Terry Pratchett was born on 28 April 1948 in Beaconsfield in Buckinghamshire, England, the only child of David and Eileen Pratchett, of Hay-on-Wye and he attended Holtspur School. His family moved to Bridgwater, Somerset, briefly in 1957, following which he passed his eleven plus exam in 1959, earning a place in High Wycombe Technical High School (now John Hampden Grammar School) where he was a key member of the debating society and wrote stories for the school magazine. Pratchett described himself as a “non-descript 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 wanted to be an astronomer but lacked the necessary mathematical skills. He developed an interest in reading science fiction and began attending science fiction conventions from about 1963–1964, but stopped when he got his first job a few years later. His early reading included the works of H. G. Wells, Arthur Conan Doyle, and “every book you really ought to read”, which he later regarded as “getting an education”. Pratchett published his first short story entitled “Business Rivals” in the High Wycombe Technical School magazine in 1962. It is the tale of a man named Crucible who finds the Devil in his flat in a cloud of sulphurous smoke. “The Hades Business” which was published in the school magazine when he was 13 was published commercially when he was 15. Pratchett earned five O-levels and started A-level courses in Art, English and History. His initial career choice was journalism and he left school at 17 in 1965 to start working for the Bucks Free Press, where he wrote, amongst other things, several stories for the Children’s Circle section under the name Uncle Jim. One of these episodic stories contains named characters from The Carpet People (1971). The stories are currently part of a project by the Bucks Free Press to make them available online. While on day release he finished his A-Level in English and took a proficiency course for journalists.
Pratchett had his writing breakthrough in 1968 when he interviewed Peter Bander van Duren, co-director of a small publishing company, Colin Smythe Ltd. During the meeting, Pratchett mentioned he had written a manuscript, The Carpet People. Colin Smythe Ltd published the book in 1971, with illustrations by Pratchett. The book received strong, if few, reviews and was followed by the science fiction novels The Dark Side of the Sun (1976) and Strata (1981). After various positions in journalism, in 1980 Pratchett became Press Officer for the Central Electricity Generating Board in an area which covered four 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, US, and said he would “write a book about my experiences, if I thought anyone would believe it”. The first Discworld novel, The Colour of Magic, was published in hardback by Colin Smythe Ltd in 1983. The paperback edition was published by Corgi, an imprint of Transworld, in 1985. Pratchett’s popularity increased when the BBC’s Woman’s Hour broadcast The Colour of Magic as a serial in six parts, and later Equal Rites. Subsequently, the hardback rights were taken by the publishing house Victor Gollancz Ltd, which remained Pratchett’s publisher until 1997, and Colin Smythe became Pratchett’s agent. Pratchett was the first fantasy author published by Gollancz. Pratchett gave up working for the CEGB to make his living through writing in 1987, after finishing the fourth Discworld novel, Mort. His sales increased quickly and many of his books occupied top places on 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 (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 second place behind J. K. Rowling (6% and 5.6%, respectively), while in the paperback sales list Pratchett came 5th with 1.2% 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.
Pratchett married Lyn Purves in 1968, and they moved to Rowberrow, Somerset, in 1970. Their daughter Rhianna Pratchett, who is also a writer, was born there in 1976. In 1993, the family moved to Broad Chalke, a village west of Salisbury, Wiltshire. He listed his recreations as “writing, walking, computers, life”. He described himself as a humanist and was a Distinguished Supporter of the British Humanist Association and an Honorary Associate of the National Secular Society. He was the patron of the Friends of High Wycombe Library. In 2013 he gave a talk at Beaconsfield Library which he had visited as a child and donated the income from the event to it. On a number of occasions he also visited his former school to speak to the students and look around. Pratchett was well known for his penchant for wearing large, black fedora 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 prompted him to install five kilowatts of photovoltaic cells (for solar energy) at his house. Having been interested in astronomy since childhood, he had an observatory built in his garden. An asteroid (127005 Pratchett) is named after him.
On 31 December 2008, it was announced that Pratchett was to be knighted (as a Knight Bachelor) in the Queen’s 2009 New Year Honours. He formally received the accolade at Buckingham Palace on 18 February 2009. Afterwards he said, “You can’t ask a fantasy writer not to want a knighthood. You know, for two pins I’d get myself a horse and a sword.” In late 2009, he did make himself a sword, with the help of his friends. He told a Times Higher Education interviewer that “At the end of last year I made my own sword. I dug out the iron ore from a field about 10 miles away – I was helped by interested friends. We lugged 80 kilos of iron ore, used clay from the garden and straw to make a kiln, and lit the kiln with wildfire by making it with a bow.’ Colin Smythe, his long-term friend and agent, donated some pieces of meteoric iron – ‘thunderbolt iron’ has a special place in magic and we put that in the smelt, and I remember when we sawed the iron apart it looked like silver. Everything about it I touched, handled and so forth … And everything was as it should have been, it seemed to me.” Pratchett died at his home on the morning of 12 March 2015 from his Alzheimer’s, according to his publisher.
- April, 28, 1948
- United Kingdom
- Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, England
- March, 02, 2015
- United Kingdom
- Broad Chalke, Wiltshire, England
Cause of Death
- Alzheimer's disease