Terence David John Pratchett
(born 28 April 1948) is an English fantasy
, science fiction
, and children's author
. He is best known for his popular and long-running Discworld
series of comic fantasy novels. Pratchett's first novel, The Carpet People
, was published in 1971, and since his first Discworld
novel (The Colour of Magic)
was published in 1983, he has written two books a year on average. Pratchett is also known for close collaboration on adaptations of his books but has held back from Discworld
feature films so far.
Pratchett was the UK's best-selling author of the 1990s,
and as of December 2007 has sold more than 55 million books worldwide,
with translations made in 33 languages.
He is currently the second most-read writer in the UK, and seventh most-read non-US author in the US
In 2001 he won the Carnegie Medal for his children's novel The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents.
Despite his popularity, Pratchett is often described as having a ‘cult following’ - a factor seen as having, in the past, hindered his literary recognition.
Pratchett was named an Officer of the Order of the British Empire "for services to literature" in 1998. In December 2007, Pratchett publicly announced that he was suffering from early-onset Alzheimer's disease, subsequently making a substantial public donation to the Alzheimer's Research Trust.
Terry Pratchett was born in 1948 in Beaconsfield
, England, the only child of David and Eileen Pratchett, of Hay-on-Wye
. He passed his eleven plus exam
in 1959, earning him a place in a technical school
(High Wycombe Technical High School
). Pratchett described himself as a "nondescript student", and in his Who's Who
entry, credits his education to the Beaconsfield Public Library.
His early interests included astronomy; he collected Brooke Bond tea cards about space, owned a telescope and desired to be an astronomer, but was no good at mathematics. However, this led to an interest in reading British and American science fiction. In turn, this led to attending science fiction conventions from about 1963/4, which stopped when he got his first job. His early reading included the works of H. G. Wells and Arthur Conan Doyle and "every book you really ought to read" which he now regards as "getting an education".
At the age of 13, Pratchett published his first short story The Hades Business in the school magazine. It was published commercially when he was 15.
Pratchett earned 5 O-levels and started 3 A-level courses, in Art, English and History. Pratchett's first career choice was journalism and he left school at 17 in 1965 to start working for the Bucks Free Press. However, he finished his A-Level in English, and took a proficiency course for journalists.
Pratchett got his first 'break' in 1968, when working as a journalist. He came to interview Peter Bander van Duren
, co-director of a small publishing company. During the meeting, Pratchett mentioned he had written a manuscript, The Carpet People
Bander van Duren and his business partner, Colin Smythe (of Colin Smythe Ltd Publishers) published the book in 1971, with illustrations by Pratchett himself.
The book received strong, if few reviews.
The book was followed by the science fiction
novels The Dark Side of the Sun
, published in 1976 and 1981, respectively.
After various positions in journalism, in 1983 Pratchett became Press Officer for the Central Electricity Generating Board in an area which covered three nuclear power stations. He later joked that he had demonstrated "impeccable timing" by making this career change so soon after the Three Mile Island nuclear accident in Pennsylvania, USA, and said he would "write a book about his experiences, if he thought anyone would believe it".
The first Discworld novel The Colour of Magic was published in 1983 by Colin Smythe in hardback. The publishing rights for paperback were soon taken by Corgi, an imprint of Transworld, the current publisher. Pratchett received further popularity after the BBC's Woman's Hour broadcast The Colour of Magic as a serial in six parts, after it was published by Corgi in 1985 and later Equal Rites. Subsequently, rights for hardback were taken by the publishing house Victor Gollancz, which remained Pratchett's publisher until 1997, and Smythe became Pratchett's agent. Pratchett was the first fantasy author published by Gollancz.
Pratchett gave up working for the CEGB in 1987 after finishing the fourth Discworld novel Mort, to fully focus on and make his living through writing. His sales increased quickly and many of his books occupied top places of the best-seller list. According to The Times, Pratchett was the top selling and highest earning UK author in 1996.
Some of his books have been published by Doubleday, another Transworld imprint. In the US, Pratchett is published by HarperCollins.
