Thursday 12 March 2015

Terry Pratchett: The Letter I Should Have Written

It was announced this afternoon that Sir Terry Pratchett has died at the age of 66. He was a tremendously funny and brilliant writer, and his passing is a great loss to us all. This must be devastating for his friends and family, and they have my deepest sympathy.

A Just Giving page donating to the Research Institute for the Care of Older People (RICE), a dementia charity, has been set up in his memory. I have made a donation at:

Sir Terry Pratchett.
Source: psjmprints

I was fortunate enough to meet Sir Terry once, at a book signing in Edinburgh in 1997. I naively turned up with a few friends at the advertised start time, to find a queue already stretching out the doors of Waterstone's, and continuing a long way down the pavement at the east end of Princes Street. It was early summer, sometime in May I think, and the weather was good, so we didn't mind waiting.

The advertised time was something like 2 pm to 5 pm. At about 4.30, I was still outside the shop, but the word was passed down the line that Pratchett (not yet Sir Terry at that time) was going to do the whole queue. Sometime around 5.30, nervously clutching my hardback copy of Hogfather, I reached the front of the queue for my moment with the great man.

I stammered out something about how it was an honour to meet him. Pratchett blinked, said kindly, "The honour's all mine, I'm sure," and signed my book with the message: "Happy Hogswatch. HO! HO! HO!" I wandered out into the sunlit Edinburgh evening with my friends, and left him to meet the rest of the queue.

That was 18 years ago, almost half my lifetime. Now and then, I've thought about what I should have said to Sir Terry, if I'd been less tongue-tied and had a little more time. I considered writing him a letter, especially when the news broke of his diagnosis with early-onset Alzheimer's.

I had a sinking feeling I might end up saying this one day: I never quite got around to it, and now it's too late. If you have something you wish to tell someone, you can only put it off for so long.

Here is what I might have written:

Dear Sir Terry,

I met you once at a book signing in Edinburgh in 1997. I was nineteen years old, very nervous, and I stammered something about how it was an honour to meet you. You replied kindly and signed my copy of Hogfather.

This is what I was thinking, but at the time could not articulate:

Your books are fantastically funny, warm, wise and humane. Every single one has been a joy to read, and I've re-read some of them many times over. I've felt that little twinge of sadness when I reach the end and the story is done; I know it has to end somewhere, but at the same time I want it to go on forever.

At some very difficult times in my life, I could always rely on your books to cheer me up. In better times they are simply great fun, with intelligence, heart and soul. They take me somewhere else; make me laugh; make me think; and show me true, flawed, uncertain human beings (and other species) trying their best to do the right thing. You have given the world so many great stories. Thank you for writing them, from the bottom of my heart.

With best wishes and deepest appreciation,


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