REVIEW

The work of Terry Pratchett is still creating ripples through the fantasy fiction world, years after his death.

Terry Pratchett knew how to create an image. Picture: Getty Images
Terry Pratchett knew how to create an image. Picture: Getty Images

When Boris Johnson interviewed Terry Pratchett in 1996 for the British Daily Telegraph, he wrote that he was "baffled by the scale of his (Pratchett's ) success".

Pratchett's Discworld series was often ignored by the "literati", but Pratchett simply responded, "Well, I get paid shitloads of cash, which is good". A knighthood, and four honorary doctorates also helped Pratchett's self-esteem.

Mark Burrows' The Magic of Terry Pratchett (White Owl, $45), which is marketed as "the first full biography" of Sir Terry, documents in detail Pratchett's path to success. Burrows, however, never met Pratchett, so this is an account based on published accounts and interviews and a detailed analysis of his books.

Pratchett, born on 28 April, 1948 in Beaconsfield, England, came from a working-class background. While Pratchett passed the crucial 11-plus examination in 1959, he chose not to attend the local grammar school, because he felt "woodwork would be more fun than Latin".

He was, however, an avid reader, with favourite authors including GK Chesterton, HG Wells, Mark Twain and Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, which reveals his early love of words and how they could be manipulated.

By the time Pratchett left school at 16 to become a trainee journalist at the local "Bucks Free Press", he had already published two short stories in leading British SF and fantasy magazines.

In October 1965, he began writing stories for the Children's Circle section of his newspaper, 17 of which are now collected in The Time-Travelling Caveman (Doubleday, $32.99). Pratchett fans will easily recognise early signs of his unique blend of satire and literary invention.

While most are set in the town of Blackbury, Pratchett also takes the reader through time and space with the title story, the delightful Lemonade on the Moon, and who could not like Bason and the Hugonauts? Numerous black-and-white illustrations by Mark Beech add to the books attraction.

Pratchett's first novel, The Carpet People (1971), now a collector's item, was published when he was 23, beginning his long lifetime association with publisher and agent Colin Smythe.

Burrows then follows Pratchett as a press officer for the Central Electricity Generating Board through to the first Discworld novel The Colour of Magic (1983). The success of the Discworld series enabled him to become a full-time writer by the late 1980s.

In the 1990s, Pratchett was second only to JK Rowling in annual UK hardback sales. By the time of his death in 2015, he had sold 85 million books. The media attempted to stir up controversy between Pratchett and Rowling after Pratchett commented that there had been wizards and magic schools long before Harry Potter. Burrows covers in some detail how that "rumble in the fantasy jungle" played out.

Pratchett's books, like those of Rowling, remain popular. The latest version of J.K. Rowling's Quidditch Through the Ages (Bloomsbury, $45) comes in a sumptuous full-colour edition with illustrations by Kate Greenaway winner Emily Gravett.

Gravett's artworks, memorabilia and gatefold spreads, allied to Rowling's text, makes this the definitive Quidditch edition.

Pratchett loved Australia and fondly satirised it in The Lost Continent (1998). His six ANU/Canberra Times meet the author sessions were bravura events. Pratchett knew how to create an image with his trademark "Man in Black" clothes, white beard, fedora hat and his love of banana daiquiris.

To many, he came across as a "jolly old elf", but in reality, he was an intensely private person and there was often anger beneath the geniality.

More generally, Neil Gaiman, his longtime friend and collaborator on Good Omens, has written of Pratchett's rage against "stupidity, injustice, human foolishness and shortsightedness".

Pratchett's writing highlighted many major issues such as, racism, environmental destruction, religious persecution and misogyny.

Burrows is excellent in providing a chronological framework for the books, their content and their reception by the critics, the public and his ever-increasing fan base.

We learn little, however, about his family, wife, Lyn whom he married in 1968, and daughter Rhianna, herself now a public figure with her videogame storytelling, writing and overview of Pratchett's creative output.

We will probably not see the "inner Pratchett" until the anticipated biography from his long-term executive assistant and friend, Rob Wilkins, appears.

Pratchett's personal life became more public after the diagnosis in 2007 of what he called "an Embuggerance", a rare form of Alzheimer's, a condition which gradually worsened until his death on 12 March 2015.

Pratchett wrote in Reaper Man (1991), "No one is actually dead until the ripples they cause in the world die away". The ripples from Terry Pratchett's books will continue to spread for decades to come.

This story The ripples of Terry Pratchett first appeared on The Canberra Times.