Review — ‘Terry Pratchett: A Life With Footnotes: The Official Biography’

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Terry Pratchett: A Life With Footnotes by Rob Wilkins

“You didn’t have to know him or the world he wrote about to start reading him, but once you started, his stories would always leave a mark on you. He changes the way you see the world. In a way, that is what being an author is all about: the ‘person’ behind the words disappears, and the stories are the ones that remain forever.”

I wrote these words when we heard of his passing in 2015, and you can see how much we love him here on the site. His works are the best testimony of his genius, and the continuing surprises he still bestows on us, such as Good Omens’ adaptation to the screen, are (hopefully) still to come.

However, there was a person under the hat, and the part that gets overshadowed, the one easiest to erase (just leaving the persona behind) is lovingly portrayed here, in this book, by his assistant and longtime friend Rob Wilkins.

Based in part on the notes Pratchett himself left for his intended autobiography—another thing his disease, Posterior Cortical Atrophy, took away from us—this is an amazing and barely-long-enough book about Terry′s extraordinary life.

Terry Pratchett was the creator of the millions-of-volumes bestselling Discworld series, a knight of the realm, and holder of more honorary doctorates than he knew what to do with (especially since he left school and started working on a local newspaper early on his career). He was and still is one of the most loved writers of all time because his keen sense of justice, coupled with his enormous imagination and sharp sense of humor, made a fascinating mix, and his readers felt privileged to read him. We continue to enjoy his work—immensely—across the globe.

At the time of his death in 2015, he was working on his autobiography:

“The story of a boy who was told by his head teacher aged six that he would never amount to anything, and spent the rest of his life proving him wrong.”

From his A levels to journalism to publishing his first story—The Carpet People, way before he was twenty—to the 48 books on the Discworld, his novellas and short stories, his movie adaptations, and the wonderful idea he had of smelting his own sword for receiving his knighthood and of making a chocolate replica of his Carnegie Medal, he was indeed a character.

When he ran out of time to complete the memoir, he left the task to complete it to his manager and friend Rob Wilkins, who, in turn, did an amazing job at gathering the notes left by Terry, putting them on the book, and giving them a meaningful context. He has not only helped his friend but shared part of his life, footnotes and all:

Footnote p 44: “As I recall, we got into a conversation about the parallels between Bob Monkhouse’s approach to comedy (his habit of filling books with jokes and possible frameworks for jokes wherever he found them) and Terry’s approach to collecting material for novels, concluding that the two of them shared a permanently switched-on and ultimately scientific view of their craft. Maybe some of that stands up. It certainly occurs to me now that you could quite successfully organize a game of “Monkhouse or Pratchett?” using their respective catalogues of possibly purloined one-liners: ‘A miniature village in Bournemouth caught fire and the flames could be seen from three feet away’ (answer: Monkhouse); ‘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’ (answer: Pratchett), and so on.” Rob Wilkins

Truly a labor of love, I guarantee smiles and reminiscing and the complete sense of seeing yet another miracle, a story officially approved by Terry Pratchett himself.

We miss you, Terry, and we are thankful to you, Rob. This is, indeed, the story of a lifetime.

Terry Pratchett: A Life With Footnotes: The Official Biography was released on September 29, 2022.

Genres: Biography
Publisher: Doubleday
Page Count: 352 pages
Format: Hardcover
ISBN-13: 9781683965565

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