Interview: Terry Pratchett
by Emily S. Whitten
Review by Emily S. Whitten
*Interview ISBN/ITEM#: INTTerryPratche
Date: 28 July 2009
Links: North American Discworld Convention, 2009 / Terry Pratchett Website /
Terry Pratchett is the best selling adult fiction author in the UK, and as of 2006, was the seventh most read non-U.S.-based author in the United States. As of June, 2008, he has sold more than 60 million books in thirty-seven languages worldwide. Pratchett's popular Discworld series currently includes thirty-six books, and number thirty-seven, Unseen Academicals, will be available for purchase in the U.S. on October 6, 2009.
Pratchett has won numerous awards for his writing, including an Order of the British Empire for 'Services to Literature;' the Carnegie Medal; three Locus Awards for Best Young Adult Book; numerous honorary Doctorates of Literature, and the British Book Awards' 'Fantasy and Science Fiction Author of the Year.' In 2009, he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II for 'Services to Literature.' He also received a Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for Excellence in Children's Literature and an L.A. Times Book Prize for his most recent novel, Nation. His books have been made into television movies, video games, plays, audio books, and more.
On September 30, 2008, Pratchett's newest novel, Nation, which is a non-Discworld young adult book, was released in the U.S. On August 24, 2008, Pratchett sat down with Emily S. Whitten, Vice Chair of the North American Discworld Convention, which will take place in Tempe, Arizona on Labor Day weekend in 2009, to chat about Nation, the Discworld, and everything.Emily: Since we're at the 2008 UK Discworld Convention, let's start with questions about conventions. What do you enjoy most and least about conventions?
Terry: Conventions sometimes never seem long enough. You arrive on Friday night, and you get thrown into things straightaway; and then suddenly everyone's thinking about the closing ceremony, and you never really seem to have a chance to settle down. Actually, these days, seldom do I ever really get the chance to see the convention, because everyone has interviews, and, will I go and do this? And will I go and do a piece there? And so I don't get that much of a chance to hang out; especially at Discworld conventions.
Emily: Right, well, obviously at Discworld conventions you are the main event, all the time. How does it feel to be constantly in the spotlight like that?
Terry: It feels like a tomcat that's been thrown over the wall of a rottweiler compound, that's what it feels like.
You learn to beware of the diagonal fan, you know. Like, you need the restroom, so you're walking that way and you're aware there's a fan coming in on the diagonal, because they can see what you're doing, so they want to head you off before you get there. So you have to very carefully speed up so you just miss the collision; and then they're not allowed actually to chase you.
Emily:Well at least not into the bathroom, probably!
Terry: It has been known to happen...and there was even the, "Can I push my book under the door?"
Emily: Are you kidding?
Terry: I am not kidding! And I said, "You do that and it will get a signing you'll never forget!" But that was a long time ago.
I'm glad it doesn't happen to you too often! So that's your favorite part, the wandering around and getting to see everything?
Terry: Yeah; and conventions are good for the crack. We'd better explain what that means--the Irish sense of the word crack. I remember the first time I found it: in Ireland, they said, "Oh, yes, so-and-so's doing a book launch, let's go in there for the crack." Say what you like, you know, but Ireland's certainly moving with the times. So...it's just for the atmosphere, for the fun, the conversation, I mean, there's so much to talk about...the singing last night was wonderful: I was joining in and suddenly realized I was singing a song popularized by The Monkees in the '60s!
Emily: So speaking of conventions, we're really glad to have you as our Guest of Honor at the North American Discworld Convention in September of 2009. What are you looking forward to about our convention, and what do you think might be different or what are you hoping to see or enjoy there?
Terry: Well these days, fans travel around so much. When I was a little wee lad, just starting to get fans, I think some really bold UK fans had gone to the States on such charter flights as existed and got special rates and things--but it wasn't very common. And these days, you get, certainly on the East Coast, a fair number of Brits coming to the conventions. And of course, there's no way that you can stop Americans from turning up every bloody place, really.
Emily: We do like to travel.
Terry: Yes you do! You've got such a nice country at home, you know; I'm surprised you want to keep leaving it all the time.
Emily: You don't come there often enough! We have to come here and see you!
Terry: Yes, well, maybe you could have a word with your wonderful Department of Homeland Security. I mean, what are the chances of a sixty-year-old fantasy writer wanting to blow up America? It's just kind of not likely, I mean, because so many of my fans are there. You know, I'd lose money; it just would not be worth it!
I will not say where it was, because I don't want to get someone into trouble; but I arrived in the U.S., and I think I was the second person going through security, where the gentleman was standing there with the [ironically] broad, happy-to-see-you smile that they always employ when they see another plane full of tourists arrive. I went up to the desk, realizing that I now had no rights whatsoever; would be beaten to a pulp at any second, and the man said, "Why are you coming to America?" Yes, why indeed? I said, "I'm attending a science fiction convention." And he looked me in the eye, then picked up the phone, and said, "Tom," (not really his name) "I got 'im!" And that was it! He said, "Wait there." And I thought, OK...what rights do I have here right now; um, none, actually...um, do I look good in orange? It's never really been my color.
And then suddenly, this guy turns up and says, "Oh it's you! Hi Terry, I'm one of your greatest fans! Sorry I'm not getting along to the con, but I wonder if you can sign a couple of books for me." And there I am, thinking: "Yes yes yes, anything, please, please aaaahhh ok!" And he said, "I told all the guys to look out for you; because we knew you were coming through because we saw you on the" --whatever FBI list it is that they get that says who's on the next plane. And then he said: "I hope to see you again. Enjoy America!" --Yes, yes, I'm enjoying America!
And that was it; suddenly I was back by this tall, handsome guy, who was still looking at me in that slightly, I'm not exactly looking at you way that they have, and he said: "Can I see some ID?" And I said, "Well, yeah, no problem, I mean, here's my passport, but you know, if I'm not Terry Pratchett, poor old Tom has got a ruined book, hasn't he?" And just for a moment, there was a slight tiny weeny teeny infinitesimal sign of a smile.
Emily: Oh, that's funny! Anything else you want to say about the Discworld Convention that's going to happen next year?
