In the last few weeks it has been announced that the beloved Terry Pratchett plans to hand over the reigns of the Discworld to his daughter Rhianna Pratchett when he can no longer write them himself. He has been suffering from Alzheimers for a long time now and anyone who has seen the heartbreaking clip of Terry from Living with Alzheimers in which he is unable to read a loud pages from his own novel must be all too well aware that his days of writing are numbered. Indeed these days he cannot use a computer keyboard at all and instead uses people and software to take dictation. Rhianna (will she ever be PRhianna in the way that her dad is affectionately known as PTerry?) has a writing career in her own right. While writing primarily for video games she is also set to co-write The Watch, a spin off series about characters from Night Watch. When she takes over the Discworld she will have a lot to prove but I, like many others it seems, am willing to wait to pass judgement if only because I love the Discworld and am hoping it can continue. Terry has given her his stamp of approval which also counts for a lot and I feel that the Discworld is rich enough that Rhianna can explore and take things in her own direction without treading on any toes.
Learning about Rhianna and Sir Terry’s decision reminded me of a deeply irritating article I read in the wake of Valerie Elliot’s death. She was not only TS Elliott’s wife she was also his secretary and by all accounts an amazing woman in her own right though I will always have a soft spot for his troubled first wife Vivie Elliott due to watching Tom & Viv at an impressionable age. The article posed the question “Without the great secretary-wives, who will guard the great writer’s archive?” This question first assumes that all great writers are men – what pray tell of the illusive secretary-husband? It secondly assumes that should you be a woman and married to a ‘great writer’ you should devote your life to being their secretary or condemn them to the whims of history. In the article Kathryn Hughes even appears to begrudge women married to writers’ their “good degrees” and “bold ideas about their own economic and intellectual status”. How can these poor men manage with the “fractured, fractious administrative life” which comes of being married and divorced in this day an age? Reading it leaves me with a persistent image of hand wringing and pearl clutching and deep seated need to make her see sense.
Female writers have managed without secretary-wives for as long as they have been published and yet we still know their names. And to be frank if a male writer cannot take responsibility for his own legacy either by keeping is papers in order or hiring a professional then that’s his own look out. Don’t foist the responsibility off on the poor woman who happens to marry him.
While I doubt Terry Pratchett was the kind of great writer Kathryn Hughes was talking about you might imagine he has more right to ask his female relatives to play secretary than most given his Alzheimers. However in Pratchett’s case Rhianna has her own career which has served her well and will doubtless continue along side her work on The Watch and Discworld in general. There is no need for her to devote her life to her father’s work in order to protect it or even be a part of it. As for Terry Pratchett’s wife of 44 years, Lyn Purves though she clearly ought to be devoting her time to being her husband’s secretary and does read his mail I presume that if she had the time or the inclination to be a secretary Terry would not have hired Rob as his assistant. Either way the Pratchett family seem to be managing very well and there is little danger of his work being lost, torn up or frittered away.