A Conversation With Terry Pratchett

by Claire E. White

Photo of Terry Pratchett For the past ten years, fantasy author Terry Pratchett has continued to be the bestselling living fiction author in Britain, his novels accounting for 6.5% of all hardcover fiction sales in Britain's general retail market for 1998 alone. Twenty million copies of his many Discworld novels have been translated into twenty-seven languages worldwide, the past ten of which have been the number one bestsellers in the United Kingdom. His most famous novels are set in a fantasy world called Discworld. Discworld, as the name implies, is a world shaped like a flat disc which rests on the back of four elephants. The four elephants stand on the back of a giant turtle which floats through space. Discworld is peopled with Pratchett's beloved and imaginative characters: the bumbling and astoundingly incompetent wizard Rincewind; the Luggage, the magical and many-legged suitcase which is fiercely loyal to its owner and completely homicidal to anyone it perceives to be a threat to said owner; Death, WHO SPEAKS IN ALL CAPITAL LETTERS and whom everyone meets sooner or later (he's really not such a bad guy when you get to know him); Captain Samuel Vimes, the beleaguered head of Ankh-Morpork's City Watch whose subordinates include a dwarf, a werewolf and a troll; the Igors with their interchangeable body parts and their perfect servant's manners, and many, many others. The Discworld novels are brilliant parodies of many of the more absurd things which exist in our world, and it is Pratchett's unique way of looking at our world which gives the books their witty style and laugh out loud funny humor.

Terry Pratchett is the author of more than thirty novels, including the apocalyptic farce Good Omens, which was co-written with Neil Gaiman. He received the Order of the British Empire (O.B.E.) in Queen Elizabeth II's New Year's Honours List for 1998 and an honorary Doctor of Letters degree from the University of Warwick in 1999. Terry's love for words began at an early age; he published his first short story, "The Hades Business," commercially when he was fifteen. After graduating from school, he went on to a career in journalism which in turn led to being appointed publicity officer for the Central Electricity Generating Board (now PowerGen), where he was responsible for four nuclear power stations. He has said that he would write a book about his experiences if he thought anyone would believe it. It was while he was working there that he wrote and published the first of the Discworld novels, Colour of Magic, in 1983. He says he used to grow carnivorous plants, but now they've taken over the greenhouse and he avoids going in. He lives in Wiltshire, England with his wife Lyn and daughter Rhianna.

Terry says writing is the most fun anyone can have by themselves. He is fond of computers (never being caught without at least a laptop nearby), cats, books, Texas barbeque, traveling (especially to Australia) and spending time with his family (not necessarily in that order). Known for his kindness and accessibility to his numerous fans, he still answers all his voluminous fan mail. He seems to take his overwhelming success in stride. Unassuming and self-deprecating, he is devastatingly funny to talk to -- even after he's just spent an excruciating afternoon at the dentist. It's clear that writer's block is not something with which he really has an acquaintance -- in fact, he seems to bubble over with funny ideas.

Terry spoke with us about his latest Discworld novel, The Fifth Elephant and how he got his start as a writer. He also gives some straight from the shoulder advice to aspiring writers, and gives us the inside scoop as to how he was introduced to his favorite cocktail: the banana daiquiri.

Let's talk about the latest book in the Discworld series, The Fifth Elephant, which will be released here in the United States in April, 2000. Have the release dates for the American and British dates been synchronized yet?

There have been various attempts in the past to do so. At one point, some years back, HarperCollins made what was then a sensible decision to leap forward in the series, skipping a few books in the series in order to "catch up"; later on, it could bring out ones that had been missed. But at least this way the new titles would be released at the same time as the ones in the U.K. Unfortunately, there was some slippage, and things ended up even worse off than they were before. But I think that things have gotten back into some kind of order now. Certainly, it is everyone's intention to bring the books out as closely together as is possible. In fact, for the very next book, my manuscript has gone off to HarperCollins and to Transworld in the U.K. at the same time. That would be The Truth, which will be out in November, 2000, both in the U.S. and in the U.K. So, there should be general rejoicing.

The Fifth Elephant brings back Captain Vimes and throws him in up to his neck in conspiracy, diplomacy, vampires and werewolves. Let's start with werewolves. Why werewolves?

