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  • Writer's pictureG R Matthews

A Slip of the Keyboard by Terry Pratchett

Terry Pratchett is angry. You’ll like him when he is angry.

That is the gist of foreword by Neil Gaiman and as you read through the collected works of non-fiction inA Slip of the Keyboard you will see the anger. What is more, you might even develop the same rage (if you didn’t have it already) or, at least, a great deal of empathy.

There is the anger of injustice that comes through his musings on a career in journalism, and as a campaigner. There is the anger at the vagaries of communication – how others hear what they want to hear, misconstrue an argument, how words chosen with care do not accomplish the task set for them, and how some folks just don’t want to listen (or read). And there is anger at the situation he now finds himself in.

However, alongside this tide of anger and rage a strong undertow of bravery and courage pulls at you. Not just the courage he sees in others, in those who stay true to their convictions and battle to see them through, but the courage to write (and speak) about those truths he holds dear himself. There is the courage to speak, and to know with certainty that some of those who disagree will not settle for an amiable discussion over a cup of tea and, perhaps, a digestive biscuit. No, they will choose the letter toThe Times, The Guardian, or The Telegraph to express their dismay. Others will turn to social media to vent their rage. It takes a brave man who has thoroughly thought through his arguments to stand up, in the full judgmental glare of the public eye, and state those truths. A brave man, or a fool.

Luckily for us, Terry Pratchett is not a fool. His writing may border on the foolish in the way pokes fun at and twists our common understanding of the world. Foolish in the way it points out the absurdities of life with the tip of a very sharp sword. Foolish in the way he spears our existence in the modern world, and with such accuracy that we barely have time to flap our tails, twist our fins or gulp a last breath of air (or water, to maintain the metaphor [1]).

A Slip of the Keyboard [4], collects Terry Pratchett’s non-fiction writing together in one volume much likeA Blink of the Screen [5] did for this shorter fiction. The articles themselves are presented in thematic rather than chronological order, starting with his writing about writing and through the thoughts on his own disease and campaigning on the subject of assisted dying.

This is a man who could make the IKEA instruction manual both humorous and poignant. There are articles of whimsy, humour, exasperation and deep, melancholic sadness. This is a book that you could, as I was tempted to, read with a highlighter in one hand ready to pick out all those personal and societal truths that you wished you could put into words. I was tempted to include a few in this, but that would be unfair. Upon reading it, you will discover personal quotes and thoughts that have meaning to you.

There are some articles that touch on the Discworld and its characters, but this not a collection of writing on how to write. It is not book full of advice or ruminations on the writing process. This is not On Writing. It is a book full of writing from a master wordsmith, a man who can take a comma splice and make the join invisible. An author who plays with words the way an impressionist artist plays with colour and brush, the way that Dali played with perception.

When you finish the book, it is quite possible that you will understand the anger a little, or may be further confused by a man who can write such humour having seen, and experienced, such fear and horrors. And that is perhaps some of anger he feels; that rational beings behave irrationally, that intelligent people can be the most stupid, that creative thinkers be the most blinkered, and that those who espouse care and forgiveness can show so little. That we are, as we have always been, a species of confusion and oxymorons [6].

It is no secret that, at least to those I know, I am fan of Terry Pratchett. I find it hard to imagine a world where there are people who have not read his books, or those that have did not like them. I suppose they exist. Statistically, like alien life on other worlds, they must exist, but like those aliens I have never seen them. So, with all those mythical people moved out of the way, I commend this book to you. Read it.

– – –

[1] In accordance with regulation 45.6a, no metaphors were harmed in the production of this post. A representative of PETM (People for the Ethical Treatment of Metaphors [2]) were present during the production of this article to ensure compliance.

[2] Formerly known as PFTETOM until PETCL (People for the Ethical Treatment of Capital Letters) pointed out the unnecessary capitalisation of the prepositions [3].

[3] Something that the PFTETOP strongly disagreed with. Strunk vs PFTETOP is required reading for all lawyers who practice in the demanding field of grammatical law (And, judging by the comments section of almost any news site, this is a growing area of employment).

[4] PETCL at work again.

[5] Them again. They work tirelessly. Ad eundum quo nemo ante iit is their motto and no one can disagree with that!

[6] Word disagrees with the pluralised version of oxymoron (it has the red wiggly line of grammatical shame beneath it), but I am a free, creative thinker and, therefore, don’t care. Anyway, I chose that word to be a punne (a play on words).

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