There was a moment when I was growing up that I will never forget. We were at my Granny Campbell's house in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. I was in trouble for something, I forget what. I always seemed to be in trouble. I think we were late for a ‘do’ and I wasn’t ready. My mother was haranguing me about it. I was paying very little attention. I had something far more important on my mind. I said, because I very genuinely wanted to know, not because I was being sarcastic, “What’s it like to be inside your skin, Mom?”
It didn’t go down well.
It was the wrong question, at the wrong time. But, I’m serious; I really wanted to know what being inside her skin would be like. Yes, I am well aware that sounds a little creepy – very Silence of the Lambs type stuff – which was not even remotely where I was going with it at the time, or now I hasten to add.
Looking back, I can see that was one of those moments which hinted at my future. After all, what is a writer but someone who can get into the skin, into the mind of their characters and then see with their eyes, speak with their voices, feel with their toes? If we do it well enough, our readers will come crashing up against the characters and we, as writers, disappear completely.
The skin question was just one of the thoughts that rattled around my brain…I was going to say as a child, but it’s never stopped. Now, I rattle them with delight because they’re the questions that make me who and what I am. They are what send me on rabbit trails of delightful investigation to bring both reality and imagination to my work. They are what, hopefully, makes me a good writer.
Nearly all my life, my mind has run on very different paths to others around me. The things that captivate others hold little, if any interest for me. It probably explains why I didn’t have many friends growing up and why my parents didn’t get me at all. My father, poor man, still struggles with the fact that I’ve never had a ‘real’ job. But then he was a banker. Bankers aren’t known for their imagination. The very word is enough to set his false teeth rattling.
That’s why, when I see pictures like this, I feel an inordinate sense of relief. Someone, somewhere gets me. They can see inside my head and it delights them. And that makes me smile because knowing that, means imagination, more specifically my imagination, is a good place to live.
"Stories of imagination," he said witheringly, "tend to upset those without one."
Terry Pratchett has died. He died yesterday. He was only 66. He had Alzheimer's. I don't know which is worse. I do know that I loved his books. I will miss him because of his books. I will miss his amused and tongue-in-cheek playing with cliches. I will miss the hat. And selfishly, as if I wasn't being selfish enough already, I will miss Sam Vines.
I first discovered him, Sir Terry that is, when I read The Carpet People, lying on the carpet in the living room, in our family home in Harare, Zimbabwe. It was the perfect vantage point to read the book. In fact, it should be a law. You are only allowed to read the book lying on your back on the carpet.
I was mesmerized by the story and the characters, and yet it's such a simple book. Years later I read The Night Watch. I fell in love with Sam Vines. He has since become one of my small group of fictional heroes.
Some people have called Sir Terry's writing style eccentric. I call it creative, unusual and inspired. His lack of chapters for example. The first time I encountered their lack I thought the publishers had made a mistake. For someone who suffers from what I call the squirrel syndrome (I'll put the light out at the end of this chapter - oooh look, another chapter!) this lack of chapters is responsible for many all-night reading sessions.
Those of us who have an imagination and aren't afraid to use it will have encountered those without and will have experienced that 'upsetness' first hand. I know I have. Bizarrely, one person was the last you'd expect - my high school English teacher. There's also been the odd banker who thought a particular book should be burned because it had a dragon in it! Well, I did say he was odd. It relieves and encourages me to know that Sir Terry encountered similar non-imaginaries, even though he also sold over 70 million books and was translated into 30 languages! I'm encouraged to know I'm not the only one out there battling the non-imaginaries while trying to make a living using mine.
Thank you Sir Terry for Discworld. Thank you that somewhere the earth is flat, that heroes don't marry Disney princesses, that someone sells rat-ona-stick, that vampires can fall off the wagon and that the Librarian is an orangutan. Every Library should have one.
Stand back! I have an imagination and I'm not afraid to use it!