I’ll never forget the first time I became aware of Terry Pratchett; I was eleven years old and a friend handed me a dusty and battered copy of Mort claiming that it was nothing short of the best book he’d ever read.
Now I’m nearly 30 and I’ve lost the count of the times I’ve ventured into the incomparably beautiful Discworld; losing myself in a realm of witches, wizards, orang-utans, multi-legged suitcases, and of course, DEATH.
As such, it saddened me beyond words to hear that on the 12th March 2015 the great man passed away, finally succumbing to Alzheimer’s disease which he affectionately called his “embuggerance”.
Sir Terence David John “Terry” Pratchett was born in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire in 1948. At an early age an avid passion for science, particularly astronomy, led to an interest in reading English and American science fiction. At 17 he left school to pursue a career in journalism, writing several short stories for The Children’s Circle. His first big breakthrough came in 1968 with a chance meeting with Peter Bander van Duren, co-director of a small publishing company. In passing, Pratchett mentioned that he had written a piece called The Carpet People. In 1971, the novel was published and received predominantly positive reviews.
1983 was perhaps the most significant year for Pratchett: the first Discworld novel The Colour of Magic was published to critical acclaim. In 1987 after the success of fourth Discworld novel Mort, Pratchett gave up his job at the Central Electricity Generating Board to focus on writing professionally. Sales of his books soared, his popularity rapidly increased, and in 1996 he was the top-selling author in the United Kingdom. Since then, his UK sales average alone tops 2.5 million copies a year.
On the 11th December 2007 Pratchett announced that he had been diagnosed with a rare form of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, famously describing it as the aforementioned ‘embuggerance’ in a radio interview. Not one to shy away from the reality of his condition, Pratchett did all he could to raise awareness of Alzheimer’s disease. In 2009 he appeared as the focus of the two-part BBC documentary Terry Pratchett: Living With Alzheimer’s. He also appeared on several television and radio shows such as The One Show to further raise public awareness of his condition.
In 2011 Pratchett presented a one-off BBC documentary entitled Terry Pratchett: Choosing to Die, focusing on the controversial subject of assisted death. The programme went on to win best documentary at the Scottish BAFTAs in November 2011.
On 21th March 2015, according to his publisher, Terry Pratchett died from final complications with Alzheimer’s.
It is difficult to put into words what this man meant to me. Quite simply, I would not be the person I am today without his work. In 2001, a nervous, shy 15 year old me got to meet the great man himself at a signing for The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents. In a moment that would forever change my life, I asked him if he had any advice for a budding writer. With the calmest tone in his voice, he said “quit”, and chuckled to himself. Shortly after that, he shook my hand, and said “write for you, because if you don’t like it, what’s the point?” I often find myself stopping mid paragraph and asking myself “do I like this? Am I enjoying it?” and the clear cut ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer that follows guides my decisions.
There are very few authors out there (particularly in the fantasy world) that can call what they do truly original. It is a genre that is set upon certain ‘rules’ that deem it fantasy. What Pratchett so masterfully did was throw that rulebook out of the window, and come up with something unquestionably original. He took on the dangerous task of mixing fantasy and comedy and completely made it his own; so much so that you will struggle to walk into any house in Britain and not find at least one copy of a Discworld book somewhere.
When anyone passes, it’s those of us left behind who hurt. This is the nature of death. Pratchett summed it up best himself stating, “Death isn’t cruel – merely terribly, terribly good at his job”. Though we will mourn his loss, we are left with the precious memories of a man who brought joy to millions, and a life’s work that I personally will continue to read, and re-read, until that cat loving reaper comes for me.
Thank you Terry Pratchett. You were one of a kind, and you will never be forgotten.