Terry Pratchett recently passed away, so I decide reprint this interview on my blog.
When I was querying Mr. Pratchett about doing an interview, he wrote back, saying, “You seem like an upstanding individual. But I never heard of you. Could you send me some sample of your interviews.”
I sent him interviews I did with Neil Gaiman and Ramsey Campbell (Both which are in my current, mega-book of interviews MODERN MYTHMAKERS, published by Crystal Lake Publishing).
Terry wrote back, “You seem to know how to dot your i’s and cross your t’s. Let’s do the interview…”
So we did the interview….
Terry Pratchett: Architect of Wonders
Interview Conducted by Michael McCarty and Mark McLaughlin
Terry Pratchett is a publishing phenomenon in the U.K. – his novels account for a whopping 6.5 percent of all hardcover fiction sales in England. He is the author of over forty fantasy books, including The Fifth Elephant, Night Watch, The Light Fantastic, Jingo, Equal Rites, Maskerade, Thief of Time, and Mort. He writes on the fun-side of fantasy.
Terry Pratchett started out his career as a fantasy fan, and eventually moved into writing and gaining his own fans on a global basis. His love of fantasy shows through in his work, and he often takes some playful pokes at genre characters and settings.
His first published story was “The Hades Business” in Science Fantasy No. 60, 1963. His first book, The Carpet People, appeared in 1971 – and on his fiftieth birthday, Transworld Publishers presented him with a copy of the book specially bound in carpet. The first book in his popular Discworld series, The Colour of Magic, appeared in 1983. His work has been translated in twenty-seven languages, including Bulgarian, Danish, Finnish, Japanese, Slovenian, Swedish, Welsh, Greek, Hebrew, and Icelandic. His books have sold 21 million copies worldwide. Pratchett is also “the No. 1 shoplifted author in the U.K.” Now that’s a real honor.
He has created numerous world of fantasy, all with a scrupulous sense of inner logic – that’s why they stand up so well. That makes him an architect of wonders.
(Photo of Terry Pratchett)
MIKE: What can you tell us about Monstrous Regiment? When do you expect the book to be published?
TERRY PRATCHETT: It’ll be published in the U.K. and the U.S. in early October, and it’s planned that I tour in both countries.
What can I tell you? Well, it’s closer to Night Watch than The Color of Magic in style, and it’s based on the old song/folklore/occasional historical fact of a girl who dresses up as a boy in order to enlist as a soldier and find her brother. I’m not going to go much further than that.
MIKE: Word has it that Terry Gilliam has written a screenplay and plans to direct Good Omens. What have you heard lately of the film?
PRATCHETT: Not a lot. Terry is off doing other things while they still try to raise the money. Frankly, I keep away from it. Dealing with movie people is too much of a rollercoaster ride for my simple tastes.
(Photo of Neil Gaiman, by Michael McCarty)
MIKE: What was it like to work with Neil Gaiman?
PRATCHETT: (Takes deep breath to summon up the traditional answer) You’ve got to remember that back in those days he was only just Neil Gaiman and I was barely Terry Pratchett. I mean, we didn’t spent much time going “Ooooh, it’s sooo cool to be working with you!” We were just a couple of guys, y’ know, who were friends anyway and had a lot of fun for six months writing a book.
MIKE: Have any of your other books sparked attention in Hollywood?
PRATCHETT: Oh, yeah. You probably know about Dreamworks and the Bromeliad trilogy (Truckers, Diggers, Wings), which is scheduled after Shrek 2. I feel good about that, if only because they’ve given me a large wad of cash which I don’t have to return. There’s sporadic interest in Discworld as a movie, and I could have sold options over and over again, but there’s not yet been a deal I’m happy about. A key issue isn’t the movie but the spin-off – I’m not in a hurry to hand Discworld over to merchandisers, and I don’t need the money.
MIKE: Your books have been translated into numerous languages – you are read all over the world. Your sense of humor travels well across international boundaries. Do you need to keep that international audience in mind as you write? Do you work closely with any of the translators?
PRATCHETT: No. Some of them contact me with questions, which is fine, but this had to be their choice. The way I see it, if I was capable of telling translators their job, I should be doing it.
I don’t think “wow, better make sure the Germans will get this” as I write. Generally, humor travels well (some of the best Discworld plays I’ve seen have been in Germany and Prague!).
MIKE: Your work has appeared on audio-tapes, in animated form, as computer games – the list goes on. What entertainment forms haven’t you conquered yet? What plans for new developments are in the works?
PRATCHETT: Most of that stuff has been done well but on a fairly small scale, and is about as much as you can expect for what is, still, a book-based thing. I don’t see how it can go much further.
MIKE: Your brand of fantasy works for people who ordinarily don’t like fantasy. This is because of the humor, for the most part, and also because the characters have more modern mindframes and concerns. Of all of your characters, which three are your favorites? Are any of them based, to some degree, on people you know?
PRATCHETT: All of them are based on people I know to some degree, but it can hardly be otherwise, and I know a lot of people. There are one or two minor characters squarely based on friends of mine, but the rest are patchworks. Besides, if you’ve watched lots of people for decades, making new ones from scratch out of raw materials is not too hard. ‘Favourites’ are people like Granny Weatherwax, Commander Vimes and Susan, because slightly screwed-up people are more fun.
MIKE: You have written over twenty Discworld books in twenty years.
