28th April 1948 – 12th March 2015
Terence David John Pratchett was born to David and Eileen Pratchett on the 28th April 1948, at Minellan Nursing Home in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire. He grew up to become the UK’s best-selling author of the 1990’s and is known globally as the creator of the Discworld fantasy novels, a series numbering 40 volumes. His 2011 Discworld novel ‘Snuff’ was at the time of its release the third-fastest-selling hardback adult-audience novel since records began in the UK, selling 55,000 copies in the first three days. He was also a famous campaigner for Alzheimer’s research and for the human right to choose a ‘good death’.
After passing his 11-plus in 1959, he attended High Wycombe Technical High School rather than the local grammar because he felt ‘woodwork would be more fun than Latin’. At this time he had no real vision of what he wanted to do with his life, and remembers himself as a ‘nondescript student’, but he had a keen interest in radio. He and his father belonged to the Chiltern Amateur Radio Club in the early 1960’s, their joint handle being ‘Home-brew R1155’. It was from this that Terry’s interest in computers grew – when a transistor cost a week’s pocket money and you built things like a radio around one. At school, his writing talent was recognised by one of his teachers, and he was fourteen when he first appeared in print.
His short story ‘Business Rivals’ was published in the December 1962 issue of the Technical Cygnet, and nine months later, much enlarged, it was published as ‘The Hades Business’ in the August 1963 issue of Science Fantasy. With the proceeds from this sale he bought his first typewriter. Terry was now in line for a bright future. Having earned five O-levels and started A-level courses in Art, History and English, he decided after the first year to try journalism. When a job opportunity came up on the Bucks Free Press, he left school in 1965, to the sorrow of among others, the school’s Senior Debating Society, its Secretary reporting in the Cygnet: ‘Regrettably, Pratchett’s premature departure has meant the loss of one of our greatest characters.’
While with the Press, Terry still read avidly, taking the two-year National Council for the Training of Journalists proficiency course (and coming top in the country in its exams). He then passed an A level in English, whilst on day release. He married Lyn Purves at the Congregational Church in Gerrard’s Cross in October 1968, by which time he had interviewed Peter Bander van Duren, one of the directors of publishing company Colin Smythe Limited, for the Bucks Free Press about a book he had edited. At this time Terry mentioned to Peter that he himself had written a book called The Carpet People and, discovering the book to be a gem, Terry was offered a contract, which he accepted and signed. And seeing how good an illustrator he was, the publishers also asked him to illustrate the book. Over the next year Terry produced about thirty illustrations and the book was published in November 1971.
Terry left the Buck Free Press for the Western Daily Press on 28th September 1970, but he returned to the Press in 1972 as a sub-editor. On 3rd September 1973 he joined the Bath & West Evening Chronicle.
Terry and Lyn’s daughter Rhianna was born in 1976, and many of his books have been dedicated to her.
In 1983 The Colour of Magic was published to great acclaim and The Light Fantastic followed in 1986, by which time it had become obvious that if Terry was to maximise his potential, he had to move to a major hardcover publishing house.
Victor Gollancz’s SF list was very well known and respected, and three titles were quickly published, Equal Rites, Mort and Sourcery. In September 1987, soon after he had finished writing Mort, Terry decided that he could afford to devote himself to full-time writing. He thought he may suffer a drop in income for a while but that it would pick up in due course – and anyway, he enjoyed writing more than fielding questions from the Press about malfunctioning nuclear reactors! So he resigned his position with the CEGB and his sales – and income – picked up very much more quickly than he expected. His next Gollancz contract was for six books, with much larger advances. Gollancz also signed up Faust Eric, a novella illustrated by Josh Kirby.
Terry’s collaboration with Neil Gaiman, Good Omens, was published in May 1990. Late in 2007 the Costa Book Awards carried out a survey of the most re-read books, and Good Omens came fifteenth, ahead of The Bible and The Hitchhiker’s Guide. This brilliantly dark and screamingly funny take on humankind’s final judgment was hugely popular and a new hardcover edition is now available (which includes an introduction by the authors, comments by each about the other, and answers to some still-burning questions about their wildly popular collaborative effort).
Also in 1990, Clarecraft Designs, a company in Suffolk, founded by Bernard Pearson, was licensed to produce a series of models of Discworld characters, and before it closed in 2005 it had produced over 200 figurines, many of which were also produced as pewter miniatures. In October 2008 the Polish company, Micro-Art Studios, began producing Discworld miniatures under licence, based on Paul Kidby’s illustrations. As Discworld grew in Terry’s imagination, so did the complexity of the city of Ankh-Morpork, and Stephen Briggs, with Terry’s input, set about creating a street map of the city mostly based on the descriptions of the activities of Samuel Vimes and the City Watch.
