25th May is the anniversary of the short-lived People’s Republic of Treacle Mine Road. I would wear the lavender, but the smell makes me feel sick, so I’ll make do with this picture instead!
If you have never read Terry Pratchett’s Night Watch, I thoroughly recommend it. It’s the best of the Watch novels, despite the majority of the Watch not featuring in it that much. You get to see the history of Ankh Morpork before the series started, and you understand how Sam Vimes found himself in the gutter, literally, at the start of Guards, Guards! A little bit of retconning happens, but it’s a wonderful read.
Dear Sir Terry,
I have so much to thank you for, which I’m sure would have embarrassed you if I’d ever told you so when you were alive. You seemed very humble and self-deprecating in your interviews, but it’s a real regret of mine that I never wrote that fan letter to tell you so.
I started reading your books because of my father, who had found you first and thought I’d appreciate your humour. I started with Witches Abroad, which introduced me to my personal heroine, Granny Weatherwax. I devoured every volume that my local library had of yours, and then started to buy them for myself when I kept wanting to re-read them. You can see from my bookshelves when I started earning a better Saturday job wage, as I started buying hardbacks instead of paperbacks! The witch novels have always been my favourites, followed by the novels centred around the Ankh Morpork City Watch and the wizards of the Unseen University.
I think the reason why I love your books is because you wrote about people that I knew. Oh, they might be witches or wizards or Ephebian philosophers in their barrels, but I knew them. I recognised them as my family, my teachers, my friends and myself. You made your characters so human and realistic, even the ones that are orangutans and Wonder Dogs. You made me look critically at how I thought – you taught me about Second Thoughts and the secret of boffo, ideas that still guide my judgments and actions today. You made me laugh with your outrageous puns and sly references to the real world.
You exposed hypocrisy in governments and institutions but you were never cruel to the undeserving. You respected the Sam Vimeses of the world, who battle against their demons every day, and the Granny Weatherwaxes, who do the job that is in front of them, no matter what the personal cost. You were on the side of the little guy, when few often are.
When I needed a good laugh, I could rely on you. When I needed a place to retreat to from the harshness of the world, I could rely on you. You were more than my favourite author. You were a teacher, a guide and a friend. You didn’t ask to be, and I’m not sure you wanted to be, but you were, all the same. I don’t think I could have got through my teen years without my copy of Lords and Ladies. At a time when I was suffering from the stress of parental expectation and my own highly critical inner voice, Granny was going through the same thing. The price of being the best is having to be the best, every day, with all the expectations that went with it. I got that. It spoke to me. It still does. Granny survived that pressure, so I did. You were the first person to be able to give words to the feelings that I had banging around my brain and I am so intensely grateful for that gift.
I met you once, although I didn’t get the chance to tell you all this. I’m not sure that I could have put it into words then. You were kind, and smiled and chatted as you signed my copy of Hogfather, the latest release. I heard you give advice to some amateur actresses who were putting on a Discworld play, and I’ve practically memorised what you said to them. I can’t remember what we talked about. Shock at actually meeting my hero, I suppose.
You’re gone now, and the fact that I’m crying as I’m typing this only goes to show that you mean so much more to me than I can explain. You went far too soon and I’m bloody angry about the books that we’ll never get to read and the jokes we’ll never laugh at. My loss is nothing compared to that of your family, of course, but you are mourned and missed by millions. You should know that. You should know how much you were loved. Everyone should know how much they are loved.
Thank you for everything you’ve given me, and keep giving me. Your books are a constant source of joy for me.You’ll always have a special place in my heart, and on my bedside table.
All my love and grateful thanks,
Oh, I got into trouble for this once in school!
When I was in Sixth Form, we were required to take an AS Level (half an A Level) in General Studies, a subject so vague, nebulous and useless that they couldn’t even give it a name worth remembering. There were units in science, art, religious studies and…um…I can’t remember. I stopped listening, I think.
Anyway, in one class I remember that we were asked to give a short presentation on our role models. I picked two that meant something to me, but after I had given my presentation the teacher, who was the Head of Sixth Form, was incredibly angry and accused me of not taking the assignment seriously. That annoyed me, because I was probably the only person in the room who had taken it seriously!
I’ve added another role model since then, although I should have probably included her at the time. So then, in no particular order:
Number One: Miss Piggy
Yes, I know she’s a puppet, but seriously, there’s a lot to admire here. Some may call her an attention-seeking diva with a ridiculously short fuse, but that’s never stopped some of the great divas from behaving in exactly the same way!
