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<!-- google_ad_section_start -->Interview: Terry Pratchett<!-- google_ad_section_end -->
Interview: Terry Pratchett
Published by Potatojunkie
10th October 2005
Interview: Terry Pratchett

Somehow amidst all the chaos of Worldcon I was able to track down renowned fantasy author Terry Pratchett and arrange to interview him in a dank, shady warehouse. Here's what he has to say about conventions, collectables, and carnivorous plants.


Alternative Nation: You've attended a fair few WorldCons in your time. How did Interaction measure up, aside from the name not being very good?

Terry Pratchett: I think it was probably the best I've attended—not the biggest, by a long way, and not the fanciest, but certainly the best to hang out at. This may have had something to do with the Real Ale bar. I think I met just about everyone I know in fandom there.

Oh, and the food was much better. Instead of going to the Hugos a bunch of us went to a Japanese restaurant and had a great meal—nothing deep-fried at all.

AN: It did have a wonderfully relaxing atmosphere. We drank the local microbrewery dry, I'm told. How did it compare to other Glasgow cons you've attended? Chasing Iain Banks around the rooftop of the Central Hotel must be hard to beat.

TP: Did I do that? Mythology is a powerful force. It beats 'em all, anyway.

AN: Were there any events (or participants) that you particularly enjoyed?

TP: I moderated an international panel of translators and wished it could have gone on for longer, because lots of interesting stuff was revealed. The two different French translations of Lord of the Rings, for a start, and the strange reason why so many Brits get translated into Swedish.

AN: I had meant to catch that one, but got distracted by shiny sword fighting demonstrations. Why do so many Brits get translated into Swedish?

TP: In summary: 'because Swedish writers want to write literature that is reviewed in the serious papers, so to meet the demand for popular reading we have to import you guys'.

AN: Heh. Are there many countries that take things the other way and just don't publish fantasy? I've heard that Spain, for example, is rather hit-and-miss about it.

TP: That's true. They publish, but feel guilty about it. Certainly, across Europe, it's much harder to sell 'out of genre' than it is here, But odd attitudes still crop up even here. I remember very kindly being put in my place by a bookshop manager some years back. I'd wondered why my latest book wasn't on the shop's Best Sellers shelf, having been number one for three weeks; he said "well, you see, you're not exactly Best Seller list material." You've got to laugh, eh?

AN: You've got to wonder what he does consider "Best Seller list material". It's back to the idea of SF&F vs 'proper' books. Do you think there's much that can be done for the public perception of the genre?

TP: The public perception? What is that? I know that only a small minority of my readers are classic fans—when the first DW con was held, about ninety percent of the people who came along knew nothing about mainstream fandom and conventions. I think there are lots of people who read F/SF who don't think of themselves as 'fans'. In short, 'the public' reads lots of the books and watches the movies and TV shows. They're quite happy about it, as far as I can tell. But they do get uneasy, maybe, in the presence of costumers. Odd, really. Puking your guts out and pushing you arm through a shop window on a Friday night is 'normal', but wearing a hall costume at what is in effect a huge private party is 'weird'. Strange...

Some myths float around. On tour last year some shops brought in security guards. They'd picked up the idea that my queues would be difficult in some way. What they got was three hundred people being quite cheerful and patient; one manager came up afterwards and said, in amazement: "they were so...nice!" as if this was a revelation.

AN: I guess your average man on the street might have a better grasp of things than journalists do. Media coverage, for the most part, isn't exactly well researched. Recently, you wrote to the Sunday Times about a Time article, written by Lev Grossman, in which he describes Fantasy (before the advent of Harry Potter) as "a deeply conservative genre" that "looks backwards to an idealized, romanticized, pseudofeudal world, where knights and ladies morris-dance to Greensleeves". Leaving aside for a second the fact that your letter was widely touted, quite mistakenly, as an attack on JK Rowling, do you think that there are many people who subscribe to Grossman's view? Does this notion that Harry Potter has completely reinvented an ailing genre exist outside of the skulls of poorly-read journalists?

