Rest in peace, Terry Pratchett

I remember swiping The Colour of Magic from my father’s library pile, at age 8 or 9. That was my first encounter with Sir Terry’s words, followed by the Witches books, Moving Pictures and Eric. Even my mother (never a fantasy reader) streamed with tears of laughter as we read choice passages to her. I was hooked long before I reached the City Watch and Death novels, where Vimes, Susan and Death himself became immediate favourites. Pratchett’s work only improved with time, despite his health struggles, leading to my personal favourite, Thud, and the well-loved Moist von Lipwig series.

While I never had the chance to meet the man himself, Pratchett’s characters, his satirical eye and his prolific and consistent output have been inspirational. More importantly, his work was always, and primarily, entertaining. And that work will live on. It doesn’t dull the edge of loss, but it matters. Rest in peace, Sir Terry Pratchett.

The last post

Vimes could feel the cobblestones beneath his boots. And then he couldn’t. He opened his eyes. The street was indeed gone, as were the various targets of his protection and ire. A swirling fog filled his vision instead. The dwarves must have pierced a steam line again, although that didn’t explain the cobbles. Maybe… A figure strode through the mist, its joints clicking loudly.
“Oh,” he said. “Bugger.”
Vimes was rarely at a loss for words, but he hadn’t been expecting this. He had been expecting death, that is, for most of his life, but it had always been a little less personal. Or personable. He nodded.
“Child.” Vimes corrected. “I only have the one.”
Vimes did. It was probably best that little Sam learned about death early on. Lady Sybil would have disagreed, he was certain, but this was one argument she wouldn’t win. He smiled at the thought.
“AHEM.” Said Death, after a minute. “WOULD YOU LIKE SOME MORE SUGGESTIONS?”
“No thank you, I think I’m ready.” Vimes replied.
“Are you.” Vimes corrected again. A sloppy Death, after all. And he’d had such high hopes. He sighed.
“Don’t be sorry, let’s just get on with it.”
Death blinked. There had been others, pushy individuals with little to lose, mostly. But this was a human with it all. A job. A house. A family. He even had a pair of boots.
“I hadn’t realised that was on the table.” Vimes said.
Vimes waited in silence.
“Oh, for…” Vimes stopped talking, because it’s hard to talk while grappling with an over-active skeleton for an over-sized scythe. He had intended to go peacefully, but intent doesn’t matter when a maniac swings an obsolete farming implement at a copper.
There was an OOMPH. And a THUD. Followed by a very subdued rattle as dozens of bones fell to the nonexistent ground and faded away.
“BUGGER.” Vimes said again.

The Florinese Painter

I never expected to spend my latter years entrenched in litigation. Literally entrenched, I’m afraid, as each day brings ream after ream of progressively ridiculous claims. Surely, no other could produce such an outpouring of irrelevant and painstaking detail? Morgenstern has his heir – in brevity if not in wit – and my last thoughts will dwell on this parody of justice.

Helen cleaned me out, of course, during the divorce proceedings. Her own expert witness, she chronicled my daily failings in the marriage, fatherhood and bedroom departments, dictated with a clinician’s dispassionate ease. I spent the trial immersed in memories, which probably worked against me. The judge called me distant, vapid, and I was too preoccupied to disagree.

The whale went with her, which was a relief. For a time I was almost happy. It wasn’t joy, exactly, but the loss of a vast, oppressive force, leaving a kind of booze-soaked peace. That was before my lawyer, Charley, called.

“We have a problem.” He began. That was his usual opener, but this time it lacked a jovial tone. “It’s The Princess Bride.” I swear, that’s how it came out; the man could italicise his speech.

My father’s voice intruded on our conversation at this point, repeating words that had buoyed me over the years. “Most dreadful treachery,” he said in my head. “And miraculous of loves.” I muttered in automatic agreement to Charley’s legalese, but he caught on.

“Christ, Bill, are you listening?” That got my attention. Charley wasn’t a religious man – “What lawyer is?” asked my father – but a judicious convent school had beaten the blasphemy out of him, for the most part.