Terry: Oh yes! We haven't really got that far, we've been just talking. Well, what I was really going to say is that almost by definition now, any Discworld Convention is going to be an international convention. A major international convention. I mean, I know there are Australians here at the UK convention. I don't think it's necessarily that people come just for it. It's like with the Australian cons that I've been to, you know you're going to be in Australia, and so you arrange to go to that con. I have done lots of American conventions of one sort or another over the years, so I know what they're like; but I would expect to see quite a few British fans over there as well.
Emily: We've got a number registered already.
Terry: And we know the British fans think, "OK, well, yes, that means we can go down to Tombstone, and see famous places like Benson." If you're going to have an American adventure, you know, why not go somewhere where it's going to be extremely American.
Emily: True. And what was that bookstore you told me about...?
Terry: Winn Bundy's Singing Wind Book Shop. Now let me tell you; I went down once when the World Science Fiction Convention was on, and I found myself in that area, and I hired a pick-up truck, and I drove along, and I found this saguaro cactus, so I took a picture of it, you know: "Hey, look there's me with a cactus!" And I drove over the hill, and all you could see was dang cacti going over to the edge of the universe!
I would have liked to have taken a look at Kitt Peak Observatory when I was there, because I know you can get shown around inside. But I decided to go the other way. I'd never seen Benson - you know about Benson from the movie Dark Star--so I went along to Benson, and I went into the Benson Museum, and there were some ladies who were kind of custodians of the museum, and they were astonished that an Englishman had come to look at Benson. They couldn't quite get their heads around it. And I have this terrible habit that Brits have, where in the presence of Americans, certainly outside the coasts, I will talk slower, and my voice will go up the social register, somehow, until I end up talking, as far as Americans are concerned, [Terry's voice changes] like the Duke of Devonshire. I wasn't winding them up; I just couldn't help it! My voice becomes more and more English, to the point where Prince Charles sounds like a Cockney!
I needed to get a pair of jeans, and they took me 'round to a shop that did that, and they were showing me Benson. I met the sheriff, and a lovely fellow going in the one cafe in Benson; and I bought a great pair of jeans, but they were a bit short for me. I said, "That's OK, I'll fix them," but one of them took them home to fix them, while I was having my--
Emily: Wait, the museum ladies did?
Terry: Yes, they were incredibly helpful. And then they said, "You've got to go and see Winn Bundy at the Singing Wind Book Shop." The lady said, "It's right in the middle of nowhere"--and this is someone in Benson saying this. She said "go to the traffic light, and just keep going and keep going." And I went.
As I understand it, Winn Bundy and her husband both loved books, and her husband had passed on, so she rented out the pasture, which to an Englishman meant a blade of grass every six inches, to another farmer, and she was running a mail-order book service from her ranch house. But she also would, as it were, entertain visitors that came all the way to see her.
She had just a marvelous selection. It was the kind of books that people that like SF and fantasy would also like, like the best of children's books and writing from around the world, and the kind of stuff that the guys at Forbidden Planet in England call slipstream. You know, stuff that it's worth putting on a separate shelf even though it's in a SF bookshop. Because SF readers might like guys like Tom Robbins, for example--I've found him in Forbidden Planet--or Carl Hiaasen; the kind of people that like SF would pick up a Hiaasen. So, all that kind of stuff; and I spent a lovely afternoon choosing books and drinking coffee with her. And she's still there! That shows what leading a good life around books does for you. When the books did arrive, every single book was individually packaged in brown paper. Oh, it was wonderful.
It was nearly terminal as well, because I was so elated when I came out of Benson in my pick-up truck, I was driving along with not a care in the world, going around all these sharp bends, and I came on a straight stretch, and I saw a great big truck at the far end of the straight stretch, and for some reason, it was on the wrong side of the road. And because I was so elated, I'd temporarily forgotten which side of the road I should be driving on! I'd driven on around these bendy curves, and then, on this straight stretch, with plenty of room for me to get back on the right side, there was a truck...so I think God must have been paying attention to Benson on that day--because otherwise, I would have been a smear on the blacktop!
Emily: Well, thank goodness you weren't!
Terry: Also, there's a new cave system that's been opened up, isn't there? That might be fun to have a look at. And for sure I've got a fan in Kitt Peak Observatory, this has got to be the case. I'd like to see that.
Emily: Anything else you want to say about the convention before we move on?
Terry: I'm really looking forward to it! I mean, I think we always knew that sooner or later there would be an American Discworld Convention, and I'm very pleased to see that the numbers are creeping up. It's actually very strange...I was WorldCon Guest of Honor, some years back, and fortunately that was in Boston, so quite a lot of Brits came over for that as well. So that almost became the de facto first American Discworld convention--but they shoved a lot of other stuff under us--there were some other authors there, but, you know--[jokingly] that doesn't actually matter.
Actually, at that con, the best part--at the end of Wintersmith, there's a scene where, in her imagination or spirit or whatever, Tiffany sees the heart of Summer, and it's this desert. That's based on a wonderful bracelet made of beads which look like snakeskin that I got at that convention. And there's agate and other sort of hot, semi-precious--well, hardly precious, but you know what I mean--stones in it. And even though it was cold to the touch, you could, somehow, in a spiritual way, feel the vicious desert heat pouring off it because of the colors. And I didn't know why I wanted it, but I paid top dollar at that convention--it was one of those auctions where you fill in your bid, then you go away, and you come back and bid again. There was me bidding, and a lady; and she was going up, and I was moving my bid up, and I thought, "Oh, the hell with this," and I started going ahead in big amounts. And then she found out who I was, and she came and found me and she said: "I bow to your talent, but more importantly, to your wallet." But she got something else that she wanted, so that was fine. It was quite an event. And when I was writing that scene, I took the bracelet out and I thought, now I know why I bought this!
Emily: Do you still have it?
Terry: Oh, yeah.
Emily: I'd love to see it someday.
Well, I might bring it along to the [North American] convention. I don't know where it is, but I do have it, somewhere in all the junk! But that sort of thing might interest--seeing something like that and buying it, you don't know why; and it's because it's talking to you. It's your subconscious telling you, this is going to be the symbol of something and something goes click and you think: you need this.
Emily: Yes. Speaking of Discworld books, here's something that actually puzzles me a lot: I recommend your books all the time, and a lot of my friends will pick up one of your books, and they'll like it, but then some of my friends will pick up one, and then they'll buy the next one, and the next one, and say, "I must have more!" Do you have any idea why your fans are so--you know, what is it about some of us, that makes that happen?
