And now that book will never be written. My personal tribute to Sir Terry Pratchett - blog by Gurdur


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And now that book will never be written. My personal tribute to Sir Terry Pratchett
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Posted 12-Mar-2015 at 08:58 PM (20:58) by Gurdur

I first met Terry Pratchett around twenty years ago, at a SF/fantasy convention in the Netherlands. I had not read any of his books, and I had thought they must be silly because of the book-cover design. This was not the only huge mistake I was to make. A year later, and a neurology research colleague at Duesseldorf university recommended his books to me. Eventually I actually read one, and I was blown away, hooked for evermore. Once I actually read his books, the book-cover design made perfect sense, and it was brilliant too in its own way. Those earlier book-jacket designs were genius, and made by Josh Kirby, who sadly died in 2001. A decade and a half later, his publishing house decided the book covers were possibly keeping potential readers away, and came out with editions in unillustrated black. If only they had done that 15 years or more earlier; yet I learned something very valuable from the lesson. I learned hard never to judge a book by its cover.

As I read more and more of Pratchett's works, his deep humanitarianism, combined with his sharp observations about humans and the hard life of the working-class and lower middle-class, and life in general, really struck a chord with me. Terry Pratchett wrote incisive, distinguished literature, and the philosophy he explored in his novels was wide-ranging in areas and depth. My favourite of his novels is still "Small Gods", which for sheer inventive power, human decency, and surprise twists completely upending commonplace theology, is still and probably will be forever unsurpassable. I read every single one of his works; the username I use online, Gurdur, comes from one of his lesser-known works.

Once, he made a book-signing tour of Germany. I went along to another city to catch his session, and asked him there if he had any plans to set one of his DiscWorld novels in a parallel of Africa. He answered that he had been considering such a novel along the lines of Joseph Conrad's "Heart Of Darkness". I froze at that answer, and pleaded with him to please write a DiscWorld novel with an optimistic Africa. For I had spent my whole childhood in the underpopulated, hill-country regions of Tanzania, East Africa, and I had many fond memories of there. It was also that the times then were too much,
"I'm only hearing sad news,
Out of Africa".
He was not convinced. There is a small reflection of Africa in his novel "Snuff", which explored both slavery and genocide. But now the DiscWorld book on Africa, of whatever angle, will never be written, for Sir Terry Pratchett died today. His death was natural, and because of the lethal complications of Alzheimer's disease. Pratchett suffered from posterior cortical atrophy (PCA), an unusual form of Alzheimer's which hits people earlier than classical Alzheimer's does. Both the Alzheimer's and the PCA form were cruel jokes of pathology, for Pratchett lived by his mind and by complex story-telling. The PCA would eventually make it impossible for him to read or write; his book-signature changed, from the very complex sigil he had used prior to his illness, to a substitute hologram sticker and simple sigil (shown in my photograph below). The Alzheimer's would destroy much of his mind before it destroyed his body. A cruel joke of the universe's indeed.

At the DiscWorld Convention (the largest, best Pratchett convention in the world, happening every two years) in 2014 in Manchester, it was announced that Terry Pratchett had become too ill to attend (he had attended all the previous DiscWorld conventions). A video interview of him was given at the conference, in which he talked about his writing, which continued via diction, since the act of writing was now impossible for him. He had also arranged for a special gift for - and only for - every conference attendee, i.e. his most loyal fans. A special book, in "first and only edition" of a part of his writings was given out to each person at the conference; one had to be a conference member and also physically there in person to receive it. A photo of my own copy is below. Terry Pratchett was all heart; he acknowledged his fans, and treated us all very decently. His heart shines through the sardonic but deep compassion so often evident in all his works. He was also a man of good humour and self-deprecation (see photo of him in his T-shirt below)

Terry Pratchett was not only all heart; he was also an angry man, angry about many things, including unfairness, injustice and bigotry. He was also angry about getting Alzheimer's so early in life, and that it would rob him of what he valued so highly, of what made him so famous, his creativity. Neil Gaiman (@neilhimself), who co-authored "Good Omens" with Terry Pratchett, talked about Pratchett's anger at length in an article. Pratchett explored assisted suicide, and made a documentary on it. While in 2012 he had said in interview that the creative part of his mind was untouched by the pathology, at the 2014 conference Bernard Pearson (@DiscworldShoppe), a long-term good personal friend of Terry's, talked about how the progression of the Alzheimer's had caused Terry Pratchett not to be able to any longer hold the idea of the big picture of a book he was writing. Pratchett could dictate individual chapters well, but the overall storyline of planned books began to escape him badly. At this stage he was writing collaborative ventures with the SF author Stephen Baxter, and had more planned, all along the themes set out in "The Long Earth" and its sequels.

