TERRY PRATCHETT AND THE DISCWORLD EMPORIUM
"It's useful to go out of this world and see it from the perspective of another one."
- Terry Pratchett
When Terry Pratchett died it was as though Everest had vanished. The landscape changed forever. Terry was the genius creator of an enduring literary phenomenon, the award-winning author of over seventy books, father to hundreds of characters from witches and wizards to watchmen and werewolves. He was an honorary Brownie, knight of the realm and an inspiration to millions of readers and writers all over the world. He was as much a champion of social justice in life as he was on the page.
He was also our friend, founder and patron.
If you’d like to find out about Professor Sir Terry Pratchett OBE Blackboard Monitor, we suggest you read his Wikipedia entry. We’d like to tell you about our mate Terry, the jolly rotten rotter…
Many of you will not have had the chance to meet Terry Pratchett. However, if you’ve read his books you can rest assured that you’ve enjoyed many a close encounter with the man himself for there are few works of fiction that impart a such vivid sense of the author as a person.If you did meet Terry ‘in the flesh’, you’ll know that his conversation was as peppered with wit and wisdom as his books, and perhaps be uncomfortably aware that he was soaking up every word spoken (a perennial journalist he would always have an ear out for inspiration). His ability to remember conversation and faces from even the most fleeting encounters verged on spooky, and it was a constant reminder to think before you spoke, lest his long memory bite you on the arse in the future. It is well known that Terry revelled in the chance to engage with his fans, so much so that many became close friends and accomplices, even appearing as characters in his books.
We first encountered Terry’s work in the late 1980’s when Isobel heard an adaption on BBC Radio Four’s Woman’s Hour. She and husband Bernard ran a pottery and sculpting house in Suffolk called Clarecraft creating award-winning giftware including pottery wizards and dragons hatching from eggs along with ambitious models for the likes of the Tolkien Trust - real benchmark fantasy stuff! Inspired to create a Discworld range of figurines, the pair arranged an inaugural meeting with Terry in Covent Garden, an encounter which would lead to a lasting friendship and the creation of the very first pieces of Discworld merchandise, beginning with Rincewind and the Luggage in 1990 - the very year that Terry and Neil Gaiman's collaboration Good Omens was published.
After ten years of creating collectibles and hosting the first ever Discworld events, Bernard & Isobel relocated to Somerset to begin a new adventure living and working closer to Terry. The world’s first Discworld shop opened in Wincanton under Terry’s ownership in 2000 as ‘The Cunning Artificer’s Discworld Emporium’ (Cunning Artificer being Terry’s nickname for Bernard). Although not the most bustling of towns, the founding parties were more concerned with the sheer fun of it all than matters of footfall. A stone’s throw from the Chalk Valley, it was fundamentally somewhere to create our wares and celebrate Discworld, and for Terry to be directly involved with his merchandise and readership. Happily, our unlikely location facilitated glorious feats of daftness that reflect Terry’s fondness for subversion, including the official twinning of Wincanton and Ankh-Morpork, the establishment of the Emporium as an official A-M Consulate, and an entire housing estate of Discworld street names.
With new workshops and ideas, Bernard embarked on the Unreal Estate; a series of limited edition hand-painted guild buildings and institutions ranging from the Seamstresses’ Guild to the Unseen University, sculpted with a level of detail presided over by Terry himself. Everything was presided over by Terry. He and Bernard may not always have been on the same page, but they certainly read from the same book of life, sharing as they did a love of literature, laughter and of course, a decent pickled egg. Thus, they became a fearsome double act. Terry was, by his own admission, only human and naturally rather shy, so Bernard offered support as court jester, warming the crowd at conventions and public appearances to share the load. As an ex-copper, Bernard’s knowledge of police procedure came in very handy for the Watch series, and his character became inspiration for Sergeant Jackrum in Monstrous Regiment (although Bernard does not, as far as we know, need that extra pair of socks). As a fellow workaholic Bernard could also be depended upon to be at the end of the phone any time of day or night so that the cogs of Discworld continued to turn while everyone else had a day off.
Business-wise, working with Terry could be a sausage of kindness, dunked in the ketchup of constraint. In other words, a double-edged sword. He had the habit of treating people as equals, which is a highly unfair thing to do when you’re internationally renowned genius! Terry was a man unrestricted by impossibility - he created a world for goodness sake - and the only the trouble with working with a fantasist was that possibility had to be optional. He was also so concerned for his fans that didn’t want them to be burdened with expense. Try telling someone like Terry Pratchett that words like ‘cashflow’ and ‘profit margin’ might get in the way of a good project! Consequently there were magnificent creations that put bugger-all in the coffers, but his interest lay more with the process of creation and with his fans’ enjoyment than with making a profit. Half in jest, and half with sincerity he would often say “I turn my face like flint to commercial activity” before conceiving an ingenious new product or approving our ideas.
Often, Terry would enlist us to create items that referenced fleeting moments in Discworld, rather than the more obvious concepts that would earn us a shilling or two, and he was very particular about what he didn’t want to see. Baseball caps were a definite no-no. As a result, many of our creations have verged on the obscure (Boffo’s Pearls of the Pavement, anyone?), nonetheless Terry was astonishingly supportive, putting ideas or book projects in our lap and pushing us to achieve his vision the best way we could. As he once wrote ‘you don’t get it exactly right all the time, no one ever could, but you get it wrong better than anyone’. He worked hard, and expected hard work and high standards in return, trusting to prove and would write many letters over the years enquiring and advising on the progress of projects.
