I met Terry Pratchett at the second convention I ever went to, Albacon in Glasgow in 1988. He wasn’t Sir Terry then, indeed he’d only written a few books at the time, and I had only read The Colour of Magic. I hadn’t written anything. I was a twenty-three year old nobody. The friends I was with knew him, and we all had a drink together in the bar. He was friendly and warm and welcoming, and we had a wide ranging discussion—I remember he was talking about the Bromeliad books which he was planning at the time, and some of the things that we brainstormed in that conversation later showed up on the page. He was incredibly interesting and fun to talk to, and immediately ready to take me and my ideas seriously. While we were chatting, he kept being interrupted by people coming up to have books signed, or to tell him shyly how much his work meant to them. Even though they were interrupting the conversation, he dealt very kindly with them, doing his best to gently put them at their ease.
I’ve often thought about that conversation in the years since. I’ve thought about it as I was published myself and was in that same position with being interrupted by fans, and dealing with it as much as I can in the same way. I’ve thought of it as I’ve been in other great brainstorming conversations in fandom, whether Terry was there or not. It was one of my first great fannish conversations, and one of my first experiences of how writers and fans interact. It was literally exemplary, and I’m sure Terry never knew how much it meant to me, then and now.
That conversation with Terry merged into others, in other conventions, at fannish social events, at times widely separated. At John Brunner’s funeral in 1995 he was wearing a hand painted tie with stars and planets on it and he came over and spontaneously hugged me, when that was just the right thing to do, and we talked about John and both cried.
He was the opposite of the Romantic model of the tortured artist, happy in his personal life, close to his family, and always concerned about the world. He was Guest of Honour at Noreascon 4, the 2004 Boston Worldcon. A year later, at the 2005 Glasgow Worldcon, he turned down a Hugo nomination—he’d almost certainly have won, as he was a superstar by then—saying that it wouldn’t make any difference to his career or his life, but it would be a huge thing for everyone else who would be nominated. That kind of unselfish consideration is rare these days, but from Terry it was always natural. At the dead dog party at that con, he spent some time flirting decorously with my aunt, charming her completely. (She had no idea who he was until afterwards, but she congratulated me on what wonderful friends I have. She was right.) He always made time for people, he genuinely cared about humanity collectively and individually.
Other people can tell you how important his work was, and how much it meant to so many people. I’ve talked about some of it here before, Only You Can Save Mankind and Good Omens. But when he was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimers, and today when I heard that he was dead, surrounded by his family, what made me sad wasn’t that there won’t be any more books, sad as that is, but that his conversation has fallen silent.
He was a lovely person. Whether you knew him only through his writing, or whether you were lucky enough to have met him and been his friend, he made the world a better place. The writing will live on. Death sucks.
Jo Walton is a science fiction and fantasy writer. She’s published a collection of Tor.com pieces, three poetry collections and eleven novels, including the Hugo and Nebula winning Among Others. Her most recent book is The Just City. She reads a lot, and blogs about it here irregularly. She comes from Wales but lives in Montreal where the food and books are more varied.