GNU Terry Pratchett

In the creative world, there are two individuals whose influence on my own life towers above the rest.

One of those was the late, great, Douglas Adams; who’s Hitchhikers Guide is the single piece of work that has the biggest impact on my view of life, the universe and everything.

The other, was that man you see above this text: Terry Pratchett.

The photo was taken in the now-just-a-coffee-shop-but-back-then Peak Books in Chesterfield; it was Autumn 2005 and I had been in town since about 2pm, which meant I was once of the first in line to meet Terry - and, on the promise of ‘no flash’, I got to take this picture, after he signed my copy of the book ‘Thud’, addressed to me, with the word ‘Diamond’ above his signature.

[Diamond being, as it turns out, the name of the King of the Trolls - a shining example (literally) of the living rock.]

I remember briefly talking to Terry (back then he was renowned for staying through to the end of book signings so that every single person got to meet him and have their book signed) - I thanked him for responding to my letter 5 years earlier; and he told me a story of one of the many letters he responded to, that involved sending packages of audio books to a kid in Scotland who was so ill they couldn’t have physical contact with any other human being (literally living in a bubble), but the delight that Terry’s Discworld book on tapes brought the kid, was one of the few highlights of his remaining years.


But I am getting ahead of myself.

I think I was 11 or 12 when I first stumbled upon Men at Arms in the High School library. I don’t recall reading much before then in my life - but something about Josh Kirby’s cover just caught my eye, and I don’t think I ever looked back.

Instantly, the members of the City Watch became memorable characters in my life - particularly the overly honest/keen Lance-Corporal Carrot (as he was then), with his willingness to give everyone the benefit of the doubt even the hardened criminals of Ankh-Morporkh [as I would later recall whilst recounting a jewellery heist stand-off from Jingo as part of some English homework]. Carrot still pre-dated Constable Benton-Fraser (from Due South) by a few years in my head, but it was no surprise when I instantly took on both of their’s characteristic of believing there was good in everyone - something I do foolishly cling on to, even in this day and age.

And soon the wider characters of Discworld came into my life - the cowardly hero Rincewind (fabulously voiced by {I later realised} Eric Idle in the two Discworld computer games), and all the other UU wizards - William DeWorde and his search for the Truth - the generous tyrant Vetinari (my political role-model) - the enigmatic Librarian {who’s signed portrait hangs proudly on my wall, thanks to an equally devoted Pratchett fan friend of mine} - Death, who TALKS LIKE THIS - and, more recently; the nimble-of-mind, likeable rogue; Moist von Lipwig.

I could wax lyrical for hours about Discworld and everything about it. The hundreds (possibly even thousands now) of nights that I have fallen asleep to the sound of Tony Robinson reading Terry’s words; how I would much rather live in the certain magical world of the Disc, rather than the uncertain narrative-driven Earth; how the Science of Discworld managed to influence some of my hardened philosophies with particular regard to the narratives that construct our lives; how Jingo is my favourite of the novels, with Men at Arms a sentimental second, and Night Watch and Going Postal tied for third; and how much I am going to very much miss that world that Terry created - although I understand his daughter has his blessing to carry it on in some form. [My hopes for an open-world RPG set on the Disc have not entirely faded yet!].


But I can’t.

Or at least I can’t right now; because as many of you know, Terry was not just Britain’s best-selling fantasy novelist [at least until JK Rowling came along], but he was afflicted with a terrible disease, and he had the tenacity to open up and talk about his ‘embuggerance’ with admirable honesty and frankness, that began to open up the subject of ‘assisted dying’ (as he phrases it, over assisted suicide).

And we can only assume at this point that illness has - in some part - resulted in the death of a great man today, surrounded by his loved ones; which - selfishly - fills me with a great sadness.

That’s the letter Terry sent back to me; aged 16 and filled with awe for the magical Discworld he sent me to on a regular basis; I had just spent far too many days writing a short story for an English assignment (despite handing it in days overdue, I still got an A*) and I sought the great man’s approval.

Sadly, as the letter explains, he wasn’t allowed to read my story because of plagiarism and things; but his assistant quite liked it…

Although I frustratingly don’t have a record of the questions I asked; I do recall that question 6 was inspired by a recent visit to the West End to see ‘Les Miserables’, and I asked if he had considered writing something involving a revolution…

Two years later and Night Watch featured a very Ankh Morporkian revolution…

[Obviously, I don’t claim to have given him that idea!]

Like reading Douglas Adams, I loved being in the company of someone who’s mind worked like mine - and that was Pratchett at his best; a good friend who always had a funny joke somewhere (often in his footnotes), when even then the real world around you seemed like a scary and ridiculous place.

Terry was my friend; and no doubt yours too. Often at times when it didn’t feel like many other people understood you; Pratchett did.


Which is what made it all the more harder to accept that Terry was no longer continuing to be the Terry he used to be - in December 2007 he announced to the world that he had a particular type of Alzheimers, that was particularly difficult to treat - which propelled him into the limelight as ‘Mr Alzheimers’ as he jokingly referred to himself in the important Shaking Hands With Death; his Dimbleby Lecture, read by his ‘Stunt-Pratchett’ and Discworld audiobook narrator, Tony Robinson.

Of course, such a creative man could put time and money into investing into cures for Alzheimers, but knew all-to-well that a cure would not be reached in his lifetime. But his keenness to understand his situation more, still spoke of a man truly solid in his humanist beliefs.

I urge every single one of you to watch the very challenging Choosing to Die as an understanding of what all of us will have to face one day: our own mortality. If we are lucky, it will be swift and relatively painless; but for many it will not.

And even the Death of the Discworld is at a loss for such a cruel illness as Alzheimers:
The death of the warrior or the old man or the little child, this I understand, and I take away the pain and end the suffering. I do not understand this death-of-the-mind.
DEATH, The Light Fantastic
How eerily foreshadowing.


I’m sorry that this blog has failed in part to celebrate the brilliant things that Terry wrote and - in later life - held up to sound personal enquiry. But another great light in my life has been cruelly extinguished, and I am in mourning for a man I once met, and his entire world that I love.

There is a moment in Choosing to Die when Andrew - a suffer of MS - visits Dignitas for the final time off-camera. Although you see an assisted death on film later in the documentary; it is this moment in which Terry and his assistant Rob are reflecting on Andrew’s decision to die, that sticks vividly in my mind.

The night before, they visit Andrew in his hotel room to say goodbye.

And as they leave, Andrew tells Terry of the music that he is going to have playing as he enacts his assisted dying.

So, that next morning, with a glass of whiskey in their hands; Rob and Terry listen to Nimrod by Edward Elgar, to mark Andrew’s passing.

Which is exactly what I am going to do right now. It’s 12:30 am, but I just don’t care.

I do not know what hand Terry had in his own death (ultimately the appeal of Dignitas wasn’t something he completely took to, in the conclusion of his film), but I do know that not only his family (and his cat) will miss him; but millions of us are mourning his passing, and will celebrate his works for many many years to come.

Rest in Peace, and Farewell, Sir Terry.


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