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Culture Bytes: The Final Discworld Novel


On Thursday 27th August, the forty-first novel in Terry Pratchett's Discworld series was published, just five months after his death from Alzheimer's. This, The Shepherd's Crown, will be the last in the series. It was a strange day, one of extreme joy and profound sadness. A great work of literature has been published - it's just a shame this is the author's final book.


I was lucky enough to have a publication-day event happening nearby to me. Rob Wilkin's (Terry Pratchett's close friend and assistant) was doing a talk, reading and signing in Waterstones, Deansgate in Manchester. Tickets, including a copy of the book and a goodybag were £10. Well, I'm a fan, I had £10 (just) and as a writer I work pretty much when I want - how could I say no? Due to my immense excitement I arrived at the venue at 11am - the event didn't start until 12:30... But I couldn't sit at home thinking about it any longer. I had to be there! I had to soak up the atmosphere. I was surrounded by books, including an impressive collection of Discworld novels, only adding to my excitement. But, more than this, I had to prepare myself. There was a certain sense of finality about the day. We were saying goodbye to Terry Pratchett.


I passed the time how I normally do - with a cup of coffee and a book (being in a bookshop I was hardly at a loss here). I also played one of my favourite games - 'Who's here for the event?' It won't surprise you to know that this is particularly easy game at Comic Con (though, there are enough eccentrics around to make even that something of a challenge). The people in fancy dress were easy. The witches and wizards were obviously here for Terry Pratchett. The man in the Watch uniform (who had been to one of the midnight events in London as well). Even the more subtle costumes - t-shirts with slogans only a Discworld fan would know. My favourite, however, was the man in the Discworld hat (a beanie with Great A'Tuin the world turtle holding up four elephants and the world) who sadly declined my offer of a photograph. There was even one gentleman dressed as Terry Pratchett, prompting some worry they'd hired a look-alike to deliver a portion of the talk, though thankfully this turned out just to be a particularly dedicated fan. But, as we entered the Event Room, I was struck by the diversity of the audience. I was immersed by different languages and accents, surrounded by different ages and genders. There were children as young as six and adults older than Terry lived to be. I only realised at that moment just how wide-reaching Discworld is. This is universal.

Terry Pratchett

Sitting in the room before Rob Wilkins arrived, we all started talking. One woman even gave everyone a wristband she had made with the phrase 'The Turtle Moves'. There was so much love in that room, all shared out over the vast expanse of Discworld. I was slightly embarrassed to admit I've only read fourteen books in the series, though I found the audience very accepting.
"They obviously mean a lot to you," one man said to me.
And even though these books have only been a part of my life for, at most, two years, they do mean a  lot to me. Where many fantasy books feel like going on an epic adventure, Discworld offers something only the greatest literature can - the sensation of coming home.
"They really do," I replied. Then, as a side note, "Also, if I start crying it's probably best to just let me get on with it."
Everyone was kind enough to respect my wish when the time came.


Rob Wilkins' talk was a poignant affair, not ignoring the fact that Terry has passed away. He even revealed that as many as ten further Discworld books had not only been planned, but started, and would never see the light of day. This, though very final, seems like a mark of respect to Terry Pratchett and his fans. It was only his work to finish and the world just wouldn't be the same in somebody else's voice. We were then read the Afterword of The Shepherds Crown, explaining Terry died in the editing stages of the book so it wasn't quite as polished as he would have liked. Yet, as soon as the reading of Chapter Two began, it was clear how unnecessary it is to say that. What we heard was perfect - witty, warm and thoughtful - and, while it is true Alzheimer's changed Terry's writing style, it was every bit as good as he always was. The Afterword, however, does prove one thing - Terry Pratchett was a perfectionist and a writer of the highest order.


I think it's fairly well circulated by now, but I'll warn of a SPOILER anyway. In the second chapter, Granny Weatherwax dies. This was the part that made me really emotional. It almost sounded like Terry Pratchett accepting death. I fully admit this may have just been the spin my own emotions placed on the passage and, even if I'm right, I think Terry might not have done so deliberately. But as tears snuck from the eyes of fans all around me (and a little less subtly from me) I couldn't help but imagine they were thinking the same. One utterance of Granny Weatherwax is, "I don't know about the world, not much; but in my part of the world I could make little miracles for ordinary people." And what is Discworld if not a miracle?
 

The queue to get our books stamped was long, but the atmosphere made the time go very quickly. I heard tales about a Discworld convention where one person met Terry Pratchett. I heard people's favourite Pratchett titles, not all of them Discworld. But the highlight, for me, was meeting Rob Wilkins.
"Thank you," I said as he inked the stamp.
He looked up at me. "Please, this is nothing compared to what Terry would have done. But we all have to do our best for him."
Hearing the friendship in his voice, I couldn't do anything but thank him again.


I feel like it's not quite time to read The Shepherd's Crown. Not only do I have another twenty-six in the series to read, but I'm a little too raw. A book is a magical thing (oh, how Terry Pratchett proved that) and one you can visit time and again with re-reads. But I can only have one first time travelling through Discworld and I'm not ready for that first time to be over just yet.

Sam Leeves is the author of the novels 'Endless Tides' and 'In the Footsteps of the Behemoth', he is also a member of The Fawcett Society. Find him on twitter, @CptSkyheart.

 
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