TP: What happened, I think, was this: when the HP wagon began to roll, a lot of journalists who knew little or nothing about children's books took a look at them and said : "Great stuff! A school for wizards! Hey! Pet dragons! Magic streets! Fantastic!" Which was rather strange, because none of this was exactly new.

Now, let's assume that, as a good journalist, you will at this point interject: "So, are you accusing JK Rowling of plagiarism?" And I'll sigh deeply and say: "No. Don't be silly, that's how genres work." Writers have always put a new spin on old ideas. I can think of a dozen pre-Hogwarts 'Magic schools'. Some of them are pre-Unseen University, too. It doesn't matter. No one is stealing from anyone. It's a shared heritage.

Grossman's remark was a silly throwaway line which insulted a lot of good authors. Those familiar with the genre know this; those who move from HP onto other authors will find out.

AN: Do you still get accused of plagiarism for using (and, quite often, poking fun at) ideas which are, manifestly, genre property?

TP: Not really. The problem, such as it was, used to lie with kids who genuinely thought that plagiarise actually meant the same thing as 'refers to.'

I suppose the weirdest one lately was the "attack" on Harry Potter in The Wee Free Men. You may have missed it. Tiffany daydreams of a wonderful magical school and Granny Weatherwax punctures this when she says you can't learn witching in a school. Now, Discworld indeed has its own magical schools, and Granny Weatherwax has gone on about exactly this sort of thing since Equal Rites - but several people have called this an 'attack'. I believe someone said that even though the incident fits in with DW history, it is nevertheless still an 'attack.' That makes me rather nervous.

AN: Have you been catching much flak due to all the 'Pratchett Slams Rowling' spinoff reports, from people other than posters on Harry Potter message boards? Many of whom still think you're female, despite the beard.

TP: Damn, I knew I should have bought a bigger beard.

No, away from the close world of fandom there's been none at all.

AN: It's kind of frightening that people would distort things like that, just so that they can go on the defensive about something they like.

Your latest book, Thud!, centres around dwarfs, trolls, and the City Watch. Is there much wizardly involvement, or is this one relatively safe from accusations of veiled attacks?

TP: It would be nice to think so. There is hardly any wizarding in the book.

AN: Thud! actually existed as a board game before the book of the same name was released. Are there plans for any other non-videogame-related Discworld spin-offs?

TP: Well, spin-offs tend to... spin off, without any long-term planning. Like the DW stamps, for example; they began as a joke for the core fans. And suddenly philatelists around the world are collecting them.

There are no plans for any more stuff, but I've no problem with limited spin-off.

AN: DW spin-off stuff has generally managed to avoid being rubbish, so far. Which is quite a feat, considering how much there is. Is Where's My Cow? another one that just sort of happened?

TP: More or less. My editor loved the WMC? sequences in Thud! So much that she said "We ought to publish this as a real book!" So we did, after I'd expanded it a bit. Melvyn Grant got the pictures spot on. I think it's a gem.

I don't think of things like WMC? and the diaries and maps as spin-off, really. They're all part of the whole thing.

AN: When you first started writing, did you ever imagine that people would take your work and do so much stuff with it? Plays, maps, guides, quizbooks, boardgames and so forth?

TP: When I first started writing I didn't think there'd even be a published book.

AN: Did it come as quite a shock, then, when Discworld took off the way it did?

TP: Not in the way you'd think. It didn't take off with a bang, but there was a thirty-month period towards the end of the '80s when the sales were really building, and that was quite heady. I remember sitting in this nice cabin in a 747 over the Pacific en-route to a tour of Australia and New Zealand and thinking "What happened?" But it was all kind of quiet, like it was all some big secret shared with the readers; I didn't get much non-genre media until I'd topped the bestseller lists a few times.

Since I wasn't in the papers, people didn't know what I looked like; I remember turning up at one mall signing by myself, walking up to the front of the huge queue, and being stopped by a member of staff and told to go to the end. So I did, and started signing for the last guy. Oh, how we laughed.

