Keep up to date 

Stephen Baxter Remembers Sir Terry Pratchett

Screen Shot 2015-03-18 at 16.37.22

Even in failing health, the author was brimful of ideas for new books, writes his Long Earth collaborator, Stephen Baxter

Terry Pratchett and I started work on our science fiction series, The Long Earth, in the spring of 2010. It came out of a dinner-party conversation. We’d known each other for nearly 20 years, and talked about shared enthusiasms, the fiction, the science – which Terry called “the quantum”. Terry had always been a science fiction reader, and had produced two fine SF novels, but abandoned a third. Now he described that shelved idea and I could see why Terry had got stuck; his work was of character and dialogue, whereas this project was about landscapes and exploration. So we decided to try collaborating. We worked up ideas on the phone, and a Discworld convention that year turned into a kind of mass workshop. Terry always enjoyed engaging with the fans. He listened to them.



In October 2010 we started working sessions at his home in Wiltshire. Terry’s study is the chapel of an old monastic house, lined with dusty books and cluttered with Discworld souvenirs. Terry was always prolific, but as we worked he would be deliberate. He would sit in silence, or poke the fire in the stove, and think, and then produce an almost perfect sentence. As he drafted he liked to improvise. He said that if you gave him two characters talking in a room, the story would come. And as we worked we drilled deep into the heads of the characters, especially the young ones. I could see why his Tiffany Aching novels, meant for young adults, are so popular.

But when we started work it was already a couple of years after his condition had been diagnosed [early-onset Alzheimer’s]. His sight was the first to be affected, a cruel affliction for any writer. But Terry found workarounds. He used custom-built voice- recognition software to dictate his drafts, then revised them with the help of his supremely loyal business manager, Rob Wilkins. I read printed manuscripts to him, which we would amend line by line, sitting by the stove.

As the core condition began to affect him, he needed more workarounds and assistance, and the work was interrupted by his commitments to the causes of dementia sufferers and right-to-die campaigns. But work was everything to Terry, after his family. If anything, he worked even harder.

The last time I saw him was a sunny day last summer. We went into Salisbury for an author photograph by the cathedral. Even then he had new ideas for the books. What he liked about science fiction, I think, was the way it addresses the bigger picture. “By the time we get to Book Five,” he said to me, “will we find out what it’s all about?”


Read the full article on the Guardian’s website.