“Build a man a fire, and he’ll be warm for a day. Set a man on fire, and he’ll be warm for the rest of his life.” These were the first of Sir Terry Pratchett’s words that I ever read, I must have been about 14 or 15 and I couldn’t even tell you where I saw the quote although I think it was online. Those words struck me then and stayed with me, morphing into a life mantra that reminds me not simply to take the easy short-term option, but to look for longevity in problem solving. Now, I’m not about to set myself or anyone else on fire, but don’t the words grab you? They’re not the only ones from this amazing author which stick in your head long after you read them and as the sad news of his passing spread across the internet today, I felt compelled to write my own letter of thanks to, in my opinion, one of the literary greats.
Dear Sir Terry,
I remember someone lending me a couple of your books when I was in my mid-teens, The Colour of Magic and Mort. I had spent my reading hours up until that point absorbing the words of Jane Austin, the Bronte sisters, Wilkie Collins and on a quick read day I’d reach for Michael Connelly or a musician’s (auto)biography. I have always loved words and when yours came into my life I knew that they were going to stick around, how could anyone not be completely drawn in to a world which is a disc atop the backs of four elephants who are standing on a giant turtle?! A world of humour, utter silliness, a gentle darkness at times but full of wonderfully bright characters and also Death, whose capitalised voice announced your passing on social media in a way that every single one of your fans would have understood immediately – “AT LAST, SIR TERRY, WE MUST WALK TOGETHER”
I would have loved the chance to walk with you in your lifetime, to have just a few minutes with you. I don’t have any set questions, I wouldn’t have wanted an interview, just a chat. You know when people ask who you’d want at your ideal dinner party, dead or alive, well for me you were always on that list and you still are.
Your books are all-encompassing and when I turn to page one in any of them I know that I will barely eat, sleep or talk until the very last page. I surround myself in your words, your worlds, your characters and in the darker times of my life I had many faithful friends in the Wee Free Men and Tiffany, Commander Sam Vimes and so many others. I haven’t read all of your novels but I’m working on it and will keep going until I’ve finished them all, then I’ll start again. I will pass them on to my son and any other children that I may be blessed with, I will watch their faces light up as they too are whisked away on a broomstick into your magical stories and I shall excitedly chatter with them about their new-found friends. I would love for Toby and his future sibling(s) to love your words as much as I do.
Alzheimer’s, that “embuggerance” as you called it, is evil. It grips my own family as it has gripped yours and yes it’s an embuggerance, it’s an absolute bastard truth be told and I hate it with every fibre in my body. You helped to remove the blanket under which it had been hiding away from the public domain. You threw it out into the open and you made people pay attention, stare at Alzheimer’s and tell it to bugger off. If anything positive can come from your disease it’s that the profile has been raised, the gloves are off and people are donating money, becoming Dementia Friends and realising that more research is needed if we are ever to find better treatment for those with dementia and Alzheimer’s.
I hope that Death treats you kindly, that you are free. Your books will live on, of that I have no doubt. We will keep them on our bookshelves, pass them to our children, quote from them and through them you too will live on.
Thank you for your words,
If you would like to donate towards finding a cure for Alzheimer’s, please consider taking a look at the work of The Alzheimer’s Society, who have been very helpful to my family.