AN: Can you see yourself writing more sci-fi in future, or does it no longer interest you?

TP: No, it's just that the things I want to do right now—finish Wintersmith and get on with Unseen Academicals and Scouting for Trolls—aren't SF.

AN: Wintersmith, as I'll point out here for anyone who doesn't know, is the next Tiffany Aching novel. Do you plan to keep this series running, or will it be a trilogy after the fashion of the Johnny Maxwell books?

TP: It will go to four, maybe five. But Johnny, by hallowed children's book practice, can stay the same age. Tiffany is growing up.

AN: Is there anything more you can tell us about Unseen Academicals and Scouting for Trolls?

TP: Er...no.

AN: Ach. Tease. Well, I've taken up more than enough of your time. So, just to finish, here are a couple of questions that I can blame other people for.

In fact, no, I'm not going to ask you that one, it's too dreadful.

Big Tony, who may or may not have Mafia connections, wants to know how on earth you attempt to perform Death's voice when you do readings.

TP: I don't do voices—except for Nobby and Fred Colon, sometimes.

AN: Along with, oh, everyone else, he'd also like to know how those carnivorous plants are getting along.

TP: Oh dear. And you were doing so well up till now.

AN: See, it was that or "If you could fight any one other author..."

But it's too late. Terry has already risen from his chair. Smiling enigmatically, he turns, making for the inky shadows at the far end of this ill-lit warehouse. His left hand rises briefly over his head, then slices downward in a swift chopping motion. The ground spontaneously erupts, verdant roots boiling from the earth like the tentacles of some landlocked Kraken. Pinned in the embrace of a botanical nightmare, I can dimly make out the distant figure of the author as he mounts the neck of an enormous venus flytrap, which takes off into the night with a sudden, terrifying burst of speed.
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Old 10th October 2005, 12:18pm  
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Re: Interview: Terry Pratchett

Nice one!
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Old 10th October 2005, 12:28pm  
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Re: Interview: Terry Pratchett

Good job, Stu. Was this not going to be by email originally? That was a bit of a coup getting it face to face.
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Old 10th October 2005, 12:28pm  
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Re: Interview: Terry Pratchett

Very nice.
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Old 10th October 2005, 12:29pm  
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Re: Interview: Terry Pratchett

brilliant
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Old 10th October 2005, 12:34pm  
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Re: Interview: Terry Pratchett

Quote:
Originally Posted by Kenny
Good job, Stu. Was this not going to be by email originally? That was a bit of a coup getting it face to face.
You'd think that, wouldn't you? When you're lashed to the ground by an eight-foot tall plant that has a hungry look to it despite not having a face, it suddenly seems like less of a privilege.
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Old 10th October 2005, 1:10pm  
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Re: Interview: Terry Pratchett

heh. nice one.
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Old 10th October 2005, 1:36pm  
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Re: Interview: Terry Pratchett

Good stuff.
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Old 10th October 2005, 1:39pm  
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Re: Interview: Terry Pratchett

Yup cool interview!!
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Old 10th October 2005, 2:57pm  
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Re: Interview: Terry Pratchett

Kraken!

I mean cracking!
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Old 10th October 2005, 4:28pm  
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Re: Interview: Terry Pratchett

I think that may be the best fun reading pairing of interviewer/interviewee since, ermm, since a long time ago.

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Old 10th October 2005, 4:39pm  
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Re: Interview: Terry Pratchett

Glod. Pure Glod.
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Old 10th October 2005, 4:41pm  
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Re: Interview: Terry Pratchett

My head is in my internet hands ^


Excellent read, that.
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Old 10th October 2005, 5:50pm  
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Re: Interview: Terry Pratchett

Tremendous article, very well done

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Old 10th October 2005, 7:14pm  
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Re: Interview: Terry Pratchett

Semp - Master Of The Pune, or Play On Words.

PJ - Good stuff.
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