Terry Pratchett had a big influence on me; reading his work was one of the prods that poked me in the direction of the career I now have, so I’m going to join my voice to that of the rest of the world and mourn his passing.
I remember first being exposed to Sir Terry’s work by reading an excerpt back in the 1980s in White Dwarf. The scene was the one featuring the gnome in moleskin trousers (The Light Fantastic, I think. Aficionados may know better, please set me right if it was The Colour of Magic). I picked up his first two Discworld books on the back of that, and for several years read everything he wrote. Eventually I moved on, simply because I wanted to experience other authors’ voices and worlds. But years after, when I read some of his later books, I was delighted to see that they retained their quality and wit. He did not seem to grow tired or jaded with Discworld, it was an engine of endless creativity and satire, and in that it seemed to be as much a source of delight to him as it was to his readers.
I interviewed him twice, once in person, once by phone, and met him on one other occasion. He did not suffer fools gladly, was incredibly intelligent, insightful, and forceful. As the old journalists’ phrase goes, he provided excellent copy.
I am certain Sir Terry will come to be remembered as one of the great writers of the late 20th/early 21st centuries, perhaps as historically significant as Charles Dickens. Although Sir Terry was more an overt satirist, there are parallels between their work. Both had deep social consciences, and a surgeon’s accuracy in selecting and skewering their targets. Both were phenomenally popular in the course of their lifetimes.
Society’s appreciation of Terry Pratchett’s work always interested me, as I believe his career highlights the incorporation of fantasy and SF into mainstream culture, and moreover, its grudging admittance into “High Culture”.
Sir Terry told me a few stories of how he had fallen foul of genre prejudices, and there was that famous Tom Paulin incident on the Late Review. Genre’s a wholly artificial construct, but once those lines in the sand are drawn they give people something to point at and decry, and in the 1990s certainly there developed a definite “High Culture” bias against anything remotely fantastical (unless, of course, penned by a High Culture tourist). Sir Terry’s work was so immensely popular it showed up these boxes to be nonsensical. It’s a fallacy to say that fantasy and SF were once niche interests – they have always been popular, only obsessing over them is niche – what Sir Terry helped achieve, I think, is their acceptance as relevant art rather than childish entertainment.
Here’s a link to the last interview I conducted with him. This was in late 2007, not long before he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. This then is a snapshot of him at the height of his powers, moments before the dark clouds gathered.