Monday, 16 March 2015

Sir Terry Pratchett

Memories of a Master - thoughts on the passing of Sir Terry Pratchett

Terry and Me: an anecdote

Terry and Ian - photo by Peter Michaleczky
A few years before this photo was taken, Terry and I were at a convention in Düsseldorf.  We took the elevator up the Rhine Tower to the observation deck which has glass windows slanting forward at about 45%.  Strong glass: German youths without vertigo throw themselves upon the glass hanging 170 metres above the ground to impress their girlfriends.  Terry wisely retreated, his back to the elevator wall.  I calculated: obviously no German youths had died so far due to any panel of glass giving way beneath their weight.  To Terry's horror, I lowered myself upon the glass, carefully—and I did get a story out of this, called "Looking Down on You", with a walk-on (or rather stand-rigid) role for Terry.

Despite my alarming misbehaviour, Terry generously offered to drive to my house from his own about 70 miles away to put useful programmes on my hard disk with names which I forget, such as QuickSkip or something similar—Terry was much more geek than me.

This was extremely kind of him.   A few minutes after Terry drove away from my house in my dark little village quite late at night, in his Ford...

I pause to mention that Terry drove a Ford back then because it was a very standard car with spare parts available everywhere.  A few years later, to indulge himself, well justifiably, he decided to buy a Rolls-Royce.  So he walked into a Rolls-Royce showroom and told the salesperson, "I want one with all the trimmings."  The salesperson led Terry to the top-of-the-range Roller and Terry looked around inside it while the salesperson was opening up the bonnet.
"Fine," said Terry, "I'll take it."   
"But Sir," gasped the salesman, "don't you want to see the engine?"  
"No," said Terry, "I assume it works."

...anyway, in his Ford Terry had been gone a few minutes when I saw on my floor Terry's black bag containing all his disks, and maybe discworld too, left behind.

Clutching that bag, immediately I raced over the road to my own car, a Mazda 3 (spare parts a nuisance to find), started up and went vroom.  Ten miles from my village Terry would reach the M40 motorway and be unstoppable, but late at night no traffic was on my rural road, I knew all the many bends, and any car coming towards me would reveal itself with its headlights.  What if I hit a badger or a Muntjac deer?  That would make a mess—of the badger or deer, and probably the front of my Mazda.  But over the course of many years I had only seen live Muntjacs twice, and live badgers never.

Vroom-vroom.  Where the road dives down and bends beside Thorpe Mandeville I knew exactly where to change down to third gear to boost Mazda out of the dip, revs raging, while avoiding both potholes before curving into three hundred yards of straight at high speed.  Go on, Mazda, you can do it!  I knew how late I could leave it to brake before twisting left and down.

After about seven miles I caught up with Terry's Ford, so I flashed my lights and indicators and hooted a lot.

Terry accelerated.  He must have thought an impatient drunk driver was following him.   Hmm, I must have drunk something while hosting Terry.

So next I flashed and hooted and overtook Terry.  Indicating left, quickly I pulled into an open space which I knew would be there by the road while opening my window and frantically waving my arm.

Failing to understand the intentions of an evidently dangerous lunatic, Terry sped past me fast.

Quickly I pulled out and revved. After another mile of bends—no sign of oncoming cars lights, or badgers—I caught up with Terry again.  By now the motorway was getting closer; this had to be my last attempt.

Straight stretch ahead—and vroom I overtook Terry again at about 80 miles per hour.  I needed to be well ahead of him, and he might have slowed a bit now that the madman was past—for then I did what before I had only seen in films: I braked and turned my car sideways to block the road.

Terry stopped fifty yards back.

I got out, gesturing with his black bag.

As I strode towards him, I swear that he became smaller and smaller till somebody more like a Carpet Person was clutching the open window of the Ford.

"What do you want?" said a tiny voice.  Evidently Terry totally failed to recognise me.

"You left your bag, Terry," I said.

"Oh," came the tiny voice.

I bundled the bag through the car window and little hands received it.   "Thank you."

He still didn't recognise me.

When I mentioned this car chase to Terry a few years later, he denied that any such thing ever happened.  Post-traumatic Stress, I suppose.

Ian Watson

* * * * *
‘Stories of imagination tend to upset those without one.’

Twenty-odd years ago I was browsing in my (now sadly Amazonised to oblivion) local bookshop, searching for something to read to my children at bedtime. I happened upon a neat box set trilogy called Truckers/Diggers/Wings

That night I read my daughter and son chapter one of the first book, went downstairs, and promptly read the rest of the novel in one sitting, accompanied by the frequent rejoinder from my wife in the next room ‘What are you laughing at?’ The answer, of course, was Terry Pratchett’s effortless genius in writing a novel that on one level was a rip-roaring children’s adventure and on another was a wry and hilarious adult commentary on the state of the world.

I saw Sir Terry at the Hay Literary Festival a few years ago. He filled the main venue. It was clear that his cognition had slowed and that he was working hard to maintain his concentration, but the whole room was full of total admiration of the very fact that, under the circumstances, he was there at all, any snooty concepts of him being a mere ‘genre’ author long since dissolved.