Terry: Obviously your mighty towering intellect.
Emily: That must be what it is.
Terry: I mean, also the discovery that reading Terry Pratchett improves your sex life no end. There's something about it--it activates certain things in the hypothalamus, I think.
It is all an extremely strange thing. It is a fact that I am the best-selling adult fiction author in the UK. And this is apparently true because people that do the numbers...did the numbers. And one reason, of course, which applies to everybody as well as me, is that backlist sales are counted, and my backlist sales are all buoyant. So new books just add more sales, and it just keeps going on. But you wouldn't know this if I didn't tell you. Mostly you never see it in print anywhere outside the trade magazines. And it's kind of a strange existence, where I both am, and am not, a famous author. In a way that kind of flickers on and off. Partly because I'm kind of in the genre but not in the genre; a bit like the character in Nation, who goes off to the War of the Roses wearing a pink rose, and therefore has to contend with both sides. So it is a strange existence, which I'm actually quite comfortable with.
But a guy interviewing me the other day said, "You've sold so many books, so why has no one heard of you?" And I said, "Hang on. Don't you think that the people that bought the books have? You know, the publishers, at great expense, have fixed the author's name to the book at some point, so the readers must know..." I said, "I think I know what you mean, though I think you'll find it very hard to articulate exactly what it is you think you asked me."
I think there's a celebrity aspect to book publicity now. There's always, among publishers, (and I say this with a representative of my publisher's sitting very close to me) the attitude that if an author's been around for a long time being successful; they've just kept on going around being successful--then they become uninteresting. Because here's another book from this guy, and even the critics think, "It doesn't really matter what we say about it anyway, because it's going to sell an awful lot," and...you're always there, and you've always been there, and..."Here's another one, and if you liked the other ones, you'll enjoy this one" and so it goes.
The thing is, it dawned on me very recently that reading books is a nerd activity. You know, actually turning over pieces of crushed tree--it's kind of nerdy. It's not the kind of thing that the ladies with the Croydon facelifts do. Still a lot of people read, but it's not really exactly a cool activity. So, it's quite possible for a journalist to say, "You sell all these books but no one's ever heard of you." So, apparently the people that read books don't have an opinion that matters--because they're not on the television, and they don't play football.
Emily: Right, naturally. So, in terms of Discworld: what was your favorite Discworld book to write, and, maybe the same, but, which one was your favorite afterwards, that you liked the best or turned out the best.
Terry: Guards! Guards! was a lot of fun to write. I mean, they're all a lot of fun to write. Definitely more of myself goes into the children's books. That's without a shadow of a doubt. They are almost lived, rather than written; particularly with the Tiffany Aching books. Because although those are Discworld, they are slightly distanced from it, and there are many cunning reasons for that. But I wanted to make certain that the children's book series did not suggest to anyone that you had to read the adult books before you could understand the children's books. I mean, Granny Weatherwax and her fellow witches can oscillate between the adult books and the children's books, and Tiffany goes off to the big city, which is never actually named, but there is a wizard's university there, so we all know where it is. But she doesn't really need to know very much because she doesn't go there for very long--it isn't part of her world.
The City Watch books have always been fun to write, and when I wrote Thud!, that was really quite a heavy book when I was finishing it. The scene where Vimes is in the cave system and reading out "Where's My Cow?" to his son--and his son, ten miles away, opens his eyes, because he can somehow hear Dad reading to him--that really was heavy stuff to write--so, yeah, anything involving Vimes is great fun to do. And Thud! has got a lot of Vetinari in it, and he's also a lot of fun to write.
Emily: Yes. Now, let's talk about the book you are currently writing, because I remember you had mentioned Unseen Academicals, and also you've said something about I Shall Wear Midnight.
Terry: I Shall Wear Midnight will be the next one with Tiffany Aching and Unseen Academicals is--you know, kids write to me and say, "Why don't you do a Discworld book about pirates?" And I say, "What about pirates?" "Well, you know, pirates." Well, there isn't much fun doing a book about pirates pirating. You can talk about them pillaging ships, and say things like, "yo ho." And that's it, there is nothing there. So a Discworld book about football is just done. Yes, we can have lots of fun with football jokes--and we're talking soccer here, you understand.
And now you're beginning to hear about it in America, because mothers don't like to see their kids busted up playing American football. Which is fair enough. American football seems to me to be rugby for wimps.
Emily: And with too many pauses.
Terry: Yeah, yeah. Violence interrupted by committee meetings. [imitates quarterback] "5 9 26 123 pi!" And then they all rush off and they throw the ball into the air, and no one's got the faintest idea what's going on. Where even I can see that a soccer team, a good soccer team--even me, a man that hates it--can see that a good soccer team can actually become, just for a moment, this wonderful creature, with its many separate parts actually coming together to deliver the ball where it should be. And that is a moment which takes us all a little bit nearer to heaven. Haha! Nick Hornby, I'll see you in hell!
But even I can see that. I cannot see that in American football. It's all, "Let's hunker down, let's look like a heavyweight wrestler who's been punched through a Volkswagen," and...and I give up! I cannot see it. And then another man comes on. And then your move is over and then the coach jumps up and down, and...I can't get it. I can't get it. At least with rugby you have healthy men punching the crap out of one another in the mud.
Emily: Dropping each other onto the field and everything.
Terry: Yeah! Yeah, absolutely! It's just a brawl, we can understand that. But I can see that soccer can, at its best, have a kind of poetry.
Emily: Yes. So with Unseen Academicals, it has the soccer and then you were saying it has something more...
Terry: Right. The wizards are working out how to play football, and they have this thing, for example, that if you wear shorts, the sight of a man's bare knees will drive women into a paroxysm of lust; and they must be very careful about that. And there are strange ideas on how Unseen University could field a football team. But then I thought, no, you need more than that, so I thought, there's another plot, which would drive this, and drive it beautifully, because it fits so much into the same world as football. And then I thought, "Yes, but this sounds even too easy," so I found a sub-plot to that plot, which then starts to drive the whole plot burden forward. But it's not an over-plotted book; it's justified in who the characters are and how they interact.
Emily: So you said that after Unseen Academicals you're planning on the next Tiffany book. Is that one going to be another young adult book?
