I am not the best person to write up an appreciation of Sir Terry Pratchett, as I only ever read one of his books (which was, I admit, very funny.) But my friend Bill is a huge fan and has kept me abreast of events in Ankh-Morpork for many years, so I feel as if I, too, were a tourist traveling about the land aback a mighty turtle with a many-legged, sapient pearwood traveler’s trunk.
While I have not read much of his work, I did have the honor of meeting Sir Terry twice. The second time was not much to speak of. It was within the last few years. I saw him pause and model a friend’s merchandise, so that she could take a picture of him that way for her sick husband, who was a huge fan.
Sir Terry Pratchett, wearing horns made by my friend, author Danielle Ackley-McPhail
It was a very kind thing to do.
But the first time was much more fun.
We were at Jersey Devil Con 2, a strange and delightful convention in New Jersey featuring a whole slew of newbies—including John and I who were newbies at the time—and Jerry Pournell and Terry Pratchett (who was then not yet a knight.)
The thing that stands out to me about that convention was how approachable and decent both to the old pros were. They were both greats in our field, but they spoke very kindly with the rest of us—making for a very memorable experience for us newbies.
I was on a couple of panels with Mr. Pratchett. I will related below the funny incidents I remember.
First, I remember him describing discovering science fiction as a child. How at twelve, he would go into the story where he bought SF magazines, and he didn’t understand at that age that this was an adult store that sold X-rated material. But he would notice the adult men coming in with furtive looks. And he knew what they were after! They were after the entire 1951 run of Analog Magazine* he had hidden behind some books on a shelf!
*–can’t recall the actual mag and date he mentioned, but it was close to this.
He talked at length about his great love for Tolkien, that had endured through to that day, but he did admit, “Even at that young age, I couldn’t help thinking, wasn’t there ever an orc who wrote poetry? Wasn’t there ever an elf who kicked a bunny?”
I happened to be sitting next to him on the panel, and I leaned over and said softly, “And that’s where Discworld came from, wasn’t it?”
To which he leaned his head my way and replied in his lovely English accent, “Exactly!”
He and John were on a panel about heroes over 80 years old. At one point, he was talking about how men, as they get older, keep their memories in their wives.
He said, in a low voice, “Dear, do I like beets?”
Higher voice: “No, dear.”
Low voice: “That’s strange, I thought I did.”
Higher voice: “No, dear, you like broccoli.”
Later, on the same panel, John could not remember a name (happened to be Tad Williams) and I shouted it out from the back of the room, to which John announced, “That’s my wife.”
That got a huge laugh as John proved Sir Terry’s theory, but to this day, we joke about “Dear, do I like beets?” semi-regularly.
At one point, there must have been two panels in a row with Mr. Pratchett in the same room, but for whatever reason, I can’t remember why now, a group of us authors were seated at the table chatting for a bit, waiting for our audience. The men got to talking and, as men do, were kind of sniping at each other in a witty, but slightly biting way.
But Mr. Pratchett got the last word.
He waited until the rest of us had introduced ourselves to the room of probably about two hundred people, and then he said quite casually, “You know who I am, or you would not be here.”
The rest of the panelists looked so chagrined, but of course, he was right! We never would have attracted 200 people on our own. We would have been lucky to get 20.
Finally, before the convention was over, I bought a book of Mr. Pratchett’s for my friend Bill. It was a Mort comic, because Bill is a huge Mort fan. I explained that Bill was a huge fan and also wanted to be a writer.
Mr. Pratchett signed it and handed it back, stating in his delightful accent, “Tell, Bill, that his chances of success are far greater if he follows my advice.”
Inside he had written:
If only Sir Terry could have found a way to follow his own advice.