A tribute to Terry Pratchett by his agent, the man who first published him in 1971

Anglo-Irish publisher Colin Smythe on his relationship with the Discworld author, who died last week, and his soft spot for Trinity College Dublin

 

Sir Terry Pratchett OBE was born in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire on April 28th, 1948 and died at his home from the effects of Posterior Cortical Atrophy, a variant of Alzheimer’s Disease, on March 12th, 2015. During his life he wrote more than 50 novels, the most famous being those of the Discworld series. He collaborated on a further 50 or so books, including Good Omens, with Neil Gaiman. In the early 1990s he was Britain’s bestselling author until eclipsed by JK Rowling, but he has nevertheless sold more than 85 million books in 38 languages.

Terry’s love of Trinity came about because of the Library’s Long Room: he adored the great barrel-vaulted curve of the wooden ceiling which he first saw when he came to Dublin to receive an honorary doctorate of literature in 2008 (on the same day that Sir David Attenborough received his). Terry thought the library was ideal territory for the Unseen University’s orang-utan Librarian, one in which that great ape would be entirely at home.

Through the enthusiasm of the then Dean of Research, David Lloyd, now in charge of the University of South Australia in Adelaide, he was also invited to be an Adjunct Professor and in November 2010 he lectured to a packed audience (with his PA Rob Wilkins reading) in Trinity’s Public Theatre. His subject? “The Importance of being Absolutely Amazed About Everything” or, as it was later called, “Being a Genuine Absent-minded Professor’, and then he was presented with a mortar board festooned with iridescent black feathers, produced by John Rocha. He also gave tutorials to individual students and master classes, with a number of ineligible students quietly sneaking in to attend them.

Terry came to Trinity again in 2011, when he, Rob and I were immensely privileged to be invited to meet Queen Elizabeth II in the Long Room during her state visit to Ireland (thanks, I have no doubt, to the good offices of the same Dean of Research). When he came again on a visit at the end of June 2012 Terry arranged a sneak preview reading in the Long Room from his forthcoming novel Dodger, as well as joining a session about the Science of Discworld with his co-authors Profs Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen in the Science Gallery’s Paccar Theatre.

The Library inspired the idea of the cartoon short, The Duel, a battle between two wizardly professors for the same book that came to fruition in 2013. It was a collaboration between Trinity’s Animation Hub, the staff and students of Ballyfermot College, TCD, and animation studio Giant Creative. On October 16th, 2013, Terry, Rob and I flew to Dublin to see its premiere. It could suitably be described as a success. Who noticed that the book on the Librarian’s desk had its title on the back cover?

It proved to be Terry’s last visit to Dublin, as his PCA symptoms made it impossible for him to travel, although he was still slowly working at one final Discworld novel, The Shepherd’s Crown, featuring Tiffany Aching, which he completed last year, and will be published this autumn.

My association with Terry began in 1968 when he was a reporter on the Bucks Free Press, and I had been publishing for just two years. Then, having published his first five books, I became his agent in 1987 when Gollancz started to publish his books. In 1998 he moved the hardback Discworld series to Transworld Publishers, whose paperback imprint Corgi had been publishing his novels since 1985. Our working association therefore covered nearly half a century.

It is hard to look at a future without Terry, his humour, wicked bubble-pricking comments, his amazing inventiveness, his style, the deftness of his puns, and the deep moral sense that pervaded all of the books, without being obtrusive. Time and again readers of his books have told me how their lives had been shaped by them. And every time I finished reading a new book, I did so with a sense of immense satisfaction at having read yet another work by a master, at the tremendous sense of superb craftsmanship he had brought to the book, this amazing skill that produced books that can be read again and again over the years without ever feeling a loss of admiration, and discovering some historical or literary reference or joke that had passed me by on earlier readings. AS Byatt said in her tribute that “No writer in my lifetime has given me as much pleasure and happiness”. I wholeheartedly endorse that.

Colin Smythe graduated from Trinity College in 1963. Three years later, he started his publishing company, Colin Smythe Ltd, which specialises in Irish literature, with books by or about authors such as WB Yeats, Lady Gregory, JM Synge, George Moore, GW Russell (AE), Samuel Beckett, Oscar Wilde, Oliver St John Gogarty, and William Carleton. He also is agent for the literary estates of authors, including George Moore, Lady Gregory and Oliver St John Gogarty.

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