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  • Writer's pictureG R Matthews

A Life with Footnotes

I cried at the end and I am certain that is the correct reaction.

The only reaction you can have.

Unless you're dead inside. Or outside.

The thing is, I knew I would. I know how the book ends. We all know how the book ends. It hasn't been a secret, we all knew it was coming. He knew it was coming, and that is perhaps the hardest realisation of all.

There was, at least, a peaceful ending which is the most any of us can ask for; even if we don't like to think about it.

Why would you think about it? Unless you had to.

Anyway, let's leave that last chapter alone. We shouldn't be fixated upon the end, but on the journey.

Rob Wilkins tells the story of Sir Terry's life using writing left by the man himself, recollections of his daughter and wife, his friends, agent, and many others.

From a poor background to a developing love for sci-fi and fantasy, there'll be a lot that many readers recognise in Sir Terry's upbringing. Searching out those books, finding small sections in bookshops through which you root and explore. Delving into second hand book shops, spending time at the library hoping, waiting for book 2 in a series to come in so you could follow the story.

The import shelf at my local bookshop - stopping in there on the way home every evening. (Sudden flash of memory)

At School it is fair to say that Sir Terry did the best he wanted to, and as a journalist he found another outlet for his irrepressible imagination writing local interest stories and the children's section. His time as a Press Officer for the Nuclear Industry including the famous 100mph train wreck - because why wouldn't you crash a train at exactly 100mph into a Nuclear Flask. You'd be silly not to.

There are some things I didn't know, but which surprised me a little. Firstly, that his first books didn't sell 'all that well' and by that I mean two to four thousand copies each and that it was only a book or two into Discworld that it really took off - which is really a salve to all those budding authors (and debutants out there).

Secondly, and I love this one, that he turned down advances that were too big! He was careful with money, but also knew its worth. We can all dream of being in the position of saying, 'Quarter of million? Too much. Halve that and you've got a deal.'

Rob Wilkins tells the story of Sir Terry's life in writing with a care and heart-warming tone. There are mentions of the fallings out, the sharp way Sir Terry could respond to demands or to staff. The little notes about the bookshops he did signings in are fantastic - and should be read by all managers expecting an author to turn up and do some signings (have spare pens and sandwich ready!).

You read the books, you read this book, and you can see how clever Sir Terry was. You can feel the imagination leap from the page. There are little dips into his process, which sounds a little chaotic but worked so well. There are stories from those who knew him, there is an insight into the team that supported his writing (either through choice, through work, or just because he took a liking to you).

It's wonderful.

And so we come back to it:

I know exactly where I was when I heard of Sir Terry's death. The school's music teacher came out to see me as I stood on bus duty to tell me.

"You know that writer you like? Pratchett?"

I nod.

"He's died."

It was shock, a moment of utter stillness in the presence of over hundred teenagers all trying to cram themselves on the bus and on the top deck (front or back, never the middle).

Once my duty was done, the last loud lad and lady had departed for home, I rushed in and wrote the beginning to the Fantasy-Faction obituary as a way of processing the news, of dealing with it. I was proud and grateful when it was published.

I was never lucky enough to meet Sir Terry, but his writing and his books are the best I have ever read - above all, there is/was no one better.

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