Well, why not? Werewolves are -- I was going to say a
Cover of The Fifth Elephant by Terry Pratchett
very 20th century monster -- but possibly I now mean a very 21st century monster. But in order to really answer this question I must digress a bit. A lot of the humor (and possibly a lot of the power in the Discworld series) comes from thinking logically about those things which we don't normally think logically about, that we just accept. For example, in a horror story we just sort of accept the idea of werewolves and vampires without actually going a little deeper into it. It seemed to me that a thinking creature that spends part of its time as a wolf and part of its time as a human is going to be a very interesting creature, with a very interesting psychology. I invented a female werewolf who is a vegetarian as a human being, but nevertheless for one week per month is a wolf with everything that entails. Her name is Angua. It was fun to write Angua. I suppose it's a terrible thing for an author to say, but an author likes characters who are screwed up: Angua is screwed up, Granny Weatherwax is screwed up. They are not at ease with themselves, and that makes them fun for the author. That makes their heads very interesting places for the author to be. Angua is half a wolf and she's half a human; we have a word for something which is half a wolf and half a human and that's dog. And in a sense she is dog-like in her devotion and in her courage and so forth. I was having a lot of fun with Angua and then I thought, "What would a werewolf family be like? How would the genealogy of werewolves work? What would the politics of werewolves be?" One thing just led to the other, but they all started from the basic idea of thinking seriously about werewolves in a modern society, or what passes for a modern society.

Vimes gets into a great deal of trouble in this book. I especially liked the chase scene. It's sort of The Most Dangerous Game, but played out in the background of a Chekhov play.

Well, I'm glad you noticed that because I get fan mail from some of the younger fans and they say, "What was the bit with the three old ladies?" And I say, "Haven't you heard of Chekhov?" "Yes, wasn't he the first officer on the Enterprise. And I think, "Oh, dear me. I'm an old man, I'm going to have to kill myself!" In my story, it's not Chekhov really, but it's what people that don't know much about Chekhov think Chekhov is. I put that sequence in the story as sort of an Easter egg: the little treasures (literary or other jokes) hidden throughout the story. I didn't want to do just a straight chase scene, and I thought, "This is the right kind of landscape, it's the right kind of weather, so let's have a couple of pages of mock Chekhov." The nice thing about Discworld is you can do that kind of thing.

I wonder what percentage of the readership actually catch all the jokes? Perhaps each person gets a different Easter egg, so to speak.

That, I think, is one of the keys to the success of this world, although I never set out to do things like that. I don't think anyone gets everything. But I think nearly every one gets 80% - 90% of the references in the book. But I hope that the things that they don't get they don't notice that they're not getting, if you follow me. There is a character mentioned in the book, (although he's never appeared because he's dead) called Bloody Stupid Johnson, who is the opposite of a genius. He is kind of the negative image of Leonardo de Vinci. He's built various things which don't work, and they all failed to work in a most spectacular way. One of the things he built is the Mighty Organ at the Unseen University, which can make the most astonishing array of sounds. There is a scene in one of the books where one of my characters is at the Ankh-Morpork Opera house. The Opera House's organ has been busted and needs some spare parts. So the character says, "Well, I've been in touch with the University and it's a marvelous thing. It turns out that our organ is a Johnson." Now, no one in England is going to get that line, but most Americans probably will. But it doesn't actually matter to me that no one in England will, unless they've watched a few American movies, because they're not going to notice it. Ultimately I put those things in because I think it will be fun at that point.

The Igors ("ee-gors") are great fun. Or perhaps you call them Igors ("eye-gors")?

It seems to be pronounced both ways in the classic horror movies. I've always thought of them as "ee-gors". I rather like their philosophy, really. I'm so pleased with the Igors that I've made certain I've got one ready for a future book.

Another theme that makes for some great reading is what happens when two dissimilar cultures clash. Is that a theme you are interested in?

Well, yes. I can say to you that Ankh-Morpork is probably a cross between 17th century London and 20th century New York. Captain Vimes thinks like both the British and Americans think, i.e., you go to some other country but you bring with you your own cultural baggage. Despite the fact that Vimes really doesn't like people acting the way he himself is acting, nevertheless he still does it. He simply lays down the law. If you remember, there's a scene where he stands up for Detritus when they are in Überwald. Even though Detritus is a troll, Vimes is simply not going to have one of his officers treated as a second class citizen in a different country -- and that's that. He just puts it right on the line. And yet, at the same time, he makes a fool of himself. He gets it all wrong about the food. He's a little bit obscene. We can see in him aspects of ourselves, I think -- and of our own culture, I have to say.