Terry: It will be the last young adult Tiffany book--actually it will be a rather strange book, because Tiffany by then will be about 15 at least. But there will be none after that, because, as it were, a story arc has been finished, and any book subsequently could only be Tiffany meets and defeats something else.
There is a kind of philosophical pattern, really. What you don't want is a kind of--that's why I stopped doing Rincewind books, because what you get is a kind of Asterix series, where Asterix goes off to different places and does things. Within the Tiffany books I think Tiffany changes with each book. And I Shall Wear Midnight has got to be reasonably heavy, because we've never quite resolved the situation between her and Granny Weatherwax, and whether or not I shall, I don't know--it depends how the book goes. I have a suspicion that however good Tiffany may be, Granny Weatherwax has got far longer to have developed her cunning. So I'm never quite sure, because Granny Weatherwax is clearly--you have to be careful these days, in using the word grooming--but she recognizes Tiffany as powerful, and in being sort of behind the scenes, while not exactly helping her, shall we say, removes some obstacles from her path.
...But there were whole bits in Wintersmith that I hadn't expected. And bits were because they were so difficult they were beautiful; like the frozen roses, and...oh, I think it was the image of all the snowflakes looking like Tiffany.
Emily: And the iceberg...
Terry: And the iceberg. Yes, imagine a kind of big ice version of you, sinking ships. The bit my American publisher loved, she said, which actually made the book for her, was Miss Treason's burial; where the gonnagle comes and plays the pipes on her grave, which Tiffany can't really hear, but he's there for just a moment and then he whisks off.
Emily: That was a good moment.
Terry: And I like the name Miss Treason. Yeah, and I almost thought I was undermining myself when it turns out that Miss Treason is just very clever, very intelligent. But you need Boffo. You need the pointy hat. You need all the things that Granny Weatherwax says. Tiffany has to realize, you actually don't need them to be a witch; but to get people to believe you're a witch, you need all those things. It's two definitions of the word need.
Emily: Yes. In terms of other Discworld characters--I love Vimes; and the whole dynamic between Vimes and Vetinari fascinates me, so; there was this one moment where he's winding Vimes up, essentially--
Terry: Oh, yeah, he always winds Vimes up.
Emily: Yes, he does! And in Men at Arms, there's that moment where Vimes punches the wall and Vetinari hears it on the other side and he thinks, "Did I go too far?" and--a lot of the time, you're writing as if Vetinari always knows what's going on, and even though he might not know exactly what Vimes is going to do, he knows the basic picture.
Emily: So I wanted to ask you, how dependent are they on each other, really, and if you could just talk about the dynamic.
Terry: Vimes's nickname is Vetinari's terrier. The point is that Vimes does not like Vetinari, because Vetinari is an assassin and he's not straightforward, and Vimes doesn't like people who aren't straightforward. Vimes is not--at least initially, although he's becoming far more sophisticated and evolved--well, he is a copper, with a copper's mentality, and a lot of the fun is, as he, as it were, grows up, until he becomes more and more almost like a roving ambassador.
I love the way that Vetinari made him a duke, which automatically puts him above every one of Vetinari's enemies. It's a theme I pick up also in Nation, where the king turns on his mother-in-law and demands that she obey him, on the basis that he is the king, and she is a high-born lady, so the very laws of precedence that make people call her "madam" and "my lady" are part of the network with him at the very top, so if she wants to retain the respect of anyone, she must respect him. And given some of the things that English kings have done to their relatives, I think she gets off quite lightly!
So Vetinari's given Vimes all this power--more power than Vimes needs--and I think relies on him to act like Vimes. So, forbidding him to do something will automatically mean that he does it. I like the fact that now Vimes is actually becoming quite a powerful character in the series, far more powerful than he thinks he is, really. And yet, there's no way Vimes could run Ankh-Morpork.
Emily: Because he doesn't see the big picture the way that Vetinari does?
Terry: Well, also because, like a lot of people, he's actually afraid of what he might be with no one higher above him. He needs some kind of a safety valve--and that's Vetinari, really.
Emily: Right. Another of my favorite characters is Granny, and I see a lot of similarities in some of the ways Vimes and Granny think--
Terry: Both of them think they are bad people; so both of them are constantly defending themselves from themselves. Granny Weatherwax thinks she's a natural bad witch, and so she fights what she thinks is her core being, without probably realizing it but, she is the totality of all those things, if what she does is good.
There was that incident--some years ago in the Middle East, at Abu Ghraib prison, they were humiliating prisoners, and some luckless, not very intelligent, girl corporal from somewhere in Texas got involved, and there were nasty pictures and stuff, and there was a kind of vox populi where some journalists went to her hometown in, oh, I don't know, Dog Bend, Texas, and someone there said during the commentary, "They're trying to make out we're the bad guys."
And I thought, "There's someone there that hasn't actually got it--if you do a bad thing, you are the bad guy. If you do a good thing, you are the good guy." Now there are certain kind of speckled edges to all this, but broadly speaking, that's how it goes. So, Granny Weatherwax does good things, believing that that makes her the good guy. And that may or may not be true, but "it's good enough for folk music," as they say.
Emily: Yes. So what do you think would happen if Vimes and Granny met?
People always ask that kind of question. I cannot conceive of the kind of circumstances where they would meet in an adversarial situation. I simply cannot see it. Now, actually, people send me things like, "What would happen if Granny Weatherwax met the Patrician?" I'm pretty certain the Patrician would win; simply because while she's good, Vetinari has probably trained on far more adversaries. He has to negotiate his way through the politics of an entire city. Granny Weatherwax is largely surrounded by people who are not as bright as she is; whereas Vetinari, while incredibly bright, is in a city full of potential rivals.
On the other hand, Vetinari has got a soft spot for the women. But somehow Granny Weatherwax would just not quite fit in there, as such.
Emily: Can I ask you, which of the characters do you identify with the most?
Terry: Vimes, probably.
Emily: Could you explain why?
Terry: I get so angry and irate about stupidity in the world, and Vimes does as well.
What I like about Vetinari is that he's got the dungeons and the whole thing, but I think he manages quite well without really having to resort to them. What Vetinari does, and he does this divinely, is he tortures people, by, as it were--he works out their strengths and weaknesses, and plays upon them; so that he can make them act against their natures or rather change their natures to fit what he wants them to do. Not only does Vetinari put you on the rack; he gets you to create your own rack inside your head. He plays mind games with people.