Terry’s twenty-second Discworld novel (and first hardcover to be published by Transworld’s Doubleday imprint) – The Last Continent (definitely not about Australia, but ‘just vaguely Australian’) – was published at the beginning of May 1998 and was twelve weeks in the no.1 position in the hardcover fiction best-seller list in Britain. The next, Carpe Jugulum, in which the witches battle vampires for the Kingdom of Lancre, was published on 5th November and it and the paperback edition of Jingo (published on the same day) jointly held the no.1 positions in the hardcover and paperback fiction lists for four weeks running
As far as Britain was concerned Terry was the 1990s’ best-selling living fiction author. His sales now ran at well over three million books a year. In 2001, it was reported that during the first 300 weeks’ existence of the British Booktrack’s weekly bestselling chart, over 60 titles had continuously been in the top 5,000 bestselling titles and the author with the most titles in this listing was Terry with twelve; The Colour of Magic, Guards! Guards!, Pyramids, Soul Music, The Light Fantastic, Reaper Man, Interesting Times, Sourcery, Men at Arms, Equal Rites, Mort and Wyrd Sisters. No other author had more than one. The Bookseller’s article announcing this fact therefore crowned him ‘Evergreen King’. In 2003 the BBC Big Read showed Terry as having as many titles in the top 100 best-loved books – five – as Charles Dickens.
Terry’s work for the Orangutan Foundation is common knowledge. In 1995 he travelled to Borneo with a film crew to see orangutans in their native habitat, and among the praise that ‘Terry Pratchett’s Jungle Quest’ received was a comment by Sir Alec Guinness in his diary (published the following year), that it was – apart from one other programme – ‘the most impressive thing I’ve seen on the box this year’. In April 2012 Terry and his assistant Rob Wilkins travelled once again to Borneo to revisit the Orangutan Foundation and see what had happened since Terry’s last visit. It resulted in a new documentary, Terry Pratchett: Facing Extinction, filmed by Charlie Russell and shown on BBC1 TV on 27th March 2013.
A two-part four-hour dramatized mini-series adaptation of Hogfather (by Mob Films) was transmitted in December 2006. It was filmed as live-action with CGI, with the late Ian Richardson as the voice of Death, Sir David Jason as Albert, Marc Warren as Teatime and Michelle Dockery as Susan. Filming the snow scenes took place in February 2006 in Scotland and main filming was completed at the Three Mile Studios in London, with the CGI being created by the Moving Picture Company. In April 2007 it won a BAFTA Interactivity Award. Sky invested more in this production than in any previous they’d commissioned, and their confidence was more than justified by the viewing figures of 2.8 million for this £6 million project, making it the highest rated multi-channel commission ever (to that time), beating BBC3’s October 2006 figures for Torchwood.
Sir David Jason, Tim Curry, Sean Astin and Christopher Lee (as the voice of Death) are four of the major names in The Colour of Magic, the Mob’s second Discworld mini-series for Sky1 and RHI Entertainment, which combined the first two Discworld novels under the title of the first book, and was transmitted in Britain in two parts, on Easter Sunday and Monday 2008 and later in the year in North America and Australia. It was mostly filmed in and around Pinewood Studios in south Buckinghamshire with forays to Horsley Towers in Surrey, Cardiff docks, Snowdonia (north Wales) and Niagara Falls. While on tour in America in summer 2007, Terry told audiences at the National Book Festival in Washington DC and in New York, that he’d had a stroke. In fact, the symptoms had been misdiagnosed, and were of a far worse illness, posterior cortical atrophy, a rare variant of Alzheimer’s disease, which was finally diagnosed that December.
As he knew he would have to inform his publishers, he thought it wise to make a public announcement (first releasing the news on the PJSM Prints website). He knew the story would leak out anyway, and he preferred that people should have the full facts immediately. This got considerable press coverage, but it did not prevent him from completing Nation, and by March 2008 he’d decided that he would hit back at the disease and help the search for a cure – or at least help find methods to control it – by donating a million dollars (over £800,000 sterling) to the Alzheimer’s Research Trust.
2008 marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of the publication of the first Discworld novel, The Colour of Magic, as well as Terry’s sixtieth birthday and his and Lyn’s fortieth wedding anniversary, all of which were celebrated in different ways, both public and private. On 14th June he held a five hour signing outside Foyle’s bookshop on London’s South Bank to mark the publication of the Making Money paperback, fortunately in fine weather – and it gave those in the queue an excellent chance to see the Royal Air Force’s fly-past as it headed for Buckingham Palace at the end of the Trooping of the Colour, it being the Queen’s official birthday!
To mark Terry’s sixtieth birthday, Rhianna arranged an open-air concert by Steeleye Span (one of Terry’s favourite groups) in their home village in Wiltshire. This was followed in August by the 2008 Discworld Convention, the sixth in Britain. The Folklore of Discworld was published on 11 September, as was the much-acclaimed non-Discworld young adult novel, Nation, almost entirely set on a ‘not quite Pacific’ island. A launch party to mark twenty-five years of Discworld and the publication of Nation was held at the headquarters of The Royal Society (which has a ‘walk-on’ part in the book), in London, while the Illustrated Wee Free Men (illustrated by Stephen Player) appeared in early October.
