Everything you need to know about author Terry Pratchett
16 January 2020
Sir Terry Pratchett sold 80m books worldwide before the ‘Embuggerance’ of Alzheimer’s led to his untimely death. His life and work was celebrated in an award-winning documentary, Terry Pratchett: Back in Black. Friend and collaborator STEPHEN BRIGGS recalls an extraordinary man.
Professor Sir Terry Pratchett OBE was one of Britain’s best-selling authors, loved by readers worldwide. But to those of us who knew him personally there was much more to the man we were honoured to call a friend.
Terry adored the strange and quirky things that happen in ‘real life’, and was fascinated by just about everything.
Terry was intelligent, irascible, witty and loyal, wryly observing the world around him, taking inspiration from everyone and everything he encountered and pouring wit and imagination into every word he wrote. He had a driven sense of fairness and justice, and was a staunch supporter of the conservation of orangutans, of the research into Alzheimer’s Disease and of the right for people with a terminal illness to die with dignity.
He loved the natural world, fought to preserve the nation’s wildlife and raised goats, chickens, tortoises and carnivorous plants. He and his wife Lyn owned (if that is the right word) many cats. He was a keen amateur astronomer and built his own observatory in the garden of his home.
Terry was also an inveterate collector of unconsidered trifles. He adored the strange and quirky things that happen in ‘real life’, and was fascinated by just about everything.
His first story was published in 1963 when he was 15 - he used the proceeds to buy a sturdy typewriter - and the rest is history.
He had what he called a 'pack rat' mind that enabled him to Hoover up snippets from conversations and transpose them into the worlds he created. Terry was an entertaining companion, a keen player of computer games and oh yes, he also wrote books...
His first story was published in 1963 when he was 15 - he used the proceeds to buy a sturdy typewriter - and the rest is history. More than 50 novels followed, selling over 85 million copies worldwide - in 37 languages.
He also collaborated with several other talented writers to produce a range of further titles, including the only map ever to feature on the Sunday Times Bestsellers list.
Speaking about his SF novel Strata in 1981, he said "I am working on another Discworld theme, since I don't think I've exhausted all the possibilities in one book!"
Quite an understatement.
He always made time for his readers, taking his guidance from his own childhood fan letter to JRR Tolkein. He attended fan events and stirred things up on the newly-forming internet, taking on marathon book signings all over the world. These events sometimes ran to more than six hours and stores would often have to send out for frozen peas to soothe his signing wrist.
He was appointed OBE in 1998 and was knighted for services to literature in 2009. He won many awards for his novels but perhaps his most prized was the Carnegie Medal, won in 2001 for The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents. He also received the World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement in 2010.
I met Terry through my interest in amateur theatre. I wrote to ask if I could stage his Wyrd Sisters, and much to my surprise he said 'yes', so my life was immediately catapulted down a different leg of the trousers of time. We worked together to map his world and Ankh-Morpork, its principle city. We also collaborated on a mini-raft of other publications.
Terry was, as I’ve so often said, funny, loyal and supportive. He was also waspy – a man I could always rely on to say what he really thought about anything I did. Working with him was fast and fun – there were frequent phone calls (pre-internet), and a lot of laughs – we shared a common background in humour.
He was a wise, witty - but not wacky or zany - writer, a huge loss to the literary world, and a much-missed part of the lives of all who knew him.
At book signings we’d sometimes drift into Life of Brian... “Crucifixion? Good... line on the left, one cross each...” and then amble off into running entire scenes from memory, much to the confusion of the observing fans. It was masses of fun – and a real privilege to be a part of creating even a small element of his wonderful world.
In 2007 Terry fell ill on tour in the USA and was subsequently diagnosed with posterior cortical atrophy, a rare form of Alzheimer’s disease. He used his profile and incredible drive to raise awareness and fund research worldwide.
In April 2008, the BBC made a documentary, Terry Pratchett : Living With Alzheimer's. It won a Scottish BAFTA. A further documentary, Terry Pratchett : Choosing to Die, won many awards, including the best Single Documentary prize at the BAFTAs. A third documentary, Terry Pratchett : Facing Extinction, saw him taking one final journey into the jungles of Borneo.
In July 2014, he was forced to cancel his appearance at the Discworld Convention, saying: "the Embuggerance is finally catching up with me”, and he died at home on the morning of 12 March 2015, at the age of 66. Despite his previous - and very public - support of assisted suicide, he passed away naturally and peacefully with his cat Pongo sleeping on his bed.
He was a wise, witty - but not wacky or zany – writer, a huge loss to the literary world, and a much-missed part of the lives of all who knew him.
A version of this article was originally published in February 2017.