Miss Piggy is all about her career, and that’s no bad thing for a woman to be. She’s the headline act of the Muppet Show, and demanding the respect she’s due isn’t a crime.
Miss Piggy only has eyes for one frog, and that’s her beloved Kermit. Say what you like about their tempestuous love life, but she’s never looked twice at another frog. Or pig. Or bear. Or whatever. She’s loyal, which has to be a good thing.
Miss Piggy has never needed anybody else to stand up for her. If somebody’s giving her crap, she karate-chops them across the room. Tell me that isn’t bad ass. Tell me that isn’t something every woman should be able to do, if they need it.
Miss Piggy, role model.
This next one is a little more obscure, but came about due to my incessant reading during my teenage years. This is a photograph of a woman who called herself Anna Anderson. She also called herself the Grand Duchess Anastasia Romanova until the day she died.
Now, we all know the truth. The Russian royal family – the Tsar, the Tsarina, and their five children – were all murdered in 1917. The story is gruesome and I won’t repeat it here, but ambiguity first arose when only five of the seven bodies of the murdered family were recovered. The Tsarevitch Alexei and one of his sisters were missing, and several women came forward claiming to be the youngest Romanov daughter, Anastasia.
The most famous was Anna Anderson, whose real name was Franziska Schanzkowska. Her claim to be Anastasia was met with confusion by the people who had known the young royal. They were split; while some were sure that Anderson wasn’t Anastasia, others really did believe. There was a court case that ruled that she wasn’t, but notoriety can be more powerful than legalities. Anna Anderson, as she eventually became known, bounced around the homes of crowned heads of Europe and wealthy Americans for most of her life. While she was alive, nobody could prove that she was Anastasia. More crucially, nobody could prove that she wasn’t.
Of course, DNA tests on part of her intestine removed during an operation in America have since proved that she shares no genetic relationship to surviving relatives of the Tsarina. She was what so many people said she was: a mentally unstable Polish factory worker who lied about her identity.
This woman, who undoubtedly was suffering from severe mental illness that drove her to a suicide attempt in Berlin and some very disturbing behaviour during the rest of her life, managed to do something quite remarkable. She somehow managed to convince people who had actually known the real Anastasia that she was, in fact, a member of the Russian royal family. These people weren’t just humouring her. They truly believed that she was Anastasia. She kept this up from the 1920s until her death in 1984. That’s sixty years! Sixty years! More than that, the people that didn’t believe her (and quite rightly, it turned out) couldn’t gather enough conclusive evidence to turn her supporters against her. Not until DNA testing became available.
Not bad for a poorly educated factory worker, who wasn’t even from Russia.
So yes, she lied. She lied long and she lied hard, but my god, what a life she had. You have to admire her ability to make what must have been a horrible life into one materially a lot better. That’s why she’s a role model – she did what she needed to do, no matter why her confused mind told her she needed to do it.
My third role model is Granny Weatherwax, a character from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series. She’s a witch, which is rather obvious by her pointy hat, which she wears largely for reasons of Headology and, in the later years of her life, to cover You, the small white kitten that had adopted her and liked to ride on her head.
Granny is clever, fearless and utterly convinced that she knows best about everything, which, to be fair, is true most of the time. She’s faced down vampires, evil elves and Death himself in order to protect the people of Lancre, the village that respects her more than likes her. She even took on her own sister, a Godmother, and walked away victorious thanks to her iron will, self control and expert knowledge of magic, which she tries to use as little as possible.
She charges into life at full ramming speed, expecting everything else to get out of her way. She is the best at what she does, and she knows that the price that she has to pay for being the best is having to be the best, no matter what. Every threat to Lancre is hers to deal with because only she can deal with it. In a way, that resonated with me. I was a clever kid. Not genius level, or anything, but usually I was the smartest person in the room when I was growing up. Sooner or later there became the expectation that I would be the first to put up my hand, get the highest test scores, be the first person in my family to get good examination passes, go on to university, make something of myself. The pressure, although well-meaning, was intense. I always worried that I wouldn’t be able to keep up, that I’d slip somehow, that I’d let everybody down. Knowing that there was somebody else out there that understood that pressure, even if she was fictional, really helped.
I met Terry Pratchett once. The only time I skipped school, I went to a book signing.Such a rebel! I deeply regret not being able to tell him how Granny helped me get through those teenage years. He’s gone now, a victim of a horrible disease that robbed a family of a husband and father and the rest of the world of a writer of exceptional wit, humour and humanity. He took Granny with him, which is perhaps fitting. I couldn’t imagine wanting to be without her either.