The Mob’s production with Sky of Going Postal (in which Terry had a cameo role as a postman attempting to deliver a letter to the late, unlamented Reacher Gilt) was filmed in Hungary during the very hot summer of 2009, and was transmitted on Sky at the end of May 2010. It starred Richard Coyle, David Suchet, Claire Foy, Andrew Sachs and Charles Dance. It was the third in a series of adaptations, following Hogfather and The Colour of Magic. As is now traditional with The Mob’s Discworld adaptations, several fans were invited to appear as extras.
2009 climaxed with the announcement that Terry had been included in the New Year’s Honours List, being appointed a Knight Bachelor, ‘for services to literature’, with the press handout adding that it was ‘in recognition of the huge impact his work has had across all ages and strata of society and across the world’. Amongst the mass of worldwide press reportage, the Independent (London) devoted half its leading article ‘Honours earned and omitted’ to Terry, ending with the words ‘In a period of personal adversity, Mr Pratchett has shown genuine courage. The knighthood of this modest man is an example of what our honours system should be about – and the best reason of all not to scrap it.’
Terry was busy before he discovered he had early onset Alzheimer’s, but now even more so, as he effectively became the public face of the disease. His particular variant leaves the cognitive parts of the mind virtually untouched, as anyone who saw or heard him on TV, radio or elsewhere can vouch. He even spoke at the Tory Party’s annual conference in September in 2008, and received a standing ovation. The two hour documentary by IWC Media for the BBC, ‘Living with Alzheimer’s’ was shown on BBC2 on 4th/5th February 2009 as part of BBC Headroom, the BBC’s two-year mental health and wellbeing initiative, and received two BAFTA awards.
Terry was often interviewed about his thoughts on Alzheimer’s Disease and the government’s attitude to treating its sufferers, and he frequently highlighted the inadequate treatment generally available to sufferers. His vociferous support seemed to be having a positive effect on the government, but supportive words from ex-PM Gordon Brown were sadly not backed up by action. As Rebecca Wood, the Chief Executive of the Alzheimer’s Research Trust said: ‘Terry promised to “scream and harangue” about dementia research. He did much more than that. He became a voice for the 850,000 people in the UK who live with dementia but cannot yell so loudly. Dementia research is still vastly underfunded, but this is changing thanks to Terry’s incredible work.’
He continued, true to his word to scream and harangue at the top of his voice. An article published in the Mail on Sunday in August 2009, on the right of a terminally-ill person to be able to choose when to die without being viewed as a potential criminal, moved the public once more. So much so that he was invited by the BBC to give the extremely prestigious 2010 Richard Dimbleby Lecture, which he called ‘Shaking Hands with Death’. It was broadcast on 1st February 2010, with Terry reading the introductory words then handing over to Tony Robinson as his ‘stunt Pratchett’ to read the major part of the lecture.
This was followed by another documentary, Terry Pratchett: Choosing to Die, which was aired on 13th June 2011. That week’s issue of the BBC’s magazine Radio Times featured Terry on the cover, and the headline ‘5 minutes of television that will change our lives… Sir Terry Pratchett on the BBC’s most controversial documentary’. The debate generated by the programme soon went viral around the world, and its effects rumble on today, but the programme itself has picked up British and Scottish BAFTA Awards, the Royal Television Society’s Best Documentary Award, a Grierson Award and an International Emmy.
During his life, Terry authored 59 books of which 52 were novels, and co-authored 30 more. Then there are those that were created or evolved from his novels, including 22 published stage adaptations and a number performed but unpublished, eight television series (and a number of derivative volumes), about twenty BBC radio adaptations and readings (plus a number in translation) two musicals, four graphic novels, as well as four TV documentaries: a remarkable achievement. Between them they have sold over 85 million copies in thirty-eight languages, a number of works that would stretch from London to North Africa if set side by side.
Terry faced his Alzheimer’s disease (an ’embuggerance’, as he called it) publicly and bravely. Over his last years, it was his writing that sustained him. He worked desperately to complete Tiffany Aching novel, The Shepherd’s Crown in the summer of 2014, before succumbing to the final stages of the disease. He passed away in his home, with his cat sleeping on his bed, surrounded by his family on 12th March 2015. His legacy will endure for decades to come and there is no doubt that his brilliant mind enriched the planet like few before him. All who read his work know that Discworld was his vehicle to satirize this world: he did so with great skill, enormous humour and constant invention. We are honoured to have known the late great Terry Pratchett, and privileged to continue Discworld.com in his memory.
Text used with kind permission of Colin Smythe Ltd