According to the Bookseller's Pocket Yearbook from 2005, in 2003 Pratchett's UK sales amounted to 3.4% of the fiction market by hardback sales and 3.8% by value, putting him in 2nd place behind J. K. Rowling (6% and 5.6% respectively), while in the paperback sales list Pratchett came 5th with 1.2% by sales and 1.3% by value (behind James Patterson (1.9% and 1.7%), Alexander McCall Smith, John Grisham and J. R. R. Tolkien).
His sales in the UK alone are more than 2.5 million copies a year.
Terry Pratchett married his wife Lyn in 1968 and they moved to Rowberrow
in 1970. Their daughter Rhianna Pratchett
, who is also a writer, was born there in 1976. In 1993, the family moved to Broadchalke, a village south west of Salisbury
, where they currently live. He lists his recreations as "writing, walking, computers, life". He describes himself as a humanist
and is a Distinguished Supporter of the British Humanist Association
Pratchett is well known for his penchant for wearing large, black hats, as seen on the inside back covers of most of his books. His style has been described as "more that of urban cowboy than city gent."
Concern for the future of civilisation has prompted him to install five kilowatts of photovoltaic cells (for solar energy) at his house. In addition, his interest in astronomy since childhood has led him to build an observatory in his garden.
In August 2007, Pratchett was misdiagnosed as having had a minor stroke in 2004 or 2005, which was believed to have damaged the right side of his brain. While his motor skills had been affected, the observed damage had not impaired his ability to write (or at least no one noticed the difference).
On 11 December 2007, Pratchett posted online that he had been newly diagnosed with a very rare form of early-onset Alzheimer's disease
, which he said "lay behind this year's phantom 'stroke'." He has a rare form of the disease called posterior cortical atrophy
, in which areas at the back of the brain begin to shrink and shrivel. Pratchett appealed to people to "keep things cheerful", and proclaimed that "we are taking it fairly philosophically down here and possibly with a mild optimism."
Leading the way, Pratchett stated that he feels he has time for "at least a few more books yet", and added that while he understands the impulse to ask 'is there anything I can do?', in this particular case he will only entertain such offers from "very high-end experts in brain chemistry."
Discussing his diagnosis at the Bath Literature Festival
, Pratchett revealed that he now found it too difficult to write dedications when signing books.
In March 2008, Pratchett announced he was donating one million US dollars (about £494,000) to the Alzheimer's Research Trust, claiming he had spoken to at least 3 brain tumour (cancer) survivors whilst he had spoken to no survivors of Alzheimer's disease, and that he was shocked "to find out that funding for Alzheimer's research is just 3% of that to find cancer cures." Of his donation Mr. Pratchett said: "I am, along with many others, scrabbling to stay ahead long enough to be there when the Cure comes along.”
Pratchett's donation inspired an internet campaign where fans hope to 'Match it for Pratchett', by raising another $1 million.
In April 2008, the BBC began working with Pratchett to make a documentary series based on his illness. He also made an appearance on The One Show on 15 May 2008, talking about his condition. He was the subject and interviewee of the 20 May 2008 edition of On the Ropes (Radio 4), discussing Alzheimer's and how it had affected his life.
On 8 June 2008, news reports indicated that Pratchett had an experience, which he described as: "It is just possible that once you have got past all the gods that we have created with big beards and many human traits, just beyond all that, on the other side of physics, there just may be the ordered structure from which everything flows" and "I don’t actually believe in anyone who could have put that in my head". He went into further detail on Front Row, in which he was asked if this was a shift in his beliefs: "A shift in me in the sense I heard my father talk to me when I was in the garden one day. But I'm absolutely certain that what I heard was my memories of my father. An engram, or something in my head."..."This is not about God, but somewhere around there is where gods come from.
Computers and the Internet
Pratchett started to use computers for writing as soon as they were available to him. His first computer was a Sinclair ZX81
, the first computer he properly used for writing was an Amstrad CPC 464
, later replaced by a PC
. Pratchett was one of the first authors to routinely use the Internet to communicate with fans, and has been a contributor to the Usenet
newsgroup alt.fan.pratchett since 1992. However, he does not consider the Internet as a hobby, just another "thing to use". He now has many computers in his house. When he travels, he always takes a portable computer with him to write. His experiments with computer upgrades are reflected in Hex
Pratchett is also an avid computer game player, and he has collaborated in the creation of a number of game adaptations of his books. He favours games that are 'intelligent and have some depth', and has used Half-Life 2 and fan missions from Thief as examples.
