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Terry Pratchett: 21 Years of Discworld May 2004

Terry Pratchett published his first story, "The Hades Business", in Science-Fantasy in 1963 at the age of 15. He left school to become a full-time journalist, working for newspapers and as a press officer in the nuclear industry, writing novels in his spare time, before becoming a full-time writer in 1987. His first novel was YA humorous fantasy The Carpet People (1971), followed by satirical SF novels The Dark Side of the Sun (1976) and Strata (1981), and then the first of his humorous "Discworld" fantasy series, The Colour of Magic (1983). Begun as an "antidote" to the bad fantasy so prevalent in the late '70s-early '80s, "Discworld" counts more than 30 volumes to date, including several for young adults. YA The Wee Free Men and adult Monstrous Regiment appeared in 2003, with A Hat Full of Sky (YA) due in May 2004, and Going Postal due in    
Photo by Beth Gwinn

Unofficial website: The L-Space Web

Locus Online's Terry Pratchett bibliography
October. Discworld has become a phenomenon, with its own dedicated conventions, and spin-offs that include computer games, guides, diaries, cookbooks, quiz books, and a cartoon series. His other non-Discworld books include satirical fantasy Good Omens (1990, with Neil Gaiman), and two humorous young-adult SF/F trilogies: "Bromeliad" or "Book of the Nomes" (1989-90) and "Johnny Maxwell" (1992-96). He was made an Officer of the British Empire (OBE) in 1998 for his services to literature, and has received three honorary doctorates from British universities. Pratchett currently lives in Wiltshire with his wife Lyn.

Excerpts from the interview:

“When I'm talking to wannabe writers I always say, 'Read outside your genre, for heaven's sake, especially if it's fantasy and science fiction.' I have to say now I'm a history reader more than anything else. You can find plots and ideas and backgrounds everywhere. At one book fair, I was after a rare copy of the only extant book on the Romany language. My wife asked, 'Is it going to be useful to you?' and I said, 'Yes, but probably not for the reasons that I think.' And it has been, but not for the reasons I thought.”

“But you've also got to read in the genre, because we all know what science fiction written by someone who doesn't know about science fiction is like. They've got these 'really great ideas' like Margaret Atwood had -- bioengineered organisms, that's a new one! And the reviewers fall for it because they don't know any different, assuring us that if it's by Atwood or Crichton it’s not really horrid science fiction. That infuriates me beyond measure. Oryx and Crake has got the science fiction sticker on it all the way through (though it's not particularly original), and yet because she wrote it, it's 'not science fiction.' SF may have broken out of the ghetto people always used to talk about, but the tropes of SF are now available for use by everybody else, which is not what anyone expected. Now, science fiction is like some big generation ship that's crash-landed on a planet. People are taking away bits of it in order to build new structures. You can still see the shape of the thing, but a lot has been cannibalized for different purposes. Quite a lot of what's out there is still recognizable as science fiction, but is recognizable as other things as well.”


“I still pay at least some lip service to the idea that new Discworld books should be standalone -- for a given value of 'alone' and a given value of 'stand' -- but we're now more than 30 books in. I’m guided by Star Trek. No one now feels too much of a need to explain what Vulcans are; everyone understands that this is a series and you can’t explain every little background detail for people who’ve just got on the bus. I think it is possible to write books that can be read as standalones but continue the 'meta-stories' of the series as a whole. I know each Discworld book sells more than the one before, so whatever I'm doing appears to be working, but I cannot possibly give you an infodump of everything about the background of a character or a place in a single book.”


“I went to my first SF convention in 1963 and here I am, still going and enjoying them, 40 years later. SF fandom seems to have an aging core group, but Discworld fandom seems to be all ages. Discworld is nearly 21 years old and people who were young when they started reading it can be grandparents now, so you get families of Discworld fans in the queues at signings. That is very nice. I've got maybe a million readers in the UK, but probably fewer than 5,000 are the 'buy the t-shirt, go to the convention, hunt first editions' sort. Lots of people out there read and enjoy lots of SF, lots of fantasy, and never think of themselves as fans in the participatory sense. At the first UK Discworld convention, in 1996, there were almost a thousand people, and fewer than ten percent had ever been to a science fiction or fantasy convention of any sort before. Not many of them knew about fandom at all. It's quite strange to think of a purely Discworld fandom.”


“The next adult Discworld book, Going Postal, will be published close to the 21st anniversary of the first Discworld book, so I have to make certain it's good! People in the UK are familiar with the title concept, though it isn't quite the same here -- because a beneficent government has seen to it that only criminals can have guns in the UK, it's not so easy to get hold of a pump-action shotgun and walk into work with it. But there seems to be an international habit of postmen, when the stress gets too much, to stash undelivered mail everywhere, like mad hamsters storing food. When the investigators reach their house, there's room after room of mail sacks. They haven’t been destroyed, oh no, because that would be wrong. Folk myth believes there’s something about working for the post office that drives people around the bend.”

The full interview, with biographical profile, is published in the May 2004 issue of Locus Magazine.

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