Readers who are mystery fans are going to get a special kick out of this book. He's trying to solve this crime and then it turns into this dreadful political thing.

Right. I write what used to be called thrillers. The fun thing about writing something like this is that I know that a lot of the fans are trying to get ahead of me all the time. They're trying to get to the end of things -- to see where it's going. Vimes isn't daft, you know. When faced with an apparent crime of that nature, he immediately starts thinking of all the various possibilities. He doesn't take things at face value. Never mind about the destination; it's the journey that's going to be fun.

It seems to me that the Discworld novels have gotten a touch darker, perhaps with a few more serious bits in them. Is that an accurate statement of how the series has evolved?

First off, I have to say that I simply hate it when reviewers call my work "wacky" or "zany". Those people are going to be hunted down by the
Cover of Jingo by Terry Pratchett
Mafia! Seriously, I suppose around the fifth or six Discworld book, I discovered the joy of plot. I think it was Esther Friesner who said you have to have tragic relief. If a book is nothing but funny, then it is nothing but funny. There is no contrast and it's hard to take anything seriously. It's hard to worry about the fate of a character. You do need those moments when you bring people down to Earth. I think the book which generated the most mail and email was Jingo. In Jingo, there was a theme of what you might call quantum confusion (and only in fantasy can you get away with this kind of thing). Vimes picks up his personal organizer just at the moment when the Universe is splitting into two. So that is the point where he picks up the personal organizer that belongs to the Vimes that makes the decision in a different way, so he gets a personal organizer which is effectively telling him what would have been happening in his life had he not made a particular decision. There is a scene where he's actually seeing (as if it were notes in organizer) all his colleagues dying (although in his universe they are around him and are alive). There is a war going on and in the section of the organizer that says Things To Do Today, the entry says "die". This was quite chilling to see. These terrible things happened because he made a small decision which had a profound effect. Because there was just that moment of uncertainty when the two organizers in the two universes could interchange and because of that minor decision, he and every one he knew died. In fact, he hadn't made that minor decision in this universe, so he was alive, but he could hear what would have happened. We don't often get that opportunity. Writing those scenes taught me a few things. One of the things it taught me is that you should never regret. You should never say, "If only I had taken that job. If only I had not done this or I had not done that." Because you don't know what else would have happened. If you had taken that job, yes it would have offered better promotions and more money, but if you had been going to work to that job on a particular day, you'd have been run over by a bus. You don't know what other things would have happened as a result of the decision. So, basically, you better just take what comes down the pipe.

A theme that also seems to run through the books is the effect of people's beliefs actually shaping reality. Is that true? Have our beliefs and stories and fantasies made certain things "come to life"? How?

If I was late for an appointment and came running out of a bank just at the same time as the alarms accidentally went off, I might well get shot by someone. Certainly if it happened in America I might find myself shot by a policeman who believed I was a bank robber. Beliefs do shape reality. We know this to be the case. Thousands of people every year die because of what they believe. Becoming dead after being alive is a fairly major change in reality, I would think.

I was also thinking along the lines of your book Small Gods and the idea that a God's powers were directly related to how many people actually believed in him.

Well, sooner or later a fantasy writer invents something because it's going to fly, and you want it to fly for the length of a book. I don't pretend that that is my take on how the universe really works. But it is a useful tool.

Cover of The Last Continent by Terry Pratchett
I must admit that my favorite characters are the wizards of the Unseen University. I loved it when they tumbled into a new world in The Last Continent -- their way of dealing with any problem is unique, to say the least. What kind of feedback have you gotten from academics over your view of university life in Discworld?

Generally, I get pretty good feedback from academics, I have to say. I get quite a lot of feedback, in fact. Sometimes they argue with me and sometimes they don't. I get quite a lot of feedback from ministers of religion, as well. I get quoted in sermons and things like that. It must be very puzzling to the people in the church. I do get quite a lot of letters from senior people at universities saying that, except for the magical elements, it is pretty much how life is in the universities.

Going back to what you were saying about the horrible word "wacky". I must say I've never really thought of your work as wacky. What makes it so funny to me is that it's actually quite logical and accurate. Maybe you just say what people won't say.

Well, I had a letter recently from a very well-known mathematician who said that the way the wizards solve problems is exactly the way mathematicians solve problems. You'll find half a dozen mathematicians clustered around the blackboard, all arguing with one another, all fighting for the chalk. Some of them will be rubbing out part of the equation that another one of them has just written. And out of this kind of creative hubbub comes a solution. That is exactly how the wizards work, as well.

