Truthfully, without over-egging it, as I often do, the library and journalism, those things made me who I am. – Terry Pratchett
Will update the Gaia challenge and share some links later but for today just A quick non-nature post. I purchased the Terry Pratchett biography: Terry Pratchett: A Life With Footnotes: The Official Biography written by Rob Wilkins, mainly for G but to be honest, we are both big Pratchett fans and I absolutely devoured this book. It is honest, beautifully crafted and a fitting tribute to a man who is possibly the most loved author of the 20th century. I read with fascination the accounts of Terry’s early life, his working-class origins and early encounters with education, the early manifestations of the imagination that would eventually give us Discworld. I found his love of libraries and the way libraries empowered him as an independent thinker and learner, confirmed my own belief in the importance and power of libraries to provide sanctuary and sustenance to the independent and sometimes disadvantaged. Libraries can be, in fact, should be powerful places. They certainly were in the development of Terry Pratchett.
An honest account of Sir Terry’s life, A life with footnotes is, as much an account of Rob Wilkins’s life as Pratchett’s trusted personal assistant, a role that grew from a relatively simple PA role into something more intimate and devoted. This is the honest account of a man’s life written with the love and respect of someone who was and is incredibly close to Terry Pratchett and the whole Pratchett family. Wilkins’s life is entwined in the story of Sir Terry Pratchett and his ultimate battle with brutal Alzheimers and while the final pages of the book are as heart-wrenching as you would expect, the bulk of the book is filled with inspiring and often funny anecdote.
So many things were fascinating in this account. Pratchett’s early career in journalism, the occupation that perhaps gave him a lifelong discipline when it came to writing. His years as the public relations officer for Britain’s nuclear power industry, his geekiness, and love of tinkering. The years between his first early publishing success and the emergence of the Discworld, that were spent in the happy pursuit of the simple life. Pratchett kept bees, goats, grew food and rescued tortoises in those years. Later there are greenhouses and carnivorous plants and an observatory for star gazing but while he experienced incredible success and all that came with that success, he never lost sight of his simple beginnings and the values of his childhood. He was a simple, decent man with wisdom, insight and a wicked sense of humour.
In regard to his writing life, two things really stood out for me. Firstly there was the simple discipline he bought to his writing, aiming to produce just 400 words a day while he was still occupied in other employment and often producing less than 300 words. That simple but dogged production of words created a whole universe of wonder. The other thing that struck me as noteworthy was Pratchett’s own assessment of where you should start with the Discworld, according to Wilkins, Pratchett thought that the first two novels were not the best and certainly not the best starting point for a newcomer to the Disc. That little gem confirmed my own judgement. I have always advised new readers not to start with the Colour of Magic or The Light Fantastic, by all means, come back to them eventually, but don’t start there. Depending on who the potential reader is I may suggest Wyrd Sisters as a good starting point, or Guards Guards, or maybe one of the Death novels Mort or Reaper Man or my personal favourite Disc novel Hogfather and then there are the Tiffany Aching novels, you really can’t go wrong with the first Tiffany novel Wee Free Men, no matter what the age of the reader. There were so many wonderful novels by this ingenious man.
Rob Wilkins’s biography of the great Sir Terry Pratchett is a rich and wonderful tribute to a man who has enriched so many lives with his wonderful humour and insight. I raced through this biography, savouring every moment of a life well lived and now well written. It is tragic that Sir Terry did not live long enough to tell his own story but Rob Wilkins has created a fitting tribute to a remarkable writer and man. The world certainly became a poorer place when Sir Terry Pratchett left it but at least we still have all those wonderful novels, I just wish we had more. I think I may be dipping in and out of the Discworld universe a bit more often this year. Currently, Mort is on my bedside table for those late night comfort reads. He created so many wonderful characters but Terry Pratchett’s Death must surely be one of the most comforting manifestations of the grim reaper ever written. When Rob and Terry’s daughter Rhianna announced his death with a tweet from the official twitter account that read:
AT LAST, SIR TERRY, WE MUST WALK TOGETHER. *(see footnote).
There could have been no more fitting way to announce his final departure and clearly, the nature of Pratchett’s universe was so ubiquitous that really no further explanation was needed. Within minutes, Rob and Rhianna watched the news go live with the announcement of his passing.
*For those not familiar with Discworld, firstly, vital forces such as Death could find anthropomorphic representation in the very real manifestation of a character and secondly the character of Death, that skeleton with a scythe, always spoke in capitals, hence the capitalisation of the above.
6 thoughts on “A Life with footnotes.”
So many of my friends love Pratchett’s books, and I’ve never been able to bring myself to read one. I really don’t ‘do’ fantasy. Should I get over myself and give him a go?
For all the trappings of fantasy, the Discworld is very recognizable life here on earth. The books absolutely do not need to be read in order you can simply find one with a premise that appeals and see how it goes.
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OK. Deep breath, and …
I’ve not actually read much of Pratchett, except for the joint book he did with Neil Gaiman, which I enjoyed very much. Perhaps I might need to have a look in the library. So sad about the Alzheimers – this is a journey we are becoming closely acquainted with ourselves. It’s so cruel.
Putting my hand up and admitting I’m unfamiliar with this author also. Adding to To Do List : visit Library.
Sounds like a fabulous biography. I must get myself a copy. I am very much a non fiction fan, but I have loved several of Pratchett’s books. The first one I read was Mort, and it made me laugh so much!