SIR TERRY PRATCHETT 1948-2015
Back before I started writing other fiction I was writing fantasy comedy. An avid fan of Douglas Adams in the wake of the Hitchhikers’ Guide radio series, I wanted nothing better than to write as well as he did. My pastiches were pretty good, to the point where I could write an article from the Guide and be accused of theft by anyone who read it! Then DNA’s books became fewer and farther between, and Terry Pratchett rose to prominence. I remember the many arguments I had thinking Adams was unsurpassable despite refusing to read The Colour of Magic (just in case it turned out to be better). Eventually the sheer weight of Terry’s output brushed Adams aside, and my writerly frustrations turned towards the fantasy market.
Every story or idea I came up with back then ended up in a book by Tom Holt or Sir Terry, usually a good year or so after I had conceived it. There was the story about the Norse Gods returning to Earth in search of the god of the 20th Century (yeah, Who’s Afraid of Beowulf? did that one better). Then there was the story where I based the Angel of Death on the fanatical Major Neuheim from Private Schultz (as played by Ian Richardson), then along came Mort and with a big sigh I had to return to the drawing board. Another of my ideas turned up in an Andrew Harman book (but I later found that Robert Rankin had beaten both of us to it! I won’t even mention Moses the Musical!), and then another of my ideas turned up, I think, as a footnote in Pyramids. Eventually, in 1999, when the millennium novel was writing remained unfinished by the time of the millennium, I gave up on dreams of writing genre comedy altogether.
The sad truth is that writers have ideas, and they don’t use them all, or else they spend too much time trying to use them, only to discover that “Bum! Someone else had the same idea and they used it SUCCESSFULLY!”. I am told that Sir Terry blamed this phenomenon on stray ideon particles visiting me and not being used quickly enough. His loss is a great tragedy, and (because I avoided reading them for so long) I have a lot of books to catch up on.
Those that know me are well aware that I have ideas tumbling out of every orifice. Like the human brain I use less than 10% of them. It’s been a while since I properly returned to the comedy genre. I’ve been thinking about it for a while, but the scary shadow that Adams and Pratchett over the genres that they had shaped were pretty big. Many writers – Andrew Harman again springs to mind – tried to succeed in it, but the bar was set so high, and the challenge so great,that they didn’t last long. I certainly decided to leave well alone – that kind of thing is absolutely what I grew up wanting to write, but I just dared not.
Maybe, instead of avoiding the genre because of these giants, I might delve back into it in Sir Terry’s memory.