Pratchett has a fascination with natural history that he has referred to many times. Pratchett owns a greenhouse full of carnivorous plants
. He has often mentioned this on his book biographies and they have appeared in his novels.
Pratchett is a trustee for the Orangutan
Foundation UK but is pessimistic about the animal's future.
Following Pratchett's lead, fan events such as the Discworld Conventions have adopted the Orangutan Foundation as their nominated charity, which has been acknowledged by the foundation.
One of Pratchett's most popular fictional characters, the Librarian
of the Unseen University
's Library, is an orangutan.
Pratchett was the British Book Awards'
'Fantasy and Science Fiction Author of the Year' for 1994.
After being awarded his OBE for 'services to literature' in 1998, Pratchett commented in the Ansible SF/fan newsletter, "I suspect the 'services to literature' consisted of refraining from trying to write any" (suggesting the title was more a recognition of success, than an acknowledgement of the fantasy genre). But then added, "Still, I cannot help feeling mightily chuffed about it.
Pratchett has been awarded five honorary Doctorates; University of Warwick in 1999, the University of Portsmouth in 2001, the University of Bath in 2003, the University of Bristol in 2004. and Buckinghamshire New University 2008.
The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents won the 2001 Carnegie Medal for best children's novel (awarded in 2002).
In 2003 Pratchett firmly reinforced his credentials as one of Britain's most loved authors, by joining Charles Dickens as one of the only two authors with five books in the BBC's Big Read 'Top 100' (four of which were Discworld novels). Pratchett was also the author with the most novels in the 'Top 200' (fifteen).
The first three Discworld novels that centred on the character Tiffany Aching 'trainee witch' have each received the Locus Award for Best Young Adult Book (in 2004, 2005 and 2007).
novels have led to dedicated conventions, the first in Manchester in 1996, then worldwide, often with the author as guest of honour. Publication of a new novel may also be accompanied by an international book signing tour; queues have been known to stretch outside the bookshop and the author has continued to sign books well after the intended finishing time. His fans are not restricted by age or gender, and he receives a large amount of fan mail from them. Pratchett enjoys meeting fans and hearing what they think about his books; he says that since he is well paid for his novels, then his fans "are everything to me."
Pratchett has said that to write, you must read extensively, both inside and outside your chosen genre and to the point of "overflow". He advises that writing is hard work, and that writers must "make grammar, punctuation and spelling a part of your life." However, Pratchett enjoys writing, regarding its monetary rewards as "an unavoidable consequence" rather than the reason for writing.
The fantasy genre
Although in the past he has written in the sci-fi and horror genres, Pratchett now focuses almost entirely on fantasy, explaining "it is easier to bend the universe around the story". In the acceptance speech for his Carnegie Medal he said: 'Fantasy isn’t just about wizards and silly wands. It’s about seeing the world from new directions', pointing to J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter
novels and The Lord of the Rings
. In the same speech, he also acknowledged benefits of these works for the genre.
He "believes he owes a debt to the science fiction/fantasy genre which he grew up out of" and dislikes the term "magical realism" which is "like a polite way of saying you write fantasy and is more acceptable to certain people — and who, on the whole do not care that much." He is annoyed that fantasy is "unregarded as a literary form" because it "is the oldest form of fiction" and he is "infuriated" when novels containing science fiction or fantasy ideas are not regarded as part of those genres.
On 31 July 2005, Pratchett criticised media coverage of Harry Potter author J. K. Rowling, commenting that certain members of the media seemed to think that "the continued elevation of J. K. Rowling can only be achieved at the expense of other writers". Pratchett has refuted claims that this was a swipe at Rowling, and said that he was not making claims of plagiarism, but was pointing out the "shared heritage" of the fantasy genre. Pratchett has also posted on the Harry Potter newsgroup about a media-covered exchange of views with her.
Style and major themes
Pratchett is known for a distinctive writing style that includes a number of characteristic hallmarks. One example is his use of footnotes,
which usually involve a comic departure from the narrative or a commentary on the narrative.
