On my study wall, there’s a letter from Terry Pratchett that I estimate to be worth just over a million pounds. Now, before you make a spirited attempt to burgle my house, I should point out that it’s only worth a million pounds to me. It’s the letter that made me continue with my first novel at a time when I was genuinely about to give up and ditch the whole writing business as a bad move. Here it is:
It was 1993, I was fifteen years old and I’d been submitting around two hundred different manuscripts of varying length to publishers since first beginning to create stories after my twelfth birthday. After standard rejections, complicated rejections, rejections suggesting I change narratives and start on different sorts of fiction, polite suggestions that I choose to do something different with my life and even one or two strong hints that I should never have picked up a pen in the first place, I decided to write to my literary hero and tell him that I was giving up on my novel because – as I said – there was ‘no market for comic fantasy’. Terry said:
Dear David, No excuses! How much of a successful market for funny fantasy was there when I wrote The Colour of Magic? It is hard to be successful. There is no justice. But the ones with the Duracell batteries run longer. All the best, Terry Pratchett.
Just over ten years later, I was standing in an elevator in Chicago as a Guest of Honour for Disney at the 2004 Book Expo following what at that time was the biggest debut deal ever signed for a fantasy author, a record-breaking contract that involved the very same book I’d been about to give up on all those years before. My agent and I were on our way to a restaurant where I was expected to give a speech about the Hyperion launch for ‘The Illmoor Chronicles’ when I suddenly put my hand into my pocket and felt a moment of terrible panic: the letter was missing. I’d taken to carrying it with me as a luck token to every event, as doing so gave me incredible confidence. As far as I was concerned, there was no writer for whose work I had greater respect, and with that rationale I could happily have sustained horrific criticism from any amount of authors, editors or publishers firm in the knowledge that the best of them all was on my side.
I felt a sudden, rising panic….not least because my speech was due shortly after the starter was served, and without my letter I wasn’t sure I could force my way through such incredible company and actually stand there, justifying my place among the chosen for the new season of books at Disney Worldwide. My hand went to both pockets, and the patting became more and more frantic. My agent glanced at me and whispered: ‘Is it your speech? Have you left your speech at the hotel?’ ‘I haven’t written a speech,’ I said. It was true. I never write speeches, and I’d never had cause to worry about making one before: as long as I was packing THAT letter from Mr Pratchett, I never suffered a single moment of doubt. It was like a passport that confirmed that, I, David Lee Stone, was a kickass headlining author…because Terry Pratchett told me to pack in the Duracell batteries and MAN UP. I proceeded to walk into that restaurant and deliver the worst speech of my entire career. I spewed up some anecdotal garbage about fancying publicists, chasing film producers and generally did the entire performance as if I was on some sort of chilling high.
When I got back to my hotel room, I literally wrecked the place looking for my Terry Pratchett letter. As I turned over desks, tables and chairs, it occured to me that the letter had actually become a magical totem, a sort of witch bottle that kept in all the things I hated about myself and proved that I was worth the effort of a few lines from a man I felt like I knew better than anyone else in the world (because Terry’s writing has always made his readers feel that way). I hit that hotel room like a man possessed, like some sort of demented popstar who wants to make headlines. The following day, I was due to sign preview copies of my book alongside people like Jamie Lee Curtis, Julie Andrews and Larry Flynt. I needed my letter from Terry: I NEEDED it. In the end, I found it underneath my pillow. I’d put it there deliberately the night before….and forgotten. Then I looked around at the room, and realised that I needed to tidy it up before the hotel staff – or (worse) my girlfriend – returned to discover the mess I’d made.
A letter. One letter.
If you look at that picture, you will see it’s only four lines long. A four-line letter that, it could be argued, forged an entire career for me. I haven’t been out of work since I signed that first deal in 2002, and I’ve written more than twenty-five books for children, teenagers and adults. Some of them have done quite well, a few have done extremely well and one, well, one I’d love more people to have read…but coping with that is what being an author is all about. Over the years, I would get more letters from Terry (see HERE), but none as important as the one above.
My Letter From Terry Pratchett was originally written by Davey Stone in July 2014.