Terry Pratchett is a funny author. Now, I mean that in another sense than the obvious one. I mean that in a quirky, special, brilliant sense. Yes, he was flat-out comedic. Often one found oneself belly laughing at a stupid joke, and then at the peak of the laughter there’s that thought of “Hang on a minute. That’s a serious thing he’s saying. Why didn’t I see it like that? It’s so obvious!”
He was a clever man, and delighted in his cleverness. Not in an arrogant way of “I’m more clever than you, idiot”, but more in a sense of “have a look at this. Isn’t it funny?” So when he was struck with Alzheimer’s way before his time, it was like a cruel joke played on him. It attacked the essence of what made him what he was.
All this is a preamble to the book that waited for me when I came home to England yesterday. There’s the mail on the kitchen table that Auntie has collected for us. And there’s the book I ordered in a big brown box. And it’s the last ever Terry Pratchett book about the Discworld – something that makes it a sad book. Just the thought of it being the last is sad.
And now, having read half of it, I feel as if I want to talk about it. As if there’s things to say about it. Sad things. Shop things. Good things. It’s like receiving a letter from a deceased friend, sent before the friend died. It reminds one of what’s been lost. The scab on the heart is torn off, and there’s only melancholia there. Maybe one could call it a little bit of grief for a person I never met, but who has been with me since I read The Colour of Magic for the first time just after we moved from England to Sweden.
I found it in the school library, and while we in my family has always spoken Swedish, my skills in the language was quite poor. When you’re in a bilingual family, one often ends up using words in both languages. If a word is not there when it’s needed, one substitutes the word with something from the language one is more proficient in.
Thus, Terry Pratchett was one of my Swedish teachers, in a way. I think he would have found that amusing, that I struggled through a translation of his first book to shore up my halting Swedish. It was, to that thirteen year old me, also a very good book. I loved it, and it started an obsession that’s lasted until now at the end.
By now I have written quite a few novels. It’s one of the things I can do. It doesn’t scare me anymore, and doesn’t fill me with a sense of panic. The chasm of words that needs to be put down on the computer screen between the first word and the last doesn’t daunt me as it used to.
At least for me, a book grows in phases. There is the first draft, when the aim is to let go of the inner critic that lives in every writer, and just get the thing out into concrete form.
The polish and the finesse comes later. That first draft is a word-vomit; a sentence cascade, a page flood. The second draft is to hack away at the slab of rough granite one has spewed out onto the computer screen. The second draft is to turn a vague shaped man-size rock into a rough statue with recognisable features. Structure, grammar, the little clever things one thinks of, that all comes in the third draft. Or the fourth. By the end of the third draft, the book is recognisable – but not quite finished. It has a certain terseness, a hint of the skeleton underneath. It’s an emaciated creation that needs to be fattened up.
This book, by Terry reads like the third draft. Like he came into the last stretch, but then sat down because the marathon took everything out of him. And then he died and left it in that shape. Not a bad shape; a readable shape. However, in some ways one sees the zipper on the book’s back. It never came to the stage where it was covered in make-up and polish.
But then, in a way, it’s a fitting thing. It’s like it is an emphasis of a book that is about endings. Because that’s what the book is, in essence, about. Endings. His endings. It’s his laying down the pen for the last time, and he knows it. And that’s the source of the melancholia and the taste of sadness. There won’t be any other Terry Pratchett books after this one.