Certainly he does this with Vimes. I don't really know what the relationship between him and Carrot is; I think they have some kind of understanding which excludes Vimes. I actually wondered what would happen if there was a second Ankh-Morpork Civil War, and it would be quite interesting to see how it went, but I'm not particularly planning for it to happen.
Emily: I'm kind of glad. Too many characters I like would probably die.
Terry: Well--or would they?
Emily: You never know, with you.
Terry: And indeed, you could have a lot of fun asking questions like "who would end up on whose side?" You know--just think of the existing City Watch, and wonder how they would divide.
Emily: Right. Well, and if you thought about who would end up if it was Carrot versus Vimes, you know, if Carrot decided he wanted to do the "king thing." I mean, obviously you've set it up so that doesn't happen, because Carrot follows Vimes, even though he doesn't have to--
Terry: Well, Carrot follows Vimes, but equally, lots of people have observed, and I'm glad they have; Carrot knows what he's doing; and even Vimes, I think, has occasionally wondered what Carrot actually thinks about it, behind it all. And Carrot's basic treatment of Angua--it almost would appear to be quite despicable. On the other hand, the way she acts isn't... but he just assumes she's going to be there, and when she's not there, he sort of just rides off to get her back. He hasn't really got the whole boy-girl romance thing totally sorted out, I think.
Emily: Right...but it's cute!
Terry: It is cute. Yeah, and they're undoubtedly, at some point, going to have to get married.
Emily: So they can have the puppies!
Terry: Yes, the puppies. And-- Ankh-Morpork has changed over the books. Now no one would care. You know, it's a city now with vampires and everything else, and it's like--I think there are now three sex shops in the city of Salisbury, near where I live. We call it a city, because it's got cathedrals and everything, but it is a moderately sized town. And back in the '60s, the opening of a sex shop would cause massive stuff in the newspapers. Now--an Ann Summers has opened up in the middle of the mall. And no one cares! We're just used to that kind of stuff. And no one thinks twice. Which I think is fine.
So, I think the same sort of thing is happening in Ankh-Morpork; more and more people coming. And then one of the things that does happen in Unseen Academicals, that I can admit: because of Vetinari's machinations, the old-style football-playing, which was more-or-less banned in Ankh-Morpork, becomes something closer to what we recognize as modern football. And there's The Dolly Sisters United, and all the different football teams. The Dolly Sisters have actually got pink in their uniform, and the basis is you're going to have to be a real man to wear pink. And there's still the traditional enmity between dwarves and trolls, which is always bubbling gently, even after the whole Koom Valley thing, but there is a scene in Unseen Academicals where the Watch suddenly realize that because people support their local teams, in the inevitable gang fight between rival football gangs, you will find trolls and dwarves wearing the same football scarves, fighting trolls and dwarves in the other football team supporters' club. Which is a kind of progress.
Emily: Yes, a strange kind of progress!
Terry: A strange kind of progress, but they're no longer split along racial lines, because they found something even better than race hatred.
Emily: Which is football insanity!
Terry: Yes. But that's kind of fun and enough to make people think a little harder.
Emily: Yes. Another Discworld question before we're going on. Do you have any fun bit of etymology or trivia as to something in the books that we might not really pick up on that's based on a real-world thing?
Terry: My hobby is Victorian and Regency trivia, I suppose, recently, because so much of our modern world was being created then. There's probably quite a lot. Certainly, for example, in Nation, I put in lots of things that really are real. For example, the idea of there being a drink which you actually spit into, and then leave to ferment a certain period so that the enzymes in human spittle will work on the poisons in that bowl and make them safe. So that subsequently you can drink them for the, in most cases, mildly hallucinogenic effect they have. I turn it into beer.
To make the beer, you mix the ingredients, and that's in the big bowl, and then you spit into it, and then you sing The Beer Song, which is a tribal chant. Daphne is interested in the song, and her mentor teaches her, and keeps on ticking off on her fingers as she's singing. And Daphne experiments, because she's a very scientific girl, about how it all works: is it the pitch of your voice as you're singing? Is there something in the words that does something? She's trying all these things and she's experimenting with different songs. It takes a long time for her to realize that the song is a way of counting. And she works out that Baa Baa Black Sheep, sung four times, is long enough for the beer to settle down and become non-poisonous.
This process actually happens in a number of cases. In fact, there are actually quite a number of, shall we say, "hard times" foodstuffs where you have to do this kind of thing. I think there's a particular water lily root, for example, that is a similar sort of thing. That's the kind of thing--it's real life stuff that I've adapted; but I'm pretty sure a lot of authors do that. I mean, like the animals in Nation, like the tree-climbing squid.
Emily: ...is there really a tree-climbing squid...?
Terry: No, but there ought to be, oughtent there? There's a tree-climbing crab--I don't know why it's called that--and I feel that it should be possible for them to come out of water. It's really an octopus, anyway; because they're pretty much the same kind of thing... And there's the paper-vine. You know; somewhere, the paper-vine must exist. Because I just like the endless...basically you get a kind of duct tape. Nature's duct tape.
Emily: Do you want to just talk a little bit more about Nation?
Terry: It was a lot of hard work. The first couple of chapters are really grueling. I mean, I don't pull any punches on it. You know, there's a massive tsunami--the fishermen, most of the inhabitants of the Pacific Islands are people who are very low down, close to the sea, because they want to be close to the sea, usually with maybe a few trees between them and the sea, and so what happens here--you can wipe out a small island of people who aren't prepared, and I can't hide that, I can't put sugar on it and things, and so lots of people are going to die, and they're going to die because when you get caught up even in a comparatively small wave, full of rocks and coral and all kinds of things--it is a kind of meat-grinder; it is not going to be nice at all.
It's not just lots of water; you're traveling at a high speed. We have a stream in our garden that sometimes floods, and when I have to go out during very bad weather, and it's in spate, I actually tie myself; I put ropes between trees and kind of rappel along things, because although the water is only about three feet deep, I know if I get knocked over when it's flowing fast, instantly you're disorientated, your glasses are off, your boots are full of water, you're being thrown 'round and 'round by it. You're banging your head against the side and getting lost. You're gonna die, it really is as simple as that. And that's why a tsunami is not just a lot of water. It's water picking people up, and banging them against...cars and all sorts of things. It's horrible.