Pratchett has a tendency to avoid using chapters, arguing in a Book Sense interview that "life does not happen in regular chapters, nor do movies, and Homer did not write in chapters", adding "I'm blessed if I know what function they serve in books for adults.
However, there have been exceptions; Going Postal and Making Money are divided into chapters, as are the young adult books about Tiffany Aching.
Characters, place names and titles in Pratchett's books often contain puns, allusions and culture references.
Some characters are parodies of well-known characters: for example, Pratchett's character Cohen the Barbarian is a parody of Conan the Barbarian and Genghis Khan, and his character Leonard of Quirm is a parody of Leonardo da Vinci.
Another hallmark of his writing is the use of capitalised dialogue without quotation marks, used to indicate the character of Death communicating telepathically into a character's mind. Pratchett also made up a new colour, octarine, a 'fluorescent greenish-yellow-purple', which is the eighth colour in the Discworld spectrum - the colour of magic.
Pratchett makes no secret of outside influences on his work: they are a major source of his humour. He imports numerous characters from classic literature, popular culture and ancient history,
always adding an unexpected twist. Pratchett is a crime novel fan, which is reflected in frequent appearances of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch
in the Discworld
Pratchett was an only child
, and his characters are often without siblings. Pratchett explains "in fiction, only-children are the interesting ones.
An example is the character Susan Sto Helit
Pratchett's earliest inspirations were The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame, and the works of Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke. His literary influences have been P.G. Wodehouse, Tom Sharpe, Jerome K. Jerome, Larry Niven, Roy Lewis,
G. K. Chesterton, and Mark Twain.
While Pratchett's UK publishing history has remained quite stable, his relationships with international publishers have been turbulent (especially in America). He changed German publishers after an advertisement for Maggi
soup appeared in the middle of the German-language version of Pyramids
The Discworld series
Pratchett's Discworld series is a humorous and often satirical sequence of stories set in the colourful fantasy world of Discworld. The series contains various 'story arcs' (or 'sub-series'), and a number of free-standing stories. All are set in an abundance of locations in the same detailed and unified world, such as the Unseen University and 'The Mended Drum' pub in the twin city Ankh-Morpork, or places in the various continents, regions and countries on the Disc. Characters and locations reappear throughout the series, variously taking major and minor roles.
The Discworld itself is described as a large disc resting on the backs of four giant elephants, all supported by the giant turtle Great A'Tuin as it swims its way through space. The books are essentially in chronological order, and advancements can be seen in the development of the Discworld civilisations, such as the creation of paper money in Ankh-Morpork.
The subject of many of the novels in Pratchett's Discworld series is a parody of a real-world subject such as film making, newspaper publishing, rock and roll music, religion, philosophy, Ancient Greece, Egyptian history, Australia, university politics, trade unions, and the financial world. Pratchett has also included further parody as a feature within the stories, including such subjects as Ingmar Bergman films, numerous fiction, science fiction and fantasy characters, and various bureaucratic and ruling systems.
Other Discworld books
Pratchett has written or collaborated on a number of Discworld
books that are not novels in themselves but serve to accompany the series.
The Discworld Companion, written with Stephen Briggs, is an encyclopedic guide to Discworld. The third (and latest) edition was renamed The New Discworld Companion, and was published in 2003. Briggs also collaborated with Pratchett on a series of fictional Discworld "mapps". The first, The Discworld Mapp (1995), illustrated by Stephen Player, comprises a large, comprehensive map of the Discworld itself with a small booklet that contains short biographies of the Disc's prominent explorers and their discoveries. Three further "mapps", have been released, focusing on particular regions of the Disc: Ankh-Morpork, Lancre, and Death's Domain. Briggs and Pratchett have also released several Discworld diaries and, with Tina Hannan, Nanny Ogg's Cookbook (1999). The design of this cookbook, illustrated by Paul Kidby, was based on the traditional Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management, but with humorous recipes.
Collections of Discworld-related art have also been released in book form. The Pratchett Portfolio (1996) and The Art of Discworld (2004) are collections of paintings of major Discworld characters by Paul Kidby, with details added by Pratchett on the character's origins.
In 2005, Pratchett's first book for very young children was Where's My Cow?. Illustrated by Melvyn Grant, this is a realisation of the short story Sam Vimes reads to his child in Thud!.
