winner whether he wanted to be written into the novel as a ‘goodie or a baddie?’ and the man had said he wanted to be a baddie but with good intentions. So he had become Ned Coates in Night Watch. Everyone there seemed to have their story about how and when they had met the author and I probably spent half the day eavesdropping.
Also, there were the drives. I’ve had to make my peace with this. If you didn’t see the article, in Pratchett’s will, he ordered his hard drives, with more than ten complete
stories and ideas for dozens more, to be run over with a bulldozer. Rob Wilkins obeyed. I don’t know if he’s a loyal, honourable man, or a bastard. I understand – I have all sorts of ramblings in my story folder I wouldn’t want to be shown off as the best I can do. I can’t help but think about Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee. Sometimes there’s a good reason highly successful authors don’t share every idea they’ve scribbled down on a napkin. But still… I have a bizarre feeling of injustice. He may have created the Discworld, but it’s mine now too. And I can’t help imagine what was lost.
It’s also upped the level of showmanship. When I die, I want my hard drive trampled by five elephants before being fired into the sun, please. Thank you.
When we got to the section which dealt with his gradual decline as the Alzheimer’s disease (or the embuggerance, as he referred to it), it all became a little too much for me. He died at 66 and I can’t help imagine what more he would have done.
The exhibition will go until the 13th January 2018 so I strongly encourage all fans to get out there before it closes. I have no idea when you’d get the opportunity to see everything all together again like this for a long time.
The Telegraph has described Pratchett as “his generation’s Dickens” which I think is oddly apt, though it may seem a little incongruous. Dickens was one of the first, true ‘popular’ authors, in that his work was read widely by every class of society. Of course, Dickens benefited from the fact that the lower classes had started learning to read as a matter of course and he was one of the few authors speaking to them.
In this day and age, Pratchett was writing almost a larger pool of fantasy writers and was, arguably, up against a lot more literary snobbery, or at least, literary convention. You won’t see his books on any Booker Prize list, despite Booker Prize winner AS Byatt being fervently for it. Speaking at the Edinburgh international book festival, AS Byatt said Pratchett was her hero, as he “caused more people to read books than anyone else – because he tells them something they want to know, that they can laugh at, and because he writes really good English”.
An award Terry Pratchett did win, however, was the prestigious Carnegie Medal for the best children’s book of the year. This was for his book The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents. His mischief nature unable to resist, he managed to find a cholate gold coin which would pass as the award from a distance. So on stage, after receiving his award, he apparently ate it, the amazement of his audience. According to the plaque at the exhibition, the watching and probably horrified Librarians didn’t know what to do.
If you’ve read any of my posts, you’ll know I’m a massive Terry Pratchett fan. I think two-thirds of my quotes and references come from the Discworld, I wear the lilac on the Glorious 25th of May and I look at the world through his writing. I describe hopeless and persistent salesman as CMOT Dibblers and cocky entrepreneurs who have clawed their way up from nothing as Piss Harrys (I’m looking at you, Sir Alan Sugar). My flat is covered with Discworld posters, prints and models.
And I remember exactly where I was when he died, almost at tears at my computer at work with not a soul around me understanding why. As is the nature of television, many asked me if I had known him, as telly people like to talk about who they’ve met.
No. I never met Terry Pratchett. One of the most influential people in my life existed only through his work. And that’s going to have to be enough for me.