WHAT WE ARE THINKING: Sir Terry Pratchett

Article published on March 16, 2015.

Back in 2010 Terry Pratchett was given an Outstanding Achievement Award at the National Book Awards. At the time, his personal assistant, Rob Wilkins gave us an insight into what it is like to work for such a successful author.

In the light of the recent sad news of Sir Terry’s death, we thought we’d share this touching account.

I am writing this while Terry is outside chopping logs, which he typically buys in eighteen ton loads. He likes wood fires. I will always associate the smell of wood smoke with the writing of books.

 

In theory, I would have assumed that working for an author would mostly have to do with making their coffee and tidying up the paperwork. However, working with Terry actually means an awful lot of international travel and having more than two sets of black tie evening dress in case the first one hasn’t come back from the drycleaners before the next one is required. In fact, the last month has been one long round of transatlantic flights and I’m not exactly sure how the writing gets done in between all of this.

 

I also have to be a walking Wikipedia since only this morning I instantly needed to recall the maximum speed of a Learjet and the layout of the restaurants in Disneyland Florida. Oh, and the flight times between Madison Wisconsin and Chicago and minute detail about their respective airports. All of that is pretty much in a day’s work although, regrettably, I don’t think he is actually intending to buy the Learjet.

 

It is difficult to describe Terry. Some time ago he quoted to me a passage in the works of GK Chesterton where he declares that “funny is not the opposite of serious; the opposite of funny is not funny and the opposite of serious is not serious and therefore a writer can be funny and serious”. Terry is exactly that.
I can’t talk about the writing because it just seems to happen, despite all his other commitments. Mostly, he sits there staring at the screen and then, suddenly, without any great fuss, the words happen. None of it seems to faze him and he genuinely loves his fans, although I have to point out that the image that most people have of a fantasy fan doesn’t fit the reality, most fans we meet could very nearly pass for normal. I think that’s the secret; I am constantly amazed at the people who write in to declare themselves Pratchett fans.

 

I think he is modestly aware of the way that his words can touch and inspire people, but it’s not something he’ll talk about. Occasionally he receives fan mail so moving that you just have to just stare at the wall for a while. I think it overwhelms him.

 

Terry described himself once as a ‘journeyman writer’ and I said, “All right then, how many best selling books do you have to write for people all over the world before you can call yourself a master?” He said, “It doesn’t work like that. I was actually indentured when I got my first job on a newspaper. I was, in fact, an apprentice. I am pretty sure that I am not an apprentice any more and so the next step up is a journeyman, whose job it is to improve his skills. You are not a master until your peers decide that you are one. Anyway, it’s all about the next book. Really, that’s the only thing that matters.”

 

Rob Wilkins, Salisbury, November 2010

Rob worked with Terry for more than a decade. He says that “there have been too many highlights to count, but dinner with Buzz Aldrin and having Gordon Brown make his tea in Downing Street are right there at the top. Oh, and every single book that he has worked on reaching Number One in the bestseller lists. You can’t beat that. Oh, except for winning a Scottish BAFTA for the BBC2 Living With Alzheimer’s documentary.”

 

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