Not to be content, but to be driven

So I got the chance to attend the Terry Pratchett Memorial event at the Barbican Centre last week. It was an amazing event, as you might expect, getting the chance to be surrounded by his fans and to witness his family and friends all paying tribute and sharing their memories of him. Being there will be a memory I shall cherish all my life.

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They even had goodie-bags

I wrote about my feelings regarding Sir Terry’s death and how it affected me at the time, so I won’t go into them again. You can click here for a link back to the original post.

But being there that night got me thinking about what I’m doing with my life, what I want from it, and what I’m doing to get it. In actual fact there have been several events in the last month which have all gotten me thinking along these lines, but this was the capstone on all of them.

I want to write. I want to be a writer. I want to create stories and characters that take a life of their own and take root in the imagination. I want to see that people enjoy my work. I want to leave the world a fuller place than it was when I entered it. I want to entertain, to thrill, and to disturb. I want to be part of a community of like-minded people.

And I want all of this to be my full time job. While I’m not going to lie and say I wouldn’t enjoy the levels of fame, recognition and fortunes that Terry Pratchett obtained, I’m not going to fool myself that I could ever achieve those heights. But I’d like to reach the point that I call “The Dream”; earning enough through my writing to life comfortably on that alone.

I want to believe that my life as it is right now is part of a story that is progressing towards these goals, and above all I want the strength to fight the nagging self-doubts – those fears that gnaw on the back of every thought – that I might not be good enough. That I might never find any real ‘success’ or ‘recognition’, with my writing never developing to anything more than a hobby. Or that a lack of progression might someday combine with other pressures to bring me to give up writing completely.

In the introduction to A Slip of the Keyboard, – which he actually read out during the Memorial – Neil Gaiman describes how his friend Terry Pratchett was a very angry man, and how it was that anger than drove him forward. How it focused him and pushed him when he felt he wasn’t doing everything he knew he could be.

I need this anger.

Sometimes I take a step back and take a long look over my life, and ask myself whether I’m doing everything I can do to achieve the things I want in life. Am I working on the right things? Am I doing everything I can to get my name out there? Am I putting all the effort in that I can? And when I do this I can see full well where most of my problems – those that I have, anyway – fall.

I am content.

In the overall balance of life, I am one hell of a lucky guy; I have a beautiful wife, I own my house, my personal health is in good shape, I have good friends, a full time day job that I enjoy, two cats, and a great relationship with both sides of my family. On top of that – making this political for a moment – I was lucky enough to be born a middle-class, white male. I know full well that in comparison to so many people in the world I have nothing to complain about. Please don’t think I’m looking for sympathy, because in the grand scheme of things I know full well I don’t deserve it. But this post is about me, and through the filter of my perspective and my own personal narrative, it’s a problem.

Contentment is the antithesis of drive. If I had no wish to be especially creative, my life would be pretty much perfect. I could work, watch TV, take up a hobby for my free time. That’s not a bad life, but I want something else and need to keep pushing myself to work on it. I have to be honest and admit that far too often I spend my time relaxing and enjoying the things I have rather than setting myself to writing. I need the drive, the anger, to want to fight the status quo. I have to keep pushing myself everyday. To work to keep the creative momentum going. To give myself deadlines. To make the hard choice between resting and working on my dreams.

Basically, I need to be angry that I don’t have what I want. Not an uncontrolled anger at the world for not giving my what I want, but a driven, directed anger that I haven’t got there yet. Anger at myself for not doing everything I can, tempered by the understanding of outside influences that must be addressed at the same time. Not an anger that makes me an unpleasant person to be around, but one allows those around me to recognise my drive and encourage it.

I have to remember how I felt that night as everyone said goodbye to one of the greatest British Authors of all time, and take what he taught me to heart.

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Mind how you go, Sir Terry

RIP Sir Terry Pratchett

About 20 years ago my mother took out an audio book from the local library for me. When I was younger I used to find it hard to fall asleep without noise in the background, so I would listen to tapes from the library, most of which were picked out by my mother.

Something about this story engaged me more than most, but much to my chagrin I discovered that ended abruptly and without closure. The main character simply dropped off the edge of the world, no less. When I mentioned how unsatisfying this was, my mother informed me that not only did the story continue in the next book, she actually owned it so I could read it straight away to find out what happened next.

Which I did.

This was my introduction to the Discworld, and the writing of Terry Pratchett. It was also the beginning of my true love of reading. I imagine everyone has that one book or author that got them hooked on the possibilities of the written word, and for me it was this. These were the first books I read – at least that I can recall – that were actual grown up books. They had been bought by my mother for herself, not for me or my sisters.

And so after listening to The Colour of Magic I went straight on to read The Light Fantastic. Then Equal Rights. Then Mort. Then the rest.

The Discworld series was my indoctrination into reading for pleasure; of losing myself in language and story. My mother already owned all the Discworld books which allowed me to read my way through all of them without stopping. By the time I had finished them I was ready to move on to other authors, but throughout my adolescence and adulthood I would always come back. Every six months, a new book. I sought out everything I could. I bought the Clairecraft Discworld models. I found the official side books, such as the maps and the diaries. I played all the point and click adventure games. I took part in the local kids theatre groups production of the theatrical adaptations. I found his non-Discworld stories.

Sir Terry Pratchett was one of the biggest influences in my life. His writing was witty, satirical, smart, biting, and yet somehow wonderfully easy to read. He had a style and ease with words that made his work universal, using the world he created to so wonderfully reflect our own. He could twist real world institutions, traditional fairytales and Shakespeare into something new and unique. He had a viewpoint that cut into what mankind is and what it could be. His novels, almost all of which are set in a fantastical world floating through space on the back of four elephants riding a giant turtle, contain ideas and discussions on morality and humanity that any philosopher could be proud of. He was someone who understood the world and had the talent to show the rest of us in a way that we could understand while at the same time making us laugh from our gut.

I’m not usually one for taking part in the mass mourning that pours out when someone famous dies. I’m cynical, and can never get over the fact that I’m sure 90% of the people who flood social media with tributes have no real emotional connection with the person they are eulogising. But Sir Terry Pratchett’s death truly is something personal to me. I never met him – to my sorrow – but his writing has been with me my entire life – literally, as the first Discworld novel came out the year I was born – and has played a major part in inspiring me to be a writer.

I can’t imagine how many words will be written over the next few days honouring this man. Writers all over the world, everyone who has ever read his words and shared in the worlds he created will feel his loss. I’m sure that people with far more skill than I, people who knew him personally and shared his life, will put what I am feeling into more eloquent words than these. And what better way could there be to honour such a great and influential writer than with words that try to reflect those he gave us.

Goodbye Sir Terry. I hope you knew exactly how much you meant to us all. The world is a slightly darker place, but a better one for having had you in it.

Terry&Death