Terry Pratchett – The First Week
Alan Crooks, Engagement Volunteer
Returning home from a fortnight’s holiday on the morning of Friday 15 September, I opened my emails to find one from Jan Thorne inviting Gallery Stewards and Engagement Volunteers an opportunity to walk around the exhibition that very afternoon. Knowing that this would be my only opportunity to view the exhibition before my first shift (in this case, as a Gallery Steward) on the following Tuesday, I accepted.
As a former scientist and science teacher, paradoxically I have never been interested in either science fiction or fantasy – the genre to which I’d assumed Terry Pratchett fitted. Consequently I’d never read any of his books. Therefore, in preparation for my duties at this exhibition I had taken my first book of his to read whilst on holiday. This was Wintersmith, the third tale in a sequence about the trainee witch, Tiffany Aching, which is intended for younger readers. I chose this because in December, 2013 I had attended the Steeleye Span ‘Wintersmith’ concert at the City Hall, during which Terry Pratchett joined the band on stage.
This was a great choice as characters from this: Tiffany Aching, the Nac Mac Feegles, Granny Weatherwax, feature heavily in the exhibition. Furthermore, as I had read this on a Kindle, the first chapter of the next book in the series starring Tiffany Aching was provided free of charge. This was ‘I Shall Wear Midnight’. Here Tiffany came face to face with the giant:
“He – and he was quite definitely a he, there was no doubt about that – had been carved out of the turf thousands of years before. A white outline against the green, he belonged to the days when people had to think about survival and fertility in a dangerous world. Oh, and he had also been carved, or so it would appear, before anyone had invented trousers”.
Quite clearly, this had been inspired by the Cerne Abbas Giant, and so provided a nice link with the previous exhibition, ‘British Art:Ancient Landscapes’. I was hooked!
Immediately prior to my first shift, Jan Thorne had warned us that museum staff had been taken completely by surprise by the emotional responses that the exhibition had elicited among some of its visitors, as many had been supported by reading Pratchett novels during difficult periods of their lives. I encountered some very positive emotions. There was a young Australian woman wearing the broadest of broad grins, but which amazingly appeared to get even broader as she wandered around with what appeared to be a telescopic monocular, that enabled her to examine detail on pictures some distance away in Terry’s study.
Another girl was wearing a particular kind of badge with ‘Terry Pratchett’ inscribed on a red ribbon, with green leaves and a flower (pictured), and proclaimed that she thought I wouldn’t encounter many of these. I think she explained that this was the Terry Pratchett Memorial pin, only it does not have ‘1948-2015’ on it.
Somebody else informed me that the novel writing itself on Terry’s typewriter was in fact a chapter from The Nightwatch, featuring the Assassins. Yet another person informed me that the chest with feet to the side of Terry’s desk was from ‘The Colour of Magic’.
During my second shift I overheard two young lads talking about Pratchett’s Carnegie medal and they told me that their school had been among those chosen to vote for the Carnegie Award, and many of them had proudly voted for Pratchett.
Also on this day, a young man wearing a ‘Guns ‘n’ Roses’ jacket asked me, incredulously, whether a letter on the pin board had really been written by Neil Gaiman. Not being a fan of fantasy genre material I had never heard of Neil Gaiman. I didn’t admit this to him, but went to have a look and, to me, it seemed a perfectly genuine letter (pictured) (Editor’s note: and it is…)
Alan’s blog underlines what an extraordinary thing this exhibition is. If any other volunteers have interesting stories to tell, please pass them on.