I'd like to talk a bit about the practical side of being a writer. You've said you are from the Carpentry School of Writing. And you think it's very important that writers work on their craft. Could you expand on that a bit?

Okay. I have to say that I change the metaphor about once a week. But it may help if I give you an idea of how I go about writing.
Cover of Carpe Jugulum by Terry Pratchett
I'm about 10,000 words into my next book. Do I know what it is about? Yes, I do know what it is about, it's just that I'm not telling myself. I can see bits of the story and I know the story is there. This is what I call draft zero. This is private. No one ever, ever gets to see draft zero. This is the draft that you write to tell yourself what the story is. Someone asked me recently how to guard against writing on auto-pilot. I responded that writing on auto-pilot is very, very important! I sit there and I bash the stuff out. I don't edit -- I let it flow. The important thing is that the next day I sit down and edit like crazy. But for the first month or so of writing a book I try to get the creative side of the mind to get it down there on the page. Later on I get the analytical side to come along and chop the work into decent lengths, edit it and knock it into the right kind of shape. Everyone finds their own way of doing things. I certainly don't sit down and plan a book out before I write it. There's a phrase I use called "The Valley Full of Clouds." Writing a novel is as if you are going off on a journey across a valley. The valley is full of mist, but you can see the top of a tree here and the top of another tree over there. And with any luck you can see the other side of the valley. But you cannot see down into the mist. Nevertheless, you head for the first tree. At this stage in the book, I know a little about how I want to start. I know some of the things that I want to do on the way. I think I know how I want it to end. This is enough. The thing now is to get as much down as possible. If necessary, I will write the ending fairly early on in the process. Now that ending may not turn out to be the real ending by the time that I have finished. But I will write down now what I think the conclusion of the book is going to be. It's all a technique, not to get over writer's block, but to get 15,000 or 20,000 words of text under my belt. When you've got that text down, then you can work on it. Then you start giving yourself ideas.

Well it seems to me that you must be an amazing observer. Do you think that's true that you must be a good observer to write really great parody or satire?

For many years I was a journalist, and so I was trained to observe in a journalistic way. What I always say to people is that when it comes to inventing characters, don't base a character on someone you know. But it may be a good idea to base the character on a type of character that you know, because lots of other people will know people like that. And if they know people like that, then half the work has been done for you. People say, "I know someone just like Granny Weatherwax!" The reader is simply inserting that person that they know into the story. A great deal of character work lies not in describing the characters, but in describing the shape that they leave in the world. How they react to other people. How they face things. When they keep silent. The manner in which they say things. Character does not consist of telling the reader what color a person's eyes are and how tall he is. You do not need pages and pages of physical description to get a character. You can get nearly all the physical description you need by one thing that character says that makes people think, "Aha! I know exactly what kind of person would say something like that!"

What do you love most about your job?

(laughing) Well, I get paid shitloads of cash...which is good. I really do love to write. The curious thing is that during the last month or six weeks of a book, when I am editing, rewriting, refining and polishing my work, I say to myself: "If you're a good boy and finish this before the deadline, you're going to be allowed to write another book!" Because during the first month or two when you're working on a book (when a lot of options are still open) you don't have to be too disciplined. You're writing a lot, going down a lot of blind allies, you're finding out how the plot is going to work etc. That is a fun period, and I look forward to it. What I like doing is the actual writing itself. Once you've bought yourself the biggest word processor you can and you're living in the house you're going to live in, and you've got a nice desk, you're kind of running out of things to buy.

There's always a new computer!

Well, yes, there's always a newer computer. This house has computers like other houses have mice. In a month or two, I'm going on a holiday in Australia. We go most years. I always take a portable computer with me. When I am on holiday, I write twice as much as I do as when I am at home in my office. I'm relaxed, I'm having fun, I'm sitting out there overlooking the sea, with a nice glass of something beside me. The telephone isn't ringing; I haven't got any letters to write. I get up at six in the morning when it's light, and do some work before breakfast. Later on, we go out and have some fun. You go to bed when it's dark. It's as simple as that -- there's no electricity. My wife and I like holidays where you go and relax. You just lie there in a chair with a big drink in your hand. The big decision is whether you should go for a walk, or just lie there some more.

Would that be a banana daiquiri in your hand?

