AN INTERVIEW WITH TERRY PRATCHETT

 

I don't know when I read the first Discworld book, but it must have been somewhere in 1989, starting with "The Colour of Magic", of course, a book that I didn't even particularly like due to its lack of plot and the fact that the whole thing wasn't going anywhere in particular. It was quite funny, though, so eventually I got to reading some more of the stories set in this kindof fantasy universe of a flat world atop of bunch of elephants and a giant turtle swimming/floating/flying through space.

As the books got better and better, I got ever more hooked. Whenever a new book by Terry Pratchett would be released, I'd make sure I'd get it as soon as possible (or at least as soon as it was available in paperback :-). In the mean time I think Pratchett may very well be the wittiest author of all times, more prolific than my previous 'hero' Douglas Adams, and certainly actually more fun to read.

Terry hasn't written Discworld novels only. Although I have to confess I haven't read too much of his other work, I did really like the "Nome Trilogy" and "Good Omens" that he co-wrote with Neil Gaiman.

Somewhere in the back of my mind, an idea stirred. It reared its head subtlely, without my even knowing it was there. And when, suddenly, I got Internet access and Terry Pratchett turned out to be "on the Net", too, that idea started to grow like a seed having falling in a stony path. It started to change, slowly, into a tree with a hundred branches.

I would attempt to get through to Terry and attempt to interview him.

 

Numerous authors have been "on the Net" at one time or another. Many fled it, again, due to the simple fact that fans were sending them ever increasing amounts of mail, absorbing much too much time. Often they reached a point at which they simply stopped replying to messages, changing into Net Recluses. I believe thatís what happened, for example, to Douglas Adams.

Terry Pratchett isn't one of them, however. Although he told me he gets over 50 messages a day, he still finds time to reply to most of them and even contributes regularly to the discussions going on in the alt.fan.pratchett section of Usenet News. Until things get too much, I suppose, when I assume he'll be visiting Douglas for tea.

He normally didn't do interviews via emails, on account of the usual question lists being more like quizzes than anything else. So when I told of my wish to be able to ask him questions in some or other way, we agreed upon a more or less interactive setup by which I'd send him a few questions each day to which he would reply within 24 hours. I could then react to the replies and add questions in each further message.

For about two weeks in the beginning of December we did just that. I think, in the end, it took up more of Terry's time this way than it would have done originally, but it did work out fine.

However...Terry is not half as verbose as I had expected him to be. As a matter of fact, for a writer he's quite concise. But I guess he's just a very busy man. In any case, I know I was really lucky that he wanted to do this kind of interview in the first place.

Be that as it may, the results of the interview can be read below. Enjoy!

 

When were you born?

Terry: April 28th 1948.

Can you give us a short description of the surroundings where you live? Its nightlife, its people?

Terry: Countryside. A rather pleasant valley. Nightlife is owls and so on.

What do you do when you get bored at night? Play your own private version of "Twin Peaks" - with those owls and all - or do you frequent a particular pub, consuming particular ales and the like?

Terry: I seldom get bored. But there is a pretty good pub here.

Suppose I were to visit you one day. Where would you take me if we were to spend a night "on the town"?

Terry: Probably down to the local pub, which has a large number of real ales.

Can you give us a description of your home, most specifically the room where you do your work?

Terry: Featureless. Discworld junk all over the place, piles of letters all over the floor.

How would you describe your character, and what is (are) your worst habits?

Terry: Does not compute. My character - and for that matter my worst habits - could only be described by someone else. You can't open a box with the crowbar inside it.

Maybe you could ask your wife to open the box for us?

Terry: She says I don't relax enough. Not bad, really, given what she could have said.

Do you have any pets and, if so, what kind? Any peculiar characteristics that, for example, may be found back in, say, Greebo?

Terry: Seven assorted tortoises and turtles, five cats. All cats have some of the characteristics of Greebo, but he has more than anyone else.

What kind of computer system do you use, and which tools?

Terry: I'm writing this on a Dell 33mhz 486 with 750 meg of disc, and it's networked to other (older) machines around the house. Although I have tried a number of "Word Perfect" versions I use 4.2 for DOS -- small, fast (for "Word Perfect") and more than adequate for a writer. I still believe "Windows" is an elegant way of wasting time.

If you are at all inclined to play games, which would be the one you'd want to play most?

Terry: In the last year I have enjoyed "Doom", "Privateer", and "Prince of Persia 2". I was very taken with the "Wing Commander" series. In a few years time... well, I might still return to "Wing Commander"...