“I’m listening.” I offered, chasing my father’s ghost from the bedroom of my memory. “Litigation… costly… S. Morgenstern…”

“Junior. S. Morgenstern Junior. The bastard had a bastard, can you believe it?”

“No,” I answered. I’ll claim preoccupation, or too many mojitos, but I was a little slow on the uptake. “I can’t believe it.”

“Well he exists and he’s suing you, claiming you abridged his father’s work without permission and defamed his family name.”

The words hung in the air, and my father’s ghost re-entered the room and playfully rearranged the letters. They still made no sense.

“Suing me?”

“That’s the short version. He’s… His father’s son.”

What does that mean? I wondered. “What does that mean?” I asked.

“His brief isn’t.”

Truer words were never spoken. I don’t begrudge the son’s depth of feeling over a father’s legacy; I couldn’t, since that’s how I came to adapt The Princess Bride. But to recount, verbatim, the passages whose omission had most offended him, the alliances and intrigue and endless bloody hats. Only a Morgenstern could manage that.

The case came to nothing, but only because I was broke. Rights and royalties were handed to Morgenstern Junior, and the tabloids once again wanted my picture. I made my peace with it – or would have, but the correspondence continues. Summons and synopses and the paper parade that follows me no matter how I make my address.

It might be his line now, but I’ll borrow it at my last: life really isn’t fair.

This piece was written to a Write On prompt celebrating the announcement of Harper Lee’s second novel: “In 500 words, write a story featuring your favourite literary character at an earlier or later point in their life.”

“Hugh Howey knows I exist!”

I’ll blame it on the adrenaline, but those were the words Lisa quoted back at me, and do capture my excitement when I made the Hugh Howey Booktrack fan-fiction competition finalists, and even more so when I saw my name on his blog!

icon-booktrack52x50For the uninitiated, Booktrack is an application that lets you easily augment your writing with an appropriate soundtrack. I won’t claim any musical chops, but that’s why Booktrack provides a substantial library of music and ambient sounds, and a really slick interface to work with.

The competition involved writing a story based on Hugh’s Half Way Home and Booktracking it. My own effort, Coming of Age, was set over a decade after the events of Half Way Home, and you can read (and listen to) it on the finalists page.

There were some downright amazing entries, and I’m really honoured to make it through. A huge thank-you to Hugh Howey and Booktrack, and to all other entrants for making this a positive and supportive experience, and sharing some great stories.

The winner will be announced on September 8th, and I’m off to read/re-read the other finalists’ stories now – I was already blown away by Emily MacGowan’s entry, so I’m bracing myself for an envious half-hour!

Edit: I should add that if you haven’t checked out Hugh’s Wool saga yet, it’s among the best contemporary sci-fi out there. Authors will probably be familiar with Hugh’s advocacy work for indie writers all writers, but his Author Earnings initiative should be mandatory reading for those entering the industry. I found it invaluable when making the decision to self-publish, and a useful ongoing resource when gauging results and sale trends.

Cover Letters

Her Royal Majesty, Princess Peach
Peach’s Castle
Mushroom Kingdom

Your Most Royal Highness,

As a loyal subject of the Mushroom Kingdom, I have long admired your guiding presence in our lives, and your advertisement for a bodyguard consequently caught my eye.

My background working beneath the streets of our fair city gives me a perspective that few can offer, with a practical, hands-on approach to problem-solving. Water sanitation and management is a risk-filled occupation, and I have experience subduing both fungal and reptilian threats, while preventing any harm to my clients. It is time to leave the sewers, and work for a cause I care about.

I thank you for taking the time to consider my application. Supporting a ruler I so admire would be more than a simple job to me, and I know I could keep your Highness safely in her castle.

Sincerely yours,


Princess Peach
Peach’s Castle
Mushroom Kingdom

Your Majesty,

I have followed your succession to the throne with great interest, and was saddened to learn of your need for a bodyguard – these are troubling times, indeed, and I would offer you my services.

My background in mechanical engineering and applied castle defence would lend itself perfectly to your needs, and my creations have sent thousands of would-be intruders tumbling to their fate. With a well-honed physique and extensive combat training, I offer reliable protection for your person, and my array of airborne vehicles provide a failsafe escape in the event of an emergency.