Let me tell you about banana daiquiris. Years and years ago, there was a world science fiction convention
"What seems to be happening more and more (and I don't know why this is so) is that a lot of people labor under the misapprehension that if they cannot write it's because some kind of outside influence is preventing them from doing so -- as if the universe itself is conspiring against their natural destiny of writerdom."
in New Orleans. It had been a really hard day. I'd driven all the way from Pensacola and was quite tired. The hotel had done the usual: "Sorry, sir, we have no record of your reservation at this time." When I showed them the fax confirming my reservation, they denied the existence of the fax. Finally, after being ever so unpleasantly English about it, I got a very, very nice room on the top floor. An American friend said, "I know. I shall take you out to the All-Night Frozen Daiquiri Shop on Bourbon Street!" By that time, I wouldn't have known if we were heading to the All-Night Bourbon Shop on Daiquiri Street. I didn't know that there was alcohol in a daiquiri. I thought it was a pleasant fruit drink. So I had the liter size. I thought, "It's been a long day, and I need a refreshing pick me up." I will say this for the Americans: In England, if you'd ordered a drink that was twice the normal size, they'd water it down. But in New Orleans, a liter daiquiri has twice as much alcohol as a half liter daiquiri. It was so delicious that I had another one. Then I thought I'd try a liter of the peach daiquiri, and I had about half of that one. In the 1950s comic books, sometimes a character would have a nuclear reactor fall on him. Then he'd become "Mr. Atomic". I drank so much banana daiquiri that night that I think every cell in my body was full of banana daiquiri. I became Dr. Daiquiri. I think that's the only way I survived. I couldn't feel my upper lip for quite awhile after that, though. The point is, if you make a real daiquiri, according to a real recipe, you don't feel well again until tea time the next day. If you make it with real cream and the two types of rum and all that, it is seriously bad for your head. The Bourbon Street daiquiris were a lot of fun. But when I'm in Australia I drink beer, because if you are in Australia and you don't drink beer you are prosecuted.

Let's talk a bit about the book you collaborated with Neil Gaiman on: Good Omens. That was before email, so how did it work on a practical basis? What was the most challenging aspect of writing with someone else?

I'm sure what I have to say will echo what Neil has said. When two people work on a book, it isn't a case where
Photo of Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
each one does 50% of the work. Each one does 100% of the work. There are some bits in Good Omens which I know are mine. There are some bits in Good Omens which I know are Neil's. There are some bits which were Neil's idea which I wrote, and there are some bits which were my idea which Neil wrote. Some bits we no longer know exactly whose ideas they were, or who wrote them. By the time we'd gone through all the drafts, it had been written by some sort of composite entity. We wrote it in the 14th century. We each had one phone line and a 1200 baud modem. We'd work it out: "OK, you send, I'll receive." Sometimes it would take 20 minutes to half an hour before we could send the stuff. It would have been cheaper and easier to have rung each other up and sneezed out the text in Morse Code. I was the Keeper of the Disks. I insisted that there should only be one official version in existence at any time. The moment it split into two, we would be in dead trouble. But Neil would sometimes send me a disk with 2000 words, saying " This is the scene with so and so -- insert it here." It more or less worked. It took us about six weeks to do the first draft. I think it worked because, at the time, we were each making a name for ourselves in our respective fields. It's not that we didn't take it seriously. But we were relaxed. We thought we would earn some holiday money by doing it. The nice thing about collaborating is that there is one other person in the world who is thinking about the exact same thing that you are thinking about. We both have a similar reading background, I suppose. It was quite rare when one of us came up with something that the other guy didn't know about. So we could bounce ideas off one another quite easily.

Where did you meet Neil? How did you become friends?

The Discworld books were just beginning to come onto the market in a big way. Neil was doing some journalism at the time. He interviewed me. We got on well, and kept in touch. We're continents apart now. I think he's in the States permanently, I would imagine. Most people think Neil is American, anyway. Although he is firmly English, that's where he gravitates.

If you were forced to go live on Discworld for a year, where would you go?

