How two devoted fans found Terry Pratchett's lost stories

BY Alice Gawthrop

11th Oct 2023 Culture

4 min read

How two devoted fans found Terry Pratchett's lost stories
Terry Pratchett fans Pat and Jan Harkin unearthed a whimsical collection of lost Terry Pratchett stories. They reveal the secrets behind the discovery
Terry Pratchett fans may have been devastated when a hard drive of his unfinished, unpublished works was crushed by a six-and-a-half tonne steamroller in 2017, as per the late author’s instructions. Pratchett did not want his unpublished works to be finished by someone else and then released. But to any fans still reeling from the loss of the beloved fantasy novelist’s creative output, hope is on the horizon: lost stories published under a pseudonym early in his career have been rediscovered.
It is a happy accident that retired couple Pat and Jan Harkin came across a treasure trove of Terry Pratchett stories in 2022. The pair were on the hunt for “The Quest for the Keys”, a story that fan Chris Lawrence had saved from his childhood. Clues were limited: Lawrence had saved neatly trimmed newspaper clippings which were missing dates. All they knew was that the story was from roughly 50 years ago (around 1972), having possibly appeared in the Western Daily Press.

An amazing discovery

And so a trip back in time began. The time machine they used was the British Newspaper Archive in Boston Spa. Over the course of around 16 trips to the library, the Harkins meticulously searched through thousands of issues of local newspapers to try and find “The Quest for the Keys” in its original form.
They established a timeframe for the search: 1970 to 1983. The story featured a city called Morpork, similar to Ankh-Morpork, a city that features prominently in the Discworld novels. The Harkins suspected that it was unlikely Pratchett would reuse the same name in a short story after the publication of his Discworld work, so they figured that the story was most likely published before his first Discworld novel The Colour of Magic was published in 1983. 
"Hidden in these archives were a selection of stories even Pratchett’s agent and former publisher Colin Smythe did not know about"
As it turned out, the story was actually published in 1984—the Harkins had to slog through over a decade’s worth of newspapers to find it. This miscalculation was, however, a stroke of luck, because hidden in these archives were a selection of stories even Pratchett’s agent and former publisher Colin Smythe did not know about.
Pat and Jan joke that their background in medicine served as training for this project. “We know well the importance of conducting meticulous research—and keeping a record of it,” Jan comments. Their dive into archives was thorough and methodical, and the rewards were rich. 
Pat and Jan Harkin
Pat and Jan realised they had struck gold when they came across a story called “Blackbury Weather”. The name Blackbury rang a bell as it is the setting for Pratchett’s Johnny Maxwell trilogy. But strangely, the byline was Patrick Kearns.
“We weren’t sure what to think at first,” Jan says. “We obviously had read a lot of Terry’s work and recognised the style, but we aren’t literary experts. We weren’t sure if Patrick Kearns was a real, separate person. We sent the stories to Colin and it was really exciting when he came back and said, ‘This is Terry.’”
“Patrick is vaguely like Pratchett and Kearns was Terry’s maternal grandmother’s maiden name. So we had found a pseudonym,” adds Pat. 
Could there be more stories out there? “I would say I don’t think there are any more, but then that’s what I would have said if you asked me a year ago, before we found these ones,” Jan says. “We don’t know if any more stories will turn up. But we’re really pleased that these have come through, and hopefully people are going to have a lot of fun reading them.”

A portrait of Terry Pratchett

In the collection’s introduction, Pratchett’s long-time collaborator Neil Gaiman remarks on the late fantasy writer’s semi-mythical status among fans. What was the man behind the magical writing really like?
Pat and Jan got to know Pratchett quite well after meeting him at various conventions. In fact, the inventive author would often call Pat up with strange questions like, “How much earwax do you produce in a lifetime?” (About an egg-cupful, since you ask!) Or “Can you get hold of some arsenic for me?” If you didn’t know he was a writer, you might find these queries quite suspicious!
But according to Pat, the big thing about Terry was that he was really interested in people. “He liked nothing better than to sit and talk to them,” Pat says. “I asked him once, if he hadn’t sat in all those signing queues, just writing his name over and over, how many Discworld novels would there be? And he said, ‘I think there would probably be about half as many.’”
Jan adds, “I agree with Neil’s take on Terry. He was a human being, it’s difficult to say that somebody’s happy and jolly all the time, because they’re not. But he was very stimulating company over a dinner table. He was great fun. And he had a mind like a vacuum cleaner—anything that you said could be taken away and digested and thought about, and then maybe even put in a book somewhere.”
"The big thing about Terry was that he was really interested in people"
The result of the Harkins’ efforts is a collection of whimsical, amusing tales about cavemen inventing cooking, the real wild west of the English-Welsh border and Father Christmas trying a career change for better pension prospects, to name just a few.
Fans will recognise elements of Pratchett’s signature style, including footnotes with humorous comments and cultural references (such as the Lone Crofter in “The Real Wild West”, as opposed to the Lone Ranger), as well as names that cropped up in Pratchett’s later work, like the aforementioned town of Blackbury. The collection closes with the story that started it all, “The Quest for the Keys”, a tale set long ago when “dragons still existed and the only arcade game was ping-pong in black and white”. 
But who knows, maybe there are more of Terry Pratchett’s stories out there, just waiting to be found.
A stroke of the pen jacket
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