Science of Discworld
Pratchett has written three Science of Discworld
books in collaboration with Professor of mathematics Ian Stewart
and reproductive biologist Jack Cohen
, both of Warwick University: The Science of Discworld
(1999), The Science of Discworld II: The Globe
(2002), and The Science of Discworld III: Darwin's Watch
All three books have chapters that alternate between fiction and non-fiction: the fictional chapters are set within the Discworld, where its characters observe, and experiment on, a universe with the same physics as ours. The non-fiction chapters (written by Stewart and Cohen) explain the science behind the fictional events.
In 1999, Pratchett appointed both Cohen and Stewart as "Honorary Wizards of the Unseen University" at the same ceremony at which the University of Warwick awarded him an honorary degree.
Pratchett's first two adult novels, The Dark Side of the Sun
(1976) and Strata
(1981), were both science-fiction, the latter being set on a disc-shaped world. Subsequent to these, Pratchett has mostly concentrated on his Discworld
series and novels for children, with one exception: Good Omens
(1990), a collaboration with Neil Gaiman
, a humorous story about the Apocalypse set on Earth.
After writing Good Omens, Pratchett began to work with Larry Niven on a book that would become Rainbow Mars; Niven eventually completed the book on his own, but states in the afterword that a number of Pratchett's ideas remained in the finished version.
In September 2008, Doubleday published Pratchett's young adult novel Nation, an alternate-reality novel which is not part of the Discworld or any of his other series.
Pratchet's first children's novel was also his first published novel: The Carpet People
in 1971, which Pratchett substantially rewrote and re-released in 1992. The next, Truckers
(1988), was the first in The Bromeliad
trilogy of novels for young readers, about small gnome
-like creatures called "Nomes", and the trilogy continued in Diggers
(1990) and Wings
(1990). Subsequently, Pratchett wrote the "Johnny Maxwell" trilogy, about the adventures of a boy called Johnny Maxwell and his friends, comprising Only You Can Save Mankind
(1992), Johnny and the Dead
(1993) and Johnny and the Bomb
(2008) marks his return to the non-Discworld children's novel.
Collaborations and contributions
- The Unadulterated Cat is a humorous book of cat anecdotes written by Pratchett and illustrated by Gray Jolliffe.
- After the King: Stories In Honour of J.R.R. Tolkien edited by Martin H. Greenberg (1992) contains "Troll Bridge", a short story featuring Cohen the Barbarian. This story was also published in the compilations Knights of Madness (1998, edited by Peter Haining) and The Mammoth Book of Comic Fantasy (2001, edited by Mike Ashley).
- The Wizards of Odd, a short-story compilation edited by Peter Haining (1996), includes a Discworld short story called "Theatre of Cruelty".
- The Flying Sorcerers, another short-story compilation edited by Peter Haining (1997), starts off with a Pratchett story called "Turntables of the Night", featuring Death.
- Legends, edited by Robert Silverberg (1998), contains a Discworld short story called "The Sea and Little Fishes".
- Digital Dreams, edited by David V Barrett (1990), contains the science fiction short story "# ifdefDEBUG + “world/enough” + “time”.
- Meditations on Middle-Earth (2002)
- The Leaky Establishment, written by David Langford (1984), has a foreword by Pratchett in later reissues (from 2001).
- Once More* With Footnotes, edited by Priscilla Olson and Sheila M. Perry (2004), is "an assortment of short stories, articles, introductions, and ephemera" by Pratchett which "have appeared in books, magazines, newspapers, anthologies, and program books, many of which are now hard to find.
- Now We Are Sick, written by Neil Gaiman and Stephen Jones (1994), includes the poem called "The Secret Book of the Dead" by Pratchett.
- The Writers' and Artists' Yearbook 2007 includes an article by Pratchett about the process of writing fantasy.
Pratchett has had a number of radio adaptations on BBC Radio 4
: The Colour of Magic
, Equal Rites
(on Woman's Hour
), Only You Can Save Mankind
, Guards! Guards!
, Wyrd Sisters
and Small Gods
have all been dramatised as serials as was Night Watch
in early 2008, and The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents
as a 90-minute play.
Johnny and the Dead
and 14 Discworld
novels have been adapted as plays by Stephen Briggs
and published in book form.
