“No one is actually dead until the ripples they cause in the world die away.”
I did meet Sir Terry Pratchett–a very long time ago, in 1990 at a science fiction convention in Toronto. I was doing arts journalism at the time, and had hooked in with the publicist at H.B. Fenn, who was happy to oblige my fan-boy interest in his distribution company’s list of science fiction and fantasy authors. Over a short but fruitful relationship, he sat me down with Orson Scott Card, Gene Wolfe, Robert Jordan… some others who’ve receded into the fog of memory.
And he also sat me down with Terry Pratchett.
At the time, I wasn’t sure what to make of him. The interview opportunity came up quickly, and I had only a little time to prepare, and in those dark, early days I hadn’t read much of him and knew nothing of the Discworld. So I did my best to get up to speed. That is not to say that I got up to speed. By the time we sat down, I’d just made it a few chapters into The Colour of Magic and was, I have to admit, just mildly amused. I recognized and appreciated the Fritz Leiber shout-out with Bravd and The Weasel. The wizarding business that followed was good fun and damn, but the dude could write.
But really, I had no idea who I was talking to.
I had not yet met Death, and had no idea about his daughter. I couldn’t name the Night Watch. It was some time before he joined forces with Neil Gaiman so I had little sympathy for the Devil and no idea about his son.
I hadn’t had a sense, yet, just what a master Terry Pratchett was.
At the time, I think he was just coming to understand what he might do himself. When I admitted that I was getting started with The Colour of Magic, he told me that wasn’t the best place to start, if I wanted a sense of what he was up to. He was still pulling gags in that book, he said, setting up in-jokes for genre nerds (Bravd and Weasel, standing in for Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser being one notable example).
At the time we spoke, he was in the process of leaving all that behind.
Of course, he didn’t completely leave it behind. Pratchett’s novels are nearly all comic, even when they are heart-breakingly sad and honest, and true: in the way that the best comedy always is.
But Pratchett then and through his life, was doing art. Popular art, whimsical art, sometimes surprisingly dark art–but Art. The A, capitalized, deliberately.
I don’t think I did a good interview, but Pratchett didn’t make me feel it the way that some subjects can. He spoke generously about his work, his aspirations–the difficulty at the time (a difficulty that soon passed) of building an audience in the United States and Canada to equal the one he had in the U.K.
I never ran into Terry Pratchett again–not in person, at any rate. Over the years since, I’ve delved into his novels and collaborations, watched his work in adaptation–and also watched his struggle with early-onset Alzheimers.
I got word of his death today in a very Pratchett-esque circumstance: sitting in my tax accountant’s office, looking away from the screen she was using to type in my T4 information, at my own screen where I was desperately emailing my financial advisor for a document that I had left on the sofa at home. An email from my friend, fellow writer and lifelong Terry Pratchett fan Michael Skeet was headlined “Terry Pratchett, RIP.”
And then, as my accountant worked away, I checked Twitter, and read the last three tweets from the account he shared with his assistant:
““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.