I just logged on to twitter to discover that Terry Pratchett has passed away. We all knew it was coming, but still it seems to have come out of nowhere. I’m not normally one for pitching in on these types of things online, but he was an important writer to me, as he was to an awful lot of people, and so I wanted to share my anecdote of the time I met him.
When I was in school I read more Terry Pratchett novels than any other writer. I used to chain them, finishing one and then immediately starting another. I remember one Saturday morning rushing to the town center to buy one (I think it was Mort) because I had to go to a wedding that afternoon and I wanted it in case the reception was boring. I read the Discworld books in a really scattershot order, not really paying any attention to the chronology of the series. The witches novels were my favourites, closely followed by the ones about Death.
Everything I wrote from the age of twelve to about sixteen was essentially a facsimile of his writing style. My writing now is nothing like his, but before I had started to develop a voice of my own I just borrowed his. I am sure most writers start out this way, but for me Terry Pratchett was an important writer because he got me writing when I didn’t really know how to do it.
I met him at a book signing in Maidstone, where I was at art college. It was for the simultaneous release of the hardback of Jingo and the paperback of Hogfather. It must have been 1997 or 1998. I bunked off my lectures and went to the highstreet to meet him. I went with a friend who also liked his books. The queue was huge. It snaked all the way around the bookstore and out into the shopping center. We talked about what we wanted to say to him and chatted with the other people in the queue. It was really exciting. I had read so much of his and couldn’t wait to meet him, the man whose books had accompanied me all the way through school.
My friend knew exactly what he wanted to say to him. He had it all planned out. I had no idea what I wanted to say. I get pretty shy in situations like that but I kinda felt like I wanted to let him know that I had loved so many of his books and that they had inspired me to start writing myself.
When we finally got to the front of the queue my friend stepped forward, placed the book down on the table and said, “I don’t want you to write anything in this, I just want you to make a correction.”
Terry Pratchett looked confused. “It’s a finished book,” he said. “There aren’t any corrections to make.”
My friend didn’t seem to believe him. “There must be something in there you aren’t happy with. Or if you like just open to a random page and change some words. Or scribble something out.”
The poor guy just looked really confused, but obligingly he opened the book at a random page, squinted at it as he tried to find a word that wasn’t too important and delicately crossed it out. I think he chose a word like ‘as’ or ‘the’ or something. My friend was thrilled. He now had a copy edited after publication by the author. A totally unique item. Terry Pratchett seemed unsure what had just happened.
So after queuing for all that time and trying to figure out the perfect thing to say to the man whose books had meant so much to me, the thing I ended up saying to Terry Pratchett was “I’m really sorry about my friend.”
There you go, not the greatest Terry Pratchett anecdote you are likely to read in these days following his death, but it’s mine.