I remember his 2010 Richard Dimbleby Lecture (delivered by his ‘stunt Terry’, Tony Robinson) on the BBC, a humane, logical, impassioned and essentially unanswerable plea for the availability of assisted dying to those who might want the option. He has also been vigorously fearless in putting the unglamorous topic of dementia into the public forum and keeping it there.

When genius dies young (and believe me, modern medicine means that for many of us, 66 is the new 46) there is always the thought ‘what if?’ Now there’s something to mull over as we re-read his 70 plus collected works.

Thanks for all the laughs Sir T.

‘The presence of those seeking the truth is infinitely to be preferred to the presence of those who think they’ve found it.’

Steve Longworth

* * * * *
My route into Discworld is linked inextricably to my best friend, which makes it all the more special for me.  When we were growing up, I was always the reader whilst it’s fair to say Nick avoided books whenever possible.  Then, in the mid-80s, he discovered Discworld and was drawn into it completely.  In the early 90s, I finally gave in to his exhortations to “just try this one, you’ll love it” and read “Mort”, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

I haven’t read a great deal of him since but Nick has and he was jealous when I told him Sir Terry was to be a Guest of Honour at the World Fantasy Convention in 2014.  I went to his talk, which was very well attended (the auditorium was packed, people were standing around the sides) and the love in the room for the man was palpable.  Unfortunately he wasn’t having the best of days but he was funny and engaging and I hope he realised just how much he meant to everyone in that room.

He once said “No one is actually dead until the ripples they cause in the world die away” and if that’s the case, Sir Terry Pratchett will live on for many years to come.

Mark West

* * * * *
If greatness can be measured by the number of people who grieve at your passing, then surely Terry Pratchett must qualify.  I didn’t know Sir Terry, and only met him a few times, but that doesn’t mean I’m immune to the great upwelling of loss being expressed on social media.  My first encounter with him was at Worldcon in Glasgow, 2005, when he very graciously stopped in a corridor and signed a small pile of books I was carrying.  He didn’t need to.  There was an official signing slot at which such things were supposed to be done, but he did so without quibble and with apparent pleasure, joking and nattering as he wrote.  Later that evening I met him again in the bar, where he continued to be in fine spirits.

This was before the illness.  I only saw him once after he was diagnosed, at the SFX Weekender in 2010.  He was sitting in the ‘pub’ bar, alone, though all the tables around him were occupied by fans who must have recognised him but were perhaps too over-awed to speak, which is a shame because Terry looked like someone who really wanted a chat.  I did speak, though only in passing – I was due to be heading home and was trying to hunt down an author who had disappeared with signing sheets for a forthcoming anthology.  I don’t think he recognised me but doubt that had anything to do with the illness; how could someone who meets so many people be expected to recall a brief encounter from years ago among so many thousands of similar?  He seemed no different – yes I looked for signs, I’m only human – though of course he was.  A fact that has been brought home so forcefully in the past twenty-four hours.

No, I didn’t know Sir Terry, but I miss him.

Ian Whates

* * * * *
Really I don't have the words to express how sad I feel.  Terry Pratchett was Tolkien with a huge dash of  Humour.  I just hope Death teaches him to play lead guitar so he can strum his way up the stairway to heaven.

Nigel Edwards

* * * * *
I’m saddened by the death of Sir Terry Pratchett at the young age of 66. Probably one of the few people who actually deserve a knighthood in my opinion. Okay, I’ll be honest. I only ever read half of one of his books. I didn’t finish The Colour of Magic. I gave up on it not because it was a bad book but because I wasn’t in the mood for it. I was young, pretentious and wanted to read something dark and moody. Now I’m older and less cynical I’d probably love it. I’m really tempted by Wintersmith after having heard the fantastic concept album by Steeleye Span based on his work with a narration by the man himself.

Okay, so I haven’t read any of his books but Sir Terry has indirectly been responsible for some great conversations between myself and his fans. I feel I know the plots to his books better than any reader as Terry’s fans eulogise about the walk that Death takes across the desert. Conversations usually go like this.

Me: ‘Oh, you like terry Pratchett. You’d love Neil Gaiman and what about Michael Moorcock?’

Pratchett Fan: ‘No, but have you read Geroge RR Martin/Tolkien/CS Lewis etc’

These conversations usually take place in the dull reality of the work place and many an afternoon has been lightened by such conversations. For those moments alone, Sir Terry I thank you and I will get round to reading Wintersmith soon. Honest.

Paul Melhuish

* * * * *

Sir Terence David John "Terry" Pratchett, OBE (28 April 1948 – 12 March 2015) was an English author of fantasy novels, best known for his Discworld series of 41 volumes. His first novel, The Carpet People, was published in 1971, and since his first Discworld novel, The Colour of Magic, was published in 1983, he wrote two books a year on average.  He was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1998 and was knighted for services to literature in the 2009 New Year Honours

Sir Terry died at his home from a severe chest infection with final complications from his Alzheimer's, according to his publisher.  A sequence of tweets from his account written by his daughter Rhianna just after his death started with "AT LAST, SIR TERRY, WE MUST WALK TOGETHER." then "Terry took Death’s arm and followed him through the doors and on to the black desert under the endless night." The third tweet was a link to an obituary notice, followed by the final tweet of his account, which simply read: "The End."

RIP Sir Terry Pratchett, thanks for it all

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