I beg Your Majesty to consider this application in all haste, as rumours of ill-bred stalkers spread through the kingdom.

At your service,


This piece was written for Nika Harper’s Wordplay #10. The challenge was a cover letter, with the prompts “the art of caring” and “a new day.”


The Unknown Quantity

“Penny!” Knock. Knock. Knock.

“Penny!” Knock. Knock. Knock.

“Penny!” Knock. Knock. Knock.

“What is it, Sheldon?”

“There was a rather persistent young man outside, asking to see you.”

“Well, where is he?”

“Oh, he’s not a tenant. I couldn’t let just anyone into the building.”

“God, Sheldon, did he say who he was?”

“He claimed to be a courier, but he didn’t have any identification. He said he’d left his wallet in the office! A likely story.”

“Did he have a van, or anything?”

“He wasn’t stupid, Penny! Of course he had a van. So would I, if I wanted to impersonate a courier.”

“And why, exactly, would anyone want to impersonate a courier?”

“Of course, that is the conundrum – I’m still working it out myself.”

“Sheldon! Did he leave a package?”

“Well he certainly tried to, after I questioned his credentials.”

“I don’t like where this is going…”

“Don’t worry, Penny: I refused to be party to his fraudulent machinations, or to sign his so-called documentation. He took the ‘delivery’ away again in his ‘courier van’!”

“Sheldon, has anyone ever asked you, in the nicest possible way, to leave before I kill you?”

“How could they possibly ask that nicely? But I’ll admit that the phrase is familiar to me.”



“Leave. Before I kill you.”

“Oh, you weren’t speaking hypothetically?”



“What is it, Sheldon?”

“I need to ask you a question.”

“If this is about the birds and the bees again, it’s still a metaphor, and yes, your parents lied to you.”

“No, although we’ll return to that later. I need to ask you about Penny.”

“Okay Sheldon. Penny is a bird, according to your parents’ reimagining of biology…”

“No, no. Good Lord, Leonard! If I wanted to indulge in sordid discussions, I would read your chat logs.”

“So that was you!”

“Oh, don’t be so paranoid. It was Wolowitz.”

“What do you want, Sheldon?”

“I may not be reading our interaction correctly, but I believe that Penny might be annoyed at me.”

“That hardly seems likely.”

“That’s exactly what I thought. But she did threaten to kill me, which seemed a little hostile at the time.”

“What did you do, Sheldon?”

“And why would you assume that I did anything?”

“Because Penny doesn’t usually announce her desire to kill someone unless they’ve done something incredibly annoying.”

“Oh, and you’re suddenly our resident expert on all things Penny?”

“You did ask for my advice.”

“Please, Leonard. If you recall the beginning of our conversation, I said I needed to ask you a question. I did not specify that I would require or value a response. Hearing you fumbling around on the pseudoscientific periphery of female psychology is all the confirmation I need.”

“Always a pleasure, Sheldon. And what conclusions has your insightful experiment drawn?”

“I’m glad you asked. Penny is obviously not mad at me for some perceived slight. She is clearly angry at you, probably for some failure to perform adequately in the bedroom. I am your room-mate, so she has transferred her unconscious frustration at you to a more accessible target, namely me.”

“It must be dizzying, living in your head.”

“Well, it would be, for a lesser intellect.”

“Hey guys, did you catch the news?”

“Could you be a little more specific, Howard? Sheldon has alerts set up for any stories within a five mile radius of the apartment, so we’re fully conversant with cats versus trees for this week.

“There’s no need for sarcasm, Leonard! Mrs Whiskers was saved by a strapping young member of our fire department, and is recovering well.”

“No, this is a big story, and it happened just down the block! Some sleazoid was pretending to be a courier driver and seducing women with his package, if you know what I mean!”

“Well, I don’t know what you mean, Howard. I can’t see what’s so enticing about a package. Unless, I suppose, it’s the thrill of the unknown, the barely concealed bulges hinting at hitherto unknown delights…”

“Um, Sheldon?”

“Don’t tell him, Howard. Some things are better left unsaid.”


This piece was written for Nika Harper’s Wordplay #8. The challenge was fan fiction, with the prompts “failed delivery” and “inner demon.”