The timeline below chronicles the extraordinary life of Sir Terry Pratchett, from his birth and the publication of his first story in the school paper, to finishing off the final Discworld novel, The Shepherd’s Crown, in 2015.
You can read a selection of the many tributes paid to Terry after his death
Terry Pratchett was born in 1948 in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire. He had his first story published when he was just thirteen, and after leaving school at seventeen to become a journalist he continued writing, publishing his first novel, The Carpet People, in 1971 and going on to produce the phenomenally successful Discworld series as well as numerous other books, winning many awards and becoming the UK’s bestselling author.
He died in March 2015 after a long struggle with Alzheimer’s disease. You can find out more about his life and work below.
Aged thirteen, Terry published his first story, Business Rivals, in school magazine The Technical Cygnet. It was published commercially as The Hades Business the next year. Terry used the fee of £14 to buy his first typewriter.
In the middle of his A Level courses, Terry decided to leave school to take up the offer of a job on local newspaper The Bucks Free Press. As part of his new job he wrote a weekly Children’s Circle story column – some of these stories have been published in Dragons at Crumbling Castle.
Terry interviewed a local publisher, Peter Bander van Duren, for the newspaper and happened to mention a book he was working on, based on one of his Children’s Circle stories. Peter passed the manuscript on to his co-director, Colin Smythe. This was the start of a lifelong friendship, with Colin becoming first Terry’s publisher and later his agent. The manuscript in question was The Carpet People, Terry’s first novel. This was also the year when Terry married his wife, Lyn.
The Carpet People was published, with the launch party held in the carpet department of Heal’s on Tottenham Court Road. Terry was still only 23.
Terry’s daughter Rhianna was born.
Three Mile Island nuclear disaster in the USA. A few months later, after stints at the Western Daily Press and the Bath Evening Chronicle, Terry moved out of journalism to become press officer for four nuclear power stations with the Central Electricity Generating Board. He cited this as an example of his unerring sense of timing.
Terry’s very first Discworld novel, The Colour of Magic, was published by Colin Smythe – the start of what would become a phenomenally successful series, 41 books strong and translated all over the world. Transworld Publishers bought the paperback rights to the book, and have published the Discworld paperbacks ever since. Victor Gollancz took on the Discworld hardbacks in 1987 – Terry was their first fantasy author – and continued to publish them until 1998, when Transworld took over.
The third Discworld novel, Equal Rites, which tapped into emerging ideas about feminism, was serialised for radio on Woman’s Hour. It was the most popular book they had ever broadcast.
With the Discworld series now four books long and becoming more and more successful, Terry was able to give up his job at the Electricity Board to become a full time writer.
The Times reported that Terry Pratchett was now the bestselling author in the UK.
Terry was appointed OBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List. Despite initially suspecting it was an elaborate hoax, he did turn up to accept the award.
Terry won the Carnegie Medal for his children’s book The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents. Despite the many other awards, honorary degrees and knighthood that followed, he always said that this was the award he was most proud of.
Terry was diagnosed with a rare form of Alzheimer’s, Posterior Cortical Atrophy. He decided to tell the world, and began his campaign to raise awareness of the disease, donating a million dollars to Alzheimer’s research the following year.
Terry was knighted by the Queen for services to literature, although he maintained that his greatest service to literature was to avoid writing any.
Terry delivered the annual Dimbleby Lecture on BBC1, with the help of his friend Tony Robinson, who read his speech for him, speaking candidly about his struggle with Alzheimer’s and his campaign to reform the law on assisted dying in a piece entitled Shaking Hands With Death. The lecture attracted a record TV audience, the highest there had ever been for a Dimbleby Lecture.
Terry presented a documentary on assisted dying, Terry Pratchett: Choosing to Die, in which he travelled to Switzerland to witness the death of terminally ill motor neurone sufferer Peter Smedley at the Dignitas clinic. The documentary won both a BAFTA and an Emmy.
Despite the progress of his PCA, Terry, still busy, published his 40th Discworld novel, Raising Steam, as well as The Long War in collaboration with Stephen Baxter, The Science of Discworld IV with Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen, and Dodger’s London.
Terry died peacefully at home in Wiltshire, with his family around him and his pet cat asleep on his bed. He had finished one final Discworld novel, The Shepherd’s Crown, a few months earlier.