Thursday, 12 March 2015

Sir Terry Pratchett - Professional and Personal Grief

My plan had been to write about a recent project launch I helped with the media on, which has some painful bearing on this article.
It kept sliding as these things do - and then was utterly derailed by today's heartbreaking, if not surprising, news that acclaimed writer Sir Terry Pratchett has passed away.

Pratchett started work as a journalist, then became a press officer before his books exploded in popularity - and now, we learn that the beloved author has finally succumbed to the encroaching, indefatigable and unusual variant of Alzheimer's Disease that plagued him.

A lot of Sir Terry's books are on my shelves, and I can appreciate the similarities now that I am a trained journalist, who works as a press officer - for the National Health Service's research department specifically tasked with looking into dementia and Alzheimer's Disease.

Just a few months ago, I was floating the idea that we might approach Sir Terry for some patronage, but he was already involved with the massively successful Dementia Friends campaign. Professionally, I regretted not being able to net such an influential and passionate patron. The awkward gangly boy who still lurks in my memory regretted missing what could have been a golden opportunity to meet a hero.

Even so, I do have a copy of The Last Continent, when the awkward gangly boy gangled up awkwardly to a tired man still dutifully signing books, a long, long time ago. The memories of that encounter are hazy - ironically enough - but the goose pimples and awe I recall feeling have remained indelibly marked on my mind. Here was someone who had shared the most valuable and incomparable gift of all with us - an entire world!

So, I hope Sir Terry will forgive me today, when I used the work account to mourn his passing - and mention how people could help contribute to research into dementia conditions like his. I hope he will appreciate how we can in some way benefit from what has happened, and work towards - hopefully - preventing such things in the future.

That was what the professional press officer did with Twitter, anyway. The gangly, awkward boy read the last tweets sent from Sir Terry's account, and grieved and mourned. 

These two very unalike halves are nevertheless utterly appropriate for discussing the Discworld. It's where wizards and heroes, dragons and elves, vampires, werewolves and Corporal Nobby Nobbs - all fantastical and unreal creatures - nevertheless had a beautifully human, down-to-Disc side, that allowed Sir Terry to spear our world with such acidic, satirical brilliance. That's the side of all of us that grieves the most. 

Much can be said about your work living on after you, that no person is gone until their creations are forgotten as well - but at the heart of it, the creator of those magical words, the living human responsible for an impossibly huge amount of work has gone.
Each of us felt a connection, through this vast and shared fantastical universe, and probably none more so than Neil Gaiman, an equally brilliant creator who collaborated frequently with Sir Terry. The tweet from his wife, multi-talented performer Amanda Palmer, struck a very deep chord with me.

My heart goes out to every person today who needs to be held - because we've lost more than just an author. A world-maker, a brilliant and funny and kind and wise man who invented an entire world that so many of us lived and breathed in.

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