Be More Terry

Be More Terry

Here’s some advice boy. Don’t put your trust in revolutions. They always come around again. That's why they’re called revolutions.

- Terry Pratchett, Night Watch.

There have been many tributes paid to the creator of Discworld since his death in March 2015, and the past month saw a welcome addition from the BBC. Terry Pratchett: Back in Black was a quirky documentary about the author's life and legacy that 'brought Terry back' through the medium of Paul Kaye, alongside interviews with colleagues and fans (you can still catch it on iPlayer if you're quick).

Terry Pratchett: Back in Black

It was a funny, insightful and hugely moving programme, not least because it acted as a reminder (for me, at least) of just what a prescient pioneer Sir Terry was - and how much he still has to teach us about being a great writer and publisher (and human) now.

Perhaps most obvious is Pratchett's disregard for the literary establishment. His novels refused to conform to the binary either/or thinking of the traditional publishing world. From his very first book, 1971's The Carpet People, Pratchett drew derision by daring to write fantasy that was for, and about, ordinary people, rather than an academic Oxford elite. But he didn't just redefine a genre. He insisted that writing that was imaginative, intelligent and formally experimental (see his footnotes, his avoidance of chapters, the Unquoted Small Caps Dialogue he coined for Death) could also be unashamedly populist, stuffed with page-turning plots and cheap jokes. It's an idea that still challenges sneering critics today

Long before Kindle Marketplace was a gleam in Jeff Bezos' eye, Pratchett brought a self-publishing spirit to everything he did. He was unprecious about his process and relentlessly productive, writing an average two books a year and more than 70 in all. He dared to get close to his fans, nurturing their passion at conventions around the world. He forged partnerships at such events with everyone from his illustrator to his personal assistant, and with the help of the latter, Rob Wilkins, became a master at Twitter (see his heart-wrenching final tweets).

Pratchett was transmedia before it was a word. His curious and collaborative spirit led his stories to become films, albums, radio and TV adaptations, plays and musicals, and online-, video-, multiplayer- and board games - plus a whole industry's worth of merchandise; projects with which he was nearly always closely involved. He cast his creative net wide and teamed up with both fans and experts to create spin-off books covering the science, folklore and architecture of Discworld, as well as essays, short stories and children's books.

And yet he never complained that all this 'extra activity' was taking up time that he needed to write. Nor did he deliver grand pronouncements about which was the 'right' way to write or publish. Throughout his career he worked with both small publishers (Colin Smythe, who later became his agent) and big-name houses (Transworld, HarperCollins), all the while continuing to behave like a one-man self-publishing startup. He was digitally brave, yet pro-analogue too - as demonstrated by the beautiful box of index cards in which he recorded his storyworld. He was that truly modern thing, a hybrid, moving joyfully between creative modes and media depending on which was best for the job.

Back in Black makes it clear that Pratchett's relentless forward motion was fuelled by anger. Anger at injustice. Anger at small-mindedness. Anger at people who forget that people - not objects, or tech, or assumptions - come first. Both that anger and the way he used it - as a creative, productive, future-oriented force - could not be more pertinent.

There's a scene in the documentary when fans at a Discworld convention exhort themselves, and each other, to 'Be More Terry.' It's a slogan coined by Wilkins and fellow Pratchett collaborator Stephen Briggs to remind them "to remain true to the way we felt Terry Pratchett would handle the situations that life might throw at us."

Irreverence, humanity, courage and exuberance are qualities that the book trade (and the society it reflects) will need bucketloads of in the months to come. Be More Terry should be mounted in flashing neon cathodes on every author, agent, bookseller and publisher's wall.