My very favourite author died a week ago.
Sir Terry’s death was expected, though not this suddenly.
For the last week, I’ve been wondering how, or even whether, to address this loss on my website. So many greater words have been written.
I decided to relate a story, based on what my friend Brendon said on Twitter.
In 1996, I was a Journalism student at the notorious famous Rhodes University in Grahamstown. It was a very short six-month drinking holiday, sponsored entirely by my mother.
At the time, I was still going by my legal name, Randolph Potter.
So, I was there for six months. In that time, I met hundreds of people, many of whom still remember me. As the stories go, I’m still friends with at least some of them in spite of my self-importance.
When I was not in the Rhodes Music Radio (RMR) studio, producing radio shows, I was in the RMR studio doing talk shows with various co-hosts and guests. I was good at the former, and bad at the latter. I had exactly one good interview, and that was the first one, which I actually prepared for. Then I got lazy and tried to wing it. Yep, I had that much hubris that I thought I could do live community radio without any preparation, for an entire hour, on a Monday morning.
Some famous South African journalists of today used to do radio shows with me. This is why they are now Famous South African Journalists, and I am an IT consultant in Canada.
While not doing radio, I was often found at The Vic Main Bar (at the eponymous Victoria Hotel), or at another bar called Kolors, oddly located just outside The Vic.
I was part of a flock of first-year students who called ourselves “The Twenty Rapists and Pillagers” (how’s that for a terrible, bad, not good name?). The motto was “Remember to rape before you pillage before you burn”. Three of us were called Claire, but one spelt it without the “i”. Lara and Kim were there too. I liked Lara’s hair. Kim eventually married Ryan, but she dated Howard while I was there. Bailey was still straight, dating Yoland, and I had a mad crush on him. Dan and Wayne were the epic duo and were both super smart (we all were). Wayne now directs films with Hollywood actors in them. Dylan was called Jesus because he was a Wiccan, had a beard and dressed in robes. Clinton was caught masturbating, from outside his dorm room window, because he had turned on the light and it was casting a shadow on the drawn curtains. I have a list of all the names on my computer, scanned from the original “manifesto” Bailey and I put together. I wish that friendship had never ended. It was about money, of course. Stupid.
During the afternoons and early evenings, I would be found on the Internet, in one of Rhodes University’s computer labs, mostly on IRC. I had a website (which is what you are reading today, though the content has matured a little), called Randolph’s Delusions of Grandeur, hosted on the RUCUS server. It was from that account, firstname.lastname@example.org (which no longer exists, Praise Be To Siv), that I sent an email to one Mister Terry Pratchett, in early 1996, to tell him that there was a grammatical error in one of his books.
You see, the unknighted Terry had written “two choices”, when of course he meant “two options”. As mentioned, I was in my Dick Phase, which lasted a good number of years, where I would act superior to everyone, including my favourite author of all time.
I was witty and clever in my email (or so I thought). And I never heard anything back from him.
After what amounted to delayed distress at my father’s death two years previously, I packed my trunk and trundled back to the concrete jungle of Johannesburg, before the university could kick me out. You see, I was not doing very well in my classes, mainly on account of not attending them, nor doing any work. Except Drama. And Philosophy. The lecturer for Philosophy was Marius and he was really smart. Drama was a fun thing to do because I hated Psychology. Turns out I want to be an actor now. Go figure.
So, because I was about to lose the privilege of attending the university due to lack of interest in studying, the post-traumatic stress could not have come at a better time….
I moped around for the rest of the year with my then-best friend Simon. Between episodes of mania and lows of deep darkness, I decided I would attend Damelin Computer School the following year (1997 if you are keeping up). Simon was doing the Software Support course there, with his classmate and new friend Mike. Now, Mike was coincidentally the brother of a woman Simon was spading flirting with, who also happened to work at the local veterinarian. So we all kind of moved in the same circles.
This is a convoluted way of telling you that the universe was making me go to Damelin and do this course and eventually become best friends with Mike, whose daughter is now my god-daughter. The main lecturer, Sharon, and I are still good friends too. Which reminds me: I need to upload a file for her this week.
One day, in 1997, a guy in my class who I shall call Kevin, because that is his name, came up to me and said “I couldn’t remember why your name sounded familiar, until I re-read this book last night, called Feet Of Clay. It’s by a guy called Terry Pratchett. Have you read it?”
I told him that, regretfully, I had not. My most recent book by Mister Pratchett (for he was not yet knighted), was the one in which I had read “two choices”, and hence written to the author to complain.
Kevin told me that, not only did I appear in Feet Of Clay, but that I died on page 55 of the UK paperback edition.
Naturally, I was fascinated by this. I confirmed that indeed, a “Rudolph Potts” appears in the book, and on page 55 of the UK paperback edition, his death is described briefly by one of the characters.
Could this be Terry Pratchett’s way of dealing with annoying fans who corrected his grammar? Killing them off in a book?
I never got the opportunity to ask him. I was in South Africa when he was not, and when he was, I could not make the time to see him.
Hopefully you enjoyed reading that as much as I did writing it.
I was reading The Long War, the second book in the Long Earth series that Sir Terry Pratchett co-authored with Stephen Baxter, in January of this year. His words still resound.
A person on the Internet wrote that they will not be reading Terry’s last book, in order to be safe in the knowledge that there is still one more book that Terry has written that they have not yet read.
I doubt this will be the case with me, because Tiffany Aching, but his death is a great loss to literature and social commentary, at a time where we need a mirror held up to us, to remind us how silly humans are. And to laugh at ourselves.
I am still a dick from time to time, but being Killed by a Famous Author in a Book was the start of my own journey to being less pompous and arrogant.
Thank you, Sir Terry, for apocryphally putting me in my place.