Terry Pratchett: A Life With Footnotes

Reviewed By
Karen Chisholm

Took me a while to start reading this (published in 2022), mostly because this book, of all the books around Terry Pratchett, will mean knowing something personal about the man behind the genius. Written by Terry's long-time assistant, and very good friend, Rob Wilkins, this is an emotional (inspiring / hilarious and frequently brutally honest) walk through exactly that. At the heart of the writing genius was a gloriously grumpy, irascible, kind and funny human being, with a capacity for vision and thought that was utterly astounding.

Wilkins came into Terry's life as a result of a very fun episode in which a bad case of staff envy overtook Terry on hearing novelist Jilly Cooper talk about her invaluable PA. Of course that could simply be Terry's way of justifying a deep seated understanding that the day to day wasn't his strong point - and how could it be with a proto-book on the page in front of him and goodness knows how many brewing quietly in the back of his mind. Aside from the day to day reality of dealing with "the author" Wilkins became a firm friend, almost a family member in some ways - dealing with the complications of the day to day, as well as life on the road before, and sadly after, Terry's increasing impairment due to the early and rare form of Alzheimer's he was dealing with.

To read about life in the day to day job of "the author" was fascinating, but to read about it as he gradually lost capacity such an emotional journey - Terry was a perfectionist, and a deep and creative thinker, who was gradually and inexorably losing all of that - his ability to think remained until the final book, but his ability to transcribe was lost. The idea that he managed to hold onto the complex Discworld and Chalk environments as he described the stories to Wilkins was heart-breaking. I can't imagine what it was like for Wilkins, and Terry's family as they stood by, unable to do anything but support, never able to stop the progress. In particular, the scene described as Neil Gaiman arrived to visit his dear friend one final time took me quite some time to read - the kindness, the gentleness of approach, the sense of profound sorrow and loss, and the sheer awfulness of a disease that takes the core of someone and leaves the shell behind was moving, beautiful and utterly devastating all at the same time.

Wilkins did an outstanding job with this biography (including footnotes which made me smile a lot). It can't have been easy to write, every moment a reminder of what those close to Terry lost. What we have all lost. Of course, there are always the books which are wonderful to read and re-read over and over again, the thought that there were other entries percolating in his mind, before he lost the ability to write them, and before he lost his life, well, it's sad. The thought that his presence has now gone from his family and friends way too early is awful.

This book definitely serves as a reminder that his name must continue to be spoken.

GNU Sir Terry Pratchett. 

Year of Publication

'People think that stories are shaped by people. In fact, it's the other way around.'

At the time of his death in 2015, award-winning and bestselling author Sir Terry Pratchett was working on his finest story yet - his own.

At six years old, Terry was told by his headteacher that he would never amount to anything. He spent the rest of his life proving that teacher wrong. At sixty-six, Terry had lived a life full of achievements: becoming one of the UK's bestselling writers, winning the Carnegie Medal and being awarded a knighthood for services to literature.

Following his untimely death from Alzheimer's disease, the mantle of completing Terry's memoir was passed to Rob Wilkins, his former assistant, friend and now head of the author's literary estate.

Drawing on his own extensive memories, along with those of Terry's family, friends, fans and colleagues, Rob recounts Terry's extraordinary story - from his early childhood to the literary phenomenon that his Discworld series became; and how he met and coped with the challenges that 'The Embuggerance' of Alzheimer's brought with it.

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