It was my extraordinary privilege to meet Sir Terry Pratchett (or just ‘Terry’ as he was then) several times during the course of my late teenage and young adult years. Each one of those meetings was extraordinary for different reasons. Each memory of those meetings is precious, even more so in the wake of his death.
Not long after the publication of ‘Equal Rites’ Terry was signing copies at the local bookshop in Crawley. He was not really a household name at this point and a small trickle of people came up to him and got their books signed. I had read his previous works and in a twist of annoying fate, had purchased my copy of ‘Equal Rites’ a week before, down in Chichester whilst at college. Being an impoverished student, I asked him if he wouldn’t be offended if I got him to sign something else rather than buy another copy of the book. Honesty, I reasoned, was the best policy.
He laughed warmly and signed the only thing I happened to have at the time – the inside sleeve of a set of photographs I’d just had developed in town that day. We started chatting. Easily, without it being forced or in any way false, we discussed Discworld, my love of reading and writing and a plethora of other things.
‘Don’t start writing until you’re in your thirties or forties,’ he told me. He was like a wise Buddha giving me a life secret. ‘Live a little. Have some Experiences.’ Terry Pratchett was the only person I ever met who could effortlessly pronounce capital letters.
Some years later, at the first ever Discworld convention, I met Terry again. I caught him at the bar when we were ordering at the same time. We exchanged a quick word – like you would – and I bought his drink for him. He was delighted. So was I. I don’t ever deny there was a bit of fangirling going on.
Later on in the weekend, there was a series of short scenes acted out by various delegates from the books. Myself and a few others engaged in this wholeheartedly and we were assigned the ‘job fair’ scene from the beginning of ‘Mort’. But we were one character short. We needed someone to play the boy who gets selected to be the idiot.
In a rare moment of assertiveness, and on seeing a familiar hat walking through the door of the room where we were creating this theatrical masterpiece, I decided there and then that I would ask Terry if he fancied being an idiot.
‘You can’t do that!’ My companions were aghast.
I could. I did. And with great joy at being involved, Terry put on a beret, rolled up one trouser leg and stuck his tongue out in Benny Hill style for our little scene. Somewhere, I have a photograph of that. I must locate it. It was stupendously hilarious. And rather than accept our gratitude for his involvement, he gave us his – for involving him and letting him have a moment to ‘give back’ as he put it.
The third meeting was when he, his wife and daughter were attending a performance of ‘Guards! Guards!’ when it had first been adapted for the stage. I don’t even remember where that was. Reading? Somewhere like that? Lovely little theatre and it was alarming to realise that the Pratchett family were sitting right in front of us.
There was easy joy in watching him laugh at words he had written himself and which were being brought to life with fantastic effect on the stage. At one point, he turned to his wife and said ‘Did I write that? I was on form that day!’
Every time I met Terry, he was warm and delightful. There was such wit and intelligence in his words and his observations. The cruelty of the illness that robbed the world of his talent was a nasty, spiteful irony. An embuggerance, even. But he didn’t give up. He never gave up. He fought against it. He raged against the machine. He championed the cause of assisted suicide. He gave so much of himself and his time and his talent to raise awareness and then… well, I can only assume that he simply outgrew this life. Wherever he’s gone, their lives will be enriched in the same way ours were.
It’s easy – and true – to say that he was – and will remain – one of the most inspirational people I have met during my lifetime. His long-ago words of wisdom, his willingness to participate in something verging on the ridiculous, his laughter at the sheer comedy of his own words left a great impression on me. I am immeasurably grateful for both the gift of his works and the pleasure of having met him those few special times.
I will miss him, but whilst I have his books on my shelves, he’s still there and he always will be.
His final Tweets, posted in the wake of his death by his assistant were both delightful, sad and very, very Terry.
AT LAST, SIR TERRY, WE MUST WALK TOGETHER.
Terry took Death’s arm and followed him through the doors and on to the black desert under the endless night.
Rest very much in peace, Sir Terry. And make sure you get that curry.
A wise Buddha in a hat and with a devilish twinkle in his eye.
At least it wasn’t like the first time I met Graham McNeill and utterly embarrassed myself with an unintended and yet decidedly mega double-entendre that sent me as red as a post box.
Unlike a virgin on the ridiculous, which is something entirely different.