Terry’s connection with his brand and readership extended into the digital world, and he would often converse in newsgroups such as alt.fan.pratchett. Like Terry, we were early adopters of technology and our website was early to the web. In the heyday of the online chatroom our forum was a busy hub of conversation, and Terry wandered its threads, taking an active interest in speculation about his work, quashing any second guessing of future plots. He eagerly monitored opinion and book charts with a proud anxiousness, and often a week or so after the release of a book he’d call to say ‘well, I think I got away with it again!’. His control over his creations was such that he turned down many a major commercial opportunity, but we can make no complaint for it enabled us to thrive and enjoy a special working relationship with a great author and most importantly, for the books to come first.
Terry spread the fruit around a handful of trusted friends and acquaintances to whom he would grant merchandising opportunities or enlist to aid and abet all the wonderful Discworld side publications. By having only a select few licensees, Terry could keep a close eye on us all, and matters were dealt with face to face with honest conversation and handshakes. This was a remarkable arrangement in the world of multimillion-selling franchises, and if ever Terry needed assistance we would be on call to repay his kindness. We would help with research, create commissions for his home, assist with odd jobs such as typing, tackling the mail mountain, or simply take him out for a boozy lunch. If you’ve seen Charlie Russell’s brilliant documentary Terry Pratchett: Back in Black for the BBC, you’ll have a real sense of the Discworld family. Discworld was a cottage industry, made up of cottage industries.
When our doors first opened, a literary shop dedicated to a single fantasy series was rather unusual, except to fantasy fans of course who are an open-minded lot. Nowadays however, ‘geek’ isn’t such a dirty word and the explosion of conventions, shops and merchandise dedicated to book franchises has helped legitimise our existence in the realms of retail. Fantasy has gone mainstream, and we’ve almost become normal. Thanks to its maverick creator however, Discworld still sits defiantly at odds with its commercial counterparts. There have not, quite yet, been any blockbuster films to dictate the appearance of Discworld. The books have been centre stage for over thirty years, and fans have grown up enjoying their own imaginings of characters and locations unhindered by big-screen representations.
"If Discworld is made, it has to be mine, not theirs . . . It's all about the money in Hollywood, but how much money does one person need when what I really want is for it to be done properly? It will happen – one day. And with Narrativia protecting my creative interests, I know it will be faithful to my words."
- Terry Pratchett in interview with the Guardian, 2013.
Although the landscape of Discworld will undoubtedly change as the brand evolves and screen adaptations such as The Wee Free Men and Watch bear fruit, we are blessed and privileged that Terry Pratchett granted us a little corner to be a part of it, or a at least a small blot on it. For us, Terry’s legacy is evident in the surge of curious newcomers to our establishment since his death. Little could we have imagined the vast outpouring of admiration that would ripple out unstoppably, resulting in an ongoing wave of devoted pilgrims wanting to share their stories and celebrate his work, or those seeking to discover more about the wonderful world of Terry Pratchett. Every day we are introducing new readers to Discworld, and every day we are recounted with humorous and often very emotional accounts of how Terry touched readers’ lives. We delight in being able to share our story of the many ways he shaped ours.
We miss the phone calls, rarely beginning with a ‘hello’ but a launch into urgent enquires such as what Vimes would see travelling from point A to B, and the obscure requests for such items as genuine church incense, for his chapel. We miss having him round for hearty luncheons, filling his brandy glass and eating bacon sandwiches with pickles – he was certainly fond of a good tracklement. We even miss the impassioned beratements for having got a detail inaccurate! We could be at the pointy end of a sharp tongue, but fundamentally it was because he cared so very much. Terry shepherded us through enough quandaries over the years for us to know that he felt a great responsibility for projects bearing his name and for the people who made them. What we make represents his creations, his life’s work… him. Things had to be done right.
When it became clearer that he probably wouldn’t stave off the ‘embuggerance’, Terry did what he did best and changed the world with his words. He spoke about his condition and about assisted dying, raged about it even, but he didn’t let the disease define him or hide himself away from the world. Terry Pratchett fought HARD, but never forgot the importance of kindness, curiosity, humour and humanity which only grew stronger despite his battle with PCA. It’s one of the most enduring impressions we have of him that during the hardest fight of his life he remembered to be Terry Pratchett, and Terry Pratchett wrote books.
Terry wasn’t scared of death, or even a world without Terry Pratchett in it, but he wasn’t about to let that stop him having a hand in its future. By entrusting the reigns to his daughter Rihanna and manager Rob Wilkins, Terry had the foresight to ensure that his world was forever protected. We can’t talk for others touched by Terry’s generosity before his departure, but for the Emporium, he provided a proper belt and braces licence that Mr Slant would be proud of. Then, after his death, during a luncheon at Terry’s local boozer in Broad Chalke we were presented with letters, penned by Terry in a final gesture of integrity and care that ensured we were looked after. This was especially touching because in life, the real Terry found saying ‘goodbye’ difficult. Perhaps that’s why he left us such a legacy in his books, so that he would never have to say the final farewell…immortality is good like that.
"Terry Pratchett, from birth to death a writer."
- Terry Pratchett