Matthew Peterson interviews Terry Pratchett
This is a transcription from TheAuthorHour radio show. For additional questions not asked during the live show, visit TheAuthorHour
Matthew: My guest today is Sir Terry Pratchett, international best selling author of the Disc World Fantasy Series. He's one of the most read authors in the world, with over 65 million books sold. Some of the awards he has received include the Carnegie Medal Locus Award, Mythopoeic Award, ALA notable Books for Children, ALA Best Books for Young Adults, Books Sense Pick Prometheus Award and the British Fantasy Award. It's truly a pleasure to have you on the show today.
Terry: Thank you very much.
Matthew: I have a confession to make. I actually read your first book, The Color of Magic, just last week.
Terry: Well, I knew there must be someone, somewhere in the world, that hadn't read it.
Matthew: [Laughs] Yep! There's a lot of them in the series, over 35?
Terry: Well, it depends, you know, even some of my children's books are set in Discworld. It's a slightly kind of different way of looking at it. And what with the spin off things and the science of Discworld. I myself have actually lost count of the number of books with some kind of Discworld connection.
Matthew: They started back in 1983, with The Color of Magic.
Terry: Uh huh, yea.
Matthew: I actually listened to the audio book version, I really enjoyed it. And I hear that a mini-series was done off of The Color of Magic.
Terry: Well, um . . .shall we say . . . 2 episodes.
Matthew: Two episodes?
Terry: But, I mean, it was movie length and cut down, and subsequently we've done, Hogfather and they've just finished the filming of Going Postal, which was more recently filmed. Plus there's other ones in the pipeline.
Matthew: Uh huh. You have a new book that's coming out. What is that new book?
Terry: Well, coming out in October, as I understand it, is Unseen Academicals, which is the latest book and indeed the longest one, written under some stress, but I think one of my best ones.
Matthew: Your best ones?
Terry: Well, I think my books improve . . . see I kind of learn writing by writing books. Rather strangely the first book I wrote, sold. Which is kind of strange, because it doesn't usually happen. But I've been writing professionally now, throughout the decades, if I wasn't getting better, something would have to be wrong.
Matthew: Yeah. Well, you have quite a following. This is your very first North American Discworld Convention.
Terry: Yes, yes, I wondered when it was going to happen 'cause there have been a couple in Australia and ones throughout Europe, and there's more this year, but I'm very, very pleased to have been here. It has been an amazing occasion.
Matthew: I hear it sold out weeks ago.
Terry: Oh yes, yes.
Matthew: A lot of people were interested.
Terry: People are talking about another one, now.
Matthew: Oh, another one?
Matthew: What can we expect for the future of Discworld?
Terry: Well it depends on my state of health, but I'm writing another children's book at the moment, and I'm involved with that. I've always got a few books planned for the future.
Matthew: I understand a couple years ago you were diagnosed with Alzheimer's. Ironically, just yesterday, I discovered that my grandfather also has Alzheimer's. So, I know you've donated quite a lot of money. At least over a million dollars and you've done a lot of good work in helping to get the word out and helping with research.
Terry: Uh huh
Matthew: Is there any advise you'd give people. . . .
Terry: Yeah, don't get it.
Matthew: Don't get it [laughs]
Terry: Um, what I've got is um, the short term is PCA, it's a form of Alzheimer's.
Terry: And it's not quite like, it's very rare, and it's not quite like ordinary Alzheimer's. For example, my last children's book, Nation, which has been picking up awards--I guess undoubtedly my best book--was written by a guy with a form of Alzheimer's and so was Unseen Academicals. And I'm well on the way to finishing the next book. It affects me in a different way than what you might call common or garden Alzheimer's. I don't act much differently than the average 61 year old. But it does weird things to my vision. Print tends to move as I read it, and I certainly would not want me to have a driving license. Things sort of disappear. It's as though you're followed around by some kind of invisible giant that takes things away. But I suppose many people my age feel like that anyway. I'm reasonably well. . . . One day I'll die, one day we'll all die. And no one knows . . . . I've had this for two years now and not getting that much worse. So, it's bully on for the next book. It's always bully on for the next book.
Matthew: Just continue on.
Terry: Oh, yeah.
Matthew: Yeah. There's a lot of people, like I mentioned , that enjoy what you do. You go to a lot of conventions. You have Discworld conventions based on your series.
