In this month Inspirations From the Bookshelf, Anne Boyere tells us how discovering Sir Terry Pratchett's books influenced her writing.


Although French, I’ve always loved British literature. I devoured Agatha Christie’s novels from the age of eleven. I fell in love with Jane Eyre during my lycée years and subsequently read not only the Brontёs but Jane Austen, Mary Webb, Thomas Hardy, George Eliot, etc. Then I discovered the comedy genius of P.G. Wodehouse’s Blandings, DickensPickwick Papers, Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat. In spite of this, I had not yet read a whole adult novel in English and knew shockingly little about modern British writers when I moved to England in 2001. Then, during one of our early crossings from France to the UK, my husband and I visited the tiny book section on the ferry and bought two novels to pass the time. I chose Bridget Jones’ Diary. My husband chose The Fifth Elephant and later urged me to read it.


It was a revelation.


Sir Terry Pratchett had such an incredible command of the English language that it was suddenly very exciting indeed to read in a different language. 

It was like in When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, Judith Kerr tells the story of Anna and says this: 
“Suddenly the work seemed quite easy and she was beginning to enjoy writing stories and compositions in French. It was not a bit like writing in German - you could make the words do quite different things - and she found it curiously exciting.”


Later - when English truly became my second language and I started considering the idea that I could write in English - like Anna, I also became excited about writing and Sir Terry Pratchett remained my inspiration. Not that I thought I could ever play with language the way he did… Diving into his writing, thoroughly enjoying every sentence and reflecting on how his words can elicit laughter, tears or reflection so powerfully is inspiration enough. It reminds me that words can do this and it encourages me to think about how what I write makes me feel, how it might make my readers feel.


Sir Terry Pratchett’s mastery with words is not the only thing that drives me to seek inspiration in his writing. He had a deep understanding of the complexity of human nature and the human experience which shines in his work. From being born, to death (his portrayal of Death is an amazing mix of the inevitability of what being a living creature means and of compassion), there are few subjects he doesn’t explore: the effect of power, darkest instincts, becoming a parent, the weight of responsibility, compassion (a recurring theme), growing old, the relationship between men and nature, etc. Always with such humour but also in a way that gives the reader food for thought.


I read Reaper Man at a time when I was grieving deeply and not only did it take me out of myself like only reading can do, but it also provided words of comfort. This stayed with me:


“ No one is finally dead until the ripples they cause in the world die away, until the clock wound up winds down, until the wine she made has finished its ferment, until the crop they planted is harvested. The span of someone’s life is only the core of their actual existence.”


And of course there’s his Tiffany Aching series for YA readers (which makes me think they’re long due for a re-read on my part) with the hilarious, fearless and all round awesome Nac Mac Feegle. The Wee Free Men, A Hat Full of Sky, Wintersmith, I Shall Wear Midnight and The Shepherd’s Crown have given children’s literature a female character who is for me like no other as she comes to terms with growing up while at the same time becoming the town’s witch. In Sir Terry Pratchett’s world, witches take their rightful place of powerful women, powerful because they accompany others through birth and death and a lot in between. So, Sir Terry Pratchett even inspired me in my day-to-day life as someone who works with new mothers!


If you have never read any of the Discworld novels, the YA ones are I think a good place to start, and I wish you just as much joy, wonder and inspiration as I felt, the first time I discovered a true craftsman of language.


Anne Boyere is a Words & Pictures editor and hosts #SCBWIchat on Twitter.

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