Bernard Pearson also told us of how on one day, a deeply depressed Terry Pratchett, condemned to an early and ugly death by Alzheimer's, asked Bernard if he would please kill Terry. I take it Terry Pratchett rejected suicide after long consideration; and, for some, being killed is easier than committing suicide. However, it did not go through, owing to Bernard's refusal, and Pratchett went on to die the natural death from the consequences of Alzheimer's that happened today.

Terry Pratchett's definitive DiscWorld take on Africa will now never be written. Nor will so many other books, planned or not, of his. For around twenty years I have being a passionate fan, and he has written a great many books (over two a year). For over two decades he has deeply inspired a great many people all around the world, he has been part of many people's lives, he has been part of mine. His books have been made into wonderful movies. For a decade and a half I have attended every DiscWorld Convention every two years in Britain. For well over a decade and a half I have immediately bought and devoured every new book of his. But now the new book will never be written.

Pterry is a nickname for Terry Pratchett, derived from his novel "Pyramids". Terry Pratchett immensely helped research into Alzheimer's disease and dementia. A donations page for research into care for the elderly (RICE) has been made in his memory:

My blog is part of the Guardian Comment Network. All my blogposts on DiscWorld matters, including conventions, can be found in this list.
All my blog posts on Terry Pratchett can be found in this list.

The book, in its first, one and only edition, given to each conference attendee at the 2014 DiscWorld convention in Manchester, as Terry Pratchett's gift to his loyal fans. The following three photos are mine of my own copy:

A copy of "Snuff", showing the hologram sticker attached as part of Terry Pratchett's 'signature' once the Alzheimer's had detracted from his handwriting ability too much:

A copy of essays by various authors on the philosophy explorations of Terry Pratchett. Many of the essays did not do sufficient justice to Pratchett's complex thinking, but I shall review it later on separately:

Via the Guardian, photograph by Graeme Robertson:

Via the Guardian, photograph by Jeff Moore/Dementia Friends/PA:

Source of photograph unknown or forgotten, my apologies:
Terry Pratchett never took himself too seriously:

Rhianna Pratchett (@rhipratchett) is Terry's daughter, and an accomplished writer in her own right:

Rob Wilkins worked to help support Terry Pratchett in his writing and his public appearences, and tweeted together with him under @terryandrob:

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  1. Old Comment
    Never's Avatar
    Thanks for the nice tribute. I opened my Facebook page on my lunch break at work and gasped as the announcement was the first thing I saw. I'll miss this fascinating person that I only knew from a fan perspective. I have to admit feeling guilty that I too keep thinking of all the books that I know (from what he said) were left in his mind and will never be written. Not to take away from all the ones we have - those are appreciated, just that we know there was so much more he wanted to do.
    Posted 13-Mar-2015 at 12:32 AM (00:32) by Never Never is offline
  2. Old Comment
    Thanks, Tim. That's lovely and illuminating

    Posted 13-Mar-2015 at 01:11 AM (01:11) by Unregistered
  3. Old Comment
    That's a lovely tribute to a great author, Tim. Like you, I was introduced to his work by a colleague when I was working an IT contract with a telecoms company almost 20 years ago. Although I don't claim diehard fandom (I still have many of his books to read), I did love his quirky take on the world. I was sad to hear of the Alzheimer's when it was announced as several of my and my spouse's family have gone that way. Sadder still to hear yesterday's news.
    Posted 13-Mar-2015 at 10:43 AM (10:43) by RevSimmy RevSimmy is offline
  4. Old Comment

    Thank you for these words

    I, too, was hooked on Sir Terry's work from the first book I had read. Your online name is Gurdur - mine is Terry ;-) since 2002, when I signed up to a forum for the very first time.
    I've read most books the week they were released in english, and then again the same book months later in my native language german (I had to buy them anyway, because husband doesn't understand english well enough, unfortunately the german publishing company changed the translator, from 2010 up til now the german copies weren't as good as the fans were used to).
    I thank you, Tim, for my copy of "Small Gods" with a signature of Sir Terry (I'm proud to own it), which you brought for me from a convention - because I was never able to attend a convention.

    It's sad that Sir Terry is dead - but you know, he is immortal through the influence he had - not only I, but also my whole family now loves his books. He had an impact on my, my husband's and my daughter's world view.

    What else can an author wish for?
    Posted 13-Mar-2015 at 06:51 PM (18:51) by Unregistered
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