Probably as deserted an island as I could possibly find. I would live in the back of a cave for an entire year. Although, I have to say as I get older, Unseen University sounds like the perfect habitat. No one expects you to actually do any work. You just show up for meals, which are quite good. You just find an office somewhere and move in. There used to be offices in Cambridge and Oxford which were a bit like that. In fact, some of the feedback from academia tells me that it was not so long ago that there were other universities where it was like that. If you turned up, and appeared to know what you were doing you could almost fit into the university. You wouldn't be paid anything, but you could find an office somewhere that wasn't being used and everything was so disorganized that no one knew whether you should be there or not. Things have changed now, you know. People actually expect results. Someone who knew what he was talking about and was an interesting speaker could get by with it. I was told a story that unused offices were nailed up, which meant they weren't subject to what you would call property taxes. So all you would have to do was go and pull the nails out of the door and move your stuff in. No one knew whether you were supposed to be there or not. But if you were there for long enough, especially long enough for some staff turnover to take place, you were there permanently. I just love that idea. You can't run a university as if it was a business, in any case. It cannot work like that. Some of the best ideas have come from people standing around in a common room shouting at the tops of their voices. You cannot regiment ideas.

Do they Americanize your books, either the adult or the children's books? For example, the Harry Potter books are Americanized.

They have Americanized my children's books. I think that there is an argument for preventing confusion.
Cover of Johnny and the Bomb by Terry Pratchett
We're talking the "pavement vs. sidewalk" argument. If the use of the English word is not only unfamiliar, but changes the meaning of the sentence to the reader, then it makes some sense to change the word. Generally speaking, there may be two or three words or usages per book. Certainly, these days we discuss it. If I use a word which an appreciable number of Americans will not be familiar with, then we change it. We consider whether or not a particular phrase or word has overtones which make it particularly funny in English which would be completely lost in America. A classic case that we considered at one point was the Morris 1000. The Morris 1000 is a type of car. It's very old; the type of people who drive these cars tend to be little old ladies who drive very slowly. There probably is an American car which conjures up exactly the same idea or picture. But the Morris 1000 doesn't mean anything to most Americans. I think Neil Gaiman summed it up when he said, "We put up with your fire hydrants, congressional committees, and all the other American usages that we pick up. It's about time you got something back." I don't think you can be completely hard and fast about it. There are some cases where a change should be made, but the thought should be: "Don't change." It's much much worse with children's books. I did a series which has done incredibly well for the Science Fiction Book Club, the Johnny Maxwell series.

It's not as well known over here, unfortunately.

Well, no, because the books have never been published in America as main titles. One publisher said the books were too intelligent for American children! (This was pre-Harry Potter.) But, the books made it to number one on both the children's and the adult bestseller lists in the U.K. So somehow I don't think they can be too difficult for children to understand.

Well, it looks like you've got a US tour coming up soon. Do you like touring or do you dread it?

Yes, at the end of March. In the last ten years I've spent something ike over 17 months on the road.

Just like a rock musician.

Yes, except I don't get any sex. I don't get any drugs. I can listen to as much rock n' roll as I like, though. To say I like
"When it comes to inventing characters, don't base a character on someone you know. But it may be a good idea to base the character on a type of character that you know, because lots of other people will know people like that. And if they know people like that, then half the work has been done for you."
it would be the wrong kind of word to use. The musician analogy is probably not such a bad one. I mean you can spend as much time as you like in the studio working on the album, but you know in your heart that it's not rock n' roll until you've taken it on the road. And you actually do just sometimes have to get out there. Every other year I do an Australian tour. I do tours of the UK, tours of Germany -- I do lots of tours. I think they're necessary, but I don't know why I think they're necessary. They're bad for the digestion. Especially in the States: you spend a lot of time flying from hub to hub. So half the time you're flying backwards with a bag of pretzels for your dinner. You get in late, you're always rushing around, and you never have time to check up with yourself. But a fortnight after you've done a tour you want to do another one, like the famous Chinese meal. The wonderful thing is that they have their good moments and their bad moments. I've gone into this upcoming tour with my eyes a little more wide open. Fortunately, HarperCollins has been very understanding about it. Flying internally in America is not a huge amount of fun, but they have tried to make it easier on me.

Are there any indispensable items that you always take with you on tour, or that you've learned to take with you?

Yes, there are several items. I now take a Palm Pilot, but I used to just take a note pad. The most important thing about the Palm Pilot is that it allows you to write directly on the screen. I take that and I take a small torch. The reason is that every night you wake up in a different hotel room and you can't find the light switch. I make certain I write down in big letters the number of my hotel room. Because you always check in late or you're always in a rush, you throw your bags on the bed and you rush off again. Naturally, when you return you can't remember what the hell your hotel room number is. You can't remember where your hotel is, half the time. The last item is a bottle of some indigestion medicine which is absolutely essential on any tour. Touring is a strange kind of life. It's only after it's over that you work out whether it was fun or not. On the last American tour, what I particularly enjoyed was when the guys from the Adventures in Crime and Space bookstore in Austin took me out for some Texas barbeque. They said to me, "Now we'll only give you a small plate, because we know that you Brits can't eat as much as we Texans." But after about twenty minutes, I was the one that wanted another plate. Yes, I really fell for the old Texas barbeque. I'll be in Austin for my tour in April for the book. I do hope I won't be doing too much radio, though. You always go on a radio program called, "Good Morning City Whose Name You Can't Remember." The announcer says, "Hey, you've done a book. That's great! ... and now, traffic news..."

