My sister called me tonight to tell me that she loved me. Dad texted to ask if I’d heard and my Godfather (with whom I have always gotten on very well, as long as we’re in the same physical space) sent me a sad facebook message (which he never bothers with).
As I have said elsewhere it feels as though a relative has died. The Princess called because Prattchett made her think of her childhood, for years I used to read her Hogfather as a bedtime story in the run up to Christmas.
My Dad has never been very into fiction, and has certainly never read Prattchett although he did try several times during my adolescence because I adored the Discworld books so much. My Godfather and I would vie with each other to see who could get and read the latest Prattchett first.
I’ve only ever experienced this amount of shared memory and condolence with my family when it’s been a relative.
Like a relative, one that you only really see at weddings or similar, I met him occaisionally. Every year of my adolescence at book signings. I first met him when I was eleven or twelve, the previous Christmas I had received Men At Arms, which actually wasn’t the first Discworld book I’d read (that honour belongs to The Light Fantastic, which I’d found when desperate for a book at a friend’s house somewhere around the age of eight) and I bought whichever the new book was in order to get it signed, I think in Lincoln. I’d almost finished it by the time I got to the front of the queue and Terry asked my name and if I was enjoying the book. Then somehow we got onto the subject of my favourite book of his, which at that time was Equal Rites.
Then began our conversation about riding the body of a lioness, and I don’t remember how it started other than in reference to Esk in Equal Rites.
I met him the following year, and the one after that and each time he remembered my name and we kept talking about bodies shaping minds and minds shaping bodies and the lioness I wanted to ride. I think I stuck in his mind really the year I was fifteen and it was Hogfather that I was holding ready to be signed. I’d arrived about an hour before the signing was due to happen, picked up the book, and was only third in line. When he arrived I was about two pages from the end. I think that was the first time he actually refered to me as a lioness, but it wasn’t the book he wrote it in (I know, I checked), one of the books he signed I’m pretty sure does make reference to it. It was never more than a few lines at a time but I am profoundly grateful to a man who took the time to remember the name of a random adolescent in a book queue.
The penultimate time I met him was in Lancaster, and he greeted me, in the morass that was Pete’s shop, with “Ahh, so this is where the lioness ended up.”
The last time I saw him was in London, in a very busy bookshop, a couple of years before he was diagnosed with alzheimers, he greeted me by name and smiled, said he hoped my degree was going well and signed my book. I told him I’d graduated, that I intended to become a teacher and thanked him.
I assumed I’d see him again and catch up with him in some less busy bookshop. It never happened. As I say, it feels as if a relative has died.
I could write about the fact I was a member of the fan club, I had penpals through it. Hell I collected the pottery for some time, I loved the maps, I could write about the fact that I could tell a Prattchett fan from a dozen paces at the height of my obsession but what I really loved was the fact that it felt like I knew him somehow and all that without Lancaster-Morecambe being the model for Ankh-Morepork or his row with PULSAR.
I wish I’d talked to him some more about minds and bodies since his diagnosis, but I actually didn’t go to the last of his book signings I had the chance to. I had wanted to talk to him, but I didn’t like the idea that he wouldn’t greet me by name, much less have any clue which lioness I was talking about.