Friendship is context-sensitive.
I wouldn't describe Terry as a friend, but as someone I'd been on a first-name acquaintanceship with since the mid-1980s. If you go to SF conventions (or partake of any subculture which has regular gatherings) you'll know the way it works: there are these people who don't really see outside of this particular social context, but you're never surprised to see them in it, and you know each other's names, and when you meet you chat about stuff and maybe sink a pint together.
I haven't seen Terry since the Glasgow worldcon in 2005. The diagnosis of his illness came in 2007; I'd been spending a chunk of 05-07 out of the country, and after the bad news hit I didn't feel like being part of the throng pestering him (for reasons I'll get to later on in this piece.)
I first met him, incidentally, back in 1984, at a British eastercon in Leeds. It was, I think, my first SF convention. Or my second. I was a spotty 17- or 18-year-old nerd, wandering around with a manuscript in a carrier bag, looking for an editor—this was before the internet made it easy to discover that this was not the done thing, or indeed before word processors made typewritten manuscripts obsolescent. (Let's just say that if in a fit of enthusiasm you borrowed your future self's time machine and went back to that convention in search of me you'd have been disappointed.)
There were plenty of other embryonic personages floating around there, of course. I remember meeting this tall goth dude with shaggy hair, dressed all in black and wearing mirrorshades at midday, who resembled the bassist from the Sisters of Mercy. He was called Neil, he wrote for a comic called 2000AD, and he had an oddly liminal superstar quality even then: everyone just knew he was going to be famous, or in a band.) And there was this thirty-something guy with glasses and a bushy beard propping up the bar. What set him apart from the other guys with beards and glasses was that he had a hat, and he was trying to cadge pints of beer with an interesting chat-up line: "I'm a fantasy writer, you know. My third book just came out—it's called 'The Colour of Magic'." So you'd buy him a drink because, I swear, he had some kind of bibulous mind-control thing going, and he'd tell you about the book, and then you'd end up buying the book because it sounded funny, and then you were trapped in his snare forever.
Back then, Terry was not some gigantic landmark of comedy literature, with famous critics in serious newspapers bending over to compare his impact on the world of letters to that of P. G. Wodehouse. Terry was earning his living as a press officer and writing on the side and didn't feel embarrassed about letting other people pay for the drinks. And so over the next few years I bought him a pint or two, and began to read the books. Which is why I only got hooked on Terry's shtick after I'd met him as Terry the convention-going SF fan.
Some time between about 1989 and 1992, something strange began to happen. I started seeing his name feature more prominently in bookshops, displays of his books planted face-out. He started turning up as guest of honour at more and more SF conventions. When a convention did a signing with Terry, suddenly there was a long queue. And when he walked into a room, heads turned and people began to close in on him. There's a curious phenomenon that goes with being famous in a particular subculture: if everybody knows you, you become a target for their projected fantasy of meeting their star. And they all want to shake your hand and say something, anything, that connects with what your work means to them in their own head. (If you want to see this at work today, just go to any function he's appearing at—other than the Oscars—and watch what happens when Neil Gaiman walks into the room. He is, I swear, the human Katamari.)
Being on the receiving end of this phenomenon is profoundly isolating, especially if you're one of those introverted author types who can emulate an extrovert for a few days at a time before you have to hide under the bed and gibber for a while: you're surrounded by strangers who desperately want to connect with you and after a time it becomes really hard to tell them apart, to remember that they're individuals with their own lives and stories and not just different faces emerging from the surface of a weird shape-shifting fame-tropic amoeboid alien. It's not just authors who get this: if anything we get off very lightly compared to actors, politicians, or rock stars. (For some insight into it, go listen to the lyrics of Pink Floyd's "The Wall".) I should add, this sort of introversion is really common among writers. It's an occupation that demands a certain degree of introspective self-absorption, alongside a constant distance from the people you're observing, who—they mostly don't know this, of course—may provide the raw fuel for your work. So, if you want to hang on to your sanity, eventually you either go and hide for a bit, or you surround yourself with people who aren't faintly threatening strangers who want a piece of your soul. Which is to say, you selectively hang out with your peers, or folks you met before you caught the fame virus.