Which book have you read recently that made most of an impression on you?

Terry: "All the Trouble In the World"...I like P.J. O'Rourke.

And the same question for films, please.

Terry: "The Keep". It was recently shown on TV here.

What kind of music do you enjoy most? Is there specific music you like for things like writing, flipping out (if ever you do), lying in bed ill, reading?

Terry: Jim Steinman, Kitaro, Sisters of Mercy, Yello - I've got quite wide tastes.

Do you play any musical instruments and, if so, which and how bad/well?

Terry: Not a one. I can hold a tune and have a good memory for lyrics, but that's all.

You are connected the Internet. What would you have given a metaphorical right arm for to have known when you started out?

Terry: How much time it would steal...

In many years, you'll die. Which music would you like to be played at your funeral?

Terry: Oh, anything written in, say, 2057.

What is to you the music release of 1994?

Terry: "Bat out of Hell II" - as for everything else, I can't stand any music that requires its singers to be so dumb they wear their baseball caps backwards.

What is your favourite holiday destination?

Terry: Australia. Nice people, good food, sunshine, deserts, the alien-ness of the animals and vegetation...

Is there something that you see most people around you liking a lot, but that you hate intensely?

Terry: I would rather stare at the wall for half an hour than watch an episode of any of the 53,801 Australian soap operas now cluttering up UK TV.

What do you remember as the worst ever moment in your life?

Terry: It may have been when I was about 14, and had a huge row with my headmaster over some school memorial fund that was being arranged. Most of my schooldays were the worst day of my life.

A bit of a cliché question: What's pleases you most gastronomically?

Terry: Probably rum and raisin ice cream, and horchata (a Spanish drink).

Is there a person that you've never met yet but would really like to meet one day?

Terry: I honestly can't think of any great ambition in that direction.

If you were confined to a desert island and you could only take with you one book, five CDs and one luxury item (and a CD player, of course), which would they be?

Terry: Book: "Practical Boatbuilding for Beginners". Item: Swiss Army Knife. CDs: probably some easy listening stuff, like Kitaro.

What invention do you hope mankind will come up with soon?

Terry: A cheap clean energy source, probably.

Suppose some French scent artist would propose to do an aftershave or perfume with you...what would you call it?

Terry: I'd call it grounds for legal action.

What is your ultimate ambition?

Terry: I'd like to walk on the moon (and return).

Have you got any children? Do any of them have writing ambitions?

Terry: My daughter Rhianna wants to be a journalist. That's fine by me.

You must have read a lot of books. Which ones are your all- time favourites?

Terry: Too many to count.

What publications can we expect from you within, say, the next year? Any collaborations?

Terry: At least one Discworld book - not sure about anything else yet.

Any titles known already?

Terry: "Interesting Times" is now out - "Maskerade", if it keeps its working title, will be out next November.

What would you advise budding writers to do?

Terry: Some other kind of job, unless they think they're very, very lucky.

Is it true about the carniverous plants, and why (not)?

Terry: Is what true?

That you like 'em. And why?

Terry: They're...interesting. Alien, I suppose.

You claim you're sometimes accused of literature. Would you say, then, that it's not justified?

Terry: That was just a line in a blurb, as an antidote to those reviewers who sometimes wax a bit too lyrical about Discworld. I do it the best I can. What it is, is for others to decide.

Does India mean more to you than a place to get golden ideas for novel sequences?

Terry: I'm not sure what you mean. I'm interested in mythology generally, but India has no special place in my heart - although Hindu gods seem a lot more fun.

People sometimes describe your writings as those of a less bitter version of Douglas Adams who's gone fantasy fiction. Would you say that's correct?

Terry: I'm not a 'version' of anyone else.

Next was the "words to react to" section. Apart from the usual words I throw in, there were occurrences of "Josh Kirby" and "Craig Shaw Gardner" (that I had especially thought would get some reaction). Terry's initial reaction was quite unexpected.

Terry: I found myself thinking, I get 50 messages a day and this guy wants to play a game?

I consider the "words to react to" just a bunch of questions in short. They always go down well in interviews, and give room to highly idiosyncratic interpretations that shed a lot more light on the interviewee's personality. To name an example, I once had a guy react to "42" by saying the name of his favourite baseball player with that number on his back.

Terry: The light the words shed illuminates me as a curmudgeon.

 

And that was it. Now you can go and look up "curmudgeon".

RK

Written October 1994

 

Back to the Interview Menu

Back to the Main Menu