On Christmas morning 1998 I was ten, and among the presents I unwrapped was a book I had never heard of: Carpe Jugulum by Terry Pratchett.
It had made its way into my stocking thanks to word-of-mouth recommendations that reached my mum; she judged that it seemed like the sort of thing that I would like.
I can’t remember what I was reading in 1998; from my childhood I mostly remember Sweet Valley High and Goosebumps, but I must have been getting too old for those by then. But I can tell you what I was reading in 1999, 2000 and 2001: Discworld.
Carpe Jugulum was, indeed, the sort of thing that I would like. It was funny – anyone who’s ever read any Pratchett doesn’t need to be told that it was funny – and populated with these fantastical characters who felt incredibly real. I don’t even remember the plot now (from a cursory glance at the Wikipedia page, it was probably full of clever vampire movie references that went right over my head), but at the time, it was revelatory. I quickly finished the book, found the rest of the Discworld series listed in the front of it, and set about reading them.
Carpe Jugulum was the 23rd book in the series, so I had my work cut out for me. I must have hardly read anything that wasn’t written by Terry Pratchett over the next couple of years. I regularly checked the relevant shelves in my local library for one that I hadn’t read yet, but soon exhausted their supply. I remember the day I discovered that you could request books into the library. You just told them what you wanted to read and they’d get it for you. It was a game changer.
To Marlow Library: I am sorry that I made you buy so many Discworld books in such a short space of time. I hope it wasn’t a waste of money. I know it’s 15 years later, but if it makes you feel any better, a lot of people will probably want to pick one up for the first time this week.
The first internet communities I joined – archaic Yahoo! and MSN groups – were fan groups for Discworld. My obsession brought me to Good Omens, co-authored with Neil Gaiman, which remains a firm favourite to this day. I’m grateful and glad that I went through my Discworld phase. It looms large in my memories of the turn of the millennium – but looking back, it must have been relatively short-lived. The last new release that I got excited about was Thief of Time in 2001. Then I grew up (…turned 13) and put away childish things, even if those childish things were books that were written for adults. Besides, it was time to move on to Lord of the Rings.*
But my time in the Discworld came full circle before it ended. At some point during the early 00s, my mum noted that a theatre group in Ealing was putting on a production of Carpe Jugulum and kindly got tickets for us both to go. During the interval, or maybe after the performance, we saw the man himself standing around in his trademark black cowboy hat. Young and starstruck, I don’t think I managed to say anything to him at all, but I still feel lucky to be able to say that I met Terry Pratchett. Whatever you might think of his books, there can be no doubt he was a remarkable person.
I’ve held on to a few of my favourite Discworld books and I know that in light of this sad news I will be going back to them and, doubtless, finding new things in them to love. It seems fitting to end with these words from one of those favourites, Small Gods:
Time is a drug. Too much of it kills you.
Carpe Jugulum, everyone. Seize the jugular.
*In another early manifestation of social networking, I became a regular in a Lord of the Rings chatroom under the alias SarumansHairdresser. Yes, really.