PRATCHETT: Er … thirty books. They do mount up, don’t they…
(Author’s note … the series has over 40 books now)
MIKE: How do you keep the series fresh for yourself and the readers?
PRATCHETT: By changing it all the time. Evolving. I’ve got this ‘wacky, zany’ rep, but if you read Night Watch, say, you won’t find much wack and very little zane. The books are still all by the same guy, though. The humor is still there, but it’s closer to M*A*S*H than (Monty) Python.
MIKE: And how do you keep track of all those characters and places?
PRATCHETT: You think I keep track?
MIKE: Tell us about “The Hades Business” – your first published story. What was that story about? Was that your very first acceptance, or were there any others before it?
PRATCHETT: Wrote it as a class project, the kids liked it, sold it to John Carnell at New Worlds Science-Fiction, one of the three fully-pro mags we had in those days (early Sixties). First story, first sale. I’ve always been a bit embarrassed about that. I’m sitting here on a stack of money in a big house so I can’t really complain that I did things wrong, but I sometimes wish I’d done more between then and 1982 than write a novel every five years. On the other hand, I suppose I was absorbing stuff! Oh, and getting a life and running a career…
MIKE: Soul Music was your first book published in the United States in 1995. Why did it take over a decade to make it to America?
PRATCHETT: The fact that you truly believe this is revealing. In fact DW was published back in the late 80s, by St. Martin’s Press and Roc/NAL, starting right at the start with The Color of Magic. It was not done well, it was done without anything much in the way of publicity, and the books were published well after the U.K. editions and limped along and were hard to find even by the faithful core of fans. It really was weird – I was all over the bookshops in the U.K. and Australia and Germany and so on, but in the States, nada.
But various things happened around the mid-90s. Sales had been growing, despite everything. Publishers became aware of the huge gray market in hardcover imports from the U.K., caused by fans were not prepared to wait a year or more for the U.S. edition. And so, slowly, the act was pulled together. But I don’t think it really got there until around 1999, when people high up at HC started to take a real interest. Since then, it’s been close to perfect. I work with the U.K. and U.S. editors at the same time, they publish at the same time, and there’s a lot more U.S. publicity and interest. And readers, too, so that all the backlist is coming back.
MIKE: Did you ever want to be a musician or do you play an instrument?
PRATCHETT: Nope. Can’t play a note.
MIKE: Have any interesting fan stories? Ever have a fan send you an unusual or interesting gift? No stalkers, hopefully!
PRATCHETT: Well, a fan in New Zealand, a paleontologist, had a species of fossil turtle named after me. And, sure, I get all the usual fan stuff (including a christening robe for Lady Sybil’s baby) and a throwing axe from a fan in Finland who makes them, and kids send me slices of their Discworld birthday cake (which I’m slightly more cautious about since the famous Cannabis Cake incident) and fans get married with Discworld rings and Discworld wedding cakes…all this is, in a way, kind of normal. I don’t get the seriously weird shit that some people get…hang on, I did mention the christening robe, didn’t I…
There’s been a bit of stalking, but we’re not talking big kitchen knives here. Just occasionally, in the broad sea of fandom, you find someone whose social skills are really from the planet Zog, but that is rare and is dealt with carefully. I remember when we were on a Good Omens tour, Neil turned to me and said “Aren’t your fans nice…” Well, his are nice too, of course. He just gets more Goths.
MIKE: Mythology plays a large role in your writing. You seem to enjoy it – do you wish today’s world had more mythology? Or is some mythology still lingering in our urban settings?
PRATCHETT: Believe me, mythology happens every day.
MIKE: What was the inspiration for Carpe Jugulum?
PRATCHETT: I saw a sundial with CARPE DIEM carved on it, and I thought Carpe Noctem would be a good motto for vampires…and Carpe Jugulum just crept into my head. I wanted to see what happened if vampires learned.
MIKE: How much of a role does the Internet play in your career and popularity? Do you do a lot of online chats to promote your work? Does an online presence help with all those sales in other countries?
PRATCHETT: I do chats only rarely, but I hang out on alt.fan.pratchett and my e-mail address isn’t hidden. The ‘net is useful, that’s all. I don’t use it for promotion – after all this time I’m still too busy to get the web site up!
MIKE: You started out your career as a fan – are you still a fan? Are there any writers whose work you seek out?
PRATCHETT: I’ll always read Steve Baxter and Larry Niven. I’m still a fan, although I don’t keep up with the genre half as much as I used to and I barely read fantasy at all. I always tell wannabe writers not to read too much in the field where they work. Obviously you need to keep in touch, but a deep knowledge of the Old West or world history stands you in better stead than a shelf of other people’s fantasy books. Import, don’t recycle. That’s actually wisdom, that is.
MIKE: Is there a big difference between British science-fiction fans and those in America?
PRATCHETT: American fans drink less beer at cons. That was the big revelation to me when I went to my first U.S. Worldcon in ’98. If you wanted to find the Brits, they were always in the bar, which is the de facto fan/green room at U.K. cons. Apart from that, no, the differences are superficial. Fans are fans.
MIKE: Any last words?
PRATCHETT: Not yet!
For those who want more of my interviews with genre giants like: Bradbury, Matheson, Saul, Masterton, the cast of the Night of the Living Dead, Christopher Moore and more. Follow this link: