“Call off the search. We’ve found the new Terry Pratchett!” – Joe Craig, the Independent
I was delighted when I first read the quote above from top author type Joe Craig, when he included The 13th Horseman in his round-up of his top books for summer 2012 in The Independent. I’m still delighted now. That fact has not changed.
I was equally pleased when another top author type, Philip Ardagh, said I was “the logical successor to Pratchett”. I boasted about both these comments for days afterwards. I was thrilled by the comparison, which has also appeared in several other reviews from SFX Magazine to readers on Amazon.
The problem is, it isn’t true.
Let me jump back a bit and explain my own experiences with Pratchett and his work. It was around 1991 when I was introduced to his then-new-book, Moving Pictures. The copy pictured below is not the one I read then, but it is one I’ve read and re-read several times over the past ten years or so.
I was loaned the book by a friend of my mum’s, who had been collecting the books since The Colour of Magic. I was obsessed with films and cinema at the time, and she thought I would get a kick out of its Hollywood-inspired storyline.
Although I’d read “grown up” books before, this was the first time I’d picked up a funny grown up book and I had no idea what to expect. Even back then I knew my sense of humour was out of whack with my parents, teachers, and most of the other kids in my class (by which I mean nobody got any of my jokes) so I wasn’t holding out much hope for the book raising so much as a titter from me. The fact it had come from a friend of my mum’s didn’t bode well either.
In the end I left the book sitting around for a few weeks, not really giving it any thought. Then one day my mum’s friend asked if I’d read it yet, and when I said I hadn’t she became insistent almost to the point of violence that I start reading it that very day.
So I did. And I smiled. And I laughed. And I never looked back.
Teenage years are horrible for a lot of kids. They can be even worse for a lanky, spotty-faced lad from a council estate, with a squint nose from that time I accidentally kneed myself unconscious while attempting my first and only backflip.
Thanks to Terry Pratchett, though, I was able to escape when things got too tough. The Discworld became my second home – Ankh Morpork my city of choice, with its shady alleyways, cobbled streets and CMOT Dibbler selling grim and unidentifiable meat in a bun to anyone foolish or desperate enough to fall for his patter.
In Pratchett I had at last found someone who shared my sense of humour, and through his writing he made me feel part of the world he had created. I didn’t just read about Vimes and Cohen and Granny Weatherwax, I knew them. I cared about them – not just in the stories but between the stories. When I wasn’t reading a Discworld book I’d wonder what those characters – and all the others – were up to. Terry wasn’t just creating characters and stories, he was creating an entire world, more vibrant and vivid and developed than any I’ve seen in fiction before or since.
In 1997, when I was, oooh… 19 years old, I landed the role of Corporal Carrot Ironfoundersson in a stage production of Guards! Guards! As Carrot was a favourite character of mine, I was over the moon at getting to portray him on stage. Which brings me to an embarrassing photo.
Yes, I dyed my hair that colour. I was offered a wig, but instead I chose to bleach my JET BLACK hair until all the colour was stripped from it, then I whacked on some ridiculous orange dye. Bosh. Job done. This photo was taken during rehearsals. I believe for the actual shows I had my hair cut into a Carrot-esque flat top, and my roots touched up. It’s not a look I’d go for again.
At least, I thought it wasn’t, until a year later when I played the now Captain Carrot in Men At Arms with the same theatre company, and went through the whole procedure again.
Shortly before rehearsals began on the first play, Terry Pratchett himself came to the local Waterstone’s to do a signing. It was the first author bookshop signing I’d ever attended, and I brought a massive stash of hardbacks along to be signed (which were sadly stolen some years back). I also brought along my script, which he also signed and which – thankfully – wasn’t sadly stolen some years ago.
I was fantastically nervous meeting him and telling him that I was going to be trying to bring one of his characters to life. He asked me who I was playing and I said “Carrot”. He tilted his hat back a little and looked up at me standing there with my crooked nose, four days of stubble and hangover breath from the night before. Then he raised one eyebrow and said, “Hmm. Vimes, maybe,” then carried on signing.
But getting back to my point. I take huge delight in the comparisons drawn between The 13th Horseman/The Book of Doom and the Discworld series. It is insanely flattering to hear, but it was never my intention to be seen as “the next Pratchett” (or the next Douglas Adams, Neil Gaiman, Robet Rankin or Monty Python who reviewers have also drawn comparisons to).
Rather I think we simply share a similar sense of humour. We both find comedy not only in the absurdity of the everyday, but in the everyday of the absurd – from the imps painting really fast in the cameras in Moving Pictures to the fact that vastly overweight Famine has had to trade in his horse for a Mobility Scooter in The 13th Horseman. It was this shared sense of humour that drew me to Pratchett’s Discworld and which made me realise that no matter how random and cringeworthy they might be, there is someone somewhere who will always get your jokes.
Want to find out more about Terry Pratchett and the Discworld novels? Check out some of the links below.
The Official Terry Pratchett Site – It’s a Terry Pratchett site. An official one.
The L-Space – An unofficial (but really very good indeed) Pratchett and Discworld site.
Discworld Monthly – a monthly newsletter about all things Pratchett. Vast and informative, like David Bellamy.
Discworld Emporium – online shop full of Discworld related goodies.
The Terry Pratchett Forum – Part of the official site, but worth a mention by itself.
The Discworld Convention – Details of the next International Discworld Convention in 2014.
Right, that’s enough for you to be getting on with. Just make sure to come back here when you’re done.