How many Terry Pratchett fans considered chaining themselves to the steamroller that flattened his last hard drives, or lying down in the mud to prevent the destruction of unknown treasures? I couldn’t help wondering how much those hard drives would have raised if they’d been auctioned, what price a devoted reader or eager academic would have been prepared to pay for a glimpse of the great man’s last unpolished thoughts? We’ll never know: Pratchett was adamant that no incomplete ideas should survive him to be finished by someone else, and left instructions detailing their characteristically dramatic end.
As a reader, it’s hard not to feel conflicted. It’s been reported that Pratchett had a tantalising 10 potential novels on that computer; anyone who loved his work must be itching to know what they contained. Even a rough outline and a few notes would have felt like a gift from beyond the grave.
One of the notable things about that decline was to realise how much of the joy of the books came from the complex manner in which they were written, not the storylines themselves. The Truth say, or the last of what I consider the complete adult ones, Unseen Academicals, are a markedly different reading experience to Raising Steam say. Which I read actually thinking, well, I can see how this joke could go, I don’t know and can’t know how the full Pratchett would have taken it but I wish I could. Similarly, in Shepherd’s Crown the invention of sheds for retired men is a fabulous idea – and it would have been spun out into something more complex.
More than many another writer – or perhaps it’s because we did see the output through that decline – it was the over-writing that made the books great, not the plotlines and the sketches for them.