I remember the first Terry Pratchett book I read – it was Only You Can Save Mankind, a hardcover I couldn’t really afford. I used to go to this sf bookshop in Johannesburg once a week, on weekends, and read a chapter at a time while standing there trying not to look conspicuous. I eventually bought it. I was living in South Africa at the time, and was then buying the Discworld novels in paperback when they came out.
When I came to London in 1998, I think maybe the first signing I went to was Pratchett’s, at the old Forbidden Planet on New Oxford Street, with the queue snaking all down the road and lasting three hours. I bought them in hardcover then, and got most of them signed at various signings, which Pratchett held regularly back then (I think my first one was The Last Continent or maybe Carpe Jugulum – I remember even going to a fan produced play of the novel, for some reason which now escapes me).
One thing I liked, and which I tried to imitate later on, was that Pratchett had a stock inscription for every novel – so rather than a generic “best wishes” he’d inscribe little jokes (“Rite on!” for Equal Rites, if I remember rightly, and so on). Which made the book feel more personal.
At the time, too, London was a bookshop heaven – I was trying to write a novel recently set in that time, and suddenly realised what a period piece it was becoming – all of these shops would disappear in the next decade. I was able to find rare first editions – Eric, Guards! Guards!, Sourcery, even Equal Rites at a little shop in Richmond which is, like the rest, no longer there. I got most of them signed to me, too, though I was forced to sell the rare ones a few years ago for some funding.
My one prolonged encounter with Pratchett happened in 2003. I was invited to Utopiales, a French sf/f festival in Nantes. I was an unknown. Pratchett was one of the big name authors invited. We didn’t talk much – my one clear memory is of the British delegates huddling together for support outside the closed doors of the bar, looking anxiously at each other as a German band played electric accordion music over a silent black and white French film – the sort of thing you can’t really deal with without the help of alcohol. One thing that did happen – my one Pratchett story – I ended up writing into A Man Lies Dreaming:
I had to do an interview for a German arts show on satellite TV. When I came out of the interview, one of the organisers – amazingly – decided I must be Terry Pratchett. He approached me, holding an important-looking envelope, and inquired if I was, indeed, the man himself. It is worth noting that at the time I had long dreadlocks (gone, now, alas). I explained that, no, he was looking for, if I remember rightly, “a bearded man with a big hat”. The man apologised and withdrew.
Half an hour later, I ran into Pratchett by the escalators and told him a man was looking for him, “and he thought I was you, which is stretching credibility to the limit!”
Pratchett looked at me and without blinking said, “Yes, he managed to insult both of us in the same sentence!”
In 2005, with a couple of friends, we decided to make a documentary film on science fiction and its sometimes curious fandom. We interviewed a lot of people in London, and took a drive down to Glasgow, to the World Science Fiction Convention that took place there then. We ran around asking questions, and cornered Pratchett in the dealers’ room, where he was kind enough to talk about his own roots as a fan. The documentary never came to be, and the material was lost for a long time, but recently a friend of mine found some of the footage on old tapes in his garage, and I finally managed to post this never-seen interview with Pratchett on youtube. I hope it might be of some interest.
I think I met him once or twice afterwards – maybe the last one being a signing for one of the Science of Discworld books in Kingston Waterstones, nearly a decade ago.
He was one of the few writers whose books I would buy, in hardcover, as soon as they came out, and I loved his books – from The Dark Side of the Sun, his affectionate parody of science fiction, to the ever-growing stories of the Discworld.
I didn’t know him, but I read him avidly, and I had the pleasure of meeting him several times across the years, and at least I can always make the dubious claim – I was mistaken for Pratchett once. And that absurdity never fails to give me joy.
Terry Pratchett, 1948-2015. RIP.