Emily: It is. I'm going back to Discworld for a minute or two. I know you're a gamer, and I know there was at one point a Discworld game, and I was wondering--
Terry: Oddly enough, last year, six gaming companies approached me.
Emily: Really! And did you say yes to any of them?
Terry: No. We said, OK, you say you're interested in doing a Discworld game, come back with what you're interested in doing. Because I'd want a Discworld game, now, that would stand shoulder-to-shoulder with a lot of other games out there. I would want it to be a game not the same as, but resembling, in some respects, aspects of games like Thief, if you're familiar with the Thief game? That was Looking Glass. And of course Oblivion, that was Bethesda--in the sense that you have or appear to have a huge playing area. With Oblivion, you have the main game mission, you have lots of sub-missions, you have some sub-sub-missions, to the extent that you can play your way through Oblivion for months without ever touching the main quest or needing to.
In the same way, in some of the Thief game, although you have a smaller playing area, you can run across the rooftops of this sleeping city, with the feeling that only you are up there; and some players say they like to hang out there, because, you know, all you need is the sound of cats and dogs down there, and the watchman walking along. There are lots of thieves that quite love the voyeuristic thing--you pull yourself across the beams of the bank, while far below you, in the marble, closed-for-business bank--because this is the middle of the night--the guards are chatting, or you can hear the guards, as you're creeping around the corner, you hear the guard breathing, and you get all these sound effects. And you go, and you just pick his pocket gently, and sneak away. And it becomes immersive. An immersive Ankh-Morpork would be a lot of fun. Where there were lots of doors that you could go in and find a new quest objective, big or small, and you perhaps don't even know what the major plot is until you stumble over it accidentally.
I like that kind of game; I really don't like slaughter-thons. There are still a great many of those out there. I like the first-person games. When I was showing the game to the guy who was doing the program for the BBC--you can play it in first-erson or you can play it in third person--he said, "What do you look like?" and I said, "I don't know!" So we went into third person to see, and I play an elf. But I always see it as me; rather than seeing a little character running along just ahead of me, which never kind of works.
Emily: Yes, I like the first person perspective as well. In other media, where are we on Going Postal, the next TV movie?
Terry: Mob won't be able to start filming until next year , which really pushes it back. They want to film in Hungary because the filming costs are so much cheaper there, I mean seriously so much cheaper. But again you never know; at one point they were going to be filming in Prague for Colour of Magic, and then suddenly, there was an early snowfall in the UK, which meant they could go and do all the snow scenes, bang, in one go, plus they got a special deal from some studios. And that's how I think it's going to go.
Emily: OK. Now, I know that you had optioned The Wee Free Men to Sam Raimi in the past, and of course that would be a little different from what The Mob folks are doing; it would be more like a big blockbuster film, so...obviously that's one you would like to see on the big screen. Are there any other of the Discworld books that would be--
Terry: Very nearly all of them. Very nearly all of them are very graphic [in the sense that they would translate well to the screen]. I think the Tiffany Aching books are the obvious ones. Nation could be done, but it doesn't have enough hilarious talking animals in it, you see. And of course it starts horribly, actually, and filmmakers don't like that sort of thing. There's just no part in it for Eddie Murphy.
Emily: To be fair, though, I did like him as the donkey in Shrek.
Terry: Shrek, yes, it was a very clever idea, to take the classic fairy tales, fantasy universe, and then treat it to be real. I don't know how--I may have got some ideas from that!
I can actually say this--I do know, I do know--in some case I know after the fact--that I do have a lot of fans among the scriptwriting fraternity in Hollywood.
Emily: Well that's great! Can we get some of them to do one?
Terry: Oh, it would be--it would be nice if they got off their cans. Gave us a bit of payback.
Emily: That would be really great. Here's another movie-related question. Any good books that you've read, at any point, that you would really love to see made into a movie that haven't been yet?
Terry: Well, a good book tends to be...a good book. But who wrote The Evolution Man? Roy Lewis. Roy Lewis's book The Evolution Man. Transworld actually did publish it at one time. Many people published it at one time. I wrote the introduction for it. And it's like this: imagine the ape men at the beginning of 2001. Roy Lewis--it's a wonderful book--he takes a family of ape-men, but they speak like Edwardians; but at the same time, the father says, "Here we have a land with a handful of prepositions and a few nouns and we can hardly communicate about anything." And he's talking like an Edwardian pater familias. And the father actually goes up Kilimanjaro and finds a place where fire is leaking out and comes back with fire, and they have fire, and they have to learn how to make fire, and it's about this one family of very very early humans who does it all, in the space of about a year.
They invent fire, cookery, the fire-hardened spear, the idea that you shouldn't marry your sister because the father says, "Well, really, marrying your sister is too easy. You're having it too easy." I coined this phrase, but what the father says, basically, is, "For mankind to ascend, we have to screw ourselves up." So he forces his sons to go and court the girls from the other tribe on the other side of Lake Tanganyika, with all the trouble of having to fight their brothers and steal the brides away. But the brides are very knowing, because they have been able to smell the boys creeping 'round, and they're not telling their dad, and they're all quite modern in their thinking, but it is actually ape-men.
Emily: That does sound like it would be fun.
Terry: It's hilariously fun, and it gets quite dark at the ending where religion gets invented; soon after the bow and arrow. There are some absolutely wonderful scenes in it, and every time it comes out, lots of people fall in love with it, but it's never been a bestseller.
It's also published under "What We Did to Father" and "Once Upon an Ice Age". I know there is a current version in print in the States. But there are some very, very clever things in it, you know, how they begin, how the groundwork for religion is built up almost by accident, how cookery is discovered by accident, and it is wonderful. But I suspect it could be done--apart from an awful lot of skin dyes and huge merkins to make certain that it really doesn't have to be X-rated, all you have to do is have a lot of people out somewhere near Mount Kilimanjaro--preferably the local tribes aren't shooting at one another--because you don't even have to have much in the way of monsters and things--it's just people. And there are lots of just insights into what life really was like; a lovely scene where they actually discover how they can use fire. They find the best cave in the area, and it's just full of bears. And they all march in holding blazing torches, and the bears all come running out! That would be very good as a movie.
