Tag Archives: Terry Pratchett

The Shepherd’s Crown

When you know it’s the last book, it’s hard to see clearly. But reading Terry Pratchett’s last gift to his fans, The Shepherd’s Crown, I did my best, and I’m fairly sure it’s as wonderful a story as we hoped for. Maybe it would have been a bit longer if Terry had had longer. But it is most satisfactory as it is.

Terry Pratchett, The Shepherd's Crown

When reading about Granny Weatherwax and her approach to meeting Death, you can’t help but feel this was also Terry Pratchett’s way. Perhaps his real name was Esmeralda? He probably didn’t scrub the toilets in his house as Death approached, but he will have done the stuff he did; write books.

There are so many thoughtful thoughts in The Shepherd’s Crown, and so many words, good words, well used, that you can’t really tell that they were assembled by a man with Alzheimer’s. Most of us would be proud to write like this at any time.

I got that warm glow from reading, that one of the characters in the book discovers, once she realises that having carried one basket is not enough. You can go on doing things for others.

Tiffany Aching finds that you can fill someone else’s boots, even if you don’t think so yourself. Or you can use your own boots. That will also work just fine. Tiffany comes to countless understandings about witches and people and everything else in the world. And this is what we needed to hear. Terry sorted the world out for us, as much as he possibly could.

And there is a lovely new character, a male witch with an uncommonly good grasp of how people function. You simply cannot beat a decent shed.

‘My’ book

Children's Media Yearbook 2015 - Terry PratchettWell, a bit. You may well not have heard of the Children’s Media Yearbook. I hadn’t either, but when I was asked to write a Farewell to Terry Pratchett I obviously had to do it. The Children’s Media Foundation – the leading UK advocacy body for quality and choice in children’s media – publish a yearbook to inform and stimulate debate across the issues that are relevant to children’s media. And clearly they needed me for this.

Children's Media Yearbook 2015

Lynn Whitaker who edited the book, wanted to use a reworked version of my first Terry Pratchett interview, so that’s what she got. The first, with extra bits and snippets from the second. So, you will have read most of the text already.

And then I went and owned up to having stolen Chris Riddell’s cartoon of Terry and Death, simply because I felt it would be the perfect illustration to go with my piece. As I’ve already hinted, Chris agreed, which was very kind of him.

Children's Media Yearbook 2015 - Terry Pratchett by Chris Riddell

So here I am in the company of two of the greats. My copy of the book arrived just as we were in the grips of Death at Bookwitch Towers, which is why I had to share it with you right now.

The attaché case

The things a witch sees when travelling…

We went into town on the bus a couple of days ago, and miraculously they had not changed anything major at all. About the buses. Apart from the timetable.

When we got into town and the bus drove round a corner, I spied a well dressed man on the pavement. He wore what Swedes wear when they want to be fairly formal, which is shirt and jacket with jeans or slacks. He looked to be about 35, so not old. Not young, either.

On his head he wore a sort of bicycle helmet, and looking back, I can almost swear it was turquoise. And, between his lower legs was a turquoise attaché case. It moved. I.e. he rode the attaché case along the pavement.

I thought maybe this could be a common occurence here, but judging by the reaction of the young girls behind me, I’d have to say not.

When I told the Resident IT Consultant about it, he felt it was a bit like Terry Pratchett’s The Luggage. Only more turquoise.

Retiring Philippa

My pangs of envy and regret started even before Philippa Dickinson’s retirement festivities got under way on Monday. When you’re online you can see what everyone else is doing and quite a few people announced they were heading that way, making me wish I was too. But there are drawbacks to moving to Scotland, and the spontaneity of sudden trips south is one of them.

So I wasn’t there, and now I can follow – online again – those who were, and there are more pangs. But I’m glad there was a party, and that it was good, and that – almost – everyone else was there. Because Philippa deserves to be celebrated.

Philippa Dickinson

Back in 2009 when I was introduced to her at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, it felt a bit like meeting the Queen, although perhaps more relaxed. And six months later when her publicists invited me to actually come and spend a day in Ealing, I was impressed with her again, and not only for remembering me a little.

Random House Children’s Books felt like the most active publishing house at the time. And she might have been the MD, but Philippa was still hands-on (editing Terry Pratchett, the lucky thing), working like a normal person. During our brief meeting in her office, she made a point of showing me her personal recommendation and arranging for me to have a copy of Jack Gantos’s Joey Pigza.

Philippa and I are almost the same age, and occasionally I have stopped and asked myself what I have achieved with my life, and why I couldn’t be a bit more like her. (Answers on a postcard, please.)

Sometimes when I think of Philippa and wonder what made her better or more interesting than other publishing bosses, I realise that apart from a few directors of smaller publishing houses, I didn’t meet or get even a little acquainted with anyone else.

So maybe that’s why. You need to be out there, possibly rubbing shoulders with the little fish.

Do they even know?

Recently I had a brief discussion with an author about a small factual mistake in their book. I had sort of noticed it when I read the book, but was too busy actually reading and enjoying, so thought no more of it. It took the Resident IT Consultant to bring it up, and I decided I might as well mention it to the author, in case they’d rather know, perhaps with a view to correcting it in a reprint later on.