Terry: Well, one of the things I like to do is get kids reading. And for some reason, I don't know why it is, and lots of people have been telling me at this convention, it tends to go like this, you know, "My boy is more or less dyslexic and wouldn't read any books, and I've got him on Discworld and now he's a Professor of Comparative Linguistics at Oxford University. I think that's all about writing fantasy, it's a strange kind of fantasy, that I write, it isn't kind of like the normal sort. It is that it's uni-age, you can enjoy it as an adult and you can enjoy it as a child, but I always make certain that the ones that are expressly children's books are written with kids in mind. 'Cause there is nothing worse than pretending that it's a children's book, but waving at mom and dad over the top of the page. That sometimes happens. If you get the Carnegie Medal for a children's book, which I got for the Amazing Morris and his Educated Rodents, there are children's librarians voting for that, and kids themselves and they know if it's a children's book or not.
Matthew: That's how my wife is, 'cause I have 5 children. She can definitely see when a movie or a book is really kind of for the parents, and just tacking on the children as an after thought. . . I understand you were knighted just last year.
Terry: First of all I got an OBE which is kind of a "knight-light".
Matthew: "Knight-light." OK. [laughs]
Terry: Well it's something like that. It's kind of an "order of merit" and then this spring I was knighted. I got a letter from the queen and you go off to Buckingham Palace and she's quite a small lady now, 'cause she is getting on. But she managed to uh . . .
Matthew: [Laughs] Did she get the sword?
Terry: She's pretty swift with the sword, but she's used to it now and she hardly ever chops anyone's head off. And that was it . . . I mean . . . for "services to literature" and I've done charitable work and things like that. Kind of worries me, in the US, because people insist on calling me "sir".
Matthew: And I was wondering about that, is it "Sir Terry" or is it just Terry?
Terry: No, I am Sir Terence Pratchett, because Terence is my baptismal name. But frankly, it doesn't really matter. What am I going to do? You know, come in here and chop people's heads off. No! When I got the OBE, people said, you know, you're not much of a monarchist, so why accept it. And I said, "Best reason there could be! It makes my mum proud." And then the knighthood turned up. And I thought, Well, Sir Arthur C Clark, you see, he got a knighthood, and I thought, it's probably a good thing that a writer of fantasy and science fiction is honored, because it honors the genre itself. I think it's an important genre. Indeed fantasy is the oldest genre of them all. And perhaps it's a good thing that the genre, via myself, gets some recognition.
Matthew: Yeah. It gets, sometimes, a bad rap. People say, "I don't really write fantasy, I have fantasy in my book, but I don't actually write fantasy."
Terry: Oh yes! Oh my word, yes. Yes, "it's magical realism you know." The trouble is . . . put it like this . . . if I set a book in Tombstone, around about the time of Wyatt Earp, and I'd put in the Earps and the Clanceys and horses and cacti and silver mines, if I put in one lousy dragon, they'd call it a fantasy book.
Matthew: [Laughs] Yeah.
Terry: Well, but you know, it used to worry me a lot, but it just makes me smile a bit now.
Matthew: Yeah. I actually write fantasy. My first book came out last year. I was talking to Ginger Buchanan, who is one of the editors for ACE. And I told her it was a science fiction, and she said, "It's a fantasy".
Terry: Is it science fiction or fantasy?
Matthew: It's a fantasy, with science fiction elements.
Terry: I think it really works like thisall fiction must, in some way, be fantasy. Science fiction, in my consideration, is that when you go passed the reasonably possible and predictable, then you're probably in the field of fantasy and you've left the field of science fiction behind. I must confess. Dr. Who and Star Trek worry me a little bit because there are too many things that you can do by using the modern equivalent of reversing the polarity. You can jargon your way out of problems.
Matthew: Just by reversing the polarity.
Terry: Well, that's what it used to be. It's got a little bit more complex, but it's all good fun and it's all decent entertainment.
Matthew: And that's why I like it.
Matthew: I mean that's why so many people like it. I mean we've got enough of normal life. [Laughs]
Terry: Well, I mean, you consider a normal life, let me tell you young man, is a fantasy. Let me tell you why. Two miles down there you'll burn alive, two miles up there, you'll choke to death. You are living on a ball of rock, traveling through space at an imaginatively high speed. And you are protected by the effects of this by a tiny, tiny, tiny, little amount of effectively natural radiation shielding, which is in peril now, in any case. The sun is warming up a bit. We live in a world where, you know, with these things, and these things, and we go to the movies, and out there is a real universe and it's a very strange universe. We live in a science fiction universe now. We have done for a long time. Recently on a show in England, a celebrity said, "I hate all this space travel. What good's space traveling ever done?" Well, think about your mobile phone. Think about the fact that now, no longer does any one need to be lost on this planet.
Terry: Yeah. Think about the way we take for granted the news from another country on the other side of the world and we expect it to be delivered to us at the speed of light, and it is. We live in a science fiction universe. So you bloody well better get used to it. Bye Bye.
Matthew: Thank you.
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Unless otherwise stated, this interview was conducted at the time the book was first published, and is reproduced with permission of the publisher. This interview may not be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the copyright holder.
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