The Turtle Moves

The first Terry Pratchett book I read was Mort.  I accidentally kept reading it for far longer into the night than I should have, but sleep didn’t really seem to be an option when I was caught up in the magic of Discworld.  Well, that and the fact that I told myself I’d just keep going until I reached the end of the chapter and then I’d get some sleep.

There were no chapters.

The whole book was a chapter.

When I reached the end of the book-long chapter (a day or so later – sleep is a necessary evil, even when you’re stuck in an amazing book), I did something I’d never done before: I went right back to the start and read it again.  It was a library book and had, in fact, been the only Discworld book on the shelves, so I knew it would be a while before I’d be able to borrow it again.  For the next few days, I’d flip to favourite scenes or passages, hoping to absorb them into my brain so they’d stay with me long after the book had gone on to someone else.

I didn’t know you were allowed to write like that.  If you didn’t believe in chapters, you could ignore them entirely.  You could hang entire scenes on little but perfectly-crafted dialogue.  You could make a character talk ALL IN CAPITALS and it made perfect sense.  And how did you even start with a book like that?  As a writer with a complete inability to plan ahead, I was sure Mr Pratchett must have laid out a scene outline and stuck to it with ruthless dedication because it was so perfectly crafted.  I later learned he did no such thing and, in fact, experienced the angst and self-induced misery that writers the world over deal with on a regular basis.  He was one of us, but he also showed us that his own brilliant stories were formed exactly the same way ours were.

In short, I had been blown away both as a reader and a writer and I know my writing was never the same after reading that first Discworld book.  And the second one.  And all of the others.

I was a penniless student when I started reading Pratchett, so I relied heavily on libraries for my fix.  I listened to audiobooks when the physical ones weren’t available.  I watched the cartoons of Wyrd Sisters  and Soul Music when they were broadcast on ABC.  And whenever I borrowed a new book from the library, I read it at least twice and kept returning to my favourite scenes before I had to hand it back.

Now that I’m no longer a penniless student, I have dedicated significant bookshelf space to acquiring a complete collection of Discworld novels.  I have a special fondness for the hardbacks, because the first books I read were hardbacks from the library, so everything from Carpe Jugulum onwards is in that form.  It’s next to impossible to choose a favourite, but if you really pressed me, I’d probably tell you it was Jingo because it’s the only book I’ve ever read that gave me the actual shivers and kept haunting me long after I’d finished it.  (It’s also the only Discworld book of which I have two copies, having found a hardback version while on holiday with the Failboats in Merimbula last year).

The Discworld books may be just words strung together into delightful concoctions of fiction, but they’ve taught me so much since I first dropped into Mort and fought a valiant (but inevitably futile) battle with sleep.

Terry Pratchett taught me that a little reality in your fantasy is a fine thing indeed.  And that’s an odd thing to say of someone who wrote about a magical world that was carried through space on the back of a giant turtle.  The fact is, most of my favourite fictional characters come from Discworld: Esme Weatherwax, Commander Vimes, Mustrum Ridcully, Binky…  You have to love someone who can feature a cranky octogenarian* witch as the hero of the story.  Stereotypes may be negative things, but you can certainly go to town when it comes to subverting them.

Terry Pratchett taught me that a good policeman abhors a hat with a feather in it.

Terry Pratchett taught me that I wasn’t actually bad at writing dialogue – I was just over-thinking it.  There’s no point to polishing your dialogue and making every utterance into a sentence of perfection; let people say things with mistakes in them; let them develop their own mannerisms.

Terry Pratchett taught me that the most powerful magic is the magic you don’t use.

Terry Pratchett taught me that when my cats suddenly look up and stare at nothing, it’s probably just Death dropping by to say HI and giving them a quick pat or two.

The title of this post comes from a quote in Small Gods, which goes a little like this.  Actually, it goes exactly like this, otherwise there’d be no point:

“What can I tell you? What do you want to hear? I just wrote down what people know. Mountains rise and fall, and under them the Turtle swims onward. Men live and die, and the Turtle Moves. Empires grow and crumble, and the Turtle Moves. Gods come and go, and still the Turtle Moves. The Turtle Moves.”

From the darkness came a voice, “And that is really true?”

Didactylos shrugged. “The turtle exists. The world is a flat disc. The sun turns around it once every day, dragging its light behind it. And this will go on happening, whether you believe it is true or not. It is real. I don’t know about truth. Truth is a lot more complicated than that. I don’t think the Turtle gives a bugger whether it’s true or not, to tell you the truth.”

