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Neil Gaiman almost prevented Terry Pratchett’s unfinished work from being steamrolled (almost)

Pratchett’s biographer Rob Wilkins shared the story.

Terry Pratchett
Image credit: BBC

When beloved fantasy author Terry Pratchett passed away from Alzheimer’s disease in 2015, the hard drive from his “main writing computer” contained nearly a dozen novels in progress. Per Pratchett’s final wishes, the hard drive was destroyed by steamroller after the author had passed away. However, a fatefully timed phone call from Pratchett’s Good Omens co-writer Neil Gaiman almost derailed the endeavor and could have allowed for the survival of the now-destroyed hard drive.

During a panel at MCM Comic Con 2022, Pratchett’s longtime friend, personal assistant, business manager, and biographer Rob Wilkins (Terry Pratchett: A Life With Footnotes) shared this strange anecdote with fans. Wilkins explained that it was Pratchett’s wish to have the hard drive (and the in-progress novels it contained) destroyed after his death, either by being “steamrollered into dust” or being "fired off into space.” When the annual Great Dorset Steam Fair took place nearby in 2017, Wilkins saw his chance to execute the former course of action.

Wilkins continued that he was on the road to destroy the hard drive when he received a call from Gaiman, who needed to discuss a production roadblock regarding Good Omens season 1 with Wilkins. The call continued after Wilkins arrived at his destination. Wilkins recounts his team informing him that the vintage steamroller was up to steam. Using it was a now or never proposition.

“At that point, if Neil would have kept me talking for another two minutes, I would have just said, ‘Oh, to hell with it, it’s not happening,’” Wilkins stated. However, fate had other plans, as Gaiman wrapped up the call, and Wilkins ultimately fulfilled Pratchett’s wish to have the hard drive very literally steamrollered.

According to Wilkins, the hard drive contained “at least ten novels that had been started.” The longest, Twilight Canyons, was “about 25,000 – 30,000” words long.

Nevertheless, when asked if he cried as he destroyed the hard drive, Wilkins said he had multiple reasons to remain calm. “But the biggest reason was that Terry was there with me,” Wilkins said. “And he was saying, ‘I told you to do it, so you just better make it happen.’”

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Avery Kaplan

Avery Kaplan: Avery lives and writes in Southern California. She is the co-author of Double Challenge: Being LGBTQ and a Minority with her spouse, Rebecca Oliver Kaplan. Avery is Features Editor at Comics Beat, and you can also find her writing on StarTrek.com, The Gutter Review, Geek Girl Authority, and in the margins of the books in her personal library.


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