Terry was not only a very funny man; he was an irrascible (and occasionally bad-tempered) guy who did not suffer fools gladly. However, he was also big-hearted enough to forgive the fools around him if they were willing to go halfway to meeting him by ceasing to be foolish at him. He practiced a gracious professionalism in his handling of the general public that spared them the harsh side of his tongue, and he was, above all, humane. As the fame snowballed, he withdrew a bit: appreciating that there was a difference between a sharp retort from your mate Terry at the bar and a put-down from Terry Pratchett, superstar, he stepped lightly and took pains to avoid anything that might cause distress.
Anyway, this isn't a biography, it's just the convoluted lead-in to an anecdote about the last time I saw him (which was a decade ago, so you'd better believe me when I say our relationship was "situational friend" rather than "personal friend").
On the last day of the worldcon in 2005, I was wandering around feeling extremely frazzled and a bit hunted. I'd just won my first Hugo award, and my right hand was sore from people I didn't know grabbing it. Eventually I realized that I just couldn't cope with the regular convention concourse in the conference centre—I was a walking target of opportunity for people who wanted to shake the hand that held the pen that wrote the ... something, I guess.
At a British worldcon, you can count on there being a really excellent real ale bar tucked away in a corner of one of the hotels or fan areas. I headed for the real ale bar and found a degree of comfort and shelter there, because it was mostly full of familiar faces who didn't need to push into my personal space because I was just some guy they'd been bumping into in convention bars for a decade or two. The rate of hand-grabbing dropped to a survivable level: I began to relax, and found a couple of old friends to hang with. And then I noticed Terry.
Terry had not won a Hugo. He didn't need to. (As he said, "I was in the audience at some literary awards ceremony or other with J. K. Rowling one time, and she was lamenting how they'd never give her one, so I turned to her and I said, Jo, me neither: we'll just have to cry ourselves to sleep on top of our mattresses stuffed with £20 notes." Money being, of course, the most honest token of appreciation a commercial author can receive.) Terry didn't need a shiny new Hugo award to find it nearly impossible to walk around a convention and just be a fan: I was getting my first taste of the downside of fame, but Terry had been living with being Terry Pratchett, OBE, Richest Author in all the Land, for more than a decade. He was looking tired, and morose, and a bit down in the dumps. So we went over to say hi.
At this point, he perked up. Omega, who I'd been chatting to, had first met him in the mid-80s, about the same time as me: Feorag got a pass for being married to one of us. He'd been having a hard time being Terry Pratchett in public for five consecutive days. He wasn't quite ready to go and hide out in his hotel room, but he needed some respite care from being a Boss-level target in every starry-eyed fan's first-person autograph shooter; so, as it was coming up on lunchtime, by mutual agreement we dragged him away from the SECC to Pancho Villa's in Glasgow for lunch. Okay, Glaswegian-Mexican food is not what you'd necessarily call good good. But it filled a corner and, more importantly, it got him far enough away from the convention to decompress a little in company that wasn't going to place any demands on him.
Now, Terry (like the late Iain Banks) seemed to feel a bit of noblesse oblige (or maybe just plain survivor's guilt) over the sheer mind-boggling scale of his success. ("I realized I was rich," he recounted, "when I got a call from my agent one Thursday. That cheque I mailed you—did you get it? He asked. And I realized I couldn't find it: lost down the back of the sofa or something. Can you cancel it and mail me a new one? I said. And he said, yes I can do that, but you realize you won't be able to deposit it before next week and you'll lose the interest on it? And I said sure, just go ahead, cancel it, and send me a new one. Then I put the phone down and realized it was for half a million pounds.") Things had obviously changed since the days when he had to cadge drinks off fans in convention bars: and I realised that I hadn't bought him a pint since about 1989, and this rankled a little bit. Nobody likes to think of themselves as a charity case. Also, I'd just won a Hugo and landed a new three book deal and was beginning to feel a bit of that survivor's guilt myself.
So at the end of the meal, while he went to the toilet, I tried to pick up the bill. But the waitress was slow, he got back to the table before she could make off with my credit card, and when he pulled out his gold visa card, snarled "who's the rich bastard here?!?", and chuckled to himself, I knew I was beat. And I never did get to buy him lunch, in the end.
Anyway, those are some of my memories of Terry Pratchett.
He was generous not just with money, but with his soul. He was irrascible, yes, and did not suffer fools gladly: but he was empatic as well, and willing to forgive. Witty. Angry. Eloquent. A little bit burned by his own fame, and secretly guilty over it, but still human. And the world is smaller and darker without him, and I miss him deeply.