Somehow, I think the Turtle might give a bugger or two about the loss of such an incredible human being.

Vale, Terry Pratchett.  Maybe I’ll see you in L-Space one day.

 

* I’m guessing here.  She may be much older.  Or younger.  Either way, I’m feeling some trepidation that an almost inevitably non-existent character might be offended by this categorisation.  This is the power of Granny Weatherwax.

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21 thoughts on “The Turtle Moves

  1. halfwayquilter says:

    Oh Katie that is beautifully written and echoes so many of my sentiments about Terry Pratchett. His books are a joy to read or to hear read. His pithiness and sense of humour are so entertaining and he is one of the very few authors I have read at least twice. Thank you for saying it so well

    Like

    • Katie Writes Stuff says:

      He will always live on through his books, which makes me happy. It’s been far too long since I read any of them so I will be throwing myself into some delightful re-reading this year. This seems like a good way to honour his life.

      Like

  2. Zoe Clark says:

    He was a wonderful writer. I always felt like his stories jumped inside me and bubbled back out again. How he managed to be so completely weirdly original and completely understandably relatable at the same time – almost oblivious to his own cleverness. Time to revisit a few good stories as tribute, I think.

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    • Katie Writes Stuff says:

      There were always so many levels in his books. You could just read the story and enjoy it, or you could dip a little deeper and see what was going on underneath it all. It’s definitely time to revel in all of that again.

      Like

  3. hashigal says:

    I can’t believe that the Discworld will not continue to grow. It’s an incomprehensible concept. Granny Weatherwax always appeared as a conglomeration of my Nanna (a terrifyingly intelligent woman) and basically every other female rellie of her generation. Death; oh, Death. Only Terry Pratchett could make Death a fully complex character struggling with home-life. Or unveil the underlying sneakiness of the Vetinaris of this world so that it was funny rather than totally horrifying.

    Vale.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Katie Writes Stuff says:

      Just the other day, I was wondering if we would have a new Discworld book and if it might be a witches one, because for them. And then this news came along and I realised I was just going to need to cherish the books he did write even more.

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  4. Tess says:

    My first thought when I heard mr Pratchett had passed away was: “Oh no, that is so, so sad! Katie must be devastated!”. I knew his work mean a lot to you and he should have stayed on for another couple of decades. He should have stayed on an written a few more books. He is probably up there mesmerising the angels with his great stories. The next time your cats stare at nothing, it’s probably mr Pratchett saying hi.

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  5. Ovis Obscura says:

    OMG. Thank heavens I am not the only one who suffers from the “Just One More Chapter OH GOD IT IS ONE VERY LONG CHAPTER I WILL NOT SLEEP TONIGHT” issue. I cannot read Terry Pratchett right before bed.
    All of that said, his passing makes me sad in a way that no other author’s has, and I think it is because he has been such a huge influence on me, not just as a writer, but as a person.
    Now, I listen to audiobooks when I am going to sleep. I listen to his most often.

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    • Katie Writes Stuff says:

      It was amazing how long it took me to work out that first chapter was never going to end (although I suspect I held off on investigating the matter because I just wanted to keep reading). He takes you on such an amazing ride – I will never get over what an amazing person he is both as a writer and an observer of humanity.

      I think it is wonderful that he will live on for us through his books.

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  6. Flit says:

    I’m still in mourning. I can remember reading the Carpet People for the first time when I was 10-ish. Then going through Truckers, Diggers and Wings, and starting mad hunts for tiny people everywhere in my house. Oh! And then Johnny and the Dead! He’s the only author I read as a child and then kept reading as an adult and didn’t want to get stabby over. That’s about two decades of my life wrapped up in Pratchett. Hopefully it won’t take nearly two decades to get over him leaving us too early, but somehow I feel I’m always going to have that loss there. Which is really weird for a man I never met, who never knew me, who I only knew through his books and the profile he presented to the world. But there you have it. I’m grieving like I lost a friend. Like I lost a lot of friends. Enough to fill Ankh-Morpork.

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    • Katie Writes Stuff says:

      I absolutely loved Johnny and the Dead. There are moments in life when I’ll think of the scene where someone is saying, “Imagine you made the choice to do nothing and lived your life and imagine I’m an angel, who’s come to give you that chance to go back in time and make the choice again”… or something along those lines. It’s amazing how something like that can stay with you.

      My Discworld collection sits across from my laptop, so it’s the first thing I see whenever I look up and all I can think is that it’s such an amazing legacy. That, and I can’t wait to finish the books I’m currently on so I can pay a long return visit to some old friends.

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