Recently, I was lucky enough to attend a memorial event held in honour of Terry Pratchett, just over a year after his death. It was put together by his family, friends and publishers, and it was a very wonderful thing. You can read more about it here.
I've made no secret of my adoration of Pratchett and the Discworld. He is my literary hero (not was, as although he has departed this earth he won't stop being my hero). I first picked up The Colour of Magic aged ten or eleven, and though I didn't understand half of it, fell in love with what I did. From then on, regular as clockwork, I asked for and received a new Pratchett book every birthday and every Christmas, and I re-read them all endlessly. To my astonishment, I always found several new slices of wit on every re-read that I hadn't even spotted the previous seven times. I read passages aloud to my mother in the car and in the kitchen, immensely enjoying the way I could make her crack up laughing with my borrowed words. I used to take Speech and Drama exams as a teenager. I selected passages from Discworld novels to perform in them so many times my teacher must have been constantly rolling her eyes.
Believe me when I say that his influence on me runs deep. On me. Not just on my writing. Some would argue the two are the same thing, of course. It's hard to spot, at first - or maybe it's not. It was for me. Whenever I was asked about my literary heroes and influencers, somehow invoking Pratchett always felt strangely fake. 'I don't write books like his', I'd hasten to say, 'I know that.'
... Except that my debut novel, Fearsome Dreamer, begins with a young witch called Rue and her mentor Fernie. They live in a place not exactly dissimilar to Lancre, and it seems to me, now, that Fernie owes perhaps quite a bit of her character to the long shadow of Esmerelda Weatherwax. So far I seem to have gotten away with such a blatant homage.
More than at any other time of life, our experiences, the people we interact with and the media we consume as children and teenagers shape and define us. We know that - we explore it endlessly in all forms of art. I grew up devouring Pratchett. I see him in the jokes I find funny. The issues that inspire my anger. My delight in the absurd. My perhaps overly strong lack of sympathy for privileged whining. My curiosity about the endlessly fascinating, horrible, fantastical world we live in. My obsessions and my loves. He has played a large part in defining who I am.
When I met Terry, I was struck by some of the apparent similarities in our personalities. Was that because I had been shaped by his writing, and so him? Or was it something that had formed separately in me, and therefore went a good way to explaining why I was so drawn to his work from a young age? Which came first, the chicken or the egg? It really doesn't matter. We are all shaped by the people around us, in a thousand tiny ways we don't even realise. That's why it's important to spend our short time on this earth as wisely as we can, and as often as possible with people cleverer and kinder and funnier and wiser than us, so that hopefully some of it rubs off and spreads out through us in ripples, quietly changing things on the way. That is why I have spent so much of my life with Terry through his books, and I regret not one moment of it.
I'll end with a passage from a piece he wrote called A Little Advice on Life.
I am determined to take it all to heart.