When I got up this morning I was checking through the social networks over breakfast and saw from Trent Zelazny’s Facebook page that Anne McCaffrey had died of a stroke yesterday. It hit me like a speeding a truck and a small part of my childhood died too. To say that Anne McCaffrey was instrumental in the person and writer I have grown up to be would be an understatement. I immediately put my condolences out through Twitter only to realise that the news hadn’t spread yet. I’m usually a bit behind on this stuff, but suddenly I found myself being the first person people had heard the news from. It was an unusual experience for me, but a profoundly touching one as I saw the massive heartache that Anne’s passing caused, saw so many other people as deeply affected as I was.
I discovered McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern books when I was a child, maybe ten or eleven years old. Already a voracious reader, I was always on the lookout for the next great story. McCaffrey’s books transported me. When I realised there were several of them, I couldn’t believe my luck. I felt like a prospector striking gold. Always a fan of dragons, here were books that made dragons into something nobler and more beautiful than I could have imagined. Here was a world so rich in detail and populated with such wonderful characters that I truly wished I could slip between and go there. If someone had offered me a one way ticket to Pern, I wouldn’t have thought twice about it.
At about 12 years of age, I wrote my first ever fan letter to an author. I needed to tell this lady how much her books meant to me, how wonderful they were. In the back of one book I saw a note, with an address for any correspondence. I found it hard to believe that such a thing was possible, but I sat down and wrote my letter and asked my mum to post it off. Weeks passed. Weeks are a long time for a twelve-year-old and I thought, Oh well, it was worth a try. It was no surprise that someone as magical as Anne McCaffrey wouldn’t have time to write to some precocious kid in England.
Then a postcard arrived. It had dragons on the front. On the back was a handwritten response from Anne McCaffrey, telling me how pleased she was that I’d enjoyed her books, and how much she appreciated my letter. I was stunned. In my letter I’d told her how I wanted to be a writer one day too, and that I hoped I could maybe write books as good as hers. In her reply she said, “Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you can’t.” That still resonates with me to this day. I do write books now, and maybe one day they’ll be as good as Anne McCaffrey’s.
I wish I could find that postcard. I kept it safe, but it was close to thirty years ago and I’ve moved many times since then, to the other side of the planet. If I ever find it, I’ll scan it and post it here. Regardless, it lives on in my memory as one of the most important things I’ve ever owned. It shaped me as much as her stories did.
Anne McCaffrey was a class act. An absolute legend who touched the lives of millions. It’s a world worse off without her in it, but we’ll have her stories forever. When I read the news over breakfast this morning, it was raining heavily. I sat at the table, staring out the window at the lancing rain and thought about the thread. I imagined riding a dragon out to burn the thread before it could harm the people below. I remembered just how magical those stories of dragons and guilds were. And all her other stories too, the Crystal universe and Ireta, Talents and Freedom, and so many more. Vale, Anne McCaffrey. If you listen really hard, you can hear the dragons keening.