The author sighed, along the lines of how ‘the editor, copyeditor and proof reader could all have picked it up too, but didn’t.’ I’m not surprised. Not because I think these people are no good, but this wasn’t a grammatical error, or bad spelling, or anything that simply needed some pruning to look better.

We all make mistakes, even when we know the right answer. So the author is entitled to get things wrong, and the various people at the publisher’s are – sort of – allowed to miss it as well. The author could have asked someone, but to do that you need to know that you need to know. And you don’t always know that. Nor did these editors know that the author might not have known.

It’s rather like Masklin in Terry Pratchett’s Truckers says about learning to think: ‘some things we can’t think because we don’t know the words.’ And later on, about the nomes in the Store: ‘They don’t know, and they don’t even know they don’t know. What is it that we don’t know?’

In the last few years there are absolutely masses of words and ideas that I have realised I don’t know, when I had thought I did know. I’d been told these things by people I assumed knew. Maybe they did, or maybe they didn’t, and either way they didn’t know that either.

Life’s not easy, is it?


Poignantly Terry Pratchett’s Truckers was re-issued on the day he died. But perhaps we should see that as his gift to us; and ‘nothing ate him or ran him over or anything.’

I simply had to read it immediately. It was as if nothing else would do. And I felt so much better for it, reading, instead of doing ‘stuff.’ I mean, I’d read Truckers before, as part of Son’s copy of The Bromeliad, which doesn’t live with me any more. But that was a long time ago, well before I knew very much about this Terry Pratchett.

Terry Pratchett and Mark Beech, Truckers

One of my all time favourite quotes comes from Truckers, ‘Road Works Ahead.’ I’d forgotten many of the others, but if I had the talent of remembering lines, I’d walk round quoting Truckers at everyone I meet. (Count your blessings, people.)

Masklin is a true Pratchett hero. He may be a nome, but he is a leader and a great and brave man. He had to be, as Outside the Store there was only him, not counting old people and women. And Grimma is a marvel of female role model, especially for male readers. Careful what you say or your brain might explode a little.

Truckers is a book full of wisdom, and also of commercial clichés and funny misunderstandings. When Masklin and his very small band of Outside nomes are forced to abandon their Outside home they end up in the Store – Arnold Bros (est 1905) – where after some rest and respite, they and the Store nomes discover that Everything Must Go.

And go they do, in the most spectacular manner, stealing one of the Store’s lorries, the driving of which is only slightly awkward when you are four inches tall.

If I could be Granny Morkie, please?

(Illustrations by Mark Beech)

I might wear purple

Terry Pratchett

Son ‘put a lot of sugar in it and showed it the milk.’ That’s Terry Pratchett’s coffee we are talking about, and you know why I’m writing about him, so I don’t need to announce to the world that Terry has gone to meet Death. I think what I’ll do is reminisce a little.

We were with Terry that time in September 2010 to give him a Mars bar, and because he had very generously requested a second interview with me. From me? Whatever. We came. We laughed. We left.

Terry Pratchett

I’d met Terry for an interview ten months earlier. He’d had such a long and busy day, and was so tired, and hungry, that all he wanted was a Mars bar. And because I don’t eat chocolate, I had nothing like that to offer. Otherwise, I’m a mother. You know. We always carry spares in case anyone needs anything.

He was upset that we didn’t get as long as he’d expected, even though it meant he could go and eat something. So he asked to see me again, partly – I think – to discuss the librarian I told him about, who wanted to ban his books to under sixteens. Maybe he even found me less hard work than the real professionals he had seen earlier, and liked a less intense kind of chat.

The interviews were followed by invitations to book launches, and a Terry Pratchett launch is like no other. I feel very fortunate to have had this opportunity, which I did little to deserve. But in general we don’t mind having that which we don’t deserve.

Terry Pratchett - Dementia Friends

When I heard about Terry’s diagnosis in 2007 I immediately assumed this would be the end for him, for his books, and everything. That’s why I have felt that every new book we’ve been given in the years since, have been lovely bonuses. I’m amazed Terry could keep going the way he did, despite the handicap of being unable to write. 66 is too young to die, but it is preferable to 59.

In 2008 when Neil Gaiman signed Son’s copy of Good Omens, he said it was a shame Terry wouldn’t be able to sign it as well. There was even a catchphrase that went with the Good Omens signature. Well, you know me. I didn’t feel it was too late, and it wasn’t. Terry’s signature might have ended up somewhat shakier than it once was, but he knew the words to go with it.

Philippa Dickinson and Terry Pratchett

The last time for me was the launch for Dodger, and Terry wore the wrong hat, by which I mean it wasn’t his usual style, but a hat for Dodger. And I should have gone up to him and said a proper hello. Instead I went all modest and assumed he’d not remember me, because I was merely a small cogwheel.

I’m lucky, though. I have not yet read all Terry’s books, if that’s not the wrong thing to admit to in company like this? I’ll eke them out. And I shall wear purple, even if it was a colour Terry didn’t like. So there.

Terry Pratchett and witch

Many, many thanks to Clare, Philippa and Lynsey who made my adventures possible.

‘So where do you come from?’





‘It’s not that funny.’

‘Yes, hee hee, it is, it is. Let me tell you a story, to get ourselves warmed up.’