A Life with Footnotes* book review

It isn’t surprising that what most recommends this book is the anecdotes, amusing or sombre or often a mix of the two. How he kept a picture of a book-pulping machine on display in his office. The time he found out he was on the bestseller list, just beaten out by Stephen King, to which he responded, “I bet he’s not in his back garden fixing a puncture on his daughter’s bike”. Stories about a young Pratchett sitting on the floor of a store mostly known for selling pornographic material, happily making his way through a box of sci-fi and fantasy magazines.

The individual tales are diverting, but it’s the picture that forms between them that is the most interesting. Seeing him grow from a boy in a house with no running water, attending a church where the vicar would refer to his working-class congregants by their last names, being told at the age of six that he had no academic value, show the building. blocks of a writer who would rail against class in his later novels. The final chapters that show Pratchett in decline due to his illness are truly devastating.


His 25th Discworld novel, The Truthlooks at the realities of working at a newspaper and is clearly informed by his years spent as a journalist. A Life with Footnotes*, however, shows how the harrowing and humorous experiences Pratchett had across those years spill into all his books, not only that one; into the methodical approach to writing that meant he regularly produced several novels a year, and into his outlook.

It’s a book written with fans in mind – made most clear by the casual inclusion of a major spoiler for one of Pratchett’s later novels – but is arguably also accessible to those walking in cold. Ultimately, Terry Pratchett: A Life with Footnotes* is the story of a person fighting constantly against where society wanted to put him. It captures the spirit of Pratchett’s writing by telling hard truths through a (mostly) enjoyable-to-read layer and inspires rage, laughter and sadness in turns.

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