When Neil Gaiman and I were doing the Good Omens tour it was great fun because I was suffering with one other person. We
Cover of Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
were actually interviewed by a very well-known interviewer in that particular city who hadn't even read his notes, let alone the book. You may recall that the subtitle of the book was "The Nice and Accurate Predictions of Agnes Nutter." He thought that this was the real title of the book -- that it was a nonfiction book about predictions. He had no idea it was even fiction. Neil and I could see the engineer in the booth doubled over with laughter, because he happened to be a fan. We looked at one another, and the unspoken thought was, "We'd better not wipe the floor with this guy." So we had to find a way of giving answers that would be technically correct, but somehow sending the message that the host was conducting the wrong interview. We did emerge fairly unscathed. Then, there was another one where we were at a public broadcasting radio station somewhere on the West Coast. The director of protocol came out to see us before the interview. She looked us up and down and said, "You're English, aren't you? Now, you're not going to swear on the air are you?" We replied, "Well, we hadn't intended to…" But, of course, now that was all we could think about! We were passing each other notes saying, "Be sure not to say $#@!" Many public broadcasting stations are hounded by people looking for any pretext to get them off the air, so I suppose that's why this station was so worried about swearing. We did find out that Americans don't think that the word "bugger" is swearing, because they don't know what it means. I mean, it's not like the London Times or the BBC are known for the amount of swearing they allow. But to be told not to swear, well, it just made it impossible not to think of it. The words would just bubble up. But we acted like gentlemen.

Can you give us a preview of the next Discworld novel, The Truth?

Certainly. Actually, it was very fun to write because it's almost the story of my life. It's about a man and
Cover of Maskerade by Terry Pratchett
woman who, almost by default, start the Discworld's first newspaper. I had lots of fun with the idea. For example, the photographer is a vampire, but he's in recovery. He's actually got the black ribbon; he's a member of the Überwald Temperance League. They meet every week for cocoa and a singsong, and try not to think about blood. The problem with being a vampire photographer is that every time you use the flash attachment you become a little pile of dust. So it's a drawback. There are also two Tarantino villains -- straight out of Pulp Fiction -- they really were fun to write. Sort of Discworld versions of those villains. It's about the little things that happen when you start writing newspapers. How do people deal with you? How did some guy, because he had access to a notebook and a printing press, have all this power? It's really very strange. Who are you answerable to when you are working on a newspaper? Who can give you orders? Where is your responsibility? What is the truth and do you know it when you see it? Some of the serious issues that get raised by newspapers, I approach in Discworld, I hope in an amusing way.

And the longstanding objections to moveable type?

As Lord Vetinari says, "History is a bit like earthquakes. The strain builds up and builds up, and then overnight a whole field of turnips has moved six feet along the fault line." From a practical standpoint, the moveable type is used by the Dwarves. Politically, it would not be a good idea to fall out with the Dwarves, just at the moment. There are a lot of little reasons why it is in everyone's best interest to allow this to happen. Lord Vetinari's main objection to moveable type is that it makes it much easier for a lot of people to actually know what's happening. But he realizes that if you own the newspapers, then you can prevent large numbers of people from knowing what's really happening.

Rumor has it that a major character will be killed off in the near future. Is that true?

That rumor came from an off-the-cuff comment I made in an interview which got repeated all around, with more and more speculation. I am happy to let that speculation continue.

I understand that you interact a great deal with your fans. How much fan mail and email do you get?

It's overwhelming. I don't count it any more. I don't get as neurotic about handling it as much as I used to. I used to really worry about it. Especially if someone's return address wasn't very well-written. I would try to track down the correct address. These days, if I open a letter which begins, "I bet you won't read this letter..." I now think, "Well, fair enough then. I'll put this one back on the heap." But I do my best to answer it.

Do you use the Internet a great deal? I notice you don't have an officially sanctioned website yet.

