So. When did you last travel over 200 miles on a whim to see an exhibition? I'm not sure I have ever done this before. Then again, I am not sure that I have ever before wandered around a museum or a gallery giggling. Smirking. Chortling. Smiling. Thinking with absolute recognition "Yes! Exactly! Precisely that…"
And then, suddenly, abruptly, at just another notice board, just another display case to find myself stopped. Reminded why I was here. I was here, because he isn't any more. And he isn't because he was struck down by possibly the cruellest disease the fates could visit on a playful, political, pointed, percipient, author.
If writers are able to look down on from their cabin in Dunscribin or wherever it is they go, and can see even further into our minds than they did when they were alive, I can't help thinking that Sir Terry would be amused.
I am talking about the "Terry Pratchett: HisWorld" exhibition at Salisbury Museum – and obviously I am talking as a fan.
It's not often that you walk into a gallery to be immediately confronted by a rebuke. I was.
You see when Terry Pratchett died, it wasn't like losing an idol, it was like losing a friend – a family friend – someone who, like me and my Dad, looked at the world sideways, someone who got righteously angry about the same things we did and put that anger to the best use possible: he forged it into humour and smote the unbeliever with pamphlets (or at least novels and jokes). I was introduced to Pratchett by a work-colleague who soon lost interest, introduced him to my Dad and years later we were sharing conversations. I never met the man, I am talking about the books and their importance in my life. We quoted him, I quote him still, totally out of context and utterly relevant.
When Terry Pratchett died the world lost a force for good, and we lost him too soon. He was just getting warmed up. But true to form, he looked Death in the face and smiled and did a deal with the devil – or the gods – or the fates – or maybe even with the Lady. "Give me just long enough" I imagine him bargaining, "I don't want the total indignity package, but give me long enough to make a point." He probably did nothing of the sort – except for that last bit. He made a point. He made many a point.
Among them one of my favourites is the one about profit showing up sort of spread about all over society (in Going Postal I believe), but towards the end of his life the point he had to make was that Alzheimers isn't necessarily necessary and that if we throw some money at it, lot of money, for a long time, we might find a way to make unnecessary. As a fan of the books, even the unfamiliar ones, I felt myself duly kicked under the table in a "so what are you going to do about it?" way. So when Terry died, I set about (re)reading everything he'd published and committed to contribute a penny a page to the Alzheimer's Society in his memory.
I started quite well, the first £100 mark was reached, but then life got in the way and I lapsed. I couldn't even remember where I'd got to. I have since looked it up and I'm missing about 6 of the Discworld stories, one of which I know I owned but cannot find.
So what's this about a rebuke?
Well it's this penny-a-page thing. I selected that level of sponsorship because it was a nice round number and about what I thought I could afford. And I had almost forgotten about it, until I walk into the exhibition and see this:
The man was taught to read at a penny a page. That kick transferred from somewhere under the table to the behind. Message received and understood. I need to get back to the books.
Meanwhile, I'm in Salisbury to see what is intended to be (and I hope remains) a one-off exhibition of what they're calling HisWorld.
I'm not sure what we expect to see when we visit an exhibition of a writer's life. Back in the olden days there might have been original manuscripts, pens that they held, ink blotters, but when first drafts are created in the depths of a computer the "original" is as intangible as it was before it left the artist's brain.
There is a mock-up of his office, with the six monitors (because he didn't have room for eight), a mouse under the desk, soft light through the old chapel windows and a flickering fire. Sturdy shelves, solid enough to actually hold books, which is more than mine do, all my bookshelves sag in the middle and I await a crack in the night as one gives way. There is his first typewriter, and I remember mine and the stories I wrote on it. There's an ancient laptop computer.
There are pen and ink drawings, sketches, ideas.
There is a sword. A proper magic sword (because Sir Terry is a knight and a knight must have a sword) – made the old way – which I hope will become an heirloom passed down the generations garnering legend and myth as it does so.
For myth is what Terry was best at. Myth and magic and politics and people. There is a genre of fiction called magical realism, which I don't enjoy. Terry gave us its opposite: I want to call it real magicalism – but my computer insists on something more recognisably English like realistic magic. He blatantly stole storylines and reworked them for another world. In doing so he showed us what the original authors intended us to see about this one all along. These stories are just tales about what people do. What we do over and over and over and maybe, don't you think, it might be good if…well, if we didn't? Just for a while, by way of experiment, to see if another way might be better.
Most of the exhibition is absolutely stunning artwork…phone photography is permitted, but nothing using a proper camera…probably just as well, I'd have been clicking multi-shots of all of it instead of leaving envying whoever owns any of the pieces. I want to take all of them back to that teenage bedroom where I was never allowed to have more than one poster on the wall, and cover ever available surface.
I want to say that every single one of them reflects the Discworld I've visited so many times, but it isn’t true. Someone is impersonating Two Flower – that isn't my recollection of the first Tourist. But everything else…from the Dark Side of the Sun onwards…is right.
Each picture is tied to a quote. And every quote makes me laugh or smile.
I'm less transfixed than I expected to be by the artefacts, though of course I want to steal the hat and wear the t-shirt and naturally I don't.
I wander through rooms full of echoes, of insight, of laughter, of fury. I love the fact that friends describe him as an angry man. I love that he agrees that Vimes is always portrayed as Clintonesque, but he always envisaged him more as Pete Postelthwaite. It is no surprise that Vimes is Pratchett's alter ego.
A lovely touch to this very personal exhibition is that you are encouraged to respond to it, to write a personal handwritten note, that will be passed to the family. My words went something like: it's not often you walk through a gallery giggling and then suddenly find yourself in tears. If strangers are only friends you have not met yet, then Terry was a good friend for many years. I'm still coming to terms with the fact that there will be no more stories, no more fury, no more wit – or wisdom. Granny Weatherwax is my literary touchstone and I'm grateful for her.
A steamrollered hard drive and the undertaking to honour his legacy were surprisingly powerful.
The exhibition runs until January – go see it – details on the Salisbury museum website.
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