Emily: Sounds like it. Since there've been so many fantasy movies, comic book-related movies coming out; do you have any thoughts on the--
Terry: Oh, God! Spare us from comic book-related movies! They always start the same way, quite interesting, and you get into it, and you know, at the end, that two buggers in tights and tin suits are going to be beating the crap out of one another. It's about as original as that!
Emily: So you were not a fan of Iron Man?
Terry: Iron Man I thought was actually going to be good. I thought they were actually going to climb above that, and become a bit self-referential, and there were a few places in the movie--but, at the end, it's two buggers in iron suits beat--and, oh, God, yeah, it's awful!
Emily: What if they took out that fight scene? I felt there was a lot of good stuff in the movie.
Terry: Yeah; a lot of intelligent stuff went into that. And it had kind of an intelligent plot. But sooner or later, the kind of guys who always want to have a car chase in absolutely everything say, "You've got to have two bastards, beating the crap out of one another."
Emily: And then about two weeks later we got Hulk. And it was the same thing!
Terry: Yes. Good heavens! That's what comics--yeah. The only comic book adaptation I've seen that was worth a damn was Constantine. It didn't really follow the comic book, which is probably why it turned out quite good. And it survived having Keanu Reeves in it--but it also had Tilda Swinton, who's always good value. And it was clever. It had wit. And the scenes in hell were very well done. I've re-watched it several times. It could have been better, and I know a lot of comic book fans didn't like it, but there was intelligence and some creativity.
Emily: I didn't see that one, but maybe I will now. Now you started as a journalist, and these days, so much of the news seems to be major conglomerates that own every network, and we hear the same thing, and then the only place we hear different things seems to be sometimes online, or in blogs; I was wondering what you thought of that from a journalism perspective.
Terry: You're speaking as an American; you're very badly served by your news media. They don't tell you much about what's going on in America that's very important, and you don't hear very much about what happens in the rest of the world. Unless of course it happens to be shooting at Americans. That's why so many of you listen to the BBC. Who are, well, not the best, but they're a damn sight better than anything you've got. Blogs now mean that all voices can be heard. It's a shame so many of them haven't got much of interest to say. I keep away from it. I just can't--the minute I get dragged into all that, I'll just vanish completely from the face of the Earth. You know, it's far too late to be off the grid. Because as it is, we get far too much email now.
Emily: Well you get far too much email for any one person.
Terry: That's true. And you just deal with it, everybody wants something and it's just too much.
Emily: I'm going to just touch very briefly on the Alzheimer's diagnosis, because that's all over the news already as it is--
Terry: Yes, that's right, which is really, frankly, why the 25th Anniversary is effectively flatlined. But I haven't. There's no reason that I should be particularly--I mean, as you can see, I'm completely incoherent and totally incapable of holding even the most simple conversation with an American! One never knows for certain, but there are some reasons for optimism. And so I see no particular reason why people should be fearful about any effects on the [North American] Discworld Convention. I say that cautiously. But by asking around, that's what I've come to believe.
Emily: Do you have any thoughts on how it was to suddenly be sort of the poster-child for Alzheimer's; because it seemed to happen fairly quickly after the announcement started being public and--
Terry: And it's still going on, isn't it?
Terry: It's strange. It's a very curious narrative, and I am inside a narrative which is very strange. The only kind of nice part about it is that I'm quite good at narratives, so--
Emily: Maybe you can use the story?
Terry: Well, yeah: Is it just possible to re-write some tiny bits of it as we go along? And I have a little bit of optimism here and there. I don't know. But what I can say is what might seem like a nightmare on the outside; on the inside, it's like one day at a time. All the guys who spoke to me in the States, they'd say, "Well I think, just by talking to you at this time; it'll be quite a long time before you're seriously affected, because you have got more than enough reserves." It kind of worried me a bit, in the sense that--I mean, I bet if Albert Einstein became half as sharp as Albert Einstein was, he'd kind of notice it because he'd feel the loss. The fact that he'd be much brighter than most of the people around him--they might not notice, but, you know, the fact that he couldn't quite get a grip on the whole, sort of universe bit might upset him a bit. But, you know, when they say: "Well, you can still watch Big Brother, what's wrong with you?" [laughs] That's something you don't really need a brain for! But what is actually pleasing to me is that it hasn't affected my ability to structure a narrative or to come up with the ideas.
Emily: Well that's a good thing.
Terry: When my friend Dave Gemmell died after, I think it was quadruple bypass, not long ago--literally he smoked like a chimney--he was about the same age as me; Douglas Adams died younger than me, after a workout in the gym--I can't remember; Robert Jordan, that wrote Wheel of Time, he's been taken away as well--
Emily: With the last book unfinished.
Terry: Yeah, an unfinished book, what a terrible thing; you'd have to come back from the grave to finish the book! You know, it looks like the Grim Reaper has it in for--it's a bit nasty, really, because the previous generation, most of them have been allowed to grow up into old fart-hood; which we all aim for. But the scythe seems to be slashing about a bit in mine. So compared to those guys, I could be considered lucky.
Emily: That's a good way to look at it.
Terry: Yes, it stops you going mad and climbing up the walls.
Emily: Now, actually, I wanted to go back for a minute, to the 25th Anniversary; what are you doing with that right now, is there anything you want to say about that? I don't want to flatline it. [Please note: these questions were asked in 2008.]
Terry: We're doing two particular book signings in one day; the biggest and the smallest shops in the UK. We tried other things; we wanted to see what things could work. We were going to try to do twenty-five bookshops in one day; but I think even right now, that's hard to do, and the logistics would be such that only one thing would have to go wrong--we're talking about traffic in London, and things like that--for it to fall over. Because if it fell over, it wouldn't slightly fall over, it would totally fall over. Last week a "Fathers 4 Justice" guy handcuffed himself over a gantry in Heathrow, and conceivably buggered up traffic going around London for quite some time--that sort of thing happens. So while it sounded like a great idea, you could actually see the disaster literally around every corner.