That is going to change very soon. My agent is setting one up. Have you heard the saying, "Rumor runs
"Why is it that we always use these really machismo words, like 'surfing'? What surfing really means is sitting there, getting hemorrhoids, staring at a screen while clicking on a mouse. It's not surfing at all; it's just being a kind of couch potato."
around the world, before the Truth has its boots on"? The Internet is rumor running around the world. It's just amazing how far and how fast something that isn't true can spread. A year or two ago I said in an interview with a local paper, that after the 25th Discworld book that I was going to give Discworld a rest because there were some other projects I wanted to devote attention to. The journalist didn't print my statement accurately, and then someone didn't read it very accurately, and then somehow my comments turned into the headline: "Discworld is Over After Book 25!" I got so many emails about it! And all I was going to do was take a year off to write a different kind of book. So it would be nice to have one website where I can make sure that things like tour details, what I'm doing etc. are actually things that I have posted and are accurate. Up until now I haven't done it because I've got a lot of things to do and running a website would take up too much time. So I'm going to have some help in doing it.

I do use the Internet. It's like the telephone or the fax. It's very, very useful, but I don't go to bed with it. I can think of a lot better uses for my time than surfing the Internet. Why is it that we always use these really machismo words, like "surfing"? What surfing really means is sitting there, getting hemorrhoids, staring at a screen while clicking on a mouse. It's not surfing at all; it's just being a kind of couch potato. I do buy stuff off the Web, and I use it all the time. I download software and order things. It's amazing how much stuff I order from the United States. But it's just another thing to use. It is not my hobby. It's something that makes life much more complicated, in many respects.

I can't imagine that you have a great deal of free time, anyway.

It depends on how you define free time. I recently said to a relative of mine, "We're having a holiday this year." And she said, "From what, exactly?"

When you love your work, maybe you don't need as many holidays.

Yes, that's the point. Either you're working all the time, or you're not working at all. It's very hard to define it when you're writing. I spend a lot of time in my office every day.

You have a home office, right?

We seem to be accumulating offices these days. I have the office that is full of mess, then there's the office that's full of books and not too much paperwork, where I actually sit and write. I write directly on the computer.

Are there any misconceptions about you that you'd like to set straight? Or about writing, in general?

There is one thing that I get asked all the time -- on a daily basis actually -- by aspiring writers who contact me. They say, "I keep starting things; I don't know how to finish them. I don't seem to be able to find time to write. I don't seem to be able to get my ideas down on paper." What I always say is, "Consider, just consider for a moment, that although you want to be a writer, being a writer may not be where your particular genius lies." When I was a kid, I really, really wanted to be an astronomer. I have no real mathematical abilities whatsoever. I'm fine when it comes to the numbers, but when you show me a quadratic equation I'm completely lost. What I wanted to do was to stare in wonder at the universe, which is not exactly what an astronomer has to do. I think that what a lot of people who want to be writers really want is to have written. That is harder. What I tend to say is, "Look, if you wanted to be a boxer you would listen if someone like Mike Tyson said to you, 'Ok, you've gotta go down to the gym. You've gotta eat the right kind of stuff. You've gotta do your road work. You've gotta work at it for years and years, and it's going to be quite hard.' You'd say, 'Yes, Mike.'" So to writers I say, you're going to have to read a lot -- shitloads in fact. So many books that you're going to overflow. You've got to hook into the popular culture of the 20th century. You've got to keep your mind open to all sorts of influences. You've got to sit down for hours at a time in front of the computer. And you must make grammar, punctuation and spelling a part of your life.

People actually start arguing with me at this point. They think it should be easier than that. But it's not easier than that. After a while, it becomes less difficult because you've developed your own technique. But it is every bit as hard as quite a lot of other things. What seems to be happening more and more (and I don't know why this is so) is that a lot of people labor under the misapprehension that if they cannot write it's because some kind of outside influence is preventing them from doing so -- as if the universe itself is conspiring against their natural destiny of writerdom. People
Photo of Terry Pratchett
write to me for advice. If I'm kind, I send them back maybe 400 words on how to write. And it's valuable resource. But people don't want to be told that they have to sit there for a long time and work hard at it. That is not the answer that they desire to hear. I'm sure you get that all the time, people saying, "I've written a book and I don't have the faintest idea of what to do to get it published." And the obvious answer (which they should know) is that if they go down to a library, there is a whole shelf full of books talking about manuscript preparation and how to submit a manuscript. I mean this is not difficult stuff to find out. If you can't go and find it out, maybe you're missing something.

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