In addition, Lords & Ladies
has been adapted for the stage by Irana Brown, and Pyramids
was adapted for the stage by Suzi Holyoake in 1999 and had a week-long theatre run in the UK.
In 2002, an adaptation of Truckers
was produced as a co-production between Harrogate Theatre, the Belgrade Theatre Coventry and Theatre Royal, Bury St. Edmunds. It was adapted by Bob Eaton, and directed by Rob Swain. The play toured to many venues in the UK between 15 March and 29 June 2002.
In 2004, an adaptation of Only You Can Save Mankind
, a musical with music by Leighton James House
and lyrics by Shaun McKenna
, premiered at the Edinburgh Fringe
Johnny and the Dead
was made into a TV serial for Children's ITV
, in 1995. In January 2006, BBC One
aired a three-part adaptation of Johnny and the Bomb
A two-part, feature-length version of Hogfather starring David Jason and the voice of Ian Richardson was first aired on Sky One in the United Kingdom in December 2006, and on ION Television in the USA in 2007. Pratchett was opposed to live action films about Discworld before because of his negative experience with Hollywood film makers.
He changed his opinion when he saw that the director Vadim Jean and producer Rod Brown were very enthusiastic and cooperative.
A two-part, feature-length adaptation of The Colour of Magic and its sequel The Light Fantastic aired during Easter 2008 on Sky One.
Truckers was adapted as a stop motion animation series for Thames Television by Cosgrove Hall Films. Wyrd Sisters and Soul Music were adapted as two animated cartoon series by Cosgrove Hall Films for Channel 4 in 1996; illustrated screenplays of these were published in 1998 and 1997 respectively.
Pratchett has sold a number of his book rights, but so far no films have been made. The Wee Free Men
is set to be directed by Sam Raimi
but has not started filming. Director Terry Gilliam
has announced in an interview with Empire
magazine that he plans to adapt Good Omens
but as of 2007 this still needed funding. In 2001, DreamWorks
also commissioned an adaptation of Truckers
by Andrew Adamson
and Joe Stillman
but Pratchett believes that it will not be made until after "Shrek
17". However, in 2008 Danny Boyle
revealed that he hoped to direct a Truckers
adaptation by Frank Cottrell Boyce
Comic books and graphic novels
Four graphic novels
of Pratchett's work have been released. The first two, originally published in the US, were adaptations of The Colour of Magic
and The Light Fantastic
and illustrated by Steven Ross (with Joe Bennett on the latter). The second two, published in the UK, were adaptations of Mort
(subtitled A Discworld Big Comic
) and Guards! Guards!
, both illustrated by Graham Higgins
and adapted by Stephen Briggs. The Discworld Graphic Novels, The Colour of Magic
and The Light Fantastic
were republished by Doubleday on the 2nd June 2008.
(Steve Jackson Games
, 1998) and GURPS Discworld Also
(Steve Jackson Games, 2001) are role-playing
source books which were written by Terry Pratchett and Phil Masters, which also offer insights into the workings of the Discworld. The first of these two books was re-released in September 2002 under the name of The Discworld Roleplaying Game
, with art by Paul Kidby
PC and console games
universe has also been used as a basis for a number of Discworld
video games on a range of formats, such as the Sega Saturn
, the Sony Playstation
, the Philips CD-i
and the 3DO
, as well as DOS
-based PCs. The following are the more notable games:
The world of Discworld is also featured in a fan created online MUD, multi-user dungeon, and can be found at discworld.atuin.net. This game allows players to play humans in various guilds within the universe that Terry Pratchett has created.
Works about Pratchett
A collection of essays about his writings is compiled in the book Terry Pratchett: Guilty of Literature
, edited by Andrew M. Butler
, Edward James
and Farah Mendlesohn
, published by Science Fiction Foundation in 2000 (ISBN 0903007010). A second, expanded edition was published by Old Earth Books in 2004 (ISBN 188296831X). Andrew M. Butler also wrote the Pocket Essentials Guide to Terry Pratchett
published in 2001 (ISBN 1903047390). Writers Uncovered: Terry Pratchett
is a biography for young readers by Vic Parker, published by Heinemann Library
in 2006 (ISBN 0431906335).