Also, we're going to launch Nation at The Royal Society--very good job, too, because The Royal Society almost is a character in the book. Because the people of the Nation, at the end of the book, are being asked to join the British Empire. Daphne's father, who is now the king, has asked them to do that; because this was the age of empire-building, and he rather points out, well you've got to belong to somebody, so why not belong to us? We're nicer than the other ones! But Daphne's bright, and so the Nation ask to join The Royal Society, which she's told them is the wisest men in the kingdom. She tells them about science, and the islanders are really into science for a particular reason that happens in the book. And the king and his advisers are bright enough to know that if the island joins The Royal Society--which is a very strange thing, actually; there's a curious similarity in real life--that means that they become--this is before anyone ever used the term--a kind of World Heritage site. So all the scientists can come and study what is found on the island. And at the core of the island something's found there. So of course, they will belong to The Royal Society; and that means they belong to science, and science is everywhere; but the fact they will actually be in London, just 'round the corner from Buckingham Palace is a minor point, that we're thinking about!
As a girl, when she's a bit younger, Daphne goes to The Royal Society and meets Charles Darwin, and listens to lectures by some of the greatest scientists of the age. She's a girl that asks for a telescope for her birthday, rather than a pony; because a pony you can have a lot of fun with, but you have to spend the weekend mucking it out; whereas the universe is open day and night, and you don't have to clean it up! So that's going to be fun.
And we've got some books coming out; the illustrated Wee Free Men, which I've been waiting for for a long time; and The Folklore of Discworld.
Emily: When is that coming out?
Terry: October . I wrote extra bits for it, and sort of...addendums.
But it is probably true to say that there is no way that the whole Alzheimer's thing could be managed. Because there is no way I was going to not say I've got it. Because the whole point of saying-- Actually you almost hear, in a pompous voice: "My work here is done!" It's almost that feeling. I did not create this wave of, in the UK, shall we say, Alzheimer's awareness, but I sure as hell was the guy that happened to have a surfboard. And it is true to say that it is very much in the news and talked about more now; it does appear that people talk about it. People come up to me and tell me about their granny or their mum or how worried they are because their father's got it and they think it might be--I get a lot of that. We have the standard letter--you know--"Look, I'm passing this on to the Alzheimer's Society;" because they get very worried. It all gets on top of me at some times.
Emily: Well, you are only one person!
Terry: Well, there's Rob, but even so, yes. And there's not much I can do beyond that. That's why I really want to concentrate on the writing. Because while it's tempting to devote everything to the Alzheimer's business, it got in the news because I am Terry Pratchett, the writer, and there's something poignant about "the writer", as it were, being sort of gradually stripped. But I want to continue being the writer. Otherwise what is the point? You've still got to be waving the flag. We have had people approach me, asking my cooperation with analyzing the decline in my usage of the English language as the disease took hold. --You know what I like about vultures? Vultures at least wait until the donkey has died. So we generally give them a big round no.
Emily: They wanted your help analyzing the decline of your usage--?
Terry: Well, you see, Iris Murdoch had Alzheimer's, and people thought that they could tell in the way she wrote in her declining years.
Emily: Oh, I see what you're saying.
Terry: But actually asking the subject to help you with that research...
. Terry: But I think, "At least vultures have the decency to wait until the donkey is dead" is quite a good line, and it upsets them.
Emily: I'm amazed they actually asked you to do that. So, one last question, and that would be: I'm sure you weren't born with the black hat. Why and where did you get your first black hat?
Terry: There were two reasons which run together. One is that G.K. Chesterton was one of my literary heroes, who used to wear a big black fedora. I vaguely knew about that. Also, you must have seen, even on reruns, The Avengers? Right. Steed wears a bowler hat; he always had an umbrella and a bowler hat; and there was a lovely scene--good special effects for those days --where he goes to his wardrobe and opens it up, and stretching away to infinity--very much a kind of Matrix thing--on shelves are bowler hats getting smaller and smaller in the distance, and umbrellas, all black. And for some reason I thought that was incredibly cool. And somehow that kind of got me interested in hats.
And I was in the city of Bath, and I walked past a shop that sold new and--well, these days, it would be retro clothing, rather than second hand clothing--and there was this hat, and that's the first one I got--a very heavy one, really heavy. But it's just amazing what you can do with steam and a few pins and a bit of hard work. Most likely the ones I wear now are rather softer. Some of them I actually wear out. I can wear out hats.
Emily: How many black hats have you had? Do you know?
Terry: Really, I don't know; I think I have about seven or eight right now.
Terry: Well, you know how it is, it's like, it's probably like you and shoes. There's always room for another black hat. That's true. The one I wear at home a lot now; it's--there are certain things that say wealth. One of them is long matches. You know the matches you tend to see 'round Christmastime? I like long matches. Long matches; a lovely wooden desk with a sage green leather top. Mustn't be red--oooh, no. No, red would be totally wrong. A globe of the world. Actually, my wife got me, for my 60th, a Newton globe of the world, made in 1830--it's a globe of the night sky, with the constellations drawn in as pictures. It's sadly totally useless for a guy that's got "Starry Night" on his computer, but it is a thing of beauty. You know, when Phineas Fogg is saying that he's going to go around the world, he's leaning against a globe like that.
She's very good at giving me wonderful, strange presents like a wind-up music box full of Victorian and Edwardian music hall tunes. I think the best one so far has been a brass lectern out of a church with a big eagle on it. It's an eagle lectern! I think this one actually came from a church that was being demolished.
And that's where the money goes. That and books. That's my equivalent of the sports cars and the second homes in Gastard, wherever the hell that is. With books; that's the Phil Collins definition of "not looking at the bill." You know; I'm saying, "I want that book, order it from Amazon, I don't mind how much it costs." Rob knows the rules now. There are some, buy at all costs, don't mind, scruffy second-hand; and other ones are: mint.
Emily: Ah--and he has to know the difference!
Terry: Well, we get very good at the whole thing now. The Night Climbers of Cambridge, I've even got one of those--long after I needed it. In the university city of Cambridge, in the twenties and thirties, and even sort of second World War, there was a secret society of people that used to ramble at will over the ancient towers and climb up and down the drain pipes. And they would never acknowledge it, they would just nod and they would leave little markers to show where they'd been. One guy fell through a skylight onto a bed that had been made, but had been vacated that day, and--no one actually died at any point. You had to never touch the ground. And they had little hooks and things to open gates, and swing--and there were a lot of the guys that used to teach themselves how to fall from higher and higher heights.
Emily: It sounds a lot like the assassins.
Terry: It is a bit--I mean this was long after I'd done the Assassins Guild, and I found out that the exact same techniques were actually being used in real life!
Emily: Wow! Well, I see we're out of time. Thank you. It was a lot of fun!